“La Dársena:” Chapter Six

by Anthony Cardott on September 24, 2009

Ed. Note: Sixth volume of a futuristic novel written to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Loma Prieta, envisioning what would happen if another major quake hit today. Beyond Chron published the first chapter on August 13th, and the fifth chapter last week. Anthony Cardott is a writer living in Santa Cruz.

A chain of ships floats through the green rain over the crashing, spraying waves toward the old harbor of La Dársena, the single dock of which is getting surrounded by a little sea of dead fish and oil: a worn out fishing boat, a coast guard ship and a combat ship, upon which stands the armed forces’ standard.

In the night well near the entire cliff over the harbor has plunged down, and the long iron piles of the steps that lead to the park are showing in their sandstone vaults, and long masses of sandstone crumble and shear themselves off of the cliff and diffuse in the air.

Small congregations of people saunter in the alleys about the park, passing the time in tears and in anger. They’ve got to clean up the gymnasium in some manner and care for the injured, thus many people must wait out the hard, apparently unremitting rain under trees and on the covered stage.

The largest congregation is composed of Mexicans and Salvadorans who pray softly and still under umbrellas, clothed in black and in overcoats despite the heat. The long voices of the Mexicans and the tightly woven syllables of the Salvadorans drift through each other like the ocean’s tides and breaking waves, and over them little clouds of moaning cross back and forth. The ruins seem to be supported by the black rows of bent people, with everyone stuck on the walls under every eave and overhang. Beyond that, after this morning’s aftershock, people prefer to just stay out.

Around the park and next to the harbor office soldiers and workers are standing around; some smoke, chat, leaf through old magazines and vainly listen to their radios. Since most workers from the Federal Bureau of Crisis Management can’t speak Spanish, foggy fences of silence have woven themselves between the groups. A seemingly single look shoots through the crowd, whereby everyone knows that the ships have arrived.

Director Morris risks a slow walk down the steps and tests his radio until he hears something. The combat boat floats a mile away yet.

“Can you hear me?”

The speaker squawks and a voice comes out.

“This is ship bee-zero-zero-forty-nine to director Morris.”

“Ten four.”

“Requesting immediate landing, we’ve arrived right on time to deliver a soldier.”

“A soldier? Is that your secret mission?”

“You got it. It’s the coffin of a dead soldier. Haven’t you received any announcement?”

“No, I think that’s pretty clear. We’ve received no messages except from the satellite phone.”

“No matter. The appointment was confirmed in September. He fell in Iraq and his family’s already paid for everything. We must immediately,”

The voice gets cut up.

“Copy that?”

“We must immediately land and immediately shove off again. The cemetery should be prepared.”

“The cemetery? There’s no one here but immigrants and my staff.”

Morris touches the wooden planks of the dock with his foot. Below roll oily lazy waves.

“Well come on then. I’ll deal with the coffin.”

The ship overtakes the others and lands speedily but with precision at the dock. The lieutenant strides up to the edge and Morris salutes, his hand catching in the wiry hair that hangs out under his raincoat. The lieutenant doesn’t respond but regards the burnt edge of the dock and passes Morris a clipboard.

“Lines fifteen and twenty two.”

Morris takes the clipboard and bends vainly over it as the rain drips all over and signs the two places in the green rain, which drops down off his hood onto the paper. He gives the board back and the lieutenant instantly disappears. Six soldiers in dress uniform come out to the edge carrying the coffin on their shoulders. They halt and wait for Morris to secure them a gangplank.

“You three come down to me.”

The soldiers hesitate.

“Yeah, chop chop! Come down.”

They lay the coffin down on the ground and the three men jump down onto the dock. The other three slide the heavy box down to them against the deck climb down.

“Good. Now you have to bring it up the stairs. I’ll handle the rest.”

Carefully the coffin is brought up to the park. The soldiers almost let it tip over into the water as the flag slips off its lid and two men grasp for it as the last corner flutters over the railing.

As the soldiers stand before the park, putting on their white gloves and little caps, the coffin at their feet, Morris waves them away with a hasty gesture.

“Thankee very much. Now –I needa have the other boats land. Say hi to your captain for me and tell everything’s in order.”

One soldier coughs and replies.

“Sir, we still have to grab the rifles.”

“What for?”

“We intended to fire the salute, as is every soldier’s due.”

“No, regrettably there’s no time for that. You gotta leave.”

“Sir,”

A great hurt and humility steals over his face.

“Look. After a month you’re going to have to explain what you did today in La Dársena, and why you
didn’t report anything to your captain. Please don’t force me to let you see more.”

The soldiers whisper to each other and march back down the steps. Morris unravels the flag and draws its corners over the coffin lid. Then he peers up and before stands the crowd. In the cloudy wet air they look like a black army of corpses, bent foot soldiers and in between them the umbrella carrying ones for knights. All of them wear the uniquely miserable, tormented face.

“It’s a coffin. No food.”

The people stare at him, the coffin, and behind him at the ships.

“Nothing useful here! Please make me some room.”

He turns to the ocean, then to the still crowd.

“I need four worthy men to haul this coffin to the harbor office!”

He knows that he doesn’t have enough distribution staff available to give the new aid package out in an orderly fashion. The people of the soaked mass know well that one of the ships comes bearing food. In the night the park was regularly assailed by hungry people, as well as in the early morning when the rain strengthened itself. No one’s received any package, no evening meal nor whole pair of shoes –instead a plastic bag full of what the staff could reach.

The food’s run out, though people are certainly acquiring food through looting, especially amongst the some five thousand people who are supposed to live in this town that he hasn’t even seen yet.

Meanwhile Witt’s riding around in the only car that has gas in it, and everyone’s scared of him. The employees and firemen have been reporting distressing things about Witt to him, yet he hasn’t time in the present moment to investigate those claims. He continually hears from the fire crews that the town is so full of dead that some blocks stink like rotting flesh; also that most buildings are too damaged to allow safe extraction let alone to pile the bodies up somewhere, and now the army wants to lay another body on him.

A couple of men step mortified forward and lift the coffin. Morris gesticulates toward the office, to be found kitty corner from them, and the men steadily carry it off. It occurs to Morris that the crowd won’t break up until the ships are past. He steps back down the dangerously trembling steps and turns his radio back on. The ships must have connected to each other, for a voice screeches out of the device immediately.

“Issa to harbor, please respond.”

“Copy?”

“Fishing vessel Clarissa to harbor.”

“Ten four. Whatta ya want?”

“Cargo of gifts for the city of La Dársena. Requesting landing.”

“Granted. Hurry up.”

The old ship floats slowly into the harbor and anchors at the thrashed main dock. Compared to the trim combat vessels it looks like an unseaworthy wreck. The old fisherman steps out, leaps hardily over the railing and shakes Morris’ hand, which stretches strongly out despite the sadness of his face, in front of which falls a small rain shower from off his broad hat.

“Harvieux.”

“Morris, Federal Bureau of Crisis Management.”

They have to shout over the noise of the rain.

“It breaks my heart to see so many dead fish.”

“Unfortunately the harbor’s been burned.”

“I caught that. The harbor’s also set wrong. Has the whole town turned east?”

Morris furrows his brow.

“I –I don’t understand.”

“The harbor’s laid more than ninety degrees to the east than it was on my last visit.”

“No idea. I’m not from the coast.”

“Help me unload the cases. It’s damn heavy food.”

He leads the director to the stern, where the dock’s boards stand about as high as the deck, climbs carefully back up and drags two boxes stacked on top of each other to the edge.

“Two for me, two for you.”

The load is made up of six equally sized vegetable cartons from farm cities with names like Salinas, Gonzalez, Chualar. Inside there’d be enough pounds in order to serve a meager meal.

The hauling up the steps is difficult and both men, an old timer and a bureaucrat, have to recover at the top. After the second trip everything’s stuck under a tree in the park, where the rain’ll drive less than everything to rot.

“I thank you very much, mister Harvieux. Sadly I must wish you a quick, safe trip back. You can’t stay in the harbor cause it’s too dangerous.”

“Sure. I’d like to stay.”

“I bet.”

“You got any messages for the people in Santa Carla?”

Morris almost lets his facial expression slip, then he swallows and smiles.

“No, just that the people are very resilient and that we’re gonna get through this.”

The ship sails off clasped between the two reflecting bodies of water; the slapping waves and the sunless sky of thunder clouds, deeper than any imaginable sea, close over and under the ship like the earth around a deep dwelling snake.

Morris orders Witt to drive the jeep to the harbor office –from their headquarters in the hotel La Posada –and bring the cases to the gymnasium. The useless television screen stands under a tent, dark and silent, its shiny former usefulness so far behind it as that of the fishing scow.

Soon the jeep comes roaring into the park plaza. Witt has his two body guards set the cartons into the car.

“Morris, you’re all wet.”

Witt passes him the megaphone and he switches it on.

“Listen please. Lead the people to the gym to receive a little gift from Santa Carla.”
Up to this point he’s not had to use the soldiers in order to keep the movements and actions of the people in line; just to influence them. The soldiers peel themselves off the walls and encircle the biggest lot, then constrict its circumference while forcing the annoyed people, not in need of them, into the street.

For all that, few from the crowd outside and no survivors from Brighton show up in the gymnasium; it’s as if only those present had heard Morris, and then the message just died out. Many must remain in the low areas across the beach from the harbor, where wide blocks abound with immigrants and poor workers –who daily maintain the thriving works of the city in every hotel, public space, restaurant and lunch counter –where the squat houses resemble old Spanish adobes that flow in and out of each other, and where one has neglected to plant trees. Workers set the boxes down behind tables and prepare themselves to let everything go as fast as possible.

Morris obtains a note from someone, upon which is written a message from the donors. He clears his throat and notices that a terrible soft and steady coughing and sniffling is fluttering through the gymnasium; the long basso coughs roll together like the waves of the ocean, and they’re struck and broken by the sharp sniffles that spring shrill and straight over the waves like the spray and starlight of some crashing pacific waves. Over the slouching groups stand great pictures of lively athletes painted on the walls, and further up stretch the gymnasium’s sturdy roof arches that are well impervious to earthquakes.

Since the second day after the quake the cold has been developing in the flats; the people who don’t have any shelter from the rain have carried the cold from house to house and from dish and bowl to towel and blanket. Out of today’s latest aftershock a damp, green heat has come in with the rain, and the cold’s developing further in the dense air.

An assistant who’s responsible for directing the badly injured and the sick to escape boats and doctors strides through the groups and stops at a gray haired woman and her grown son. The old lady lies on a cot and the son kneels on a rug brought from home.

“Can you explain the illness to me?”

“She have a bad sore on her shin.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Cómo?”

“Te duele ahorita?”

“Sí, es que,”

“Yeah, it hurts.”

“How was she hurt?”

“Cómo te pasó?”

“Por favor dame agua.”

The son strokes his mustache and gives her a plastic water bottle from which she takes a short drink.

“Es que estaba limpiando en el hotel y se me cayó la fregona, y cuando me quise cobrarlo me caí y me golpeé la espinilla de la fierrosa rueda del cubo.”

“She fall on the metal wheel of the bucket in sweeping. She worked in the hotel.”

The worker writes on his clipboard. The old lady takes up her faded pant leg and shows him the sore. It’s sunk well down there and has turned purple and black, its fleshy red glow to a dry, easy hardness.

“She was working in the hotel when the quake started?”

“No –no, it makes two months that she has the wound.”

The staff member looks up once and his eye meets the son’s.

“Not injured in the quake?”

“No.”

The worker scribbles something once more on his board and weaves the pen back into his breast pocket.

“Please excuse me a moment.”

He turns, strides off and doesn’t come back.

Just as Morris wants to present the letter, a group of men break into the gymnasium with some urgency, along with the odor of fried animal flesh, and he throws his hands over his head. They’re bearing poles, upon each of which two or three barbecued animals are impaled.

“Fresh meat!”

Morris rushes over to them.

“Whatta you all want with that shit?”

The leader of the hunt steps forward and tips his wet cap to him.

“We got dog meat to sell.”

“For what? That stinks, it’s disgusting! I’ve already got a health code violation here!”

“You see, we saw it on the learning channel. It’s really important: after humans go extinct the Chihuahuas are gonna spread like rats! Cause they can feed on the same food as the rats and they’re a threat to surviving humans. So we gotta killem, but it’s no problem cause we need food too. They’re all cooked through and the money’s going toward our trip to Santa Carla.”

About the neck of one small one, whose huge terrible eye sockets stare black into the blue, hangs a softened gold collar that says “Prizewinning Pooky -832 461 2286.” The one beneath it is actually not a Chihuahua.

“Unbelievable. You may absolutely not sell these monstrosities here or givem out! Now get outta here and don’t let me catch you soliciting that!”

He slaps his sweaty brow with a handkerchief. More people have come in and the gymnasium is almost as full as in the night.

“Please listen. We’ve received a donation from Santa Carla. Please quiet down.”

The crowd quiets down slowly.

“We’ve received a donation from Santa Carla and they want me to read a letter to you.”

He grabs his glasses from his breast pocket and hangs them on his nose. The words sound as if they were composed by the same speech writer as the ones written for mayor Carl Kelly, who vanished without a moment’s notice.

“Dear survivors and neighbors. We wanted to send you a little present so that you don’t have to suffer so much in this time of strife. We’re safe in Santa Carla and we hope you’ll come safely and soon. The most well off of us wish you the comfort of God’s love, and hope that you all search for God and find him. So we’ve sent you a way to learn how to talk to God. In this way you can leave the hunger and pain in your body behind and bathe in the warm rays of his love. Only when you recognize Jesus as your lord and savior will you be absolved from pain. Soon we’ll all be together again.”

The workers open the boxes and do a double take. Morris reads on.

“We wish you a beautiful day. God be with you.”

In the boxes are many copies of paper backs that one can get in church anywhere: How to Find God, Living Water, God Wants You to Be Rich, and so forth. Six whole boxes. Some people step forward, look at the boxes, whether one can read the title or not, and turn away disheartened and disgusted. One could imagine how someone who only speaks Spanish would be annoyed by such a course of events. And who practically understood Morris’ words would have to wonder: does the gringo mean for us to feed ourselves on those books? Instead of barbecued dogs yet?

“You don’t want the books?”

The noise of conversation cooks up again and those who can’t stand the heat go sniffling back out. They’ve also got their sinuses full of the revolting stink of the fried dogs, for which the soft moaning of the children and elders cooks up a few degrees higher.

Morris wipes his brow once more, his face wound up in a grimace. He goes toward the door, fleeing from the heat and the stench and the sick people. Outside the strange green rain is still pouring down, and before the sound reaches Morris’ ear he sees dark and wet shoving and slipping in the corner of his eye.

He turns to the right and goes toward the group in which men are fighting. Four or five men, all wet and swearing, shove each other around and grasp at a dog kebab that lies on the floor in the water. Morris isn’t up to jumping into the fight, so he calls to them through the megaphone from a distance of eight paces.

“Hey there! Hey! Quit! In the name of the Federal Bureau of Crisis Management, desist!”

He meets eyes with some soldiers, though each remains at ease. The men give no heed and fight on.
Coins fall on the ground with their unmistakable ring as some wallet or another is ripped from a
pocket and splits open, and the men, fighters and onlookers, all take a step back.

“Shit!”

“Getem!”

“Outta the way, asshole!”

Morris watches as the men bend down and make a little forest of limbs as they snatch after the coins. The dog kebab stays on the ground. Morris smiles to himself, dazzled by the steam on his glasses, and then comes the flash of a blade immediately shoved into the forest of limbs. The stabbed man falls quietly to the ground, onto the coins yet, and blood rushes out over the ground.

Morris blanches. The megaphone flies up to his mouth and he shouts.

“Forward! Suppress them!”

Three soldiers stride around the men and fire upon them. The hollow sucking of compressed gas strikes the walls and the wet street and six of the eight or nine men collapse. Large rubber balls bounce out of the group and flee like terrified rats and the barbecued dogs crackle under the men, their ribs and flesh thrashed apart by their weight. The soldiers lift the men off the ground and fling them together until all of them are kneeling before the barrel of a rifle.

“Find the rest of them and bringem here. Carroll! Send Knox and his troops after them.”

Up to this point he’s not had to use the soldiers in order to keep the people in the cage that the bureau has designed for them, of the existence of which he’s been ordered not to let them become aware. But he’s still got to do his duty by the design; the frenzied attempts to furnish food –which developed after the failure of his own procedure –the attacks in the street, the much too great number of those remaining behind in the wreckage of this most remote tourist town, these all ply the crisis further, and he must manage the crisis and end it. Therefore the parties concerned of a certain event are by extension also infected with the crisis; when an individual incites a chain of troubles amongst his or her fellowship it brings those concerned into the same disorder that the individual has. Moreover all the people and circumstances in the city, in which there’s no measurable order to be found, part of the great disorder.

Such is the way it’s quietly gone in Morris’ reports since the beginning, hidden in the data, but now it comes comprehensibly out to him: his inaccuracies, and also Witt’s, are the results of their trying to deal with the disorder in a certain orderly way. The disorder has won because it mustn’t obey a standard, and if he wants finally to come out winner, he must simply erase the entire disorder.

Otherwise the data will corrupt his reports and keep them unresolved, the people will depend on the miserable disorder, and the city of La Dársena will remain a disaster area forever. Such an unfinished duty on his file would be intolerable for his career, and the consequences, the loss of money and prestige, he doesn’t want to imagine.

He doesn’t consider that so many of the people remaining live daily in this style, always looking for leftovers, at least for free or for the cheapest food, always waiting for two or three owners before new clothes become available; he’s never had to live that way, nor has such a lifestyle ever concerned anything in his line of work.

The sucking and smacking of the guns boom yet in the distant streets, followed by the screaming and fighting of many people, and momentarily his radio chirps.

“Yeah.”

“Sir, this is Knox. Sixty three people’ve been caught altogether with the dog meat, either selling or eating it –actually fighting over it too. All’ve been suppressed.”

“Great. Putem in the harbor office and lock the door.”

“Copy that? You want us to have the harbor office guarded?”

“No, that’ll not be necessary. Just lock it, over and out.”

Soon a long line of people marches burdened and wounded to the harbor bureau. It’s not a big building; at most ten or twelve people may stay comfortably in the front room for a meeting or something like that. The office’ll also heat up quickly in today’s heat. Morris already knew that, because the harbor office was the first building that he and Witt discovered upon landing and considered for headquarters.

However, Morris is still not yet completely gone into a panic. The third ship is coming on now, which should be bearing the last official load of food from the Bureau of Crisis Management. The last before either plan A is carried out, in which all the people –the people who could be counted –get taken out of the city in any case, or … or another crisis of a different kind develops, for which there isn’t yet a plan B, nor any measure by which one would know whether it’s a further crisis or simply a permutation of the first.

To his horror the radio squawks once more and he juggles the coiled wire until he grasps the mouthpiece.

“Yeah.”

“Captain Schultz of ship double-ay one seven nine three to director Morris, please respond.”

Morris lets him land the ship sparing argument so it’ll seem to him that Morris is busy with ordinary things.

“This is Morris. You may land immediately.”

“Sweet, but the question is, may we hang it on that dock?”

“Whattaya mean?”

“We’ve seen through the telescope that the dock’s on its last legs.”

“Perhaps. Either way I’m asking you to land. We need that food, and I see as well in my notes that you all have a brig and barracks enough on board to fit a hunnerd and ten people altogether. I’m glad we could borrow a real war ship instead of the little swamp boat.”

“That’s true, but we’ve got no orders concerning that. And it also depends on if we can carry out such an activity on that dock.”

“Please, at least take the seriously injured.”

“Shit,”

The channel grows inappropriately silent.

“Very well, come immediately to the dock and bring the injured.”

Morris waits until the channel is open and speaks again.

“Witt.”

“What Morris?”

“You know the situation with the stabbing victim?”

“Victim’s alive. Stab wound in the kidney.”

“Great. Go to the gymnasium and have the soldiers and workers bring all the injured and old to the dock.”

“Already on it, out.”

The war ship stops at the dock. First one has to figure out how at all to carry the injured down the steps. Slowly in pairs the sailors, workers and volunteers carry the injured to the ship; it takes a half hour until all are safely beneath the deck. A worker must sweep water off the steps so no one slips and falls down them. Morris talks with a good lot of people who don’t understand why those people can leave before they realize that the people are hurt. Out of this their gossiping and arguing fills the park plaza with more visible guessing games than Morris would like to answer. He considers how many people will likely be detained by immigration and customs control.

The cliff is still crumbling off and rushing down by and by into the murky, rain flooded harbor water. The rain falls just as hard and soaks everything through. Schultz comes up with some forms and has Morris sign everything.

“Now the food’s coming up. Please sign for the cargo. I’m taking the injured on your word that no hijinks comes up on board or in Santa Carla. This is the coast guard’s transport mission with full support from the navy, but this operation is your job. Don’t let any of your shit get sprayed on us or I’ll throw in the brig myself.”

“I solemnly promise you.”

“You know that this is the last delivery that we have planned for you.”

Schultz exhales and frowns with annoyance.

“And still you haven’t sent your bureau any report declaring the true and correct population, let alone how much food you have to secure from other sources. I could’ve used that, but I can’t demand it of you.”

Morris is annoyed at getting a lecture about discipline and organization from a sailor, but he hides his anger.

“I take responsibility for everything, Captain, don’t worry about a thing. And I thank you very much for your cooperation.”

He begins to throw a salute.

“Don’t try that.”

His hand falls to the side in embarrassment without trying to cover it with another gesture. Schultz leaves and steps carefully down to the ship. He gesticulates over his shoulder and the wet sailors carry large paper cartons up the steps, again in pairs. Morris climbs the stairs backward in order not to get himself trampled by the line. He orders the guard at the harbor bureau that he get out the coffin and have it brought to the stairs. Then he speaks again into his radio.

“Captain Schultz, I’ve got something else for you.”

Shortly Schultz responds.

“What now mister Morris?”

“Perchance we’ve received this coffin. It was supposed to be buried, but now there’s no one here to bury it, and honestly no one left to visit it. So I’m asking you for another favor.”
Schultz cuts him off.

“Morris, there is no way I’m taking a coffin to Santa Carla. We’ve got no paperwork for that, no orders –and I myself am not into it. That’s your problem, Morris. He was a soldier, he died, and he’s got to be buried at home. This one time I’ll act like you hadn’t suggested no kind of thing. Over and out.”

Two saddened sailors pass him by.

“Take a coffin with?”

“He’s off the deep end.”

His radio intones.

“What?”

“Sir, we hafta open the door to,”

“You have your orders!”

“We have to open the door to get the coffin out.”

“Then take,”

He sees the soldiers, the guard and another, open the door, and a group of men floods out as if they were waiting on a spring. He drops the radio and shouts.

“Don’t letem out!”

He draws his pistol and draws near them with it aimed at the men.

“Stay in there! Go back in!”

Two more soldiers appear and enter the office. The men go back in, though the prisoners’ shouting doesn’t stop. Then the first two go in, pick up the coffin and drag it out.

“Lock the door back up. You two carry the coffin to the ship.”

When they’ve got it halfway down the steps they meet the sailors.

“Hey! We’re still bringing something up.”

The steps screech and bow a little; beneath them great sheaves shear themselves from the columns and the whole structure bows again.

“Everybody off!”

The sailors and a few workers flee to the dock and the soldiers to the cliff. The coffin slides down the steps, then everything hangs still for a moment as the slipping and falling goes the same speed as the movements of the step structure. Then everything falls off the steps, many cartons, the coffin, which is heavier, into the water, and there’s barely a splash amongst the rain and its huge thirst for earthly things, it only swallows everything heartily under. No one alive has fallen in.

“God damn it! That’s it! Everyone fall back! Now –Schultz. Schultz!

The radio lends no answer.

“Schultz! What kind of ship is the last one? When do we expect it?”

Not a word hisses forth from the radio. If he wants to know all that he has to use the satellite telephone, and that means he has to speak personally to the bureau, report something verbally.

Unless he sends them the telegraphic morse code of three short letters, by which the bureau will assume that everything has failed before a further eruption, and by which the bureau will only send a little helicopter to pick up Witt, Morris and surviving help. He thinks, as it’s going with this weather, much less for our handling of the situation, this trip will come out that way in the end.

No one can stay any longer in the rain, and the workers are carrying the remaining cartons toward the gymnasium. Morris feels the air’s heat on his skin and also the wet’s coldness in his bones. He regards the harbor again for a moment, the splintered steps and their crooked iron columns that almost struck the ship, the half sunken flag, the stars and stripes on which have turned green and obscure in the water, and the fleeing ship that sails off with his hopes of ever leaving La Dársena unburdened and with his reputation.

He turns to the plaza and shuffles numbly toward the hotel La Posada. Some wet people step up to him as he goes.

“Hey! How much food did they bring? When are you opening the distribution?“

“Go away.”

No one risks grabbing at him.

“Is that books too? Why do you want to torture us? For god’s sake, when’s a rescue ship coming?”

“Can’t say yet.”

“What’re we gonna eat then?”

Around him stand the great stone buildings of the early days, which to him represent no longer strong walls against the earthquake, rather a fortress against the desperate mob. Behind them he sees the ruins, rows of deserted cars captured during the start of the quake, and wishes that the ruins would just swallow everyone up like the water did so easily.

“Witt, open the door, I’m home.”

A key falls on his head. He picks it up and opens the lock, shoves the door open and goes in. In the room on the second floor Witt slouches on his bed and eats cold something or other out of a can. On the shelf stand two fat liquor bottles, one empty, one on the way. Morris takes his shoes off, tears coat and shirt off, and shakes his thin hair out.

“Okay?”

Morris sets himself down on his bed across from Witt and lays his head in his hot swollen hands. He rubs up and down.

“You witness all that?”

“What?”

“Witt, Witt, be serious.”

He lifts his head back up, stares into the glare and speaks agitatedly.

“Did you witness all that?”

Witt sets the can down and sucks happily on his stubby teeth.

“Let’s see. Stab wound due to lack of food, no report composed or reported to the office.”

“After that yet.”

“Captain Schultz came with last aid package, eight boxes delivered, twelve dropped in the drink.

Meanwhile a coffin also fell in the water. Remains of Ernesto Eddie Galvan, born in La Dársena, diploma from Harbor High two thousand six, deployed to Iraq two thousand eight, killed in a fire fight in the summer. Remains too wasted to hold a funeral. Further?”

Morris stays frozen.

“Cliffs over the harbor significantly damaged by the weather. Extreme unusual heat, humidity and rain for this area, unpredictable change. Hence the steps from the park to the main dock below collapsed, dock almost completely destroyed. No report made to the bureau.”

“And what’s that mean?”

“Additional ships must float at the beach a mile from downtown while rescue teams row to the beach in small boats. Two streets cross Beach street: Pine Park street has broken off the incline between Trout Gulch way and Sand Hill, Plateau street was damaged hard in a landslide this morning.”

Morris waits the words out, then repeats.

“So what’s that all mean?”

“Well,”

He makes some calculation to himself, and Morris interrupts.

“Captain Schultz asked about the population numbers. Mexicans sprout up out the ground here. What could I’ve said to him? That we haven’t counted, so no report?”

“That’d be the truth. Before all I’d have the pen put up –about five hundred will fit in there –and sit out the rest of the time until the army gets us a couple damn boats. It’s easier to keepem in a cage than chase them around. What? You asked.”

“I know good and well that the fence holds five hundred, but –should we do that? What if someone’s taken a photo of it and sends it to the media? And with this cold?”

“I haven’t experienced any cold.”

“Then pray to god that it just goes away.”

“Otherwise what?”

“Witt, it don’t matter if someone tells all to the media. The situation is hopelessly fucked up. If I had it my way we’d just send the help signal. Because of the weather, Witt! We can do it.”

“Morris, why of all times do you just now have problems with commitment?”

Morris’ head turns suddenly to him and his voice shoots flat and loud out of his neck.

“You gonna clean this up then? The same way you made it this far?”

“You coward.”

“I don’t mean you fucked everything up. I mean,”

“Shut up. You know it Morris, we have to finish it. I already got the choppers ready and waiting for me. Even if the whole city turns against us we don’t have to even come out the hotel. Now let’s wait for the rain to quit, then we’ll keep on.”

Under the bed Witt’s radio shrieks. He grabs at it, the hand holding the can high over his head.

“What now?”

“Director, the sewer pipes downtown and in the hill across from the plaza have broken open.”

“How bad is it?”

“The rain’s strewing shit all over.”

Witt scratches his forehead with a finger and then presses the speech button again.

“Wait a minute. Out.”

He grins.

“Well then. Maybe we won’t need a big fence after this.”

“And the food, by the way? How’re we gonna distribute it?”

“Simple. We’ll sell it.”

The long cracks that cross the landscape beneath the city have been filling with rain to the point that the water exercises its own pressure on the chunks of earth and buried pipes. First from underground on Kaukau street, “the world’s longest tanning booth,” comes the filthy slime with its particular smell. Soon a waterfall flows over the harbor into the contaminated sea, and below in the flats a lake gathers up under the landings of the houses. The rain makes it impossible to clearly see the quality of the water, even when it hasn’t yet fallen out of the air onto the ground. As the smell ascends, everyone begins to flee in terror from the water.

Next week, Beyond Chron will publish the concluding chapter.

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