That night after I had arrived home from work, I had barely hung up my coat when there was a loud knock at the door. The hair on my neck stood on end; an unannounced knock at the door could only be my superintendent from downstairs, and I was afraid he would see the soaked towels at the base of the radiator in my bedroom. I moved to quietly shut the bedroom door.
“Coming,” I shouted. Not that I had to shout very loud. The walls and door of my apartment are so thin I can hear the next-door neighbour’s MSN Messenger alerts clearly at night, even with music on.
I pressed my face against the door to look through the peephole. It wasn’t the super at all. Outside my door were two men; one dressed in dark clothing leaning against the wall, and one dressed in a gaudy linen suit standing in the middle of the hallway. The tension in my neck turned to cold sweat and a hollow gnawing in my stomach. I raced quickly through the list of people I might owe money as I unlocked the door and opened it.
“Are you–” started the man in the suit.
“Your door number doesn’t work,” said the man in what I could see now was a black suede jacket, faded black t-shirt, and even more faded black jeans. He pushed his way past me and stood in the middle of the room with his hands on his hips. “It says your number’s out of service.” I motioned for his partner to come in and closed the door.
“Yes, well,” I said, “I don’t have a land line, and I guess they can’t hook it up to my cellphone.” He was looking at the ceiling intently, then around some still unpacked boxes of my things on the living room floor. It took him a full minute to turn to look at me, and even then I couldn’t see where his eyes were looking, behind his opaque black sunglasses.
“No couch?” he asked, easing himself into the one white wooden chair I had cleared off; the rest were covered in books and other items I had yet to find a place for. I wrung my hands together, and turned to look at the other man, but he waved his hand with a slight bow of his head.
“Oh,” I said, ‘I wasn’t offering… I mean who are you?” Catching myself running my hands through my hair, I leaned back against the wall behind me. The man with the sunglasses laughed, and leaned forward.
“You ought to have known someone was going to come talk to you eventually. Now be a dear, and get us each a beer.” He motioned towards the kitchen. I had no intention of moving.
“You’re kidding. Who are you?” I asked again, “I thought you were the superintendent…” My back was cold and I could feel myself beginning to shake.
The man sitting on a chair, casting a pall on my living room floor, became suddenly still and stiff-looking. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I knew they were looking through me.
“Beer. Get us a fucking beer. You have a fridge full of Labatt 50, old man,” he grinned and spat these words, “and it’s about time you shared.” My eyes darted over to the gentleman in the suit.
“It’s alright,” he said, in a soft, almost childlike, voice that made me warm to him instantly, “I won’t have anything. But you two feel free.” My heart sank, and I was a little perturbed at someone giving me permission to have a beer in my own home.
I backed into the kitchen, opened the fridge, pulled out two bottles, closed the door, and pried off the bottlecaps, all without taking my eyes off of the black stain of a man sitting in my living room, and his ethereal, equally creepy, companion.
When someone enters your home unexpectedly, your mind goes instantly through your possessions, naming and locating each and every potential bludgeon or sharp object:
Cane: umbrella stand
Baseball bat: windowsill by the head of my bed
I came out of the kitchen and handed one of the bottles to the dark man in the chair. He immediately relaxed and smiled. Not at me, mind you; he just smiled. I went to stand by the bedroom door.
“No,” came the raspy voice from the chair, “have a seat. We’re going to be a while.” I let a deep breath out through my teeth, then walked over to the chair at my desk and sat down. I stared at the man in the chair, still wearing his sunglasses, as I sipped my beer, but it was the man in the suit who spoke next.
“You’re probably wondering,” he said, “who we are and why we’re here.” I looked at him incredulously.
“Yes,” I said, slowly, “I already asked that. Are you working from a script?” Realizing what I’d just said, I put the bottle back up to my lips. The man in black snickered, and his companion shot him a disapproving glance before he started speaking again.
“We’re here to talk to you about a message you should have received a long time ago.” I winced. God-botherers, I thought.
“No,” said the man in black, waving his finger, “he came for that. I came along because he said there’d be beer in it.” He raised his bottle. I nodded my head in agreement. It took me a few seconds to realize the other man was speaking again.
“…causing a bit of concern. You’re not an idiot, and you ought to know better. In fact,” he said, “you yourself wrote a scathing admonition of such conduct not six months ago!” At this last, he had come forward to lean on the desk in front of me and I could see the weird grey-pink of his irises as his gaze flicked back and forth between my eyes. What was he talking about? It couldn’t be the drinking. I took another sip of my beer, leaning back so as not to hit his chin with the end of my bottle. He sighed, rolled his eyes, and continued.
to be continued…