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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Coffland cups the dial and says a word he hopes no one else can hear: Blitz.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 59


This is not normal.  The rain hits as if someone is dumping buckets of water over their vehicle.  The sudden storm drives away the crowd clinging to the side-panels of their glide.  Police commissioner Marsha Van Nuys is navigating; Captain Lars Coffland is the passenger.  The voice on the box was an educated man’s voice.  Almost regal.  Not normal, the captain knows again.  Guards are gruffer and less polite over call boxes.  His instincts are on fire.

The trek to the underground garage is fast.  The pavement is mostly free of the dripping stains from glide engines, and also free of blown or dragged autumn leaves.  There are few indications that the garage has been used recently anyone at all.  Few, except a single parallel set of airless tire tracks, leading down.  When they reach the bottom, the gates are already open.

Nice to roll out the welcome, remarks the commissioner with a raise of her exact eyebrows.

Coffland grunts.

Two freshly washed classic 2047 Ferrari sports cars occupy ‘Reserved’ spaces against to the elevators.  One car is red, the other black.  Both are worth a small fortune.  Neither looks like they have ever been driven.

Crookedly parked alongside those two is a simple DL Prix.

Marsha nods to a stray glide.  That’s the glide that those people outside told us came in 20 minutes ago.

They steer around to a space opposite.  Coffland sights the hood of the DL Prix.  Look at that, says the captain with a point and a tilt.  That DL is missing its bumper.  Coffland rises in his seat.  Holy Moses.  Think that’s the one from the crash with Efdrey?

Marsha puts the gear into Park.  Maybe.  She kills the igniter.

The two meet eyes, silently connect the dots.  The implications are obvious to Coffland, and probably to Marsha, too.  He defers to her.  He doesn’t want to define this assumption.  That’s her job – what’s she’s paid to navigate – the politics.  But he doesn’t want to be dumb about it.

There must be a reason, he suspects, why a sought-after glide with a kidnapped child in the trunk would just park itself in the garage of the Doll Building.  There must be a hundred city officials who would tell them to turn around and drive the hell out of here.  Including Franco J. Cocanaugher.

I’m calling for backup, he proclaims.

She nods agreement.  Good idea.

Coffland unhooks the dashboard Eye Dial and rings a number.  He gives instructions: a Heavy Team, 20 men, keep safe distance – at least five blocks from the Doll Building and out of sight.  But ready.  I’ll use the Blitz signal if it’s urgent.

Marsha lifts her handbag from the perch between the seats, takes out her identification, but leaves the rest behind.  Do you have a weapon?

Yes.  My sidearm.

Leave it in the glide.

Are they going to search us?

Yes.  Plus, it’s just bad manners.


Please, she says without fight.

Captain Coffland withdraws his service Luger from inside his tight blue coat and gives it a last, almost despondent appraisal.  He holsters the weapon in the glide’s drink holder, barrel-down.  As an afterthought, he says, Maybe I should hide it under the seat…

She checks the empty garage.  Lars… It’s coming on 7:30 and almost no one’s parked in these hundreds of spaces.  No one’s around to take it.

But that’s strange.  Isn’t it, Commissioner?

You forget, Lars, she starts and pulls the lever of the driver’s side door, letting a gust of processed air suck into the glide, this place is not only Doll Industries’ headquarters…it’s also Douglaz’s home.  He can do what he wants.  And he often does.  He has other, smaller buildings rented across the city.  He moved his people out for some reason.

For…some reason…

Again, their eyes meet with raised brows.

We’ve been so stupid, she says as she gets out.  We should have come here weeks ago.

Damn right.

Coffland hovers an ear above the DL Prix’s closed trunk.  He knocks.  Is anyone in there?  he asks the steel frame.

Marsha leans forward and knocks as well.   If you’re in there, we can help you.  We’re police.

No response.

The two keep walking.

At the elevator car, the two are lifted to the lobby level, and they do not speak.  Coffland keeps alert should there be trouble.  He wrestles with his training: know your exits, know your options, no matter where you find yourself.  Even if you think it’s a nice normal office high-rise without a single goddamn employee, it’s anything but.  This place gives me the creeps, he declares.

The elevator door opens onto the building’s lobby.

The vacant atrium doesn’t quell his opinion of this place.  It has all the warmth of the Mary Celeste sailing in an arctic winter.

At the far end, the front doors are chained tight.  Beyond the glass, the families of the missing cluster in a ring under the awning.  They bear the cold downpour, waiting to be let in.  Coffland is spotted as he gallops to the security desk.  The desk is a half-moon a dozen meters before the bank of elevators.  The mothers and fathers bang on the windows.  He can’t hear their drone through the glass, but he knows what they are after.  They told Coffland when he arrived at the Doll Building: to know what the hell’s going on.  Right there with you, folks, he thinks, and turns his back to them.

The thunder and the lighting grow louder and closer.  The most violent part of the storm is nearly on top of them.  The rain freezes into a mix of ice and hail that pounds the concrete outside and rumbles Coffland’s ears.

Marsha hunts behind the vacant security desk.  The embedded cameras in the dashboard are switched off.  Beneath the desk, she sees that the wires are dangling loose like a nest of baby snakes.

Hello! she calls out.  The salutation bounces around the high marble ceilings.  The elevator from the garage shuts, leaving the two alone in the echoes.

No welcoming committee?  Marsha jokes as she picks up the desk Eye Dial.  A Disconnect tone sounds on the line.  She hangs up and shrugs.  Then she notices the far left of the 6 interior elevator silos.  The needle marks a descent of floors.  Look, Lars.  Someone is coming.

Coffland counts the descent:

5.  4.  3.  2…

Ding.  The car touches ground.


The doors smoothly part.

There stands Douglaz Doll in pinstriped blue suit with fuzzy necktie, poorly knotted.  His eyes are bloodshot with bags underneath.  His hair has been hastily slicked and combed into rigor mortis.  He has crow’s feet and a widow’s peak, one ear curved out away from his head as if the ear has hopes to detach itself and run.  His shoulders slump more left than right, and when he walks, he lists like a torpedoed battleship.  But his face and his charms are most certainly…

Douglaz… greets the police commissioner with old-friend syrupiness.

Coffland inserts himself between Doll and the commissioner without pretense of social grace.  He passes to the elevator with his right hand outstretched.  Captain Coffland, he announces with strength.

The inventor shakes Coffland’s hand, but his face is to the woman over the captain’s shoulder.  Mar-sha, he smiles broadly and winks.  Reaching backwards, Doll breaks the elevator’s sensor with a wave of his hand to prevent the door from closing.  He does not step out of the car.  He releases from Coffland and takes Marsha’s hand loosely, gently – almost with a feline caress.

This is Captain Lars Coffland, Douglaz, she gestures with her free hand.  A friend, and one of our finest offers.  We were out together on a call just before this and he offered to accompany me.

Coffland straightens his blue coat so the lapel stripes are more prominent.  I always wanted to meet you, Mr. Doll, he says sweetly, as was rehearsed.

The pleasure is mine, Captain.  I appreciate the fine work you and your peers are doing.  Doll looks as though his is going to attempt to bow, but he is a little wobbly, and appears to know it.  He rights himself.  Step in, step in, Doll instructs, gracious as a hotel concierge with a gesture to the elevator car.

Coffland pokes past Doll and examines the car up and down.  The car is uninhabited.  And no traps.  Satisfied, Coffland gingerly enters with Marsha Van Nuys a meter behind.

Doll drops his hand from the sensor and the door slides closed.  He depresses the number 39 and the button lights to white.  I’m glad you’re here, he says.

The words are sociable, but Coffland cannot help but perceive the man’s voice as dry and succinct.

Your timing couldn’t be better.

Well that’s good to hear, Douglaz, she says.  Our apologies for barging in on you so early in the morning and without an appointment, but my schedule has been terribly cruel lately.

Yes, yes, of course, I understand.  I saw you on the security cameras, Marsha, and, and, I, I just knew this was divine luck.

Where are your employees, Mr. Doll? injects Coffland.  I know it’s Saturday, but not even a guard at—

I’m restructuring – had only a token force in this building anyway – mostly bookkeepers.  The maintenance staff is about, I think.

This seems to be working, thinks Coffland.  Doll’s talking and he hasn’t tried to do anything stupid.  Coffland looks down.  Doll’s hands are wobbly by his side.  The man’s jitters grow with each 100-meters ascent.  Here now, thinks the captain, up close he’s sort of a wreck, isn’t he?

But Doll is sizing him up as well, he’s sure of it.

The car rises fast and Coffland’s stomach tingles.  The ruin of Coffland’s nerves is exacerbated by the fact that he is frightened of heights.  The elevator’s glass walls grant a breathtaking view of City 32, one that Coffland has no capacity to appreciate.  Purple clouds break with lightning and smother the Doll Building.  Rain sloshes against the car as if it’s going through a wash rather than vertically up.  The electricity in the sky has Coffland questioning whether the elevator floor is made of rubber or steel.  He wouldn’t like to be struck.  Boom.  Boom.  The thunder is getting closer.  Coffland sees the sunrise in the distance, as if the eye of the storm has planted itself only on top of the Doll Building and nowhere else.

Marsha presses into Doll and her voice cracks.  Franco asked us to visit you.  He wants your help with a big problem.  Marsha tries to keep her voice flat and without accusation, the tone of an old friend in need, erasing all traces of authority or suspicion.  However, the volume of the storm is making her shout.

The weather, right?  Is that what Big Frank wants?  There’s no time for that now.  I need you for something else.  And not to worry anyway about the weather…  My top people are on it.

Marsha nods with understanding.  Of course, naturally, we assumed.  But Franco wants me to ask how involved you are in the corrections.  He tends to feel better if you’re personally—

The elevator shakes from the rising wind.  It rattles in its tracks as it passes 24, 25, 26…

Coffland circles back to Doll’s earlier words.  You said you need us for something else?

Doll nods.  That’s right.  We’ve had an intruder.  I was just about to phone the police, but voilà, here are the best, right?

Passing floor 30.  Up.

Douglaz continues: A man appeared at our gate a short while ago and demanded to be let inside.  He had taken a priest from St. Patrick’s hostage.  We didn’t think to phone the police.  We didn’t know his full intentions until he was in front of us.  My assistant Sidney lured the intruder into one of our offices.  There was a struggle.  The intruder and the priest have both been killed.  Sidney’s fine, though.

Authority floats into Coffland’s reply.  I’ll call this in, he says.  We’ll have a team here in two minutes.

Doll’s hand goes up.  I’m not sure I want policemen rushing into my headquarters, Captain Coffland.  You and Marsha, though, you have the credentials to handle this matter discreetly.  Let’s take a look at things, first, s-shall we?

39.  Canary walls and narrow corridor with shut doors on both sides of it.

Doll leads them halfway down.


Doll inserts a silver key through the slot and pushes.

Entering the room, it’s a horror house.

There’s a man in a tweed suit lying on the floor, face covered in thick clumps of splotchy blood.  He is turned to the side with an arm out.  His back touches the wainscoting at the base.  Clearly visible is the handle of a pair of scissors, a single stainless steel tip burrowed into the right socket of an eye.

Jesus! jumps Marsha, reflexively.

Coffland’s stomach drops.  Even with years on the force, impalement is rare and seeing it so cruelly displayed makes him wince.

Now Coffland and the commissioner notice a second man: a priest wearing black pajamas with stiff clerical collar, flat on his back on the other side of the room, behind the door.  He’s been stabbed in the arm with a knife that protrudes.  He’s bled out onto the carpet.  Beneath him is a wide and wet pool of blood in perfect oval frame.  The priest’s face is a ghostly pallor and his expression a frozen wreath of pain.

Lastly, their eyes rest upon a third man, who hovers behind a hefty oak desk at the room’s end.  This one drums his knuckles on the blotter.  He could be someone waiting for a train to arrive, or a race at the track to begin, if he were not surrounded by two fallen bodies.  Coffland detects a faint smile, poorly hidden, as it curls from the man’s mouth.

Doll nods gravely to the man behind the desk.  Captain…Marsha…this is Sidney Mizuro, my assistant.  This person attacked him… The inventor gestures to the crumpled body with the scissors in his eye.  Sidney d-defended himself as best he could.

Did you know this priest? asks Coffland.

His name, I believe, is Father Tesque.  The intruder stabbed him before Sid could stop it.

Marsha bends to the priest.  She kneels just outside of the stain, and touches the palm of her hand to his face.  He’s dead.

Coffland points at the Eye Dial on Sidney Mizuro’s desk.  I need to use your—


Coffland pops the Eye Dial from its place.  I’d like to bring an ambulance.  Don’t worry, Coffland assures, I’ll tell them no sirens.

For a second, Doll hesitates.  Then acquiesces.  I suppose that is the procedure.

As Coffland rings the exchange, the captain keeps Sidney Mizuro in his periphery.  The assistant displays not the pale face of shock, which Coffland has seen many times on victims of violent attacks, but instead, a different kind of face, a face of amusement and experience.  It’s a combination that brings greater unease to Coffland.  He drags the Eye Dial away from the desk as he taps the number.  This gives him a few required meters of distance between himself and Sidney Mizuro.

When the line is answered, Coffland speaks in code.  613.  Red 8.  Captain Lars Coffland… The call connects to the Heavy Team he’s put around the corner, though he hides this from Mizuro.  We need an ambulance at the Doll Building right away.  And whatever police we have in the area.  Not everyone.  Just a unit for now.  Captain Coffland meets Douglaz Doll’s eyes with his hidden meaning: Not to worry, we’ll handle things quiet.  I’m with Commissioner Van Nuys, he adds needlessly, as it’s the Heavy Team commander on the line, not some low-level dispatcher.  He plays the game until the end:  We’ll meet you in the ground floor lobby.  Coffland cups the Eye Dial and says a word he hopes no one else can hear: Blitz.

A tremendous crack of thunder erupts outside.  He’s not even sure if his team heard the last part, but has no time to repeat it.

Doll flounders as he steps around the bloodstains mining the carpet.  He signals to Mizuro.

The control panel to Mizuro’s left is open to lights and switches.  He punches in a sequence.  A pixilated image flickers on the monitor’s baseboard: the lobby camera, coming alive.  Mizuro turns the monitor to the commissioner and the captain.  He points to the families outside in the plaza.  They’ll get in if they know the door is open.

Coffland nods and returns his mouth to the Eye Dial.  Keep the civilians on the plaza.  Don’t let anyone inside the lobby except the ambulance team.

On the camera, Mizuro watches as a police Heavy Team crashes onto the plaza like an armed beach invasion.  The rain and dark make them shadows, fleeting, as they swarm the civilians and to the front doors.

That was fast, Mizuro points out with suspicion.  And I thought you said just a unit.  There’s a couple dozen.  What’s going on here?

Coffland ignores the comment.  You’ll need to unchain the doors.  Will you come with me, Mr. Mizuro?  He hangs up the Eye Dial and gives an assessment of the fallen body of the man in tweed.  Did you know this man? the captain asks over his shoulder to Mizuro and Doll.

Doll answers with a shake of his head.  I knew the priest, but only in passing.

Mizuro shoots his boss a devil look.

Marsha and Coffland catch it.

Coffland leans closer to the body.  He stares at the scissors.  Though the blades are covered in red blood, and white puss oozes from the socket, a good bit of the blade remains visible.  Unlike the priest, his face has kept its color.  Coffland can tell from the carpet underneath the body’s head that the man has lost some blood, but not as much as Coffland might assume from such a wound.  Says the captain: The scissors may not have penetrated the brain.  Coffland puts two fingers to the body’s neck to locate a pulse without disturbing the head.  He says at last, This man’s alive.

When he turns, he has trouble reading faces.  Mizuro and Doll are statues.  Coffland looks to Marsha.  No, don’t!

But it’s too late.

Coffland’s hand is seized and he lets out a girlish cry.  The body on the floor snares Coffland’s fingers.  The snap – piercing, cracking – erupts as Coffland’s 2 fingers are pushed backwards past the knuckles.  The body is rising up, the scissors implanted.  Coffland’s hand and arm sing with pain, but, instinctively, he rolls left to trap the man against the wall, maybe even to push the scissors in further.  But Coffland misses and ends underneath the body’s elbow.

Electrified, the body reaches for the handle of the scissors protruding from its eye—

Stop! shouts Mizuro.

But the scissors are out.

No gush of fluid.  The hole in the man’s skull twitches closed (or is that the natural action from what is left of the man’s eyelid?)  The body is too weak to stand so only comes up half way, staggering.

Coffland cannot believe the man’s even on his knees.  Not after an injury like that.  The pain in the head must be tremendous.  Coffland grips his broken fingers and shouts to Mizuro, Tackle him!

Mizuro doesn’t move.  No one does.  They’re all too stunned to act, even Marsha Van Nuys, whose bureaucratic half has overtaken her former police judgment.

The body swings the scissors in his shaky hand.  KEEP AWAY, he screams at them through spit and blood.  The hoarse command splits their ears, STAY BACK OR I’LL CUT YOU TO BITS!  A wild arc brings the distended blades centimeters from Coffland’s chest.  The police captain dodges the slice with a kick and another roll and lands against the side of Sidney Mizuro’s desk.

The lights go out.

They return in a strobe.

A great thunderclap shakes the building.

Marsha Van Nuys throws wide the door.

The lights go out – longer this time.

Back on.

Coffland is disoriented.  Everyone’s changed position, everyone except him.  He tries to stand, but something prevents him.  It’s Mizuro.  The man shoves the desk between himself and the re-animated body.  The desk’s right rear leg catches on Coffland’s uniform and pins him where he lays.

Coffland knows the Heavy Team won’t wait for permission.  Meeting them in the lobby was a ruse.  The team will have smashed the doors with axes.  He knows they are at least through the lobby, maybe into an elevator.  He cranes to see the dashboard cameras on Mizuro’s console.

Lights out.

Lights on.

The console flickers off and on.

A drawer from the desk separates and spills its contents on the carpet – a heap of quarter-sized objects that roll and scatter.  To Coffland, the things mean nothing.  But they are important to the body and to Mizuro, who both dive to seize as many of them as their slippery fingers can grab.

Mizuro’s displacement of the desk knocks the lamp over top of Coffland, sending shadows beneath a cocked yellow shade.

In the glow, he sees the body scoop a handful of the quarter-sized objects from the carpet.  He’s quickly on his feet, swinging the scissors, kicking Mizuro away from the stash.  The 4 Mizuro had been able to salvage go flying from his hands.

Coffland realizes: Doll’s no longer in the room.

Marsha is the only thing between the intruder and the exit.

Let him leave! Coffland shouts to Marsha.  He catches a glimpse of the console.  His men are in the lobby but struggling against a tide of citizens clambering for the elevators.  He can’t hear the chaos, but knows in the marble of the atrium it must be deafening.

The captain frustratingly yanks his uniform free from the desk leg.

The scissors swing indiscriminately at Mizuro and the commissioner.  The body wants out.  Marsha is in the way.  Coffland is shouting but she holds her ground.  The body’s also reaching for her and for Mizuro with the things from the floor—

Almost touching.

A crack of thunder, a bomb, goes off outside the building.  The power fails.  It does not come back.