Page 32 of Smoke in Mirrors

“Good grief. You planned this, didn’t you?”

“I never do anything without a plan. I’m sort of obsessive-compulsive that way.”

He mounted the three steps to the back door and went to work.

It took less than thirty seconds to pop the lock.

“Wow,” Leonora whispered. “Where did you learn to do that?”

“I’m into remodeling, remember? You install and repair enough locks over the years, you learn how they work.”

He pulled on his gloves and opened the door cautiously. He found himself gazing into a small room. A trash can loomed in the shadows. A pair of dirty boots sat on the floor. The shelves that climbed one wall held the usual assortment of odds and ends you expected to see in a storage room: A flashlight. Some batteries. A garden hose. Kitchen supplies.

A bag of golf clubs stood propped in the corner.

Behind him Leonora came to stand in the doorway. She glanced back over her shoulder and then followed him into the storage room.

“Don’t touch anything,” he ordered.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got gloves on, too, see?” She held up one sheathed hand.

“We don’t want to disturb anything. No sense making him suspicious.”

He eased the door closed with a gloved hand and went past her into a narrow hall that connected the bath and bedroom to the front room and kitchen. He halted to give his eyes time to adjust to the gloom.

“Watch your step,” he said. “It really is dark in here with those shades down.”

“What are we looking for?”

“How should I know?” He went down the hall toward the bedroom. “I’ve never done this before.”

“But it was your idea. I thought you had a clear objective.”

He ignored that to open a closet. An array of small vials and bottles were displayed on the shelves.

“Take a look at this,” he said.

She came to stand beside him. “The ingredients of his nutritional supplement, probably.”

He picked up one of the bottles. “Think he’d miss any?”

“Are you serious?” she asked sharply.

“I’ll just take a little pinch from a couple of the bottles. Rhodes will never notice. Think of it as a random sample. Consumer quality-control testing.”

“What are you going to put your samples into?”

He went back into the small storage room and helped himself to some plastic bags. “These should do the trick.”

He opened three of the little vials and dumped a tiny amount of the contents of each into three bags. He sealed the bags and closed the cupboard.

“Let’s see what else we can find.” He led the way into the bedroom.

The small room looked surprisingly normal. A wooden dresser, bed and chair constituted the extent of the furnishings.

He opened the closet door and confronted a sea of black. An array of black shirts and black trousers and jeans hung on the rod. Several pairs of black boots and black loafers were neatly lined up on the floor. A cluster of black-on-black ties were draped over a tie rack.

“You notice there’s a real touch of the theatrical about this guy?” he said. “The phony yellow eyes, the black clothes. It’s like Rhodes is acting a part. Kind of surprised to see he doesn’t have any mirrors over the bed.”

“Please.” She gave him an enigmatic glance. “Are you so biased against Alex because he dated Meredith for a while after you split with her?”

“That has nothing to do with it.”

It was the truth, as far as it went. But not the full story.

He had to admit that Alex Rhodes hadn’t even been on his radar screen until this afternoon when he had stood on the sidewalk outside of Pitney’s Hardware & Plumbing Supply watching the guy escort Leonora into the coffeehouse. At that point a deep and abiding distrust of the man had flashed through him.

But he didn’t think Leonora would understand. Hell, he wasn’t sure he understood his reaction himself, although he had a sneaking suspicion that he was way too old and much too jaded for this kind of elemental, hormone-driven stuff.

He closed the closet and opened the nightstand. “Well, now, what do you know?”

She looked at him across the width of the bed. “What’s in there?”

“A large, industrial-size box of condoms. Which suggests that Rhodes may indeed be sleeping with some of his clients.”

Judging from the fact that the box was half empty it was also a good bet that Rhodes’s sex life was a lot more interesting than his own had been of late. But that was probably not a very professional thought for an amateur detective to be thinking.

Leonora came to stand beside him. “My goodness. He seems to have gone through quite a few of them. Maybe it’s all that running.”

He slammed the drawer shut. “I told you, running is bad for the knees.”

“I know, but he probably doesn’t use his knees for this sort of thing.”

“If that’s true, the man lacks imagination.”

He opened a dresser and saw stacks of black T-shirts and black briefs. He closed the drawer and opened the next one.

Black socks.

“You know, it would be nice to turn up some banking or financial records but that’s probably not real likely.” He closed the last drawer and stood looking around the room. “Rhodes strikes me as the cautious type. Doubt if he’d leave anything useful lying around.”

“Now what?”

“You take the bathroom. Check for prescriptions or anything that looks interesting.” He went out into the hall. “I’ll do the front room.”

“Right.” She disappeared around the corner.

He wandered into the shadowed living room. It appeared unremarkable at first glance. The sofa was covered in a subdued print. There was a circular braided rug on the floor. A laptop sat, closed, on a desk.

He looked longingly at the computer, but he didn’t dare swipe it and, unlike Deke, he didn’t have the skills to get past whatever personal security Rhodes used.

He turned his attention to the long, low table positioned on the rug instead.

There was something odd about it.

He went closer and saw that it was draped in black velvet. He could see that there was an object under the velvet.

The whisper of unease that drifted through him was as inexplicable and primordial as the feeling of sexual possessiveness he had experienced when he walked into the coffeehouse and found Rhodes trying to charm Leonora. Not quite civilized.

“Nothing unusual in the bathroom,” Leonora said behind him. “Find anything out here?”