Wednesday, January 15, 2014

the torrents of loneliness - conclusion

by harold p sternhagen

part two of two

for part one, click here

illustrated by konrad kraus and eddie el greco

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

"so hush. little baby… dooon't you cryyyy…"

the lyrics so compellingly sung by tess torrentina lingered in randolph's brain as his new friend and lookalike gordon rappaport outlined the duties he, randolph, would perform if he accepted gordon's offer of a job.

a job making out reports to the aldebaran empire about conditions on planet earth.

for ten thousand dollars a year - the stuff dreams are made of.

"so, you see," gordon was saying, "you will only have to put in a couple of hours a week. or however long it takes you to make your report."

"and this report was about - what again?" randolph asked.

"anything. anything at all. what you earthlings call world news. the latest fashions. recipes for pies or cakes. what you had for lunch that day. people you see on the street. jokes, old or new. it doesn't matter what you put in, just as long as you put in something."

randolph considered this. "could i just put in stuff from time magazine? or the readers digest?"

"of course. that would work very well." gordon took a sip of his bloody mary.

"but what is the point? surely you could obtain this information yourselves, without paying me."

"well you see, it is necessary that a regular report on a planet be made by an actual inhabitant of the planet itself. otherwise, according to the aldebaran constitution the planet is not considered to be a valid component of the empire."

"oh." randolph nodded. "i suppose that makes sense."

"also, it has to do with the first law of the interconnectedness of all universal entities - something i am afraid is entirely beyond the comprehension of you earthlings."

"i see."

"nothing personal of course. it's just the way it is."

"no, no, i am sure it is." randolph looked down at his empty martini glass and lifted it, but gordon did not take the hint and offer to buy him another.

"and where am i to send the report?" randolph asked.

"oh, you don't have to send it anywhere. just leave it on the desk in the office we will provide you with, and we will have someone come by and pick it up every thursday evening."

"and my pay?'"

"an envelope with two hundred dollars in it will be on the desk every tuesday morning. except on the second tuesday in june and the fourth tuesday in december. you can take those two weeks off."

suddenly, as if waking from a dream, the whole thing seemed preposterous to randolph. aldebaran empire indeed! if the fellow had just said he was a red and wanted him to spy for russia… but what harm could there be in cutting things out of the readers digest…?

but maybe that was only the beginning…?

but two hundred dollars a week! if they made good on that, randolph would go along, and then… then if they wanted more…. if things got suspicious….

then - then randolph could go to the f b i! and be a hero, with his picture on the front page of the gazette, or the world-dispatch.

undercover citizen smashes ring of reds!

on the other hand, if this stuff about the aldebaran empire was on the level, he could go on collecting the two hundred a week.

he couldn't lose!

he decided to go for it. but not to be too anxious about it.

randolph cleared his throat. "look here, you say this office is in brooklyn?"

"yes, on 45th street in brooklyn, near sunset park. is that a problem?"

"well you see i've always been a manhattan person, not a brooklyn person."

gordon looked mildly annoyed. "for ten thousand dollars you can't go to brooklyn once or twice a week?"

randolph gave in immediately. "oh, all right."

"so it's settled then?"


gordon started to hold out his hand for randolph to shake, then pulled it back. "oh, one more thing. in some ways, the most important thing."

"and that is…?"

"complete secrecy. you must not, under any circumstances, breathe a word of this to anyone."


gordon smiled, showing all his teeth. for the first time randolph noticed how white they were. "of course you don't seem to have much contact or converse much with your fellow humans anyway. one reason we decided to ask you in the first place."

"i see." suddenly randolph wanted another martini rather badly.

"and of course, if you were to tell anyone, or try to tell anyone, what are the chances that they would believe you, eh? they would probably promptly escort you straight to - what is the charming phrase - the loony bin. eh? "

"true," randolph answered. "but - but just out of curiosity, what would happen if i were to tell - or try to tell - anyone?"

gordon shook his head. "i don't think you want to know."

randolph hesitated. "let me ask you this - did you have someone on your payroll before me? or am i the first?"

"oh yes, we had someone else."

"and did he - did he run afoul of this prohibition on telling anyone?"

"my, my, you're the clever one, randolph. very perspicacious indeed. that was in fact the case. i see we made a good choice in asking such a sharp fellow as yourself."

they had both been talking in low voices, and the bartender had been at the other end of the bar. now randolph cleared his throat as loudly as he could and in a slightly croaking voice called out for another martini.

gordon waited patiently, not even looking at randolph as his new drink was prepared and paid for.

"we are still on, aren't we?" gordon asked when the bartender had departed, "you aren't going to show yellow on us, are you?"

"oh no, no, not at all. i'm game."


the office on 45th street just east of 7th avenue was over a tire wholesaler who did not seem to do much business. or even to be open most of the time.

the buildings on either side were also quiet, though apparently not empty or abandoned.

randolph found himself going over to brooklyn and visiting the office more than he had to.

he felt strangely drawn to the place. on nights when tess torrentina was not singing at the purple parrot he went over and wrote up his report and then sat there in the dark looking out at the street.

the two hundred dollars was always there on tuesdays as promised. the first time he had been afraid the bills might be suspiciously new, but they turned out to be forty well worn fives. the next payment was the same, and the ones after that.

he bought himself a new suit and hat and a couple of new ties. he became the best dressed patron of the purple parrot.

his employers made no new demands of him and he decided he was not going to become a hero or be written up in the newspapers for exposing them as a bunch of reds.

he tried to feel some satisfaction in being the only person on earth to know of the aldebaran empire. surely, he thought, there must be some way he could turn this to his advantage.

some way that would impress tess torrentina. whom he came to actually speak to a few times at the bar of the purple parrot, though he was never able to remember a word either of them said.

and then one night - tess torrentina was gone. no longer appearing at the purple parrot. just like that, without a word of warning.

the bartender showed no surprise or annoyance at randolph questioning him about her whereabouts.

"i don't know, pal. she went somewhere. chicago, maybe, or havana. one of those places. you could check with her agent. hey, ralphie!"

ralphie was a kind of odd job man who was always around. he emerged from the shadows.

"manny markovitz - the booker. you know his address?"

"brooklyn. 44th street, over by sunset park. he's in the yellow pages."


mickey karpowitz and frenchie dolan had been keeping an eye on the guy. especially since he had started coming over and sitting in the dark over haslam's tires every night instead of just once or twice a week. they had a good thing there once before.

finally the other guy came around. gordon.

they made the same deal, same price.

randolph never showed up again at the purple parrot. nobody noticed.

a new singer, angelique le bon, "the argentine canary" , was booked and began appearing regularly.

the customers came and went, as did the bartenders and the guys in the three piece band , though ralphie was almost always around.

a guy named max johnson became a regular. max was a salesman, sold stuff on consignment - bibles, neckties, joke books, jewelry if he could get it, any damn thing.

if he wasn't the loneliest guy in the world, he would do until the loneliest guy came around.

the end

thanks again to Jackie Jones for the following video, taken from her extensive archive

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