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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

The number must mean something. We know that now.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 51


Thankless fucking job, Chris Silvers spits as he leaves Central Command via the underground garage.  He steers his rented DL Prix northward.  Closing in on midnight, he’s hesitant to ring his supervisor, but does so anyway.

Dyle, it’s Chris.


Need to talk with Cocanaugher.  Now.

Do you know what time it is?

I’m aware.


Hold on.

The line goes mute for two minutes.  Chris passes by several streets and kicks his glide’s heater up a notch.  The night is getting chilly – the Doll System struggling to hold back winter’s cold eventuality.

The drop in temperature doesn’t stop the whores, though.  Ladies hang at intersections wearing little more than panties and raincoats.  Girls wave at Chris’s passing glide and try to get him to stop at the flash of a tit or the suck of a finger.  Some scatter, suspecting his black, unmarked DL Prix to be a past model for the vice squad (which it was).  And the smallest minority of the whores simply turn away, disinterested in his business.  He’s fucked them all before, anyway.  But no time tonight.


Yeah, I’m here.

You’re in luck.  He’s awake.  Taking a meeting with the Commissioner of Police.

Okay, where?

Downtown office.

Not his house?

He’s been working non-stop on that kid thing.

Well.  Chris is honestly a little surprised.  All right, tell him I’m on my way.  Thanks, Dyle.

The downtown office is little known.  It is where Mayor Cocanaugher and his staff get most of their work done, away from City Hall and the pressures of lobbyists, concerned citizens, and bothersome Media that ignore the distance order.  Dyle’s former boss, Konrad Conzulis, first gave Chris the address back in 2095.  The office is on a low floor of the Pontiac Building, 1 of many doors found after many turns.  No signs, no security, nothing to draw attention to itself.  It is rumored to be a former law office for Cocanaugher, when he was a young trial lawyer with only a casual interest in public office, and he is rumored to have retained the lease for decades.  But Chris Silvers cannot verify any of the site’s history.  To him, it doesn’t look like a lawyer’s office, but instead the playroom of a bachelor.  Exquisite pool table.  Music.  Computers – some for toys and others connected to city terminals.  Shelves busting with novels, memoirs, biographies, how-tos, and histories.  A small kitchen with refrigerator stocked full of beers from all over the world.  Imported coffee.  Easy-to-prepare food.  Furniture – comfortable and overstuffed.  The windows are wide and the curtains always drawn tight, no matter the hour, no matter the weather.  The bank of Eye Dials in the corner is mostly in temporary blackout.  The only time the lines are opened would be for Cocanaugher orchestrating city business, like a campaign. The trundle bed feels like nails and the broadcaster is antiquated; these are neglected comforts, the casualties of non-stop conversation better facilitated by the pool table.

Chris has never seen more than four people in the room at a time – ever.  Including tonight.  He knocks and a woman he recognizes instantly opens the thick door for him.

Hello, Chris.

Hello, Marsha.

Marsha Van Nuys, Commissioner of Police for three-and-a-half years.  She is late 40s, but carries much older.  A Zen calm exudes from her and she’s the most polite woman ever appointed to office in City 32.  At least Chris thinks so.  Though, for some reason, Chris always feels a bit nervous when she’s in the room.  Maybe it’s his history with the whores.

The door opens wider and Chris notices the others:

First, Grace Levine, Cocanaugher’s personal secretary,  the young woman’s right eye covered by an ugly black pirate patch.  He had heard she had been injured during the riot. And Efdrey Andrezzi, the most powerful lawyer in the city, and the mayor’s chosen counsel, in fine suit with necktie unknotted and dangling.

Chris shakes hands.  Pleasure to meet you, he says to Andrezzi, a man he has read about but never has had a formal introduction.  Grace, he dips to the secretary.

The mayor has his back to Chris and is calculating a shot on the pool table.  In a hand, he twirls the cue before casually letting it fall into the opposite hand.

The grandfather’s clock in the corner chimes 12 o’clock.

I’m very busy, Chris, Cocanaugher coughs but does not face his man.

I know, sir.  But you’ll want this.

What could be more important than what we’re talking about?  Jesus, Chris, what?  Cocanaugher slowly draws up his finger.  You know, Chris…every goddamn day kids go missing in this city.  Every day of the year.  Murders, beatings, drownings.  But you lose 81 of them in a day and you’re remembered for it.  Forever.  And these are good kids, Chris.  These aren’t runaways or beggars.  We’ve found out the fakers.  We even got back the 11 from that copycat – I’m surprised there weren’t more of those disturbed impersonators sooner.  Cocanaugher bends at the waist and prepares his shot.  Probably going to be more friggin’ copycats tomorrow.  The mayor cocks his arm and, in a jab of his arm, cracks the cluster of colored balls apart, driving a solid yellow ball into the corner far pocket.

Good shot, Mr. Mayor, commends Chris, moving closer to the Mayor and his table.

I’m stripes… laments the mayor with disappointment.  He slides away from the table and lets the pool cue rest against a bookcase.  Cocanaugher slumps into a plush red chair.  He folds his fingers onto his lap.

Six more today, Chris, says Andrezzi.  We’re back up to 81.

Chris nods.  Yeah.  I know.  What’s the significance of the number 81?  He looks to Grace, who does not answer.

Cocanaugher huffs, and drills a finger to the others.  We don’t have a clue?  He thumbs over to one of the terminals.  And neither do the databases.  But the number must mean something.  We know that now.  It’s not random.  We were supposed to catch the meaning on in the first batch, but didn’t,  so someone’s giving us a second chance to decipher it.

No leads? asks Chris as he steps further into the ring.

A few possibilities, says the commissioner, but none of them solid.

Cocanaugher continues.  That psycho Serkan was definitely involved in the first batch of abductions.  There’s too much evidence to negate it.  But with more kids taken and Serkan dead, more killers must be still out there, working together like some sort of Legion of Doom.

Chris smiles.

You read comic books, Chris?

When I was a kid.

Cocanaugher runs his fingers through his bristle-brush hair.  Leans back.  Meets the eyes of the others.  Nods.  Okay, Chris.  What’s so important?  You’re here to talk about business, aren’t you?  Business.  Heh.  You have a man chopped to bits on the steps of City Hall it becomes tough to focus on bizzz-ness.  Cocanaugher rolls eyes to his comrades.  Am I right or am I right?  So, Chris…what are you going to tell me that’s more barn-burning that what we’ve got going on here?

Chris draws a breath.

You’re about to lose a trillion dollars.


You’re going to lose the nationwide deployment contracts for the Doll System.

Andrezzi stands.  What are you talking about, Chris?

You’re going to lose the contracts because the system doesn’t work.  The story’s already starting to hit the flashes and soon it’s going to snowball – probably a snowball created by the very system that was supposed to prevent snow.

Grace wrestles from where she sits.  Where do you get this information?

I spent two days shadowing Doll’s top engineers.  Including Quam.  They all think it’s the big ‘S’ – Sabotage.  My guess is someone’s trying to sour the licensing.  And it’s going to work.

Cocanaugher considers Chris’s words.  I trust Quam, he says finally.  Two weeks and he still doesn’t know what’s happening?

Nothing except that it is sabotage.  They don’t even know if it’s external or internal.  They’re all pullin’ their hair out over at Central.

Efdrey Andrezzi brushes his forehead.  The lawyer is sweating.  He fans his face and leans against the pool table.  All this bad weather’s starting to get noticed.  That must be why I had calls from Regulatory today.  Now I wish I had returned them.

Regulatory?  Cocanaugher stands and combs his moustache with his fingers.  His face registers absolute despair.  The weather, the weather, the weather, the damn weather.  When it rains, it pours.

Excuse me, interrupts Marsha Van Nuys with a raised finger, what licensing are you talking about?  What trillion dollars?

Cocanaugher rises from the red chair and stumbles to the mini-bar.  He fixes himself a drink – whiskey over ice: very little ice, mostly whiskey.  It’s complicated, Marsha.  And confidential.  I’ll tell you the generalities, but you’ve got to keep everything I say under wraps.

What about Grace?  Marsha dips a hand.

Grace knows.

Oh.  So I’m the only one?

It’s not a police matter.  Cocanaugher turns with his fresh tumbler in hand.  He downs a giant swallow of his whiskey before speaking.  Efdrey and I are working out a deal for the deployment of the Doll System in 3 other cities.  The system’s at the end of its 7-year pilot period and it’s ready for individual licenses.

I see.

No.  You don’t.  Over the last six months, Efdrey here’s been working with the patent office to wrest prime control of the revenue from Doll Industries and back to us – the sponsors.

Oh, no.  Marsha shakes her head in disbelief.

Cocanaugher’s voice infuses with defensiveness.  It’s our right, Marsha, to capitalize on our investment.  The mayor thrusts his glass at the air, rattling the ice.  We agreed to put up the goddamn money for the infrastructure – those 4,000 weather poles, the pricey real estate the monstrosities sit on, the stations to run them, the satellites to control them, the bookkeepers to pay for them, people like Chris here to audit… When we told Doll’s people we’d do all that, we made damn sure we had a chunk of the profits for any future licensing.  But it’s not enough.

I thought your revenue came from the increase of tourism and business.

Andrezzi drinks his own drink now – vodka, lemon twist – and faintly attempts to cover his face as he speaks.  Those benefits, Marsha, he says, were 32’s public face.  But eventual licensing was the primary driver of the deal.  So seven years ago, Doll and the city came to an agreement.  The city retains 18 and a 1/2 percent of the licensing revenue for up to 51 years after the pilot.

That sounds very generous.  I’m surprised Doll agreed to that.

He really had no choice, points the mayor.  We’re the only ones who we willing to invest in his experiment.  And based on nothing, I might add, except for a few controlled demonstrations.

Nods Chris, seven years ago no one had any proof the invention would work.  But now…now it’s not such a sweet deal.  It’s like giving away our shirts.

And our trousers.  Andrezzi sniffs and sips from the top layer of Vodka.  We want 75 percent majority.

75 percent!

Damn right, Marsha, argues the mayor.  There would be no licenses to sell if 32 hadn’t been committed to a pilot! Doll’s going to be making piles of money off these licenses for the next 2 centuries.  Our support of the infrastructure allowed his triumph to be possible.  And, with revenues like we’re calculating at 75 percent, we’ll be able to make significant improvements to the city itself.  Possibly make 32 the wealthiest city on the planet.  A new Rome.  Picture it, Marsha.  No deficit.  We could hire so many police, there’s be little to no crime.  Everyone would have a job.  Maybe even forego taxation for its residents.  Can you imagine?  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the city where there’s no State, Local, or Federal property or income tax?  Instead, an unbroken stream of astronomical licensing fees from every other city in the world.

And maybe even a little into your pockets?

In the quiet that follows, Cocanaugher’s head sways and then nods.  I believe that was part of the speech Efdrey and the other board members gave me at the start of the legal action.  It seemed to be – (the Mayor sends a piercing gaze at his lawyer) – a plan without complications.  Use legal action and threat of government influence to negate our original contract with Doll in attempt to gain a more favorable rate.  That’s what you said, wasn’t it, Ef?  I’m quoting from memory, as the recordings were destroyed.

Christ, I hope so.  The lawyer winks.

Chris cuts off the trail of conversation with a wave.  This isn’t the point.  The meat of the matter is that everyone will lose everything if the sabotage can’t be stopped, the saboteur unveiled and convicted, and the system shored up from this type of thing ever happening again.  If a hole in the system is exploited during the pilot, Mr. Mayor, no one, I repeat, NO ONE will want to turn the power of a hurricane, a snowstorm, or a heat wave over to a madman.  There is the potential for series commercial damage, and serious climate damage, if someone can undermine the entire network without getting caught.  Right now, whoever’s behind this is just fucking with us.  I can tell.  They clearly don’t want to flood the city.  They would have done that already.  But the potential for meteorological disaster is definitely in this entity’s hands.

Cocanaugher aims at Andrezzi, but his question is for Chris Silvers.  Who do you think is doing it, Chris?  Another city?  Someone jealous of our revenue potential?  That’s it, isn’t it?  We’ve got a turncoat in our midst and another mayor’s got hold of our plans.

Yes, that’s one thought.  Another city might be predicting the eventual imbalance.

But you think it’s something else?

I don’t know what it is, sir.  Honestly.

Could it be Doll himself? asks Grace.

Sidelong glances to where the assistant sits in the corner.

After all, she continues, it’s his system.

The four absorb this speculation.

I hear that Douglaz is sick, offers Marsha into the void that follows.

Sick?  The mayor looks doubtful.

I don’t know what with, but I’ve heard it mentioned in certain circles over the last few months.  I don’t even know what he might have, or if it’s treatable or terminal.  I know that he moved his employees out of the Doll Building about a month ago.

He did?

You know he can be a recluse.

I hear he hasn’t been outside of his building in a year, adds Grace.  He’s taken over more and more floors…it’s almost like a castle.  Does he even like people?

The mayor rolls a green ball into the far pocket and says softly:  He likes people…  Maybe he likes ‘em too much to put up with the shit we pull.  The mayor puffs.  But it’s true.  I haven’t seen much of Douglaz lately.  Only that Sidney Mizuro.  Regardless.  I don’t think it’s Doll being a thorn in my side.  And I’ll tell you why… Because even if we take 75 percent, the money Doll would make off 25 percent is more than the zero he’d make if the system’s stability were to be questioned.  Money’s still money.  And besides, I don’t think Quam or any of his directors would stand for it.  They’ve worked for decades on this thing.  To have it fail on the eve of deployment would be unacceptable to them.  They’re all shareholders, you know.   He could fool the four of us, but Doll couldn’t fool a man like Quam.

And I believe them, offers Chris, Quam and his team.  They really don’t know what the hell’s wrong.  These are the finest digital weather engineers in the world and they’ve been working around the clock since the trouble started.  I find it impossible that—

Perhaps I should go speak with him, Marsha interrupts with a raise of her brows.  She checks for a reaction.  Douglaz and I go back to the 70s, when I worked as the security liaison to Jesus Rey and Douglaz was pitching bullet vests he invented for the police.  Couldn’t I just go talk to him?

Andrezzi looks to the mayor.  The mayor looks to Grace, who looks to Chris.  Her proposal is silently considered.  The mayor shakes his head.

But, Franco!  No one would turn away the Commissioner of Police.  We really did know each other pretty well once…socially at least.  I admit I’ve lost touch over the last few years.  Douglaz Doll is actually a very decent man.  Though I agree with you, he has grown stranger and more isolated with each of his successes.

No, the mayor concludes with finality.  I need you to help me find those missing kids, not running some political errand.

But Mr. Mayor, cautions Chris, this is a trillion dollars.  You have to think of the greater good of the city.  Maybe she should give it a whirl.

Placing his whiskey on the oak sideboard, the mayor once again picks up his pool cue.  Chris, it’s like this… You don’t have children so you can’t understand.  I have my sons.  Marsha has her daughter.  Efdrey the winner with four, all his kids past college age and flown the coop.  None of our children are as young as the missing ones, but I can easily put myself in those families’ places.  Grace has been fielding calls from inconsolable parents.  Some of these parents have influence in the city.  Actually, I know several that serve under my appointment and a few are even personal friends.  Like Katherine Ximon.  I’m going to be at her daughter’s funeral tomorrow and it breaks my heart.  I’ve lost 81 kids!  And it’s even more frustrating because I know those kids must be inside the city limits.  They have to be.  I know that because of the roadblocks, I know that because of the inter-city bulletins, and I know that because we found six stuffed in a drain.  And you damn well know that if I recognize my culpability, that the registered voters in this town recognize it, too.  If I don’t find those kids alive and well, I won’t be around next term to reap any of the rewards of the Doll licensing.  So come on, let’s focus on one damn crises at a time before we’re all out of friggin’ JOBS!  Cocanaugher smacks his cue down on the green felt of the pool table with a painful snap of his wrist.  He comes up gripping the strain.  Help me find those kids.  Then we’ll worry about what the weather’s like.  Cocanaugher waits until each gives a nod, Chris the last.  Okay.  I’ll send you, Efdrey.  You’ve got tact.  And I don’t picture a lawyer helping much on the immediate search.  Tomorrow morning first thing, soon as the sun is up, you talk to Doll.  You tell him he stands to lose everything from his Great Invention if he doesn’t get hold of his fucking system.  Go bang on the damn door of his castle until he answers.

Efdrey sets down his drink, unfinished, next to the mayor’s own.  Okay, Franco.  I will.