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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Don’t worry. The meeting isn’t for you...it’s about you.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 18



Ren shakes Jose’s hand.  Thank you for allowing me to speak with the boy.  I can find my way out.

What was it about?

The boy can tell you.  I have to get back to the precinct.  All-hands meeting at 9 o’clock.  Don’t want to be late.

Ren leaves the orphanage with a goodbye wave to the security guard.  Outside, he fights against the foot traffic.  Under his shoe, he notices blood spatters on the sidewalk.  Recent.  He halts, only to be nudged forward by other pedestrians.  There’s blood on every street in the city, he rationalizes and moves along.  It is not likely that blood is Lucrecio’s.

He returns to the precinct by 8:30 AM.

There is a note on his desk:


He discards it without much fuss.  He will catch Carlos at the meeting.

At two minutes to 9, Ren waits in the precinct’s call room with 20 other men of various ranks, most knocking down black coffee and gossiping, unwisely, about the incompetence of City 32’s politicians.

Carlos Gutierrez is not in the room.

Ren notices a man enter: Lieutenant John Brax, shaved head, black Van Dyke with zebra lines of gray embedded.  He wears a white trench coat and a serious expression.  Ren considers crossing to say hello to the lieutenant, but finds he does not have to.  Brax is heading for him.

Good morning, Captain Ren.

Do you have a message for me?

How did you-?

Carlos left me a note asking that I call.  But I didn’t get back to him yet.  You look like a man delivering news.  Where is Carlos, anyway?  Is he here?

No.  He’s… It’s complicated.

(Code for: it’s confidential.)

All right then, Ren sniffs, what did he have to say to me?

New assignment.  He wanted to warn you.

Warn me?

Brax drags Ren towards the room’s corner with a gentle but unforgiving tug of the man’s sleeve.  Brax continues to cryptically explain the situation:  This new assignment will take your time away from efforts to find Lucrecio Adalberto.  Lucrecio was Carlos’s friend, too.  Carlos knows you’ve been checking around the past 24 hours.  He wants you to stop.  You won’t have time to be part of that search.  You’ll be occupied with another.  But don’t worry.  We’ll put other men on the Adalberto case.

Part of another investigation?  But finding Lucrecio is more important.  Isn’t it?

Brax continues to pull Ren out of the briefing room.  At the far end of Ren’s range, he hears the meeting starting.  Wait, John, I can’t miss this meeting.

Don’t worry.  The meeting isn’t for you…it’s about you.

A mere seven minutes later, Ren is seated in Brax’s unmarked police glide and zooming up a ramp to a secondary road.  The glide’s interior smells like berries—the remnants of a cheap spray.  Brax has the heat controls set too high and Ren suffers for it, sweating under his coat.  He tries to ask questions, only to be skillfully deflected by the lesser-ranked Brax.

I don’t know any more than you do, Captain… I can’t tell you… I don’t know why you were picked… I have no information… I’m just the driver… You’ll see where we’re going when we get there… No.  No.  No, I don’t.  Just relax, Captain.  We’re almost there.

They arrive 14 minutes later on a cleared lot between two high-rises.  In the center of the lot, scarred by ruts of dried mud and cluttered with abandoned, rusty construction machines, a single booth manned by three uniformed patrolmen has been built.  Each patrolman wears a bulletproof vest and shielded helmet.  Their blue clothes are covered in brown dust from the lot’s dry debris and the non-stop swirl of wind on the lot (another malfunction of the Doll System.)

Stopped at the booth, Lieutenant Brax declares his name and displays his credentials.  He shields his eyes from the blizzard of dust and trash.  This, Brax gestures, is Captain Woo Ren.

A list is checked.  A patrolman nods.

Brax parks the glide where he is told, at the end of the lot and parallel with 15 other vehicles.  When they return by foot, the booth’s rear door is opened by crank.  Ren notices that this makeshift building actually covers something buried in the ground – a staircase and guardrail, leading under the surface of the lot.

Bomb shelter, Brax explains as the two men descend.  Brax winks as he says this and rubs on his shaved head.  At the first of two landings, he dusts his trousers.  Fucking lot.  They’ve been looking to pave it and fence it for months, but you know how slow that goes in 32.

Ren nods.  He does.  City 32 works department has a reputation for half-finished ideas.

The main floor of the shelter is only two turns down.  Ren suspects it is meant only to withstand a conventional attack, not nuclear or worse.  The captain has set foot in a few of these shelters over his 29 years of service.  Some have resembled underground churches.  Others had floors and floors of telecommunications.  One, a hospital.  One, command and control.  One, a dank, unfinished tomb with no lights and smelling of dead dogs.  Hundreds of dead dogs.

This shelter, Ren cannot yet judge.  He can only spy a long hallway with in a double-door of polished metal waiting at the end.  Ren wishes he had his music to distract him, but his nodes are pushed too far down in his pocket.

Do you want to see them? Brax asks suddenly and with a solemn expression.  He points to a pair of plain white doors on their right.  When Ren doesn’t answer, he asks it once more.  Do you want to see them?

Ren shrugs.  Yes.  Sure.

All morning, he’s felt out of step with the facts – even during his interview with that Hektor boy – and these things bother him greatly.  To not know where Lucrecio Adalberto is, to not know whose blood dots the Kerohdee sidewalk outside City Orphanage, to not know the agenda of the morning meeting, the content of Carlos’s message, their destination, why he was brought to this shelter – where it is dimly lit and narrow, with claustrophobic dropped ceilings and this lieutenant, with his lady or tiger door – it bothers him.  But he can do nothing to alleviate it, except be patient.  And try not to look stupid.

Brax pushes on the one of the doors without even a turn of the handle.  He yanks a dangling string just inside the door, over their heads.  Lights pop and Ren’s first sensation is that the room is very cold, much colder than the corridor.

There they are, says Brax.

Six aluminum boxes stand in the middle of the room.  None are big, but combined the six occupy nearly all the space of the room.

Ren takes a step forward.  Each box is tagged, but he just can’t read them.  He fumbles eyeglasses from his buttoned coat.


The children, Brax guides softly.  We brought them here after the autopsy.

Oh, replies Ren in a hush.  And again with gravity: Oh.  The captain runs his fingers along one of the tin boxes.  He imagines what is kept inside.  His mouth turns down and his breathing quickens.  How long will you keep them?

Until we’re done.

They’ll be buried?

When we’re done.

The parents—

They have limited rights in this.  Worse comes to worse, I assume we’ll give them sandbags in the caskets to match the weight.  I’m sure you heard – the bodies were in such bad shape, caskets would be sealed anyway.  Who wants to look at a bunch of pieces.

Ren’s face drains.  Dismembered?

Oh, you didn’t hear?

I haven’t heard much lately.

Well, I can’t blame you, Captain.  You were investigating Lucrecio’s disappearance.  Next stop?

Ren does not hear this last.  He’s fixed his eyes on the small aluminum boxes.  They look pathetic in the room.  Gas-forced heat of a funeral home’s furnace at least provides some comfort, but here there is nothing save the antiseptic coldness of a city-run office.  Even the white walls of the City Morgue (another sort of clinical exactness that, in its own purgatory way) seems more fitting for the dead.  But here.  In what amounts to a cellar, with its peeling, white walls and a floor that needs mopped, bodies crated without markings, or names, or anything except for CONTAINER-REMAINS-HUMAN…there is nothing about this that Ren feels is sacred.

Whatever they want me to do, Ren decides in that moment, I will do it.  But it will be awful.

Shall we go? Brax asks again in a butler’s voice.

Yes, yes, of course, of course.  Ren removes his glasses and puts them back into his uniform.

He is led to a room far down the corridor.  Behind a double-steel door, he finds others waiting.  Before he’s even greeted, he recognizes faces, voices.  Carlos Gutierrez’s.  Three others he’s worked alongside in the ward.  A few bureaucrats.  Others are faces he’s familiar with from City Hall, the courthouse, and lower-level places.   Godspeaks, the coroner, eyes dark and clutching his stomach as if recovering from a blow, meets Ren’s eyes and is the only person to smile.

It’s an odd mirror of the meeting he’d fled less than 30 minutes before.  Men, coffee, rumblings.  Only in this room, very few of his compadrés are in uniform.

Carlos worms his way to Ren’s side and shuffles, impatient.  Thank you for coming, he says sincerely.  I assume you didn’t have a chance to call me.  That’s all right.  You’ll learn it all here.  Carlos nods acknowledgement to Brax.  We’ll be starting in a minute.  He’s running late.

Who? asks Ren, dumb about everyone and everything this morning.