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Issue 61, October-December  2014
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
A Simple Enquiry
by Jeff Weddle


On the morning of July 14 at ten a.m., two plain clothes detectives arrived at Borges’s door and directed that he accompany them to the central police station. He was surprised and more than a little frightened, but Borges offered no resistance. He went quietly, even deferentially, to their automobile. 

“Police,” the big one had said. “You will please come with us.” 

The big one, the one in the ill-fitting suit, got behind the wheel, while the little one with 
the face of a weasel got in the back seat with Borges. They rode along for almost five minutes before anyone spoke again.

“What’s the matter? Why am I being arrested?” asked Borges.

“Who says you’re being arrested?” It was the weasel-faced policeman who spoke. “Did we tell you you were being arrested?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Good. Remember that later. Be certain of it.” This from the driver.

“But—“

“No Buts, Borges. Just be quiet and cooperate. That’s all we’re after, your cooperation with the authorities.”

“Yes,” said Borges. “Certainly.”

Ten minutes later the big cop in the bad suit pulled the car into the parking lot at police 
headquarters. The three men got out of the car and the officers led Borges into the station. 
They went through the public waiting area, down a long, brightly lighted corridor and, when the 
corridor ended, through a black door with a word stenciled on it in white: Interrogation.
The smaller man directed Borges to sit on one side of a small table. There was a lamp on 
the table, but it was otherwise bare. Borges sat where he was told and the police officers sat side 
by side across from him.

“Tell me, Borges, what is it that you do?”

“Do?”

“Don’t be stupid. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a writer. I write books.”

“What sort of books do you write, Mr. Borges?”

“Novels, short stories. Works of fiction.”

“And why is it you do this, Mr. Borges?”

This question stumped Borges. He wrote because it was the thing he did.

“Could you explain the question?”

“Surely a man who makes his living with words can grasp the meaning of so simple an enquiry. Why do you write these books?”

“Because I am compelled to do so, I suppose.”

“Compelled? By whom, Mr. Borges? Who on earth compels you to write books of fiction?”

“Why, no one. No one but myself.”

The police officers exchanged a look and Borges watched their faces, trying to determine the significance of that look and of the questions they asked.

“And if the authorities required you to stop? What then?”

“To stop?”

“Certainly. Are you hearing impaired, Mr. Borges?”

“My hearing is fine.”

“Then please answer the question. If the authorities required you to cease writing, would you comply?”

“This is absurd. What possible reason could the authorities have for requiring that I stop writing?”

The small policeman, the one with the face of a weasel, flipped a switch on the base of the lamp and Borges was assaulted with a brilliant glare.

“Do you feel it is your place to question our actions?”

Borges was silent for a moment. He knew the answer that he should give, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it.

“Perhaps. Yes, perhaps I do.”

“And why is that, Mr. Borges? Where ever did you get such an idea?”

“I don’t know. Look, see here, what’s this all about? I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“Has anyone suggested you’ve done anything wrong?”

“Well—“

“Of course not. We’re just asking questions, just talking like gentlemen. Of course, we already know quite a lot about you, Borges. We know why your wife left you. We know what you ate for dinner Wednesday before last. Maybe we know your dreams even, huh?” The small man allowed himself a smile in the direction of his partner and a quick chuckle that sounded like a rat terrier barking. “You know the mayor. Slightly.” This was not a question, but the small detective said nothing else. He sat across from Borges and looked him in the eye. 

“I don’t see how that could matter to you.” Borges had met the mayor just twice, both times at public functions and each time only to exchange the most banal pleasantries. The first meeting had been at a forum on public decency, which Borges attended more out of boredom than to learn about, or to promote, public decency. The second was at a fund raiser for the public library. Also, he had voted for the mayor’s opponent in the previous election.

“Please don’t trouble yourself over what matters to us,” said the small man. “Don’t give that another thought. But you still have not answered my question, Borges. Will you stop writing if I tell you that you must?”

“No, I don’t think I could stop writing. I don’t think that I could.”

“Certainly you don’t mean that. Be very careful of what you say here. Words can haunt a man.”

“I understand that very well, sir.”

“Good. Now, I will ask you once again. Be very sure in your answer. If we were to 
require you to cease and desist from your activities as a writer, would you do so?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Very well, Mr. Borges. You have been most helpful to us. You are free to go.”

“Thank you,” he said, feeling the words in his mouth as if he were licking shit off a boot.
The officers stood in unison and the small one motioned for Borges to do the same. He pointed toward the door and smiled at Borges.

“You can find your way out? You can get a taxi home?”

“Yes, certainly.”

“Good. Goodbye, Mr. Borges.”

“Goodbye.” Borges started for the door, but before he had taken his second step the small
man spoke again.

“Remember your loyalties, Mr. Borges.”

“Yes,” said Borges. “I will remember my loyalties.” He walked slowly out of the room, 
picking up speed in the corridor until he was practically running as he passed through the waiting
area and onto the sidewalk. The sun was high overhead and it was already uncomfortably warm. 
Borges realized he was sweating, and noticed his hands were shaking. He walked away from the 
police station and found a pay phone a block away. Soon a cab was there which picked him up 
and deposited him at his house.

For the next three days, Borges waited for something else to happen, but it never did. 
There was no midnight knock on his door, no secret envoy sent to whisk him away, nothing at all
out of the ordinary. On the fourth day Borges began to calm down, began to believe the whole 
thing had been a misunderstanding, or perhaps an elaborate joke of some kind. It was absurd, of 
course, that anyone would play such a joke, but Borges could put no other face on it, could come 
up with no other explanation. 

He sat at his breakfast table that fourth morning, drinking coffee and preparing to read the
newspaper. That was his common breakfast, coffee and the paper. Borges took a sip from his cup
and looked for the first time at the headlines. The lead story caught his attention such that he 
almost spit out his coffee. Instead, he swallowed quickly and read: “MAYOR INDICTED IN 
SEX CASE,” screamed the headline. Borges quickly scanned the story. It was alleged that the 
mayor had engaged in a most odious sexual affair with a young girl, a twelve-year-old who was 
related to him by marriage. According to the indictment, his wife had begun to suspect 
wrongdoing and confronted the mayor. After he denied her accusations, she went to the girl, who
told everything. The wife then went to the police and the indictment quickly followed. The 
mayor had been arrested and freed pursuant to a hefty bond.

“Sweet Jesus,” said Borges. “Can this be it? What can this have to do with me?” He put the paper on the table along with his coffee cup and wandered into his living room. The shades were closed and he poked a finger in one so that it opened slightly and he got a view of the street. He saw nothing unusual.

Whether out of fear or caution or simple lack of inspiration – Borges himself couldn’t say
which – he hadn’t written a word since the day the detectives came and took him to the police 
station. Now, for the first time in days, he felt inspired. Borges went to his typewriter and began 
working. He wrote for a solid three hours and when he stopped he had completed a draft of a 
story of a mayor and a young girl and an affair between them. In his story there was nothing of 
the evil that must have accompanied the actual events. Rather, Borges took another route, 
attempting to show beauty in the horror, romance within what must otherwise be called rape.
The story was rough, certainly, and greatly in need of polish. But, all in all, Borges was satisfied with his effort. 

He had just finished reading over his story when a knock sounded at the door. Borges laid
his story beside the typewriter and walked across the room to open the door. Standing there on 
his porch were the two detectives who had questioned him before. 

“Hello, Borges,” said the small one. “Have you seen the paper?”

“Yes, I’ve seen it.”

“Do you mind if we come in?”

Borges thought of his pages, sitting in plain sight beside his typewriter.

“Now isn’t convenient,” he said.

“We’ll only be a moment.”

Borges hesitated, but felt powerless to resist. What possible excuse could he contrive that would stop them? He knew there was none. He allowed the men inside, but walked quickly toward the kitchen, ushering them along.

“Coffee?” he asked. “Would you both like coffee?”

“Coffee would be fine,” said the small man. “Wouldn’t coffee be fine, Dietz?”

“Yes,” said Dietz. “I could go for some coffee.”

The policemen each took a chair beside the table while Borges busied himself pouring coffee for the three of them. He always made a full pot in the morning, so there was plenty left 
now to go around.

“Too bad about the mayor,” said the small man.

“Yes,” said Borges. “I saw the headline. Some kind of scandal.”

“He was sleeping with a child.”

“Dreadful,” said Borges.

“Happens every day,” said Dietz.

“Every day,” echoed the small man. “It happens every day.”

“I suppose it might,” said Borges. He had poured coffee into three cups and was now carrying them to the table. “Of course, it’s none of my business.”

“But it was in the paper,” said the small detective. “That makes it all our business.”

“Perhaps. I don’t know.”

“Borges, I’ll get right to it. It may happen that you will be called to testify in this case.”

“Testify? Me? You yourself said you knew that I’m barely acquainted with the mayor. What could I possibly say that would have any bearing on this case?”

“You’re a writer,” said Dietz. “You’re a big man. People will listen to what you say.”

“And what is it you expect me to say?”

“Only the truth, Mr. Borges. What else?”

“But I don’t know the truth. I have no idea what happened.”

The small man nodded to Dietz who stood and walked past Borges and into the living room. He returned moments later with the pages Borges had typed that morning.

“Is this the truth, Borges? This that you wrote today?”

Borges felt sick in the pit of his stomach. He felt himself sweating.

“That’s nothing. Just speculation. Nothing at all.”

“But it’s what you do, Mr. Borges. How can it be that the thing a man does, the thing a man is compelled to do, is nothing? I ask you again, is this that you’ve written today truth?”

“It’s the only truth I know.”

“Then you are a sorry man, indeed.”

“But you haven’t even read it. How can you judge me?”

“We’ve read what we need to, Mr. Borges. We make judgments as they are necessary. 
Will you get dressed please? I’m afraid you must come with us.”

Borges, not expecting visitors, was still in his pajamas and bathrobe. Dietz followed him into his bedroom and watched as Borges changed into pants and a shirt, put on socks and shoes. The two of them then walked into the living room where the small man waited.

“Are we going to see lawyers? To talk about the trial?” asked Borges.

“In good time, sir. Come, we must leave now.” Each detective took an arm and led Borges to the car. Like before, he rode in back with the small man while the larger one, Dietz, drove to the police station. The three of them got out of the car and the detectives led Borges into the building. This time they went through a door just off the waiting room, a door Borges hadn’t noticed before. They went through the door and down several flights of stairs, finally ending up in a poorly lighted hallway. The detectives pushed Borges forward and he stumbled a couple of steps further.

“Stop,” said the small man. They stood beside a steel door with a tiny window near the 
top. The small man produced a key and unlocked the door. “Inside,” he said, pointing into the 
room. “Now.”

Borges considered running, but it was apparent there was no place to go. Maybe if he 
cooperated everything would be fine. This was all beyond him, anyway. This couldn’t be happening the way it seemed to be. He took a deep breath and stepped inside the room. It was dark in there, the only light coming from the dim hallway. The small detective shut the door behind Borges. It was suddenly very dark, indeed.

“What are you doing?” yelled Borges.

“It’s for your own good,” said Dietz.

“Yes, said the little one. “If the public found out what you have written about the mayor, 
how you condone his raping that child, my friend you would be ripped to pieces. You’ll be fine. 
There’s a sink in there for water and complete plumbing facilities. Someone will bring you food.”

“Wait! You can’t do this! Let me out of here!”

But it was too late. The door was locked and the detectives had gone. The only reply Borges received was the echo of their footsteps as they walked slowly down the hall. Much later – a day, maybe two; it was impossible to tell – Borges again heard footsteps in the hall. They came quickly and, when they were just outside his door, stopped. He heard the fumbling of keys and prepared himself to bolt as soon as the door was opened. The key turned in the lock. No one had been around with food and Borges was weak with hunger, so when he tried to bolt and ran instead into Dietz, he bounced to the floor. Dietz was not alone. He escorted a man whose head was encased in a burlap bag. Dietz shoved the man inside Borges’s cell and locked the door. The faint sound of footsteps quickly faded. Borges, silent, slumped in the corner. He could just make out the other prisoner who lay sprawled on the floor, whimpering. After what seemed a long time, the man removed the bag from his head. Borges took this as an opportunity to speak. 

“Who are you, my friend?”

“I’m no one. Please let me be.”

Though he had only heard it a few times, Borges recognized the voice at once. The man whimpering on the floor was the mayor.

“So, Mr. Mayor, it has come to this.”

“Do you know me?”

“Who doesn’t know the mayor?”

The whimpering stopped. In the dim light, Borges saw the other man stand and straighten his bearing.

“And you are?”

“Borges. I’m Borges, the writer.”

“What?”

“Yes, Borges. Do you remember that we met?”

“Forget our meeting. You’re the one who’s ruined me. You’re the one who published those filthy lies.”

“I did no such thing. I saw a story in the paper, but somebody else did that.”

“More lies. It was all a mistake, a misunderstanding. Everything was fixed. It was going to blow over. And then today your story appeared. Front page. It was sordid, awful. They came and got me and put me in here.”

Borges started to speak, but before he could get the words out, the mayor sprang across the room and landed on him. Fists flew, both men kicking and biting and scratching, a battle royal, a fight to the finish. 

Upstairs, in the office they shared, the two detectives drank coffee and read the morning newspaper.

“That Borges,” said Dietz. “What a writer.”

“Yes,” said the small man. “He has great talent.” They sat there in the office drinking coffee and reading the paper as the morning passed into noon. It was a quiet day so far, just the way they liked it. Dietz put his feet on his desk and the small man didn’t even bother to scold him. In the grand picture, such things are of almost no importance.



Jeff Weddle won the Eudora Welty Prize for his first book, Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and Loujon Press (University Press of Mississippi). He is also the author of a poetry collection, Betray the Invisible (OEOCO Press) and co-author of Negotiation for Librarians: Winning Strategies for the Digital Age (Information Today). His stories can be found in Out of the Gutter Online, Port Cities Review, Fiction on the Web, Roadside Fiction, Black Heart Magazine, Surreal South '13, and other fine venues. Jeff teaches in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama.

Second Place: Short Story