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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Slap the girl with it, point-down, and make sure you puncture the skin.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 44


Emig Emberlan tucks the flash edition into his vest so it will remain dry.  He will read it while he waits.  He knows there will be waiting.  There is always waiting.

The Fyboad Building is six blocks south and he strides through the buckets of sweet-smelling warm rain to reach it.  Before block 5, the rain cuts like a faucet.  Emig smiles widely, gazes to the sky, and utters an amused grunt.  He shakes the rain from his umbrella and snaps it closed.

Emig crosses the street at the walkway and enters the Fyboad Building through its double doors.

I have an appointment with Ted Appleton, 21st floor, he tells the guard, a paunchy woman with kinky hair and military-style uniform – white lapels and a green clip-on tie.

Name?  The guard drags a ledger from beneath the security desk’s encasement.

Emberlan.  Emig Ember—

He breaks into an attack of sneezes and has to cover his narrow nose with a white sleeve.

Sign here.

He pauses before signing.  When the pen connects, Emig takes care so each letter is exact.  He silently scans the neighboring names, and is even so bold as to fan the book’s pages.  Not digital?

We’re offline.  The storm’s messin’ with us.

Emig Emberlan understands, even appreciates.  He clips the pink VISITOR badge to his lapel.  Terrible weather, he imparts flatly.  (He makes small talk so he will be forgotten.  No one who makes small talk can ever be remembered, his mother once told him, and that has since proven to be true.)  Doll should get Repairs on that.

Yep, the guard agrees dryly, they should.

Emig taps his badge.  Thank you.

Elevators to 21 are first on the left, she informs him.

Emig finds his elevator past a line of the gold and marble support posts.  Once inside the car, he depresses the Braille-embossed button for 21 – a floor near the top of the light board.  He sneezes again and listens with satisfaction to the chimes.  The elevator ride begins with 3 other passengers.  The ranks dwindle to 2, then increase to 9.  But every 1 of them exits before Emig Emberlan arrives at his destination.


Cold and efficient.

Tan carpet, off-white walls, glass transoms and symmetrical lines leading past the etched logos of corporations.  Emig likes this environment.  He has literally grown up with walls like this and they warm like a thick blanket.  The smells: a light coating of generic disinfectants, human odor, climate-controlled air, and the faint strokes of premature decay in the plumbing.  Emig’s senses are fine-tuned to such details.  They mix into a single, predictable recipe.  He breathes the 21st floor deep into his lungs before sneezing once more.

Here it is.

Mr. Ted Appleton, he tells the waifish redhead at reception.  She is underneath an obnoxiously large Kramer & Ramirez logo seated at a minimalist desk, an impractical phantom made of aluminum tubes and rainbow-colored glass.

Do you have an appointment?

No.  I’ve been sent to give him a critical message.

Please have a seat.  The receptionist unhooks the Eye Dial and fingers a number.

Emig plants himself comfortably in a crushed-velvet love seat to the left of reception.  Beside him, an identically patterned high-backed chair.  He withdraws his flash edition and begins to read.

Sergio Reverte, machete man, killed by police.  Alek Serkan, dead at the scene.  Glide-van kidnappings.  Eleven children, two adults, tranquilizer darts, escape, arrest, children free and returned to the loving arms of parents.  A sidebar tells of the 3-hour traffic bedlam caused by the flight of panicked families from City 32.  Many have made it safely away and probably won’t return until the 75 originals are recovered safe, happy, and healthy, says an editorial criticizing the police and prophesying the loss of tax revenue.

Emig rolls his eyes.

On the back page, an article on the Doll System’s maintenance lays buried.  The Repairs schedule, by zone, for the next month’s upgrades, appears to be the focus of information, alongside a thin analysis of the patent.  There is conjecture that the recent spate of technical difficulties may hurt the ongoing inter-city license negotiations.

Emig crumples the paper and carelessly tosses it onto the seat of the high-backed chair.  He hates the Media and their topsy-turvy notion of priorities.

Big news day, huh? chimes the waif.

Emig gestures to the discarded edition.  Would you like to—

No, that’s okay.  I read it at lunch.

He smiles then sneezes.  She does not bless him.

Emig had forgotten to eat.  The clock hung on the front of her desk reads 10 minutes since arrival.  A dozen people have come and gone through the lobby in that time.  None of them were Ted Appleton.

Always waiting, he thinks.  When they don’t know who you are, they treat you like a beggar.

Can you confirm if Mr. Appleton is still available? he asks the waif in a pleasant voice.

She nods with a smile.  I’ll ring him again.  Just as she extends her slender arm to the Eye Dial, a well-dressed man rounds the corner.  Oh, here is Mr. Appleton, she says.  The waif lights up with a scoop of her hand.  Mr. Appleton, this is Mr… Mr…

She’s forgotten my name.  Small talk does it every time.

Emberlan, the man in the white vest completes.  Emig Emberlan.

Emig stands and meets Ted Appleton halfway across the carpet.

Appleton has his left hand outstretched, but Emig doesn’t take it.  I have a slight cold, he explains.  I wouldn’t want to make you sick.

This show of courtesy pacifies the immaculate trustee, who drops his hand and snaps straight his tailored black suit-jacket before asking, What can I help you with today, Mr. Emberlan?

Do you have somewhere we can speak?

Appleton glances to the girl.  I’m not much for sales calls, Mr.


Not to worry, Emig assures with a polite and understanding expression.  This isn’t a sales call.  But it is private.  Emig sneezes into his sleeve.

Bless you, says Appleton.

Thanks.  Emig wipes his beard.

Pause.  Appleton looks squarely into Emig’s hangdog eyes.

We can use my office.  I only have a few minutes before a meeting.

A few minutes will be fine.  I don’t want to be a burden.

Appleton leads out of the lobby.  They pass a succession of glass doors, exposing meetings between developers, architects, managers, and trustees, knee-deep in their Friday deliverables.  Most of these people are male, and all look deathly serious about their work.  They must have no children, Emig guesses in passing, for the day’s events (kidnapping, exodus, foul weather) don’t seem to be affecting the men’s devotion to duty.  Emig calculates of the price of suits, admires ties and leather desk chairs, again takes in the full aroma of the office, but not for long.  He and Appleton come to a corner passage.

No, Emig corrects, this isn’t another passage.  It’s a rare and enormous office.

Triangle-shaped, decorated with a woman’s touch, the office is stuffed with books on architectural design on wide, floor-to-ceiling shelves.  The windows are recently washed, with crystal-clear views of City 32’s cavernous streets.  Emig has been in higher buildings, but with the triangle shape of the office and the still-dark clouds, he has a sense close to weightlessness.  He wonders if Ted Appleton is ever dizzy.

Please sit, indicates his host.

As Emig takes a chair, Appleton settles opposite behind his desk and bare leather blotter.  Before speaking again, the man saws together his legs and snaps straight the cuffs of his black trousers.

What are you here to ‘wow’ me with today, Mr. Emberlan?

Excuse me… comes Emig’s reply.  He retrieves his kerchief from inside his vest.  Excuse me, he repeats, and sneezes with vigor into the white square.  Once done, he returns the kerchief to his pocket and meets Appleton’s expression – horror at the germs from his guest.

I thought you said your cold was slight.

It may be getting worse.  I had to come here in the rain.

Ted drums his fingers.

I will get straight to the matter, Mr. Appleton.  Last week, you murdered a policeman named Lucrecio Adalberto in the basement of this building.  Then you chopped the man into pieces and hid the body further down in the sewer ducts.  We have images of the body in its current condition and some other evidence, which I will not discuss at just this moment.  This evidence would prove to any court of law that you have committed this crime—

Ted does not crack.  He face remains unchanged.  What are you talking about?

Emig sneezes once more and does not bother to cover.  You have a wife and two daughters so I suggest you shut the fuck up, Mr. Appleton.  Or should I call you Ted?  As we’re close friends now…aren’t we?  Emig filters a smirk from his mouth.  I am prepared to offer you a deal: we will better dispose of Officer Adalberto, as you’ve really done a piss-poor job.  Then we’ll return our additional evidence to you and forget everything regarding about the murder…


Now he’s acting; Emig can tell.  His shell is cracking.  Yes.  Murder.  We will forget this crime if you do us a vital service.

Appleton uncrosses his legs.  He leans forward.  His face – a drained-white mask behind eyeglasses – has changed little since greeting Emig in the lobby, but something in his body language has evolved and, to Emig, has become animalistic.  Beneath his suit, Appleton’s muscles have tightened; Emig notes this in the way the trustee flexes his fingers and his muscles.

A letter opener and spare set of scissors are dipped in the pen box on the blotter between them.

Emig slowly and deliberately knocks the box from the desk to the office’s thick shag carpet, where it lands with a mild thump.  Do you want to hear more?

But of course, replies Appleton, I’m more than happy to hear this nonsen—

I want you to come with me now.  I have three children I want you to meet.  We will go to where they are today, and I will instruct you on how to abduct them.  You will take the children to a designated spot.  There, I will meet you again with your evidence.  We will trade and all will be forgotten.  Understood?

Appleton reclines.  He laces his fingers across his hexed, black necktie and, for the first time, looks frightened.  Emig Emberlan, he states, pronouncing each syllable carefully.  Is that your real name?

Yes, it’s a real name, but knowing it will do you no good.  There are layers upon layers.  I’m just a messenger.  But, be assured, those who know about your predicament are few in numbers.

Are you recording our conversation?

No.  That’s beneath me.


I have a meeting.

Cancel it.

Appleton gives only a simple nod of the head.

It’s important that we leave right away.  We have a schedule to keep.  I can meet you outside the building, if you’d like to be most cautious.  Or you can say we’re going for a late lunch.  Whatever you prefer…

Whatever…I prefer.

We should leave.

I know, I know.  Let me think.

You have no options.  Ted.

Did that man who darted the 11 children in the park have no options?

He wasn’t with us.

Oh, really.

Of course not, smiles Emig.  He was caught.

And I won’t be?

Not if you follow my instructions to the letter.


What happens to the children after I hand them over?

That’s none of your concern.

It is.

Not really.  And if you make it your concern you’ll be very fucking sorry.

Appleton turns his chair to the wide window.  The breaking sun startles him and his shoulders jog.  Emig sneezes once more, followed by an apology.  This time, he does not get a salutation.  Instead, a softy spoken:  Yes, all right… followed by a very trepidatious bob of the head.

The waif watches as the men leave together.  Emig thanks her on the way out.  Appleton says nothing.

In the elevator, they are alone for exactly three floors.

Don’t try to harm me, warns Emig.  I have friends.

How did you find me?  Appleton’s throat catches as he asks.

Like I said…I have friends.

The men do not speak again until the car reaches the ground.

I have a glide, or we can take yours, states Emig.  Either way, we should ride together.

I take the train into the city.  But I drove today.

Very well.  I’m several blocks away anyhow.

Appleton’s transportation is a non-descript family-size waiting on the top floor of a packed city garage.  Politely, he unlocks the glide for Emig.

Appleton says nothing.

Nothing as he starts the engine.

Nothing as he exits onto the tertiary road.

Nothing for the first two kilometers of driving, until…

Who are the children?

The first one I’ll show you is a 9-year-old girl.  Daughter of a city food inspector.  But I shouldn’t tell you too much.  I can give you the Christian name, that’s all.  That’s in case you need to use it to catch the girl’s attention.  Emig hands Appleton an object the size of a quarter, gray with a protruding 5-centimeter spike.  I want you to use one of these on her…  It’s fully charged, so don’t poke yourself.  I’ve got two more of them to give you, and you’ll need them for the other children.

What is it?

It is called a Sleepwalker.  Slap the girl with it, point-down, and make sure you puncture the skin.  It’s a shock-tranquilizer that will buy you two minutes.  She’ll go where you ask without any trouble.

That’s quite an invention.

It’s been in the works for a while.  Emig flags his finger ahead at the road, indicating that Appleton should pay more attention to the fast-moving traffic.

Emig guides Appleton to streets, intersections, and neighborhoods of City 32 the trustee clearly never knew existed.  The neighborhoods resemble others – neither poor nor rich – without specific attractions or character.

2:25, announces Emig with a glance to his silver wristwatch.  The girl was released from school at 2:10.  That’s an hour before her classmates because she’s in the gifted learner program.  Another smarty-pants friend to her twice-weekly piano lesson will accompany her.  The lesson’s over at 3:30, when she’ll be alone for 10 minutes waiting for her mother to pick her up.  Stop here, Ted.  Emig throws up a palm.  Right here.

Appleton steers to the curb and two following glides quickly zip past.

This street’s too busy, notices Appleton.

You’ll park your glide in that alley over there.  When she waits for her mother, slap her on the shoulder with the Sleepwalker.  Emig taps the Sleepwalker in Appleton’s hand.  She’ll come with you.  Willingly.  Without speaking.  While she’s still in that state, you’ll need to gag and tape her.  We’ll pick up some supplies at a drugstore a few blocks from here.

Emig watches as Appleton focuses on the corner.  On the first floor of an apartment building hangs a sign: PIANO.   Emig patiently allows a full minute to pass, then checks his watch, and just as Appleton begins to notice the silence, he points and says, There she is.

Appleton glances out the side window.

The girl’s hair is down, auburn-colored, and she is pretty.  She talks excitedly with her friend, who is a bit plainer and clutches schoolbooks close to her chest.  She limps.  On her foot is a thick boot, a special orthopedic correction with steel tips and heavy weight.

Her name is Kasey.


What’s wrong with her foot?

Don’t worry about that.  We cut her from the first round because of it, but it shouldn’t slow you down.  She’s been wearing it a month.  She’s really perfect, except for the foot.  We got picky in those last days, but now not so much.

The men watch as the girl waves goodbye to her companion at the stoop of the apartment building.  She smiles, giggles, and hops up the short stack of stairs to the apartment door.  After knocks, an unseen hand lets her inside.

Questions, Ted?

What if they don’t leave her alone on the stoop?

If it’s not safe, don’t take her.  I’d rather have her get away than you get caught.  But if you don’t come back with at least one of the three intended targets, you’ll be arrested for murdering a policeman by tomorrow morning.  So don’t fuck with us.

Appleton wipes his forehead of perspiration and wraps his fingers around the steering wheel nervously.

Emig smacks the driver’s arm.  Do you understand what I’m telling you?  You’re a trustee.  You realize the implications, don’t you?  If you don’t do this and do it right, you’ll never be with your family again.  With the evidence we have, you’ll be convicted for life.  Emig speaks very slowly, as if to a hard-of-hearing baby.  Do.  you.  understand.  what.  you.  have.  to.  do?

Appleton slowly nods.

Start driving.  We’ll hit the drugstore and then I’ll show you the other two kids, as well as the drop location where I’ll be waiting.  All these kids are in this neighborhood so you’ll be able to get the two others first and be back in time for Kasey.  This can all be over in less than 90 minutes, Ted.

Appleton holds up a hand.  Wait, hold on.  I’m doing this right now?  I thought you meant maybe later I’d—

We’re on a timetable.

I have to get back to the office.  I have appointments—

Emig breaks forward and grabs Appleton by the throat.  He clutches hard and, for a moment, he seriously considers killing the proxy.  Die you fucking sonofabitch trustee fucking dickweed I can’t believe I’m even here talking to you, you goddamn fucking piece of fucking shit!!!!!!  He squeezes harder and hard and is surprised at how little Appleton is resisting.  It’s almost as if he prefers this way to any other.  But there are more passers-by on the sidewalk.

And the children are more important than Emig’s anger.

He releases.

Appleton furiously coughs, massages his bruised throat, and catches his sputtering breath.  He stares directly ahead, afraid to look at the man in the passenger seat and temp him any further.  His face is red and bloated.

Emig explains nothing, does not apologize.  Drive, he says.

Coughing, Appleton ratchets the glide into gear, checks the traffic with a look over his shoulder, and pulls away into the street.  He takes a final mental picture of the girl.

Kasey, he whispers to himself, memorizing.  Kasey…