Category Archives: Detective Fiction

The Double Cross, Pt. 2

I return! Now let’s see if I can get this wrapped up be before year’s end…

Patrick Rourke sat across from me, leaning back against the plush booth of the diner. He was sitting with his hands folded on the table, an untouched mug of coffee in front of them. I sat on the other side of the booth, a mug between my own hands. I stared down into the inky black surface, imagined I could see my face staring back at me. I couldn’t of course. But it would have been a nice image, like something out of a book, or a movie. “So, which one of us is going to crack and talk first, huh?”

“I guess that would be you,” Rourke said.

“Fine, I’ll bite. Why’d you spring me? Don’t you know I murdered your old man?”

Rourke stared at me coolly. “No, you didn’t.”

“Sure I did. Cops kicked open your front door and found me in the bedroom with a gun in my hand and Rourke the Elder flat on the floor. Maybe I didn’t put a bullet in him, but they say I scared him half to death.” Despite myself, I grinned. “Then a bit more, I guess.” What the hell was wrong with me? This guy had gotten me out of prison, and here I was mocking him. What little I knew of Patrick Rourke told me he didn’t have much of a sense of humor. If I pissed him off, he’d send me right back to the cell I’d come from.

Or else kill me on the spot. He was so rich and I was so nothing that he probably wouldn’t even get in that much trouble for it. I could see the headlines now. VICIOUS KILLER SHOT DEAD BY GRIEVING SON. Something like that but with a little more punch to it.

Sure enough, Rourke leaned forward and frowned, his lips pressed together in a line so thin you’d think someone had carved it into his face. “Don’t play stupid, Detective. I know it was the bitch’s idea. But I don’t think you were in on it. I think she was playing you for a patsy, and you’ve got just enough hero in you that you charged right into it.” He leaned back, folded his hands again. “Or else you’re just an imbecile.” He paused for a moment before reaching into his jacket for a smoke. “Or more likely, it’s both.”

“You’re a real flatterer, Mr. Rourke.”

“What I am, Detective, is direct.” He took a long draw on his cigarette, exhaled, slowly. “My father was a bitter old man whom married a showgirl whore instead of dying with dignity and grace.” Rourke leaned forward and tapped his fingers forcefully against the diner tabletop. I imagined that this was the dignified and graceful equivalent of slamming one’s fist down. “That girl is so far beneath my family that it’s like something out of Dickens. A street rat. And Italian, to boot! A Catholic! Can you believe that? A Catholic in the Rourke family?”

“Isn’t ‘Rourke’ kind of an Irish name, anyway?” I asked after it became clear he expected some kind of a response from me.

His nostrils flared. For a second I thought he might reach across the table and slap me. I smiled, partially to play up the idea that I was dumber than him (which I’m not. Less educated, certainly, but not less intelligent) and partially because I was genuinely pleased to see the blue-blooded bastard’s air of rich superiority dissolve for a moment and a recognizable human emotion take its place.

“Do you hear an ‘O’ in front of it, Detective?” he said once he’d regained his composure. “Besides, there’s all the difference in the world between a good English name like Rourke and that Italian nonsense. ‘Di Campani.’ Ugh. Practically savage.” Rourke shook his head, like there was some kind of niggling insect he was trying to shoo away. Probably it was me. “This is beside the point. No more interruptions.” He cleared his throat. “That woman killed my father, and now she’s going to get my inheritance. I won’t stand for that.”

I let my eyes begin to wander around the diner. We were the only ones in our corner, and Rourke was doing a good job of keeping his voice low, but this was hardly a private setting for whatever clandestine scheme he was trying to hatch. “What exactly are you getting at, Mr. Rourke?” His eyes met mine, and I smiled that dumb, hapless smile again. “Please, fill me in. Directly.”

“I want Elizabeth removed from the picture.”

I stood up. “I’m not a hatchet man, Mr. Rourke.”

He snorted and waved dismissively at me. “Sit down, Detective. Of course you aren’t. But I don’t want to see her dead. I want to see her rotting in a prison. That will require evidence. That’s where you come in.”

“And if I don’t help you, I’m going to find myself back in a cell awaiting trial for murder, is that it?”

Rourke smiled. “Very good. You understand the gravity of your situation, and you have something motivating you beyond mere avarice.” Rourke stood up then, stepped into the aisle between the various dining tables, and put on his hat. “Benjamin will be your point of contact with me when necessary. Can’t have you meeting up with me arousing undue suspicion, don’t you think?” Rourke paused for a moment, frowned as some errant thought skittered through his head. “You remember Benjamin, don’t you? Our Negro friend? Or were you too liquored up on the job to bother learning his name? Well, no matter. Good day, Sir. Don’t disappoint.”

Rourke walked away, leaving me alone at the table, and with the bill for our coffee, the cheap bastard. But the thought of paying was far from my head, as were Rourke and Elizabeth and all the rest. Right then, I just wanted a decent meal, a warm bed, and a bottle of whiskey, and I didn’t much care what order I got them in.

The Double Cross, Pt. 1

Despite myself, I fell asleep in the pen. The weight of helping Michael O’Sullivan rob Henry Rourke and then being woken up by the old man’s’ wife, Elizabeth, and framed for his murder had proved to be too much for my poor little eyelids to handle. I fell asleep on the foul-smelling, stained bench in the holding cell, the only other individual to keep me company a dirty-skinned, ratty-haired drunk who’d pissed himself and passed out in a corner. God only knew in what order.

It wasn’t the worst place I’d ever fallen asleep or woken up in, but it was damn close. My sleep was fitful, my head full of nonsensical dreams of strangling that bitch Elizabeth, of Vincent Campbell putting a bullet in my brain, of Michael O’Sullivan turning me into ground beef with his oversized fists. Again, unpleasant, but not the worst I’d ever had.

At least no one was screaming as they burned to death.

I woke up when the February morning sun began to poke through the window at the end of the hallway. It was brighter than the dim bulbs that lit the cells, warmer. Impossible to ignore. I thought, “Christ, a decent night’s sleep on a real bed, that’s all I ask. When I was the last time I got that?” I couldn’t think of an answer, partially because I was still half-asleep and partially because I truly had no idea. That irritated me enough that I woke up the rest of the way.

I sat up on the bench and sighed. My drunk roommate was still out cold, snorting and muttering and rolling around like an old dog. It’d be funny in a way, if I wasn’t preoccupied by thoughts of spending the rest of my life behind bars for the murder of Henry Rourke. I mean, I hadn’t murdered the old man. And if nothing else, Rourke’s body didn’t have any bullet holes or anything like that. The most likely thing that could be “proved” would be that I’d busted into the house and the old man had dropped from a heart attack. But then, the district attorney could probably get playful with that. Or some of Vincent Campbell’s men, crooked cops in the pocket of a former movie star turned mobster, could play fast and loose with the evidence or with witness testimony.

I shook my head and lay back down on the bench, my arm draped over my eyes to block out the sun. “How’s one man get so screwed?” I muttered out loud.

Elizabeth Rourke. Last time I take a case from a dame that looks like that.

I fell asleep again. Sometime later I was woken up by the sound of boots echoing off the walls of the hallway. “Maybe they’re going to formally charge me with something,” I thought. I shifted my arm and opened my eyes just a sliver to look at the cop standing in front of the cell door. He was an older man, his face lined from long years on the force, his mustache flecked with gray. We said nothing to each other, and after a few moments, he pulled out a ring of keys and unlocked the door.

“Get up,” he said. “Your bail’s been posted.”

I sat up on the bench and eyed the cop suspiciously. “Posted? By who?”

The cop didn’t say another word. He just turned and left, and as he did so, another figure stepped into the room. A man in his thirties, dressed sharp as Hell in a dark overcoat, a grey suit and a grey hat. He had a hard face, strong and cold as granite. The face of old money. A face like his dead father’s.

“Hello, Detective,” Patrick Rourke said, eying me like I was some kind of insect. “Let’s talk.”

The Golden Mirror, Pt. 12

 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.

I didn’t.

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.

Or someone.

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!

The Golden Mirror, Pt. 11

I turned to Michael. “What’s going on here? Those guys were a joke.”

He laughed. “The dangers of the job may have been exaggerated some to Mr. Campbell, I suppose.” He gestured over his shoulder towards the door. “Our man’s going to be here in a couple minutes with the delivery, we’re going to load all of this crap into it. He’s going to drive off, we’re going to get the hell out of here, and you’re going to go back to sitting in your office being useless and killing yourself with a bottle.”

I let the insult slide. I was too busy opening up the cardboard boxes and peering inside. “This is all art. This aren’t any drugs here. ” I looked at Michael, the cold look on my face masking the confusion I felt. “This is all Henry Rourke’s stuff.”

Michael smirked. “That’s right. Very good, detective.”

“What interest does Vincent Campbell have in this?”

Michael laughed. “What do you think? A bunch of priceless art from all over the world? It’s worth a lot of money.” The smile that had accompanied the laugh, every bit as harsh and as insincere, widened. As it grew, so too did the coldness behind it. “Not what the junk would have been worth on the street, but still more than government spent to train and feed your ass and ship you off to go kill the Nips.”

I was silent. We stared at each other, Michael grinning at me like some kind of malevolent jester and me trying to keep my face like stone. “Who are you?”

The smile fled from his face at that question. He frowned, and for a second, it looked like he had slipped, like he was expressing something besides bitter amusement, cynical detachment. He looked… hurt? No. Disappointed. “It must nice to be able to just shut off the parts of your brain you don’t like dealing with. The memories of the things you’ve done and the lives you’ve ruined.” He shook his head. “You fucking piece of work. You fucking piece of work.”

“Whatever you’ve got to say to me, just say it.”

Outside we could hear a delivery pulling up, stopping a short distance away from the door we’d entered the warehouse through. The engine idled. I could just imagine the driver sitting impatiently inside the vehicle, his eyes darting to the windows, to the rear-view mirror and back again.

Michael sniffed, turned his back on me, picked up one of the boxes. “You don’t get it, do you? You really don’t. I didn’t have anything to say to you then, and brother, I really don’t have anything to say to you now.” He effortlessly hoisted the box onto one shoulder and used his free hand to open the door. He looked back at me, the disappointment from earlier gone. There was nothing on his face but disgust.

It took longer to pack up all of Henry Rourke’s art than it should have. The golden mirror, in particular, was obscenely heavy. We had no choice but to make the driver, a thin middle-aged man with a rat-like face and a wispy beard, help us lift the damn thing. The three guards woke up after that. They watched helpless, angry, frightened, as we robbed them. I thanked God for the handkerchief. I didn’t know if Henry Rourke had paid enough attention to me when I’d gone by his mansion to recognize me from one of their descriptions, but I didn’t want to find out.

Once it was all packed away, Michael climbed into the passenger seat of the delivery. He tossed me the keys for the car we had come in. “It’s all yours, flatfoot.”

I looked down at the keys and frowned. “What am I supposed to do with the thing?”

“Drive yourself back to the office. Hell, I don’t really care. It’s boosted, so you’ll probably want to get rid of the damn thing as quick as you can.” Michael sneered. “Good luck, Sarge.”

Sarge. The word hit me like a punch to the gut. My breath caught in my throat, and my vision went black at the edges like I was on the verge of passing out.

Michael O’Sullivan. Private O’Sullivan. Oh, Jesus.

“Don’t call me that,” I said, but the delivery was already pulling away, disappearing into the night in cloud of smoke and exhaust. I stood there, whispering my plea to the unfeeling city streets. “Don’t call me that.”

* * *

I drove the car a few blocks away from my office, wiped down the steering wheel, the door handles, the seats. I pulled the plates off of it and tucked them under my coat to toss into an alley somewhere along the way. I walked in silence, my shoulders hunched, my head hanging low. I was exhausted. I was emotionally drained. I didn’t even want a drink. All I wanted was to collapse onto my little cot and forget about the world for a while. So that’s exactly what I did.

I awoke a few hours later, still in my clothes, to the sound of the phone ringing. I groaned and fumbled for it in the darkness, picked up the receiver, put it to my ear. “Goddamnit, who is this?”

“Detective Carter!” a woman’s voice whispered. “Detective Carter, thank God you’re there! Please, I need your help!”

I blinked in confusion. The fear and urgency was plain to hear in the voice of the woman, but in my sleep-addled mind, I couldn’t understand what was happening. “Who is this?”

“It’s me! It’s Elizabeth! Detective Carter, please! Something’s wrong! I’ve never seen him so angry! I’m scared!”

I sat up on the cot, tried to rub the sleep from my eyes, to cut through the haze and be a proper detective. “Who’s angry? Elizabeth, calm down and tell me what’s going on.” I could hear noise in the background of wherever she was. Things slamming. Glass breaking. Indistinct shouting.

“It’s Henry,” she whispered, her voice somewhat calmer. “I think something’s gone wrong. Three men came to the door about an hour ago to meet with him, and he flew into a rage. Please, Detective Carter! I don’t feel safe! I–” She shrieked, and then she was silent.

“Elizabeth? Elizabeth!”

There was no answer. The line was dead. I stared at the dim outline of the phone in the darkness, and then I leaped to my feet, grabbed my coat and my .45, and ran for the door.

The Golden Mirror, Pt. 10

The man’s gaze darted between the two of us. The color drained from his face. His lip quivered, as if he were on the verge of bursting into tears.

“Please, guys, I–”

Michael jammed the barrel of the revolver into the man’s mouth and shook his head. “Don’t talk. Don’t make any noise. Don’t do anything stupid, and you might just get to go home tonight, you hear me?”

The man nodded, tears forming in the corner of his eyes. A cold lead weight sunk into the bottom of my stomach. This wasn’t fun anymore. This wasn’t a game. Bonnie and Clyde and the Dillingers weren’t heroes. They were cold-blooded killers, and if this went wrong, I’d be one too by the end of the night.

“Who else is here?” Michael asked, his voice a low whisper. He pulled the revolver back, but he still kept it trained on the man’s face.

“There’s three of us. Me, and then Tom and Harry.”

“Where are they?”

The man shook his head. “I don’t know.” Not good. I started looking around, looking for angles where they might come from or where we would be watched from.

“Guess,” Michael hissed.

“Uh, outside? I don’t know! I don’t know!”

“Where’s your piece?

“I don’t have one!”

Michael nodded in my direction. “Pat him down.”

“On your feet, pal,” I said, grabbing the man by his arm and pulling him up. After a few seconds, I announced, “He’s clean,” and drew my gun again.

“Good. I don’t like liars.” Michael grabbed the man, pulled him away and back towards the crates. “Where’s the new stuff?”

“I don’t—”

“Listen. I hate liars. You get me? I. Hate. Them.”

The man gulped, pointed weakly at some cardboard boxes. “I-i-it’s all in there.”

Michael glanced at the boxes and snorted. “No, it ain’t. Where’s the big one?”

Michael didn’t even say anything at that point. After a few seconds, the fat man just mumbled that it was in the back behind the crates, whatever it was.

“There’s a good boy. Now, get on the ground on your stomach and put your hands behind your back.” The fat man did so as quickly as his girth would allow. Michael pulled a length of rope out of his coat and tied the man’s hands up. Then he dragged him up from the floor and pushed him over towards the door. He opened it just the tiniest bit and whispered into the man’s ears. “Now, call out to your friends. Don’t sound scared. We don’t want them to get suspicious.”

The man opened his mouth, closed it, ran his tongue over his lips, and called it in what I guess could pass off as excitement if you were bored and irritated because you were stuck on guard duty. “Guys! Guys, come here! You got to see this! Guys!”

I could hear an exasperated sigh from somewhere off in the darkness. “Yeah, yeah,” someone said. “We’re on our way,” called out another voice.

“Good work, boyo.” There was a heavy thunk, like someone tapping their fist on a melon, and then the thud of a body hitting the concrete floor of the warehouse. I glanced over to see Michael bouncing from one foot to the other. The fat man was unconscious and bleeding about ten feet away from the door, like a discarded toy. “Get ready, flatfoot. We want to do this as quiet as we can.”

We stood on either side of the doorway, backs flattened against the wall. Michael had his revolver out, fingers wrapped around the barrel so he could swing the thing and bludgeon these two unlucky bastards with the grip. Well, let him use brute force. I’d settle for grabbing one of them and sticking my .45 in his face.

Two men walked in, missing us completely as they stepped into the room. “Alright, Rich! What’s so important? What have you–”

Another meaty thunk. I grabbed the one closest to me by the coat, intending to spin him around. Instead I threw him face first into the brick wall, and he dropped. I stared dumbfounded at the motionless body. “Nice work, flatfoot,” Michael said behind me, but I paid him no mind. “Our man’s going to be here in ten minutes with a delivery, so let’s get these jokers tied up and get the boxes ready to load. Once everything’s in the Ford, we’re going to part ways.”

We tied up the three men, and I found that the other two, Tom and Harry, were just as unimpressive as the fat one. One of them was an older fellow, strong once, perhaps, but starting to age and slowly wither. The other was a kid, not even old enough to be rid of his gangly limbs and his pimples. Definitely not the kind of muscle I would want guarding my stash of illegally gotten goods.

“Hey, Michael,” I said. “Who the hell are these guys?” When I didn’t get a response, I called out a little bit louder. “Michael?”

“Over here, flatfoot! Keep it down!”

I followed the sound of his voice, winding through the wooden crates that seemed so much like sentries watching our every move. Michael was standing in front of something nearly as big and as wide as he was , but covered with a drop cloth. Michael had pulled his handkerchief down so it rested around his neck, and he gave me a grin. And then he pulled the drop cloth from the thing, and I gasped. “Ain’t that something?” he asked.

It was. It was ornate and garish and beautiful, like something out of a fairy tale.

Henry Rourke’s golden mirror.

The Golden Mirror, Pt. 9

We rode in silence to the warehouse, Michael driving and me sitting in the passenger shifting uncomfortably and wishing I hadn’t stuffed my coat full of guns and ammo. It was fine when I was standing up, if a bit heavy, but when I was sitting down I had metal jabbing me all over my ribs.

“Quit your squirming,” Michael growled. “You’re making me nervous.”

“You’ll forgive me if I’m a little nervous myself. You know, what with the getting forced to be part of a smash-and-grab operation.”

Michael grunted but said nothing. I stared off into space, my mind wandering. “What the hell are we grabbing, anyway?”

He turned his eyes from the road and smirked at me. “Ain’t you supposed to be smarter than to ask questions like that, flatfoot?”

I sighed. “Guess not. I tell you, if I were that smart, I would have figured out how to put your boss away for good. Instead, here I am helping him and waiting for a bullet between the eyes for my trouble.” I shook my head. “I got that junk off the streets, and now I’m boosting more for the son of a bitch.”

Michael chuckled at that. “Is that what you think we’re doing?”

I shrugged. “Isn’t it?”

And he just chuckled again. I frowned. The man was unpleasant, unpredictable. I couldn’t get inside his head.

Or rather, I could, and what I found there didn’t make any sense. He seemed to have no love for anything. Oh, he followed his boss’s orders, but he didn’t seem to respect him. He didn’t like me, but I had no relation to him. He didn’t talk about drink, he didn’t talk about money, he didn’t talk about women. But he didn’t seem dumb. Uncomplicated maybe, but not dumb. So what was it? What drove this man? What led him to a life as an enforcer for a mob boss?

I shook my head. It wasn’t worth thinking about. The way I looked at it, this could be my last night alive, and there were better things to occupy my thoughts than the inner workings of some irate giant from the Emerald Isle.

A little while later, we pulled up in front of a squat, ugly building with a chain-link fence around it set on a block full of ugly, squat buildings just like it. Michael drove past the gate and parked in a dark place on the street, far from any of the street lights. “You got a piece?” he asked, pulling his own out from under his coat, opening the cylinder to check the rounds in it, shutting it again.

“I’ve got three.”

He looked at me with disbelief. It was the first emotion I’d ever seen on his face other than cynical amusement. “Christ, you weren’t joking when you said you were prepared, were you?”

I shot Michael a look of disbelief back. “Why would I ever joke about that?”

Michael laughed, an actual laugh and not one of his phlegmy, unsettling chuckles. “Fair enough.” He took a deep breath, reached into his coat, and pulled out two dark blue handkerchiefs. He took a glance at his watch and gave it a quick nod. “Put this on and let’s go.”

I tied the handkerchief around my face and tucked the edge down into the front of my shirt. I flipped the safety off on my .45, checked the chamber, and we got out of the car.

Michael moved with a surprising speed and stealthiness for someone his size. We darted from shadow to shadow, staying out of the light. As we crawled through a hole in the fence, I realized that I wasn’t frightened.

I was excited.

I was Clyde Barrow on the run from the law. I was John Dillinger getting ready to knock over a bank. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but how bad would it be if I did? These were criminals guarding drugs. Just one less blight gone from the face of the earth, right?

Michael turned to me and put a single finger to his lips. We crept up to the side of the building and around the back, where Michael opened a single door and entered. I sniffed at that even as I followed him. It was like he knew that it was going to be open, but how could that be?

The inside of the warehouse was dimly lit and mostly empty. There were stacks of crates stretching to the ceiling, like ancient statues standing guard over a forgotten tomb. The place was like a maze. It was like the caves in Okinawa. There could be someone hiding around any blind corner, and we wouldn’t know until they jumped out and shoved a rifle in our face. My heart was pounding. I tightened my grip on the .45. I took a deep breath as quietly as I could manage and shut my eyes. Don’t shake, I thought. Don’t shake.

Michael elbowed me in the ribs. I nearly shot him. When I opened my eyes, I saw him glaring at me, a single finger over his handkerchief-covered lips.

I nearly shot him then, too. But I stopped myself.

We crept around a few more pillars of boxes, and saw a man in a suit napping in a metal chair. He was heavyset, with a round face and a soft look to him. He had a snore that would have put Curly Howard to shame.

I frowned. This man was a joke. Hardly the kind of muscle one would expect to find guarding a stash of junk. Michael nodded towards the man and began walking towards him. I followed as we crept up on the man, and before I knew it we were standing before him, guns drawn.

And then Michael flicked his nose.

The man snorted and flailed in his seat. “Goddamnit, Harry, that’s not funny!” He blinked his eyes like a baby just waking up. And then he saw us, even if his brain couldn’t quite piece together what he was actually seeing. “Tom? Harry?”

Michael leveled his revolver in the fat man’s face, and I could just picture the cruel sneer behind the handkerchief. “Nope.”

The Golden Mirror, Pt. 8

I frowned, holstered the revolver, walked to open the door. The light from the hallway poured into my room, and Elizabeth Rourke stood there with her dark hair and her pretty face and her pissed off expression. I braced my weight against the door, poked my head around the corner. She was alone. “Yeah, alright. Come in.”

She stepped inside, looked me up and down. “Rough night?” I didn’t even need to check to see that my clothes were dirty and disheveled, my face grimy with dust and sweat.

“Occupational hazard.”

Elizabeth turned her attention to the rest of the office, including the pill bottle and the whiskey on my desk. “I do hope, Detective Carter, that you haven’t been sitting around medicating yourself on my dime.”

I took a deep breath. “Of course not, Mrs. Rourke. You simply caught me in the middle of my morning routine.”

If her face had been humorless before, it was absolutely sour at that. I’d seen nuns armed with rulers that were less intimidating. “Detective, it is one in the afternoon.”

I stared at her in silence for a moment before glancing down at my wristwatch. “So it is.”

I looked up just in time to catch a small hint of a smile on her face. More of a smirk, really, but it quickly collapsed into a frown. She was going on about me being irresponsible and wasting her time and her money and so on, but I couldn’t focus. My mind locked onto that one seemingly insignificant detail; what had she smiled at? Did I see that at all, or was it my imagination.

“Do you understand my concern, Detective?”

I nodded, having no idea what she’d just said and not missing a beat. “Of course, Mrs. Rourke. Of course.”

She stared at me for a moment in silence, her arms crossed and that sour look on her face, and then something I never thought I’d see happened. Her lower lip began to tremble. She crossed her arms tighter, as if trying to shield herself, and then she took a single gasping breath and began to sob. Her hands went to cover her face, and I stood there completely shocked. What the hell had she been going on about that I hadn’t paid attention to?

“Mrs. Rourke, I–”

She ran forward and her threw her arms around me, buried her head against my shoulder. “Oh, Daniel, I’m just so scared! I’ve never seen him act like this before! I’m afraid!” Not knowing what else to do, I patted her gently on her back.

She sniffled and went on. “He’s dangerous, Daniel. It sounds crazy, but I swear he’s dangerous. I don’t feel safe at home.” She looked up at me, her eyes wet and wounded. She couldn’t have been any older than I was, but she looked so young and helpless. I wanted to protect her.

From what, I had no damn idea.

“It’ll be alright, Mrs. Rourke. You don’t need to be afraid.”

She sniffed again, but she seemed to be regaining some measure of control over herself. “You mean that? If I… Can I come to you if I need to?”

“Of course.” I smiled weakly, trying to cheer her up. “You’re paying for my services after all, right?”

Despite herself she laughed a little at that. “You’re terrible, you know that?” She gently pushed away from me and readjusted her outfit, reached into her purse and pulled out a handkerchief to dab at her eyes. With that she left, and I was alone once more with my thoughts and a bottle of whiskey.

* * *

Michael came for me the next day.

He walked into my office without knocking and without any warning at eight o’clock that night. I was in, of course. I hadn’t left except to get food and to call in a few favors to get supplies.

As a kid, I grew up hearing stories of Bonnie and Clyde, of the Dillinger Gang. Two things always stuck with me about those stories. First, the bad guys always get it in the end. Second, the smart bad guys didn’t get it for a long time, because they were prepared. And that meant lots of guns.

Okay, so maybe that’s three things. Point is, when Michael’s inhuman frame filled my doorway and he growled at me, “You ready, flatfoot?” there was no fear or hesitation. I had on my hat and my overcoat, and tucked into my overcoat was my .45, enough magazines to sink a ship, a Hi-Power, more magazines for that, and a sawed-off shotgun in case things went completely south. I was weighed down, but I wasn’t taking any chances. Everything had the serial number filed off and the tags removed, even the coat, and if I had to I could drop it all run.

Hell, if I had to, maybe I’d put a bullet in Michael’s skull and let him take the heat.

“Flatfoot! Are you ready, or what?”

Despite myself, a small smile crept across my face. I took one last swig of my whiskey, and then I stood up, still smiling. Michael arched an eyebrow at that. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m prepared.”

The Golden Mirror, Pt. 7

Just a heads-up, this will be the last post I have set to automatically promote on twitter and facebook. I’ll still update on those feeds when I begin a new story or have some important news to disburse, but mere installments of stories will no longer be clogging your social networks. Expect to see more jokes and one-liners in their stead, though.

Campbell explained the plan to me slowly and simply. He had it from a reliable source that some goods of particularly high value had recently been relocated to a small warehouse in the heart of a city. Said goods would be worth quite a bit of money to the right buyer, and I was going to liberate them as penance for helping the city’s vice squad (those that weren’t in on the action, anyway,) break up the junk smuggling and distributing Campbell had masterminded. And if I didn’t, Campbell would kill me.

It was simple, really.

They threw the hood back over my head and drove me back towards my office We rode in silence for a good twenty minutes before we fina.lly came to a lingering stop.

Someone struck me hard across the face. I grunted in pain. Campbell chuckled. “Good, I got your attention. Alright. We’ll be back to pick you up tomorrow night. You go to the cops, we kill you. You try to skip town, we find you and kill you. You try anything funny while you’re securing the goods, and Michael kills you there. You understand me.”

“Yeah,” I said, the hood muffling and distorting my voice. “You’re going to kill me. Got it.”

Campbell chuckled. He patted me on the cheek through the hood. Forcefully, but not nearly as vicious as the slap had been. “Believe me, I’d love to, but I won’t so long as you do your damn job like you’re supposed to. You won’t die unless you fuck up.

“That said, I fully expect you to fuck up. Michael?”

A car door opened and shut. A few seconds later, another car door opened, and the hood was yanked from my head. Michael was standing before me, smiling like a shark. A sharp, mechanical click filled the air, and I looked down to see a switchblade waiting in the brute’s hands. His grin grew wider, and he reached forward and twisted me around painfully. There was the sensation of something tugging at my wrists, and then my hands were free. Before I could react, the gorilla pulled me out of the car and tossed me into the street.

“Be seeing you, flatfoot!” he called out after me. I didn’t even bother getting up. I just laid there for a moment taking it all in. I’d spent months of my life working to get to the bottom of the junk ring that’d been plaguing this city ever since the war had ended. I’d been proud of my work, even if the vice squad got all the credit, and now I was going to be helping the man who’d been behind it all to get more drugs. Here I was, metaphorically and literally face down in the trash and the filth of the city streets again.

What a week. And it wasn’t even halfway over.

* * *

I slept in my office that night and awoke the next morning to a thousand whispers of pain from my body. Thankfully, I keep my office stocked with the proper treatment for a rough morning. After popping some aspirin in my mouth and chasing the little white pills with a big swig of brown liquor, I just sat there for a while, rubbing my temples and weighing my options.

I believed Campbell when he told me that if I tried to run or go to the police he’d off me. He probably had someone sitting outside my office, just waiting to tail me and put a bullet in my back if I tried anything. Maybe even a cop. He said he had men on the inside, after all. That probably meant everything from the boys walking the beat to the men who did nothing but sit behind desks all day. I didn’t see any option but to go along with Campbell’s scheme and hope for the best. Or at least hope that I came up with something better before he came calling again.

Someone pounded at the front door. I jumped in my seat, scrambled through my desk to pull out the .357 revolver I kept there. I trained it on the door and prayed to God it was loaded. There were no more knocks. No more noise at all. I stared at the door, my temples pounding, and I couldn’t tell if it was the whiskey, the beating I’d taken the day before, or my own fear.

“Who’s there?” I called out.

A muffled voice answered me. I cocked the hammer on the revolver. “Who?”

“It’s Elizabeth!”

I blinked. “Who?”

“The woman paying your salary! Open this damn door, Carter!”

The Golden Mirror, Pt. 6

The man smiled. He was handsome, like a movie star, all dark hair and blue eyes and just a hint of wrinkles. A strong jaw and flawless teeth. Even though I knew I was helpless and even though I knew this man would slit my throat or put a bullet through my head just as soon as look at me, all I could think was, “My God, he looks just like a movie star.”

But then, he was a movie star. Or at least he used to be.

His smile became a grin. “Do me a favor and tell me who I am. I always love it when fans recognize me.”

I swallowed. I always figured I’d meet a bad end, even once I’d survived Japan in one piece, but I never thought I’d wind up dead in a warehouse on the edge of town, left for the rats to gnaw on and some bums to stumble across one night. But still, nothing to be done about it. “You’re Vincent Campbell.”

Campbell nodded, still grinning. “That’s right. And do you know who you are?”

I said nothing.

Campbell just smiled and kept nodding. He rolled his eyes, took a deep breath, exhaled. And then he lunged across the table, grabbed me by my shirt, and pulled me over until his face was just inches from my own. His mouth twisted into a snarl. “You’re the dumb son of a bitch that busted up my junk ring!” He shoved me and I toppled over backwards, my hands still bound behind me. I didn’t try to move, though. There was no where to go and no way to fight back. All I could do was keep my face as stony as possible and try and face my death with a stiff upper lip.

Campbell walked over to where I lay on the ground and stepped on my throat. My stiff upper lap vanished instantly as I gasped for air and grunted in pain. “Do you have any idea how much fucking money you cost me? Oh, the drugs were cheap Army surplus shit I had smuggled back stateside, but do you know how many people I had to pay to look the other way? How many cops and judges and politicians and lowlifes?” He twisted his foot and pushed down harder on my neck. My vision started to go black at the edges, and then he stepped away from me and gave a quick nod of the head to one of his men behind me that I could barely make out. “Michael. Pick him up.”

The man Campbell had addressed stepped forward. He was huge, six and a half feet tall with a smashed, ugly face that sat underneath a shock of thin red hair. He reached down with arms like logs, and dragged me to my feet. I shook my head, like I could will myself to shake off the effects of someone doing a tap routine on my neck, and that’s when I saw it.

On both of his forearms were large, dark tattoos of an eagle, a globe, and an anchor. The Marine Corps emblem.

I looked up into the face of this brute and held his eyes. “Hello, Michael.”

He just grinned, a cruel animal sneer on his face. “Detective.”

Michael turned me to face Campbell, and I saw that the man’s hair had just the slightest hint of grey. His days of being an icon were ending, if not over, I supposed. Maybe that’s how he got into organized crime. Maybe some mob boss had been the first to give him his break. It didn’t matter now, if it ever really did.

“You cost me a lot of money,” he said in a low voice, his head shaking slowly from side to side like a father chastising a child. “A lot of money.” But then his cold mask broke and he was the movie star again, his smile easy, his eyes warm and friendly. “But that’s okay. I forgive you. We all make mistakes. And besides that, you’re going to help me get some of it back.” He broke into a grin, and he clapped me on the shoulder.

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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