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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

City of Human Remains – Chapter 58

Douglaz Doll

He reclines in his soft and easy-to-adjust yellow chair, groping the fabric with the fingers on his right hand, massaging the arm as if it were a cat’s spine.  In his other hand, he holds a tumbler half-full of whiskey and rum – a Brownie, something his father, Robert Quinn Doll, invented.  And his son Douglaz loves him for this, his father’s only invention.

The alcohol tugs his senses. 

His ears are touched by noise – little things, usually unnoticed, such as the breeze through climate vents, the echo of his shifting ice in his glass on the curving wall behind his chair, and the chirping of the chair’s frame when he crosses his legs. 

Oil, he thinks, and the word fades leisurely. 

Other vocabulary comes and goes, too, just as sandy. 

Mustn’t.  Hammock.  Feather in cap.  Watch.  Wristwatch.  Timepiece.  What time is it?

It approaches 7 in the morning.  It may be later than that.  He’s not slept and his eyes show the weight.  He squints and can barely focus on the reflection before him.

His mezzanine sanctum is a ‘D’ shaped room with no view outside.  A wide plex-window, fully covered by an elegant, patterned curtain with spiral print, wraps the wall in front of his recliner.  And on the other side of the curtain is blackness.  The sun has come up.  It must have; he knows.  But the shutters in the adjoining chamber are tightly secured, turning the half-wall into a shadowy mirror. 

Douglaz Doll rises from his sedentary post to peek around the covering curtain.  He sees only shapes.  Soon, he lets the curtain fall back into place and stumbles to his recliner.

To his left sits a life-sized neon palm tree with clear tubing to form the trunk. 

To his right, a dark wood chair, where he has haphazardly stacked 11 hardbound books, all novels. 

Behind him is a watercolor rendering of a weather pole, exquisitely captured by one of his own employees and given to Douglaz as a gift at a company party.  He liked it well enough to hang it (or, at the very least, have it hung on his behalf,) in his most sacred room.  But in the last few weeks, he has decided he doesn’t like it.  More than once, he wishes he had had it destroyed.  Run a knife through it.  Anything to not have the pole staring down his neck, judging him.   

Further to his right and bolted to the curved yellow wall is the most sophisticated piece of equipment he has ever designed.  Flanked by two Spanish shields and covered with oversized dials that can fill a person’s entire palm, the device is something no electrician would even consider.  They would probably not even count it as a functional apparatus.  Possibly a work of art or an antique, but not a practical device. 

Not that anyone would enter this room.  Even with the elevator door seamlessly fitted into the start of the wall, access is limited to non-existent. 

Only Douglaz has the key to the elevator.

He has been cut off for days.  Sidney Mizuro sends messages over the ticker machine that’s embedded in his chair’s armrest.  Other things are sent down the dumbwaiter. 

Plied with fifths of whiskey, rum, cigars, simple sandwiches, there’s really no need to ever leave the mezzanine.  Doll has everything right here in his 200-square-meter sanctuary – even a toilet, shower, and wardrobe, hidden by a narrow door just to the left of the weather pole painting. 

He considers his appearance: checkered green and black pants, cuffs rolled to his ankle socks (1 toe showing), un-tucked button-down shirt, green smoking jacket with white, curvy patterns, in fine condition (if you do not count the whiskey stains), rings on his finger and, around his neck, a faintly feminine necklace.  His hair is dirty, but he keeps it combed back and tight so it just looks gelled to holy hell.

He considers what he was then and what he is now.

A boy, an orphan.


Age 50.  Wealthy. 

Owner of a high-rise with only two occupants. 

Correction: 5 occupants.  They have three guests.  The ticker-tape message from the chair arm told him so less than 30 minutes ago. 

Or did I dream that?  I’ve dreamed it before.  That people have arrived.

He drinks his whisky and rum.

Where is my maintenance staff?  

He hired them.  Or, to be more exact, he had Sidney hire them.  6 men.  All dark-skinned and talented.  Or so he was told.  He has never seen any of them.  They must have gone home.  

What are the hours again?  Did Sidney tell me?  Did they have a schedule? 

When he stands from the recliner, Doll has to steady himself with a hand to the footrest. 

He makes his way to the contraption in the corner, passing the twentieth century encasement and closer so he can touch the components.  He reads numbers on the panels, the blinking lights guiding what knobs to turn, what switches to throw.  He returns to his chair satisfied, falling back into the cushion with a great, lazy sigh.



Noise comes from the dumbwaiter. 

Sid?  Something for me?  Sid?

The tin dumbwaiter vibrates. 


The vibration stops.

Doll scoots forward and lets the footrest slip back into the chair’s frame.  His toes touch the trim carpet that resembles a well-mowed, sun-colored lawn. 

He stands. 

Walks to the dumbwaiter. 

Bends, ever so slightly.

Puts a finger to the gold handle.

And rips the dumbwaiter door upwards.

Crouched inside the dumbwaiter’s square bucket, a young boy clenches the tether rope.  His body is shaking, but his face carries fearlessness.  The boy does not flinch and instead meets Douglaz Doll’s suspicious eyes.

Ah, Doll says and steps back a pace. 

He gestures that the boy should come out.

One leg, then the other, hooks over the dumbwaiter’s ledge.  The boy drops inside the sanctum.  He surveys the mezzanine then fixes his gaze on the machine.  You’re Douglaz Doll, he states.  I’ve seen your image.  And they teach you at school.

Doll backs even further, as if he wants the boy at a greater distance to distinguish his full body.

What’s your name?  He asks this in a tone of curiosity and surprise, not accusation.

Hektor, answers the boy.

Doll retreats to his chair.  Dropped next to the footrest are stapled sheets of paper – a list he rifles through before he even knows his destination.

Spell it.


Doll repeats: Hektor, Hektor, Hektor, Hektor.  He searches with a finger.  Hektor.  Herman?


His finger moves forward again, tracing, turning pages, eyes squinting.  He throws the list to the floor and sighs.  He finishes his drink through a long, loud suck, leaving nothing but the diffused cubes of ice on the bottom. 

You, he says.  Boy.  Hek-tor.  You’re lying.  You’re not on the list.  My list is accurate and it tells me what every one of them is named.  Sidney typed it himself.  And there’s no H-Hektor, he stutters, drunk.  And how did you get in such bad shape?  You look awful.  Worst one I’ve seen.  At least…I think so.  You get beat up by one of the others?

You’ve got them.  Haven’t you? 


The 81.

But aren’t you…?  Wait.  And again: Wait. 

Doll remembers the ticker.  The message from Sidney.  The inventor bounces forward and stabs a venomous finger at the boy.  You’re an impudent little fuck, aren’t you?  This is my home.  You don’t know anything.  Stowaway.  He grabs the boy, turns him around, and smacks his bottom like he is a misbehaving brat. 

Hektor twists away, but not before Doll’s fingers tear the boy’s pants pocket.  The force rips Hektor’s trousers and the pocket comes free, along with a page of folded paper.  Doll separates the page from the fabric while hoping backwards on a foot. 

Hektor rolls into the corner.  He’s against the curtained wall with his fists raised to fight. 

But Doll’s stopped his pursuit.  When he regains his balance, the page in hand distracts him.   Batman? Doll asks in a daze.  He flaps the page at Hektor.  It is the torn inner leaf from a comic book.  Doll’s words are licked by drunkenness:  Did you think… He takes a long, plaintive look at the comic book.  He traces Batman’s cowl with a finger.  Dismissing, he balls the page and tosses it freely across the mezzanine, where it lands on the carpet near his machine.  Revolving around Hektor, he taunts him.  More than a stowaway.  Did, did you, did you think you were a superhero?  Doll’s words are a whisper, less menacing than hallucinatory. 

The boy doesn’t respond.  Keeps his fists raised.

You’re in bad shape, aren’t you, Batman?  Nasty pluck of the ear, that eye.  And yes, I recognize your clothes.  I do.  You’re an orphan? Just like Batman.  What happened to your parents?  Robbed and killed in an alley outside the op-errrrr-a.

They died in a fire, answers the boy.

Doll raises his hands above his head.  I think of all the people that tried to get into this building.  All those parents outside.  And it’s none of them.  It’s you.  What are you, 9 years old?


Sid’s looking for you.  You’re the one who he let in along with that proxy and our priest.  They’re killed soon if they’re not killed already.  Sid will take them out with the trash.  It’s what he does when things smell bad.   Takes the body out and dumps it in the river.

Doll stomps over to the machine and punches buttons, turns dials in a random, unthinking order.  Panel lights switch on and off. 

The boy steps from the curtain. 

Thunderstorms in the East Wards! Doll declares with dramatic glee.  Perfect for a Saturday morning drive! 

The boy’s mouth drops.  That controls the weather?

I built the fucking system – I can knock it down.  Doll gives a last spin to a fat dial and, like an orchestra conductor, madly writhes and bows.  I OWN THIS GODDAMN CITY!  He dances from the machine.  This – (he points) – ‘the wrench,’ I call it.  Does anything I want.  Built on analog circuitry so that they’ll never find it.  Runs every weather pole in 32.  They’re so busy looking for 0s and 1s, they’ve completely ignored what Thomas Edison invented 200 years ago.  I tell you, Batman, you want to put a trick over nowadays, just use something old.  It’s like people forgot that things happened before we were all born!  It’s like everything has to start now, like we’ve pulled it out of thin air, with no sense of history. 

Doll’s fist comes down on the machine’s shield and rattles it in its moorings.  Marching across the mezzanine, he locates his bottle of whiskey buried behind his wooden chair and beside his stack of novels.  With a flick, he topples the books to make way for his mixing.  Rum.  Whiskey. 

Dark Knight want a Brownie? he asks the boy, who says nothing, does nothing.  So Doll continues.  You know, kid.  It was me.  It was me who gave them their stupid money for their goddamn parks.  He mumbles as he stirs with the straw.  Tommy Zigon gets the credit because he drew a few nice pictures.  The city built ‘em for him, with my money.  Anonymous donation.  Not doing one of those again.  See how this city takes advantage?

Doll smiles before continuing:

But what did Ziggy ever do for the city that was as great as what I did?  Tell me THAT.  Old man drops dead at 41 and he’s lionized for some damn swings and slides.  I’ve lived to— Say, how old do you think I am?

The boy shrugs.

Doll smiles.  To a kid, everyone over 18 is a fossil.  He drinks.  I can feel it.  I can.  I can feel my bones crinkin’ up.  21 centuries of progress and they still can’t cure fucking CANCER.  Probably caught it from all the goddamn pollution.  Things change but not fast enough.  People still smoke cigarettes, politicians are still greedy, cars still run on gas, people still get cancer.  I’m an engineer, not a doctor!  I’m done my fucking job, made my contribution.  But what has anyone done for Douglaz Doll! 

He drinks.  And drinks. 

The weather, he huffs.  Just a parlor trick.  It’s meteorology and physics with a stick up its ass.  What I’ve foisted on the city is nothing compared to the ass-kickin’ it tried to give me back.  Franco Cocanaugher wants to rob me of everything when I’ve got just got the 1 thing left.  My sweet little legacy.  They’ll rub me out as soon as those licenses are gone.  I’m pariah.  I’m fucking Nikola Tesla…  Cocanaugher.  Fuck him.  He thinks he runs 32?  He’s doesn’t run ANYTHING! 

Here’s how it happens, young man:

I build something beautiful.  For the city, sure.  But for me.

To see it.  To have done it.

To be remembered for it.

To make money for it.

They want to take it away.  Not even asking.  Just taking.  It’s an insult that can’t be ignored.

Then in the middle of flipping the bird, I get sick.

And nothing can cure me.

So Sidney.  You know Sidney.

Sidney has a list of names from a priest and he talks me into some strange, strange shit.   This is what the doctor ordered, he says.

Take 81 children. 

Tell Cocanaugher nothing. 

Hope he gets the code, the hidden number. 

Zigon built the parks – 81 of them…with my money. 

Ah, ha!  Say le Mayor.  Light goes on: I should pay Mr. Douglaz Doll a visit.  (Here, Doll weeps and falls to his knees, melodramatically in front of the boy.)  Oh, pu-leeze, Mr. Doll.  Help me find those children.  Please help me.  I can’t find a single one and the city thinks I’m shit.  But you must know, because there’s a code that we know about.  Stop hurting and help, will you, pal?  Will you?

Doll gets up from his knees.

But, one of our proxies doesn’t deliver the full batch.  Goes missing and takes six of the kids with him.  And he kills them all.  Now I’m in deep. 




Instead of Mr. Important coming to me for help so I can turn tables on negotiations, he thinks there’s a psycho on the loose and I’m stuck with a bunch of useless kids.

So Sidney says: Take more.  Get that number.

I say we’re giving away the farm.

But I’m so goddamn screwed up from the medicine and this fucking disease, that I…that I…


Doll stumbles away with a wave and leans on the wall.

I’ll take everything the mayor’s got.  I’ll take his weather, I’ll take his votes, I’ll take the children that play in the very 81 parks I PAID FOR!  I’ll take this godforsaken city right out from under him!

The boy has a glimmer of sympathy.  If you’re sick…maybe there are people who can help you that you haven’t even asked.

Doll scratches his chin.  Optimist, huh?  Well forget it.  It’s in the bones.  I’ve got less than 3 months.  Ah, I’m just screwed all around, Batman. 

The boy stares dumbly. 

Why am I even talking to you?  You don’t know a goddamn thing. 

Doll dismisses with a wave.  He tastes his drink, adds more whisky. 

Money’s what matters.  Money and reputation.  Oh, but Gotham City knows that, doesn’t she?  Those things matter the most.  Doll gives a great sigh of exhaustion.  Money and reputation is all we got in this town. 

Those two things mean everything. 

Always does, always will.

Another voice shoots into the room.


Douglaz Doll snaps back, What!


Of course there is.  He came down in the dumbwaiter. 


Leave him alone!  I don’t get much company.  Kid thinks he’s Batman and I’m his Joker. 


Doll opens his mouth and shuts it again.  He’s thinking.  Shit.  He drinks.  He looks to Hektor.  He smiles nervously.  Well, Sid…you knew they’d be here eventually…



Doll sets down his drink.  Smiles and rolls his eyes to the boy.  He thinks he employs me instead of the other way around, he whispers to Hektor and then decides.  Okay, Sid.  How about this?  I’ll come to you.  Doll sets down his Brownie.  He dusts his green smoking jacket.  How do I look? he asks the boy, who does not answer.  Do me a favor, Batman.  Help me put on a suit and tie. 

The boy gingerly obeys. 

The man sobers a bit by the time he ties his necktie.  You probably never needed a tie, he laughs to the boy.  You’re lucky.  They choke you. 

When he’s done, Doll inspects himself in a tall mirror nailed to the washroom door. 

Satisfied, he moves to the analog machine. 

A storm’s brewing, Doll comments with a wink.

How do you know?

Because I’m putting the pot on.  He twists the dials, sets the coordinates.  Far outside the building the distant thunder starts.  The tremble grows quickly closer.  A rain to wash the troubles away, Doll laments and rubs the boy’s hair.  He withdraws a circular key from his discarded green smoking jacket.  He locks the dumbwaiter with a swipe.  Stay put, Batman, he says over his shoulder as the elevator doors part.  He seals the last way out with the same, uncaring quickness.