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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

If someone gets me it will be YOUR FAULT and you will have to KILL HIM and you won’t PROMISE!

City of Human Remains – Chapter 26



Duty Officer Raymond Koof strikes a line through the face of Tykus Roy Roberts with a wide, 2-centimeter stroke of his a black marker.  He turns away from the wall of images, a frown on his face.

We have been informed that parents sometimes came looking for Roberts.  Captain Carlos Gutierrez leans in a chair next to Koof’s desk.  That’s why he carried a gun.

Officer Koof scratches the back of his hairy neck and then rounds his fingers into his substantial dark beard.  Huh, he shrugs, thought Waverly was a vengeful dad or something?

I don’t know what Roberts thought.  He’s dead.  Shot Waverly then himself when the police arrived.

Koof drops the black marker onto the cheap wood desk’s cardboard blotter and huffs.

That settles him.  I guess Roberts wasn’t involved with the 81.  Nothing found to connect him at all?

Nada.  We checked his apartment, with his employer, his neighbors.  He was messed up in the head, but not involved.

Okay.  Koof nods.  He wants to let the captain off the hook.  He’s pushed him enough.  Thanks for the information.  I’m always curious to know what’s going on out there.  I’ve been trapped to the desk 9 hours now.  Koof gestures to the imprisoning furniture in his tidy corner of the war room, where he monitors the incoming Eye Dials and notes any arrests.

Carlos bends to the floor and snaps his leather satchel.  He slings the brown strap over his shoulder.  I’m going back to the precinct.  You’re doing a great job, Ray.  But it’s a lonely job, isn’t it?  Carlos eyes circle the empty bomb shelter.  Koof is the only soul left behind.  Two patrolmen stand above ground, at the helm of the booth and stairs, but they’re no company for the Duty Officer.  Here, the quiet is maddening.  The sounds of each man’s shoes on the tile and their dwindling conversation are the only noticeable proof of life.

I’ll do whatever I’m asked, Captain, salutes Officer Koof to the man who likely recommended him to the roster of Saviors.  If this is where I’m needed, this is where I’ll be.

I know what you mean, replies Carlos.  Say hello to your wife.  If they ever let you out of here.

Off in an hour, sir.

Good.  Get some sleep and be back bright-eyed and ready.  Adiós mi amigo.

The last of Captain Gutierrez’s steps grow dimmer and dimmer in the staircase until they are non-existence.

Duty Officer Koof considers this a dull assignment for an ambitious policeman.  28 with four years on the force.  But then he remembers his low rank, his relative age to the other Saviors.  He was the obvious choice to man the desk.  There wasn’t even a debate about it.

Hand-picked by Mayor Cocanaugher, he beams with pride, what do you think of that, Janet?  Bet I could find them.  I could.  If given the chance…

Koof returns to the wall of faces.

104 pairs of eyes stare down.

Tykus Roy Roberts is 1 of 3 people marked off.  The two others are from the morning.  Roberts has been the only suspect to put up a fight; the other two men were cleared and released within an hour.

Koof’s spent most of the morning glued to the pictures.

These are them, he thinks.  The worst the city has on its streets.  He wonders what technicalities, what parole board misjudgments, what bungled evidence allowed them back into the swarm of citizens.  There is no forgiveness for hurting a child.  It’s straight to Hell with you and don’t come back.  He also wonders how the list was narrowed to so few.  104 doesn’t seem like that many in a city of six million.

The list is most likely a perfect distillation of statistics.

Who.  What.  Where.  When.  And How.

No ‘why.’

Koof wants so badly to see the evil in their faces.  Each must be a scar in a victim’s mind.  Each is a nightmare to someone.  But in the images Koof can’t really detect the presence of evil.  One face resembles Koof’s own dead father with a full beard and small eyes.  Another has a pencil-moustache and slicked hair, much like Koof’s first training instructor at the Police Academy.  There are a few that have cockeyes or deadeyes, or signs of madness burning through.  Not evil, per se, but oddities.  Those faces he has difficulty looking at for extended periods.  He thinks about taking those images down off the wall, at least for a while.  He wishes to flatten each picture against the table so he doesn’t have to look at them.  But he resists.  He doesn’t want to disrupt their perfect order.

He considers for a moment all the murders in the last 10 days in the city.  All the adults found in the river, dredged, or shot in alleys, and wonders who’s looking for them.  No one.  They’re just a spike in the rate.

In the waning hours of his never-ending shift, he is just a little spooked.  The isolation chips at his nerves.  104 pairs of eyes that never look away, never leave his mind, and, worst of all, appear normal in every way, are enough to make him just a little jumpy.

The statistics of their crimes and convictions are printed on the back of their images.  Koof pulls a few down and reads the litany of their crimes.  Koof does this, shamefully, to pass the time.  He transforms looking into a game of guessing.

Child endangerment…or molestation? he asks a square-jawed man in his late 50s with graying moustache and a busy-print shirt.  The details read:

Animal Cruelty Class C, and,

Failure To Pay Child Support.

Hmmm… Dead wrong on that guy, he dismisses.

He repeats the task, tries to hone his skills.  To read a face and to know what a man has done wrong is important in his line of work.  But he doesn’t get any better at the game.

Kidnapping? he asks another.

The details read:




After a while, he surrenders.

The Eye Dial on the desk buzzes.

Officer Raymond Koof, Shelter 11/33.  What have you to report?

It’s your wife on the line, says the dispatch.

I’m working.

Says it’s urgent.


A blip on the line and Janet’s voice comes on, replacing the gruff throat of the dispatcher.


She’s crying.  Hard.

Ray!  Ray, she’s gone.  She’s gone.

Koof’s heart sprints and he balances on the corner of the hard desk.  Now, Janet, please, who?  Gabby?

Yes, she’s gone.  I can’t find her!

When did you last see her?

15 minutes ago.  She was in her room.

She’s done this before.

I know, I know, I just—

Have you looked?

Yes.  The house, the neighborhood.  I called her name.  Can you, can you come home?  Please come home.

I’d call it in, but 15 minutes – no one’s going to do anything if she’s only been gone 15 minutes.  She’d have to be gone at least six hours before they’ll even enter her name on the list.  Unless you saw something.  Did you see something?

Like a person?  In her room?

Did you see that?

No.  Nothing.  Pause.  Should I lie?

No, don’t do that.

I can’t wait five and a half more hours!  Please, Ray, I’m—

Koof reads the wall clock.  I’ve only got 30 more minutes on my shift.

What’s the quickest you can be here?

He calculates his train route, the options of a taxi, the time of the day.  28 minutes, he tells her.  I can be there in 28 minutes.

When he arrives at the doorstep, 52 minutes have passed.  He had been stalled on his route due to unexpected rain.

As he enters his two-story and narrow walk-up, his wife falls into his arms, weeping, tears smearing each eye’s makeup into black drops that pool high on her cheeks.  She’s young; she’s emotional; she can be irrational; her husband knows these things about her, has since their daughter Gabby was born 10 years ago, when he was 18 and Janet was mere 16, and he’s known these things more so since the disappearance of the 81.

Did you find her?

You’re late.

I’m sorry.  The rain.

I haven’t found her.

I know where to start.

Koof slices the home and exits again through the rear door.  Janet calls after him.  Where are you going!

Stay here, he shouts as he hops the poorly mended steps down to the alley.  She might come back.

Tied to the rail is their dog, Barkers, a Golden Retriever, woofing at the site of his owner.  Koof doesn’t pet the dog or do anything to calm him.  Not now, Barkers.

Ray Koof rounds the corner of the alley before his wife can think of a response.  Faintly, he hears her voice, asking, Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?  He ignores her.  Leaving her behind to wait sounds like a logical plan.  But it’s not the truth.  By excluding Gabby’s mother, he’s keeping the promise made to his daughter.

Gabby Koof is a plain, brown-haired girl he loves.  She has her father’s dimples and her mother’s deep-set ears – neither works in the girl’s favor.  Her body is in the middle limbo between child and woman and she is the gangliest of her classmates.  She tests smart in school but swings toward sloppy, error-ridden work, which her father blames on natural laziness, something alien to him but which his wife possesses in abundance.  If her father were to give a police description, in the format, style, and blandness that such reports require, it would sound something like this:

Gabby Wilima Koof.


DOB 8 August 2088.

10 years old.

Brown hair, long.

Brown eyes.

Body type: average to thin.

Verbal skills: high.

Written skills: middle.

Physical skills: low.

Capacity for getting into trouble: high.

Koof would emphasize that last point.

Like many Only Children, Gabby has come to expect a certain amount of attention from her father.

He walks a dozen meters through the alley until he finds the hammered fencing.  He crawls through the dog door of the rear lot compound, barely fitting his shoulders into the mesh-rimmed rectangle.

Emerging in the rear parking lot of a neighboring Presbyterian Church (his faith, but he never attends), Koof comes closer to the building than he has been in months, probably closer than when he first found the spot with his daughter, quite by accident, when chasing Barkers, who had gotten loose on a sunny June afternoon.

I’ll make this my secret place, Gabby joked.  Keep it secret, dad.  Keep it secret.

He approaches the emaciated mulberry bushes that surround the perimeter.  He inspects the lip of the stairwell.  An aluminum overhang covers the stairs.  A perfect spot to vanish.  He touches the cold handrail.  Rising over the tar incline that funnels the rain from the building, he crosses his fingers that Gabby is really here.

Gabby?  He whispers so as not to startle.  No reply.  Gabby?  He arches to better see down the stairs.

What do you want?

Her voice echoes against the concrete wall that protects the church’s basement.

Koof releases his breath.

His daughter is crouched on the bottom stair, her back to him.

You mother is looking for you.

He waits at the top for his daughter to rise up.  She doesn’t move.

You can’t go disappearing.  We don’t know what to think.  Not with everything’s that’s going on.  You mother almost called the police.

I’m okay.

I know…I can tell that.  Pause.  Turn around.  Let me see your face.

Gabby tilts her head slightly, reveals only her eyes.  She has not yet met him fully, but he knows now that she’s not hurt, not bleeding, not crying.  But this is the picture of a melancholy girl, soon to be a woman, her arms longer than her proportions, her chest flat, her dress ill-fitting, and her hair matted by berets.

I love you, Gabby, he declares.

She’s mad at me.  Did she tell you that?

She didn’t.

I let Barkers out and he ran away again.  She had to run him down and tie him up.

It’s like that dog doesn’t want us, he jokes.  His humor doesn’t work.  She stays inside her shell.  Look, I don’t want you scaring your mother anymore.  She thought you’d been taken.

I wish I had been.

You don’t mean that.

I do.  I do I do.

Christ, Gabby.  He slowly steps down and sits beside her on the damp and tapering stair.  He rings his arms around her shoulders and squeezes her.  If anything ever happened to you, Gabby…

You’re a policeman.  You won’t do anything.

What does that mean?

If someone killed me, would you kill him?

No.  It’s wrong to kill.  But I would certainly hunt the person down and bring him to justice.

You wouldn’t kill for me?  If they found me chopped into little bits, you wouldn’t kill the person who did it?

Koof lets his arm fall from his daughter’s shoulder.  What do you want me to say, Gabby?  He’s becoming frustrated.  His words are not working.    No one is going to hurt you.  I promise.  You understand that, don’t you?

What kind of dad are you!  She lights into him with her fists.  The blows land on his chest and don’t hurt.  But her knuckles catch on his collarbone and he feels the vibration up his neck.  Then she begins to pull at his beard.

Stop it, stop it, he says forcefully and tries to grab her wrists.  She eludes him, and lands another slap on his check.  He stands and shouts down at his daughter.  Stop it!  Stop it!  Jesus Christ!

Go home!  Get away from my secret place!  I hate you!  If someone gets me it will be YOUR FAULT and you will have to KILL HIM and you won’t PROMISE!

No one’s going to get you, Gabby!

How do you KNOW that!  I watch the broadcasts.  You’re gone all day and mom’s no good.  She can’t stop ANYTHING.

Gabby’s crying big, showy tears.  She writhes with anger at the bottom of the church stairway and is inconsolable.  He has seen it before, once or twice in the past year.  The racking emotions of a young woman.  Thunder shakes the church.

Koof looks up.

The sky’s gone dark – suddenly and tragically.  The rain begins instantly in hard egg-shaped drops.  Damn Doll System!  he shouts and takes rainwater in the eye.  Come on, Gabby, let’s get out of the weather.

Go away!

He moves up the steps reluctantly, but with a dismissive wave of his right hand.  His blue uniform quickly feels heavy on his body, constricting with the soak.

Fine!  Come home when you start to starve.

He walks without grace in the direction of his home.  At the dog door, he climbs out the way he came, between the dancing bushes, pummeled by the wild weather.  More thunder, more lightning.  He looks behind.  Gabby leisurely follows through the lot.  Her dress has gone soggy and she’s having trouble controlling it in the whipping wind and rain.  He back-steps into puddles and guides her by the shoulders.

Barkers waits for them, twirling at the steps and shaking rain from his fur.  Koof unhooks the dog’s chain and, animal and daughter pulling for his control, hauls the dog up the rear stairs and into the shelter of his porch.

Once Gabby is safe inside, she abandons her father and flees upstairs.

Ah, fuck you, he curses softly.

Janet, behind him, hears this.

Koof holds out the leash.

Take the fucking dog, he snaps.

She runs upstairs after her daughter.

He is left with the dog dripping over the tile of the cramped kitchen.

He hears voices, but can’t make out words.  Gabby’s probably telling her what a bad father I am, he suspects, just because I want to stick to the rulesWell, I’m not killing for her.  She’ll thank me one day for being a good moral compass.  But for now FUCK HER!  He’s surprised how quickly anger has appeared.  She will not go missing and he won’t be tested, but if he were to be, he’s certain to follow the rules.  His training.  The law.  I’m a goddamn policeman! he explains to Barkers as he towels off the dog.  When finished, he sniffs at his uniform, which stinks of soggy fur.

I am a goddamn policeman.

The dog does not offer sympathy, only shakes rain all over the kitchen counters, and Koof’s face.

I’m going back, Koof declares when his wife returns to the living room.  She drills him with her eyes.  She looks tired, as if the muscles of her face have released from a long and falsely held smile.  She doesn’t argue with him.

As Koof leaves, he kisses her and she kisses him back.

Thank you, she says.

He nods.  Will she be all right?

I’ll watch her.

I don’t know when I’ll be home again.

Do what you have to do.

He nods a second time.

At Shelter 11/33, his relief officer is surprised to see him.  Hey, Ray.  Can’t keep away from us, can you?

Here is better, he answers.

Koof struts in front of the wall of faces with his arms crossed.  Two more faces have been marked out in his absence.  He doesn’t ask for why.  He’ll learn the details later.  There may be no more news for hours, and he doesn’t want to waste these morsels.

A dozen others hover in the war room, more than on his lonely watch.  Most in the room pace and exchange stories with whoever is beside them.  A man and woman, plain-clothed detectives take notes on lightpads as they listen to the reports from arriving Saviors.

Do you need any help? Koof asks a detective.  I need a distraction.

Sure, says the woman.  Can you get me some coffee?  There’s a Brick Shop around the corner.

Koof knows the spot.  My pleasure.

As he exits out of the dungeon, he hears the news from the pipes.  The evening sorrow report.  He is glad he is going to miss this one.