Chapter Twenty-Two – A Little Mouse In A Too Big House
His calls to Rhys’s phone went unanswered. Was Rhys upset about being left alone? Or did he think that Mason could have gone by himself to see Ary?
“We’re going to the studio,” Mason said firmly.
Toby was on his heels. “Why do I have a nasty feeling that I shouldn’t have left Rhys alone?” he murmured.
He wasn’t the only one to think that, but it didn’t serve to act all paranoid now. Rhys must have left by himself to question Ary about that awful night; it was the only logical thing to believe. As for why he didn’t pick up, there could be plenty of explanations, too.
So why was his heart in his throat as he walked out of his building?
He wasn’t even three steps out into the street when his phone went off. Hurriedly, he pulled the phone out of his suit jacket, hoping to hear Rhys’s melodic voice on the other end.
Instead, a strange metallic voice began, “Mason Knight, we have something you want.”
“Who is this?” Whoever the caller was, he was using a voice modifier of sorts.
“Don’t waste precious time for both of us. You, too, have something we want.”
“Where is Rhys?” Mason felt the muscles in his legs stiffening.
“Don’t insult our intelligence by expecting an answer.”
Mason stopped, no longer capable of walking. By his side, Toby was getting restless, asking questions, but he just tuned him out, too afraid of missing one word of the conversation with the mysterious caller. “What do you want?” he asked directly.
“That’s more like it.” The metallic voice didn’t change its pattern, but Mason could swear he could read satisfaction in it. “It’s not much. Just a certain small object that got lost, somehow.”
Mason instantly knew what that was. “I don’t have it.” His heart was in his throat, but his voice was blunt.
“Ah. Now, now, this is no way to start a negotiation. The person concerned doesn’t have it on him. He must have given it to you.”
“You’re wrong,” Mason said, his blood curdling to a stop in his veins. “You should ask the police where that is. They had it for a long time.”
“It appears that we need to educate you, Mason Knight.” Something was irking in how the caller used his name. And how he was talking in the name of another or others. “The police never had it.”
“I don’t have it, either.”
There was a pause on the other end. “That complicates the situation, then. Find the object, or you’ll never see the person in question again.”
“Wait,” Mason shouted, but the line went dead.
“What is going on?” Toby jerked his immaterial body around, in an acute state of agitation. “Where is Rhys? Who has him?”
“I have no idea,” Mason mumbled.
“How can you not?”
Mason no longer cared that people on the street looked at him like he was some sort of lunatic talking to himself. “Whoever that was, it could be a pro. Which means that he was hired by someone else.”
Toby ran his hands through his hair and pulled at it. There was no way he could feel pain. “I shouldn’t have left Rhys alone,” he said. “I had already told you where Ary lives. I failed him.”
“We failed him,” Mason said through his teeth. “Why do I get the feeling that it’s that asshole Levine Goldman behind all this?”
Usually, he wasn’t the type to let out what he was thinking. But, this time, the thought hit him with impossible clarity. Rhys disappearing the moment Mason had left him alone. Renzo’s words about being in danger and Toby’s warnings. A pro calling to stall him from searching aimlessly. Only a master of strategy and means could be behind all that.
“What if it’s just a prank?” Toby interrupted his train of thought.
“Yeah. How did that guy on the phone sound?”
“Like a machine,” Mason replied. “He evidently used specialized software for that.”
“And? By what I heard during these weeks being a ghost, it looks like everyone has access to advanced technology.”
Mason stopped. It annoyed him that Toby could be right. He set his jaw hard. “You forget one thing that applies to any crime. What would be the motive?”
Toby’s shoulders slumped in defeat. It was easy to tell that he was trying to stay hopeful. “I know,” he said suddenly. “I’ll go and check that asshole’s palace for signs of Rhys.”
“He’s a rich asshole. He could keep Rhys anywhere. And don’t take everything I say like it’s set in stone. I could be wrong. We still have no idea why Levine would be involved. There’s a lack of motive here, too.”
Toby grimaced. “The asshole tried to seduce Rhys, although he’s not into men. He’s hiding something.”
Mason ran his hands over his face and looked around. For a long time, he hadn’t felt as confused and lost as he was now. It wouldn’t serve to remain stuck like that. A decision formed in his mind. “Toby, you go search Levine’s place. I will go see Ary. If there is something he knows, now it’s a good time for him to spill the beans.”
“On it,” Toby said shortly. “Hey, man, you okay?”
It was a tad funny to have a ghost worrying over him like that. “Don’t worry about me,” he said automatically.
“Too late.” Toby smiled and made a move as if he wanted to punch Mason’s arm in a friendly gesture.
“Just go. We don’t have time to lose.”
It was just as funny to feel moved by that simple thing, too.
Dirk, the producer, came to talk to him, as Mason argued with an assistant at the door he hadn’t seen the last time he had been there.
“It’s all right,” Dirk said, and the assistant immediately backed down. “You’re one of Rhys’s bodyguards, right?”
Someone didn’t appear to have been brought up to date about the changes. Mason nodded shortly. “I’m here to see Ary.”
“He’s not here.”
“What do you mean, he’s not here?” Mason could feel his temper flaring and didn’t have the means to stop it. “Didn’t he come to work today?”
“He did. Then he got a phone call and left in a big hurry.”
“A phone call? From whom?”
Dirk examined him with curious eyes. “Funny that you don’t know. By what I could tell, it was Rhys calling. What, he ran away on you or something? Celebrities,” he added with a shrug. “Who knows what goes through their heads?”
Mason pinched the bridge of his nose hard. So Rhys had managed to call Ary before being kidnapped? And where had Ary hurried off to?
“Did he say where he was going?”
Dirk shook his head. “I asked. But I didn’t even manage to warn him that he’d get fired if he took off like that, he was that fast. Kind of the thing that makes him such a good runner.”
“Thanks,” Mason said curtly.
“You’re welcome. Hey, if you see Rhys, tell him that I’m still waiting for a new piece. He promised.”
“Sure thing,” Mason replied, now eager to leave.
He had no clue what to do next, but he had no time for idle chatter. He bid Dirk farewell and was out in the street again.
Could it be that Rhys had asked Ary to meet him somewhere? But where? He paced the sidewalk, unsure of what direction to take.
Not a good time for indecision. If there was one person capable of pulling strings and powerful enough to go against Levine Goldman, his name was already known to Mason.
He stared at the phone for a while; although he hadn’t cared at the time, Renzo had insisted that both he and Billy had his contact details the first time they had met. Now, they came in handy.
“Do you prefer this place in particular?” Mason asked Renzo, the moment he was invited to step inside Dreamland.
There was little light inside the club during the day, as he had noticed the first time he had seen Renzo alone.
“I told you. Something irks me about it, so I like to keep an eye on it. Plus, as you learned the last time you were here, I am directly interested in clarifying this situation. Are you telling me that someone kidnapped Rhys?”
Mason was well aware that he couldn’t keep things hidden if he wanted Renzo’s help. As shortly as possible, he explained the missing micro SD card and some other details he had kept hidden, the main exception being that he could see Toby’s ghost and communicate with him. Now wasn’t the time to be put in a straitjacket.
They were in Renzo’s office, and the flickering lights of the screens gave the room an unnatural feel. As he explained the situation, Renzo’s eyes moved to them once in a while. Suddenly, he straightened up, and a sly smile appeared on his face. “Well, well, well.”
Mason stopped and stared at the screens, too, until he noticed movement in one of them.
“If it isn’t a little mouse in a too big house for him,” Renzo commented.
They stood up at the same time. When they reached the door, Renzo placed one finger against his lips and then opened the door slowly.
Hunched over one of the exhibits in the large hallway, Ary was busy fiddling with something, unaware that he was being watched and about to be caught in the act. Mason didn’t have time to react. Renzo moved stealthily, but fast, his steps muffled by the thick rug.
He caught Ary’s arm as he lifted the lid from the exhibit in front of him.
“You little thief!”
Ary screamed and let go of the object in his hands.
The glass fell and caught a corner, breaking into little pieces.
Ary was shaking, even after taking two sips from the whiskey tumbler in his hand, at Renzo’s insistence. He had been pushed into a chair, and Renzo was towering over him like an inquisitor bent on getting the truth out of his victim. Mason watched everything, without saying a word. There were so many things he wanted to ask, but he was scared Ary would clam up if he jumped into that interrogation, too. They didn’t have time for that. Rhys’s life could be at stake.
Mason let that thought slide; if he started to worry, really worry, he would be lost. And Rhys needed him, wits and all in their rightful places, not broken into a million little pieces.
“So,” Renzo began. “Care to enlighten us what were you doing, little mouse?”
Ary shot Renzo a dirty look over the glass he held with both hands as if his life depended on it. “My name is Ary.”
Renzo waved as if that detail didn’t concern him. “What were you trying to steal?”
Ary pursed his lips and stared down stubbornly. Renzo grabbed his chin and forced him to look up. Mason blinked a few times; there was something in how Ary opened his lips slightly and licked them, and how Renzo’s fingers softened their grip.
“Ary, please,” he intervened, hoping his voice wasn’t already over the edge.
“I--” Ary started and swallowed hard.
Mason exchanged a quick look with the boy’s tormentor, and Renzo stepped away.
Ary looked down and started sobbing.
Renzo’s voice was no longer as harsh as earlier. “Just talk. How did you gain access in the hallway here right now?”
Ary seemed to calm down a fraction. “I saw you punching in the code that night.”
Nobody in the room had to ask what night that was.
“Congrats on your attention to detail,” Renzo replied, rather vexed. “I would have thought my security measures to be unbreakable.”
“Who doesn’t change a password once in a while?” Ary shot back at him.
That animosity hid something else.
“Apparently, me,” Renzo said with a sigh. “Now, tell me, what did you want with that exhibit?”
Ary looked down again. “That cue stick … the one underneath,” he spoke so softly Mason had to lean forward to hear him, “that killed Toby.”
Renzo let out a curse and hurried into the hallway. He came back into the room with the respective object held by the end of its handle wrapped gingerly in an expensive handkerchief. “This was used to kill Toby?” he asked.
Ary stole a brief look at the cue stick and nodded.
“Ha, go figure. Now let’s not waste any more time. Why did you whack Toby with my seventeenth century billiard mace, Ary?”
So that was how that thing was called. Mason could feel his fingers turning numb from digging his nails into the leather sofa on which he sat with much difficulty.
“I didn’t!” Ary protested.
“It doesn’t serve to be a liar. You’ve been caught already,” Renzo chided him. “I bet your fingerprints are all over it.”
Ary bit his bottom lip hard. “Yeah. That’s the problem. But I didn’t kill Toby. And that’s not yours.”
Renzo placed the billiard mace on his desk and observed it for a few moments. Mason stood up, no longer capable of standing still. His stomach sank as he noticed the few dark stains on the curved end. It could have been why Toby had been drawn to look at that when they had been there the last time. Now he knew why those stains had stood up to him, but that didn’t make him feel any better. It was a good thing that he had let Toby go check on Levine’s place.
“It’s not mine,” Renzo admitted, with something akin to surprise in his voice.
“How do you know?” Mason asked.
“I like to be able to identify the things I own, especially when they are deemed to have a value of sorts,” Renzo explained without giving away much. “As far as I can tell, indeed, this doesn’t belong to me. Plus, it’s a slightly different model.”
Mason turned toward Ary. “Ary, Rhys is missing,” he said. It was getting harder to control his voice. So many things were at stake now.
“I know. I mean, I heard him on the phone --” Ary stopped and sobbed again. “I knew they must be coming after me, too and --”
Mason was next to Ary in a heartbeat. He caught his arm, reining in hard his temptation to shake him. “What do you mean, you heard him?”
“And who are they?” Renzo added. “Speak up, little mouse. As you can see, no one here is in the mood to play.”
Ary made himself little into the chair. Mason had managed to make the whiskey spill from his glass, so he let go of the boy’s arm, embarrassed by his rashness. Renzo took the glass from Ary’s hand and put it on the table.
“He called me this morning because he wanted us to talk about Toby. I had a hunch he knew something more than before and I was just about to ask him when I heard him ... Something happened, and there was a muffled sound like people struggling, and the phone went dead. I tried to call again, but Rhys didn’t answer.”
Mason nodded. That confirmed his fears, but there was no point in denying them. He let out a deep exhale. “Ary, please tell us what happened that night.”
“I didn’t kill Toby,” Ary said and sobbed again.
“We believe you,” Mason replied.
“We do?” Renzo seemed surprised.
Mason looked curtly at him. “If Ary is the one behind Toby’s murder, who kidnapped Rhys and to what end? Things don’t add up.”
Renzo nodded one time, brusquely. “The little mouse still needs to confess to what he was doing that night.”
Ary wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve cuffs. “I went to talk to Toby ... I suspected him to have gone outside, to get a bit of fresh air --”
“What did you want to talk to him about?”
Mason wished silently for Renzo to shut the fuck up for a moment. That wasn’t relevant.
Ary rubbed his closed fists together. He looked even smaller and more vulnerable than usual, drowned in his large clothes. “I wanted to ask him why he was fighting with Rhys so much.”
“So that you could sweep in and steal Toby from Rhys?”
Why the hell did Renzo sound like a scorned lover? Someone had to tell the guy he sucked as an interrogator.
“No.” Ary scowled. “I had already decided that there was no room for me between them. I wanted them to make up and things to be the same again. They were yelling at each other, and I was losing them both.”
Like a kid, helpless while watching his parents tearing their family apart.
“Ary, what happened when you went after Toby?” Mason placed a sympathetic hand on Ary’s shoulder. “We need to know. It’s important. Rhys --” he swallowed his words, not wanting to let his worries speak for himself.
Ary looked down and fidgeted. “I didn’t see him at first. I almost stepped on him, and I thought he had passed out, but ... he wasn’t moving. I checked on him and then I saw ... the blood. I reached for his neck, to see if he had a pulse ... my mom used to be a nurse ... and I froze when there was nothing. I was about to pull my phone to call for an ambulance, but ... I heard a noise ... it was a car engine. And I saw a car at the end of the alley.”
“Did you recognize the car, Ary?” Mason asked, measuring his words carefully.
Ary nodded. “It was an expensive limo. Not the kind you see everywhere.”
As the boy’s lips moved, Mason didn’t even need to hear the words because he knew he was right. It felt as if he had been right all along, but it was a different thing to have a confirmation of all his suspicions.
“That son of a bitch,” Renzo said with disgust.
Mason rubbed his forehead. Even knowing that Levine must have been at the murder scene that night wasn’t enough; that feeling that he was missing something came back in full force.
“Are you sure it was Levine’s car?”
Ary nodded. “It felt as if that car was leaving in a hurry. Then I noticed the ... stick thing.”
“I’m willing to bet that Levine’s fingerprints are all over it,” Renzo said.
“But why would he leave such evidence behind?” Mason murmured.
“Beats me,” Renzo said. “We need to have the murder weapon checked for fingerprints.”
“You cannot go to the police with it,” Ary said. He began to fidget again. “I grabbed it, so my fingerprints are there, too.”
“You don’t worry about that, little mouse,” Renzo replied. “I have my ways that don’t involve the police.”
“How did you manage to hide it here?” Mason asked.
“Ah, yes, and what the hell happened to my vintage piece?”
“You tell everyone they are replicas,” Ary said petulantly.
“Some are,” Renzo replied and shrugged.
Ary stared at his closed fists. They were so small; Mason felt pity.
“I took it inside. I knew now that someone must have killed Toby. I was scared ... because I knew where I had seen that kind of thing before. So I stayed clear of the cameras and walked into the hallway here, expecting one of the cue sticks to be missing. But they were both here. It took me a second to decide to replace one of them ... The one I took, I just threw it in one of the bins the cleaners use. And I picked it with my wrapped sleeve, like this,” he explained.
“That is just great,” Renzo commented, but without a bite.
“The police frisked everyone,” Mason tried to stay on track. “Could it be that they didn’t find that particular object thrown by Ary? And how about them checking this area?”
“They weren’t allowed here,” Renzo said promptly. “Strangely enough, they didn’t insist.”
Mason ran his hands through his hair. “They just thought someone would have it.”
“I suppose,” Renzo confirmed.
“Ary, please forgive me for asking this, but why did you hide it?”
Ary trembled and wrapped his arms around himself. “I knew it was important. They took Rhys in, and I thought I should take it to the police. But then I would have had to talk about what I saw ... And my fingerprints had to be everywhere ... So I was relieved when they let Rhys go. I just wanted to forget about it.”
“Did you try to break in and steal it before today?” Renzo asked.
Ary shook his head. “No, this is the first time I’ve stepped foot in here since that night. And only because I thought the people who took Rhys must be after me, too.” He looked drained as he said the last words.
Mason pondered for a few moments. “If Levine is involved, he’ll make another move soon. Whoever called me, he will call again.”
“Who called you?” Ary asked. His teeth were clattering now, after the rush of adrenaline from earlier.
“We don’t know right now. Renzo, do you think you could take care of Ary?”
“I don’t want to stay here,” Ary protested.
“We won’t be cooped up in here all day,” Renzo said. “You’ll come with me to my house.”
“I don’t want to.” Ary pouted like a child.
“Ary,” Mason said gently, “you’re safe with Renzo. If anyone catches whiff of what you did, you could be in real danger.” He didn’t want to make Ary feel more scared than he already was, but there was no other reasonable choice.
“You’ll come with me, little mouse, and that’s final,” Renzo said. “I can offer you five different types of cheese.”
“Carefully placed into a trap?” Ary shot back.
Mason would have laughed if he hadn’t been overwrought with worry.
“What will you do?” Renzo asked and stared at him with questioning eyes.
“I will try to find the missing card from Toby’s phone. The caller was sure Rhys should have it. As I already told you, he was also confident that the police hadn’t found it.”
“Toby must have hidden it,” Renzo confirmed his guesses. “But where will you search for it?”
“I don’t know yet. I’ll have to think.”
“You could do the thinking at my house. You’re invited.”
“No. I don’t want whoever is behind this to become suddenly shy about contacting me. I’m not sure what good I did, if any, by coming here.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself,” Renzo told him. “Keep in touch. I’ll see about the fingerprints in the meantime. And if that fucker calls --”
“I know, I know,” Mason said in a hurry. “And he will call again,” he added with conviction.
There was one thing Renzo and no one else had any idea about. His trump card was a ghost, and as weird as that sounded, Toby was his best bet in figuring out how to save Rhys. After all, who else could go through walls and have eyes everywhere?
He was barely back at his apartment when Toby startled him, like usual, without any introductions.
“He has Rhys, Mason.”
He turned on his heels. “At his house?”
Toby nodded gravely. “He keeps him in a room on the uppermost floor. I think he … drugged him or something. There was an IV drip stuck in Rhys’s arm, and he looked dead to the world.”
Mason felt the rush of adrenaline coursing through his veins, but tightened his hands into fists to rein it in. What could he do? Rush into Levine’s house? He had a hunch he wouldn’t be allowed to cross the threshold, let alone investigate the place. Even more, he would be removed by force if Levine so decided.
Being rash was no strategy.
“Is there someone there with him?”
“That maid, Anita,” Toby confirmed. “She sat by the bed with a book in her hand as if she was taking care of a sick person. The whole thing gives me the willies, Mason. That room looks like it belongs in a hospital or a hospice.”
“We need to figure out a way to get inside,” Mason said, his lips set in a straight line.
He began pacing the room, thoughts curled like snakes inside his mind. Toby followed him with his eyes but said nothing.
“He has no reason to harm him,” Toby said in a meek voice.
“Not before getting what he wants.” Mason laid on the bed and stared at the ceiling. To think straight, he needed to clear his head.
He touched the place on his right where Rhys had slept that morning, safe and sound. No bigger failure on his part existed. All his promises had been empty, nothing but words.
As he moved his head, Mason noticed Rhys’s pendant he had left on the nightstand that morning. He reached for it, in a futile hope that something of its owner lingered with it. He wrapped the chain around his fist and held the pendant tightly until he felt the stone coming undone from its socket.
Now he had gone and ruined it completely. He opened his palm, and his eyes grew wide.
“Clutched in your fist,” he murmured, his entire body overcome by a dark, deep chill.
And I suppose that you guys know what Mason found, hidden in Rhys's pendant. But the climax of the story is approaching, so stay tuned for more information and a lot of action! There are still a few surprises left, and I hope they will have go What?! Wow! or Hmm ...
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