Ryan Brown carefully examined his reflection in the mirrors that lined the walls of his bedroom. Obsessed with his appearance, he never left for work without ensuring every detail was without flaw. He would start to leave, but two or three trips back to the mirrors were necessary to satisfy the compulsion that ruled his life.
His walk was short. The shop where he worked was only a half block from the small apartment he rented for years. Using his key, he opened the door to the shop that specialized in hats only. His employer, an eccentric older man, was adamant on how his store was run. Although he never ran the shop, no detail was to be overlooked. A moment of neglect by Ryan to keep the mirrors clean caused a tirade during a visit that was not only embarrassing, the threat of losing his job kept him late that evening cleaning the mirrors over and over until his obsessive compulsion left him exhausted in the early morning hours. His return home was only to change and spend the obligatory time in front of the mirror to guarantee his appearance was without flaw. He buried his seething hate; it corroded his soul and ate at his sanity.
Customers were few. The shop was not self-supporting but the owner didn’t need the revenue. His wealth was massive; the shop was a hobby and allowed tax write-offs that prevented him from giving to charities, which he loathed. On any day, only two or three customers would appear to buy the finest of products offered by the shop for men and women.
A woman entered the shop early one morning that Ryan disliked immediately. Besides the constant chatter, which he found annoying, she handled the merchandise far more than he liked. To aggravate this dislike, she constantly touched the mirrors in the shop and marveled how easy it would be to walk into one if she wasn’t paying attention.
The morning progressed without the woman making a purchase. Her annoying chatter, now accentuated by her unwillingness to leave, had Ryan aggravated to distraction. As lunch approached, and passed, he found he couldn’t concentrate. The jabber of the woman became a noise that pounded in his head; torturing him to beyond reason – until it stopped.
Ryan heard what sounded like a tapping on the shop window. Finding nobody outside the shop, he approached the small mirrored alcove that allowed customers to admire their selection before purchase. Instantly, in a blind rage, he went to admonish the customer that had, obviously, crossed all lines of decency and was tapping on the mirrors he hated so much.
She wasn’t there, although he thought he heard her muffled voice in the distance. Stepping into the alcove revealed nothing, until he saw something from the corner of his vision. Turning quickly, he again found nothing there, but the insistent tapping continued and he could now hear the woman pleading to be allowed to leave. Again, he saw something in the corner of his vision. Turning slowly, he could see her on the edge of his vision, tapping at the mirror as though she was looking in a window. When he completed his turn, she was gone. Horrified, he ran from the shop and didn’t stop until he reached his apartment.
The older of the two detectives knocked quietly, but forcefully, on the door of the landlady of Ryan’s apartment.
“We only have a few questions.” The older detective asked, after showing his badge and being shown into the small apartment.
“The first officer to arrive reported you called the police after other renters complained of a constant pounding in Mr. Brown’s apartment.”
“Yes. I knocked on the door and he wouldn’t answer. After hours of the constant pounding, I had to call the police.” She was still frightened. Recalling the night before was causing her to tremble.
“Is this the first time you had a problem with Mr. Brown?”
“Yes. He’s been here for years; always quiet; always paid his rent before it was due.”
“When was the last time you saw Mr. Brown?”
The question startled the landlady. She realized it had been a long, long time since she actually saw Ryan. In fact, she couldn’t remember the last time she had seen her renter, or had spoken to the young man that made her nervous.
“I don’t remember.”
She did remember how they found Ryan: filthy, sprawled on the floor; his outstretched foot kicking at a cabinet with a knife precariously balanced on the edge. Mumbling, and crying; one hand reaching toward the cabinet; the other outstretched, as though he was doing everything to keep it at a distance; a shard of mirror in the palm bleeding profusely.
“He will be okay?” she asked. She had a bad feeling, especially with detectives visiting her apartment.
“I’m sorry, but he died early this morning.”
Suddenly curious, she asked: “Was he ill?”
The young detective answered: “The doctors think it was a combination of blood loss and malnutrition.”
“Did he have any enemies?”
“I really don’t know. I do know that nobody ever visited and the only time I saw him leave was to go to work, or a short trip to the market. “
The older detective spoke: “When was the last time you saw him leave for work?”
She had to think for a moment. She really couldn’t say. As she thought, she realized the shop had appeared closed for a long time; maybe months.
“I don’t know. I guess I thought he was taking time off from work. It’s been a long time since the shop down the street appeared opened.”
The young detective responded: “The shop that you named on the police report last night?”
She nodded and said nothing.
The older detective rose and said: “That’s all the questions we have for now. We’d like you to unlock the apartment so we can look around.”
She stood, went to a keyboard and handed the key to the detective: “Here’s the key. I don’t want to go back to that room right now.”
Showing them out, she remarked: “It’s the first door to the right on the second floor.”
Opening the door revealed much of what was in the initial report. Now that there was a death involved, the detectives needed to make a more thorough investigation and determine if there was something more than what appeared.
The apartment was small. Coagulated blood was pooled on the floor. The cabinet doors were open and empty. Several trash bags were piled in one corner. A few empty plates were in the sink. The fixtures appeared to be covered with paint, or putty.
The rest of the apartment appeared unused. The bathroom and bedroom were neat, everything placed, yet there was a layer of dust that indicated a long time without use. Other than dust, the mirrors were unblemished and without fingerprints.
“I don’t see any sign of a struggle” were the first words from the older detective.
The younger detective responded: “The door has no sign of forced entry and the windows are locked. I didn’t find any medications in the cabinet, except for aspirin and the bottle was almost full.”
“What do you think?”
The older detective sighed: “I think we need to get back to the precinct, fill out a report and take an early lunch. Later this afternoon, we’ll see if we can find if he had any family.”
“Sounds like a plan to me. Are you buying?”
They left, stopped at the landlady’s apartment, gave her the key and handed her a card for a service that cleaned crime scenes. “That’s all we need. We appreciate your cooperation.”
As they left, the young detective pointed down the block and remarked: “That’s the shop.”
The older detective never looked. After years of dealing with dead end cases, he never wasted his time with curiosity. He was tired, retirement was only three years away and he suddenly had the urge for a Reuben sandwich, which they sold around the corner from the precinct.
“How does a Reuben sound for lunch? If we hurry, the sauerkraut will be fresh and the corned beef just sliced. “
The young detective glanced in the passenger side mirror and suddenly turned to look at the shop receding in the mirror. For a moment, he thought he saw someone standing inside the front glass. When he turned, there was nothing to see.
“If we’re finished early enough, the rye will only have been out of the oven for an hour. Damn, I can taste it now. Can’t you drive faster?”