Stranger in the Mirror
Mitch went down to the holding cells with the guard. He wanted to meet this woman who’d done … whatever it was … to Thomas. He needed to understand who she was. But what he found was a pale redhead, curled up in the corner of a cell she shared with three other women, sobbing. “Rose DeCourtney?” He said.
“I am Rose,” chorused two of the others, looking annoyed. Then one of them shook her head, and all four laughed nervously.
“Miss DeCourtney, I need to talk to you,” Mitch said. Rose didn’t respond. One of the other three walked over and grabbed Rose’s shoulder. “I think he means you, honey.”
Rose looked up, startled. It was the same face he’d seen in the tape of Thomas’ interview, but it was … different, somehow. “I tell you, I ain’t done nothing,” she wailed. “Ricky will be here in an hour or two to get me out of … ” and she trailed off as the one who’d just grabbed her shoulder smacked her.
“Ricky’s not going to do shit for you, bitch,” she snarled. “Ricky’s my boyfriend.”
“Hey,” Mitch said. “No rough stuff in here, okay? That was an assault, and if she presses charges I’m going to be her witness.”
“Gimme a break, okay?” said the other prisoner. “This lady’s a fucking basket case. Kept us awake half the night chanting ‘I am Rose’ and now she doesn’t even know who she is. No way can she hold it together enough to press charges.”
“Stand back from the door,” said the guard. So they stood back from the door, and the guard opened it, and they got Rose out and marched her back to the interview room.
Rose was protesting, something about the guy she’d been with not being a regular john, about Ricky showing up and bailing her out, about a dozen other things. But she hadn’t even been busted, she was just being held as a witness. She was raving. Mitch worried. If his witness had lost it, he might never learn who the killer was. If Jackson’s suspect had lost it, insanity was a good defense in court. Crap. But he had to sit her down and try, anyway.
So he sat her down and tried. But it was no good. She talked, in the first person, about the cases of everybody else who’d been in her cell, and about the cases of other people who’d been in nearby cells. But when he called her Rose, she just looked at him blankly. Once in a while, she said, “I am Rose,” but then she’d grimace and laugh about the crazy lady in the corner of the cell who’d said that over and over.
Finally, he pointed at the mirror. “Is that you?” he asked.
Rose stared into the mirror, blankly. Then she waved at it, to see if the stranger in the mirror waved back. Then she started whimpering, crying softly.
Mitch kept his hands folded; he didn’t want anything questionable on camera, while the witness was in a volatile state. “Miss DeCourtney?” he said softly.
“I don’t know who I am anymore,” she wailed. “I’m all mixed up, I shouldn’t be that lady in the mirror, but I don’t know who I should be either and this doesn’t make any sense. And I need to talk to Rose about the Clelland case, but Rose has lost it,” she said. Miserably, she added, “Rose isn’t here anymore,” at just about the same time Mitch thought it.
Mitch remembered some of the things she’d said on the tape they’d made last night. ‘We get tangled up in other people’s thoughts’, she’d said. And ‘I need to go home now, while I’m still me.’ Crap. She hadn’t gone home, and now she wasn’t her anymore. She’d gotten too tangled up in other people’s thoughts. And nobody had understood what she meant or how this was going to happen.
“Tell you what, Miss,” he said. “I’m going to get some coffee, some eggs, a cup of juice and a danish in here for you, and I’m going to leave you alone to sort things out for a little while.” And after that, we’re going to see what we can do about getting you home, he thought.
“Home?” she said. “Home is…. Oh my god, I don’t even know where I live.” And she started crying softly again. Mitch stood up and left. There was no doubting it any more. He hadn’t even said the word home, but she’d picked it up. She’d echoed his thoughts a half-dozen times in ten minutes. Obviously, she could hear people thinking. But whatever else was going on, she was totally out of it.
He got her coffee and a danish and a cup of juice and left the door of the interview room locked. There were usually hard-boiled eggs in the fridge in the break room, but there weren’t any left.
Then he went to the observation room and talked to Officer Atkins, who’d been filming the interview. “Looks like she’s gone schizoid,” he said. “Look, Mitch. I can vouch that you didn’t do anything wrong in there. But she’s raving.”
“Look,” said Mitch. “Just keep an eye on her for a little while. My partner’s coming in in a little bit with another witness, and we kind of hope she gets it together enough to compare stories.” He looked at her through the one-way glass. She looked back, making impossible eye contact through the mirror, and stuck out her tongue at him before she went back to eating.
Atkins hadn’t noticed. He shrugged. “You want my opinion, you got dreams in there, not testimony. Is this part of the Freakshow case?”
“Yeah,” Mitch said.
Atkins waited for him to say more, but he didn’t.
“You suppose something bad happened to her and she’s blocking it?”
“No,” Mitch said.
Atkins waited for him to say more, but he didn’t.
“We gonna charge her?” said Atkins.
“I don’t think so,” said Mitch. “I think we’re just gonna take her home.”
Atkins looked skeptical. “You sure she’s not homeless?” he said. “I mean, if this is an example of her, uh, mental state, I’d be surprised if…” He trailed off as he saw the look on Mitch’s face.
“Oh my fucking god,” Mitch said. “I think I finally know what happened to Joe Clelland.”
“Clelland? Wasn’t that the guy who took the dive off a roof in the Soma district a couple days ago?”
“Yep, that’s the one,” Mitch said.
Atkins waited for him to say more, but he didn’t.
A half-hour later, Jackson got there with Mike Clelland in tow.
He put Mike in another interview room and came to talk to Mitch.
“What did you get from DeCourtney?” Jackson asked.
“Not much. She’s raving and doesn’t seem to know who she is.” Mitch shook his head.
Jackson grimaced. “Crap. Faking, right?”
Mitch shook his head. “I don’t think so. But I’m no psychologist.”
“Double crap.” Jackson said. “Okay, you want to interview Clelland, or shall I do it?”
“I think you probably want to talk to him first, because when I talk to him, I’m going to tell him about DeCourtney,” Mitch said. “So we’ll go in there and you talk to him, and when you’re done, I’ll talk to him.”
“You’ve figured something out, haven’t you?” said David.
“Yeah, I think so. I think I know how and why Joe Clelland died. But it’s more newage mystical crap and you don’t wanna hear it,” said Mitch. “So you need to do the straight investigation before I charge in and mess it up with this thing.”
So, they had a plan. But it didn’t work out that way. The minute they walked in, Mike Clelland stood up and said, “Thank God, I was afraid nobody would believe me.” He was looking straight at Mitch. And then, a couple of heartbeats later he said, “Oh. We have to help Rose.”
“Just wait the fuck up!” said Jackson. “What in the hell are you talking about?”
Mike looked at him, irritated. “Rose is in the next room and she’s forgotten who she is. This guy here,” and he pointed at Mitch, “understands what’s going on. You were all set to not believe me, but he knows the truth. Joe got himself mixed up with that poor woman who the dogs were after, and he ran off the roof when they were chasing her. That would be why the footprints match. Rose tried to explain last night how this crap happens, and you saw the tape. And then they stuck her in the cell last night when she was tired and this morning she doesn’t know who she is and we have to help her. She’s not going to come out of it by herself. And stop with that ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ thing in your head, it’s annoying.”
David Jackson shook his head and sat down heavily. For a few long moments he said nothing. Finally, he broke the silence. “I hate this fucking case.” Then he looked at Mitch, and the silence dragged out uncomfortably. “If this is how weird it gets on day three, I don’t think I want to know what happens tomorrow.”
“Tough Toenails, Jackson,” snapped Mike. “You can’t be a cop if you can’t handle the truth.”
Jackson and Flanagan both glared at him, but he just glared back. Uncannily, he had achieved precisely the same level of irritation as they and precisely at the same moment.
Rose looked up fearfully from the backseat. “Where are you taking me?” It was the third or fourth time she’d asked in the last minute. She seemed constantly baffled by not having a steering wheel in front of her, as they moved along with the eastbound traffic on the bottom level of the Bay Bridge. This time, she was someone who recognized the inside of a police car. This was wrong, the cops weren’t supposed to take you for a ride. The only ones who took you for a ride were the bad ones who took people on rides they didn’t come back from. And they especially weren’t supposed to take you for rides across the Bay Bridge, because that would be leaving jurisdiction. If they were leaving jurisdiction they were up to something they didn’t want on record.
“Oakland Museum, Rose,” said Mike, sitting next to her. “Nothing to be afraid of.”
Rose stared at him. Who was this guy, and why did he call her that?
“It’s where I was planning to take Joe, if I ever found him,” Mike volunteered.
“Why are we going there?” said Rose.
“‘Cause you asked me a favor once, which you don’t remember now, and I’m going to do it for you.” Mike replied.
Rose lost track of the thread of conversation again, then leaned forward. “Officer?” Rose said in a tremulous voice, “I don’t know this man. I don’t know what he’s planning and I don’t want to go with him.”
Mitch and David glanced at each other across the front seat.
“So, what are you planning, anyway?” said Mitch.
“We’re going to go look at art, and Rose is going to remember who she is,” Mike said.
“Who?” said Rose.
“Right. How does that work?” Jackson asked.
“It just does,” Mike replied. “You’re just going to have to trust me on this until you see it.”
“Wait, this is a police car. Did I get arrested for something?” asked Rose.
So the four of them went into the Oakland Art Museum. Mitch paid for himself and Jackson, and Mike paid for himself and Rose. Rose was quieter now that they weren’t tearing past so many other people so fast in a car. She was drifting again, it seemed. She stumbled a couple of times, and seemed to be in a haze. “Uh, wait up, guys, I think… um, I know you, don’t I?” she was looking at Mike.
“Yeah,” Mike said. “You’re starting to come around. I’m the asshole, remember? And you asked me once, if you forgot who you were, I should remind you.”
“Did I say that?” said Rose. “I don’t remember…” she frowned. “I remember a lot of things but…. it’s all jumbled up bits that don’t make any sense together,” she said. “That’s wrong, I think.”
“Yes, Rose, that’s wrong.” Mike was stepping along briskly, pulling her by the arm. “I’m going to show you something down this hallway that will make it all make sense, okay?”
They were going down a hallway on the first floor, in a section full of perfume bottles and oriental jade, and Rose was starting to look distressed, increasingly agitated and confused as bits of her were torn away by the tiny shards of unmoving reality they represented, and by … something … that seemed to be driving her entire self away from her as they got closer, winnowing her thoughts and memories away.
But Mike didn’t slow down until near the exit, where the hallway opened out into a small room. Rose gasped, and pulled back. Mike gently but determinedly pulled her closer. In a huge case, about eight by ten feet, on the south edge of the room, there was a temple, or a model of one, made entirely out of jade. Rose and Mike came to a stop in front of it. Rose was transfixed, staring at it, suddenly completely still. She had forgotten to breathe, but her body, Mike knew, would remind her soon enough. It stood before them, towering six or seven feet high on its beautifully polished basswood base. The details of the roofs and the towers, and the railings, and the intricately carved chains and statues around it, were breathtaking enough simply as art, but it was the presence of the thing, the impossible made real, the sheer substance of it, that was why they were here.
Mike stepped away from Rose then, and gesturing to the two police officers, he withdrew to the entrance of the room. He whispered to them then, watching Rose. “That, officers, is what we came here for. That thing is absolute sanctuary for freaks like Rose and me.”
“How does that work?” said Mitch. He was whispering too.
“It just does, remember?” Mike looked at him, pained. “There are things in the world that are more real than everything else, and they make people like Rose and me safe. And that thing over there is the most powerful one I’ve ever found. We fill houses full of junk for protection, we make art cars so we don’t get mixed up about which driver is us and crash, we spend days picking and choosing to get things that are a little more real than the walls or the floors, but that thing… that thing is incredible. It may be the very most real thing in the world.”
“So, she’s standing next to it… ” said Mitch. “She’s safe now?”
Mike shrugged. “Safe is relative, but there’s nothing in her head that’s not her. There can’t be, that close to something so real. Right now, she’s not much of anybody, I think. But give it a little time, and she’ll be Rose again, because there’s nobody else she can possibly start to be standing next to that.”
So they watched, and they waited. After a full minute, Rose raised a hand and touched the glass case. She tilted her head; with a sudden, confused gasp, she began to breathe again. Another minute passed, and she looked around. “I am … Rose,” she said. For a moment she was at a loss to say more. “Goddess, Mike, what is this thing? It’s…” She couldn’t find a word. She wasn’t used to having to ask, wasn’t used to needing words. But all the voices, for once, were silent and Rose was all alone inside her mind. “It’s amazing.”
“It’s the Jade Pagoda,” Mike said. “They found a nine ton chunk of absolutely pure jade a few decades ago. This is what they made out of it. Fifteen centuries of master craftsmanship went into this, Rose. Some guy hired a hundred and fifty of the best jade carvers in the world to work on it for ten years. Then he donated it to the museum here in memory of his dad. If I’d ever found Joe, I wanted to bring him here until he remembered himself, like you just did. But I never found him.”
The four of them stood in its presence for a few more minutes, none wishing, just then, to say anything more.
Finally Rose broke the silence. “Thanks, Mike,” she said. “The bookstore would have worked, but this …. This is incredible.”
Mike smiled sadly, thinking of Joe. “Rose, if we leave here, are you going to be okay?”
Rose looked up. “I’m awfully tired. I …. ” She frowned. “I didn’t sleep last night, I was too busy trying to stay me. I really need to go home and sleep. But I can hold it together long enough to get home.”
“Right,” said Mike. “So, can she go home?” He asked Jackson and Flanagan.
They glanced at each other, then Mitch said, “I hate to do this, but we really do have to ask some questions first. I’ll drive you home myself, but can you give us fifteen minutes before we head out?”
Footnote: The Jade Pagoda is real. Go see it.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.