Down Among the Dead Men

Author's Note: I wrote this for a zine about two years ago.
I have no idea which zine it was for, or whether it ever got published. (I looked in my stack of tribs, and it isn't in any of them). Either I never got my trib, or I gave it away, or the zine never happened. Anyhow, it's a short enough story I don't feel much guilt in posting my story now.
If anyone has seen this in a zine? Let me know. Also, if you've seen my brain anywhere...

Bosco knew he should have known by the way his day had started, that it was going to be one of those days. He'd woken up half an hour late, discovering that the power had blinked sometime that morning, switching off his alarm. Luckily he'd made it to work on time anyhow -- even if he couldn't have said exactly how he'd done it. Not because he didn't know, but because he hadn't wanted to give himself a speeding ticket for it.

The day had gone downhill from there, from discovering he had only one clean shirt in his locker left, to finding out that the reports he
would have sworn he'd turned in hadn't been, to discovering that his partner had had what was politely termed a tough morning and was happy to take out her frustrations on him. He'd long since stopped trying to defend her kids' attempts to play hooky by faking sick, though he hadn't stopped giving them tips on it whenever their parents weren't in hearing distance.

But Yokas had been extra cranky today, and everything he'd said had got him snarled at. He'd been grateful for the distraction of a string of trivial calls even though the inanity of them had got him started on a long rant about stupid people -- which of course had made Yokas even more cranky. Bosco had been ready to call the day a complete loss when they'd finally got a call that had sounded interesting.

Now, sitting alone in a basement, he wasn't so sure he wouldn't rather be taking inane calls while rattling his partner.

~~~~~

Yokas was ready to blow a gasket. Pacing in front of the old warehouse, she was ready for back-up to arrive so she could get back inside. She was about ready to take off, anyway, but she told herself it would only be another minute before someone else showed. With no clue what had happened to Bosco, it wasn't safe or smart for her to go running back inside. If she disappeared and was unable to use her radio like Bosco apparently was, there wouldn't be anyone who knew what had happened to even begin searching properly.

The buildings along this block were supposed to be deserted, which meant they were being used by homeless people, gang members, and the occasional better-dressed criminal looking for a spot off the street to conduct business. It was a fair bet that the buildings were mostly if not completely empty now, what with their police car sitting out front. Still, she was ready to go barging back in and to hell with back-up. Her eyes caught sight of the graffiti; the paint was still tacky and fresh, sprayed on the wall facing her and Bos' vehicle.

Yokas tried not to look at it.

She and Bosco had pulled up to the factory almost twenty minutes ago, responding to a report of a disturbance. Someone had called in, vague as to his own identity but reporting a suspicious altercation at this address. Bosco had taken the call eagerly, saying it might at least be a chance to catch *somebody* doing something, even if the reported altercation was a couple of alley cats fighting. 'Over another pussy', Bosco had said with a snide little smile, and Yokas had given him a dirty glare, opting not to yell at him only because she'd had a headache and yelling at Bosco never really made a headache go *away*.

They'd arrived to see nothing unusual, and had headed for the open double doors of the abandoned factory. There was no sign of anyone -- no sign of an altercation, or anything other than scattered leftovers from the people who made use of the building when the cops weren't around. They'd decided to look around anyhow, splitting up because, Yokas freely admitted to herself, they'd been getting on each other's nerves all day. Yokas had taken only a few minutes to check out the open areas of the factory floor, finding nothing.

Afterwards she'd headed for the offices to catch up to Bosco and hadn't found him there. Figuring he'd grown bored or frustrated with finding no one he could arrest, Faith went back outside to look for him at the car. There she'd found the graffiti, freshly added to the wall in the time since they'd gone inside. A quick run back into the factory, shouts for Bosco and calling over her radio had all shown one thing:
Bosco wasn't there.

The note said, "We got one."

Yokas looked over as Sully pulled up beside her. The worried expression on his face as he jumped out of his vehicle reassured her. She knew he didn't like Bosco all that much, but she wouldn't have expected him not to take his disappearance seriously.

Sully saw the graffiti right away, and she answered his querying look with a curt, "It wasn't there when we pulled up. Somebody added it after we went inside."

"Taking credit," Sully observed, echoing her own deduction.

Relieved to finally be doing something, she began to quickly brief Sully. "When he wasn't outside, I went back in and searched the place. No sign of him anywhere. I checked the alley," she pointed to the only nearby break between two buildings. "In case he was taking a piss. Nothing. That's when I called for back-up." Yokas looked around the area again, hoping that Bosco would mysteriously appear someplace with a good explanation. "No sign of him anywhere."

Except, of course, the sign on the wall.

"Where do you want to start?" Sully asked.

"That building," she told him, pointing, already heading that direction. "It's closer to where Bos was looking around. He'd have had to go past me to get to the buildings north of this one."

Sully nodded, and they hurried towards the building. Another abandoned warehouse with a fading storefront sign above the main door. Someone, thirty or forty years ago, had put a lot of effort into the sign. Scrollwork and decoration was still visible beneath the grime, though the store's name itself was partially obscured.

"Did you hear anything?" Sully asked. "I mean, anything at all unusual?"

"Not a thing. No cars driving away, no shots fired, no calls for help. No suspicious bangs, thuds; nothing. If I didn't know better, I'd say he vanished into thin air."

Sully grinned, briefly. "And what makes you think he hasn't?"

"What aliens would want Bosco?"

Sully laughed, but she didn't think he felt any more amused than she did. As they headed to the next building over, she wished Sully had been assigned a partner. Someone they could leave with the vehicles, or walking the street to find any sign of whoever painted the graffiti. She hadn't seen anyone at all - no one on the street who might have been a witness. No passersby on the sidewalk. No nothing.

It was eerie. And it was wrong. "Something strike you as off?" she asked as she and Sully reached the building's main door. They both had their weapons out, setting up on either side of the door.

Sully gave her an incredulous glance. "Besides Bosco being missing?"

"Yeah. The streets are empty." She nodded at the street at large, and waited as Sully looked over. She watched his expression change and knew she was right. This place ought to have been crawling with people of one sort or another. "No homeless squatters, which normally means gang territory. So where are the tags? Where are the kids hanging out, keeping an eye on their place?" She was getting a bad feeling -- a worse feeling, rather. Her worry about her partner was quickly growing into dread.

Something was wrong. Something more wrong than just a missing cop.

"Instead we have nobody." Sully nodded, and didn't look happy. "That could mean anything."

"Yeah, but does it mean anything good?" She didn't for a second believe there could be any good explanation. But she could hope.

They stopped talking, then, as they made their entry. The building was, at first glance, as abandoned and empty as the first. There was enough light streaming in through the huge windows, even dirty as they were. Enough panes were broken or totally missing that light had no trouble. Neither did the weather -- decades' worth of water damage marked the floors and walls.

Yokas and Sully walked inside cautiously, calling out Bosco's name and waiting for any response. They moved farther into the room, searching every corner. It had once been a showroom. A few broken shelving units were still lying on the floor, broken beyond use by anyone except rats or roaches. Yokas made her way over to them, as the piles of debris were large enough to hide a man lying on the floor.

There was nothing there, as she'd expected. Nothing here had been disturbed recently, though there were signs that someone had been here before. A dirty pile of rubbish that had once been blankets, or clothes, and a few wads of newspaper that might have been a week or a decade old.

She went back to where Sully was checking out a small office. More leftovers from squatters, the same rubbish as well as a pile of cigarette butts. All old, too old to think the smoker should be around. Except --

"So where did everybody go?" Yokas asked.

Sully shook his head. "You tell me."

They headed back out of the office, and towards the back of the room. Again they found all the signs of habitants without any of the inhabitants themselves. No more clue, though, as to where everyone had gone or why. The building seemed perfectly sound, though she'd seen people living in much worse.

They moved out of the showroom and towards the rear of the building, searching systematically as they went.

Half an hour since Bosco had disappeared without a sign. Yokas could only force herself not to think about all the reasons why he wasn't answering their calls. Tried not to think about they shouldn't waste
any time finding him.

~~~~~

"Fuck." Bosco tossed the chuck of wood across the room. He heard it bounce off something with a muffled thump. Very muffled -- not at all useful for making enough noise for anyone to hear him. He'd found the pieces of wood scattered around the piles of ancient paper he was laying on; they were the only solid thing he could get his hand on. He took a deep breath to shout again, but in doing so he moved his head and the pounding began again.

He'd tried shouting earlier, when he'd first woken up. Once had been enough. The effort had demonstrated quite vividly that he'd been injured. A head injury -- concussion, if the migraine and vomiting were anything to go by -- and a broken ankle where the two most noticeable things. Everything else felt like bruises, cuts, sore spots caused by landing on the piles of once-pressed wood pulp from at least one flight up.

Might have been from higher. He wasn't lying on concrete, but it wasn't exactly soft, either. It might have broken a fall from higher up than one flight.

Not that it really mattered. There was almost no light down here, but what he could see showed him nothing that looked like stairs or a door. It probably wasn't a completely sealed room -- that would make no sense. But there was no way out he could see, and he was in no condition to go looking. Not yet, at any rate. Yokas was still around somewhere, and she'd be looking for him.

Hopefully. Unless they'd got her, too.

He told himself he'd wait another fifteen minutes, then he'd risk the pain and making himself sick again by crawling towards the wall to start searching for a door.

~~~~~

"There's nothing here," Sully said, his frustration clear in his voice.

Yokas didn't blame him -- she was ready to start beating down doors and shouting her head off calling Bosco's name. They'd searched the building, first floor and second, and found nothing. There was a sort of attic that they hadn't been able to get to, but it didn't look like anyone could get to it. They'd agreed that Bosco couldn't have got through the barricaded door without leaving some sign behind.

But there was nothing. They'd gone back out to the street, checking again for anyone who might have been a witness. Still no one. There was nothing new to the graffiti on the wall; no one had left a helpful note stuck under a windshield wiper.

"You think we better call for help?" Sully asked, hand already going up to his radio.

"I don't know." She hated to say it, but it was foolish not to call for help. What mattered was finding Bosco. If it turned out to be something stupid, she'd yell at him later. She nodded to Sully. "We aren't getting anywhere, and if we have to search the whole block we'll need help."

She tried not to listen as Sully called in. Scanning the first building again, she tried to think. They'd ask her, when the other officers showed up. Where had he been, exactly. What had they been doing. She ran it through her mind again, trying to recall each detail. Where had she gone, which way first, what had she seen, said, heard.

How could he have disappeared? Yokas caught herself chewing on her lip, and made herself stop. Glancing over, she saw Sully putting his radio away.

"I wanna check in there again." She nodded towards the first building. "Maybe I missed something. Maybe he tripped and hit his head and couldn't answer me when I was calling for him."

"Sure."

It didn't sound like Sully believed it -- Yokas didn't think she believed it either. There was no place for him to hide in there. No place she hadn't looked. But Sully followed her back inside and they headed towards the offices again. Yokas went to the first one, trying to remember if she had seen Bosco when he'd walked over here. Had he gone right to the first office? Or had he done something perverse like head for the rear office, to work his way forward?

It was like him to be perverse just to annoy her. She'd yelled at him about it before, as recently as yesterday. Of course, the perverse things he did never had anything to do with real policework. Yesterday had been about his complaints about his neighbor. Something about arresting her for playing her game shows too loud, or shouting, or something... perverse.

Sully was holding up his flashlight, shining it into the first office. There was enough light from the outside windows to see by, but Yokas took her flashlight out as well. It couldn't hurt. Maybe one of the shadows that looked empty really wasn't.

She could feel her heart beating faster as they searched the office. Empty, rubbish everywhere, overturned shoebox where something small and furry had lived. "Nothing." She knew there wasn't any point in saying it. Sully could see as well as she could.

"Let's try the next one," Sully suggested. Yokas didn't try telling him that she had tried the next one, and all of them, and he wasn't in here.

He had to be somewhere.

She followed Sully through the connecting door into the next office. Again, nothing but trash scattered on the floor. Not even a box in this one; the rats must have found better accommodations.

They shone their flashlights into each corner, searching every inch of the office for any clues. All they could see was a path someone -- maybe Bosco -- had made through the trash, a place where papers were disturbed into two separate piles as someone walked through the middle. It might not have been Bosco. It might have been the wind, or one of the homeless that should have been squatting here, vanished as mysteriously as Bosco.

'Get a grip on yourself!' Faith told herself. There was an explanation; there would be clues. Somewhere. They might have to rely on the detectives to find them, but there would be something telling them what had happened. Or they'd find Bosco, himself, outside in the vehicle wondering where the hell she had been.

Maybe it was a prank her partner was pulling on her. She almost prayed it was. She'd kill him, of course, but at least...

"Nothing," Sully said.

"There's two more," Yokas told him, indicating the next door. She led him through, seeing on first glance nothing new, nothing different. As empty and without any sign of her partner as before. She shone her light anyhow, and saw the sweeping pattern of Sully's flashlight as he did the same. More trash. More signs of rats. Still no sign--

"What's that?"

Yokas spun, heart racing as she looked at Sully, then looked at where he was aiming his flashlight. It was a tarp, spread out flat over the corner of the floor. There was no way anyone could be hidden underneath, but Sully was walking towards it. She hurried after him, trying to see what had caught his eye.

Sully crouched beside the paper, and pulled at a corner of it. They both jumped back as the paper slid, disappearing through a hole in the floor.

It was big enough for a person to fall through.

Yokas was on her knees, scrambling for the edge even as Sully grabbed onto her belt. "The floor must have collapsed!" he warned her. "The rest of it could go as well."

"BOSCO!" She ignored Sully. The floor wasn't creaking; she couldn't feel it moving. But Sully backed away, and she laid flat on her stomach to spread out her weight as she moved towards the edge of the gaping hole. Her flashlight hit a wall of the lower level, and as she inched closer she got the light further into the room. Huge piles of newsprint, pressed but not inked, covered most of the floor.

"You mind shining that thing someplace else?" a weak voice said.

In the center of the pile lay Bosco, holding one hand up to shield his eyes from her flashlight.

~~~~~

He'd been unconscious when she'd looked for him the first time, calling his name. Yokas still was undecided as to whether she was going to kill him for making her worry -- but at least they were getting him out of the basement.

Sully had cancelled their back-up and requested an ambulance and rescue crew in their stead. There were no stairs they could find which led down to the basement. The one door they found which might have led to stairs was boarded over and locked, and the door to the room Bosco was in looked barricaded as well.

The firefighters had arrived, and quickly judged the floor unsound, chasing everybody who wasn't absolutely necessary back into the main area of the factory floor. Yokas hadn't been willing to go, but Sully had grabbed her by the arm and dragged her out, telling her that if she fell in and broke something, she'd have Bosco for a roommate.

From the sound of it, the rescue was going easily enough. The barricaded doors were well barricaded -- with brand new locks. Tearing them down might bring down more of the floor, so they had elected to go
through the hole in the floor and hope it held long enough. They lowered the paramedics down, sent a couple firefighters down to shore up the floor from below, and got Bos onto a backboard and stabilized.
It wasn't long before they were getting ready to haul everyone back up.

Yokas was trying to listen to the paramedics over the noise of everyone else. Finally, she heard what she'd been waiting for. Broken ankle. Concussion. No sign of internal injuries.

He'd be all right, then. She could kill him. Maybe -- it depended on what his excuse was, she amended. If he had a good reason, maybe she wouldn't.

But it had better be a very good reason.

She realized she'd been holding her breath when they finally hauled him up. He was looked terrible, covered in dust and held immobile in a C-collar. They carried him away from the office and Yokas moved forward, smiling when she saw his eyes open.

"He'll be fine. He's got a concussion," Kim said from beside her. Yokas started, and glanced over. "Come along and help keep him awake and talking," she offered with an understanding smile.

Yokas caught Bosco's eye. "That'll be new. Normally I try to get him to shut up."

~~~~~

"So, it worked!"

"It worked pretty good," Luke nodded. "I still think we should have--"

"It worked," Pat interrupted her friend, glaring at him. They were sitting at one of the long study tables on the fourth floor of the main university library. She and Luke were the only ones sitting there, and they'd covered the entire half of the table with books to prevent anyone else from sitting down too close.

They'd done this before, plotting in the most unlikely places. Public places, intending to tell anyone who overheard that they were planning a story, or a role-playing game. Pat liked the thrill of talking things over in public, taunting anyone who might overhear and still not stop them. Luke was the cautious one, who insisted they try to keep eavesdroppers at bay with his silly tricks with the books.

"Yeah, but--" Luke shook his head, glancing around. Pat glanced as well, and saw other students were studying, searching the book shelves. No one was even giving them a 'shh'. She grinned. Who would have thought that a life of crime was so easy?

"But what? It worked. As a test run, it went pretty well." She leaned back, and ticked off her fingers. "We got the neighborhood cleared without any hitches. Fifty bucks a head to go sit someplace else for a day. Called for the cops, left the notes, and wham! Caught one."

Luke didn't look up at her, though he nodded in agreement. "What are we gonna do next time?"

Pat shook her head. They'd only talked about this the same time they'd planned the first one. "You're a dolt. Same way, only better. My dad won't notice the money's missing. We could bribe the whole neighborhood at a hundred a head and he wouldn't notice. We leave a note on a piece of tarp that says 'help' or 'save me' or something, and when somebody goes to pick it up, they fall through. Throw the tarp back over and we take off to watch from the roof."

"So how's that gonna be different?" Luke glared at her. Pat sighed. He had no imagination, but he was the only one she trusted to help her tear the holes in the floor and lock up the doors. Besides, she figured he'd get the hang of it soon enough. Get into the groove, and have fun.

"The difference is, we put two traps down. Catch everyone who comes to answer the call. See how long it takes for anyone to notice they're missing." Pat grinned. She'd grown up listening to stories about how cops were great. Perfect and invincible, to hear her grandfather say it. What would he say to find out how easy it had been to trap one? "It'll be great!"

"Or," said a voice behind them. Pat turned around and saw two uniformed police standing there, staring at them. "You could remember to tell the folks you bribe to take off for the day not to tell us what you look like or what the lisence plate of your car is." The lady cop held out a pair of handcuffs. She looked pissed, but smug. "Do you wanna call your father and tell him the rest, or save your one phone call for the lawyer?"