Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Golden Mirror, Pt. 5

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.”

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The Golden Mirror, Pt. 4

We walked in the front door, and despite myself, I all but gasped. The house was huge, of course. Obviously. But there’s a difference between knowing a house is big and standing in the foyer and realizing that if you shouted, you would actually hear an echo.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Benjamin asked. There was a note of pride in his voice, and I wondered why a Negro would take pride in someone else’s home that way, like he owned it. He sure didn’t seem like a servant, dressed like a zoot suiter.

“Fancy digs, huh?” I was silent, still awestruck by everything I was seeing. Benjamin frowned. “Of course, they can’t be that much fancier, ain’t that right?”

I turned to him, grunted questioningly. He smiled at me. “Oh, you know, the other houses in the area. The ones that you serviced. For rodents.”

I stared at Benjamin for a second, blinked. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess not.” I coughed. “Of course, you know, growing up poor and Irish in new york, all of this looks like the Taj Mahal to me. There were eight of us, you know. My ma and my da and my grandma and me, and then my four older brothers.”

“Is that so?”

I nodded. “It surely is. Can you imagine that? Five boys? Ain’t that something?”

Benjamin smiled and shook his head. “I surely can’t. I was raised by just my momma. Just me and her. She worked for the Rourke family. Like a live-in maid. I grew up in this house, if you can believe that.”

I looked around, playing up the awe. “I surely can’t.”

We went into the kitchen, all stone countertops and fancy silver and an icebox big enough to keep a whole cow in. Hell, the kitchen itself was big enough to keep my whole office in, hallway and all. I made a show of poking around behind the icebox, opening up cabinets and peeking inside. Occasionally, I’d grunt or mutter something to myself, shake my head in disapproval. “What’s the story?” Benjamin finally asked.

“Well, I don’t see any signs of infestation here. That’s good. But, you know, big house like this, lots of walls shared with the outside, there’s a lot of places they could get in.” I shrugged. “I’m more than happy to take a look at the rest of the house if that’s alright with you.”

Benjamin was silent for a moment. “Let’s go check with Mr. Rourke,” he said, and then he led me back to the main hall. We walked in to find an ancient man walking down the stairs, one hand on the bannister, the other on a cane. His back was bent, his face and his hands wrinkled beyond imagining. If the man looked any more like a mummy, Lon Chaney Jr. would have been out of a job.

“Patrick!” the old man called out. “Patrick, where is my–” He stopped. Benjamin stopped moving, folded his hands in front of him like a waiter. I stopped too, smiling all the while. The old man’s eyes narrowed to slits, which did absolutely nothing to make him look any less like the kind of monster that gave me nightmares when I was growing up.

Henry Rourke, I presumed.

“What’s going on here, boy?” the old man asked.

Benjamin smiled, but there wasn’t an ounce of happiness in his eyes. If the old man could tell from as far away as he was, or if he even cared, I couldn’t say. “This man’s an exterminator, Mr. Rourke.”

“I meant, what are you doing here, boy?”

Benjamin’s smile pulled tighter across his face. “This man’s an exterminator, Mr. Rourke. There’s a rodent infestation in the neighborhood. He’s doing free inspections. I was showing him around the house.”

Henry Rourke snorted. I could see a family resemblance between him and Patrick. “You imbecile, don’t you know that this is how criminals will research a place before they rob it?”

“Oh, I’m no criminal, sir,” I said with a grin. “I’m just an exterminator.”

Rourke stared at me for a moment, then sighed and shook his head. “I’m too old to deal with this stupidity. Keep him away from anything he can slip into his pockets and then get him the hell out of my house.”

We stood in silence as Rourke finished walking down the stairs and disappeared into another wing of the house. He moved quickly for an old man, and with a steadiness that made me think the cane and the hand he had kept firmly planted on the bannister were more for his own peace of mind than something he used out of actual necessity.

The door slammed shut behind him, the noise echoing through the cavernous hall like a gunshot. Benjamin stared at the door even once it was closed, as if he could see through it somehow.

“Charming old guy,” I said when the silence got to be too much for me.

“He’s a people person.” Benjamin turned to face me, then, the warm smile long gone from his face. “Let’s take a look at the rest of the house. Why don’t we start in the art gallery. I bet there’s lots of rats in the art gallery.”

I frowned. “That sounds like exactly the kind of room Mr. Rourke wouldn’t want me in. Not that I’m going to steal anything, mind you. I’m no thief.”

“And that’s why you’re going to come into the art gallery with me! We wouldn’t want any rats chewing up the paintings, now would we?”

I shrugged. “Guess not.”

Benjamin clapped me on the back, his smile returning. “Good! Come on, then. I can show you the mirror.”


The Golden Mirror, Pt. 3

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.

Disgusting.

“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.”


The Golden Mirror, Pt. 2

Once Elizabeth was gone, I got to work planning out how I was going to approach the case. There was nothing special in a slighted dame showing up at my office and wanting me to put the tail on an unfaithful husband. Hell, cases like that probably made up the majority of my work. But I’d never had to put the tail on a man like Henry Rourke before. The man was rich beyond my wildest dreams, and if I may set aside humility for a moment, I’m quite the oneiromancer. But I wouldn’t be any kind of a detective if I couldn’t adapt and overcome. I had contacts from all walks of life. People who owed me favors. If there was anything to learn about the man, I’d find it.

And then I thought about the specifics of the situation and I frowned. The old bastard was in his eighties. Who knew if he even left his house? Oh, well. Details. There were more important things to take care of first. I put on my hat and my coat, picked up my .45. My stomach growled softly with hunger, but I ignored it. There was work to be done.

I ejected the magazine from my pistol, checked how many rounds were in it, put it back in the gun, put on the safety. Paranoid, maybe, but it was habit. Little things like that kept me alive in Okinawa, and even if it hadn’t, they drill that stuff into you until it comes as naturally as breathing.

First things first. It was time to find the son of a bitch that coldcocked me last night.

* * *

Out on the city streets, the rain was pouring down in an insistent, annoying drizzle, like a drunk with nothing to say that wouldn’t stop talking. It was appropriate since I was heading straight to Jack’s. That was the last place I remembered being before everything went dark, so I figured it was as good a place as any to start.

I walked in the door and into the smokey haze of the bar and gave a quick nod of the head to Jack. He’s a good man, a veteran of the Great War. He’s not like most folks that had fought in it, though. He’ll actually talk about. Oh, he doesn’t volunteer anything and he won’t get all weepy and start talking about his feelings; that’s not what men do. But every now and then he’ll let a story out, parsing out the wisdom in his words like he was rationing food. I remember him telling me one story about someone who served in his company that went on to become a big-game hunter. Crazy bastard got so obsessed with hunting tigers in India that he burnt a village to the ground just to kill one. Seems like a perfect metaphor for Jack’s whole generation, really. Just a bunch of men so broken that they don’t even notice when they’ve set their world on fire. All except for Jack and the men like him who were smart enough to deal with their pain head on instead of trying to hide or deny it.

Jack nodded back. I made my way over to the counter and sat down. He poured me a glass of whiskey without my asking. Jack got me. “Good to see you,” he said. I smirked at him.

“That’s all you got for me? Normally after I go on a bender and spend a day missing, you can’t wait to tell me all about how I’m your best and your worst customer.”

Jack frowned at that, his wrinkled forehead and his grey eyebrows coming together into a cartoonish mask. “A bender? What the hell are you talking about? The last time you were in here, you didn’t order no more than three drinks.”

I blinked in surprise. “What the hell am I talking about? What the hell are you talking about? I don’t remember yesterday at all! I woke up in a damn alley this morning!”

Jack chuckled. “Well, damned if that doesn’t sound like you, but you didn’t get that way here. Hell, you seemed perfectly fine when you left. You left early, even.”

I frowned. Someone must have slipped a Mickey Finn into my drink when I wasn’t paying attention. I couldn’t rightly imagine how someone would put the knockout drops into my booze without anyone noticing, but facts were facts. “When did I leave?” I asked Jack.

“About eleven o’clock. You left with this big gorilla of a man. Bigger than you even.” He laughed. “King Kong to your Fay Wray.” Jack smiled at me, amused at the look of annoyance on my face, but then the humor disappeared from his eyes. He leaned in forward and whispered in a voice so low and soft, you couldn’t have heard him unless he were whispering into your ear. “Listen, you’re not a fruit are you? Because you’re better off not trying to make up stories about–”

“I ain’t no fruit!” I said, louder than I’d intended. I look around to make sure none of the other bar patrons looked our way, but they hadn’t been paying attention. Or at least they were smart enough to pretend not to be.

“Hey, I don’t care if you are, kid. Your money’s good either way. But it’s not the kind of thing you want to get caught lying about. I knew these two guys back in K company–”

“I’m not a fruit,” I hissed. “Look, drop it. Just tell me whatever you can about the guy, will you? The son of a bitch must have doped me or something.”

Jacked folded his arms across his chest, looked down at thee counter. “Big guy, like I said. Dark hair. Flat face, but no scars or nothing.”

I nodded. “Good, keep going.”

“East coast accent. Boston, I think?” He paused for a moment, and then his face lit up. “Oh! And he had a pair of matching tattoos one his forearms. I didn’t get a good look at them, but they looked like a bird on a ball with a hook or something.”

I frowned. “Alright, Jack. Thanks a bunch.” I finished my drink and threw down a dollar. Big tip, but I was feeling generous after getting Elizabeth Rourke’s money. I would have asked Jack what he knew about the old man, but it didn’t seem to me like Henry Rourke was the kind of person to patronize Jack’s.

I walked back out into the street. The rain had let up, and there were some small puddles on the ground. I walked right through them, going over what Jack had told me in my head.

A bird, a ball, a hook.

An eagle, a globe, an anchor.

Huh. So the gorilla was a Marine.


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