Mr Türöffnung clenched the steering wheel at the nine and three o’clock positions as he eyed the red light. None of this ten-and-two-o’clock crap. That was for hacks. Even through the closed windows, the winds howled. At least it wasn’t raining. The overhead power lines swayed while the stars and moon shone. He glanced at the clock on the centre console which read 21:13, then back at the red signal. This was to be the last job for the day. He could have waited til tomorrow if he really wanted to but his client didn’t mind the relative lateness.
And besides, customer satisfaction and security was Türöffnung’s life.
He sat, nice and warm, in his van at the intersection, watching the green light glowing at the perpendicular direction but there was no traversing traffic. Not a single car.
He huffed but slightly relaxed his grip. Then a black hatchback rumbled alongside, one with what appeared to be an aerodynamically ineffective body kit.
Türöffnung squinted. He hated aerodynamically ineffective body kits.
A lone shadowy figure in the backseat leaned forward to the male driver who then turned to eye the side of the metallic charcoal van and rolled his eyes. He must have read the large yellow and black lettering:
For us, it’s an open-and-shut matter.
Mr Türöffnung was proud of his slogan and even designed his own font. It took him a lot of weed and a month of peace and quiet to tweak every vector to perfection. He pulled out a joint and jet-lighter from the inside pocket of his thick jacket, lit the thing and shifted the gear lever from ‘N’ to ‘D’ as the green changed to amber. He waited for the standard “two seconds or so”, then floored the accelerator just as his red signal changed.
The driver of the hatchback presumably thought of it as a challenge as Türöffnung caught a glimpse of blaring headlights in the mirror which got closer and closer. He sneered. “A bit late … and I’m in a loaded van. Loser.”
He took a big drag, then rested his precious reefer on the ashtray, his subdued scorn then turning into a maniacal laugh—”You fool!”—and he jerked the steering wheel, swerving in front of the little car. Although he did use the indicator, it was arguably inappropriate of him to do that, especially for an educated man in his 50s but he also thought it was unarguably funny. To him.
• • •
“This isn’t a fucking pizzeria!” Edana scoffed at her mobile phone. “And by the way, a Margarita with salami is a Pepperoni, you stupid dick.”
She thumbed “End Call” and tossed the phone onto her desk. Outside, the trees bowed acutely. She loved the season of winter. That said, the corresponding weather meant a general increase in car accidents which in turn meant more claims and therefore more work than usual for her.
Indeed, it was late and she still had a few more files to process. There were the usual hit-from-behind cases but lately there had been no few cases of crashes into guardrails, poles, trees or even cable barriers. Those were sometimes messy.
Edana sighed, budged in her chair, undid the wedgie with her right hand and opened the next file. As she keyed in the reference number, she cast her retina over the sheet. Great. This one wasn’t even a vehicle damage claim. It was a home damage claim. Must have been Gary who had left the files on her desk. It was always Gary’s fault. Speed-reading through the forest of paperwork, she counted twelve home damage claims and all had busted doors. And all occurred on the same night.
“… damage consistent to an attempted break-in using a hatchet …”
“… strong winds carried broken tree trunk through the air which then plowed through the backdoor …”
“… some punk with an ax on Friday night …”
“… slipped on spilled coffee, then crashed into the door. I weigh a bit so it broke on impact.”
“… hacked through bedroom door to find my husband in bed with a raccoon plushie.”
If she had to stay back on a Thursday night reading this shit, then Gary was gonna have to hear about it too. She hit the green button on her desk phone and dialled.
“Edana? What’re you doing calling from the office at this hour?”
“Well, you did drop off a dozen home damage claim files on my desk. That’s not even my department.”
“Oh … yeah … I guess I did. What is it then?”
“They don’t even make sense,” answered Edana as her eyes darted over the various reports and photos. “The damage shown in photos aren’t always consistent with the purported events. And they’re all about doors.”
“That’s why I gave them you, you being the legal and forensic expert and all that.”
You mean they’re weird so you ditched them onto me. She didn’t say that. Instead, she said, “So I have your permission to proceed as I see fit?”
“Yes yes, if you suspect insurance fraud, then call Rory if you have to. Anything else?”
She didn’t want to call Rory. Setting aside the fact that she didn’t like him, she just didn’t like him. He tended to grin as if he was gonna rape you in your sleep and he always went home early, probably to his vintage porn magazine collection. She never understood why Gary always listened to this so-called consultant.
“Yes,” she replied, “I noticed most of these cases involved a company called Doctor Doors. I’ve seen their brochures in my mailbox lately but I thought they weren’t an enlisted repairer.”
“They’re not but they are an approved repairer and our customers are allowed to nominate them.”
• • •
The new EH-14 was an example of flawless German engineering; high-strength stainless steel honeycomb structure encased in rubberwood. And none of this cheap three-hinge setup either. Türöffnung drilled in the thick screw to secure the last of the five long hinges to the doorframe. If anyone wanted to try to smash their way through, it would be easier for them to destroy the parts around the door. Or simply break the window.
He checked the new hinges one last time before briefly studying the old wooden door leaning against the wall. There was a deep gash right in the middle. His lips twisted.
Bang. A draft had sucked the new front door shut. Türöffnung grimaced before gently laying his drill back into its case. “It’s done, Mister Cromwell. And a fine choice indeed. It’s the next best thing to a military-grade blast door. As you can see, the thing shuts just fine.”
“Yes, but can it open?” The bald homeowner in his red pyjamas chuckled as he remained sunk in his couch, a worn but glossy publication in his lap. And he always had a stupid wireless mobile phone headset in his ear.
Türöffnung stepped back and gestured invitingly to his client.
The host grinned and glided over. He grabbed the handle but then let go and pointed to the bottom of the door. “What’s that?”
“That’s the serial number.”
“I’ve never seen serial numbers on doors. And certainly not in Roman numerals.”
“My company operates differently from others.”
Mr Cromwell eyed Mr Türöffnung as the latter slipped his right hand into his pocket.
“Well?” said the door engineer, his hand still hidden.
His client, with glazed eyes, placed his hand on the handle and joggled. Click. And the door was blown open by a flurry. Cromwell hurriedly slammed it shut again and turned to see Türöffnung extract his hand from his pocket. He flinched.
But it was merely a folded piece of paper. “Here’s the invoice,” said Türöffnung, extending his hand.
Cromwell took the folded sheet but then paused and knitted his brow. “Hang on, how did you know what to charge exactly since you offered me a choice on the replacement?”
Türöffnung shoved Red Pyjamas against the sturdy door, elbowed his head, then threw him onto the tiled floor. “I didn’t.” Then he whipped EH-14 open.
The host’s eyes bulged. He expected roaring winds and perhaps a kick in the gut … except nothing came through the doorway. Nothing. It was dead quiet and dark. Unnaturally dark. No sign of streetlights. No stars. No moon. The next thing he knew, he felt an iron grip around his ankle as the repairer yanked him towards the blackness. But then he stopped to wipe his boots on the doormat.
Cromwell opened his mouth but felt his energy to scream sucked right out of his lungs… he only managed to mutter, “Please … don’t take me through that … that portal …”
“Portal? That’s not a portal, what the hell is wrong with you?” responded Türöffnung over the scuffling of his soles against the doormat. “And don’t forget that payment for the door is due in thirty days. It’s all there on the invoice.”
• • •
Doctor Doors hummed the Deutschlandlied as he dropped his captive into a chair who slumped forward and almost fell off.
Türöffnung finished humming … then raised his hand and brought it across his prisoner’s face. “Wake up.”
The wireless headset came off and hit the floor as Cromwell started, his eyes flashed open and almost tipped backwards in the chair. He noticed his captor staring down at him, then randomly peeked around. It was a room less than fifteen feet wide but deep. The walls were matte black and it was so dim he couldn’t discern the ends of the room. But what got his attention was that along the walls were lined with doors, each merely inches apart and each with a tiny light on top each lintel. They were the only source of illumination. And in the most subtle changes in contrast, he could just spot that all doors were numbered in Roman numerals.
“What the fuck is this place?” shrieked Cromwell.
“Watch your fucking language,” said Türöffnung calmly, despite the slap he had just issued. He squatted to pick up the wireless headset, inspected it briefly and then pocketed it.
“I don’t wanna die …”
Both men turned to see a sulking young fella of Asian heritage, hugging his knees to his chest and rocking erratically in a chair some twenty feet away. His dyed orangey-brown hair covered half his face.
“Please, let me go. I promise I won’t tell the police.”
“What’s wrong with him?” asked Cromwell.
“Probably watched way too much Initial D and thought he could beat me off the line,” replied Türöffnung.
“I won’t tell anyone.”
“He’s just a kid,” mumbled Red Pyjamas.
“He’s not a young goat, he’s a young man. And no one is as harmless as they seem.”
“Please … I’ll never race anyone again.”
“So why am I here?”
“I swear I’ll drive carefully.”
The German glowered at the Asian. “Oh puleez, you wouldn’t know how to drive carefully if I nail-gunned an autopilot device to your head.” Then he stared down at the balding Anglo while the Asian racing driver wannabe lifted his head and faced his captor.
“PLEASE RELEASE ME. TAKE MY CAR.”
Türöffnung waved his hand. “With its gratuitous body kit?”
“I’LL TAKE IT OFF! I’LL TAKE IT ALL OFF!”
“Besides, it’s been totalled, remember? It’s an economic write-off for sure.”
“My next car will be normal. I’ll drive normal.” Tears streamed down his half-covered face … then he stopped crying, his swollen eyes widened and he extended his arm to point his finger at the bald man in red. “You. You’re … you’re the car salesman. You recommended that car, said it would be fun to drive.” And the bawling resumed.
Mr Türöffnung slid his hand into his pocket. The sobbing stopped again. He whipped out a jay and jet-lighter. Cromwell had worked out that he was better off keeping his mouth shut.
The Doctor of Doors blew out the smoke—it was smooth stuff—then turned to the younger guest. “Alright, I’ll let you go.”
The young detainee gawped, frozen in his chair.
Türöffnung strode over to one of the doors labelled “VII” and swung it open. Warm white light was visible through the doorway but it did not flood this dark realm. Through it, couches, a television and a coffee table could be seen.
“Well, get up. This isn’t a ride.”
The young man rose and hobbled towards apparent freedom. He peered up at his abductor with his typically stern Germanic features and a joint in this mouth.
“It’s your house, isn’t it? You may have to walk awhile to get back to your wrecked piece of sheit though.”
The Asian guy looked again and blinked, then at Türöffnung, then back at the room and finally dashed through in case this half-stoned maniac changed his mind.
Türöffnung rolled his eyes, gently closed the door and turned to his other captive who now narrowed his gaze in contempt. “I have to go now. I’ll deal with you later,” said the former. And to be honest, he could use a burger and some fries.
He marched to door XI, flung it open and departed. A second later, the door swung in and he returned. “Wrong door,” he mumbled as the joint hanging out of his mouth blazed brightly. He jerked open the next one, door IX, to the sound of raging winds and disappeared.
• • •
Even the wider power poles seemed to sway in the gale. And it was technically a gale. Edana knew because it was her job. Somehow, in all the veiled machinations of insurance calculations, the wind speed mattered. It was 22:04, according to her phone which sat in the cradle near the dashboard.
“No car accidents tonight,” she muttered to herself as she motored along. All the roads seemed abandoned.
But she had spoken too soon.
She lifted her foot slightly off the accelerator as she approached two cop cars with flashing lights parked on the side. Two uniformed policemen wearing windbreakers held long flashlights, the beams illuminating a wrecked tiny black hatchback next to a half-fallen tree. As far as she could tell, there was only one set of skid marks and it appeared as if the vehicle was spearing toward a power pole when it sharply veered away. The car and tree were behind the guardrail and yet there was no damage to the barrier at all. It was as if the car had somehow skipped over it and smacked sideways into the tree.
Edana shrugged and breezed pass the scene. She wouldn’t be surprised to see the claim on her desk in a few days. At the next intersection, she made a left turn and glanced at the dozen files which drifted in the passenger seat. When her eyes shifted back onto the road, she jumped at the van cruising by her in the opposite lane. She caught a glimpse of haziness within the cabin—”What the fuck?”—the male driver was smoking and, on the side in large lettering: DOCTOR DOORS.
Without even checking the mirror, she fishtailed around and followed the van.
• • •
Edana sidled passed the vehicle and tiptoed down the driveway as a distinctive scent wafted across her face. She saw the middle-aged man unlock the shed at the back and stepped inside. When she got to the backyard, she noticed there were two other small sheds, exactly the same, all weatherboard and all painted dark grey. She scanned the entire yard and, despite the bellowing winds rocking the plant life, all was neat and tidy. The grass was short and there were half a dozen pristine vegie patches. It was more organized than her elderly Italian neighbors.
She approached the first shed but halted. Why was she even here? Why not just call Rory and let him deal with this? Oh wait, cos if you want something done, then do it yourself. And she had to see what this new company was up to. She took a deep breath and—
“Was machst du?”
Edana froze. How did he get out of the shed and snuck up behind her?
She whirled around to see this guy with greying-brown hair in a jacket towering over her.
“Vould you like a too-ur replacement?” he asked, quite politely.
“Yeah, I got your ad in my mailbox a few weeks ago.”
The man smirked. “My address wasn’t on the ad.”
She frowned. “I guess it wasn’t. Your German accent is fake?”
“Oh, you know, some people are impressed with German engineering. But now that I know you were lying, there’s no point.”
Edana shivered as the cold channelled in between the sheds blasted her back.
“Well?” said Türöffnung.
She sighed. “Fine. I’m investigating you for insurance fraud. But I haven’t called—”
The Doctor of Doors roared above the winds in laughter.
Edana just looked at him while the man kept laughing … and laughing. As she waited for this weirdo to stop, the plants and vegies wavered more frantically. They were leaning toward and away from her. The leaves of the potato plants flustered. The tomatoes reddened—Seriously, who manages to grow tomatoes in winter?—while the plant itself lashed at her. The lettuce opened up and growled. They all seemed to be laughing at her.
She held her head in her hands and screamed. She did really scream. She felt her voice box vibrate but she heard nothing … nothing but the backyard’s derisive guffaw.
In an apparent paradox, the scent of green actually woke Edana and she opened her eyes to a wooden wall lined with every type of ax: splitting ax, broad ax, hatchet, fire ax, just to name a few. Obviously, she was in one of the sheds.
The middle-aged man was seated at the bench working on something. Fuck, I’ve been captured by a Teutonic ax murderer. As she sat up on the small sofa, he kept on doing whatever he was doing. Naturally, she eyed the door. It was labelled “II”.
“Wo habben?” she slurred, then cleared her throat. “What happened?”
“You fainted, just for a few minutes,” answered Mr Türöffnung. “If you feel fine, then you can go.”
Edana just sat there, studying the axes. “I’ve got a few claims with ax damage or so the customer says.”
“And here you are with every ax available on market. You haven’t been breaking doors just to have something to repair, have you?” She rose and staggered towards the exit.
Doctor Doors spun around in his chair and frowned, a wireless headset in his hand. “Interesting you said that …”
Edana ran her fingers through her hair. “Huh?”
The German stood tall and strode to the door—”Come with me, miss.”—pulling it open with one hand and taking Edana’s arm with the other.
It was a second or two before she realized she was not in the crazy Kraut’s backyard. It seemed like a dark, wide, endless corridor with many doors on both sides. There were a few empty chairs and—
“Oh dear me,” said Edana and passed out. Again.
“Oh dear me,” whispered Mr Türöffnung.
It was an oh-dear-me situation indeed. Even his testicles retracted momentarily. Cromwell was gone. What kind of rat bastard could escape his realm? He must really be one of those. He turned to Edana who had already rolled onto her knees in a sloshy attempt to get back on her feet. He lifted her up by the arm.
Her eyes darted around. “How did we get here?”
“Through door number two in my backyard. Don’t you remember?”
Türöffnung then bolted, dragging his young visitor along, she shuffling her feet. Door after door blurred pass her and the lights appeared as small white bulbs with streaking tails. She didn’t dare let go of the strange man for she didn’t want to get lost in this place, wherever this place was.
He ripped open door XVII with way too much enthusiasm and stepped through.
Edana gasped. It was like a gauntlet of concrete apartment blocks and high above was a glass dome. Beyond it was black space with twinkling specks and a belt of floating rocks.
“Sorry, wrong door,” uttered the German, “it’s EP1-968.”
“Humans have colonized space through these doors?”
Türöffnung screwed his face. “No, don’t be silly. They colonized through space travel.”
Edana couldn’t tell whether he was being sarcastic. Whatever. They ran on.
Door XXXI: A field of cows. “Wrong.”
Door XXXVII: A pot farm. “We’ll come back later.”
Door V: An arcade of arcade games, all racing sims. “Not now.”
Door XLI: A family eating Paella at the table. They yelled at them in Spanish. “Hola. Adiós.”
Back in his space, Mr Türöffnung was a little puzzled. He was seldom like that. The young lady panted and waited. Then he took Cromwell’s wireless headset from his pocket and, clasping it, he closed his eyes.
Door XXXIX: Cromwell stood stiff in his red pyjamas on fake marble floor, surrounded by other examples of bad taste architecture. He head jerked this way and that.
“Oh, we’re back at my office,” said Edana. “After all that and I’m back in the lobby.”
Cromwell casually turned to see his kidnapper and—
Edana’s face twisted. “Rory?” Then to Türöffnung, she asked, “You know him?”
He sneered. “He’s your insurance fraud prick.”
Edana glared at both men. “He’s our insurance fraud lawyer; well, a contractor anyway.”
“Exactly,” said Doctor Doors. “They’re everywhere.”
He barely finished saying that when he launched himself at Cromwell who snarled and thrust out his arms. Türöffnung dodged the attempted strikes and unleashed his Uppercut of Justice which connected with a moderately satisfying crunch. Then he kept pounding the man. But not in some homoerotic way. Red Pyjamas collapsed to his knees and turtled as the German rained down punches, a thud sounding at each blow.
“What’re you doing?” shouted Edana, then softly, “Not that I like him or anything.”
“Who do you think has been breaking doors, making it look like I did it?” Thud, thud, thud. “Go over to that door and etch in eight in Latin.” Thud, thud, thud. Thud.
Edana raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”
“A ‘V’ followed by three ‘I’s, all uppercase,” grunted Türöffnung as he pinned his knee into the back of Cromwell. “Find a letter opener or something.”
Edana ran over to the reception desk and found just that, then frenetically scraped “VIII” into the nearest door. Crumbs of wood veneer popped off the surface. She really leaned into it to get in some clean lines. She wheeled around, about to proudly announce her completion when the crazy Teuton pushed her aside, dragging behind him a writhing Rory Cromwell.
“C’mon Leonardo, let’s go. And try to do a serif font next time.”
• • •
Back in his Passage of Doors, Mr Türöffnung put his boot into Cromwell’s gut. Because he could. The latter hissed and his arms lashed out but the attacks were parried away. He was then tossed through door XIII onto a comprehensively desolate land. Black clouds raged overhead as multiple bolts of lightning struck the barren rocky surface which quaked at every impact.
“We better get outta here,” said the weirdo German.
The door clicked shut and Edana was pouting, tapping her shoe against the hard floor, her arms crossed. “So you gonna tell me what’s going on?”
Türöffnung sighed and sat down on one of the chairs.
“Well?” said Edana, squinting her eyes, still standing with her arms tightly folded across her chest.
With eyes downcast, Doctor Doors took a joint and jet-lighter from his pocket. His hands trembled as he lit his jay. After a few hits, he launched into his story. “For generations, my family have been the custodians of doors. As you’ve noticed, we have the power to use any door to go anywhere within the universe. When my parents passed away, the sacred mission of hunting and battling the evil forces—”
The young lady let her arms drop. “I’m sorry.”
“Just kidding,” said Türöffnung with a chortle, then coughed out smoke. “Look, I haven’t hurt you so far. And Cromwell is a rat bastard.” He nodded at door IX. “Open that one.”
Edana padded toward it, eyed her host and yanked open the door while simultaneously hopping away from the frame. He nodded again before she poked out her head to take a peek.
There was a man’s scream.
She saw an Asian guy with awful orange hair, on his butt, his face completely lost its color. Next to him was an overturned chair. She instinctively slammed the door shut.
“He was driving his hatchback like a tool. You probably saw that piece of junk before you came across me. I just wanted to teach him a lesson. And nice u-turn, by the way.” Türöffnung took a puff, then his lips curled. “And how do you think Missus Loughton knew a raccoon plushie was banging her husband? I didn’t advise her to use an ax though.”
Edana took a chair and sat. “Fine, you’re on some crusade. But that doesn’t mean you should smash and bash your way through everything and everyone. Was all that necessary for Rory?”
Türöffnung smiled. “When I suspected Cromwell needed to be dealt with, I had to gain access to him. His door was the only one I axed so he would call me. I didn’t do the others. But you still don’t get it. Go open fifteen. Quietly.”
She inched open door XV and peeped. There was some punk wearing jeans and a sad nu-metal t-shirt sharpening an ax. He seemed oblivious that Cromwell was behind him, even though the latter was whispering into his ear. She couldn’t close the door fast enough.
“Now try it again.”
She did so as cautiously as before and she saw a balding figure in a suit and red tie seated on the couch. There were full-height window panes and towers of glass could be seen in the distance. A laptop and a steaming mug were on the coffee table in front of him. He spoke smoothly through his wireless headset. “Listen Gary, if you raise the interest in the calcs, then liquidate …”
She closed the door, stepped away and sat back down.
Türöffnung took one last drag and flicked away the roach. “I told you: they’re freakin’ everywhere.”
Edana sighed. “Got anymore?”
Mr Türöffnung beamed, retrieved two reefers and handed one to his guest. “You just have to accept that these things take time. Just do your best.”
The young lady nodded.
“Now,” said Doctor Doors as his jet-lighter flamed, “wanna grab some food, smoke some more and play some racing games?”