Saturday afternoon, 13 July 2002
GM: The porta-potty smells.
It’s a novel concept to a 10-year-old, a toilet with no handle to flush. The contents of the bowl just sit there and smell, trapped within the confines of a seven-by-eight wide box. Sweating makes it worse. After long enough inside, the beads of sweat seem to trickle down the gray polyurethane walls rather than the boy’s skin. Or maybe it just looks that way past the tears blurring his vision. Either way, the distinctive odor of warm plastic in prolonged contact with human flesh still fills his nostrils.
The smell would probably be weaker if he’d shat into the toilet.
Milo: His voice is a croak, throat scraped raw from cries he doesn’t remember.
When he doesn’t get an answer he starts to scream again. His throat hurts so much but it doesn’t matter. Later, they’ll tell him he screamed for help. But he isn’t trying to. He just wants to go home. He isn’t thinking when he rushes the locked door, either. The complexities of the lock escape him. The world tilts.
GM: His head bangs against the floor. The polyurethane is warm against his bare legs thanks to the even warmer Louisiana summer day. His rear end is moist with his own waste.
The world smells.
He’s not sure how long passes before the knocks against the door sound. Just that the polyurethane is warmer, his bottom is drier, and the smell is worse by the time they do.
Milo: He screams again, incoherent. Monsters. There are monsters trying to get inside. He curls into a ball, the smell of his own filth filling his nostrils and burning there.
He doesn’t know if he’s thinking or screaming, and he doesn’t care.
Are the sounds he’s making even words? Can anybody hear him? Can Mal? Does it even matter?
The monsters pound at his sanctuary. Everything stinks.
GM: There are more knocks, then heavier thuds. The porta-potty’s door bangs open. Two looming, man-shaped spots blot out the light that otherwise floods the boy’s darkness-accustomed vision. There’s a sound like someone sharply inhaling their breath.
“Yeah,” answers another voice. “That’s shit, all right.”
Milo: They look like people. They talk like people. But are they? Questions fill his mind like shit and piss fill his pants. Where is he? What’s happening? Where’s Mal? Mal?
“Help,” he rasps, one last time.
As questions and filthiest things leak around him, the world tilts backwards. The man-shapes fill his vision, blotting out the starlight. He closes his eyes, and forgets to open them, and falls…
Saturday afternoon, 13 July 2002
GM: The bare room is small and claustrophobic, maybe wide enough for a grown man to lie down with some room to spare, and a little bit longer. The seat is cold and hard against Milo’s bottom, and his dangling feet don’t touch the floor. A single dull light glints from the ceiling, casting long and hungry shadows across the walls where all manner of terrors from a child’s fevered imagination might lurk.
Including the two sitting just across the bolted-down metal table from him.
The first is short but well-built, almost but not quite stocky, with a square jaw line and a full but well-maintained mustache. His gray eyes are alert, methodical, and searching, ferreting out seemingly every wrong to cross Milo’s mind—or which he has ever even done. He wears a white shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, and dark tie. A smoldering cigarette dangles from his lips.
Louis: The second was well-built… a long time ago. Taller than his partner, the once-muscular man’s frame is held together by gristle and grit. His shoulders are slack with the weight of sleepless nights and cases gone cold. Swollen joints crack and groan, badges of hard-won gutter-brawls and lonely stake-outs. Scarred knuckles, meat-slab hands. His skin, riddled with scars, rat out old injuries like bad alibis. A history of hurt. His face, grim. Unlovely. Unloving. Atavistic brow. Thick-slabbed nose, mangled from kissing too many fists, crowbars, and brick walls. Iron-brush hair. Jutting underbite. Lantern jaw. Like his partner, a limp cigarette dangling from his pale lips. A countenance of low cunning and stubborn pursuit. His eyes, deep-sunk. Heavy-lidded. The hue of old bourbon, a watery brown that runs to black and drinks in everything they see. Lies. Lusts. The glint of truth in the flood of grime.
The second pours coffee from a silver, bullet-shaped thermos into a pair of styrofoam cups.
The old man grunts and slides a cup to the young boy. He doesn’t hand it to him. He can’t. Not with the prosthetic hook that gleams from the vacant place where a hand should be.
GM: The younger man exhales a plume of smoke.
“The break room machine doesn’t get washed too often. Can’t say whether it’ll bite less than his hook on the way down. But drinking something will help, about now.”
Louis: The older man downs his own cup, and crumples it like the ill-attempted smile on his face. He tosses it at the corner trash-can, but he misses. Badly.
“C’mon, Pete,” he says in a voice as smooth as used cat litter. “Cut the smoke and cut the crap for the kid’s sake. You might owe Gettis a favor, but don’t spit shine the toilet bowel.”
GM: Pete gives his partner a long look as the cigarette’s tip glows a dull red. He’s been smoking a lot lately.
“Not Gettis who’s telling me to enjoy these, Lou.”
He looks towards Milo, then sighs. The burning embers snub out against the metal table with a near-inaudible hiss. Another thin plume of smoke wafts up Pete’s face.
Louis: Seeing the snubbed cigarette, the old man’s face softens a bit, like going from 100 to 600 grade sandpaper. He pats his trench coat pocket. “I’ve got your next one right here, Pete. Always.”
GM: The younger detective smiles back at him.
Louis: He then slips his own limp, unlit cigarette from his lips and lays it beside a pen and notepad already sitting on the table.
Milo: Milo stares at nothing. The policemen make noises with their mouths like water running down a faucet—“blub blub blub, blub.” Nothing makes sense. They’re barely people. One a dragon, shrouded in smoke with embers burning where its mouth should be. The Pirate hands him something. It smells like morning. The world is wet again.
“I want to see my mom and dad.”
He sips at the drink, and recoils at the heat.
Louis: “Sorry, kid,” the old man answers.
For what, he doesn’t specify. Perhaps for the coffee, perhaps for his parents, perhaps for… everything.
GM: “You’ll get to, in a bit,” the dragon supplies, his smoking mouth finally extinguished. “They’ll be happiest seeing you together with your brother.”
Milo: Eyes the color of dull knives meet bourbon-colored gaze. Those eyes don’t understand. They barely even see.
“I don’t know where he is. I don’t know. I just want to go home.”
GM: “We want him to go home with you too. Do you want that?” the younger detective asks.
Milo: “I don’t… I don’t remember…” Now he’s a mess again, tears running down his cheeks like his shit down his legs earlier.
Louis: The older NOPD homicide lays a light, if scarred hand on his younger partner’s arm, and whispers, “Let’s try another pitcher in the ball pen.”
GM: The detective gives a low sigh, more seemingly out of tiredness than exasperation. “Christ, Lou.” He gets up from his seat, walks around to the boy, and extends a tissue.
Louis: The old man leans down, holding the boy’s gaze. His disturbing hook hand disappears beneath the table. “Milo, my name’s Detective Fontaine. This here’s my friend and partner, Detective Lebeaux.”
He lets the words sink in, not to comprehension, but just enough to saturate the air. To provide some stability to the otherwise fraught and fragile trauma that otherwise sucks up all the air.
“Milo,” he then adds, not releasing the gaze, “what school do you go to?”
The question is simple like a stoplight changing from red to green. Mundane, familiar, and yet compelling in a quotidian fashion.
Milo: He can’t see the tissue through his tears. He doesn’t notice the question’s oddness amongst the clamor of unknowable things. He’s just glad to have something he can remember.
Louis: “Benjamin Franklin,” the old man repeats calmly. “That’s a good school, I hear. Can’t recall if your school has a mascot.”
Milo: He blinks. “It’s… Benjamin Bear.”
GM: “Ben Bear, huh,” Peter remarks. “Wonder if they mixed up the president with the founding father.”
The detective presses the tissue into his hands. “For your eyes.”
Louis: Lou waits for Milo to at least recognize the tissue, then says, “So do you usually sleep in on the weekend or wake up early to watch those, um, morning cartoon talkies, er shows? On the TV?”
Milo: He takes the tissue, dabs once, and otherwise ignores it.
Louis: Lou nods to his partner, in gratitude, then returns his calming gaze to Milo with another query: “Yeah, that’s good. Did you watch anything yesterday morning?”
Milo: “Blue’s Clues.” His voice sounds steadier, at least. Landslides instead of avalanches. “Mal watched with me.”
Louis: Lou doesn’t try on a fake warm smile. He knows it won’t fit. Instead, he just nods, almost more with his bourbon-brown eyes than his lantern jaw.
“That sounds real nice, kid. Blue’s Clues. Do you remember anything about the show, about Blue’s Clues, yesterday?”
Milo: Milo nods slowly. “There was an egg.” He adds, “In a nest.”
No further explanation is immediately forthcoming.
Louis: “That’s a good place for eggs to be,” the older detective replies, once again with a placid rather than outright pleasant face.
GM: “The best place,” his partner echoes.
Louis: “What did you and your brother do after watching Blue’s Clues?”
Milo: “Mal didn’t watch,” Milo says quickly. His eyes are finally dry, though his cheeks still glisten like concrete slicked with so much rain. “He was reading. Wizard of Oz. Then he wanted to go to Crepes a la Carte…” His brow furrows.
Louis: Lou nods, “Yeah, that’s a good food truck. Do you two go there frequently?” The old man intentionally keeps his last sentence in the present tense–even if privately he has darker doubts.
GM: His partner taps the laid-out cigarette in silent consideration. Right about now Lou could imagine him taking another long drag, or lighting up a fresh one.
Louis: Right about now, Lou could and does imagine himself taking lighting up a fresh one and taking a long drag. Gettis, he inwardly groans, both as the culprit of his denied smoke ‘break’, but also for putting him in this room with a poor kid whose sibling became the NOPD’s newest missing persons case–and hopefully not the city’s newest statistic.
Milo: Is that a smile, that’s flickering so briefly? Or just a curled lip?
“Yeah. It’s good. We sneak out sometimes.”
Louis: Lou’s face crinkles with an ornery old man’s grin. Not a true smile, but an ugly, if good-intentioned cousin to it. “Yeah, Pete and I sometimes sneak out for food, too.”
Gravity and the gravity of the situation though then pull down the man’s momentary grin. “Did you and your brother stop anywhere before going to get breakfast?”
GM: “Hubig’s pies,” the younger detective declares. “Lou got me hooked on those things when I wasn’t too much older than you. Could never get into donuts like a good cop is supposed to.”
Louis: Lou’s face takes on the momentary grin again. “I’m more of a beignet man myself, but considering they declared them the official state donut, I guess I’m the ‘good cop’,” he jibes to his partner.
He then returns his calming gaze to Milo and restates his inquiry, while adding another:
“What about you, Milo, what food did you and your brother order?”
Milo: He nods slowly. “Mal got the Funky French Monkey, which they made with Nutella and bananas. Mom doesn’t like us eating Nutella because it has hazelnuts and her mom was allergic to hazelnuts but Mal doesn’t think he’s allergic so it’s fine but mom’s still scared. I didn’t get anything even though Mal asked me if I wanted any, I didn’t even take a bite of his. I don’t like spending Mom and Dad’s money without them knowing.”
GM: “An honest man,” Pete nods.
Louis: “Hard to find these days,” Lou says with both approval and sadness. He then follows up the observation with his next line of inquiries. “Had you two ever done this before? Either take your parents’ money or go out and spend it together?”
Milo: Milo blinks. His lip trembles a bit. “Um. I didn’t think that was against the law. Mal’s not in trouble, is he?”
Louis: Lou shakes his head. “Just trying to understand the story. Like in Blue’s Clues.”
Milo: “Okay.” The boy takes him at his word. “Yeah. A few times. He mostly spends the money, though. I just don’t tell.”
Louis: Lou nods. “And did you two talk to anybody or stop anywhere else before he bought the… Funky French Monkey?”
Milo: “No. We just walked and talked. I mean, he talked, mostly. I listen a lot.”
GM: “Get you far. Most people like to talk. Like it when they have an audience even more.”
Milo: “I guess.”
Louis: Lou nods in agreement.
GM: “You two talk about Wizard of Oz, or something else?”
Louis: The older detective doesn’t interpret the inquiry save for giving his partner the most subtle looks of approval as they slide into a synchronous stride like well-greased, familiar gears.
Milo: “Yeah, actually. He talked about the Tin Woodman.” Milo frowns. “He said he didn’t get him. He read that book all the time, and he got everything else, but not him. Because…” The boy suddenly blinks, and those gray eyes go listless once more.
Louis: Lou doesn’t reach out a hand, fearing he’d spook the boy, but he leans in, “Stay with me, Milo. You’re telling me a story, like Blue’s Clues. A story. One clue, then another clue.”
Milo: The boy’s breaths escape through chattering teeth, and they carry words, but not the ones Lou’s looking for. “I—I asked why and he said… hesaidhesaidhesaid—”
The room is so hot. So tight. So small. There’s not enough air, or maybe there’s too much, and they’re crushing his lungs, they must be, because he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe…
Louis: Lou doesn’t let the emerging frown overshadow his entire face as he tries to calm the swiftly panicking kid. “Milo. Listen to me. Remember. You’re good at listening. You are a good listener. Nod if you hear me.” He tries to make his words, his voice an anchor in the breathless panic. “I know this is hard. It is. You aren’t alone, though. I’m here. Your parents are coming. Pete’s here. You’re here.”
“Milo. You’re here.”
GM: The well-greased gears are continuing to turn if the equally slight frown that emerges on Lou’s partner’s face is any indication. Nevertheless, the younger detective adds, “You remember that line from The Wizard of Oz, Milo? It went something like, ’You’ve got plenty of courage, I bet,’ answered Oz. ’There’s no living thing that isn’t afraid when it faces danger. True courage is facing danger when you’re afraid, and that kind of courage you have plenty of.’”
Milo: “You’re here.” He is. But Mal isn’t. Where’s Mal? Milo speaks in a whisper, or perhaps just a tired scream. “It… it hurts to remember. I don’t think I can.”
Louis: The old man keenly knows how trauma can induce paralytic amnesia. It fades in time, like waves eroding the black spots of repressed memories. With a little time and counseling, Lou figures the kid could say more. But time is something they don’t have right now. Especially the kid’s brother. It’s the first hours that matter the most in missing person cases, a small window of time. And it’s already been some twelve hours. The window’s already half-closed. If not broken. Lou tries to swallow that last thought like a mouthful of glass shards hitting an ulcer.
“Milo,” he says as gently as the old cop’s gravely voice can be, “I know it’s hard. But you gotta do your best. It’s all anyone ever can do: try.”
He then calmly, thoughtfully proceeds through a line of questioning, backed up by his partner. He knows that each question put forward is another step on the thin ice of Milo’s mind right now, but he also knows that each question shaves down his brother’s chances–and they’re already slim.
Milo: Milo won’t remember how helpful he was later. His mouth moves without his mind helping, as it grapples with something Milo could not comprehend, except that it was awful, and that he just wished his brother was sitting here and not him.
He simply talks, and tries not to bite off his own tongue. One moment he’ll remember, though, is when he meets the eyes of the old man. For one second, there isn’t room for grief, or fear, or even anger. There’s only the confusion of a child who has seen too much.
“Why did it happen? Why is this happening to me? Why Mal?
Louis: The old man’s expression looks bruised, like a low-paid bantam southpaw who’s gone ten rounds with a heavyweight headliner–and has to still go another ten.
“I don’t know, Milo,” the old man says, not quite throwing in the towel, but certainly wringing it as he considers the scant facts and more specious deductions. He catches his partner’s eye, “But we’ll do our best to find out.”
GM: That partner, in contrast, looks as if he could go for a cig now more than ever. He manages a smile for the boy, but it’s belied by the grim nature of their surroundings. “Lot of kids who disappear, it’s at the hands of someone who already knows them. Can make the case easier to solve.”
He knows the actual rates as well as Lou.
Milo: Milo is gone again, teeth chattering like bone cymbals; it’s not that cold in the room.
Louis: The old detective knows how to recognize a tap that’s gone dry. He sighs, stands up, and places his trench coat over the boy–less to warm the kid and more to simply anchor him to the ground. He pats Milo’s shoulder, wearily.
Poor kid, he mentally sighs, but tries to keep his face bereft of that pity as he speaks aloud. “You’ve done good, Milo. You tried. Now it’s our turn to try, to keep trying, and you’ve given us some answers, or clues at least. It’s now our time to hunt them down.”
He looks to his younger partner, “Or try.” There’s a silent exchange between he and Pete, a small flicker of the eyes to the door, as if to confirm they’re done–here and now at least. Because, of course, they’re never done. Not in this city.
Milo: Clack-Clack-Clack, is the only verbal answer. The boy manages a nod.
Louis: Lou regards the neurotic, traumatized youth, then mutters to his partner, “Next time, Pete, remind me to use decaf.”
GM: “Next time, Lou, remind me not to owe Gettis favors,” Pete responds with a weariness belying his nearly thirty years. Nevertheless, he nods towards the door. “C’mon, kid, let’s get you home.”
Milo: At the mention of home, something of Milo reenters his eyes. He doesn’t presume to get up, but looks questioningly towards the nice pirate.
Louis: Lou nods, to both of them. “Time to 86.”
Milo: “Um. What?”
Louis: “Time to split, kid,” Lou clarifies, and helps Milo up. “Time for you to go home. Where you belong. Time for us to do our job.”
Milo: He’s all too happy to let the old man help him. He waddles to the door, his bottom still uncomfortable.
Louis: The detective takes back his coat and folds it over his hook, as his younger but far from young partner opens the door. “Or at least, time to try.”
GM: The dimly-lit interrogation room’s door creeks open. The two detectives escort Milo out, down a hallway with two more adjoining, dimly-lit rooms where scared little boys could get asked scary questions.
Milo: For a few seconds, all is well, or as well as things could be expected under the circumstances. Milo manages to walk by himself down the hallway, to stand on his own two legs.
Then everything changes.
The boy becomes an anchor as Lou suddenly senses that things are not all right. Milo sees too much. Milo’s eyes go still as the stones they so resemble, and his body locks around them, anchors. Milo’s world breaks into small pieces, fine china crushed underfoot. He’ll try to put it back together, but the best he can do is rearrange the pieces of his reality into less horrifying shapes.
The hallway swirls like toilet water.
Louis: No stranger to trauma, the homicide detectives sense the kid’s cracking psyche. Well-honed hunches cause them to peer into one of the just-passed interrogation rooms.
GM: Peter’s gray eyes doggedly run over the dim room’s shadows. His mouth pulls into a tight frown.
Louis: Lou’s bourbon eyes and downturned lips do the same. There’s a telling look shared between the partners as they return their attention to the mentally crumbling kid. “Decaf and favors, Pete,” Lou grumbles as he tries to shepherd the kid away from whatever spooked him–or at least closer to his waiting parents.
Milo: Whose fault is it? His? Mal’s? The faceless men who found him before they found his brother The world drowns as his eyes fill with salt and water, and Milo lets out an underwater scream, a blub-blub-blub of confusion and anguish.
Nothing makes sense anymore. His brother’s been stolen from him, and his innocence ripped away. He’ll keep screaming, and keep crying, long after they thrust him into the arms of people who love him, long after he lies in bed trying to sleep, and long into dreams he won’t remember.
But that’s okay. He’ll get used to it.
Saturday afternoon, 13 July 2002
GM: After seeing Milo off with his parents, Lou and his partner retrace their steps to the porta-potty in Bywater. It’s within sight of the crepes cart. The kids hadn’t meant to wander far. It’s an unremarkable structure. Green plastic-like walls, white roof. You’ve seen one porta-potty, you’ve seen them all. The two detectives slip on latex gloves, mark the place as a crime scene, and squeeze inside.
There isn’t a great deal to see. Anything, really. Even Milo’s excrement has been cleaned up by someone, which prompts a deep scowl from both detectives. Pete nevertheless sets to work photographing the scene. Lou starts by dusting for fingerprints on the interior door and toilet paper, hoping to establish a time frame for when the boy was abducted—before, during, or after he’d taken a dump?
Lou finds prints on the toilet paper, but none of the door. So the kid took a piss or dump, but was taken before he could leave. Pete muses whether someone barged inside, took him, and simply never closed the door. The younger detective makes a note to re-interview the crepe cart’s operators later.
The centuries-older one has a hunch, though, and opens the toilet’s lid. He slowly pokes around at the rancid contents with a ruler stick. He’s looked at worse. A lot worse. Smelled worse, too. There isn’t a lot left, and what’s left is fading fast, but Lou’s sharp eyes discern even it amongst the turds, piss, and soggy toilet paper. A viscous, near-transparent substance that would probably go unnoticed to someone who didn’t know what to look for—or wasn’t willing to look where he did.
Lou holds it up on the tip of the ruler. Touches a gloved finger to it. There’s warmth there. Ectoplasm from the shades of the departed is always cold. This seems thicker, too. More… alive. There are traces of color. Past the stench of human waste, he can even make out a hearty, primal smell, like blood over freshly turned earth.
So, that’s what this thing is. It came out of nowhere—nowhere on earth, at any rate. It went back to nowhere, too. It took Milo’s brother with it.
There are more nowhere-places it could have gone than there are names for them in all the tongues of man. Lou can only hope the kid is somewhere comprehensible enough to even have a name.
Either way, this case is now far outside NOPD’s jurisdiction.
Louis: Outside NOPD’s jurisdiction, yes, but not outside his conscience’s.
The boy is gone. Taken. His family grieves. What he does next isn’t for the crescent badge he wears–but for the city he serves irrespective of that badge. The Crescent City, his home. The Glass’ home, too. The old detective sighs. He waits till his younger partner is done with his photos and finger-printing, then grunts.
“Pete, you mind giving me a moment? Too long fishing in the can…” he says, patting his belt. “Old habits and older bladders, you know?”
He doesn’t like holding back from his partner, not this one or the last dozen or so. Never has. But it’s like sneaking medicine in a sick kid’s applesauce: you do it for them and deal with the bad aftertaste as best you can.
“While I’m taking care of business here, you mind calling in for the address of the crepe-maker? I don’t want to let this wait till tomorrow. First 24 hours and all,” he adds, his face all-too honestly grim. “Even if he didn’t see anything, maybe he can recall somebody else that was around–busker, customer, or so forth–who did. Might give us a break.”
It’s a long shot, given what he knows, but given what he knows, everything is a long shot now.
GM: Even the younger homicide detective has seen worse on the job. Pete doesn’t look bemused so much as interested at the sight of Lou poking through the contents of the toilet bowl. It’ll be a story hearing what evidence he was able to gather from the kid’s turds.
“Sure. I’ll leave you to keep taking ‘shit job’ to a new level.”
Louis: Lou smiles, “Sounds like the academy’s new motto, ‘Taking craps when nobody else gives one’.” He slips off his glove and fishes a cigarette into his mouth, “You hear the rumor about the guy who blew himself up while smoking on the pot after eating too many beans? Well, Pete, if things go badly for me, tell my wife you can drive my lamborghini whenever you want.” His hook then shuts the porta-potty and flicks the sign to ‘occupied’.
GM: Pete gives a single half-snort, half-bark of laughter and heads away as Lou closes the door. Footsteps sound. The old man turns to regard the witness he’ll interview—a toilet’s black polyurethane rim.
Louis: He’s had uglier witnesses. Like the mirror. Still, the old homicide detective grunts as the feces’ smell returns four-fold when he closes the door and shuts out the ‘clean’ city air outside.
GM: Lou’s hand brushes the toilet seat. His hand isn’t touching the toilet. His bottom is. He feels relief as the feces exit his rectum, hitting the formalehyde-blue water with a light plop. The stench isn’t as bad when it’s covered by his thighs, and the chemicals help, but there’s no concealing the smell of a pile of human waste. He reaches for the toilet paper.
Pressure. Around his waist. Cold. So cold. Wet, slimy texture against his skin. Tightness. His kidneys scream as they’re smooshed into his liver and intestines. His lungs constrict. He opens his mouth to scream, but the sound dies in his throat. He tries to flail. His arms don’t respond.
Something wet. Wet and fleshy, dragging across his cheek. A foul, pungent musk against his face.
He tries to piss himself as the thing licks his cheek. But his bladder’s already empty. His vision swims, tunnels, then blackens. A roaring noise overtakes his ears, like he’s being plunged into rapidly churning water.
A single image flashes across his mind before everything dissolves into screaming black. A bayou. In the heart of the city. Where dead men fear to tread.
Louis: Lou crunches down on the anguish and fear like a fresh-fallen pecan. It’s hard, painful even, but in the end, it breaks before he does. He sucks in a thin but long breath between his teeth. He feels the beads of sweat on his face, the iron hackles on his neck, the stench of the place. There’s a bitter gratitude as he realizes he’s ‘back’ in the crime-scene. There’s another visceral plop in the toilet hole, his wrinkly behind and back slowly relaxing.
Muerda, Lou curses silently. I should have been a meter maid.