I sped the entire way to the Rourke’s place, my hands tight on the steering wheel. She’s dead, I thought. She’s dead and she thought you could save her, but you can’t. You can’t save anyone. Never could. That’s why you couldn’t make it as a cop. Had to become a private investigator. All you do is break things, look at the pieces, and figure out how they were supposed to fit together.
All you do is break things.
“Shut up,” I muttered. “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”
I didn’t even try to be stealthy as I drove up to the house with the engine roaring, the headlights bright enough for anyone to see. I left the car running as I parked in Rourke’s driveway. None of the lights were on inside the mansion and the front door was ajar, beckoning the cool February night inside.
I pulled the .45 out from under my coat and stared at it for a moment. Did I really need it? He was an ancient man, creaking with his every step like some kind of rusting machine. If I took a deep breath, I could probably blow him away like he was nothing more than a pile of dust. How could he possibly hurt me?
Hell, how could he possibly hurt Elizabeth?
I frowned, holstered the gun, reached for the flashlight I kept in my car instead. I could do this without violence. I could do this without putting a hole through an eighty-year-old man. Hell, if I had to, I’d just club him with the light.
I got out of the car and walked up to the door. “Elizabeth?” I called out. “Elizabeth, it’s Detective Carter. If you can hear me, give me a sign.” There was no response. The place was as quiet as a tomb. I went inside.
The place looked like an earthquake had hit it. All the tasteful little bits of art, the vases and paintings and sculptures, were busted, torn from their frames, knocked off their pedestals. One of the old man’s stooges must have gotten free, called him up and told him about the two brutes that had come and robbed them blind. I tried to put the story together in my head. It was like some kind of bad movie. I knew the details, but I didn’t understand the plot. Rourke must have gotten paranoid and moved the good stuff out after I’d come by posing as the exterminator, but how did Campbell know that?
I opened the door to the kitchen. No one there. I turned back to the hall. “Henry Rourke? My name’s Daniel Carter. I’m a private investigator. Your wife called me.”
No response. I went upstairs, poked my head into the art gallery, and saw that everything was gone, just like I knew it would be.
“Patrick? Benjamin?” No response. It didn’t seem like anyone was around. A knot started to form in my stomach. What the hell was going on? Where was everyone? I was going to have to go through the rooms in the house one by one it seemed like. So that’s what I did.
I searched the house for a good fifteen minutes, fumbling around in the dark with only the thin beam of the flashlight to guide me. Every room had some element of destruction to it. Henry Rourke was a man with a powerful temper, it seemed. I’d given up on calling out, trying instead to piece together what had become of everyone, praying that I wouldn’t find Elizabeth’s body, her thin neck bruised and broken, her head staved in by a heavy walking stick.
Instead, I found Henry Rourke’s body.
He was in the bedroom, half-hanging out of bed and dressed in pajamas like he’d died in the middle of getting up. I swore under my breath and bent down to examine him. It wasn’t a pretty sight. He was pale and his body was still warm, so the stiff hadn’t been dead for long. Probably less than an hour. But his face somehow wasn’t slack, like you might expect it to be. Rigor mortis hadn’t set in, so it wasn’t done up all tight either. Instead, it was like a mask, his last emotions and thoughts perfectly preserved in death.
He’d been goddamn furious.
His brow was furrowed, his lips pulled back in a snarl. His eyes were glassy and wild. One arm was stretched out, his fingers splayed like he’d been clawing at the floor. Like he’d spent his last breath desperately trying to grab something to drag down to hell with him.
I stood there for a few moments, staring and trying to make sense of it all when I realized the silence of the mansion had been broken. Sirens. The squeal cut through the night like the wail of some avenging spirit and I realized, my God, I was alone in an empty house with a dead man, a rich dead man. The place looked like it’d been ransacked, and I’d come in the middle of the night, a stranger with a flashlight.
No, not a stranger. I’d already been there once earlier in the week. For all the cops or Patrick or Benjamin knew, I’d been casing the place. The only one who knew the truth was Elizabeth, and she was the one who’d called me in the middle of the night and begged me to come and save her. Elizabeth, the spouse of one of the richest men in the city. Elizabeth, who stood to gain the world if her husband passed away suddenly. The Rourke money. The Rourke homes. The Rourke oil fields. Elizabeth, who went searching for the perfect patsy and found him.
I could hear the police at the front door, shouting for someone to answer them. I sighed, turned on the light in the bedroom, and put my hands up. Maybe they’d listen to my side of the story. But probably not.
Probably I’d have a lot of time to figure out what the hell I was going to do while I spent the rest of my days in a six by eight cell.
So! This is actually the end of “The Golden Mirror.” I’ll readily concede that it’s an abrupt, but this story got away from me as I was writing it and I realized that it was going to wind up being much longer than I originally anticipated. For now, the plan is to divide it into two chunks. I’ll revisit the universe soon and wrap up Detective Daniel Carter’s tale before too long, but I want to make sure I give the character and the setting enough time and attention (two things that have been in painfully short supply of late.) Right now the plan is to take Friday/Saturday off, attempt to recharge my batteries, and start fresh on Monday with a week or two of flash fiction before beginning something longer. So that’s what I’m going to do.
As always, thank you for reading, and be here on Monday for something weird!