Mason needed Toby and fast. Once he reached Levine’s place, he needed to be both surreptitious and quick about his intentions, and that meant that he had to have an idea about the layout of the house and any possible obstacles.
Rhys had locked himself in that room with the keyboard, after announcing him and Billy that he felt inspired. Billy was in the surveillance room again, and Mason recalled what Toby had said about his partner spending too much time watching the cameras.
For a moment, he froze. Who said that Levine didn’t hire more than one person to watch Rhys for his creepy, hidden reasons? Boyd usually worked with people who knew and didn’t hire people coming from the street, but it was worth looking into it. He took out his phone.
“Boyd, listen, I need to ask you something.” Mason looked around his room, feeling odd without apparent reason. Surveillance equipment could be hidden everywhere, and now he blamed himself for letting Billy in charge of installing some of it. If Billy worked for Levine, things were bad. But if that was the case, what the hell he, Mason, was doing mixed up in all that?
“Hello to you, too,” Boyd replied, but he sounded like he was in a good mood.
“Hi, man. Sorry, just there’s a lot of on my mind.”
“All is well down there, at the Harmony mansion?”
For a moment, Mason couldn’t understand what Boyd meant by that, and then he remembered Rhys’s artistic moniker. “Yeah, yeah. Boyd, how did you happen to hire Billy for this job?”
There was a short pause on the other end that wasn’t lost on Mason.
“Why do you want to know?”
“I know he’s not one of your regular contacts,” Mason replied. Now Boyd had something to hide? What the hell was going on?
“He’s not, but he came highly recommended.”
“Did anything happen, Mason? You sound worried.”
“My best friend is lying to me. Of course I sound worried.”
Boyd laughed. “You have nothing to worry about. Not about me, and not about Billy, either. He’s not from around here, and it was an uncle of mine who recommended him. I wanted to give him an easy job at first, and I thought he would have plenty to learn from you.”
“Any more of that buttering and I might think of myself as toast,” Mason said.
“The kid is new to the city. And I really owe my uncle. He helped me with money when all I had was a dream and empty pockets.”
Mason sighed. Was he reading too much into everything these days? Boyd sounded relaxed and his usual self, so he might have imagined that hesitation from before.
“Hey, Mason, if you think this job is not for you, I’ll have something lined up for you soon. Just give me a couple --”
“No,” Mason refused. “The job is fine.”
“Sorry if Billy is a bit annoying.”
“He’s not that annoying. We get along fine.”
“Good, good, that’s good to hear. Do you need anything else, Mason? You can ask me anything, whatever it is.”
“Thanks, man. Sorry about bothering you.”
“Don’t sweat it. Have an awesome day.”
Mason rubbed his chin in thought after finishing his conversation with Boyd. Taken with his questions about Billy, he had forgotten to ask Boyd why he had seemed to be in such a good mood. Now, he wouldn’t call back just for that.
Billy was benign, as it seemed. That was reassuring, but not completely. Someone could mess up with his equipment, although by how much time he spent there, Billy wouldn’t allow anyone to do that.
He knew what he needed to do next. Billy might have noticed something on his cameras if Anita had done anything suspicious.
Billy was, as usual, in semi-dark, and he was inspecting the screens in front of him.
Billy looked up and offered him a bright smile. How could anyone suspect a face like that? Mason shook his head.
“What’s up, chief?”
“I was wondering if you noticed anything weird. You know, on the cameras.”
Billy linked his hands together. “What do you mean?”
“I noticed that I got new sheets, you know, like it was magic or something,” Mason said.
“The maid was here yesterday while we were away with Rhys.”
“Yeah, it makes sense. Do you happen to have the records of her being here?”
“Sure.” Billy waved at him to come to join him behind the desk. “What do you want to know? If she enchanted your pillows with dark magic?”
“I’ve never had anyone come over to clean for me. It feels a little weird to have a stranger go through my underwear.”
Billy laughed. “I feel for you, man. I prefer the laundromat. Just imagining some old lady commenting on the state of my undies is enough to give me the creeps.”
Mason watched as Billy typed something on his keyboard.
“Here it is, from the time she came. I should warn you that it’s pretty boring to watch someone dusting and cleaning.”
“Did you watch everything?”
“Of course. Even if it’s boring, it’s my duty to watch every second of what the cameras caught when we’re not here.”
Mason nodded. He watched Anita as she went from room to room, doing nothing out of the ordinary. What she had done in Rhys’s bedroom was probably the only thing of the type, but Mason wanted to be sure.
“Hey, what’s she doing?” Billy asked.
Mason stared at the screen. Anita was in the kitchen, and she took something out of her pocket. It was a bottle of medicine by the looks of it, and she held it up for a moment. Then, she put it back and took another, which she placed inside one of the kitchen drawers.
“Isn’t that a bit odd of a place for putting medicine?” Billy asked.
“Yeah. Rhys must keep his in the bathroom cabinet.”
“Do you think the old lady is peddling Adderall or something, and she hides it here?”
Mason shook his head. “I have no idea. But it’s weird, right? I should check.”
“Good idea. But come back, and tell me what that is. It’s nothing I love more than a mystery.”
Mason felt his gears turning slowly. “Was being a bodyguard your boyhood dream, Billy?”
“Not really. I wanted to become a detective, but, you know, not enough brain,” Billy said, and pointed at his head.
“You seem pretty quick to me,” Mason replied.
“Yeah, but I don’t think that’s enough to get accepted in that line of work. I wasn’t a studious kid, unfortunately.”
“That’s too bad, then. Off I go.”
Mason hurried out the door, curious as hell about what Anita must have hidden inside the kitchen drawer.
“Hey,” Rhys called for him.
Lost in thought, Mason had failed to notice the owner of the house walking toward him. He didn’t have time to say anything in reply as Rhys crowded him into a wall and placed his lips on him. For a couple of seconds, Mason let the sensation of having his mouth plundered by the prettiest thief he had ever seen wash over him.
With regret, he took Rhys by the shoulders and pushed him gently away. He needed to avoid looking in those dreamy eyes, and he would be fine. But he was too close and, when he looked down, he noticed Rhys’s moist lips and his stomach began doing somersaults. Great. If he only weren’t so stupidly crazy about Rhys’s kisses, he could see about his job.
Rhys didn’t take his silent protests seriously, and, with a small laugh, he attacked him again. This time, he snuck both hands under Mason’s shirt, after pulling it from his pants.
“You have no idea, Mason,” Rhys whispered, “what you’re doing to me.”
That should be my line.
“Rhys,” Mason tried to sound stern, “let’s behave a little.”
Rhys giggled and leaned into him, brushing his nose against Mason’s cheek. “I don’t want to behave. I’ve been nothing but good for far too long.”
“You? Good?” Mason said with a small snort.
“What? I’m not?” There was a hint at coquetry that made Mason smile despite his decision to be stern and cold.
Rhys teased Mason’s jawline with small bites, laughing softly. “Right now, your opinion of me is all that matters.”
“Billy would be so hurt to hear that. He’s your number one fan.”
“Billy loves me. It’s you keeping me on needles and pins.”
“How do I do that?” Mason managed to avoid another heated kiss at the last moment.
“By teasing me. I know how good you really are, and now that I had a taste of you, I’m hungry for more. Plus, if you’re handy with this as you are with your mouth,” Rhys put one hand on Mason’s crotch, “I’m dying to know you better.”
“Rhys, I’m working,” Mason complained. He couldn't say ‘no’ to Rhys, and they both treaded on thin ice, albeit unknowingly by one of them.
“Yeah, you’re working for me.” Rhys reached for the belt. “And, as your lord and master, I order you to please me.”
Mason caught Rhys’s hands, struggling to protect his virtue to no avail. “What if Billy walks in on us? He’ll have the shock of his life.”
Rhys stopped. “All right, good point. You win. But don’t think you can avoid me forever. I used to hate the nightfall, but now I can barely wait for it to come. You’ll sleep with me.”
Mason had a mind to protest, but he was on a mission and couldn’t risk having a tough conversation that would surely have him as the loser.
He nodded, and Rhys caught his chin and kissed him deeply. Other people didn’t like pushy partners, but Mason liked it best when he knew he was wanted. No matter how fleeting the attraction between them, he wanted more of whatever Rhys wished to give him to the last drop.
“Let me hear you,” Rhys whispered seductively.
“I’ll sleep with you,” Mason said like a soldier saluting his superior.
Rhys chuckled and caressed Mason’s face. “I love your determination. Make sure to lose none of it when you come knocking on my door tonight.”
Mason watched Rhys walking away, and waved at him when Rhys threw one look over his shoulder. It was nice to watch him go, as it was to watch him come, pun intended.
He shook his head as soon as Rhys was out of sight. The thing he needed most was concentration, and it felt like it was the only one he couldn’t have. Mason hurried to the kitchen and went to the drawer where he had seen Anita hiding that suspicious bottle of medicine.
To his surprise, the bottle didn’t have any label on it. Mason opened it and noticed around ten tablets inside. They were as nondescript as the bottle. Without one moment of hesitation, Mason took it with him and went back to Billy.
“What took you so long?”
Mason could swear there was a hint of laughter in Billy’s voice. “Just got dettained a little.”
Billy snickered. “I happened to have seen what, or better said, who dettained you.” He pointed at one of the screens.
Mason blanched. “Fuck. If Levine learns about this --”
“He won’t,” Billy said. “Now, did you get it? What is it?”
Mason took the bottle from his pocket and placed it on the desk. “Something that has no name.”
Billy was pensive as he took the bottle and looked at its content. He poured a couple of tablets into his palm and observed them.
“Ever seen anything like it?”
“The problem is not that it’s unique, whatever this thing is, but that it looks like many other things.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Do you know any chemists?” Mason asked, knowing that Billy couldn’t have many acquaintances, being new to the city and all.
“Yes. I mean, I know a lab where I can send one of these.”
How come Billy knew of such things? Mason chose not to overthink things. He had plenty on his mind, like where Toby was and why he didn’t come back already. “That’s great. Just for the record, Rhys’s bedroom is not on any of these cameras, right?” He pointed at the screens.
Billy grinned. “I wouldn’t spy on you two. Don’t worry about a thing; the personal rooms, not only Rhys’s, aren’t watched.”
Mason scratched his head. “Are we doing our work as we should? I mean, I know that it wouldn’t be ethical to stare at people taking a shower --”
Billy stopped him. “You and Rhys have nothing to be ashamed of, I bet, but I sure as hell don’t want video evidence of the embarrassing things I do in the shower. And by that I mean singing out of tune,” he added quickly. “There are cameras only in the hallways, the kitchen, the balcony upstairs and all around the perimeter.”
“Mason, do you have a specific reason to worry about Rhys’s safety?” Billy asked him, suddenly grave and taking him off-guard.
“No, not at all.” In a way, it was the truth, and it wasn’t. He was supposed to investigate who had killed Toby, but there were plenty of strange things happening around that made him think that Rhys wasn’t completely safe. “I mean, we two got hired, which gives plenty to think about, but otherwise than the regular level of alertness, I can’t say that anything blipped on my radar.”
“Except that creepy maid, Anita.”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions. Take those pills to the lab you talked about, and then we can see what’s what.”
“Will do. Now, can you tell me what’s going on between you and Rhys?” Billy’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper.
“Are you from the gossip channel? Nothing’s going on.”
Billy snickered. “That kiss in the hallway left me, standing here by myself, breathless. I’ve thought you two felt attracted to each other from the start, but this is beyond my expectations. There’s only one thing I want.”
“Just one? You already keep my job in your hands, and Rhys’s reputation.”
“Don’t worry about any of them. And whatever these cameras catch, no one sees anything I don’t want them to. It’s a promise.”
“Anita doesn’t have access here, right?”
Billy shook his head. “She knows it, too. She didn’t try the door, even, as I noticed. Plus, trust me, Mason, if anyone touched anything around here, I’d know.”
“Okay. I trust you with this. What’s the thing you said you wanted?”
“Ah, right. Don’t forget to invite me to the wedding.”
“Wedding? What wedding?”
“Yours, obviously,” Billy replied.
“I don’t plan on anything of the kind for the next fifty years or so.”
“Really? Does Rhys know?”
“What does Rhys --” Mason stopped and dropped both hands in surrender. “You’re going to tease me forever, aren’t you?”
“Just until you two get hitched oficially. After that, I’ll stop.”
“That’s reassuring, but nothing like that will happen. Men like Rhys Harmony aren’t for guys like me.”
“I have no idea what you mean by that.”
“He’s courted by a billionaire,” Mason pointed out.
“A guy he detests,” Billy replied.
Mason paused. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
“Right, right. Rhys just doesn’t like Levine that way. He has respect and gratitude toward him, but nothing else.” Billy used an appeasing tone while saying that. “And you have all that Levine doesn’t have, and at this point, it’s all that Rhys needs.”
“Damn, you’re way too invested in your favorite artist’s life. Don’t hold your breath. The moment Rhys sees someone else he likes, he’ll forget all about me. I’m just convenient, and he hasn’t been out to meet new people for almost a year. It’s natural that --”
“How many guys have you had in your bed, Mason?”
Mason took a couple of moments to think. “Hmm, I can’t really give an exact number --”
“O.M.G., you’re a playboy! If you can’t recall how many, that’s a sign. So, the problem is you, not Rhys.”
Now that wasn’t true. Mason had a mind to protest, but then he stopped. If Billy wanted to live vicariously through what he imagined the glamorous life of celebrities to be, it was his choice.
It wasn’t his business whether Rhys wanted a wedding ever in his life or not, or who the groom could be.
“Get ready for tonight. According to my research, it’s a high brow affair through and through,” Billy warned him.
“Just people eating and gossiping. Of course, they’ll eat oysters and whatnot, and probably talk about their jets and bank accounts, but otherwise, it can’t be anything special,” Mason joked.
“Hmm, then I’ll probably have to eat at home. I don’t want to starve.”
“That’s a good point, Po. But no candy. I’ll fix something.”
“Thanks, Arnie. You’re awesome.” Billy offered him a fist bump, and Mason responded in kind, with a shrug.
So, it was going to be a dinner like no other. Mason had served as a bodyguard for people who well off on more than one occasion, but he had never seen a billionaire’s home until that moment. Anyway, he wouldn’t be there to gawk at the lives the rich were living, but to conduct a bit of investigative work.
“I thought you disappeared for good,” Mason scolded Toby the moment the ghost materialized in his bathroom, right behind him.
At this point, nothing could surprise him. If suddenly, he could see flying piglets out the window, he would treat it like a regular thing. He was busy with his tie, and already in a bit of a hurry. Even if he wore the same suit, he debated a lot which tie to use.
“What’s the occasion?”
Mason exchanged a court look in the mirror with Toby. “We’re going to Levine’s place. It would have helped if you got here earlier so that I know what I’m looking for.”
“I’m coming with you. I can show you around.”
“Yeah, and I can only hope that no one notices that I’m talking to myself.”
“I’ll make sure not to ask questions.”
“That’s strangely assuring. Billy will be there, too, and it won’t be easy to get rid of him.”
“Just tell him you have diarrhea or something, and then pretend you’re looking for the bathroom for half an hour.”
“Thanks for the idea. It’s frigging brilliant,” Mason said in a terse tone. “Now, shoot. Anything interesting you can tell me?”
“The dude didn’t come home until I left. And I notice that the personnel got busy with some preparations.”
“For the dinner function tonight,” Mason confirmed. “Is this tie straight already?”
Toby gave him a critical look as he turned. “Maybe a little to the right. No, the other right.”
With a frustrated grunt, Mason took his tie off. He had refused Rhys off the bat on the offer of new clothes, but now it irked him that he would be in the same suit when facing Levine Goldman again. That asshole probably had hundreds of suits.
“Go for the black one,” Toby said.
“Why am I taking style advice from a ghost?” Mason wondered.
“Because all your ties look exactly the same, and you’re fretting over nothing. Rhys likes you, either way.”
Mason took one tie and wrapped it around his neck, a bit too tightly. “It’s not him I worry about.”
“That douche is not your rival.”
“You don’t. You behave like you don’t. Chill, bro. Just focus on what’s important.”
Mason nodded. “Thanks.”
It wasn’t his habit to worry about what to wear, but after the reality that he would be in the company of obscenely wealthy people had hit him, he had started to feel a bit out of place. Rhys would be out, in his world, and then he would see Mason for what he was, just a bodyguard in an old suit.
Why was he overthinking this? If Rhys wanted someone else, he was free to choose. And if he didn’t choose Mason, no one would suffer. With that decision in mind, he automatically tied his tie and went out of the room with Toby in tow.
Rhys wore all white, like the first day when they had met, and just like that time, Mason felt his heart skipping a bit when he looked at him. He wore white well. Maybe he had a twisted vision of angels, but he thought that a pair of wings was the only thing to make Rhys complete. The good sleep from the previous night showed, and the dark bags under his eyes were gone. He had pulled his hair back in a simple, but stylish ponytail, and he looked amazing. Mason’s hand on the handrail tensed. Rhys smiled at him as he walked down the stairs, and Mason did his best not to beam back.
“Rhys, you look fantastic!” Billy was the first to speak his mind.
“Thanks, Billy. At least someone noticed that I spent around two hours getting ready.” Rhys threw Mason a pointed look.
Mason congratulated himself for keeping a straight face. Rhys could show up with his hair a bird's nest, clothes in disarray, and his usual messed up self, and Mason would still feel that now familiar squeeze in his chest. He gallantly offered his arm, as he moved away from the handrail, and Rhys took it. They looked at each other, and, for a moment, he feared and hoped at the same time that Rhys would kiss him in front of Billy.
Instead, he got a smile as big as the sun, and he was grateful for it. There was new light shining in Rhys, and Mason felt its warmth.
“Did you tell Levine we’re coming with you?” Billy asked, pulling them back to reality. “By the way, you two better keep away from each other, or you’ll cause some serious jealousies when we’ll get there.”
Rhys snickered and let his hand slip from Mason’s arm. “If it were for me, I would keep glued to Mason all the time, but I don’t Levine to catch a whiff of what’s going between us since it would be Mason’s job on the line. And yes, I told him, and, needless to say, he wasn’t very pleased.”
“I suppose that’s putting it lightly, right?” Mason asked.
Rhys’s lips twisted in a grimace. “I owe Levine a lot. So, although I’m on your side, I need to play nice, and you’ll have to do that, too. He’s overbearing, I know, and --”
“Don’t worry about a thing, Rhys,” Billy intervened. “We won’t ever do anything to reflect badly on you.”
Rhys bit his bottom lip, drawing Mason’s eyes to it. “Sometimes, I wish I weren’t such a fuckup. Then I wouldn’t be in debt to people like Levine, and I would be free.” There was longing and sadness in his voice as he spoke, and Mason wondered again what could have happened for Rhys’s and Toby’s lives to become twisted by fate like that. “I apologize in advance for anything Levine might do.” A small, mirthful laugh, followed. “He calls you my tin soldiers, which is strange since he chose you.”
“Not exactly,” Billy explained. “Boyd chose both me and Mason because he trusts us. Levine didn’t have a hand in that.”
“Strange of him,” Rhys commented as they walked toward the door. “He never leaves anything to chance.”
“Hmm, so he likes to play with people?” Mason asked.
“Play is a word that would make you think he enjoys something. No, it’s all about control.”
“Well, maybe he thinks we’re insignificant, hence calling us your tin soldiers,” Billy said.
“Yes,” Rhys admitted, although he looked distracted now. “I just wonder if he also sees me as some paper ballerina.”
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed the new installment! I leave you to take a guess at the significance of the 'tin soldiers' and what role they will play in the stage.
Until next time,
All the best,
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