We walked up the stairs and to the opposite side of the hall from the doorway Rourke had come through. “In here,” Benjamin said, as he pushed the door open and held it, beckoning me to enter. I stepped through and gasped.
The room was lit like a museum exhibit, with lights on rails suspended from the ceiling. There were marble statues, more paintings than I’d ever seen in my life, antique vases. And at the center of it all, like something out of a fairytale, was a mirror. It was a ridiculous, ostentatious thing, as tall as I was, its frame all gold leaf and jewels and arabesques. It made me think of stories I’d heard about the Germans hiding priceless art in caves all across Europe. This seemed like exactly the kind of thing some Nazi officer would have in his quarters as a conversation piece. “Oh, zis? Vy yes, it is an original! Goot eye!”
“Now ain’t that something?” Benjamin asked. I just nodded.
“What do you figure something like that is worth?”
Benjamin frowned, his face contorting past distaste and into a mask of anger. “I can’t really say I know. I asked the old man once, and all he said to me was, ‘More than you and your momma and her parents and their parents’ parents, boy!’”
I winced at that. I’d known Negros in the service who were good men and white boys who were right sons of bitches. Rubbing the history of one’s race in their nose was unacceptably distasteful to me, all things considered. I glanced over at Benjamin, the anger and the hurt plain on his face. There wasn’t anything I could say to him, so I didn’t even try. After a few moments of him just standing there in silence, I began moving around the searching for any signs of rats.
We didn’t talk much after that. I just made the rounds of the property. I didn’t see Henry Rourke again and I didn’t see Elizabeth at all that day. When I went outside, Patrick Rourke was sitting just like I’d left him, drinking something tall and cold-looking in the morning light, eying me like a farmer looking at a stray dog he can’t decide whether or not he wants to shoot.
* * *
Hours passed. I dropped off the delivery and the uniform at the Mickey Mouser office, and then went to Jack’s to collect my thoughts over some bourbon. It was dark by the time I got back to my office. I keep a cot folded away behind a bookshelf so I can sleep in the office on nights when I don’t feel like going home to my apartment.
Most nights I don’t.
I opened the door to my office and stepped inside, fumbling for the light switch. After a few seconds, I found it and flicked it.
I shut the door and flicked it again. Still nothing. I frowned and muttered a curse against the darkness.
And then someone slammed my head into the wall and bright lights like fireworks burst behind my eyes.
I swayed on my feet, and found myself pushed flat against the wall. I tried to kick my way free, to push back, but my attacker was too strong. Something hard jabbed me in my lower back, once, twice. I heard the heavy click of a hammer being cocked and a thick chuckle behind me.
“Oh, I been waiting for this flatfoot,” a deep voice growled into my ear. “You got no idea how long I been waiting for you to come in that door.”
“Whatever you’re poking me with, you’re way too happy to see me,” I mumbled.
There was a moment of silence as my words hung in the air. And then the voice growled and slammed my head into the wall again, and the world went black.
* * *
I came to with a heavy cloth bag over my head and my hands tied behind my back. The heavy rumble of a car engine filled the air. The car stopped and turned frequently, so I knew we were still within the city itself. I tried to keep track of the turns we were making to give myself a sense of the direction we were driving in, but it was useless. They were coming too quickly, and I had no idea how long I’d been out anyway.
An eternity passed with nothing but the sound of the car and my own breathing echoed back to me to keep me company. And then we stopped and I heard the door open, the sound of footsteps, the door next to me opening, and someone dragged me out of the car and gave me a hard shove. I barely kept my footing.
“Walk,” the deep voice from back at my office growled. There was only the one person, then.
I took just a few hesitant steps forward, trying as best as I could to make sure I wasn’t walking to my doom. I could hear the sound of cars off in the distance, so I didn’t think I was about to walk into a busy street. I didn’t hear any of the sounds of the port, so I figured I wasn’t about to take a quick swim in the ocean. So I just kept walking.
Gradually, I became aware of the world going brighter behind the cloth hood over my head. My footsteps started echoing, the footsteps of the man behind me serving as a lazy counterpoint to my own staccato. I’d walked into a warehouse.
“Please!” a man called out. “Someone show our guest to his seat before he walks into something.”
Two sets of hands grabbed me almost instantly, leading me by my shoulders and forcibly pushing me into a chair. They stayed on me, pushing down to make sure I couldn’t get up.
“Can I get you anything detective? A drink? A cigarette?” asked the man. There was a calmness to his voice, a smugness. The voice itself was familiar, like I’d heard it once before and promptly forgot about it.
“I don’t suppose you’ll untie me and let me go.”
The man chuckled. “I’m afraid not, no.”
“Then I’m fine, thanks.”
“Well, let’s skip straight to the introductions then. Gentlemen.”
One of the goons holding me down ripped the hood off of my head. I grunted and tried to turn away from the bright light, but it was no use. The man went on as I squirmed uncomfortably. “I know who you are, of course. Yes, I know you very well, detective. And perhaps you even know me.”
I forced my eyes open and squinted. A dark and blurry figure sat across from me, hands folded on top of a cheap wooden table. I blinked my eyes until finally I could make out the details of the world again. And then I realized who was sitting across the table from me.
My tongue went limp and useless in my mouth, like a piece of uncooked meat.
“Yeah,” I croaked. “Yeah, I know who you are.”