BONG, TENTH FLOOR. I walked to my room on autopilot, chastising myself that I had taken the initiative and failed miserably. On the other hand, I now had one more incentive to close the case, and quickly!
The lock, the key and me had a disagreement and I clumsily fought to open my room door.
Wise Uncle Mortimer, my teacher and mentor, had told me once, “Should you ever be discovered while on the job—Act. If you are in the middle of cleaning the safe and the light goes on and you see the master of the house with sleepy eyes—you act. You don’t stand rooted to the spot and you sure don’t freeze. Instead, you run, you scream, you fight, whatever. You act to keep the upper hand of the situation. Because whenever you act, the other party has to re-act. You act!”
So I did and it probably saved my life. I had opened the door of my room, took one step inside, the light of the corridor throwing a beam on the bed and the nightstand. My hands were feeling for the light switch while my left foot was still pushing the door.
Suddenly the door was pulled open much faster than I expected, my first initial thought was ‘Someone else is in the room.’ And my second thought was—Act!
I jumped forward just as something heavy came down on me, hitting me on my back instead of my head, hurting like hell. While I jumped, my back burning from pain, I grabbed the small lamp on the chest and threw it backward, ripping the chord out of the wall. I made it to the bed, leaped over it, grabbed the chair from the writing desk and held it up to give me some room. With my free right hand, I lifted the phone receiver, pressed ‘1’ and hoped that it was the reception number.
Not too much light in the room, the door to the corridor and some light was shining in from the window. The dark shadow was kicking the door shut, reducing visibility to mere shadows and shapes and started charging at me. My 120 pounds were nothing to stop a fully-grown man with 200 pounds, so I cut my losses, hurled the chair at his legs and caught his knee. His right leg gave away temporarily and he let out a painful grunt. I rolled over the bed again, back to the door and started to scream at the highest pitch I could manage. The shadow stumbled and I heard him pick up the chair. No way to make it to the door in time without getting hurt. I quickly turned right; the chair was sailing past me, crashing into the drawer—close call. I heard steps and breathing coming from behind. The bathroom or the window? Did the bathroom have a window? I couldn’t remember.
“Don’t think, act,” I heard Uncle Mortimer’s voice.
To confuse the issues, I stopped suddenly from a full run, crouched and rolled back. The shadow couldn’t stop in time and ran into me, stumbling over, crashing into the suitcase rack, limbs flying in all directions. I stood up, his hands were coming up already; he almost had me and he grabbed for my legs. He was getting up quickly, too quickly, but I was past him, toward the window.
I jumped against the closed curtains, crashed through the window, frantically clutching the curtain, the thick fabric protecting me against cuts.
Tenth floor, night air. I was dangling on my room curtains from the tenth floor, a glass shower raining down into the hotel backyard. It was as if someone had suddenly switched on the sound again. I could hear the falling glass shards making tickling noises on the ground, angry voices from down there, motors and horns from the street.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it down one floor but had to grab the windowsill and made my way out on the small ledge, which was about a foot wide. Piece of cake for a cat burglar, the equivalent of a German autobahn.
Carefully breathing in and out, I got up slowly, pressed my back to the wall and looked to the left, where I expected the face of my shadow assassin to appear at any moment.
My attacker announced himself by rustling with the curtain fabric and making crunching noises on the broken glass that had fallen into the room. I held my breath, my heart beating louder and louder.
And there he was, carefully peering out the window as if he wasn’t sure whether my window exit had been an accident or not. His mistake. I gave him a kick from my position on the ledge, aimed against his head, careful, not to lose balance. The plan was to mark that sucker for good and maybe to hit him unconscious. Giving me enough time to find another window to leave the ledge or move around the building out of his reach. Both options were good with me, better than to confront the attacker directly. Someone must have heard my screams, the noises of the fight, the breaking of the window, whatever, anything getting attention to my situation and bringing in the cavalry.
Well, call me an overachiever. My assailant stuck his head out of the window, glancing down. Right the second I kicked, the shadow leaned further forward to get a better look down. I didn’t kick his face as anticipated but my foot connected with the middle section of his throat, a noise as if you let out air quickly from a plastic bag. His head snapped up half a foot, came down quickly, and then, by whatever force, his whole upper body came falling forward. There was nothing I could do in my awkward position on the ledge but watch in slow motion as his upper body and then everything else came sliding and reeling out the window, gliding on the smooth ripped curtain fabric with an underlying soundtrack of his desperate wheezing for air and vanishing into the darkness below.
The thud came a second later, followed by more voices from downstairs. Inside my room, I could hear the door opening and voices coming in. A Mexican face looked through the smashed window, looking down, muttering something intelligible that could qualify as a small prayer.
The light went on in my room, bathing the flying curtains and the ragged edges of the window glass in yellow light. More people looking out of the window, each and everyone stared down. They could make out the dark smashed shadow below.
Then I could hear Ron’s voice, full of fear, his heavy steps as he ran toward the window, “Calendar, where is she?”
Someone tried to hold him back but he managed to wrestle himself free. “Let me through, you morons.”
His face was full of worries as he stuck his head through the window, looking down. “Shit, Moonstone” was all he could mutter, his face a study of pity and sorrow, drawing in breath through his teeth.
“Meow?” I said with a weak voice.
His head snapped around as if he had been slapped in the face and he saw me.
“What the hell are… ”
“Help me in, please, will you?”
Ron brought me to his room; he actually carried me, because as soon as my legs hit regular ground they simply stopped working. The adrenaline rush was over, my batteries depleted completely.
Ron removed only the necessities—tucked me in and guarded me. People came and went; most of them just appeared in a haze. Lobos was there, interviewing me gently about the dead piece of meat dressed in black in the backyard. Fowler paid his respects and a doctor came by and took a look at my back, where the prowling stranger had hit me with what appeared to have been a small sack of lead pellets. In gentle soothing Spanish, which Lobos translated for me, the doctor explained that had it met my head, my skull would have caved in for sure.
I was cold to no end and the last glimpse of that long day was Ron sitting beside my bed in the light of the nightstand lamp, looking down at me. Before I could take the courage and energy to ask him to cuddle up with me, just to hold me warm, I was already gone.