Stay in an air conditioned room and write ficiton. DUH.
Taipei, Taiwan: Three years ago
Marjorie’s eyelids popped open to the sound of a blunt object pounding against the front door in a staccato rhythm: boom-boom-boom. Before she could move, Tomasz, the man who a moment ago was warming his hands against the small of her back, shoved his legs into a pair of pants and waddled to the door.
“Coming!” he shouted in Mandarin. A woman was shouting in the hallway. Marjorie recognized who it was (Mrs. Liu from downstairs) and what language it was (Taiwanese), but understood almost none of what was said. She was grateful that Tomasz was handling whoever it was at the door. She and Tomasz had an agreement that he would take care of any calls or visitors before nine in the morning. Marjorie pulled the covers over her head in a vain attempt to muffle the noise.
In spite of the cloth barrier, Marjorie could hear the exchange between Tomasz and the unwanted parties with perfect clarity. The men at the door were some kind of officials, though their Mandarin was slurred with a thick regional accent. Their deep, chesty voices demanded to speak with Tomasz. They uttered the syllables of his Chinese name—De Tang Mu--with the same peppered tempo to knock on the door. Tomasz, ever the skilled diplomat, replied in hushed tones like a mother attempting to soothe a distraught child. Only a trained ear could catch the underscore of repressed irritation.
The men demanded to see Tomasz’s passport. Apparently they did not believe Tomasz was who he said he was.
In a moment, Tomasz was at the bedroom door again. Marjorie noticed that in his haste Tomasz had put his T-shirt on backwards, and his coppery hair looked like the spines of an agitated porcupine. She smiled and opened her mouth to greet him and to make fun of the men at the door with their strange accents, but Tomasz held up his hand like a crossing guard and shook his head as if to say, “Not now.” He hovered for a moment over the dresser, and then picked up his American passport. He led Marjorie by the elbow into the bathroom. Marjorie swallowed her laughter when she saw that Tomasz’s eyes, the color of storm clouds, did not contain a trace of amusement.
“I’m serious,” he whispered. “Not a sound.” He tugged the shower curtain so that it completely concealed her, and left.
Like most Taiwanese apartments, Marjorie and Tomasz’s bathroom contained no bathtub. Only a shower curtain and a drain were in the northern corner, placed inconveniently next to a sink and toilet. The floor tiles felt clammy against the soles of Marjorie’s feet. The voices at the door were louder, and a knot of worry twisted inside Marjorie’s stomach. Things weren’t going well. Tomasz wasn’t going to amble back into their bedroom and bury his hands in Marjorie’s hair, wrapping his fingers around her curls the way she liked.
She heard the telltale sound of cartilage breaking and Tomasz howled. She burst from the bathroom and ran through the bedroom, but it was too late. Marjorie only caught a glimpse of the door slamming behind whoever it was wrestling Tomasz down the stairs, shouting at him in their ludicrous, broken Mandarin. Mrs. Liu’s shrill yelling added to the din. Above it all, Tomasz had resorted to his mother tongue of Polish to curse them, their mothers, and their country, in one long, unbroken stream.
Marjorie pressed her forehead against the door. Her throat closed tight and hot tears burned beneath her eyelids. She saw a constellation of blood droplets on the floor and a few smears on the doorknob where Tomasz had struggled. His cries were growing fainter. Tomasz and his captors were probably just reaching the street.
The apartment had no windows with a street view, so Marjorie bolted downstairs, right past the slack-jawed Mrs. Liu, her hair permed into a stiff helmet of silvery wires. Outside the city air was hot and heavy with moisture, like a panting dog ‘s breath. A military Jeep was rumbling down the narrow alley and into oncoming traffic. It made a right turn at the end of the road and ducked out of sight.