Page 67 of Smoke in Mirrors

He crossed the room and pulled the black velvet away from the mirror. Had to set the stage.

This past-lives regression-therapy stuff worked like magic. Once a client was convinced that she had had an affair with a dashing highwayman or a medieval warrior in a previous life, it was only a short step to convincing her that the best way to get rid of stress in this life was to relive the previous sexual experience. With a trained stress counselor, of course.

He needed the sex tonight. It would relax him. Get rid of some of the tension left over from the screwup on Cliff Drive. Tomorrow he would worry about finding another way to get rid of Thomas Walker. The SOB was proving hard to kill.

Maybe it was a sign. He’d had enough experience to know when it was time to bail out of an operation. Maybe he had pushed his luck far enough in Wing Cove. Murder wasn’t his forte, anyway. He had never tried it until now and it was obvious he didn’t have a talent for the business. He was a con man, not a killer.

That thought steadied him. It was time to get out. The scam and the drugs had been profitable, but nothing lasted forever.

The phone rang. He did not pick it up.

Whoever was on the other end hung up without leaving a message. Probably a cold call.

He looked down at the old, weird, bubbled mirror and saw dozens of miniature, distorted images of himself. No two were alike. None was the real Alex Rhodes.

The mirror reflected the truth, he thought suddenly. There was no real Alex Rhodes.

An icy shudder went through him. He had been living a lie for so many years now, he no longer knew who he really was. The truth was, he could never recall a time when he had had a clear sense of himself. It was ironic. He could make others see whatever he wanted them to see, but he couldn’t see himself.

Shit. He was getting weird. Must be the stress from the incident on Cliff Drive.

He looked at the Rolex again. Where the hell was she? He needed the sex. Needed it badly. Needed those few, fleeting moments when he felt almost real. Almost human. Sex was his drug of choice.

A knock sounded on the door.

She was here.

Relief poured through him. He summoned up the magic smile, the one that said trust me, and went into the hall to open the door.

“I cancelled your appointment for this evening,” the killer said.

“This doesn’t look so good,” Thomas said. “He’s not supposed to be here.”

He had called Rhodes’s number on his cell phone a few minutes ago, checking to be sure that he was still out for the evening. There had been no answer.

Now they stood in the woods at the edge of the little clearing and studied the back of the small house. So much for the big plan to get inside and grab whatever was on Rhodes’s hard drive.

From where he stood, Thomas could just make out the weak, pulsing glow of firelight behind the crack of a curtain. No other lights were on inside as far as he could see.

“Wonder if he’s busy seducing a client in there?” Deke said.

“Where’s the client’s car? Hell, where’s his SUV, for that matter?”

“Beats me. Hidden in the trees? Maybe the client is married and he doesn’t want anyone to know she’s here.”

“What now? Go away and come back another night?”

Thomas did not move. “You know, I’d really like to find out if he’s with someone and who that someone is.”

“How do you plan to do that?”

“How about if I just walk up to the front door and knock?”

Deke looked at him. “Are you serious?”

“Why not?”

“This may be the SOB who nearly ran you off the road tonight.”

“So? He’s not going to try anything on his own front step. An accident on Cliff Drive is one thing. A body on the front porch is a little harder to explain.”

“Even harder to explain two bodies,” Deke said flatly. “I’m coming with you.”

They moved out of the trees. Thomas felt exposed in the small clearing. Deke must have had the same sensation. Without discussion, they both headed for the deeper shadows beneath the eaves of the house.

There was no light coming from behind the curtains that covered the kitchen window, but when they passed it Thomas heard sounds of activity inside. Someone was opening and closing cupboard doors with furious abandon.

Thomas wondered if Rhodes had lost electrical power and was hunting for a flashlight. Guy like that probably didn’t keep his emergency equipment in a convenient location.

He climbed the shadowed steps with Deke.

The front door stood ajar. The pulsing firelight flickering inside the opening reminded Thomas of a human heart beating.

A chill went through him. Something was very wrong.

“Oh, shit,” Deke whispered. “I don’t like this.”

“Rhodes!” Thomas shouted through the partially open door. “You in there?”

There was an instant of frozen silence. And then the sound of footsteps running heavily toward the rear of the house. Thomas heard the muffled sound of the back door opening.

Thomas took two long strides to the edge of the porch and looked around the corner of the house. He was just in time to see a dark figure silhouetted at the edge of the clearing.

The figure paused, raised one arm.

Thomas pulled back quickly, out of the line of fire. The shot crashed beneath the eaves of the house. Wood splintered in a porch post.

And then there was only silence.

“He’s gone,” Thomas said. “So much for finding out who Rhodes was entertaining tonight.”

“Thomas?”

The odd note in Deke’s voice made him turn swiftly.

“What is it?”

Deke gazed intently through the crack in the doorway. “We’ve got a problem.”

Thomas walked back to the door and pushed it open wider. From the threshold he could see through the small front hall into the firelit living room.

A figure dressed head-to-toe in black lay crumpled on the cushions in front of the low table.

Thomas slowly led the way inside and came to a halt beside the body. Blood soaked the braided rug behind Rhodes’s head. There was more blood on the front of the black silk shirt.

“Dead,” Deke said.

The antique looking glass was uncovered. Thomas could see the reflections of a hundred miniature fires blazing in the multitude of tiny convex and concave mirrors on its surface.

Small glimpses of hell.

The room was a scene of chaos and destruction. Cushions had been ripped, exposing the innards. Drawers and cupboards stood open, the contents scattered on the floor.

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