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The Exquisite Agony of the Interrogator
About the Author: Peter Hochstein is a former newspaper reporter, advertising copywriter and ghostwriter. These days, he considers himself a jack-of-all-writing-trades. His short crime stories have appeared in the anthology Dark City Lights edited by Lawrence Block, and in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. He lives in New York City.


The black van pulled up in front of the warehouse at quarter to seven in the evening. It was winter and already dark. A man, in his twenties, wearing a fedora and a short leather jacket jumped out of the front passenger seat. He looked around, cautiously. Then he punched a series of numbers into a keypad on the doorframe.

A dim light went on above a small lens mounted in the keypad. There was a clack, then a buzzing sound. Finally, a motor somewhere made a grinding noise, driving some interior pulleys and gears that slowly raised the heavy steel warehouse door.

The man in the fedora jumped back into the van and drove into the cavernous warehouse. After that, the grinding sound resumed and the door lowered. The illumination inside was murky. The van pulled up to a sheet of plastic, large enough to cover half the warehouse floor. On the plastic sheet there was a wooden armchair with a slatted back. There were dried bloodstains on one of the arms of the chair.

Next, both the man in the fedora and the driver, a tall thin man with a drooping mustache, got out of the van and opened one of its back doors. They reached in, and grabbed something. They pulled and heaved until a very large, wheeled steamer trunk fell out of the vehicle with a thump. From inside the trunk there was a muffled groan.

They looked up to a catwalk that ran around the building, about seven feet under the roof. Two men, the male nurse and the interrogator, were just coming out of a glass booth, adjacent to the catwalk. They walked briskly toward a metal staircase that went down to the concrete floor. The interrogator, a man about 45 years old, with brown hair and bushy eyebrows, was wearing a business suit. The nurse, a pointy-nosed man, very short, with bad skin, wore pale green scrubs and carried what seemed to be a black doctor’s bag.

“You want him in the chair?” the driver shouted up to the catwalk. His voice reverberated in the large, mostly empty space.

The interrogator sighed. There seemed to be a suggestion of disgust or annoyance in his sigh. Or perhaps it was merely weariness. “You know what to do,” he said in a flat voice.

The driver and the man with the fedora popped the lid of the wheeled trunk. Inside, a man in his early thirties lay on his side. He had a shaved head, the new fashion. He was dressed in office casual—chinos, now a bit scuffed and dirty, the tails of a plaid shirt hanging loose. One of the shirt buttons had popped off in a struggle. The elbow of the right sleeve was ripped. The ends of a large wad of gauze stuck out from the duct tape that covered his mouth and extended all the way around to the back of his neck. He was trying to protest, but all that came out of his mouth were noises, muffled and unintelligible.

The driver grabbed the prisoner, one hand under the prisoner’s armpit, the other tightly holding the collar of his shirt, and roughly jerked him into a standing position. The prisoner’s hands were handcuffed behind his back. His ankles were tied together with rope.

“Help me out here,” the driver with the droopy mustache said to the man with the fedora.

A second later, each man had the prisoner by one of his upper arms. They lifted him that way and dragged him to the wooden armchair with the slatted back. They shoved him down on the chair, and then seemed to pause as if waiting for orders. The prisoner’s eyes darted around in the dim light, examining each of the men standing around him.

“Go ahead,” said the interrogator, impatiently.

The driver and the man in the fedora pulled off the handcuffs. The prisoner spread his arms out, whether to gesticulate or stretch was not entirely certain. Perhaps it was both. But even this tiny bit of freedom didn’t last long. The driver and the man with the droopy mustache grabbed their prisoner’s arms and pressed his wrists and forearms against the wooden arms of the chair.

The nurse unzipped his doctor bag and put it down on the plastic sheet.

“C’mon, c’mon already,” the driver said to the nurse. “This guy’s fighting like a bucking horse.”

The interrogator stepped forward and with his right hand open, smacked the prisoner hard across the face. The prisoner gave a muffled cry.

“You keep doing that and the next thing you know, I’m going to bust your nose and break your teeth,” the interrogator said.

The prisoner fell silent. The nurse produced a pair of large plastic zip ties and tied each of the prisoner’s wrists to one of the chair’s arms.



This story appears in our MAR2017 Issue
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