My body was moving of its own accord, crossing streets and waiting for cars and going nowhere in particular, as my mind considered this new information. The fellow that I’d left the bar with the other night, supposedly of my own accord had been a Marine. That raised more questions than in it answered. Did I know the guy? Did he drug me? Why couldn’t I remember the next day?
What did I do?
I didn’t have any answers. Hell, I didn’t have enough information. And the fact of the matter was that I wasn’t getting paid to figure out my own problems; I was getting paid to figure out if and why an eighty-year-old man would cheat on his beautiful twenty-something old wife. Probably best to take some steps towards unraveling that particular mystery before I got distracted by something else.
Like what that kind of a marriage looks like behind closed doors. Ugh.
I shook the thought from my head. Sometimes when you’re trying to learn more about a person, the best thing you can do is keep your distance. Observe from afar. See what you can learn with a pair of binoculars and a day to just watch and wait.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is knock on the front door and introduce yourself.
* * *
After a quick stop at a diner for some food and a quick trip back to my office for a change of attire, I drove to the hills. I met a guy a few years back that served at Midway. We got to trading stories over drinks, and I mentioned that I was a gumshoe and he mentioned that he ran a pest control business with a few different offices in the city, and before long we’d struck a deal. I got to use his vans and his outfits for undercover work, and in turn I sent the business his way. It worked out pretty well for both of us, and so I was dressed like one of his boys and driving in a Mickey Mouser delivery when I pulled up to the Rourke estate the next morning.
The Rourke house was huge, styled like something out of a Southern plantation with a big porch and Greek columns. It seemed like an odd choice for the West Coast, but hey, if I had that kind of me, I’d probably build my house however I damn well pleased, too. I parked my car a respectable distance back, hefted up the toolbox, and walked up towards the house. There were two figures sitting in chairs on the porch, a white man and a Negro, both in suits. They watched in silence as I came up, eying me suspiciously as I drew closer. I stopped a few feet back from the steps leading up to the porch and smiled as non-threateningly as possible. If it was visible behind the fake mustache I’d fixed to my face with spirit gum was another issue altogether, but I’d practiced and planned everything like a step in a delicate dance.
“Good morning to you, gentlemen! By any chance is the lady of the house available?”
“We don’t want whatever it is you’re selling,” the white man said. He looked like he was only a few years older than me, in his thirties maybe, with light brown hair and a strong jaw and humorless blue eyes.
“It’s a funny fellow that walks up to a strange house and asks to see a lady, don’t you think?” the Negro asked. He had light skin for a Negro, a pencil mustache and slicked and combed hair, as if he was trying to look like Cab Calloway. I guessed he was about the same age as the white man.
I looked back and forth between the two men, affixed a hurt expression to my face and spoke to both of them. “Gentlemen, you don’t even know what I’m selling, and in fact, I’m not selling anything. I’m here to provide a service.”
“And what would that be, hm?” the Negro asked.
I looked surprised and then made a big show of standing up straight and looking professional. This was all part of the dance too, of course. I didn’t want them to remember me at all, and if they did, to only remember as the mustached, simpering exterminator. “Well, gentlemen, my company recently serviced some of the other homes in this area for a rodent infestation.”
The white man snorted. “This neighborhood doesn’t get ‘rodent infestations.’” His voice was dripping with disdain, and he was looking at me like I was a piece of garbage that had blown onto his lawn. Must be a Rourke, I thought. But despite myself, I managed to keep the smile on my face.
“Oh, of course not, Sir. Of course not. This is a good neighborhood filled with respectable people, and disgusting creatures like vermin simply aren’t permitted here. I know that, you know that, everybody knows that.” I shrugged. “Only trouble is the vermin don’t know that.”
The white man grunted. “Clearly not.” The Negro leaned over and whispered something into his ear. He frowned and dismissed the man with a wave of his hand. “Whatever. You show him around, then. The longer into my day I can go without seeing Elizabeth, the better.”
I wondered at that. Who was this man that he had such a low opinion of Elizabeth? A brother? A cousin? Would a cousin be around so early in the morning? Probably a brother, then.
And then I remembered that Elizabeth was a Rourke by marriage, not by blood. She wouldn’t have had a Rourke brother. This man, this man who was probably ten years her senior, was her stepson.
“Seamus O’Flaherty, at your service.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. O’Flaherty. Name’s Benjamin. Benjamin Gilbert.” He nodded towards the Rourke son. “This here is Patrick Rourke.” He stood up for a moment and brushed the front of his suit with his hands. It was a fine suit, I noticed. Finer than any I owned, probably. “Funny. For we don’t get many Irish folks in this part of the country. You don’t have an accent, either.”
“New York born and raised, Sir. My folks are the ones from Ireland, Mr. Gilbert. Me, I’m as American as the Statue of Liberty.”
“So you’re from France?” Patrick said with a sneer.
I blinked at that, feeling like I’d just been insulted but not sure how or why. “Beg your pardon?”
Benjamin chuckled, stepped down off the porch, and put a hand on my shoulder. “Ignore Pat. He’s just having some fun is all. Come on, let me show you around the property.”