In the Book

The room was black as the bottom of a grave, save for the slit of light that shone beneath the door like a promise of redemption. Slumped in the overstuffed leather armchair, Abel Dane was in that dimension beneath consciousness. He had fallen into the deep sleep that whiskey induces before taking its revenge and waking its imbiber long before night has run its course. His head, and its accompanying golden mane, was tilted back vulnerably as it would never be in the company of others. But his only companion this evening was the bottle of bonded bourbon that stood half empty on the marble-topped end table beside him. The glass, which had formerly been raised to his lips innumerable times, was still cradled in his long, thin, comatose fingers. Their grip now nothing more than reeds wound round shiny crystal, warming an unfinished swallow or two. 

The sound that intruded initially was not ignored, but rather incorporated into what passed for a dream in Abel’s state of rapid eye movement. The short, dull thuds initially appeared as a judge’s gavel wielded to call the court to order, then an empty tumbler banged on scarred mahogany to catch an inattentive barkeep’s eye, then, as what they were, knocks on his hotel room door.         

His eyes opened involuntarily. They began to focus slowly. Objects in the room transformed from shadowy lumps to furniture, paintings, a flat-screen television encased in the wall. Odd how one can see in the dark if one’s been in it long enough, Abel thought. Again came the knock. He hadn’t imagined or dreamed it. Someone was at his door. What was the hour, he wondered. Surely not morning. There wasn’t enough light. How long had he been asleep? Impossible to tell. He wore no watch and there was no clock in the living room of his suite. Once again, the knock sounded. Neither frantic nor impatient. Simply repetitive, consistent, determined. But why a knock on the door? Why not a phone call?  The lingering effect of the alcohol rendered him incapable of answers to his own questions. 

As he made an effort to rise, Abel’s heavy head lolled about on his shoulders. Pulling himself up, he noticed the glass still in his hand. He considered a quick swallow, but instead, casually released it into the center of an indentation his body had made in the chair. It tipped over and the remaining contents filled the leathery reservoir his weight had left behind.

Another knock, no more aggressive than that which preceded it, sounded before he could take his first step. Abel made no attempt to speak. He felt no compulsion to let the knocker know he was on his way. Keeping people waiting reinforced who was in charge, which Abel preferred. It taught patience, he often rationalized.  

Hands rubbing his swollen eyes, Abel moved toward the door lethargically. Upon arrival he peered through the tiny peephole and saw nothing but the opposite wall. He was about to turn and walk back to his chair, and his whiskey, when the knock came again, not discernibly different from the earlier ones.

Abel spoke without peering through the hole again. “Yes. Who is it? What do you want?” No answer. Abel stepped forward and squinted into the miniscule circle again. Still, no one. “Prick,” he mumbled, turning away a second time. But before he could take a step, the rap sounded once more. 

Now clearly agitated, Abel raised his voice. “Do that again and you’ll regret it.”

Again came the knock.  

Abel could have walked to the phone, called the desk clerk and had security handle it. This was obviously some kid playing an infantile game, he assumed. Or some hotel employee, without the proper training, or the language skills, or the nerve to respond. Or it was a member of his crew; too drunk, too stoned, or too frightened of his wrath to reply.  Then again, maybe it was someone else. An ingenue perhaps. Too shy to answer but too smitten to stay away. In which case, any intrusion by hotel personnel would only be an unnecessary, and definitely unwanted interruption. 

Knock.  Knock.

“All right,” Abel said. “I yield to your persistence.”

He stepped forward, rested one hand on the doorframe and turned the dead-bolt lock with the other. Abel was reaching for the handle when the first shot tore through the door. Lead, fire, and wood shards blasted into his abdomen. A second shot quickly followed with a somewhat higher trajectory.  This time the bullet and door fragments ripped into him just below the sternum. A third shot was higher still. It eviscerated his nipple and shattered the bone above his left breast.

The door remained closed and incredibly Abel remained on his feet. His shock was such that his mind was unable to keep pace with what had happened. He felt liquid running down his leg. His knees grew suddenly slack. They banged down hard on the carpeted floor. Abel instinctively raised a hand to press against the door and keep himself upright, or perhaps involuntarily, to keep the wolf at bay. He fell forward then, banging into and knocking over an occasional table and its bowl of potpourri. For a moment he was conscious of the scent of pomegranate, plum, and papaya. His ears were still ringing as he heard what he took to be footsteps walking away. Apparently however, the organ that housed his irony had not been hit, as he managed to intone, “You might have at least waited for me to say action.”