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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

You’re the best I’ve got. You’re the only person who tells me the truth in this damn city. That’s why I hired you. Go.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 20


10 minutes to reach the beltway.  There are 5 in the car: Mayor Cocanaugher, two remaining gray-suited security men (one named Pasquali, one named Davidson), the black-capped driver, and Grace.

She’s 25 last April.  Her hair is blonde and tied to the right, behind the ear, as is the fashion.  Her skin is smooth, but her forehead has severe scars from acne in her youth.  She has not covered the damage with her bangs, but instead lets the marks show.  Her lips are painted red and she sports earrings shaped like tiny stars.  Her skirt is white and her shirt deep blue.  On paper, she draws looks; in the world, she’s invisible.  Business acts as armor, and she’s all business.  Eyes move past her without more than a trickle of appreciation.  Everyone.  Her whole life.  She’s too much of a force, and Cocanaugher knows it.

The Mayor glances out the window to the sky growing dark with swirling, sudden clouds.  He groans loudly and tries to concentrate on more immediate concerns.  How many rioters?

50, she says.

Police on the scene?

Heavy Team.

They better not shoot anyone.

The armored glide-limo curves left and takes a bump.  Grace and the mayor grab the support straps.  Davidson and Pasquali don’t even move.

Grace, you know about crowds; people aren’t themselves in a crowd.  That’s why people give speeches.  Reading a text is an isolated affair.  It allows time for someone to think – to listen to the Rationale Mind.  But in a crowd, there’s a herd mentality.  Once people start throwing trashcans through windows and thinking the mayor’s screwed up, it’s hard to change their minds.

You shouldn’t be going, Mr. Mayor, she injects.  It’s dangerous.

I’m starting to get blamed for this thing.  I can feel it.  And we’re in the middle of complex negotiations, too.  The timing can’t be worse.  Bring the alderman together tomorrow.  I want to have a meeting of the minds.  Take the pulse.  At least the election’s two years off…that’s good.  Grace leans to the driver.  She gives the address of the mayor’s home.

Driver, ignore that.  Grace, I told you—

Oh, you are so frustrating!

He jokes with a pat on her knee, There are only 50 of them.  He lets his moustache turn with his mouth.

Ahead.  The riot.

The start of it is now visible through the driver’s windscreen.

A police glide blocks the street and a private Q-glide is on fire at the curb.  A Molotov cocktail has scorched a part of City Hall.  Firemen aim hoses, only to have them cut by rioters’ axes.  The sky fills with ash and debris.  In the mayor’s glide, they can smell it, the destruction, even through the pressurized seal of the limo.  Overturned mailboxes and smashed windowpanes clutter city hall’s steps where a line of riot-suited policemen, the Heavy Team, stand ready, black-booted with helmet, visors down.

The mayor presses his face against the glide-limo’s bulletproof window.  A bottle smashes the side-panel and liquid and glass explode all over his view.

They’re behind us! reports Davidson, hand to gun.

Turn right! Pasquali commands the driver.

The glide-limo accelerates.

Objects – bricks, trash – pelt the vehicle.  1 rioter gives the hood a whack with a broom handle that breaks on contact.

Goddamnit I’m trying to help!  Cocanaugher’s protests from inside are lost to the screaming and yelling of the combatants.

Pasquali is on his radio, reciting codes and numbers to the emergency dispatcher.  The limo-glide comes to a dead stop, surrounded.  The driver honks and honks, but no one moves from the hood, ready to die under airless tire tracks rather than let the important-looking vehicle pass.  Rioters are attempting to peer inside the tinted glass.

As quick as they appeared, though, the faces begin to turn and break up, moving backwards.

Grace grips the door as the glide-limo breaks from the crowd, aided by a sudden swarm of police Q-glides spraying pellets.

In a flash, their vehicle is eight blocks from the epicenter.

To my house, the mayor instructs the driver.

Grace, with audible relief:  Thank God.

All watch as the Q-glides peel away, back to their purpose, now that the mayor’s vehicle has broken loose from the clashes.

1 block further.

Then 1 more.

Stop here, Cocanaugher orders.

Davidson and Pasquali drill looks.

No, no, NO— starts Grace, but is cut off by the lurch as the driver obeys, throwing the brake and halting the limousine in the middle of a blockaded intersection.

Cocanaugher unlocks the door beside Grace and throws it open.

No, sir, please, you can’t get out.  She grabs the sleeve of his hound’s-tooth coat.

Don’t worry.  I’m not.  You are.

What!  She glances to her nicely pressed clothes.

You’re right, Grace.  Things are too hairy back there for an important face like mine.  But no one knows who you are.  So I want you to go back.  Give me a report in 1 hour.  I want to know the real business.  Speak with some of those rioters.  I want details.  I want stories.  This is a great opportunity to learn a thing or 2.  And, if you find someone who fits our needs, bring that mother or father back with you to my house.  Hitch a ride with any police glide that will have you.  Understood?

Understood?  What needs are we trying to fit?

You know, someone who can bear witness to what we’re a force for good, not for incompetence.  We need an advocate.  Didn’t you study sociology, Grace, when you got that civics degree you’re so proud of?  If we find an ally in that crowd who knows we’re helping not hurting, then this bullshit will stop.  They’ll know which side we’re on.

You want a poster-child for the families?  Is that it?

Exactly.  But let’s call this mom or dad instead a, a, a…liaison.  Poster-child sounds too manipulative.

Grace shakes her head in disbelief.

Go, he urges with a push.  Find us our liaison.

She burrows into his eyes with hers.  He’s serious, she thinks.

And don’t get yourself hurt.

Mr. Mayor! she continues in protest.  There must be someone better suited—

No.  There isn’t.  Get out, Grace.  You’re the best I’ve got.  You’re the only person who tells me the truth in this damn city.  That’s why I hired you.  Go.

She’s never disobeyed an order from him before.  But she wants to now.  Her stomach flutters.  She can detect the odds in Davidson and Pasquali.  This is dangerous work, the security men tattoo on their faces, You, young lady, are not prepared.  But the mayor isn’t letting her off the hook.

Grace gestures to the gray suits.  One of them should come, too.

But of course.  Cocanaugher voice is so casual that this sounds like the plan from the beginning, which it may well have been.  He’s been 3 steps ahead of her before.  As bright as she is, he is a whip, and he has the power to make her get out of the limo.  Plus, as she considers his idea, an advocate, a liaison, is not a bad idea, though easier achieved than by walking directly into a riot.

I’ll stay with her, Davidson volunteers and follows Grace out of the glide.  As soon as the two are on the street, the limo speeds off in the direction of the mayor’s house without as much as a wave goodbye.

On the corner of abandoned primary streets, they look slightly mismatched.  She’s short with blonde hair and skirt, while the guard wears black uniform and stands several heads taller.

Grace shouts in frustration to Davidson, throwing up her arms.  Go and report, ha!  In the middle of a fucking RIOT!  Oh, good idea, Mr. Mayor!

A tiny drop of rain strikes her eye, then another on her cheek.  She smells the sweet touch of a coming storm.

She walks back towards the riot.  The sidewalks are mostly clear.  The police have damned the river upstream.  Standard protocol.  Contain it and make it a ghost town.  She read it in a book, a manual on the mayor’s desk 2 years ago when she started as his assistant, just out of university.  ‘How to Stop a Riot.’  There had been 4 that year alone thanks to the new Union Law, but no more until this latest one, though the steps for quelling one apparently remain intact.

Grace has short legs, but great energy.  Her aerobic schedule has never changed, not since she was a teenager, and her lungs are well conditioned for her pace back to City Hall.  Davidson, on the other hand, grows winded and falls behind.  She waits for him, tapping her heel and twirling a finger.

Got your gun? she asks when he catches up.

Davidson taps his holster with assurance.

Don’t use it.  No matter what you see.  You hear?

Yes, Ma’am.  He looks emasculated.

You’re new, aren’t you?


That will help.  The older security men always want to spice things up.  To you, just dressing like a toy soldier gives you the tingles.  What are you, 25?


Right.  Hear me?  No spice.

No spice, ma’am.

Closer, they the empowered crush of rioters is louder than ever, the chaos at full tilt.  Outside the protection of the armored glide-limo, the noise is much worse than before.  The wall of sound fills her body with a charge of fear.  Evolution is telling her to run the opposite direction.  In the small knot of the city square, there is no rebellion here – no liberating army or sense of righteousness.  This riot is wrapped in despair, misery, and frustration.  The rawness is palpable, as if an entire barbarian horde is simultaneously screaming and weeping.

This is more than 50 people! she shouts, though Davidson can’t hear her over the dissonance.  She guesses 200.  300.  More.  They’re scattered in every corner.  All sizes, all shapes.

When Grace and Davidson finally enter the square, a nearby Q-glide explodes into flames.  They drop to their knees and rise back up again.

The rioters are trying to make their way up the steps and into City Hall itself.  Yellow wooden barricades hastily piled by the Heavy Teams protect the stone building.  Rubber bullets fire from a line of police guns at the forward bodies of the crowd.  The impact wrests the rioters back just a few meters.  The police line advances with their insignia’d shields taking the brunt of rioters makeshift missiles.

The burning fuel from the wrecked glides singes Grace’s nostrils.  Her stomach twists with a mix of human and mechanical fibers.

Smoke rises high into the air and, if it were any other circumstance, she might consider it beautiful.  But it is difficult for her to watch destruction of the city square where she has so often eaten quiet lunches.  And it’s even harder for her to watch the rubber bullets hit their targets.  Each makes the victim wince and cry out in agony.  The police have an endless supply in their Shoulder Repeaters and, for the first time, the sheer ferocity of the barrages begins to have an impact.  The Heavy Teams cut a line through the square, widen it into a half moon, and drive the rebellious citizens of 32 onto a cross street.

The citizens are expelled from the square.  Armored trucks drive into position and block the people from getting back inside the perimeter.  Graces watches as rioters are nearly mowed down by truck tires.  She shouts, No!  Stop!  Get away!  The words do not go far, as she finds that she has inadvertently covered her mouth in horror, her hand coated with spit.

Tear gas cans fall into the throng and she ducks away from the toxic cloud rising up between her and the surrounding men and women.

Two men tackle Davidson and he falls away quickly.   Grace reaches out for his hand, but loses site of him in a billowing mob, a deluge into the shrinking space created by the tightening fist of police.  She tries to relocate Davidson among the backwards-moving bodies, but it’s no use.  He has been carried away.  Her focus shifts to self-preservation.  Her best protection is to stay close to the courthouse building – City Hall’s much-maligned neighbor.  She moves under 1 of the Romanesque columns that supports the exterior.

Here she waits, safe in a pocket.

It’s another 15 minutes before she notices the crowd thinning.  There are now more police than rioters on the square.  The ranks have broken, fled down streets and alleys.  Despite the damage, City Hall has not been breeched.  Cocanaugher’s blue office carpet will remain clean today.

Grace notices an older woman propped at the corner of the courthouse.  The woman is in her 60s, black-skinned, round in the middle, weeping.  She appears too wobbly to walk.  She’s been jostled many times and doesn’t know which way is up.  Her small pink bonnet has come loose in her hair and dips into her eyes.  She awkwardly attempts to find her balance.  As the woman totters, Grace thrusts forward to help the woman back to her feet.  You’ll be okay, soothes Grace.  Aware that this woman weighs much more than she does and is more fragile, Grace’s muscles strain but do not let go.  Men zip past and nearly topple the 2 women, but Grace protects her with a tight circle of arms.

Thank you, says the woman.

Come on, coaxes Grace, walk with me.

Grace shepherds the woman south along the edge of the square, careful to avoid the draining remnants of the riot.  In Grace’s ear, she still can hear the crackling fire of burning glides, the shouts of policemen, the pops of the rubber bullet guns.

The woman continues to totter and struggle.

I’ve hurt my ankle, she admits.   I have to stop.

Grace almost halts at the steps.  But it’s too dangerous; six men jump right over them during escape, careless of the people crossing.  No, don’t, she urges, we’re almost there.


Grace doesn’t know where – there is no place out of the sun, out of the noise, out of danger.  She thinks about returning to the pocket by the courthouse.  Looking back, it’s no good.  The columns are now filled with a diamond of people red-eyed from tear gas.

It’s going to rain, Grace tells to the woman as the wind picks up.  Both of them look to the sky, fat with clouds.  She puts extra strength under the woman and braces her for another sprint, this time past the courthouse and down the stone steps.  At each footstep, the woman groans.  She’s not faking.

Please, Grace prays, please.

Shelter appears like a mirage.  A nook beside a gated drugstore.  Grace helps the woman into the space and gently lowers her to the stoop.

Thank you, the woman huffs through panting breaths.  She squeezes Grace’s arm.

You’re welcome.  How did you get caught in this craziness?

Caught in it?  The woman has a wry expression on her face.  I started it!

Grace crouches at the woman’s sightline.  What’s your name?

Esmerelda Bow.  She wipes the sweat from her forehead.   Jesmine Bow is my granddaughter.

Grace’s mind flashes to the lists.  B.  Bow, Jesmine.  Age 5, Grace recalls aloud, her mind a machine, from Ward 9, girl, African-descent…

…and still missing, completes Grandmother Bow.  Her eyes glint with a twinkle of respect.  Her granddaughter is known.

Yes, Grace nods sympathetically.  I understand.  Grace holds the old woman tight as rioters rocket past.  I work for the mayor’s office, she confesses.  My name is Grace Levine.

Grace, the woman repeats.

Would you…I mean…would you, Grandmother Bow, like to meet with the mayor?  I can arrange that.


Yes, I can take you to him.  Do you want me to?

The woman lifts over Grace’s shoulder.

Jesmine’s mother wouldn’t come down to City Hall, she explains.  She wanted to wait at the house.  Thought there’d be trouble.  The old woman laughs, then stops short.  Can she come, too?

Of course.  Certainly.  You can both come.  We’ll pick her up.  Grace brushes the woman’s silver hair and replaces the drooping pink bonnet.  Mayor Cocanaugher’s really a good man.


Both women jump at the harsh command.  2 men of the Heavy Team, with their tight black armor and face shields down, pointed their rubber bullet Repeaters directly at Grace and the old woman.

It’s okay, Grace explains, I’m with the mayor’s—

MOVE YOUR FUCKING ASSES! shouts the sergeant on the right, taller and more menacing than his lower-ranked counterpart.  Don’t make me tell you again!

Her ankle’s hurt, she’s—

I don’t fucking care!  Get out of here before we pelt you!

Listen, Sergeant, she’s got a bad ankle.  My name is—

We’re clearing the square, and this is part of the square.  You’ve got to move your fucking ass another 3 blocks or else!

I’m not going anywhere!  Grace holds her ground.  She injects as much grit into her voice as she can muster.  I’m with the mayor’s off—

At point blank, the sergeant pulls the trigger.

A single rubber bullet flies from the barrel.

It connects.

She screams, falls down twitching, scratches at her face as if an arrow has struck her.  The bullet has hit her right eye.  No blood, but the vessels burst and flood the interior.  She flails on the ground.  She feels the hands of the grandmother, a brittle burn through her clothes that warms her skin and settles her.  She brings her body under control.  When Grace is able to open one eye again, just 80 seconds after the bullet struck, Grandma Bow has her hand warmly against her cheek and is trying to keep her still.  Grace’s eye feels as if a wasp has stung her.

She screams with murder at the riot policemen.


The sergeant matches her fury: Get moving before I pelt you both!  He’s not dropped his Repeater, and doesn’t show any intention that he will.

Grace lifts herself up.  She contains her urge to race at the cruel sergeant and pummel him.  She finds that her strength is half, and she’s dizzy.  But she raises herself anyway.

This time, roles reversed, it’s Grandma Bow who is helping her orient to the ground and move forward.  Come, dear girl, come on.  3 blocks.

The old woman is just as angry as Grace – it’s evident on every seam of her face – but she’s pragmatic.  All Grace wants to do is scream.  And she does, for 3 whole blocks, detailing all the bureaucratic recourse she will take against the offending party, the reports she will file, the earful she will give Cocanaugher, the phone calls that will be made, the consequences that will be administered, the end of sergeant’s career, a fall into drink and eventual suicide, all because of a rubber bullet in a staffer’s eyeball.


The words travel far backwards at their intended target.