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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

A football-sized chunk of concrete crashes through the window. You fucking bitches! We’re coming for you!

City of Human Remains – Chapter 28


She has a nice smile, that Pilar.  He hopes to remember her face for as long as possible.  To Tony, a smile from someone, pretty or not (for he would contend that she is), can carry him through any tragedy 32 were to throw at him.  Smiles are hope.  His ex-wife never smiled.  And so he left her.

Pilar’s smile lingers all the way to his glide.  The glide is Tony’s, not some motor pool reject.  He saved a year’s pay for it and it is one of a few things he outright owns.  Even his umbrella is borrowed from a neighbor.  He broke the frame earlier fighting with the sideways rain, and now it’s disintegrating.  Tossing the worthless umbrella into the passenger seat, Tony cranks the igniter and switches on the wipers.

A flash of a badge to the guards and the muddy gate is raised.  Turning sharply away from the bomb shelter, the Cabinerris dossier slides onto the footboards.  Nuts, he cracks, but doesn’t stop to collect them back.  He never found a plastic bag, so the papers are near ruined anyway.  But that doesn’t matter to Tony – he has Carla Cabinerris’s address memorized from a single look.

His jaw stings.  He never found any medicine for his throbbing tooth, either.  The supplies were raided.  All that remained were empty boxes.  He would deal with the ache until this business was over, when he could book an emergency appointment with his Arab dentist downtown.

Tony had never met the dead Dan Waverly.  He may have passed him in police circles, but any memory has been forgotten.  ‘Killed on duty’ stirs several emotions in a professional like Tony.  Part of him considers the death of a fellow detective tragic.  But another part wonders if Dan Waverly may have been an idiot.  Tony wishes he knew the facts.  If there had been any talk between the cop and his killer, what was said?  Who provoked?  Who escalated?  Who drew their gun first?  Did Waverly draw at all?  He wishes he had accessed the Tykus Roberts dossier and had plotted the course, to know how his own choices compared with the doomed detective’s.  Only after knowing all those things could Tony begin to cross into empathy.  There have been tight calls on his beats, his investigations, but had never let things go that far.  No two-bit molester would ever get the jump on Tony Kopcinski.

The rain abates when he hits the West Side Connector.  He wipes the fogged window with his sleeve.  The secondary road proves to be the fastest, though all the Connectors are rough this time of day.

At 4:57 PM, when he locates Carla Cabinerris’s address, he is not shocked.  The street and building are as he expected.  How you gonna hide 75 kids in that shit hole? he asks himself.  The whole neighborhood is a squatter’s paradise with the beginning airs of gentrification.

Creeping his tires forward, he rescues the stained dossier pages from the footboards and sifts the notes.  He wants to study the building layout before he enters.  Usually, the Document Team includes floor plans, or a satellite map.  But this time, nothing.

Three fast-moving kids whip past him on the darkening street.

Tony switches on the glide’s lamps and catches a boy darting between trashcans.  Stopping, Tony angles the lamps and rolls his window.

Psst, you, he whistles in the kid’s general direction.

He doesn’t want anything near him to draw attention.  One look from the suspect out her window for the cause of a tipped trashcan and surprise is blown.


I see you, kid.  Come out for a sec.  I wanna ask you a favor.  (No answer comes from between the cans.  Tony waits.)  There’s a curfew, ya know.  (No answer.)  Psst, where’d your friends go?

Tony loosens his foot from the brakes and eases five meters.  No boy in hiding.  He’s gone.  All three have scattered like little rats.

Forward he goes to the corner stop.

Lights shine from windows of the four-rise building.  Carla Cabinerris’s apartment number is 313, according to the notes. Tony scans the third floor for silhouettes.  No one passes a window.  Not a single shadow.  The lights might be for security, triggered by timers until the occupants return from work.  Tony notes a single blackened apartment dead center of the third floor, a window adjacent to the raised fire escape.

That could be her, he reasons, remembering, as best he can, the numbering pattern for this type of government construction.

Tony double-parks.  Any ticket could be scrubbed.  Sliding out of the driver’s seat, he pats his raincoat for his 9mm Parabellum.  The Luger hangs belted under his arm.

He crosses the street and spots the three boys near the shaggy row of bushes in front of the building.  They scatter as soon as he sees them.  He can’t be sure they are avoiding him, as he doesn’t clearly see their faces.  They could be playing a game, oblivious that he’s even watching them.

He follows the boys into a narrow, vaulted passage between Cabinerris’s building and a neighboring doppelganger.  The passage reeks of cat piss and garbage.  The mist from the cold rain meeting the warmer ground hinders his sightlines.  He focuses on low-hanging bulbs that illuminate his footsteps.  The space hums with an electrical box fixed to the curving wall.

In the womb of the passage, Tony suddenly becomes frightened that this may be a trap.  But as soon as he begins to draw his 9mm, the mist parts and his feet touch the beginning cobblestones of a wide courtyard.  Here, in the rear of the apartment buildings, is a poor man’s English garden, with high hedges and trellises, and waist-high brick walls – a misty maze of plants and trees and dusk.

He hears soft voices:

Yep, she’s there, reports a man.  I saw her in the window.

Are you sure ‘bout that?  Her light is off.  Another man’s, for certain, a voice marred by smoking, shouting, or a combination of abuses.

What if she saw us down here? asks a women.

I hope to Christ she’s watchin’ everything, puffs a younger man.  I want her fucking terrified.

Over a brick wall that separates the passage from the 11 people – five men, three women, plus the original three boys – Tony spies on the quiet meeting.  Two of the boys he followed now bookend a shaggy-haired, middle-aged man, possibly the boys’ father.  The third boy has a tight hand stamped down on him by another man – one with military bearings and crew haircut, muscles rippling his black t-shirt, wearing a short black jacket not warm enough for the weather.  Tony places this one as an older brother – the angriest of the bunch and someone he will have to watch.

You said she didn’t come in the front, a black confirms with the boys.  And I was back here all through that shit.  How can we be sure she’s home?

Crew Cut waves this away.  She’s home!  She is.  Lou saw her in the window.  She must have snuck in with the rain.  Now let’s stop fucking around and get this done!

Tony tilts his head and the scene tilts with him.  The momentarily forgotten pain in his tooth rockets into his senses.  He resists the urge to cry out.  Through the strain, he scans to something balanced in one of the men’s hands – a Louisville Slugger baseball bat.  Oh crap, Tony curses inside.  He recognizes a heavy bicycle chain wrapped around the black man’s knuckles.  Vigilantes.

He now has these choices:

1, Identify himself as a police detective.  Talk some sense into them.

2, Buzz Carla Cabinerris’s door.  She might let him in.  But does he really want to protect her?  These cretins may be onto something.

3, Wait it out.  See what happens.  After all, they might be doing the city’s dirty work.

4, Call for backup.

The last choice is the smartest choice.  It’s in the playbook.  It’s sanctioned.  It has the least risk.

He takes a last mental picture of the 11 – the self-appointed Cabinerris judges – noting clothes and faces in case they disappear like bodies at the morgue.

Through the mist of the vaulted passage, Tony jogs back to his double-parked glide.  He rings through to Shelter 11/33 on his Eye Dial.

Vigilantes.  Better get someone here.  Fast.

Then he calls the local precinct.

No sirens, he warns.  They haven’t started yet.

Tony tiptoes back through the passage.  Now the men and women in the garden are breaking up, the plan set.  They divide into three groups, two to cover the front and rear entrances, the last to do the deed.

He bites down, much to his tooth’s fury.  Help’s gonna be late.  I have to do something to stop this.

Tony sprints to the front of the building.

Quickly, he scans the door buzzers with his burnt-red fingers and locates apartment 313 (marked with the initials “LC”).  This had better be you, Carla C.  He pushes the buzzer over and over in rapid succession.  Come on.  Answer.  No one speaks, but the 2-way hisses open.

Carla Cabinerris!  Some bad neighbors are on their way up to give you a nasty surprise.  I can help you.


Did you hear what I—

The hiss stops.  He waits for the door.

Footsteps clack in the vaulted passage…

She’s not opening.

Tony spots the drape of the fire escape.  Without considering gravity, he leaps up and grabs the iron braces.  Struggling with the first long gap, he rows his body up and wiggles onto the bolted platform.  To his feet, he scrambles to locate the ladder’s release.  Without the ladder, he’s trapped on the platform.  The fire escape is damp from the rain and the clasps slip from his fingers and clang loudly back into place.       The vigilantes below at the buzzers hear the scrape.  Crew Cut, one of the boys, and two other men look up.

Tony smiles and waves.  With all his strength, he yanks the release and the ladder drops.  The first rung nails his chest,  damage stopped by a quick brace with his hands.

Hey, hold it right there, buddy! snaps Crew Cut.

But the detective doesn’t obey.  He climbs the ladder and rounds the second platform.  Mrs. Cabinerris! Tony calls out, knowing her name is a giveaway.

You FUCK!  Crew Cut leaps onto the steel grating.  Easily making the distance, he rolls onto the first platform, just as Tony had done, only with more agility and speed.

Carla!  Open the window!  I’m a cop!

Tony’s at the third floor, banging on the glass.

The paper blinds hastily jerk up.  She’s got the window open and swiftly clutches the detective’s forearms.  Hands, strong but feminine, jump from the room’s shadows.  Tony allows himself to be dragged over the fire escape’s aluminum railing.  He pushes off, legs free.  In the slickness, he loses balance, catches, slips again, and senses the draw toward the pavement 20 meters down – a death sentence.  His burnt fingers weaken.  But the woman holds tight.

Thank Christ.  He trusts her.  He shouldn’t.  But he does.  Pull me in! he huffs just as Crew Cut reaches out for his shoes.

Tony kicks the building’s brick and propels himself over the window sash.  Loudly, the detective flops onto the carpet and crashes his shoulder into the corner of a low glass table.  His pale shirt rips and so does the skin beneath.  The sting is followed immediately by the warm stickiness of blood.

She slams the apartment window and has it locked within seconds, intercepting Crew Cut’s swinging hand as it smacks the dusty pane.

Crew Cut bellows: You won’t get away with this, Fuck!  We’ve got you surrounded and we will GET you!  The shut window muffles his words, but not the intent.

She throws the blinds back over Crew Cut’s barking face and the room drops into coffin grayness.  No lights, not even fading sunlight from the day’s drizzling end.

Tony becomes disorientated.

But she’s got him.  She raises him to his feet.

They’ve been harassing me all week, she explains.  I’m sorry I didn’t let you in.  I thought the buzzer was a trick.

What do they want from you?

They think I’ve taken a kid from three streets over.  She’s 1 of the 81.

Did you?

No.  Absolutely not.

Tony can only outline her in the dim light.  Years on the force have honed his skill for reading a face.  But that’s useless now – he only has her voice.  Tony hooks her hand.  Her skin is rough and callused.  Help is on the way, he assures her.  We just have to buy some time.

They can get through my door easy, she pants.  It can’t hold back the mice, let alone those guys.

He tugs her towards a trickle of light from under the front door.  Do you know how to get to the roof?  Tony pats for the knob, tries it but it’s locked.

Carla reaches and throws a dead bolt.

He twists and the door comes open, screaming on rusty hinges.

Out in the hallway, they are spotted.  At the stair exit of the corridor, Tony recognizes four more of the mob: two female, one male, and another of the boys.

From the open door, Carla’s apartment is sprayed with light.  A football-sized chunk of concrete crashes through the window.  Crew Cut taunts through the busted hole, You fucking bitches!  We’re coming for you!

Tony is stunned, but only for a second.  He’s seen this before, usually criminal-to-criminal, and he’s the law caught in the middle.  But this bloodlust from common civilians makes Tony temporarily forget his authority.

Get her! yells a woman from the end of the hall.

Carla wrests Tony from the lip of the door.  She draws him into a run.  At the mid-point is another door – broad with a crossbar.

This the roof? puffs Tony.

Carla doesn’t answer.  She kicks the crossbar and barrels into the enclosure, dragging the detective with her.  Behind, she slams the wide door shut.  Together, they slide a mop from the stairwell against the handle.

The roof, she confirms and points to the next floor.  Have you got a gun?

Yes.  But I don’t want to use it.

They huff up the next flight.

What if you have to?

If it comes to that, I’ll show them I’m armed.  But even that could be trouble.  How determined are they to get you?


Outside on the roof, ducts and transformers break the surface like sores.  No safety wall protects the perimeter, and it’s an easy fall the 25 meters to ground level.  Neighboring buildings block the surrounding horizon.  No sunrise platform here, only a net of clouds.

Over the edge, Tony peers straight down to the front entrance of the building.  His glide sits parked on the street where he left it.  A boy smashes the window with a crowbar.

HEY motherfucker! he shouts with a crack in his voice.

The boy’s head rolls to the roof, finding Tony.

That’s my fucking glide!

The kid takes off into the passage, out of sight.

Can you believe it, some kid just-?

Carla stands in the middle of the roof.  He catches her in the orange light.  She’s starvation thin, with sandpaper skin.  Her hair is cheaply dyed with blonde roots and eyeliner smeared to holy hell.  At some point before the chase, she had been weeping.  She wears a cheap, ill-fitting blouse with stains on it, and knit, too-large skirt.  Her hair hangs wild and is taken by the wind.  She’s a picture of poverty, same as a million in City 32.  Tony is familiar with the signs.  She’s saving on laundry, donning charity clothes, and self-administering hair cuts over a sink with only a trickle of running water.  Unlike the other two other suspects he cleared since morning, Carla Cabinerris has not assimilated back into society.  She is struggling to survive.

You brought this shit on yourself, he snaps as he passes in front of her.  He goes to the other side of the roof, to look down at the courtyard and gardens.  From his holster, he draws his 9mm Parabellum.

She shouts at his back.  I didn’t HURT anyone!  You want to know the truth?  I DIDN’T EVEN FUCKING DO IT.   I served my time and didn’t DO IT.  Her voice shakes but that doesn’t stop her ranting defense.  It was a misidentification, she screams.  What do you think of that, you self-righteous MOTHERFUCKER!  I was a girl myself, you know?  I was!  I WOULD NEVER HURT A BABY!

Tony dismisses her and leans over the roof.  Jury’s still out, Ms. Cabinerris.  Tony waves his gun absently.  In my world, you’re guilty until proven innocent.         When she doesn’t combat his words, he checks over his shoulder to make sure she’s still there.  Tony’s has dashed out the last of her flame.  Glassy-eyed, she looks away towards the ducts and transformers, and hides her face.

Tony goes red with shame.  But he doesn’t apologize.  The arrow has found a mark.  He gives her a last appraisal.  He knows now: she’s probably told the truth.  She’s innocent of this.  Possibly of everything.

In the rear courtyard, he sees something he does not expect – six people flayed face down on the lawn with their hands in binder cuffs.  At least 20 uniformed police swarm the hedges, mice in a maze.  He doesn’t let Carla Cabinerris off the hook just yet.

Tony assumes Crew Cut has gotten past the broom-blocked door.  It won’t be long, though, before the whole bad lot is in custody.  He holsters the Luger and snaps the strap.

Looks like we’re in luck, Ms. Cabinerris, he says with a happy lilt over his shoulder.  The cavalry has arrived—

She doesn’t answer him.

She’s left the roof the hard way.