His hands trembled slightly as he inserted the card into his phone. Flicking through the folders, his frown deepened. If that were a loose end …
“For Rhys,” he read out loud.
That had to be it. He dreaded what he would find, but there was no other choice but to move forward. Both he and Toby held their breath as he clicked on the single video file present in the folder.
“So you say that it had to be him,” Toby said in a toneless voice.
“His car was there. Ary saw it. He must have known you had evidence on him.”
“What are we going to do? Do you want to take this to Renzo?”
That was the logical thing to do, but Mason was beyond logical at this point. That was the kind of thing people killed for; one mistake, no matter how small, could make the tables turn, and not in their favor. Especially Rhys’s. He was the one in real danger.
He was still pondering over it when his phone rang.
“Mason Knight, have you thought about our generous offer?”
Mason set his jaw hard.
“Ah, a little thing. Dare to contact a certain unsavory character you met with today, and the deal is off,” the metallic voice continued. “Don’t try anything stupid; we will know.”
So he had been followed. It shouldn’t have come as a big surprise, but Mason could feel his heart beating slower. “All right,” he replied.
“Good. We want to know that you can play nice.”
Mason held the micro SD card in his palm, staring at it.
“Now, about the object in question --” the caller started.
“I’m taking it to Mr. Goldman directly.”
“What are you doing?!” Toby began gesticulating, but Mason paid him no mind.
His decision was taken. Like always, there was no one else he could depend on in his life. Everyone else could go on and forgive him or fuck off.
The silence stretched at the other end. It appeared that he had managed to take the caller by surprise.
“How intuitive of you.” The voice sounded peeved now. “But the answer is ‘no’.”
“Then you and your boss will watch this broadcast all over the six o’clock news today.”
“And you become a dead man. We could arrange for that in a matter of minutes, actually.”
“Will you be faster than me hitting ‘send’?”
Toby was groaning and yelling at him, but Mason turned his back. Which served little since Toby could go through him as he saw fit.
“Ah, so we’ve come to a mutual assured destruction type of situation.”
“I won’t hesitate,” Mason said in a fierce voice. “Killing me won’t stop the ball from rolling.”
“Are you willing to go that far for this person?”
“As far as needed,” Mason confirmed.
“Well, if you’re so keen. But how are we to know you didn’t keep copies or already send the sensitive content to media outlets?”
“How am I to know Rhys isn’t dead already?”
“We could arrange a small broadcast.”
“Which could be faked.”
“Hard to argue with, aren’t you?”
“You have my word. Instead, you’ll return Rhys to me safe and sound. With the promise that he’ll be forever safe from you.”
“Are you asking nothing for yourself? We could sweeten the deal.”
“All right. When do you plan to visit?”
Mason couldn’t be sure he wasn’t talking to Levine Goldman right now, but his gut instinct told him that he wouldn’t dirty his hands, not even for a phone call. Some random minion was out of the question. The only reasonable guess was simple; the person appearing in Toby’s short video alongside Levine had to be the caller.
“I’m leaving right now.”
“Excellent decision, Mason Knight.”
The dark glee in the metallic voice was unmistakable.
“What are you doing, Mason?”
Toby followed him around the apartment.
“It’s the only way. We have no time,” Mason explained grimly. “We can’t contact Renzo. We have no help. It’s only me and you.”
“And I have no physical body. We’re hardly the dream team.”
Mason fiddled with his phone. “We have insurance. Levine will play nice.”
“Don’t bet on it. He could just go ahead and terminate you.”
“Terminate. I bet that’s a term he’d like to use.”
“Yeah. Weird that I used it,” Toby murmured. “But you know it’s true. You might get killed, Mason.”
“I’ll blackmail Levine into letting Rhys go. We’ll see what follows next.”
“Quite the optimist. But this feels wrong.”
“Do you have a better idea? Any wrong step I take, it’s Rhys’s head on the line. Do you think I’d ever be able to live with that if anything happens to him?”
“Fuck,” Toby moaned and covered his face.
“We don’t have time to dwell on it. I have a ticking bomb on my hands, and I intend to use it. Levine knows what’s at stake, and he may be evil, but he’s not stupid. I’ll have time to take Rhys out of there and move him someplace safe.”
“You sound like you have everything figured out.”
Yeah. He sounded like that.
Levine’s estate seemed deserted. Mason had been left inside by automatic doors opening in front of him. It appeared as if no personnel were present, and the same dark chill from before was ice on his back.
“It looks like we have to let ourselves in,” Mason commented and pushed open the heavy door, opening like a black mouth in front of him.
His phone rang, and Mason listened to the instructions without saying a word. He knew his way to Levine’s office but pretended he was only hearing about that for the first time.
The heavy adornments on the walls overwhelmed him while he walked down the hallway; a person suffering from claustrophobia would have stopped by now. Good thing he didn’t fear cramped places; the only thing he feared was failing to get Rhys out of there alive.
He knocked on the door and was invited in by a harsh ‘come in’. It was a safe bet that Levine couldn’t be in the best of moods. Mason schooled his face into a mask as he stepped inside.
“It is rather grating to act so polite when you come here to threaten me,” Levine said in a sour voice.
“I didn’t start this,” Mason replied.
“Do you have it?”
Mason showed the micro SD card for a moment and then made it disappear back into his pocket.
“Then let’s end this quickly. Hand over the item.” Levine was sitting behind his desk and made no move to invite Mason to sit.
“Only after Rhys is out of here.”
Levine’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“Yes, I know he’s here,” Mason said boldly. It was time to bluff, and that called for surprising his adversary with information Levine couldn’t suspect the manner by which he had come to have it.
Levine frowned for a second. “The item,” he said through his teeth.
Mason frowned, too. “No. Free Rhys right now.”
“Or else, certain information will be released to the general public in less than half an hour.”
“Oh. Are you a whizz kid, Mr. Knight?”
“No. But it’s the twenty-first century. Everyone has access to technology.” Toby was right about that. “Scheduling an online post to go live at a chosen point in the future is a piece of cake.”
“Fair enough.” Levine consulted his watch with seemingly bored eyes. “He’s sleeping quite soundly. I’m afraid we’ll have to wait a little for him to come to his senses.” He made a bit of a show while talking on an internal line. Mason suspected the creepy maid had to be on the other end.
“Why did you kill Tobias Davis, Mr. Goldman?” Mason asked all of a sudden.
“Mason, what are you asking?” Toby hissed at him. “He could order for Rhys to be murdered with a flick of the wrist!”
He was there for more than one reason. A certain ghost needed to find his peace, too.
Piercing grey eyes sat on his face. Then, amusement made them light up with malice. “That lowlife? I didn’t kill him.”
“He had evidence of you ordering someone to be murdered. Therefore, you had a strong reason to make him disappear.”
“Ah, of course. Reason.” Levine leaned back into his chair and observed Mason while his lips twitched. It was as if he was trying hard to keep in a good joke, waiting for the right moment to say it. “But me and the fellow in question had reached an understanding. He was dumb as a brick, but he knew not to push it with me.”
Mason blinked a couple of times. “You cannot deny it, Mr. Goldman.”
“I can,” Levine leaned forward and smiled, “because it’s nothing but the truth.” He turned slightly in his chair and looked to one side as if he was suddenly deep in thought. “I am a man of means, Mr. Knight. I do not have any reason to dirty my hands. Can you even suspect why I hired you and that blob of fat to be Rhys’s bodyguards?”
Mason felt the ground under his feet swaying slightly. “Boyd,” he said without thinking.
Levine threw him another amused look. “I could have my fun and pretend your friend, the agent, was involved, but … I truly want you to understand the genius of all my actions.”
“Why the hell is he telling you all this, Mason?” Toby became agitated again. “I don’t like where this is going.”
Mason didn’t like it either, but he had no choice on the matter. “Please go on, sir,” he said in a steady voice.
“Cocky, aren’t you?” Levine sighed theatrically. “Such a shame, really. But let’s get back to what I was saying. Ah, right. Mr. Lamartine was over the moon when I contacted him. He was a tiny bit suspicious that I would enlist the services of someone who, by my standards, is as good as invisible, but I put those thoughts to rest when I told him it was only for a trifle thing that would be paid well and require little effort.”
Mason shifted his weight from one foot to another. At least, Boyd wasn’t some traitor; he couldn’t put any value on Levine’s words, but he had a hunch why the scumbag was suddenly honest. The ball was in his court, but Mason had his eyes on it. He wouldn’t allow himself surprised by some left-field move.
“You see, I knew the little pansy had his late boyfriend’s memorabilia with him, and that the item of interest had to be in his care.”
“Little pansy? The fucking asshole.” Toby was moving around Levine, more and more agitated.
“You could call him Rhys,” Mason said sourly.
Levine offered a sugary smile. “In love, Mr. Knight? How quaint. I’ve seen Rhys at his low; you would change your mind if you knew what I know.”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“Hmm. You’ve truly been a bigger headache than expected. Nonetheless, I am the type of man who enjoys a challenge. I live for the worthy occasions that break the same-old, same-old rhythm of everyday routine.”
“Why did you hire me and Billy?” Mason asked directly. How long did that maid need to wake up Rhys?
“Right, back on topic. Well, I needed to prove to everyone that I did everything I could when Rhys suddenly turned up suicidal and successful at it, too.”
“If only I could strangle this asshole a little,” Toby complained as he moved, immaterial and helpless, in and out Levine’s body.
Mason could feel a muscle in his jaw tick so hard that it almost took the entire cheek with it.
“You see,” Levine continued, grinning and obviously enjoying the torment he was putting his guest through, “I hired bodyguards for poor little Rhys because he had a tendency of hurting himself. Who else to know that better than me, his guardian and protector, who tried to convince him to remain in the good care of doctors and nurses?”
“But you let him out,” Mason pointed out.
“Yes, but it had to appear that it had all come from him, and I couldn’t keep someone in specialized care against his will. However, worried as I was,” Levine’s eyes flashed, “I took it upon me to hire people who would watch over Rhys without his noticing too much. If I had gone all the way and hired the best specialists, Rhys would have just protested against it. Therefore, I was both caring and delicate about his feelings.”
Mason could feel his stomach revolting. Good thing he hadn’t had anything to eat all day. The satisfaction in the eyes of that bird of prey was unmistakable.
“In the event that Rhys finally decided to end it all for lack of a purpose in life and, of course, weakness of character, I couldn’t have been blamed. You and that fatso, however, would have taken the rap for it. Also, you two were ideal for my plan B.”
“Plan B?” Mason’s throat was dry like sandpaper.
“Yes. Anita told me Rhys was no longer keen on taking the pills the good doctors at the clinic had prescribed for him, and that was bound to make things a bit difficult.”
“Why place the ketamine, though?”
Levine hid his surprise well.
“Anita hid it in the kitchen,” Mason explained.
“Anita likes to go beyond the call of duty,” Levine said. “She’s been with this family for a long time.”
“So enlisting her help in your murderous activities is part of her job description?”
A flash of anger lit up Levine’s face, but only for a moment. “As I said, she’s an excellent servant. But you keep interrupting me, and I bet that you will find my plan B a feat of genius, indeed.”
“Not only a servant, I bet,” Toby said. “This asshole treats her like she’s his long forgotten mother or something.”
Levine’s self-assurance was vomit-inducing. Mason doubted he could admire anything in the disgusting creature posing as a human in front of him.
“There could be problems with declaring Rhys’s suicidal so easily. Plus, I like things to be a bit more dramatic. I wanted blood,” Levine said brightly as if he had just said he would love to go for ice cream. “Therefore, I needed a pair of stupid bodyguards who could be killed easily.”
“Killed?” Mason’s frown deepened.
“Yes,” Levine said with glee. “Once Anita located the missing item, I could move with the plan. No longer needing Rhys, I could just eliminate him.”
“Why not keep him in a hospice?”
“Too expensive,” Levine said with a shrug.
Expensive. That was everything other people’s lives were to that waste of space.
“Did you want to kill him, too?” Mason asked.
“Have someone do it, yes. It would have been a burglary gone wrong, something like that. Unfortunate, sad, but well, that’s life. And I would have been stunned with the news, devastated even. Saying to anyone listening – oh, everyone would have listened – how I should have thought of hiring better bodyguards if I suspected, for one moment, for such a horrible thing to happen.”
“You don’t care about anyone but you,” Mason said with bitterness. “But how come you’re alone now, Mr. Goldman? Where’s that associate of yours?”
A phone rang somewhere. Mason experienced a sudden sinking feeling on the inside when Levine reached for the locked drawer where the hidden phone had to be. The smile stretching on the scumbag’s face told him that his bluff didn’t work.
“Oh, it’s all settled? That’s great news,” Levine said with a smirk.
He moved so fast that Mason didn’t even have time to freeze in place. One moment, and he was staring at the black barrel of a gun pointing at him.
“Oh, shit,” Toby shouted. “The fucker has a gun!”
Levine stood up and laughed, holding the weapon. “My associate just informed him that there’s nothing I should fear from your little play with twenty-first century technology. So, let’s come to the point for which we gathered here today. Hand over that item, Mr. Knight.”
“Toby, go to Rhys now,” Mason hissed.
“Toby? Who are you talking to?” Levine wondered. “Have you lost your mind so quickly? That’s rather disappointing. Come on, be a doll. Give me that thing.”
Toby had rushed out, but Mason couldn’t see an opening if it killed him, as ironic as that sounded. He needed to stall for time until something came to mind. “There is something you don’t know, Mr. Goldman. The murder weapon, it’s no longer lost.”
“What murder weapon?” Levine quirked an eyebrow. “Are we still talking about that mongrel? Tobias?”
“Yes. Your fingerprints must be on it,” Mason continued. “I can tell you where it is, but only if you let me and Rhys leave.”
Levine began laughing, first slowly, then louder and louder. It took him a minute to get his bearings. “Ah, I already told you. I didn’t kill that piece of shit. But, thank you for letting me know. I’ll deal with that on my own time. Now, don’t test my patience.”
“You can’t outrun your fate, Mr. Goldman. Kill me, do what you want, but the truth will still come to light. It’s game over.”
“Oh, really? Who’s keeping score? Ah, wait.” Levine looked for a moment at the gun in his hand. “I think that’s me.” He straightened his arm, pointing at Mason again.
Mason closed his eyes. “You’ll have to come take it from me.” If he managed to get Levine close enough, he could try something foolish and dangerous, with minor chances of success.
“Oh, playing tough? Like I would risk my neck by getting close to you. No problem, I’ll take it from your corpse. So, game over, Mr. Knight.”
“With the risk of sounding trite, that should be my line. Game over, Mr. Goldman.”
The first thing Mason noticed was how Levine’s self-assured arrogance fell from his face. The second, how familiar that voice sounded.
“Hands up, Mr. Goldman.” Billy emerged from behind the curtains, following his stretched arm that must have had the cold barrel of a weapon resting against the back of Levine’s head.
Levine obeyed. “This is ridiculous. Who is this?”
Billy removed the gun from Levine’s hand and put it into his pocket. “That would be the fatso, Mr. Goldman.”
The surprise on Levine’s face was matched only by that on Mason’s.
Billy winked at him. “Howdy, partner? How’s it going?” With ease, he grabbed Levine’s hands, pulled back, and slapped a pair of cuffs on them.
Mason was lost for words.
“Stop this nonsense right now,” Levine revolted. “Who do you think you are?”
Billy deftly brought Levine’s to his knees, forced him on one side, and tied his feet together, too.
“What do you want? Who are you?” Levine was in a frenzy now that he must have realized that Billy wasn’t joking.
“This guy talks too much,” Billy said with a shrug and produced a gag from his pocket.
“Don’t you dare!” Levine struggled, but Billy appeared to be an expert in gagging his victim and reducing him to complete silence.
“Isn’t this better?” Billy said and stood up.
“I think Anita is poisoning Rhys!” Toby rushed into the room that very moment. “What the hell is happening here?”
Mason jerked his head into Toby’s direction without thinking. “What? What’s she doing?”
“What’s wrong, Mason?” Billy asked.
“We need to save Rhys,” Mason said.
“Do you know where he is?” Billy followed him into the hallway. “I tried to search the place --”
Mason rushed up the stairs, following Toby.
“Oh, Toby found him,” Billy said matter-of-factly, as he kept up with Mason like he didn’t weigh his value as an awesome person in solid gold.
Mason stopped for a moment, opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
Billy pushed him from behind. “No time to explain, I know. Let’s get to Rhys. What is Toby saying?”
Mason began running again. “Anita is poisoning him as we speak.”
The air was burning in his lungs as he reached the landing. Billy’s heavy breathing let him know someone had his back.
They burst into the room. Anita was holding the IV drip and towering over Rhys, with one hand on his chest.
Never in his life, Mason would have thought himself capable of hitting a woman. It looked like he didn’t have to start anyway because Billy was faster than him.
Anita dropped the IV drip with a startled cry. Mason had been right to give Billy that nickname. With a move worthy of the best martial arts aficionados, Billy had kicked her arm so hard that she was now on the floor, nursing it and bawling.
Mason hurried to Rhys and shook him. He pulled the needle out of his arm. Were they too late? Had all been in vain? “No,” he said with determination as he felt Rhys’s neck. “No, you can’t die.”
Billy was busy twisting Anita’s arm. “What did you give him? How much?”
“I didn’t!” The woman was squirming on the floor. “Didn’t get the chance!”
“Why isn’t he waking up?”
“He’s on sleeping drugs!” Anita howled.
Mason brought his face close to Rhys’s mouth, and the faint breathing caressed his skin. He shook him some more, and Rhys opened his eyes, only to let them roll in his head.
“Rhys, Rhys,” Mason called for him and grabbed his face. He slapped him with all the gentleness he could muster.
“What’s going on?” Rhys mumbled. “Hey, stop it … my head hurts …”
Mason exhaled and even let out a small laugh. “Oh, God, you’re alive.” He hugged Rhys tightly and ignored the water in his eyes.
“I’m not God,” Rhys replied in the same sluggish manner. “You must be mistaking me for someone else.”
Mason had many things to say, maybe even that Rhys was like his own personal deity or anyone else he wanted to be. Anything he wanted. Everything.
Billy hurried to the bed, leaving Anita be for a moment. He pushed Mason firmly away and began checking Rhys with hurried hands. “Phew, I think we’re fine.”
A banshee’s shriek made Mason’s hair stand on end. He turned just in time to block Anita’s raised hands holding a knife. Did that woman ever stop? He grabbed her hands and tried to keep her at bay while she yelled and tried to bite him. The crisp white bonnet had fallen, and wisps of grey hair surrounded her head like a dirtied halo.
“Let me kill that dog,” she bawled.
Mason shook her, forcing her to drop the knife. For a moment, his eyes met hers, crazed and bloodshot. Nothing of the measured, cold maid he had met before was left in them. “Let me put him to sleep,” she said in a sing-song voice, “just let me.”
She turned limp and Mason, taken by surprise, felt her wrists slipping from his hands. With renewed force and a shriek, she hurried for the bed.
Billy slugged her in the face. This time, when she fell to the ground, she remained there, crumpled, a pile of bones and starched maid clothes.
Mason carried Rhys into his arms. “You’re not coming?” he asked Billy.
A bit earlier, he had given his former partner the micro SD card. Apparently, Po knew much better what to do with it, and Mason wanted it out of his hands anyway.
His partner shrugged and smiled. “I have a lot of work to do. Getting a billionaire to confess to his crimes is not enough. The real chores begin now.”
“So, see you around?” Mason had other priorities, but he wanted to ask Billy a few questions.
“We’ll meet a little later. After all, you are instrumental to the disgraceful fall of Levine Goldman. The police will want to have a word with you.” Billy winked at him. “Don’t worry. I’ll be there.”
“Are you with the police? A true detective?”
Billy shook his head. “Let’s talk a bit later, okay, chief?”
“Okay, Po. And thanks for today. You saved my ass. And Rhys, too. I cannot thank you enough.”
“Don’t mention it. Or mention it. I have a few ideas about what to ask in return.”
“Will it cost me everything? Because there’s no problem if it does,” Mason added.
“No. Very little.” Billy offered him another big bright smile. “You won’t even feel it.”
“If you say so.” Mason couldn’t stop smiling either.
“Is Toby still here?” Billy asked in a low voice.
Rhys was still mostly out and couldn’t hear their conversation.
Mason looked around. “I don’t see him.”
“When you do, tell him ‘good job’ from me.”
“Will do,” Mason promised.
He took Rhys and put him gently inside the car Billy had let them use. It was parked outside. Mason took one look around before climbing behind the wheel.
And then he saw it. A dark vehicle that slowed down in front of Levine’s estate and took off suddenly. Mason tried to see the driver’s face, but the only thing he could notice was a pair of leather gloves manning the wheel. Sirens could be heard in the distance.
Well, what do you guys think about Billy now? I hope it was a nice surprise, so let me know your thoughts. And yes, I know there are still questions, and they will get their answers during the following chapters. Only a few left, and the story will be a wrap. I really hope you will enjoy the last bits, and also the ups and downs that are still ahead
Until next time,
All the best,
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