Chapter 18 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

At a few minutes after one in the morning, Torrence's shift at "Dollars to Donuts" ended. He changed out of the badly stained and somewhat soggy clothes he had worn on duty and put on a pair of white overalls.

The back door into "Dollars to Donuts" bore a sign that said "Employees Only" and faced on a dark alley. The door opened, and Torrence stepped out. He was immediately confronted by three men in long dark coats.

"Your name Torrence?" said one of the men.

Torrence wracked his brain for some clues as to who these men might be and why they were suddenly interrogating him. He found none. He could think of nothing he'd done wrong. He decided to play it honest.

"Yes," he said, trying to keep his voice from quavering.

"You know these men?" said the Interrogator, holding out a photograph.

Torrence took the photo and studied it. It was a picture of The Four. It was a very bad image, a fuzzy black-and-white deal. It was hard to make out who the picture was of, especially in the darkness of the alley. The photo looked like a copy made from film taken by a monitor camera in a subway tunnel. It was a very bad photo, but Torrence still recognized the subjects.

"Um, I guess I know them," he said.

"They were here tonight, right?"


"Any idea where they were headed?"

"Not really, no."

"Were they carrying anything unusual?"

Torrence thought for a moment. "Not that I can think of," he said.

"They didn't have an object with them, about this big?" The Interrogator held up his hands to show how big.

Torrence thought again. "Well, they did have a big package with them, but it was done up in gift-wrapping paper."

The Interrogator smiled. "Thanks for your help," he said.

During the Questioning, the Interrogator's two assistants drifted down the alleyway. One of them found a bent-up old monkey wrench on the ground, at which point a quiet argument ensued over which of the two had actually seen the wrench first. One of them pushed the other. The other pushed back. The one without the wrench tried to grab it out of the hand of his partner. They grappled, and rolled down onto the ground and into a couple of galvanized steel trash cans.

"Thanks for your help," said the Interrogator. Then he heard the crashing noise of trash cans being knocked over. "What's going on down there?" he hissed. He ran down the alley and broke up the fight. When he found out what they had been fighting over, he took the wrench and hurled it away into the darkness.

"Can't you guys behave for five minutes while I'm interrogating someone?" he shouted, as he led his underlings off down the street. "I'm gonna send you guys back to the office if you don't shape up!"

Torrence stood listening as the three dark-coated men moved off, until the sound of the leader's disciplinary voice faded away into the darkness. Then he strolled down the alley in the direction of the subway station.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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