City of Human Remains – Chapter 61
All of Them
As when he was trapped inside Ted Appleton’s trunk, Hektor shakes with terror. The lights are out on the mezzanine. The orange, D-shaped room swallows him whole and his heart loudly boxes in his chest.
1. 2. 3.
He counts the seconds without light. His small voice in the curved space reverberates from behind.
The first time the power went out, he counted to 4.
Then the light came back on.
Second time: 6.
Third time: …4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9…
Now he’s up to 12.
He stops counting.
A curtain hides the wall in front of him. He knows it is so from before the lights died, when Doll was in the room, but now he can only see the ruffles.
Hektor steps to the curved flat wall and gropes until he locates two dangling draw chords. There must be daylight behind here, he presumes, even stormy daylight. Pulling, he bears the whine of the rollers, which have not be utilized in some time. The curtain parts to reveal a plex-window behind stretching from the boy’s shoulders up to the ceiling.
But the window does not allow him light. Instead, it opens onto another distant chamber bathed in black. Hektor’s eyes adjust.
Something flickers in the rectangle frame.
Hektor finds the center of the window.
The spark of lightning intermittently shows through faraway shuttered walls. He peers 30 meters out. The flashes crack left and right, north and south, in the chamber beyond, but the light is so brief and the apertures so narrow, he barely gets a chance to see what is truly there.
What is that?
Hektor picks out shapes…
He cups his hands to his eyes to ease the reflection.
The chamber on the other side of the glass is expansive, its ceiling higher than the mezzanine’s. In the forced shadows, the place resembles a nighttime prairie more than another room.
The lightning continues, accompanied by chest-thumping thunder. It must be raining. But he can’t hear it. What he hears instead is a hum. Not mechanical. Human.
He presses his nose against the plex-window.
White streaks twice as intense as the lightning that has come before hit the chamber. And in those seconds of brightness, he sees them all. The floor in the chamber is not intact, but is instead rimmed, and there is a rectangle-shaped hole in the center.
And inside that hole…
Hektor flattens and allows his face to distort on the plex.
IT’S YOU! he shouts through the window with all of the air in his lungs.
The lights swell back to life – a bright flare as the building’s power returns.
An animal lunges at him from the other side of the plex, sending Hektor reeling backwards. The impact wobbles the plex in its frame. There is a loud smack of skin and the digging of nails. The animal came after him from below – barking loud and bearing its teeth as it scratches. Hektor crashes into Doll’s recliner, nearly falling top-over-tip.
The Doberman’s compact body, with head widening toward the root of the ears, leaps for the boy it cannot touch. The dog’s forequarters stretch and its claws dig at the plex, which buckles and muffles the Doberman’s angry snap.
Hektor regains his senses. Just a dog. Just a dog.
A second dog slams beside the first, snapping jaws.
If there were no partition, the boy would be mince. Chewed to bits and spit out again. They can’t get through, he keeps telling himself. They can’t get through. Raising his courage, Hektor goes forward. He wants to look beyond the dogs to the hole of the opposite room.
He’s never seen dogs, only images in textbooks. They always look friendly. But these dogs, they want to kill him. He knows that from their veracious, undiscouraged leaps at the window. He can barely see around the dogs to what’s behind, as their long bodies and ferocious writhing takes up much of the pane’s center.
But when one falls back to gravity—
Not an illusion.
There are children in the chamber.
Hektor bobs up and down with excitement. He’s found them. In a city of millions, he has found what no one else has found – the missing 81. Those he dreamed about. Those he sought. He was fated to be kidnapped and brought to the source. He’s here for a reason; he knows it now more than ever. Everything has been worth it. He found them. He found them!
Exhilaration gives way to real panic.
The dogs. He has to face the dogs. There’s no way around it. If he wants to get the children out of that hole in the floor, he must find a way to conquer the dogs. The plex shakes with the pounding of claws and the scratching of nails. Already, scars from the Dobermans streak the pane.
A sea of heads and shoulders.
He realizes, quite quickly and quite logically, that the children are not buried in a hole in a distant nighttime prairie. It’s a swimming pool. He’s kept them in a swimming pool. He sees the ladders and the diving board.
The 81 flail their arms at Hektor.
* * *
Get out of here! a girl calls.
¡Usted morirá! Run away! a boy screams.
It’s a mix – Spanish, English, boys, girls, with different emotions from different throats. But not a sound escapes the plex-window except for the barking of the dogs.
In the swimming chamber, they’ve grown used to the shattering rips of the two Doberman Pinschers ricocheting off the tiles. But now, the dogs are insane with the smell of fresh blood, the boy who has managed to get on the other side of the glass.
Six-year-old Ramira Lopez, the very first child to be taken, stands in soiled, stinking clothes, her hair matted to her forehead. She screams to anyone who will listen – Back up! Back up! – as the children behind her crush forward to the shallow end of the swimming pool. She is now just a few meters from the blue stairs leading out of the drained pool. She’s being pushed unwillingly, closer and closer to the piston-like Dobermans.
No one listens to her.
Especially Anthony Tillage, a round-faced boy 9-years-old from Ward 17, who was on his way to his stepmother’s apartment when he was taken. A head taller than those around him, Anthony rams ahead with elbows out, knocking a girl (whose name he has forgotten) down into the dark zone under the crowd’s legs. Sorry, sorry, he apologizes, feeling bad about it, but not enough to stop.
One of the Dobermans – the blackest with the wildest eyes – twists around, sensing his prisoners rising above the water line. He crouches into striking position and sends three stabbing barks in their direction – enough to scare them to the middle of the pool. After the retreat, the dog again spins to the plex, balls swinging between his hindquarters.
Recent arrival Kasey moans and cries at this latest nightmare. Oh God. Oh God. The boy. Oh God. Her boot – the corrective anvil she’s been tied to for a month – weighs her down more than ever. She’ll swear 20 kilos, if she’s asked. She’ll swear. With its thick heel, metal clasps, and double-thick leather – all the uncomfortable requirements of her healing, it’s her albatross, but it also keeps her upright in the shifting waves of children. The dogs aren’t letting up. They want that boy. Oh God. They’ll get him. They’ll eat him. Oh God. Anger takes her body and she screams uncontrollably before deciding that she must do something, anything to help him.
She unstraps the boot and slips it from her foot. She thrusts forward with it in her hands, her broken toes sore and cramped, but not yet overwhelming her with pain. The other children jostle Kasey and she feels that she might tumble backwards down the pool’s incline without her anchor. But she holds, pushing forward, past Anthony Tillage, past Ramira Lopez.
Kasey stares down to the dogs. One has turned. She looks to the boot, considers her bad aim and the fact that she may need that boot another time. It’s worth it, she knows, filled with retribution. She screams in agony, in a voice her mother would use on their malfunctioning glide, or the house electrics, or stopped traffic, and rears back her arm to make the throw. (¡Usted conseguirá en apuro! No! Don’t! Arresto! – the objections of a dozen children who her in action, what’s she’s planning – Polish children, Spanish children, American children, African children, every observant child in the imprisoning swimming pool.) But Kasey can’t be stopped. She has to help that boy. She’s not been here long enough to have her bravery beaten.
Her arm picks up velocity.
At the apex, she lets go of the boot.
The missile arches to the left of the brown-furred Doberman and the sharpest edge connects with the plex, dead center, before bouncing off the glass and skipping several meters sideways.
She’s missed. Her boot is lost.
Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.
Then, in the plex-window, a crack appears.
A star-shaped pattern spreads like a spider’s web. This is not what she wanted. She hoped the boot would hit the dogs, one or both, knock them unconscious. Make them dizzy. Anything. She didn’t mean to damage the window – the thing protecting the stray boy from their venom.
Kasey covers her mouth. No.
She’s shoved to the ground.
The dogs are back to the perimeter of the pool.
The brown one sniffs at the boot and the children can almost read the dog’s mind: You fools, it says, we’ll show you.
The dogs bare their teeth against the rebellion in the pit.
The black dog ranges left, to the ladder.
The brown dog jogs right, sprints the length of the pool then skids on his paws at the diving board, the spot where he has stood watch over the children for weeks, more a buzzard than a canine.
The black dog snaps and growls. Mind your place says the sound. The brown dog drives the herd backwards until every child touches in the center of the pool.
Tommy Leight – age 7, with moppy red hair and freckles to match – can’t take his eyes from the cracking window at the end of the chamber. The damage is everywhere now, quickly spreading to the very structure of the glass, a virus of decomposition. The window is weakened, but holds.
Mary Bird can no longer see the boy. Where is he? she asks just as another bang comes from outside the building – thunder followed by light. The shutters conceal the days, as well as the hope that they’d ever be seen from the outside. Now, they did not know whether it was day or night, rain or the apocalypse.
All heads turn to the plex. The boy has retreated back. But soon he comes forward again – almost in slow motion – first is arms, then his face, then his torso, illuminated by the storm outside and the fluorescents behind him. In the boy’s hands, he hoists high a wooden chair.
Some of the children know what is about to happen.
Some of the children tremble with their eyes to the dogs.
And the last fraction understands the boy’s strategy only at the slam to the fragile window.
He’s drawing the dogs back to him.
He’s breaking through.
* * *
On the second swing, Hektor’s force is doubled. The chair, though, is weak and the impact splinters the upper frame. If he could only have picked up the bigger chair – Doll’s recliner – one toss would have finished it. The window would shatter and the chair volley through to the other side. But this wooden chair is all he could manage, and it’s no good.
He runs for another hit.
The brown Doberman returns fast from the faraway diving board.
If the chair will only cling together for a few more swings. The brace on the bottom is already cracked and shows a fissure in the wood. If it disintegrates, he’ll have nothing heavy enough to break the window.
And he must break it.
Whatever that girl threw at the window got him farther than he could have gotten by himself. Without a door to the chamber, the elevator and dumbwaiter locked, the window is the only way he knows to get the 81 out of their prison. It has to be the window. He’ll handle the dogs second, but first, the window.
With rippled neck and clenched jaw, Hektor lunges at top speed. The chair cuts into the fragmented plex, right at the center.
The dogs snap beneath. They want to attack the glass as they had before, but sense something is wrong. Once shattered, the glass is sharp and pieces rain from cracks onto their paws.
The hole is the size of a hand.
Through the hole, Hektor can hear the children.
Run! No! Run!
They are warning him: leave the building, leave them, go get help, don’t come in. The dogs can kill, they say. You will die. Don’t make them angry. The dogs will eat all of them. The dogs! The dogs! THE DOGS!
Buried in the flurry, over the yaps of the dogs, Hektor hears the faint pleading of a girl…
A single voice in the din.
And then, more clearly, Help us, Hektor.
He swings the chair a third time and breaks the hole wider. A leg snaps from the chair and suddenly the whole frame collapses in his hands. It becomes a mess of wood, glue, and nails. But he can’t let go of it.
The voice is less like an apparition and more like a real girl. Through the ruptured window, Hektor spies her in the swimming pool. The chamber is dark, but his eyes have adjusted. He cups his hands to his face to block out the mezzanine light. A girl. She wiggles forward, waving her arms. The others part for her.
Who is she? How does she know my name?
The window is crumbling under its own weight. The plaster is coming loose, splitting from the frame, its materials not able to fully support the damage wrought with slams of the chair, the scratches of the dogs, the boot.
Hektor breaks the chair apart with his feet, stomping up and down on its parts, all the time hearing the call of his name, Hektor! Hektor! from the girl’s he’s trying to ignore. She’s small. Crying. Dark-haired. A face. He knows something. Her forehead. The shape of her nose. It’s coming back to him.
Thunderclap and abrupt darkness.
The lights are out again.
Hektor’s heart races faster and faster, but he doesn’t stop. He’s got a leg loose from the nails and, with one more hard kick, plies it from the rest.
The sound is tremendous and timed just with another crash of the thunder and lightning – the window, falling, not outward as he expected, but right down on top where he kneels. Shards pour on his head. He’s able to cover himself with an arm, but not well. A large, triangle-shaped sliver the size of a hand rips his gray shirt and slices the skin beneath. Hektor cries out and retracts his body from the pain and its cause, but rolls into another upturned shard. This one pierces his trousers and makes gash, deep and bleeding, on Hektor’s narrow leg.
The Dobermans are kids on Christmas morning. They want to unwrap Hektor as quickly as possible. Leaping, the black dog clears the window frame and bounces very near to where Hektor has rolled. The dog’s hindquarters coil like a snake.
Hektor washes the fog from his eyes. He’s not going to make it — he struggles to get the chair leg out from under him.
Unexpected light blinds both the boy and the dog.
Hektor wedges his eyes open.
The elevator door buzzes and opens, its lock undone by the surge. The dumbwaiter sparks and its light blinks.
The dog, for a few seconds, is dumbfounded.
A ripple of gasps washes into the room from the swimming chamber. They’ve seen the dog make its jump and know the intended punishment for any child outside the pool.
Hektor’s fingers hook the chair leg just as the dog leaps. He swings, catches the dog’s temple and knocks him left. But the dog’s up again and barreling over him. It squats its body on top of the boy and pins Hektor down. The stench of the dog is awful – it’s breath, the sweat from its sticky skin. Hektor screams. The dog’s jaw encases his ankle and gouges. He feels first the pressure and then excruciation as the Doberman’s knife-like incisors break the skin and go deep to the bone.
Without even looking, Hektor reels the chair leg and brings it down hard, hoping to land anywhere near the dog. The wood vibrates and stops.
The dog goes limp and collapses like a leaking balloon.
The boy looks up in disbelief.
The chair leg is stuck to the dog’s head, just between the ears, held in place by the two stray nails.
The dog’s teeth are in the meat of Hektor’s leg.
Hektor reaches out, pries the jaws, and kicks the mouth away. He grits with the pain. Dizzy and nauseated, the boy wiggles from under the dead dog. He stands in a stupor, partly visible above the frame.
His ears bristle.
The window frame.
The second dog.
The brown Doberman wonders what has become of his comrade. Hektor reaches out to the chair leg. He must have swung hard, as it’s firmly planted in the black dog’s skull and he can’t wretch it free.
It’s coming over! screams someone in the distance.
Hektor hears the pad of paws as the last dog backs for the jump.
It’s coming! shouts a child’s voice.
Oh, God, says another, it’s—
Kill it! chant a few, sensing the potential.
Hektor crouches down to prepare for the attack. He slides backwards until he touches Douglaz Doll’s recliner. He looks for something, anything. Nothing can protect him. Everything is too far away. He might be able to reach the Doll’s rum bottle, but its slipped off the table in the commotion and now lays across the room, near Doll’s infernal machine.
He hears the racing paws on the tile.
The head, the front legs over the wall, and—
The dog doesn’t clear it. The brown Doberman’s arc is wrong. There is a flash between the dog and the boy; Hektor looks into the dog’s eyes as the beast realizes that it has wrongly calculated the speed required, the distance, the factors to make a proper jump over the wall. The dog shows almost a sad resignation.
The wail it makes is terrible as it comes down on the jagged window fragments that line the broken window. At least 3 tall peaks of glass puncture the dog’s stomach, practically disemboweling the Doberman as its weight takes the full cut.
The dog’s whining continues for another 50 seconds. Its entrails roll in slow motion down the inner wall of the mezzanine. Hektor lifts himself off the floor to put the gore out of his sightline. The weight of standing makes his wounded leg prick with pain.
He turns his head to the swimming pool.
The 81 are there with mouths open.
They give a rousing cheer.
You can come out now, Hektor says to them, breathless, sweat and blood pouring off of him, clothes in tatters.
* * *
He wants to fire a shot. He’s got live bullets in his semi-automatic Hakim rifle. This is rare for him. Sergeant Earl Drubney avoided trouble this long and hopes that his luck stays.
Don’t fucking shoot anyone, he repeats inside, don’t, don’t do it, don’t.
But it’s goddamn tempting. The lobby is packed with targets – men, women, civilians, plus 19 others of the Heavy Team. People bump Drubney’s arms and elbows and he’s trying – God knows he’s trying – to fall into a line by the elevators where six of his squad have gained a foothold. He is almost beside the security desk, where a few of the intruders have gripped the counters and aren’t letting go without forced expulsion.
Drubney just keeps repeating: I’m lucky, I’m lucky, I’m lucky, the only sentiment that’s saved him from doing something dumb.
Seven days now and he’s still certain they will catch him. Those who may have witnessed him shoot a rubber bullet into the eye of Grace Levine, the mayor’s secretary (he’s since learned), haven’t come forward, but they will. They will. He will be identified and he will be fired, fined, jailed, or all three. But for now, God is on his side. He’s lucky. That visit to the priest Sunday helped (he hopes.) Drubney holds his rifle away from the civilians and he continues to pray.
Just get me to the elevators, God. Just get me to the elevators. Don’t let me shoot anyone. Helen needs me now. Really needs me. More than ever. Her sister and her nieces. Jesus Christ. Who would murder a family?
He never met them – not the dead nor the missing husband, but he heard Helen’s voice on the Eye Dial just eight hours ago and he knows. She’s never going to be the same.
She needs you. You’re all she’s got left. And you need her, Earl. You do you do you do you do. So don’t shoot this man screaming obscenities at you about his lost daughter. Don’t shoot this mother shoving a picture in your face and trying to con her way onto an elevator. Out of the way, please. Don’t shoot this poor fuck, or that one, or this one, or any of ‘em. Do your job and locate Captain Coffland, and find out what to do.
He’s nearly to the rear elevator silos when he trips and falls, spread eagle on the atrium floor. A hand comes down. Drubney is helped to his feet.
Christ, the noise is terrible.
His rescuer is saying something. Or trying to. I can’t hear you, he shouts. The atrium is a discordant symphony of rebellion. The man is imposingly tall, dragging behind him by the arm a stout woman with pepper hair.
I’m a policeman!
The words finally reach Drubney’s ears.
Ray Koof. Patrolman. Eighth Precinct.
Drubney clears the mist from his mask and gets a good look. 10 years younger than him. Bearded. Uniformed. Young. Definitely a cop.
Koof asks as they make way the final steps to the elevator, What’s your name, Officer?
Doomsday. Drubney starts with his nickname and regrets it. I mean Sergeant Drubney.
What’s going on? shouts the man.
I thought you knew! Drubney screams back.
No, you all just came bursting in here and—
Drubney is waved ahead by the ever-strengthening line of police blockading the elevators. Drubney whips off his faceplate, jarred loose in his fall, and confirms with short-tempered frustration, You say you’re a cop?
Yes. My wife Janet (he gestures to the woman beside.) My daughter was taken yesterday. We came here for Doll’s help, but he won’t see us.
Everyone here for Doll?
That explains it. Just like the riot at City Plaza. The people want action. They want results. Last one finds Doll is a rotten egg, Drubney thinks. If Doll is handing out favors, though, they must be in short supply. Help me get all these people back, Drubney yells to Koof, control feeding into his voice.
The stout woman grabs Drubney’s flak jacket. You’ll let us up to see him, then? You’ll take us with you? If we help you with these people?
I don’t have any autho—
Koof considers the deal done, though, because he is already helping. I know these people, he says. I know them from the waiting, he says to Drubney as he turns to the mass of people. Wait, wait, please, quiet! He flaps his arms. Hold up, hold up! Quiet!
The flank of citizens closest to the silos grow less and less chaotic – feet first, then voices.
Drubney joins in. Just calm down! Please!
A middle-aged woman spins into Drubney’s face.
My daughter! My daughter! You have to help me.
Yeah, why you cops rushin’ in here!
I want to see Doll.
Is it my son?
Does this have to do with the children?
Are they dead? Are they dead?
Why aren’t there more of you?
Two glides came in, two glides. Not an hour ago.
Yeah, first, first this priest and this guy and a boy and—
Then a woman and man. A policeman.
SHUT THE FUCK UP! Drubney screams at the top of his voice and throws his helmet to the floor. The smash on the marble sends clatter through the lobby greater than the dissipating thunder of the storm. JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP! JESUS CHRIST!
Sergeant! claps a man’s voice from behind – ranking lieutenant of the Heavy Team, Chuck Repenzi. My men to me!
But Drubney’s tantrum has worked. The lobby crowd is as quiet as it has ever been, or is ever going to be. The machine-gun questions have stopped and the noise and panic dissipates.
Into this, the elevator arrives.
Come on, snaps Repenzi to Drubney. We’ve taken control of the fire panel. We’ve got the elevators. If the power holds, we’ll run cars up in pairs of two. I don’t want more than a couple stuck in the elevators if the power keeps fucking up. You, though…I want you to take the next car. Start your search on 35 and keep rising. Got it, Sergeant? I’ll take a team straight to the penthouse for Doll.
What about Captain Coffland?
Not answering his Eye Dial. My guess, it’s the penthouse. These folks say Doll met the commissioner and the captain in the lobby.
He flags his fingers and backs into the opening elevator car behind his men, leading the first wave of Heavy Team up into the Doll Building.
Drubney waits for the next car with the remaining 15. He’s been relegated to the offices. He’ll never see any action now. And maybe that’s a good thing.
* * *
His Eye Dial rings. He doesn’t hear it. He’s asleep. Sound asleep. Has been for at least 30 minutes, slipping into dreams about odd things – coupled with the effects of the whiskey, the conversation, his fatigue, the dreams of children he will never have.
Hello? he answers after 10 rings with no real clarity or enthusiasm. That you, Dyle?
Grace? Sorry. What? Okay. Okay, yeah. Yeah. Okay. You’re kidding? Okay. Okay. I’ll call you back, he promises, coming more awake, more alive. He stretches his body up from the sofa and lets his sports coat – used as a blanket – slide onto the floor. Grace, I’ll call you back. Yeah, I don’t know what he did with his phone. I’ll call you back. Okay. ‘Bye.
Chris Silvers tucks the Eye Dial into his shirt pocket and rubs the sand from his eyes. He cracks his knuckles, rises, and searches the room with quick left and right glances. Mr. Mayor! he calls into quiet of the downtown office. He lost track of the mayor. Last he saw him, he was seated in the opposite chair, in thought. But since Chris fell asleep, he has vanished.
The toilet flushes.
Cocanaugher emerges from the office bathroom. His hair and moustache are slicked from a recent shower. He stands in a furry blue bathrobe, clothes hung on the nail of the bathroom’s door in his background. Franco Cocanaugher is ready for another day of work, even though he hasn’t slept a wink all night. Chris knows his boss can be like this – a burning bright candle once he gets going. This trait has manifested on every campaign the man has ever run.
I just got a call from the Grace. She’s at City Hall. A lot’s been happening this morning.
Like? The mayor has lost his patience, though – Chris can tell it in the elasticity of his voice. He’ll want his information in short, sharp dashes.
Something’s happening at the Doll Building. They’ve sounded some sort of alarm.
Franco leans, as if blown by a wind, onto the frame of the bathroom door.
A Heavy Team has crashed the building. Bunch of parents there, too. That’s all I know.
What? What about Marsha?
They think she’s still inside with Coffland. They had a call from him 10 minutes ago that sounded urgent.
The mayor steps forward, wiping clean his fuzzy ears with the sleeve of his robe. It’s as if his ears are clogged, and he can’t get them right. He walks the full perimeter of the pool table. When he reaches the end of the velvet, he stops playing with his ears and picks up the black 8-ball from the green surface.
What is it? What?
Franco shakes his head. How many Zigon Parks are in this city, Chris? Do you know?
No. No clue.
Do you know who raised Douglaz Doll after his parents died in that crash?
Yeah, Tomas Zigon. The wheels click in Chris’s mind. Wait. I don’t understand. Do I? I thought there were 80 parks.
Ninth and fucking Electra, the mayor curses.
Franco reels his arm back and drives the 8-ball at the line of whiskey bottles above the bar. The noise – smash of the bottles and the shelf falling loose and collapsing in levels to the floor – shocks Chris out of the last of his haze.
Chris… Lets take your glide.
* * *
The daisy chain of children continues off the mezzanine, which Hektor learns is actually the 40th floor of the Doll Building, as the elevator buttons skip from 39 to 41 with a button marked ‘M’ in between. The storm’s power surges have disrupted the locks and freed them from their imprisonment on the mezzanine. The thunder and lightning have abated, and sun trickles through the shutters of the swimming chamber. A door discovered behind Doll’s machine leads to the swimming pool chamber, but a heavy bolt is ratcheted across. The children have to be lifted one at a time through the smashed window. Hektor lays his coat across the glass so no one gets cut on the way out.
Between the elevator and the dumbwaiter, already half of the children have been sent down.
Don’t worry, he soothes children as he stuffs them two-at-a-time into the petite dumbwaiter. You take this down ome floor and find an elevator. And if you see any grown ups in the building, run as fast as you can away from them. Only the grown-ups outside of the building can be trusted.
Why can’t we take the elevator? one little girl asks as he shuts the tin door of the dumbwaiter on her.
I don’t know how long they’ll leave us alone, or the electricity will stay on, Hektor explains. The dumbwaiter will take you to a bunch of other elevators. Good luck.
Secretly, he doesn’t like to use the dumbwaiter, but has no choice. Trouble could come at any moment.
Where are we? asks a little boy, then a girl, then another, then another. Hektor is amazed. Not one kidnapped child knows where they had been taken.
They covered our heads with hoods, they tell Hektor, some describing their nightmare abduction as they wait for the next elevator. Others tell of their push into the pool with its crowded collection of missing. Others just nod. Yes, says the gesture, that was me, too.
You’re in the Doll Building, Hektor says, though this fact is significant to only a portion. Half connect it to the weather system; the others stare blankly. He explains patiently but quickly: You’re where the money is, where the banks are. It can only help if they know what part of the city they’ll find themselves in when they leave the building.
To Hektor, though, knowledge matters less than medical attention. The 81 look worse than anyone he has seen admitted to the orphanage – skinnier, more frightened, with nicks and scrapes, bruises, and malnutrition. The children haven’t breathed fresh air in 10 days. He knows they have been fed because the dregs of crackers, cheese, bread, and other snacks are crumbed all over their clothes. They smell dreadful and only the recent six have been bathed. Their skin is dry and crusted and their hair weighted down with oil.
As the lifting and exiting continues, Hektor regards the chamber beyond the wall. In a ring around the diving boards rest a dozen jugs of water. Some may have used those to wash themselves, but it’s not likely. It was for thirst. They were being taken care of, it seems, though poorly and hastily. A bog-like stink wafts over the smashed plex. In a corner of the chamber, Hektor spots the white cone of a portable toilet. He can’t picture Sidney Mizuro cleaning it, and he also can’t picture the children braving the dogs to use it. That’s why the missing were all older than five years, he surmises, They had to all be a bit able to take care of themselves. Even with his cuts, bruises, black eye, ripped clothes, bloodstains, and injured ankle, Hektor feels as though he’s in considerably better shape than the 81.
Most won’t even look at the dogs. Some kick the dead brown one where it has fallen – not to ensure the dog is dead, but out of red anger. A chubby boy wearing a Catholic school uniform falls on top of the Doberman and pumps his fists into it like it is the most-hated bully on the playground. Three girls pry the boy loose, crying and hugging him, and wrestle him back into the line.
The elevator fits nine at a time. They’ve been able to do almost eight cars full. There is no direct-to-lobby button on the panel – and also no emergency call or communications, just the floor numbers. As the private elevator, Hektor thinks it might be set as an express, but he can’t be certain. The door closes on each carload. Hektor touches the nearest children and tells them, You’ll be okay.
Nearly all of the 81 are gone when the last girl lifts Hektor’s coat from the broken rim of the window. She shakes it free of glass, and hands it to him. Hektor peers deep into the girl’s eyes. She is the one he recognized during the struggle with the dogs – the one who knew his name. She is tiny with narrow cheeks and mantis arms. Despite her appearance of fragility, she carries herself with great strength. She could have gone earlier, but she stayed behind, helping others. You should leave in the next one, she says to Hektor. There will only be room for nine and there are 10 of us. I will go last.
No, Hektor says. I’ll go last.
She does not change her face. I’ll wait with you.
No. You’re going. Hektor bends to meet the girl’s eyes. You know me. You know my name.
I’m Nary. My sister is Matty. I’m 7. My mom works at the orphanage. I once saw you in the yard. Mom told me your name. Isn’t that funny? I saw you. Out of lots and lots. And I remembered you. And I remembered your name. And you saved us.
Don’t tell anyone my name, says the boy in a hush. Hektor looks sheepish, says nothing more, then wanders to the eight anxiously awaiting the next elevator. Nary Ximon follows him. The arrow rises, signaling the return of the car that will take them home.
After Hektor has put back on his coat, Nary tugs on the torn sleeve. Is my sister all right?
Hektor exposes nothing.
We were separated. A man took us — me from school and her from home. Then he separates us. Drops me here, but takes Matty with him.
Your mom’s worried about you, is all Hektor answers. He detects panic and sadness in her face, but Nary quickly buries it.
Anthony Tillage points to the ticking arrow. No, no, no!
Hektor breaks from Nary.
The elevator has stopped a floor below the mezzanine.
They watch as the arrow holds on 39.
The children look to Hektor for an explanation.
Someone got on, he says.
Hektor turns to the damaged room.
Back up. Three don’t speak English, so he corrals them like sheep. Hektor lines the children against to the wall behind the machine just as the arrow rises again.
Hektor removes his coat and reels his fingers into fists. His heart beats like an over-wound clock. Please be a rescue team.
* * *
He is halfway onto the mezzanine before he notices the dead black Doberman hung over the gap-toothed plex-window. His face betrays nothing. Slowly, his eyes map out the sun-colored carpet. He doesn’t need to inspect the piece of wood oddly stuck to the brown dog’s head to know that one is dead, too.
Douglaz Doll robotically pivots to the swimming pool. When he realizes the children are gone, he whispers, but the words drift and disappear only a few centimeters past his lips.
Gradually, he becomes aware of the sound of breathing.
Against the wall stand 10 remaining children – mostly the oldest and the largest, with the exception of one modest girl. They hid directly under the lowlight, yet so frozen among the chaos of the room Doll didn’t even notice them.
In the center of this rag-tag bunch is a boy who stands straight, with fists, and meets the inventor’s eyes. This boy, Doll knows, inside and out. He is the one he so foolishly left unattended.
He points to Hektor.
All right, Bat-man, he mocks with a diamond stab. This is my building and these children were my property. Where are the rest of ‘em?
When the troublemaker doesn’t answer, Doll cuts a line in the air with his finger, meets the eyes of the boys and girls to the left and to the right of his target.
I will TELL you what’s important in this FUCKING WORLD OF YOURS!
Doll jumps forward and snags Nary Ximon, lifting her up onto his shoulder.
Hektor tries to catch her feet as they float out of reach.
Everyone else screams. The fat one bolts past Doll. He’s on an invisible wire toward the open elevator door. Kids pile past – dodging Doll’s swing of the girl’s legs. No one helps her; they have their chance and they are taking it. The mad scramble blocks Doll from the boy, who presses forward and tries to hold on to Doll’s shaky legs.
Get out of the way! Hektor shouts at the other children, but none listen. They knock over lamps, furniture, novels. Even the dead dog on the floor is kicked and spun a quarter turn.
Stop! the boy yells at Doll as the inventor tries to trip the running children. He succeeds once, but the boy is up and past him. The very last of the eight packs onto the elevator. Doll can’t see the button, only the furious jabs of fingers at the panel. Hektor is stopping him from breaking the beam.
The door starts closing…
Eight will escape; Doll resigns himself to that. But the girl in his clutches and the troublemaker foolishly clawing at him, those he will take good care of.
Doll swings the girl away as the elevator door closes and its arrow counts down. He raises the girl high over his shoulders and she lets out a piecing shriek of terror. He fumbles to the broken window…
No! Hektor cries.
Doll heaves the girl’s body through the open hole. She disappears into the cloudy light.
The boy runs at Doll, swinging fists, hitting hard. He has no weapon other than fury, which rises to match Doll’s own.
Do you know what you’ve done to me! Doll yells as his body takes the blows. He grabs at boy’s wrists, but a foot lands in Doll’s stomach. The inventor stumbles and nearly loses his balance on the body of the Doberman. He corrects and charges with his arms out. The impact knocks the boy to the floor.
YOU’VE RUINED ME! he screams with a buckle in his throat as he takes firm hold of the boy’s feet. You little shit – you’ve ruined EVERYTHING! I was going to let them GO! Once I proved my fucking point, I was going to let them GO! Now they’ll know it was ME!
Hektor flails like a caught fish. Doll’s yanked him from the ground and spun him topsy-turvy. He squeezes into the boy’s wounded ankle and fresh blood squirts out over Doll’s hands. The dogs have bitten the boy, he can tell from the rip in the trousers. The pain peels a shock from the kid’s lungs. Hektor’s head flops and he struggles to grab hold of the furniture. But Doll has the momentum. He rocks the boy once, twice, avoiding clinging hands and true to his purpose.
With a great, blistering groan, he heaves Hektor like a bag of sand at the shattered window, just as he had done with the girl.
But the boy is heavier.
Hektor’s head connects with the something hard and flat and unflinching – the short wall beneath the hanging dog. In seconds, he’s unconscious…
* * *
Relief washes into Franco Cocanaugher. He can stop cracking knuckles, biting nails. Chris Silvers’s glide enters the maze of the financial district. They’ve been lucky on the traffic.
We’re close, Chris nods.
But the Mayor’s self-congratulation at how quickly they’ve crossed City 32 evaporates when he sees an apparition.
A girl in wet clothes races across the street 15 meters ahead of their glide. She vanishes into a rain-soaked alley before either man has gotten a good look at her. With his sleepless night, Franco doubts she is real.
Should I follow her? asks Chris.
You saw her, too?
I sure did.
Noise. Sirens. Behind. Chris barely has time to move to the side of the street, where only a few overnight vehicles are standing locked. Two police glides speed past, rocking them in their tailwind.
The mayor looks to his man with bewilderment. What the hell is going on here, Chris?
When the sirens have dissipated, the men’s ears are touched by a growing hum in the distance. Franco flashes back to Sunday and the riot at City Hall. Not again, he thinks, not another mob.
Chris steers back onto the ghost-town street. He turns the corner and into a different scene altogether.
Rows of blocking police vehicles, fire trucks, and ambulances are mashed with citizens, police, firemen, and medics – every color of city uniform. Everyone within the last quarter kilometer either stands with grave concern or runs haphazardly.
Franco leans into the windshield.
Down the street, he sees the outline of the Doll Building, partially hidden by fog and the surrounding high-rises. He expects the building to be on fire, for only a fire can cause such chaos. A fire, though, is impossible, he knows, with the hammering rain dumped on the financial district less than 10 minutes before. Most of the workers are soaked and the vehicles, pavement, and buildings are black with rain. No smoke in the sky, no autumn smell in the air; in fact, his senses are reminded of childhood summers on faraway farms, and the lessons learned before trading grass for concrete.
Get out of the way! Get out of the way! Chris has his window down and is screaming at anyone who will listen (but no one really is.) He’s using a stern I-belong-here-and-you-do-not voice, but it has no impact.
Two young boys scuttle between Chris’s glide and a row of ambulances. Franco follows them with his eyes. He catches the boys’ faces: dirty, frightened, and panicked.
Stop the glide, Chris, he whispers.
But Chris doesn’t hear. He edges forward and nudges the bumper of a stalled Q.
Another wave of children sprints past the jammed glide.
Stop here, Chris, the mayor says louder.
More children – three white-skinned girls and a handful of rugged black-skinned boys – sprint past, not even bothering to look at the occupants. They are streaming away from the Doll Building, heads are glancing back as if the building itself is pursing them.
The mayor jerks a lever and his door opens.
Sir! Chris falls over the seat just as the mayor climbs away. Where are you going? You should stay in the glide. Mr. Mayor…!
Franco extends over the top of traffic and cups his hands to see onto the plaza. Spilling forth is a sea of bodies that fills every quadrant. Voices carry. It must be louder than Hades over there, he marvels. Children. Everywhere children! Most run from the building. Police and fire personnel snag the closest by their arms and legs, as if the kids have just stolen apples from street carts. A small minority (which Franco cannot help but find fascinating) is held tightly in the arms of plain-clothed men and women.
Franco jogs forward.
Sir! Chris calls in his ear.
The mayor is pulled like a ship to foggy rocks.
Immediately he is recognized. People stuck in the chaos, people who voted for him, people who didn’t, people who would never, people who would always, people he’s appointed and people his appointees have hired, all recognize him. Several of these vague ghosts tug on Franco’s long coat as he closes-on the building. Mr. Mayor! It’s—it’s you. Mr. Mayor, please, here, come here! It’s you! Holy shit, it’s—
But he doesn’t stop. He can’t stop. Mothers kiss daughters, sons hug fathers – he witnesses the warm, relieved gasps of families. Franco loves their smiles. A tall policeman embraces a willowy girl. A woman kisses a little boy’s cheeks over and over and over and over. Franco sees people weeping joyful, exhausted tears. It’s the most amazing thing he has seen since forever. And, like Tomas Zigon before him, he sees possibilities.
* * *
Eyes are opening. He hopes they are his. The crooked sunlight strikes the shutters – brightness that can’t be contained, overtaking the earlier cloudy light of the swimming chamber. Low shadows float around him, but he hopes they’ll be driven away soon.
For the first few seconds of consciousness, Hektor is safe and warm, particularly his face. He assumes the sun touches it, but that’s not true. Lifting up, his cheek sticks to the floor. He carefully rocks his head. It’s as though his face is covered with sticky chewing gum. Slowly, he realizes… Not gum. His own blood. A laceration from the wall. With pain, he is able to move away from the floor. Hand up, he tickles the matted streaks. He is warm all over, but also cold, shaking, shivering. And the warmth is soon fully obliterated by bone horrible chill.
Too bad, Batman, laments an echo.
Hektor tries to follow the ricochet.
Douglaz Doll climbs the ladder out of the swimming pool. He swings onto the ledge. Below him, prone in the pool’s deep end, is bleeding Hektor. With a kick, Doll unhooks the ladder and it loudly breaks into a pile on the surface below.
Doll disappears from the angle.
Footsteps smack, smack, smack as he walks, unseen, through the chamber.
There is a squeak of iron and the sound of a man’s puffing grunts.
Struggling against pain, Hektor pushes onto his hands and knees. He shakes his head to throw off the fog. Get out of here. Get out of here. His instincts prod him loose from his lethargy.
Oh, Batmaaaan, sings the disembodied voice of Douglaz Doll. Give me some advice, will you? I’m thinking of blaming it all on Sidney. It’s what his stupid idea anyway. If I wasn’t so fucking angry, and drugged, and dying, I might have been that it would never work. Me as the hero, holding the children in secret, getting my share back, then releasing them to ignorance.
More squeaks and a sudden hiss.
But now all I have is a hope that Sidney will stand for me. All I have to do, finishes Doll, is get rid of you.
Cold water blasts Hektor’s lower body and knocks him sideways. Pounds of pressure release from the nozzles, the water splashes against his legs. Quickly, his boots and knees and hands are covered. The chlorine stings the dog-bite on his injured ankle. Get out of here! Get out of here! The boy rushes to stand but the steady, rising water overtakes his feet. He lands awkwardly, but is able to recover his hands-and-knees position. The flow sloshes to his belly. The pool is flooding fast with frigid water.
I hope they taught you to swim at that orphanage, says the distant voice of Doll. Goodbye, Batman.
* * *
Art Cuffy is in her ear. His resonate older voice buzzes the wire so badly that Okana must pull it from her ear.
Something’s going on at the Doll building!
Her boss’s urgent tone makes her put down her coffee on the flat lid of a nearby city trash can.
What? The wh—
Doll Building. How are far you?
Okana checks the sign hanging above the intersection. Yeah, we’re close, she says into her lapel dot, which carries her voice from the remote on Jerome’s pack and to the station.
A few meters away, Jerome lines up a perfect shot of a Pakistani grocery with the glide crashed through its northeast display window.
I’m only a few minutes from the 8 o’clock feed, Okana replies with a roll of the eyes. She despises last minute changes.
Don’t care. Get movin’. It’s big.
She drops her hastily-written copy into her pocket, flicks away the earpiece, and steps out of the shot.
Jerome lifts from the viewfinder. Hey!
Pack up. Quick. Here, I’ll help.
Before Jerome’s even has the hinge unscrewed, Okana’s roped the makeup bag and the satellite box over each of her lean shoulders. Weighted, she waddles south with her Post It Man in tow, panicked that Jerome may have forgotten critical (or expensive) pieces of equipment on the sidewalk.
Jerome hitches a thumb back to their company-issued transportation – a utility van-glide parked illegally in the grocery’s handicap spot. Why can’t we take the van?
Okana keeps walking. She passes a policeman at the accident scene talking into his hand-dial. She notices his face, overhears a trickle of his conversation. He’s not discussing the crash right behind him. Instead, he’s looking over his shoulder with wide eyes. The policeman reaches across the hood of his police glide and bangs it to get his partner’s attention. You’re not going to believe this! he starts with bewilderment… His voice fades as he turns.
Jerome catches up. The van! he nags.
We’d never get through traffic. Better on foot.
What’s the damn rush!
The police are all packing up, making excuses, and trying to get into their vehicles. The owner of the grocery curses them. He rudely grabs a sergeant and demands that his men stay.
My God, Jerome, this is big! She marches as fast as her heels can carry her. The camera equipment bruises her arms and slaps her along.
Two blocks further, a stray policeman jogs past them, one hand on his baton, the other hand on his cap so it doesn’t blow off, blue-belly jumping.
What’s happening! Okana calls as he races past.
None of your fucking business! he answers and disappears around the next corner.
In the distance, Okana can see the tip-top of the Doll building. She smiles at Jerome. Can you run?
* * *
Captain Carlos Ramirez flashes his police ID, even if no one is asking to see it. Behind are his Lieutenants – Coy, Brax, and Vincennes. The four form a block of rank that plows through the glides, lights, people, and steam that surrounds and spills from the Doll Building. The monolith acts both as attractant and repellent, pushing and pulling everything in its perimeter. There are over a hundred people and more than 50 vehicles congesting every square-meter. And in the rareness of space, people run. They run back and forth, away and to, seemingly without any plan or reason.
Carlos and his men reach the barricades of yellow-painted wooden planks propped around the entrance to the building and its sub-garage. The planks are hardly effective, leaving gaps in the west side where deliveries are to be made. The dead-center doors leading into the lobby’s atrium is a river of activity.
What’s going on? What happened? Was there a fire? People are shouting questions and Carlos Ramirez soon finds he is one of them. The answers, though, are more vague than telling: It’s nuts. We saw __________; we witnessed __________. Tell us where to go. I need __________. Can you help get __________? Where’s __________? Voices ping Carlos’s ears as he makes his way through. Nothing clear, nothing conclusive, just a louder version of the broken chatter ringing the police Eye Dials all over the city.
Carlos bullies his way forward, adding, Excuse me, Excuse me, to the first clique by the lobby doors. He quickly drops the pretense of politeness. Get out of my fucking way! he commands and shoves past the planks. Carlos has to retreat to drag Lieutenant Brax into formation, as a woman screaming nonsense has caught Brax’s arm.
Who’s in charge here! Carlos snaps at two Heavy Team patrolmen standing tentative just inside the smashed front doors. The destruction is clearly the work of Heavy Team axes. The breaks are clean and the frames have been drilled. Carlos doesn’t even meet the men’s eyes as he barks questions – he’s too busy looking past to the atrium, where among the adults…there are children.
The captain freezes.
What the hell’s going on? he asks the Heavy closest to him. Carlos is no longer a bull. His voice has dropped to flat disbelief.
We found them, Captain, declares the Heavy further away.
Found them? I don’t understand. Carlos has to arch like a deaf old man.
Well, the kids, Captain, he shrugs.
His three lieutenants almost leap onto Carlos’s shoulders and he has to push them back.
Wait, wait, wait a second, stalls Carlos. I thought this was a break-in or something. The wire said something about a break-in.
No, sir. It’s the missing kids.
Carlos counts those in his sights. It’s hard to be accurate. The children are too short in stature and the lobby is crowded. He counts 10.
Well…all of them.
All of them? Carlos shakes his head to the second Heavy, then the first, then back to the second.
Vincennes from behind: How many are alive?
No full count yet. We haven’t found any dead yet. Just some cuts and bruises.
If you don’t have a headcount, presses Carlos, then how can you say this is all of them?
That’s what they’ve been telling us, Captain. The children say some other kid saved them—
WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE!
Carlos can’t take it anymore. In the pit of his stomach, bubbling jubilation – elation, even euphoria. He suppresses the urge to jump up and down with energetic abandon. He wants to call his pregnant wife Zuza and tell her the news, he wants to hug his two children, Frank and Angelina, and say to them that things are better now, that the children are alive and safe and WE FOUND THEM! This nightmare might be over. Might be? It IS over, he cheers inside. But that’s underneath. On the surface, he’s all business. He wants to speak to the person in charge. Wants to find out why 81 children were stashed in the Doll Building and no one fucking knew it.
Senior on the scene, Captain, is probably the Commish.
Van Nuys? She’s here?
The second adds: We think, sir. Haven’t actually seen her yet. Just been told on the wire. Oh, and someone told me the mayor’s outside.
Carlos shakes his head again and nods. Grazias. He brushes past and waves his lieutenants to follow into the smoke and bustle of the lobby, stepping over glass and trash, and the remnants of violence.
* * *
She’s inconsolable. What’s your name? he asks for the tenth time. He can feel his impatience mounting. Patrolman Gernardo Ruiz has been holding the girl’s shoulders too tight. She’s drawing inward. He can almost sense the collapse of her chest, the retraction of her breathing. This is something he has witnessed many times before with runaway children. Kids are afraid of questions, especially from a cop. Am I in trouble? Who do I trust? These doubts swirl in the girl’s eyes. Gernardo slowly releases her.
The street noises behind them have swollen even louder – a siren’s wail, urgent voices, buzzing motors and slamming glide doors. Gernardo tries to focus on the girl. He notices 1 of her shoes is gone. She limped when he spotted her ducking between Gernardo’s police glide and the alleyway’s entrance. It was because of her missing shoe that Gernardo easily caught up to her in the broken glass and moldy narrowness.
Patrolman Raad Dinn hovers 5 meters away with his arms buckled tight. He waits against the alley wall as if he has all day for the girl to crack.
Go and see if you can help out there, Raad. Gernardo swings a finger, hoping Raad will listen. His partner’s stodginess is paralyzing the girl’s words.
With a cluck of his tongue, the older patrolman leaves them alone in the breaking sun.
Gernardo remains on his haunches and at the girl’s height. He gives his best smile. His warmest schoolyard smile. Please, he says. Por favor. What is your name? Su nombre.
Her lips part, only a sliver.
Kasey, she answers.
I’m Gernardo. He looks over his shoulder, then ahead, past the girl, down the long, trash-strewn alley. Were you in that building? He wags indiscriminately. She knows what building he means. He’s sure of it. There’s no other building with 40 emergency vehicles in front and hundreds of people swirling around it.
Where’s your shoe?
I threw it and broke a window.
Okay. Will you come with me? I’ll find you something to put over those toes of yours. You could hurt yourself, step on glass or something.
Gernardo reaches out his hand.
She takes it.
When he stands and tugs her along, she says to him: That boy is still inside.
The one who saved us.
Okay, nods Gernardo. We’ll find him.
* * *
Hektor fights up to the shallow end of the pool. The trash from the pool’s use as a prison keeps getting in his way, tripping him up. The advance of the rushing foamy water drags him under. And the sad fact is, the orphanage did not teach him to swim. Neither did his parents before their deaths. He’s never been in water (unless you count the orphanage showers) and in this deluge Hektor is out of his element.
A great gulp of water enters his mouth and he panics. He can taste the chlorine in his throat and he wretches. The pool water dumps from his mouth and into the water around his body. His gray clothes suck to his skin. The water and air cause tingling over his arms. He’s up to his waist when he falls again at the top of the incline.
Hektor sees past the rim of the pool. Out-of-focus, Doll has his back to him. Hunched over, the man picks up the limp Nary Ximon. He carries her in his arms to the connecting door, passes his silver key though the lock and enters the mezzanine.
The word flies from Hektor’s mouth but doesn’t make it far. He slips on the pool’s bottom with another crashing wave. The water is up to the fill line of the deep end. His only hope is to make it back to lost ground.
Despite the hopelessness of reaching the pool’s end before he drowns in the garbage and chlorine, Hektor crawls, trying to keep pace with the undertow of the jets.
He takes on another mouthful of water.
Is she alive? Is she?
He is high enough now to see through the busted window. Still a blur, Doll has her, and she’s not moving. Doll is pressing for the elevator.
The girl twitches.
The door comes open almost immediately.
She’s moving! She’s moving!
But she’s gone. The elevator seals.
The water calls Hektor into its arms.
His boots are as heavy as anvils and his arms no longer work. He wants to surrender and let the water take its course.
He thinks of Jose
and his dead parents.
His mother. Her face is clear to him. He can almost see her floating above him.
And there is his father – wearing a face of great understanding and kindness. Both hold out their arms to Hektor. His mother almost touches his dark and matted hair, the gash on his cheek that burns with chemicals.
Hektor, says his mother.
Hektor, says his father.
I want to be with you again, he decides as the water takes him. I don’t want to be alone anymore.
He reaches out for the hand of his mother. She’s so close. Much closer than the stairs out of the filling pool. The water is to his chin now. His arms are out flat and he clings to the dry beach of the shallow end, which slips away centimeter by centimeter.
I want to go home with you.
His father shakes his head.
You’d better get going if you’re going to catch them, scolds his mother.
And they are gone.
* * *
The penthouse is beautiful: clean glass, dark furniture, oil paintings, and the strewn artifacts of the previous century. But Nary Ximon barely has time to notice these comforts and these trademarks.
She’s flat on a long sofa.
He sits beside her, just a meter separating.
The sun outside is bright and enters through the high transoms, spraying light along the plastered ceiling.
She can’t see his eyes.
She shakes. But she’s afraid to cover herself with her arms. She doesn’t want him to see her move.
Douglaz Doll’s face remains buried in the palms of his hands.
Her teeth audibly chatter and he moves his eyes over the tops of his fingers.
He’s covered them again.
She wraps her arms around her shoulders.
After a few minutes, she draws up her legs.
The man doesn’t change his position on the sofa. He seems to have forgotten about her. She wants to read his expression, but he keeps it hidden.
Bravely, Nary twists and sits up. She drops her feet to the floor.
He doesn’t move.
She walks a pace away from the sofa.
He doesn’t move.
She tiptoes back to the elevator camouflaged behind its scrim. The door is still open. She knows she should run for the express button to the lobby.
But she looks back.
He remains on the sofa. Hands over face.
She puts her hand out to hold the door, but doesn’t take her eyes from Douglaz Doll.
Tha man is lost. Oblivious.
She jumps into the elevator and punches the express. The door sucks closed and she’s gone.
* * *
Sergeant Drubney is the first of the Heavy Team onto the 39th floor. When the elevator first left the lobby to rise alongside the building, there were five of them. Each chose floors to start their search, just like Lieutenant Repenzi ordered him to do. Drubney was the last to exit. The sergeant hopes that the sirens he hears muffled through the windows of the Doll Building means other teams are inside, fanning out, searching. This is a lot of ground to cover and he really has no idea where to begin. From his Eye Dial lapel dot, Drubney has learned that there are children in the building.
God, please don’t let me shoot a kid.
Please God, please.
All known protocols have been slowly abandoned and all Drubney can really hear through the small speaker tacked to his Heavy uniform are spikes of raw emotion.
Easing down the corridor, he sees the flicker of a man rounding the far corner, but wonders equally if he is mistaken. The corridor is lonely and long and deceiving. Drubney cautiously winds his way along the yellow carpet, eyes and ears alert for anything. He grips his rifle and checks that the safety is disengaged.
An open door lies ahead.
Drubney steers to the opposite side. The angle gives him only a constricted view inside the room. He silently checks that his weapon is ready.
Police! he calls, and regrets it. On the ground with your hands flat!
As the frame becomes visible, he remembers his protective helmet sits on the lobby floor. Shit. His clanking Heavy Team gear wrapped around his black-clad body is a symphony of noise. Stealth is not possible. But the helmet he needs.
He kneels and, for a flash, pokes his head around the frame to look inside the lit office.
He jumps back.
PUT YOUR FUCKING HANDS UP!
He rises, checks again around the frame.
A woman. Not complying. Her hands are at her sides.
DO WHAT I TELL YOU OR I COME IN SHOOTING, YOU HEAR! he orders from a flattened position against the wall.
Not a sound from the room.
Drubney positions for a kill shot. Twitching, he gives a last look into the open office. Ready to roll and fire, his training does him no good. The woman is frozen in place in the center of the office, in front of a thin and wide desk. She’s a statue.
Ma’am! he barks one last time to shake her from complacency.
This time, he sees her more clearly. She’s older, in a business suit. But more than that. She’s possibly not even real. A mannequin. A doll herself?
Drubney, his rifle out straight, scans the room. Up down, left right. At the base of the desk, he catches sight of blue trouser legs wearing black boots, the body face down.
Drubney takes his chances and enters. He steps to the frozen woman. He recognizes her face. Marsha Van Nuys, commissioner of the metropolitan police.
A groan comes from behind the desk. From the man on the floor with the blue pants and black boots.
Drubney can’t pull himself away, though. He pushes a finger into Marsha Van Nuys’s shoulder. She wobbles but is otherwise perfectly still. Her eyes are glassy and faraway. Her body looks to have been stopped in mid-motion. She is a living, breathing work of art.
At least she’s alive, notes Drubney.
He glances around the wrecked office.
In the corner lies a dead priest surrounded by a fat circle of blood that soaks the carpet. The desk is turned and its contents spilled onto the floor. There are slashes and nicks in the walls. A picture has fallen from its nail and lays smashed. And littering the carpet are handfuls of discarded circular tokens that Drubney cannot identify.
Drubney slings his rifle. Lightly stepping, he steps on a handful of the tokens with his work-boots and hears them crush.
The man behind the desk has captain’s bars on the sleeve of his blue uniform. He can’t see the man’s face – it’s hidden by his face-down fall. But he can see that the man has stab wounds over his body. Luckily, he doesn’t appear to be bleeding that much. Compared with the priest, this policeman got off light. Drubney kneels.
Captain. Holy shit. Captain Coffland. Fuck. Can you hear me?
He shakes the man and gets another groan.
He reaches for his lapel dot.
Stopping, he notices a fourth person in this room. A big man wearing a stained white vest is sprawled in the corner, his arm running up the wall. Drubney doesn’t need to inspect this one to know that this one is dead: the white-vested man’s eyes have been gouged out, and blood, lava-like, rolls down his cheeks.
Drubney looks back to the captain. An ambulance is coming. Don’t worry, Captain.
Drubney rolls the captain over onto his back. With him comes the stench of sweat, piss, and fresh blood. Coffland’s face is drained white and he undulates in feverish agony.
Who did this to you, Captain?
The reply is no more than a puff from Captain Coffland’s lips. The prick…he’s still here…
Drubney taps the captain’s shoulder re-assuringly. He stands and checks the office once more. He sees no one else. Shyly, he taps his lapel dot.
This is Drubney on 39, he reports in a whisper, I’ve found Coffland and the commissioner. Send a medical team. I think there’s a suspect up here, too. I’m going after him. He taps the dot off.
Drubney passes the immobilized commissioner and returns to the doorframe. He tucks his head out into the corridor. In this moment, he feels very, very alone. If he were to encounter whatever tornado took out this room full of people, he would have to defend himself without help from anyone. He doesn’t trust himself enough to do this right. He hooks his rifle around to shooting position and tries to control his nerves.
Low to the floor, Drubney eases into the corridor.
In one direction, there is nothing. From where he came, the bank of elevators, it is a carpeted desert of silence.
But back the other way stands a man.
He wears a tweed jacket.
The man waits in front of another door with his back turned. Above the door is an arrow in half-moon, with call buttons to the right of the door with no knob.
Another elevator? This place is a goddamn maze!
Drubney considers this man another zombie, like the commissioner. Not moving. Not a tick. But then the man’s finger thumbs the arrow of the call box.
Steadily, Drubney approaches.
POLICE! GET YOUR HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!
The sergeant coughs up his most severe voice, but the tweed man doesn’t startle easily. In fact, he doesn’t even appear to hear Drubney. Perhaps he is deaf.
Please don’t let me shoot a deaf person. Please. Please.
Head down, he keeps his thumb on the down arrow.
TURN AROUND WITH YOUR HANDS RAISED OR I WILL FUCKING SHOOT YOU WHERE YOU STAND!
The man remains defiant.
He does, however, raise his head upwards at the ding. He’s not deaf. The descending arrow has stopped 1 floor above 39. The mezzanine.
* * *
He is out. He is free. He touches the shallow end and his fingers find the wall. He holds on, tight, and boosts up to the underwater stairs. He is out. He is free.
The boy nervously waits inside the elevator car.
Where would he take her? Where would he take her?
He makes his presumptions with a confused head, and it takes him a few seconds more to guess. He still hears the rush of the swimming pool in the distance and he shivers where he stands. He throws his brown coat (retrieved from the toss to the carpet before Doll’s attack) over his shoulders.
Where would he take her? Where would he take her? Think think. Up. He snaps a finger. To the penthouse. Wet sleeve reaching out, he jams the call box button marked ‘P.’
The elevator door doesn’t close and car doesn’t move.
He slams ‘P’ again and nothing happens.
Hektor bangs on the panel. No, no, no!
It’s locked. It took him too long to get out of the pool and he’s lost her. He fingers the groove beside the ‘P’ where Doll must have used his silver key.
Nary Ximon is dead.
There is a button above the Penthouse floor.
‘SP’ reads the letters.
Hektor tries that and, unlike ‘P,’ this one lights.
The door swishes closed.
Yes! He doesn’t yet know how he can get to the penthouse, but if he is able to make it to the platform, he’ll be closer than he is from the mezzanine. What he needs is a Batarang.
The car lurches down and his stomach drops.
No! Hektor quick-stabs the ‘SR’ over and over. No use. Someone has beaten him and Doll’s private elevator is going down, not up.
As soon as it’s started it stops.
The door parts and he finds himself face to face with the killer in tweed who had locked Hektor in the trunk of his glide. Where once there was his left eye, there is a black hole tangled with stringy tissue and dotted with the white remains of Ted Appleton’s cornea. His suit and shirt are blood-soaked and he reeks of violence.
Ted is as surprised as Hektor to be face-to-face. His eyes widen and he almost drops his scissors. But his brief lapse of action doesn’t last more than three seconds. Like a hurricane wind, the monster leaps into the elevator car, hands out, scissors swinging, half-blind but knowing an obstruction when he sees one.
From the corridor, Hektor hears the cracks of a rifle and sees muzzle flashes coming from the far end of the corridor. A last bullet dents the inside wall just as the door slips closed.
The scissors arc downward. No room to get out of the way. Hektor has only time to thrust out his coat. The open blades slice into the fabric and cut away a swath with a great rip. The boy buckles against the elevator’s glass wall and prepares for the straight slice into his bared neck.
The pain he expects doesn’t happen.
Hektor gazes into Ted Appleton’s vile face.
The man is falling—
With a loud bam, the man and boy disintegrate into a pile of arms and legs on the floor of the elevator car.
The killer’s face holds a bizarre mirror to the boy’s own – shock, surprise, dumbfounded wonder.
The center of Appleton’s forehead has a hole in it. From this ugly wound, blood sprays on and off like a malfunctioning fountain. He’s been shot clean through the head, front to back. Other places are shot, too, as he’s leaking everywhere.
Squirming from under the body, Hektor dodges the mess and protects his mouth and eyes. Rising to his feet, Hektor kicks at Appleton’s cheek and angles the splatter away from him and against the glass. But the body twitches and sputters. Hektor leaps away. The drench paints every surface of the elevator car, and Hektor’s trouser legs.
The scissors remain raised in Ted Appleton’s dead hand.
Hektor’s ears feel the fall of the elevator – 20s, teens, 10s.
Outside, the sun has broken from the clouds and the orange morning light colors the car.
Hektor reaches out…
…5, 4, 3…
…and pries the scissors out of Appleton’s stiff hands.
The car expresses to the ground floor, uninterrupted
Appleton has bled out and he lies twisted, face down, with one arm up. Hektor stares at the dead man crumpled on the floor. He can smell the ripe odor of the man’s clothes and skin, and the trail of awfulness he’s left behind. Hektor wonders if he had a wife, or children, or anything at all.
But he can think of no last rites.
He wonders who fired the killing shot.
When the doors open, no one pays the doomed car any attention. Hektor presses ‘SP’ over and over and over. But the car doesn’t move. Another malfunction, perhaps from a bullet. He knows he was lucky he didn’t come crashing 40 floors to his own death.
The lobby is packed with people and activity – parents, children, police, firemen, everyone. The roar is tremendous and a complete contradiction to the state of the lobby just an hour before.
With one step out, he leaves Ted Appleton behind.
Doll’s private elevator is far away from the other elevators. No one stands nearby. He looks for the police. He wants help getting back to the penthouse, for Nary Ximon.
But just when an urgent panic threatens to seize his senses, he spots the girl. She’s outside the building, wrapped in a blanket, looking over the tops of heads.
Hektor smiles. He is more relieved now than when he made it out of the swimming pool, more relieved than when the bullets missed him and killed Ted Appleton. More relieved than ever he can remember.
Crossing the lobby, he considers how he must look. Hektor is just one of many children looking torn and bedraggled. He hides his face. He doesn’t want any of the children to point at him, call attention to him, or notice him in any way. He puts on his brown coat and it covers the wet and bloodstained clothes he wears underneath. He raises the collar.
A medic reaches out and tries to snag him. Hey, you, boy! The medic is swept away by an incoming flush of firemen.
Hektor doesn’t stop. He is a ghost. He wonders if he really made it through the swimming pool, the elevator, and all the other events of the last 18 hours. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he’s dead and this is a dream – another where he knows the missing children, only a bit more vivid.
No one else tries to stop him or to touch him. At the broken doors, he passes a cabal of bickering police captains, more children, their parents, anyone and everyone.
He’s outside the yellow planks when Nary Ximon sees him. Her face of great sadness strips away. She hops from the running board of a fire truck and rushes towards Hektor. With the crowd, it takes Nary a full minute to reach him. But he waits. For her, he will wait.
When she reaches, he hugs her. She hugs him back.
You’re alive, he says.
So are you!
What did he do to you?
Nothing. He let me go.
She touches the blood underneath his coat.
It’s okay, he explains, closing the coat tightly. It’s someone else’s.
No one. I’m fine.
Nary turns away. She finds a spot. Come here.
Nary leads to a kit of supplies left open on the running board of a fire truck. Around them, there is madness and hurry and shouting. The two are shielded from all of this. It is as if an invisible bubble of sanctuary protects them. Adults nearby don’t notice them. Children don’t approach them. Reporters don’t take their image. Nary pulls a bandage from the kit and wraps Hektor’s bitten leg. She dabbles stinging medicine on his cheek. She says, I always wanted to be a doctor, and he smiles at her. Finished, she stands back and looks at him, through him.
Thank you, she says.
You know about Mr. Doll?
Hektor is confused.
That he jumped.
Hektor takes a moment to register the words.
Nary points. Though the crowd is thick, 20 meters distant, around the side of the Doll Building, huddles a nucleus of policemen. They’re trying to move gawkers back so a fat Post It Man can make his way under the tape.
Hektor can say nothing. He keeps his eyes on the girl – this quiet, thoughtful, sad little girl.
After he let me go he fell from the sunrise platform. I didn’t see it. The fireman who took me out of the elevator and gave me this blanket told me.
Hektor’s attention returns to the resting place of Douglaz Doll. There is a strobe of imager bulbs. He can’t see a body. But he knows the inventor is somewhere in the midst of it. The boy considers. That man tried to murder me. He stole 81 children. He tried to kill Nary. He is the cause of 6 killings, and, if he had ever been caught, he would have drowned them all. Hektor reaches inside of himself to find the angry part, the part of him that will never forgive a man like Douglaz Doll – cancerous, disappointing, influenced by the likes of Sidney Mizuro, vengeful against the city that raised him up and made him into legend. But not crazy. Full of sorrow, confused intentions, evil influence. But sane. Not one for the asylum, but one for pity.
But instead of anger, a single fact floats to his tongue.
He was an orphan, Hektor tells Nary. Did you know that?
She shakes her head.
He was one of us… Hektor strokes Nary’s hair. Don’t tell anyone I was here, he asks in a somber and distant voice.
You saved us.
Don’t tell anyone my name.
When she looks away, he leaves her. From his coat pocket, he pulls out his notepad marked with the names of streets. In his tattered clothes, with every part of him in pain, Hektor drifts past ambulances, police glides, policemen, Media, parents, firemen, fire trucks, Doll Repair Glides, dumpsters, children, families, flash sellers, commuters, mothers, fathers, grandparents…
He limps past all of them.
He knows where he must go.
He knows what he must do.