Location: Tibone Laundromat, Chinatown, Los Angeles, California, USA
date: February, 2019
Sighing, Toru gazed up at the entrance to his place of employment, the
Tibone Laundromat, the tip of his tongue running along the roof of his
mouth. The front of the laundromat was a study in contrasts: the dark
store front with it's neon-lined windows and glittery white neon sign,
the brightly-lit interior (as seen through the windows) compared to the
wet gloomy streets of the night. If he looked around, he would see much
of the same; darkness punctuated by neon, crowds of miscellaneous
people bustling nervously along, the stench of wet humans and garbage. If he
peeked up, past the looming buildings and the shining, humming
spinners, he could see in the midnight sky the huge blimp that, so constant was
it in his life and in the sky, he almost thought of as God. That strange
blimp, the drifting mass of nothingness, pierced with what appeared to
be sharp spears and sticks (resembling a gracefully floating
porcupine); the one with the huge sparkling sign in the center and the softly
droning voice murmuring about going to the Off-World colonies. This was
a world full of advertisements and shade, a world of terror and delight
so intense that the two mingled and became one. If he listened closely,
he could just barely hear the Trafficators sighing monotonously "Cross
now, cross now..." or "Don't walk, don't walk..."
Mr. Oratra, the owner of Tibone and Toru's adoptive father, rushed out
of the laundromat, crying: "Get to work! Get to work! The towels do not
wash and fold themselves! Toru!" The owner was a kind man, about forty
years old, with prematurely gray hair that hung in his deep-set eyes.
Toru had been left on the doorstep to the laundromat when he was a
baby, and Mr. Orata had been kind enough to take the starving, crying child
in and raise him as his own.
Letting his feet carry him, Toru wandered into his little back room
where he washed, dried, and folded the huge loads of black, white, and
colorful towels that came into his room. There was a large hole in one
wall, covered by a weighted plastic flap- this was where the laundry
came in, on a conveyor belt. When he finished folding, he placed the
neat stacks of towels on the belt at the other end, right in front of
another covered hole, and pressed a large green button that started the
belt moving. His room was the closest to the front main area where the
customers came in and picked up their laundry; since his job was the
least important, he wouldn't bring the entire operation to a screeching
halt by leaving his station temporarily to help Mr. Oratra.
There was already a pile of white towels waiting for him when he
stepped into the room. Moving with a quiet efficiency, Toru turned to
the washing machine and prepared the dials and knobs: hot water, cotton
sturdy ... He carried the fluffy pile over to the machine and dumped it
into the deep hole, along with a scoop of detergent and a scoop of
bleach. He turned the machine on, the thrum reverberating pleasantly in
his chest as he hopped up onto the washing machine, waiting for the
first load of the night to be done.
The jingle of the heavy glass door's bell reached his ears; Toru
leaned back, glancing around the corner into front room- looking back in the
other direction, he could see other workers doing the same, curious as
to whom the customer would be. Pick-up or drop-off? And if it was
drop-off, who would get this man or woman's items to be cleaned?
The customer was new- he had never been in the Tibone Laundromat
before. Toru would know, being one of the oldest employees there; he
was only sixteen, but he had been working at this laundromat since he was a
baby, much longer than anyone else here (other than Mr. Orata himself).
The new customer, a man, was tall and thin, like a wiry scarecrow. He
wore a nice gray suit and a tie that wasn't tightened, so that it hung
like a noose around his neck; his shoes were polished so well that you
could see your face in them. He wore no jacket and carried no umbrella
despite the constant rain, an unusual trait. Was he stoic, or just a
fool? This new customer was interesting indeed! Toru watched as he
carefully handed over a suit that looked just like the one he had on,
only in a creamy white; so it was dry-cleaning, eh? With a gorgeous
suit like that (obviously silk and hand-tailored), Joanna, the woman in
charge of dry-cleaning, would have her hands full!
Mr. Orata lifted the suit delicately, holding it tight against his
chest, and began the trek down the long hallway to the dry-cleaning
room way in the back. As he walked, he quietly shooed his employees back to
their duties, sending them scattering like startled animals. The door
to the dry-cleaning room opened slowly as Mr. Orata approached, even
though he hadn't announced himself in any way; Joanna was rumored to be
psychic, a probable theory. Mr. Orata entered, and the door slammed
shut behind him with a banal thud.
Toru wasn't interested in Mr. Orata's progress, though, which was
unusual. Normally to see the owner go into the back room was
interesting, especially with a beautiful suit like that, but it just
couldn't hold Toru's attention like the new customer did. The man was
positively fascinating; Toru couldn't shake the feeling that he had
seen this man somewhere before. Long arms hanging loosely at his sides, the
man at first looked totally at ease, a faint bemused expression on his
face. He was handsome, but something was slightly off about his
appearance; maybe it was the telling bulge of something underneath his
jacket- a gun. The man had unusual hair, a rich earth-brown streaked
through with blond and white and slicked back away from his high brow
and fine, almost delicate, features. He stood casually, gracefully,
first resting his huge hands on the counter of the front desk, then
burying them in his pockets. He seemed slightly nervous, but he hid it
Toru could feel his pulse, feather-light, in the roof of his mouth and
it tickled. Sighing, he leaned against the door frame and watched the
man with an open, dreamy curiousness; this stranger evoked a feeling of
peace and warmth in the young boy. He could fall asleep to the sight of
that clean, angled face much the way he fell asleep to music. However,
Toru was shocked out of his tranquil state when the stranger turned
slightly and met the younger boy's gaze with a penetrating, quizzical
stare. His eyes, startling enough, were the softest blue, almost white,
so that they ended up blending in with the whites of his eyes when
viewed from a distance. The new customer watched Toru with a long and
distance look of his own before Toru flushed and had to turn away, back
to his towels.
As he transferred the towels from washer to dryer, he could hear Mr.
Orata's progress back to the front desk. The men conversed quietly,
their hushed voices the deepest of all the whispers and sighs that
filled the laundromat. Toru didn't bothering listening too closely,
favoring instead the clear blue bubble dryer and the sight of the
laundry swirling all around in an almost nauseating spin. The place was
dead, not a sound escaping from the closed doors or the open rooms,
just the sound of machines, lint, and the two men. Toru recalled his
childhood, being read stories by Mr. Orata, listening to the Chinese
man's kind voice fill the room and settle, a warm blanket covering
protectively the room and both man and child.
Ten minutes later, however, the men were still talking. Normally this
was the end of the transaction, payment and ticket-exchanging, and it
should only take two or three minutes. Toru didn't dare stick his head
out the door again, though, for fear that the new customer might
recognize him as the one who was watching earlier. Leaning closer to
the open door, Toru strained to hear but only caught snippets.
"...Blade ... police ... Lee..."
"Oh." That from Mt. Orata. "Yes ... I don- ... about replicants ...
"... you mind ... --ttle test...?"
"No. That's fine, Mr. Lee."
They were close now, almost right outside the door. The stranger was
not a new customer anymore- he was police and, from what Toru was
confident in assuming, he was a Blade Runner. Now the stranger was a
dangerous, cunning man with the sanction to kill.
"This room would be fine, Mr. Lee." Mr. Orata gestured at Toru's room,
and the boy felt inexplicable pride swell up in his chest; that pride
only blossomed further when Mr. Orata continued: "I would rather he
remain here during the test."
Mr. Lee, the stranger with ice-blue eyes, shook his head gravely as he
began to unpack something that resembled nothing so much as a great
mechanical spider, delicate but menacing. "I'm sorry, Mr. Orata, but it
would make my job, and yours, a lot easier if the boy would at least
remain outside the door. Perhaps in the hallway?" He eyed Toru again,
looking past the boy's worn, impoverished appearance and clothing, past
the boy's slanted tropical-green eyes, into Toru's very soul and
touched it, briefly- a psychic caress, almost. Toru immediately knew that the
stranger hadn't felt the connection by the way the man smiled falsely
and directed his gaze to the doorway with limited subtlety.
It didn't matter anyway- the load was done, and Toru could just as
easily fold the towels in the hallway. He hefted the load of soft, warm
white cotton and proceeded into the dimly lit claustrophobic space
where he sat on the floor and began to fold mechanically. He listened
closely, not wanting to miss this "test" that Mr. Orata would take.
Mr. Lee spoke first. "Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay
attention..." The usual when taking a test: first the instructions.
"Answer as quickly as you can ... Don't move, please. This machine
calibrates your responses to my questions- pupil dilation, blushing,
"Yes." Mr. Orata, sounding resigned and terribly sad. "I've heard of
the Voigt-Kampff before."
When Mr. Lee talked next, he sounds pleased. "Good. Then you..." He
hesitated. "... you know why I'm doing this?"
"Not really, no." Mr. Orata's voice rose in pitch, quivering,
tear-filled, angry. "You lied to me, sir, and then demand I allow you
to perform this foolish test. I have a son-"
"Your boy comes home from school and says his teacher hit him with a
ruler for being bad."
"Mr. Orata, sir. The test has begun. What would you then proceed to
"What is the question?"
Mr. Lee sighed, paused, then repeated himself. "Your boy comes home
from school and says his teacher hit him with a ruler for being bad."
"Inform the principal. Confront the teacher in a neutral setting, if
There was a disturbing suspension for a moment, and then the test
continued. "Tell me all the good things that come to your mind about
"Lovely. Perfumed. Driven."
"Hm." That didn't sound good, but it wasn't a bad sign, either. "You
come across a small wild flower growing in the middle of the sidewalk-"
"That is impossible! There are no wild flowers anymore."
"Pretend. It's purely hypothetical, anyway. It won't matter." Mr.
Lee's smile was audible charm turned on to the high setting. "You come across
a beautiful, multi-hued wildflower growing in the sidewalk crack, and
as you gaze at it, someone steps on it, crushing the life out."
"I would take the flower and try to bring it back to life. Or maybe I
would just keep on walking, since I cannot stop the person."
"Why can't you stop them?"
"They might be dangerous."
"Ah." Mr. Lee's vocalizations made everyone, including Toru, edgy. The
young boy had already finished folding, and was now listening with rapt
attention. Mr. Lee continued. "Do you worship a god or goddess?"
"Yes and no."
"I believe there might be a God, but if there is, why would he or she
allow such suffering to continue?"
"Are you taking any drugs or medications?"
"Your boy shows you his butterfly collection, plus the killing jar."
"I would hit him and take away his collection. Such animals are
sacredthere are so few left anymore."
"You wouldn't take him to a psychologist?"
Mr. Lee continued again. "There is a fire and a child is screaming
from the utmost floor for help, but no one helps- the flames are too
powerful and strong."
"I ... I wouldn't help. I am ashamed, but ... I wouldn't. It would be
too risky, and the firemen would be there any minute."
Toru's heart broke, but he ignored it. That question felt more like a
low blow than a test question. Toru began to lose interest in this
"Voigt-Kampff" test- it sounded stupid, anyway. Just a bunch of cruel
questions that hurt when you answered. He set the towels aside and
leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes; maybe he could rest for
just a little bit, before the test was over and he had to go back into
his room, back to work.
As he dozed, he thought of the new customer, the Blade Runner Mr. Lee.
He saw Mr. Lee, in his dream, but the detective was in a pair of casual
street-clothes and heavy military-style boots. Toru especially noticed
the boots on Mr. Lee's feet because when he stepped down in them, the
world shook. They were walking through the crowds together, and the
people were parting like water for a fish; it was so beautiful and
perfect that Toru was close to tears. He could see that they were
walking through Hawker's Circle, and...
The word interrupted Toru's dream, bringing him to the surface too
quickly- he felt like his head was about to explode.
"What are you telling me?!"
Mr. Orata was yelling, a highly unusual occurrence. Toru himself had
never heard Mr. Orata yell, and to finally witness it was terrifying.
Leaping to his feet, the boy peaked around the corner, peering into the
shadowless room with it's yellow fluorescent lights.
Mr. Lee and Mr. Orata were standing, both men tense as they seemed to
square off. They were facing each other across the table while the
machine still wheezed softly in the deafening silence. Mr. Lee was
strangely calm, almost incandescent with serenity.
"Sir, the machine can't lie." Mr. Lee murmured, watching the older man
with lidded eyes. He unconsciously flexed his right hand as if it
pained him. "The Voigt-Kampff can't lie -- I even have the incept photo to
Mr. Orata's small, round face was livid with fury; he was shaking
uncontrollably, the hands at his sides forming stiff claws that quaked.
His gray hair was soaked with sweat, and his skin had been washed
through with green. "If you have your damned photo, why didn't you just
shoot me when you came into my store?!" he demanded, his voice a whole
octave higher than the soberingly tranquil Mr. Lee's.
"Blade Runners should always authenticate the claims of renegade
replicants, no matter how convincing the evidence at hand." Mr. Lee
smiled slightly, a tugging at the corner of his mouth; he was enjoying
his work. As the smile faded, Mr. Orata opened his mouth to say
something up, but they both knew by then it was a fruitless effort. Mr.
Lee reached into his coat and, in one fluid motion, pulled out his gun.
The shot hit Mr. Orata in the chest. The older man didn't even have
timeto say what he had wanted to, it was so fast; he stumbled backwards,
gaping at the large wound that he couldn't yet feel.
Toru instinctively pulled back around the corner, away from the
chaos, but the nightmare followed him out into the hallway. Another shot
fired, and Mr. Orata came flying out of the room into the far wall, slamming
against it with a sharp smack that made the thin walls shake. Mr. Orata
slid to the ground, leaving a smear of blood in his wake- when he hit
the wall, his skull had cracked, like an egg. The older man was
frighteningly still as Toru approached to check his pulse; two fingers
on the wrinkled throat confirmed what the boy fear- Mr. Orata, the man
who had raised him as his own child, was dead. His eyes were still
open, and Toru couldn't bring himself to touch the dead body again, even to
shut those lids for the last time.
Mr. Lee! Toru spun around, crouching slightly, ready to dash towards
the door and into the wet night beyond. "You killed him." Toru found
himself saying, the words spilling from his chilled lips. Tears
streamed down his face, leaving wet tracks that dried on his pale skin and
became intolerably itchy.
Mr. Lee still had his gun drawn as he stepped out of the room,
casually, and with grace. "What's your name?"
"Toru." he spat.
"Toru," Mr. Lee sighed, that disgusting tiny smile playing on his face
again. "That was a replicant. Do you know what those are?" Before the
boy could reply, the Blade Runner continued. "They're robots that are
so similar to humans that only the test I gave your father can tell us and
them apart. I'm hired to give people suspected of being replicants the
test; if they pass and are human, I let them go."
"And if they're replicants, you shoot them?"
Mr. Lee nodded, pleased. "You're very clever. Your father was a
replicant, Toru." Smoothing the lapels of his jacket with his free
hand, he furtively eyed the boy, scanning his young unlined face. "You've
known your father since birth?"
The tears came again, this time they were big fat ones that rolled
down his gaunt cheeks and landed on the leg of Mr. Orata's pants. The old
man was spread out on the floor, gangly-looking, all his limbs askew in a
random fashion. "Yes. He adopted me. I ... He's raised me since I was a
baby." Angrily, he brushed away his tears and looked up at Mr. Lee.
"You've killed him. You killed my father."
Mr. Lee flexed his hand, frowning down at it. Now that they were so
close to one another, Toru could see the dark half-moons that were
under his eyes and the sweat beading on his upper lip. He quickly checked how
much ammunition he had left in his gun, flipping a few strands of hair
that had escaped out of his frigid blue eyes. "You have specific
memories of your 'father' from when you were a little child?"
Irritated, he snapped: "Yes!" Why couldn't this ... killer just let
him grieve in silence?!
Mr. Lee bit his upper lip and seemed to contemplate something for a
brief moment. "Normally I don't like to shoot women and children," he
sighed, resigned. "But I suppose you're going to try to run, and I'm
going to have to chase you and shoot you, aren't I? Will you make this
easy and just come down to the station with me?"
Him? Mr. Lee wanted to shoot him? But why?! Toru didn't do anything
wrong, and he certainly wasn't a replicant! He couldn't speak, his
throat constricting until he could barely breathe. His veins were on
fire, his eyes felt water-logged; he was going to die. All the boy
could think was that he was going to die if he didn't move soon, if he didn't
at least try to run; there was a defensive wall in his mind, blocking
all thoughts, rational or irrational, but that single thread of idea
managed to slip by and penetrate. He was going to die.
The word, almost audible to both Toru and Mr. Lee, set the boy in
motion. Toru hopped over his deceased father or whatever he was,
slipping past Mr. Lee, and fled out the door, into the streets and the
and the jostling, concealing crowds. The shouts of Mr. Lee as he yelled
for Toru to come back reached the boy's ears, but he shut that voice
out, running for his life. He saw flashes of his old life as he ran:
the towering buildings, the blimp, the yellow and bluish faces- mostly
Oriental- that seemed to be floating underwater. And there were the
three pure constants that seemed to remain untainted by the night and
the death: the rain, the neon, and the soft male voice of the
advertisements exclaiming: "Let's go to the colonies!"
There was nothing left for him at the laundromat, nothing left for him
at the apartment where he had lived. There was nothing but the feel of
his feet pounding against the cement as he sprinted through the roads
and alleys. This was a mistake, though, because he didn't pay attention
to where he was going, and Mr. Lee was right behind him, gun drawn,
colorless eyes flashing.
Toru turned right and skidded to a halt. There were no more people, no
more crowds or neon lights. Just the rain and the blimp and this dead
end that lay before him. His name, shouted with Mr. Lee's unrelenting
voice, echoed, sinister; he was getting closer. The only escape was a
door that lay to the left of him, a small wooden portal into what could
possibly be his death- it was his only option. Wrenching it open,
nearly tearing it off of its hinges, Toru let the door fly out of his hands as
he raced into the dark hallway, not bothering to shut it. Mr. Lee would
know where Toru was, it was unavoidable; the man could smell him and
The hallway was gloomy and dry, the murky semi-darkness only
punctuated by horizontal slats of light, created by the blinds on the window at
the end of the hall; dust visibly danced in the bright, ethereal strips. In
here it was stable and quiet, and it was as if there was no dangerous
assassin chasing him. But there was a killer chasing him, and he had to
find a place to hide or else he would die. What would have been the
point of running from the laundromat if he was just going to end up
dead in this wretched narrow hall?
Moving on silent sneaker-clad feet, Toru tried the first door he
found, but it was locked; every successive door he tried after that first was
locked. Death and the sound of Mr. Lee's polished shoes were getting
closer with every passing second. Panting for breath, clumsy with
nervousness, Toru struggled on, resorting to even kicking on the doors
as they refused to open. As chance would have it, however, the
second-to-last door sprung open as he turned the knob- behind the thick
wooden door was an empty broom closet, just big enough for the boy to
comfortably hide in.
The boy dared a glance back at Mr. Lee before he darted into the
closet; the man, ruffled and exhausted, was not the same man that had
come into the laundromat. He was red-faced and his chest was heaving. A
few temperamental strands of hair, out of place, flopped forward and
poked at those horrific eyes. Those eyes that almost seemed to glow...
The door locked, another stroke of fortune; Toru managed to slip the
rusty lock in place before Mr. Lee reached him; the man tried the knob
and, finding no help there, pounded furiously on the door- the sound of
his fist was deafening.
"Toru! Toru, I know you're there, so you might as well come out." Mr.
Lee was no longer calm or collected- he was raging. Struggling to bring
his anger under control, Mr. Lee forced a false note of cheerful
into his voice. "Toru, you don't want to stay in there forever, do you?
At the station you can have a nice rest and something to eat before I
give you the test, okay?"
"Go away!" Toru cried, leaning against the door as all his strength,
his bravado, fled him. "Just go away! I'm not a replicant!" The tears
were coming again, making his voice rise in pitch.
Mr. Lee eyed the door and tried to calculate where the boy would be,
according to where his voice had come from. "Well, Toru, actually you
are." he said, slightly reprimanding and totally patronizing. "You see,
the Tyrell Corporation put out a new model called the 'Oliver Twist
model'. I was shown the brochure. Hard working and very loyal. You're
hard-working and loyal, aren't you, Toru? I have an incept photo right
here, if you want more proof. Toru?"
"Shut up! Leave me alone!" Toru pressed his forehead against the door
and slid down a little way until he was kneeling, as if in prayer.
"Well, now you're just hysterical, and that's not good. People make
mistakes when they're hysterical, Toru. People die when they make
mistakes." Was the boy moving around? "Toru- if your father was a
replicant, which it was, then you can't have memories of him from more
than four years ago." He pursed his lips and tipped back, eyeing the
door. That stupid child was causing too much trouble. Maybe he should
just shoot the door open; after all, why is he even explaining this to
him ... it. Not a him, an it. "Replicants, Nexus 6 like you and Mr.
Orata, only have a four year lifespan. It's a fail-safe built into
Four years. The phrase ate its way into his ear and burrowed into his
brain. Four years. Hoarsely he asked "Then how can I have memories of
"Implanted memories, Toru." Mr. Lee exhaled sharply, his breath
whistling out from between his teeth. "The Tyrell Corporation also does
that along with the lifespan for every model." Leaning against the
door, one arm casually resting over his head, Mr. Lee let his eyes slip shut.
He was tired, and he hated this job. He suspected he was slipping too
far along the curve, becoming too empathetic; maybe it was time to quit
this job once and for all. "Please, Toru." Mr. Lee confided to the
door, hoping his voice would carry through the thick wood. "Please, I'm so
tired. Just come out."
Nothing. Pure silence. Maybe Toru's lifespan had ended while he was in
the closet. That would make for an interesting turn of events. He
rolled over, his back pressed against the wall next to the door.
"Toru?" A mumble that was barely audible.
The sound of the lock sliding slowly back filled Mr. Lee's ears,
making all the exhaustion and tension drain out of his shoulders. Finally,
As the door opened with a whisper, Toru, still on his knees, gazed up
at the man leaning beside the door and then at the gun hanging loosely
from Mr. Lee's hand. They moved slowly, dreamily, Mr. Lee reaching down
and taking Toru's hands, pulling the boy to his feet.
"So I'm a replicant?"
Mr. Lee nodded weakly, considering the boy, ghastly blue eyes meeting
glinting green ones, both orbs luminous.
A slight, frustrated laugh escaped Toru's throat, tearing him up as it
went like the thorns of a rose. "That's almost funny. I've always felt
human. I pitied the replicants I've heard about working off-world as
slaves. But ... But I've felt human, I've lived human."
"Most replicants that escape do just that, Toru." Mr. Lee kindly
touched the boy's face, sympathizing with the pathetic, young face that
looked so innocent. "You know I have to kill now, don't you?" Toru
As Mr. Lee lifted his gun, he drew the boy closer to him, slipping his
arm around Toru's shoulders; he prayed that this wouldn't hurt, that it
would be quick and absolutely painless. Toru pressed his face into Mr.
Lee's soft jacket that smelled like sweat and sorrow. As Mr. Lee
pressed the muzzle of his gun against the boy's temple, Toru asked one more
"And you, Mr. Lee?" he whispered- the sound of the wind whistling
around the looming building-tops, the sound of the rain hitting the
pavement and the umbrellas. "If I believed I was human, Mr. Lee, then
what about you?"
The gun when off and the force of the shot ripped Toru from Mr. Lee's
arms. The boy crumpled up on the floor, one side of his face torn to
bloody shreds. Violently ill, Mr. Lee stumbled out the door to the
where he threw up.
Afterwards, lifting his face to the rain, he felt the pain shooting up
his arms, felt the shiftlessness and exhaustion course through his
veins in the place of blood. What could the boy have meant? Surely he didn't
think that Mr. Lee, a Blade Runner for god's sake, was a replicant.
That was just foolishness, a last entreaty for mercy, a way of stalling the
Looking down the muzzle of his gun, the misery and fatigue filling
him, torturing him, Mr. Lee knew the truth.