A simple premise; a bold promise
To present one story per day, every day—
providing exceptional authors with exposure
and avid readers with first-rate fiction.

Today's Story by Darren Callahan

I’ve chosen this little-used shelter as our base because it’s an ugly place. This is ugly work.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 19


The mayor is with 11 other people: the vice-mayor, the city treasurer, his assistant Grace, and players from 32’s inner circle, along with, naturally, 4 serious-looking bodyguards wearing regulation gray flack suits and carrying bulky side-arms.

Franco Cocanaugher knows he is from another time – a flashback to a century-and-a-half earlier when campaigning politicians did not have to look perfect on broadcasters.  Nothing about this man matches the current trends.  He is not a poster politician.  He resembles a real, working-class man – from a past reality, but a reality nonetheless.  He dresses in heavy clothes – brass buttons on a hound’s-tooth suit with starched brown shirt, fat necktie (the knot hanging loose), and western boots.  Bushy sideburns and big build, curly but thinning dark hair.  On his upper lip sits a wide black moustache that stretches down over his top lip – an affectation that has appeared to some in the media as a perpetual frown, and on most days he’s able to counteract with a broad smile and a wink.

But not today.  Today he means business.

Today, he does not shake hands.  Instead, he respectfully touches the shoulders of those people nearest to him, as if he’s concerned for their diagnosis, and he’ll do anything he can to beat this thing.

Cocanaugher makes his way to the front – the only spot in the room with additional light, as the war-room is small and bare and dim.  He leans into a barren table.  For a moment, he feels very old – older than his 57 years.  He connects with his audience, meeting a pair of eyes at a time.  He hopes that they can detect his lack of sleep, and the gravity of the situation.  Now standing against the white wall, Mayor Franco Cocanaugher, with his big body in his big coat, swells his chest to speak.

His first words are off-key and a surprise, even to him.

I trust you.

I trust you.

Every one of you.

Even if I haven’t met you.

I know your work.

Your impeccable records.

I know every one of your names.

This isn’t some random room full of cops and detectives.  You were handpicked.

I am calling the 29 of you my “Savior Squad.”

There are 6 coffins down that hall…filled with dead children.  City 32’s children.  We’ll give the remains over to the parents soon enough, but for now they’ll serve as a reminder to each of you.

Of the urgency.

Of what we’re up against.

Arrangements are being made for respectful burials.  So don’t worry.  We will treat these children honorably.

I’ve chosen this little-used shelter as our base because it’s an ugly place.  This is ugly work.  And I don’t want anyone getting comfortable.  I want each of you out on the beat, not here drinking goddamn coffee and discussing armchair theories.  I want you getting your hands dirty.

I didn’t win this job for nothing.  I won because I know how people think and behave.  I know you are good men and women and will do a thorough job.  And I know that in 32 today, this very day, there is a psychopath who has somehow stolen 81 children out from under our noses.

We’re still working under the assumption that this is the work of one person, though it is perhaps an entity, or a conspiracy of like-minded nut-jobs.  If we can catch just one– maybe the actual one, or maybe someone who is willing turn traitor on the others, we’ll be heroes.  Chip the ice a little bit and the whole sheet cracks.  It’s possible that it’s a group – the main clue being that all the children who were taken were healthy.  No asthma.  No allergies.  No diabetes.  No special needs.  And that means that these children were targets for some time.  Those who took them sought certain age and health characteristics.  These children have been chosen for a reason, which we do not know.  But someone had access to records.   It’s one of the leads we’re pursing.

And don’t forget.

This isn’t just a murder case.

75 are still out there waiting for us.

I know…just know in my heart…that they are alive.  I know it in my gut.

These 75.

Who we will save.

All of us.  Together.

The Savior Squad.

You wonder: what’s the plan.

Cocanaugher’s surrounding staff breaks from their positions.  A councilman drops a black leather brief onto the table in front of the mayor.  Grace, the mayor’s young female assistant, un-spools the string and splays the over-wide object on the table.

This, the mayor says, pointing, is a list of every child offender on 32’s books.  Some live in halfway houses, some on the streets.  We’ve spent the last several days narrowing the possibilities to 104 very bad eggs.  Men, and a few women, too.

The staff begins to pull images from the briefing folder and affix them in sloppy rows to the blank wall behind the mayor.  Those in the room watch in silence as faces go up –average looking faces, doughy faces, beards, moustaches, clean shaven, fat, thin, all mixes of complexion, of skin, of race; fatherly types, business types, beggars, criminal stares, innocent smiles, bald men, full-headed men, young men to very old.  As each face goes up, they are seared with judgment from the 29 of the Savior Squad.  Evil.  Sad.  Rotten.  Without so much as a conversation, these bare-lit images tell the whole story.  Child molester.  Uncaught killer.  Villain.

Cocanaugher knows that this audience is not accustomed to 2-dimentional images.  They’re used to computer screens and imagers and broadcasters.  But he’s chosen this: tape and scissors to bring the reality of these faces closer to those who will find them.

Your mission is to locate each of these persons and investigate them.  Thoroughly.  Make inquiries.  Get invited into their houses.  Look for signs.  None of these 104 is known to have killed a child.  We’ve had to exclude those names.  Those killers are all behind bars and therefore have solid alibis.  These 104… (Cocanaugher gestures lazily over his shoulder, and then lowers his head before he continues.) …have secrets we have yet to uncover.  We’ve only scratched the surface with their convictions.  But these faces must be considered capable of anything.

Cocanaugher nods to another staffer, a man in his late 30s with a military haircut and draping orange coat.

Mr. Riggs will give you your individual assignments.

The mayor meets as many eyes as possible, holds them, hold each and every one of them for a long as he feels it takes to telepathically transmit his mission, his emotions, and the urgency of duty.  Nothing tells the truth more than a look.  He remembers that sage advice from his first campaign manager.

Thank you.  Each and every one of you.  Good luck.

He’s away from the wall and being pulled by Grace into a private conversation.  She whispers him something in his ear.  The room begins to break into fractured chatter and Franco has trouble hearing.  But a word stands out in Grace’s respectful yet burning message.

Riot?  He repeats, thinking his ears mistaken.

Yes, says the woman, repeating.  A riot.  At City Hall.

Take me there.

Mr. Mayor, that isn’t a good idea.

Take me there now.