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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

He’s at the mercy of a murderer.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 55


Hektor fights the urge to throw up.  The thought of throwing up and then rolling around in it is almost as frightening as what might be happening.  The driver’s not concerned with traffic laws or the angles of the road.  The glide hiccups and jumps roughly, wildly, and Hektor’s body – inside and out – feels more and more fragile with each turn.

Hektor’s physical state is actually the worst he can ever remember.  Worse than his first lonely illness in the orphanage – the virus that wrecked his stomach and his senses for 3 days straight.  This night, pain stings him everywhere, spreading from his black eye to the cuts and bruises from the 3-glide crash.  His arm is sore from dragging the dwarf.  The trunk’s unfastened tire iron welts his head and he struggles to push it far backwards so it won’t continue to roll.  The smell of the enclosure is leathery and strong, mixed with grease and exhaust, causing a vile headache.

And it is dark.  Black as black.

Had he thought faster, Hektor may have been able to get away.  He could have run from the man, gone into a fit or struggled out of his icy hands.  But he didn’t do either.  Instead, he allowed himself to be picked up and dropped into an open trunk without so much as a ‘no’ or ‘stop’ or a cry for help.

Come and rescue me, Jose, he prays.  I’m here.  In some man’s trunk.  I know you don’t know what color this glide is, what street I’m on, what block, who’s driving, but I’m here.

He estimates 20 minutes have passed since his abduction.  If he’s off on the time, it is not by much.  He is counting Mississippis.  If he knows the time, maybe sense lefts and rights, then he might be able to find his way back.  Might.

A hero like Batman would do the same, wouldn’t he?

He would give his left arm for any of Batman’s devices right now.  Reaching into his coat pocket, he comes up with only a candy bar, smashed flat to the wrappers.

Help me, Jose, he prays again.

The glide slams to a stop.  The driver’s side goes lighter and the door creaks.  The trunk comes open and it’s the man above him.  The streetlight behind makes him a silhouette and partially blinds the boy.

Don’t make a sound or I’ll kill you.

When he leans in to toward Hektor, more of the man is visible in the light: wrinkled suit and flown-open collar, hair pushed back flat and matted with something dark, dead eyes, no kindness inside.  He clutches a bent kitchen knife.  He snags Hektor by the coat and muscles him out of the glide’s trunk.

Hektor checks his surroundings – a wet lot beside a looming cathedral.  No one in sight, all lights off.  Testing, Hektor puts a foot ahead of the bumper and finds the knife’s pressed cleanly to his neck.  Cold.  It hurts.  He shivers.  The blade scratches on his skin.

You say or do anything and I’ll cut your head off.

He tugs the boy up the steps toward the rear door of the rectory.  The box beside the door has a buzzer and keypad.  The man pushes the white dimple and, far off, Hektor hears a whirring sound from inside the rectory.  Impatient, the man taps his finger box’s frame.  Come on, come on.  He pushes a second a third a fourth a fifth time until a voice comes through the box.

It’s very early, says a polite but irritated man through the mechanism.

I have to speak with the priest.

Is this an emergency?


What’s the matter regarding?

The man hesitates then says, Emig Emberlan.

The box is mysteriously quiet for a few seconds.  Who is this?

Your friend from O’Malley’s Pub, Father Tesque… I recognize your voice.

The box light flickers.  A disconnect.

The man reaches out for the buzzer again, angrier than ever, and Hektor feels the pressure on his artery with the shift of the knife.  But before the man can ring again, the door opens.

He’s there – old and plain and wearing black silk pajamas.  Ted— he starts, but cuts off when he sees the boy.

The driver bursts through the crack in the oak door, dragging his kidnapped boy into the rectory’s high-ceilinged foyer.  He scans up and down, as if the place may be infested with rats on the attack.

The priest shakes with the cold morning wind and shuts the door, but that doesn’t stop his hysterics – he’s frightened, disorientated, knowing he’s made a mistake.  The boy, he begs, don’t—

Shut up.  Get your shoes on.

What?  I—

You’re taking me to Emberlan.

The boy, please…get that knife away from the boy and I’ll speak with you reasonably, please.

The man lifts the knife from Hektor’s neck and jabs it, nicking Hektor’s ear – not deeply, but painfully.  Blood ruptures from the ear and splatters Hektor’s shirt and brown coat.

The man puts his knife out to the priest.  His voice is a bottled scream.  You know what you did to me!  You gave them my name.  My NAME!  You know what they had me do?  And when I did it, they gave me their evidence.  They gave me what they had against me.  IT WAS A DRAFT OF YOUR SERMON!  It mentioned my first name and that I was a city trustee and that business I told you about the policeman – all the things we spoke about at O’Malley’s.  And because of your sermon they knew everything.  They thanked me for my help.  They knew everything.  Because of you, Father.  They made me do these things.

Please, I didn’t know, I didn’t know.

Emig Emberlan.  You take me to him.  I need to find him.  I’ve done something even worse, Father.  Even worse than the policeman and it’s your fault!

No, I, it’s…there’s no way I ca—

You KNOW where he IS!

From the rectory’s stairs comes a woman’s voice:

Father Tesque…is everything all right?

No one moves or speaks.


Answer her, mouths the intruder as he sweeps Hektor even tighter.

It’s Mrs. Whitehall, fumbles the priest to the disembodied voice on the stairs, as if that name explained everything.

Oh.  Okay, Father.  Good night, then.

Footsteps pound overhead to nothing.

You tell me where I can find Emberlan, or this kid loses a finger and you have to watch it.

Shaking, Hektor attempts to touch his bleeding ear.  But it’s too tender.  He doesn’t want to cry.  He wants instead to stomp the man’s foot, pummel him, beat him unmercifully, tie him in Bat-ropes and drape him over a chemical vat.  Bravely, the boy dabs his ear; a small triangle is cut from the outside rim.  It will scar and never heal.  And he thinks about all the things he’s lost– his parents, his home, his clothes, Matty Ximon and her sister Nary, Jose, the engineer, and now a part of his precious ear.  The fear of death changes him – not into a hero, but into a darker knight who wants to take the weapon from the man’s hand and thrust it into the man’s guts.

Don’t, don’t, says the priest.  Don’t hurt the boy.  I’ll…I’ll take you to Emberlan.

Get your shoes on.

They…they’re by the door.

Get them.

Outside, Hektor is at knifepoint until the priest is seated on the glide’s passenger side, where the old man waits feebly with his hands folded limply in his lap.  He shivers in his silk pajamas.  The driver pops the trunk with a button his key.  Hektor nearly crumbles with dread.  This time, he’s allowed to get his own self into the trunk, but, to Hektor, it’s almost worse than being thrown inside unwillingly.  Again, he cannot resist, the knife so close to his eyes with no Jose to rescue him.

The trunk slams with a funereal thud.

He waits.  He counts.

The driver-side door opens and the vehicle bounces.  He hears the door again.  Muted conversation leaks through to the trunk from the glide’s interior.  Fighting the start of the glide and the pull as the vehicle jumps forward, Hektor puts his cheek to the seam and listens.

You’re right, says the priest.  I knew of all the transgressions from confessions from my congregation.  I knew Emig Emberlan and I told him their names, if I knew them.  Or descriptions.

You gave me up after O’Malley’s.

I never gave that homily.

No, but you wrote it down and gave me away.  The driver’s voice drips with hate.  You told Emig Emberlan I killed someone and enough other bits to find me.

Yes, the priest confirms, great hesitation in his tone.  But I thought Emig was going to help.  I didn’t know they would make you do things… I swear I didn’t.  Though I doubt this comforts you.  Emig told me if I tell him the names, he would go to the police with evidence.  He said he used to be a detective.  He just needed all the details I had and he would build a case against anyone I gave up to him.  Over the course of a few months, I gave him 9 names.  People of all sorts who usually did nothing wrong…but then each one of them had a transgression.  Then the children began disappearing…and I have wondered what God has allowed me to do…

Not another word is spoken for many minutes.

Hektor dissects what he’s heard a dozen different ways.

You told them I killed someone.

This haunts him most of all.

I killed someone.

He’s at the mercy of a murderer.

Turns, turns, turns and the sickness floods back strong.  He’s not used to motion – not even very used to glides.  His time with the Doll engineer had been short, and the Q-glide had a different center of gravity.  Moving from repair to repair, he only felt a slight tug on the stomach.  Now it was a full riot.

Hektor combs the trunk in the hope of finding something to help him break out.  Under a leg, he touches the insistent tire iron.  Adjusting his position, he’s able to free it from beneath his body.  He could thrust it straight up and break the trunk latch.

I killed someone.

The glide is moving, and moving fast.  He’s as likely to fall out into traffic and be run over, or spill off a secondary or tertiary road.  There’s no way for him to tell which level he’s on, or how close to the barricades, or what else is happening outside the vehicle.

Just as he’s about to break the trunk lock, the glide begins to slow down.

Hektor readies the tire iron.

Better to break out at a stop, he thinks.

But the glide tumbles forward again.

Hektor can’t wait any longer.  He comes up hard with the tire iron.  The noise is tremendous, much louder than anticipated.  But the trunk doesn’t come open.  He reaches up and touches the dent he’s made.  He hits it again, and again.   Sweat and exhaust and hot, stale breath cloud the tiny space.  Using all his strength, Hektor comes up a fourth time and connects with the inner lock.  The trunk springs open.

His eyes are flooded with streetlights.  Flying past above him, he sees heavy beams holding a concrete ceiling stuffed with fluorescents, passing – zip-zip-zip – with the crossing movement of the glide.

He sits upright as the wheels jerk.  He flops and swings with the swerve of the glide.

I’m on a boulevard.

The streets are deserted and still.

The Financial District, pre-dawn Saturday.

The glide halts in the middle of the boulevard.  Hektor is thrown deep into the trunk.  His head slams into the open hatch and nearly blacks out.  Quickly, he shakes off the dizziness.  Sensing his last chance, Hektor fumbles out of the glide and onto the boulevard.  The tire iron slips from his fingers and clanks underneath the rear wheels.  He lands on his elbows and is injected with a painful vibration of bones.

The killer stands above him.

Hektor ramps out of his reach, towards the passenger side.  He collides with the priest’s door as it opens and the priest’s leg drops out.

A Q-glide on the boulevard zooms past the scene, not stopping, not helping, not noticing.

Tesque holds Hektor’s shoulders.

Hektor hears the scrape of the tire iron snatched from the pavement.  He turns as the driver’s arcing hand swings the iron.  The pointed tip rips the side of the priest’s head.  Tesque falls back a few paces, hands up – too late – before stepping on Hektor and tripping.  The priest and boy collapse together in a heap.

Get back inside! the man orders.

Hektor sums his kidnapper’s face.  The man is covered in flop-sweat, but retains the focus of a machine.  His tweed suit, torn in 3 places, carries the illusion of respectability.  But respectable he is not.  Hektor notes the dried bloodstains on the cuffs of the man’s trousers, right at his sightline.  The killer raises the tire iron above them both.

The priest clambers to his feet.  He uses the running boards for balance.  Hektor wants to run down the boulevard, to the alleys beside, between parking posts, towards the approaching lights of another early morning commuter DL Prix, get lost entirely, but the priest has a solid grip on his coat and doesn’t let go.  The priest drives Hektor into the rear seat of the glide.  We must do what he says, the priest emphasizes.

The driver slams and locks the door once his victims are locked inside.  He rounds the glide, slams the trunk, sees it come open, slams it again, sees it come open, breaks off the lock with the tire iron and slams it a last time, and it stays.  He jumps behind the wheel and revs into Drive.

Where did you get this boy? asks the priest as they  propel forward onto the boulevard.

No answer.

Ted… calls the priest, with a knot in his throat that Hektor cannot help but notice.  The name has fear in it.  Ted? he repeats, thinking he’s not been heard.

Don’t say my name.

Who’s the boy?


The priest shrinks, looks smaller to Hektor than before, like a puppy, kicked aside.  Tesque squeezes Hektor’s hand tight to reassure, but Hektor feels anything but reassurance.  .

Are we close? asks the driver.

Turn left.

They go left, right, left.  Another boulevard.  A narrow street.  A traffic circle.  The buildings grow shorter and smaller.  They pilot to the end of the district.  Hektor reads the signs.  He slips the notepad and pencil from his pocket and hastily writes them down.  A few names he recognizes from stories in the flash editions – streets known for money – and recalls Mr. Ducklaw’s teachings in the orphanage, his rants against spendthrifts and his terse explanations of economics.  They are entering the epicenter of City 32’s financial power.

Here, says the priest with a clicked finger, then again, Here.

This building is shorter than some, taller than others, a sliver of steel baring few windows to the outside.  The building’s front plaza has short trees lined around what appears to be enormous bowls of white milk.  A green path connects the street to the clear revolving doors of the entrance.  It is here that Hektor notices the sign.


This is the Doll Building? Hektor asks in a confused voice, starling the adults.

But he doesn’t get an answer.

Look, says the priest.  Who are these people?

Two-dozen cling to the Doll entrance like mayflies.  Each stands in the 5 AM cold, wrapped in heavy cloaking jackets and huddled against the glass.  When the bumperless glide comes into view, the crowd rotates with slow-moving exactness and tracks the beams of the headlamps.

Go down the ramp, instructs the priest.

Directly next to the building the pavement dips wide enough for delivery-glides.  Behind the dip is the entrance to the underground garage.  The glide nicks against the curb then steers away.  Iron fencing surrounds a call box at the top of the ramp.  Contrasting the neo-futurist architecture of the 41-story building, this part is utilitarian, imposing, and probably electrified.

Get down, Ted orders.  The driver adjusts the aim of the glide and sets the course to the flattened bit of pavement.  He’s no more than touched the curb when the crowd is on them, clinging to the side of the DL Prix.  Don’t say a word.

The driver gestures – probably with the knife – but Hektor can’t spot the weapon as it is below the connecting seat.  He can, however, still feel the piercing hurt in his wounded ear and dab the crimson dots on the collar of his gray shirt.

The priest squeezes Hektor even tighter and gives a cautionary shake to the boy.  Let’s do what he says and maybe we’ll live, communicates the gesture.

Go to the call box, Father Tesque whispers between the seats.  You’ll have to roll down your window so they can hear you.

The glide stops at the dropped gate, nearly touching the black speaker box hung at driver level.  A button is pushed and the window slips down.  A shot of brisk pre-dawn air floods inside the cabin.

Immediately, several images are thrust into the driver’s face and he tries to wave them away.  Hands clutch headshots of boys and girls and block the speaker box.  Please, says a man.  You must, says a woman.  Take it, says a mother.  I’ve got money, says a father.  This is my daughter.  This is my son.  Brendan.  Marguerite.  Val.  Gabby.  Her name’s Gabby Koof.  I’m a police officer, a young, bearded father keeps insisting.

The driver bristles and tries to brush the blue-coated man away from the window so he can reach out to the box.

She was 1 of the last 6, Officer Koof explains as he muscles the other parents away.  Please, are you going inside the Doll Building?  Are you?  We’ve been waiting for Doll.  He’s the most powerful man in 32.  More than the mayor.  He’s got money.  If you could just show him this picture, ask him, ask him to see if he can help us—

Fuck off, the driver says without emotion as he reaches through the arm of the bearded policeman and is finally able to punch the call button.

Faces are pressed against the glide, peering inside at the boy and at the priest.  Hektor stays frozen.  He can’t speak.  He wants to shout, but cannot find the words in his throat.  The priest ratchets Hektor’s hand so tightly that the blood runs out and the hand turns white.

PLEASE!  The father of Gabby Koof shoves the image of his daughter at the driver.  It slips from his fingers and into the driver’s lap.  Ted brushes it away as if it is an annoying insect and the image lands cock-eyed.  From between the seats, Hektor sees the face of the awkward young girl.  Plain, unadorned, average.  But smiling.  Hektor cranes forward to better see.

There is a buzz from the call box.

Ted says cleanly: Emig Emberlan.  After a second, he assumes he’s not been heard over the clamor of the pestering parents, so he repeats the name.  Emig Emberlan.  A third time, then: GET THE FUCK AWAY! he shouts at the crowd in a loud, irritated carve through their ranks.  His hand goes beneath the seat, to the knife, but then must think better of violence.  Instead, he reaches down and finds the image of the girl.  He tears up the picture and litters the pieces outside on the shoes of the girl’s father.  The driver flicks angrily at the glide switch and the window rolls up, nearly cutting the fingers of 3 hands – the police officer, a woman, another man.

The gate is opening.

Lights spin blue to white on the top of the iron fence.  A siren sounds, accompanying the whirr of gears and friction.

A booming voice comes over an unseen broadcaster.  Hektor hears the detonation of authority from inside the glide.  STAY CLEAR OF THE GATE OR YOU WILL BE ARRESTED.  The mayflies have no choice but to watch their latest hope vanish and the glide, and the glide alone, is allowed past the gates and down into the parking garage of the Doll Building.

Hektor watches the faces of those they leave behind.  Like zombies, the crowd waits, disenchanted, at the top of the ramp, and in just a few seconds they are completely out of sight.

The vehicle takes the first turn down the tunnel to the garage floor.

Ashamed, the priest cannot even look at Hektor.

Where are you, Jose?  I need help.  I can’t do this alone and this priest is no good.  Hektor sends his message with all the powers he can muster, getting no detectable response except a smug laugh, No one is coming for you, Batman.  Not even RobinNo one even knows you exist.  The glide strikes a speed bump and Hektor bounces on the seat.  As his eyes search the empty floors of the underground garage with poles and lined spaces whizzing by like a carnival ride, he wonders, Am I getting closer, or am I just going further and further away…