Page 33 of Smoke in Mirrors

“Maybe.”

“Black velvet?” She came quickly forward to join him. “Without a picture of Elvis painted on it. This doesn’t look good, does it?”

“Looks damn weird, is how it looks.”

He reached down, grasped a fistful of black velvet and lifted it away from the table.

A circular mirror, its reflective surface darkened with age and surrounded by an elaborately worked and heavily tarnished metal frame, glittered in the shadows.

The mirror was not a single, flat plate. It was composed, instead, of what appeared at first glance to be several concentric circles of glass bubbles. Each bubble produced a tiny, slightly distorted, independent reflection. The result was a myriad of miniature fun-house images that had a disturbing effect on the eye.

“Uh oh,” Leonora said. “This is definitely strange.”

“Couldn’t have put it more pithily, myself. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“I have—in one of the books in the library at Mirror House.”

She leaned down to take a closer look. There was just enough light left in the room to reveal a small image of her face reflected in each of the bubbles. Some of the reflections made her look larger. Others made her look minuscule. An eerie feeling swept through him. It was as if there were a hundred little Leonoras trapped inside the bubbles.

Without thinking, he reached out and pulled her upright and away from the mirror so that the distorted reflections disappeared.

She was startled by his sudden movement but she did not resist.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said, lying through his teeth. “I just want to check something out.” He reached down to grasp the edge of the mirror and lifted it partway off the table. It was surprisingly heavy.

He looked at the faded number written on the back.

“It’s from the Mirror House collection. There’s an old inventory number on the reverse.” He lowered the looking glass back down onto the table. “Rhodes must have stolen it.”

Leonora watched him arrange the black velvet cloth over the mirror and table.

“Each one of those little bubbles is a tiny convex or concave mirror,” she said. “I’m no expert, but I’ve been doing a lot of heavy research lately. My guess is that it dates from the early nineteenth century. According to what I’ve read, the technology required to produce that kind of unusual mirror plate wasn’t widely available until the end of the eighteenth century. I suspect it’s very valuable.”

“Probably.” He contemplated the black velvet that covered the mirror. “The question is, why did Rhodes take it and what the hell is he doing with it?”

Leonora gave a small shudder. “Playing games with his clients?”

He could feel the hair stirring on the nape of his neck. Adrenaline pumped through him. Time to get the hell out of Dodge.

“Come on.” He grasped Leonora’s arm and hauled her toward the back door. “We’ve seen enough. Let’s get out of here.”

She offered no protest. In fact, judging by her willingness to move quickly, he got the impression that she was as eager to leave as he was.

He heard the footsteps on the front porch just as he opened the back door.

Rhodes was back from his run.

He sensed rather than saw the flutter of fear that went through Leonora. He bundled her through the open door and motioned her to head for the fog-bound trees. She whirled and disappeared quickly, almost instantly, into the fog.

Now you see her, now you don’t.

He suddenly understood why Rhodes had returned unexpectedly early from his run. The fog had grown much heavier while he and Leonora had been inside the cabin. When the last of the light vanished it would be impossible to see your hand in front of your face out here.

Rhodes’s keys jangled in the lock.

Thomas heard the front door open just as he carefully shut the back door.

Bending low he made for the cover of fog and trees.

“Over here,” Leonora whispered.

He saw movement in the shadows off to his left, reached out, groped and caught her hand. Together they plunged deeper into the damp mist. Darkness closed in around them, offering safety and a new kind of danger.

A short distance into the woods it became almost impossible to see where they were going. Getting lost or brained by a long hanging branch was not on his agenda. There were other risks inherent in this activity. In the damp, chilly muck they could wander around for hours and fall prey to hypothermia.

He drew Leonora to a halt. “Hold on. I need to get my bearings. We don’t want to get too far from the cabin. It’s our only solid reference point in this pea soup.”

At that moment a dim glow appeared in the mist behind them.

“Thank you for turning on the porch light, Rhodes,” he said softly. “Just what we needed.”

He tightened his grip on Leonora’s hand and moved toward the right. He kept the dim glow of the porch light at his shoulder as they made their way through the trees. The result was a path that described an arc with the cottage at its center.

A few minutes later they emerged onto the graveled drive that led to the road.

“Okay,” he said. “Gravel has a nice crunch to it. Sort of like breakfast cereal. As long as we’re crunching we’re headed in the right direction.”

“I’ve never seen fog this thick.”

“They’re saying in town that this is the worst spell of the stuff that anyone has seen in Wing Cove in years.”

They struck pavement a short time later. The fog seemed somewhat lighter here on the road. The SUV was where it was supposed to be, parked out of sight behind an empty summerhouse.

He glanced at the run-down cottage with its drooping front steps and boarded-up windows.

“I almost bought this place instead of the one you’re living in,” he told Leonora as he opened the door on the passenger side. “It was a real steal. Glad I picked the other one, though.”

“Me, too.” She scrambled up onto the seat. “I’m not sure I’d want to be living this close to a guy who sells unidentifiable stuff out of unlabeled bottles.”

“Location is everything in real estate.”

The thought of her having old golden-eyes as her neighbor was more disturbing to him than Thomas wanted to admit, and not just because of the unidentified powder in the blue bottles.

He got behind the wheel and checked the road. He could see the white line now. The fog had thinned out, at least for a while. They could make it back to Wing Cove.

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