The late-night knock was a fact of life in the Soviet empire -- something that could happen to any citizen for any reason or no reason. That knock could foreshadow a gruesome death or a life of misery in remote captivity and never seeing your loved ones again.
Late-night knocks do occur in our own country, but they usually are made for common criminals, who are given the full benefits of a legal system that presumes their innocence. The charges against them, and their whereabouts, are not cloaked in mystery.
Occasionally, however, a mistake is made and the wrong person is targeted, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Overzealous law enforcement officers may forget that innocent people naturally feel threatened by late-night visitors, especially those who demand entry without identifying themselves.
Dan Little of Illinois heard that late-night knock in September, on the door of the hotel room he was staying in at the Holiday Inn Express in Pembroke, N.C.
It seems that local law enforcement officers were searching for a female suspect that a hotel employee mistakenly had identified as the occupant of Little's room.
Little didn't know who the officers were or what they wanted, and the officers didn't know they had the wrong room. They broke open the door and Little pulled a gun in self-defense.
Remarkably, no one was hurt before the confusion was sorted out.
Little would seem to have a legitimate complaint against the officers who allegedly failed to identify themselves or confirm the location of the suspect being sought. Instead, he has filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court against the hotel, seeking compensatory damages between $50,000 and $75,000.
It's a mystery how Little, represented by Thomas G. Maag of Wood River, determined the value of that late-night knock, and why he targeted the hotel instead of the officers responsible.
Finally, why is something that happened in North Carolina being pursued in Madison county? How did a search for a criminal suspect become a possible search for a friendly venue?
Here's hoping the judge asks Mr. Maag.