Mason woke up from his fitful sleep and held Rhys close. Exhausted from the earlier events, he had fallen asleep on the bed, in his suit, and with his precious charge in his arms, determined never to let go. There had been no complaints from the other who clearly needed to sleep off the drugs that had been injected in his system.
On and off, Mason had awakened, only to listen to Rhys’s steady breathing. He placed a soft kiss on the parted lips. They were safe, he tried to tell himself, but his worried mind didn’t seem to care about reassurance.
“He looks so peaceful in your arms.”
Mason turned slightly to face Toby. The ghost stood close to the bed, looking at them.
“You know, you are a bit creepy, standing there like that,” he made a lame attempt at a joke. His voice was low but raspy.
“I could have hovered over you while having sex.”
Mason let out a small chuckle. “How are you? Do you remember more now?”
Toby shook his head. “No, man. That asshole must have said the truth. He didn’t kill me.”
“I doubt he didn’t have anything with it, though. He could order someone to do it.”
“Yeah. It looks like I’m still here.”
“Renzo has the murder weapon. That mystery will be solved, too.”
“Let’s hope so.” Toby hovered in the air and looked at Rhys.
“Hey, you’re getting creepier,” Mason joked.
“I like looking at him while he sleeps. I feel suddenly warm,” Toby said.
“I know,” Mason confirmed. Toby loved Rhys even if he didn’t remember anything yet.
They stood there in silence. It seemed so uncanny that only earlier, they had been in the toughest situation in their lives, especially Rhys.
“Toby, did you notice a black car when we were at Levine?” Mason asked.
“A black car? I don’t think so.”
“That asshole in the video you took, the one talking to Levine, he’s still out there.” Mason held Rhys close and pressed one cheek against his forehead.
“He could be still after Rhys.”
“Billy must be on his case,” Toby said.
“Does Billy know about him? I mean, of course, he must have seen the video by now, but --”
“Yeah. I stayed behind a little and watched him. When he looked at the video, he said something like ‘so, we meet again’. By the way, he’s working for Renzo.”
“Renzo? He’s not with the police, then?”
Toby shook his head. “No, but the dude has friends in all the high places. The detective who came with the police crew seemed happy to see him.”
“Po played us nicely,” Mason said with mirth.
“Po? Do you mean Billy? Where is he?” Rhys mumbled as he opened his eyes and blinked a few times. “Is he here?”
Toby dematerialized in the blink of an eye.
“No. He had business with the police.”
“The police? What happened?” Rhys struggled to straighten up, and Mason helped him. “Why is my head pounding like this?”
“You were drugged and kidnapped. Not sure in which order,” Mason offered.
Rhys touched his forehead gingerly. “Oh, damn, I remember something now, but not all. What the hell happened?”
Mason embraced him from behind. “You’re safe now.” He exhaled and then inhaled the scent of golden hair. “Levine was behind it all.”
“Doesn’t that man know how to take a ‘no’?” Rhys revolted and then groaned. He grabbed his head in his hands and began massaging his temples. “He didn’t force himself on me, right?”
Mason rubbed his shoulders. “No. And he didn’t have any interest in you of the kind. He kept you as a bargaining chip.”
Mason sighed. “I found the micro SD card missing from Toby’s phone. It was hidden inside your pendant, the one you wore around your neck. I broke it by accident ... I’m sorry.”
Rhys remained silent for a moment and then turned slowly. “Mason, what was on that card?” he asked quietly.
“I’ll show you.” Mason grabbed his phone from the nightstand.
The angle was skewed, and one could easily tell that the video had been recorded without the knowledge of those involved. Mason had recognized Levine’s office from the first time he had seen the video. Toby must have stayed hidden behind one of the lavish armchairs in the room.
“I don’t understand what takes you so long.” That was Levine’s voice, loud and clear. “How hard can you be to whack a flamboyant pansy like Renzo Ora?”
The other person in the room was standing, but his back was turned so that no one could see his face.
“I strongly advise against using names while talking about such delicate issues.”
If he focused enough, Mason could almost recognize the metallic voice on the phone in the human one he was hearing. But that had to be his imagination playing tricks on him, and nothing else.
“This is my house, my office. I’ll do as I please. So far, Mr. X, you’ve done nothing but cost me money.” Levine’s words were loaded with disdain.
“Killing a prominent figure like the person in question is not something to treat lightly. I’m not your butcher, Mr. Money Bags.”
If Mason hadn’t known any better, he would have thought Levine was through with that guy after being insulted like that.
“Fine. We’ll do it your way. He’s already bragging that he’s number one in the entertainment industry. So make sure to bring me his head on a silver platter.”
Mason had heard that particular demand before.
“I hope you don’t mean it literally.”
“I would, but you’re apparently keen on getting on my nerves. Just do it, make sure he’s dead, and you’ll be rewarded.”
The video stopped there.
Rhys’s eyes grew wide. “Oh my God,” he murmured. “Did Levine murder Toby over this? Did Renzo know?”
Mason took his hand. “We don’t know for sure. Things are crazy complicated. Levine says he didn’t kill Toby, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t hire someone else to do it.”
“This person?” Rhys pointed at the man on the screen, whose face was hidden since all the time, he had been with his back to Toby’s phone while the secret video had been recorded.
“That guy must be a pro,” Mason explained. “And whoever killed Toby, he was quite reckless. He left the murder weapon behind --”
“Murder weapon?” Rhys exclaimed. “How long have I been asleep? A decade? How come all these things came to life so quickly?”
“Ary hid it,” Mason explained.
“Ary? Did he see who murdered Toby, then?”
“No, and he was afraid, too, because he touched the billiard mace used to kill Toby,” Mason said.
Rhys pressed his index fingers against his temples, hard. “Billiard mace? A cue stick? But that’s hardly --”
“We don’t know all the details now. But whoever killed Toby seemed to have done so while going through a lapse in judgement --” Mason stopped, the thread of his thoughts untangling like Ariadne’s. “Rhys, I know it’s a lot to ask from you, but do you think you can stand? We need to go to the police. I have a suspicion about Toby’s killer, and they’re the only ones who can test it.”
“Of course,” Rhys replied. “Billy’s with the police right now? I thought I heard you talking ... Wait,” Rhys rubbed his temples harder, “who were you talking to, Mason? I heard you in my sleep --”
Saved by the bell. Mason’s phone rang, and he grabbed it like a lifeline. “Hi, Billy. Yes, we’re coming in right now. Rhys appears to be well enough. Also, I think I know who killed Toby.”
He stood up and cut the conversation. “We’ll have to give statements about what happened,” he said hurriedly, hoping that Rhys would forget about what he had just asked.
“My statement will be disappointingly short,” Rhys commented, “but I’ll do everything I can to help.”
“Let’s go, then. Tonight, we’ll order in, and then you’ll get to sleep properly.”
Rhys stood and swayed slightly. Mason caught him, and their eyes met. “Thank you, Mason. For doing this. For saving me.”
“I couldn’t have lived with myself if I hadn’t done my best,” Mason replied in a soft voice.
Rhys kissed him. It was a chaste kiss, with no heat, but full of love. Mason knew he would have to come clean eventually. But that moment could wait a little, and he could pretend that things would be okay.
At the police station, Mason had to be reassured several times that Rhys would be in safe hands when they were taken to give their statements separately. His interview went better than expected, in the sense that the questions were straightforward, and the detective in charge already seemed to know everything. That had to be Billy’s hand in everything regarding the case.
Nonetheless, he felt relieved when he walked out of the room.
“Do you have a moment, Mason?” Billy was standing in front of another interrogation room, leaning casually against the doorjamb. “Don’t worry about Rhys. He’s fine. His statement takes longer because there’s old history he has to talk about.”
“All right,” Mason said curtly. He knew he could trust Billy, but he was anxious to see Rhys again. He couldn’t bear, in a scary physical sense, to be away from him for too long.
Billy gestured for him to follow, but not inside the room, as he expected, but outside. They walked out into an interior courtyard. Mason observed in silence as Billy pulled at his collar and then rummaged through his pockets. From there, he produced a pair of cigarettes and a lighter.
Mason shook his head. “You’re smoking on top of everything, Mr. Private Eye?”
Billy chuckled and took a deep inhale through the cancer stick. His hair was mussed, and he seemed somewhat older, but not in a bad way. Certainly, Mason could still see Po in him, but now he discovered a deeper layer, and it astonished him that he had been so easily fooled for so long.
“Actually, this is my actual vice. I had to gain thirty pounds for this job, and I swear to dear God, if I see another candy wrap in my life, I’ll consider moving to Antarctica.”
“Why? No candies there?”
“Nope. I checked. Only popsicles.”
Mason laughed. It felt good after so long.
“Did Toby tell you Renzo hired me?”
“Yes. He must have been as curious about you as me. You must be one hell of a private investigator.”
“I prefer the term problem solver,” Billy explained.
“About Toby,” Mason started. It felt weird but comforting to talk to someone about his seeing ghosts and whatnot. “How could you tell? You don’t see him or anything, right? And I hope you’re not laying some trap to catch me and take me to a place where the only clothes I’ll get will be a straitjacket.”
Billy offered him a huge grin. “Nah. Would that be a way for me to treat my partner?”
“It’s weird as fuck, isn’t it?”
“You being able to see Toby’s ghost? Yeah, it is. But trust me, in my job, I’ve seen plenty of weird shit. So, don’t sweat it.”
“Did you tell anyone else about this? Renzo --”
“No,” Billy said and put his mind at ease. “While I like to think of myself as completely open-minded, I doubt others would have the same outlook on life and all it entails. I prefer to err on the side of caution.”
“Thanks. But how did you realize I could see Toby?”
“Well, let’s say that I had more cameras than you thought installed all over the house at Rhys’s place.”
“You son of a ...” Mason stopped and shook his head. “How come Toby didn’t catch you watching those cameras?”
“Ah, I wasn’t watching them on the screens in the surveillance room, but only on my phone. And those had sound; I listened to them on my earbuds. Anyone looking over my shoulder would have seen me playing some mind numbing mobile game.”
“I’ll be damned,” Mason whispered.
“I won’t get into the technical stuff. Know that it’s cutting edge and let’s leave it at that.”
“If you say so. Then you heard me talking to Toby.”
“Yes, and it made me curious. I knew everything about you, Mason, and you didn’t strike me as the type who would go crazy all of a sudden. I listened carefully, and trust me, the half dialogue I kept hearing was frustrating as hell.”
Mason ran one hand over his face. He had been cursed with an interesting life, whether he liked it or not. “Billy, about Boyd. Wait, is your name even Billy?”
“No, but maybe I’ll tell you my real name one day. I have conditions for that.”
“Really? Like what?”
“Save a drink for me on your wedding day.”
“You still bent on that? How about the cake?”
Billy threw him a disgusted look.
Mason laughed. “All right. But I think you’re getting your hopes high for nothing. Rhys ... He deserves the truth.”
“The truth? You mean, about Toby being a ghost and talking to you? I’m not sure, man.”
“I can’t tell him that I love him and continue to lie. That’s no way to live.”
Billy threw the cigarette butt on the ground and crushed it. He reached for another and looked at Mason. “Going to let me poison myself, chief?”
Mason laughed. “I think you’re a big boy now. You’re free to make mistakes. Since you proved so well that you can handle yourself, there’s nothing else for me to teach you.”
“You’re one hell of a good guy, Mason,” Billy said and lit his second cigarette.
“About Boyd, though, how did you do it?” Mason asked.
Billy threw him a guilty look. “Don’t get mad at your friend. It took a lot to convince him to get me on the same team with you to watch over Rhys’s wellbeing. I had to promise that if the situation got hairy, you’d be out.”
“So Boyd knew? What a friend,” Mason said, somewhat miffed. “Why didn’t you guys rope me in, though?”
“The operation was all on need to know basis. Boyd doesn’t know the tenth part of what you know right now. And while I felt I could trust you, my line of business teaches me every day that I could be wrong at any moment. And mistakes tend be quite costly in every possible way.”
Mason nodded in understanding.
“Levine’s fingerprints are not on the murder weapon,” Billy started. “But that billiard mace does belong to him.”
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Mason said.
“We ran the fingerprints through the database, but nothing came out,” Billy continued. “As expected.”
“How about taking Anita’s fingerprints?” Mason said.
Billy turned toward him. “That’s your theory? She’s Levine’s maid. Her fingerprints on the murder weapon should not be a surprise. She polishes the silverware.”
“Exactly,” Mason said. “She wouldn’t leave any fingerprints on, right? That would be a sloppy job. Unless, of course, in a moment of, I don’t know, anger --”
Billy’s eyes lit up. “You’re a genius, Mason. Now we have to make Levine admit that he put her up to it.”
“Frankly, I don’t think so. I think she acted on her own. Just when she put the ketamine inside the drawer in Rhys’s kitchen, probably to make people think he’s a drug addict once Levine’s plan came to fruition.”
“Because she likes to go beyond the call of duty,” Billy added, remembering, just like Mason, Levine’s words. “But why would Levine keep such an unstable person close? She obviously made some grave mistakes.”
“And still, Levine trusted her to finish Rhys after getting the micro SD card from me.”
“Hmm, how about becoming my partner for real?” Billy asked.
Mason shook his head. “It sounds dangerous, whatever you do. I’d rather be a bodyguard. I’ve had my fair share of interesting things during these last weeks.”
“But hey, you got to fall in love,” Billy said, good-naturedly.
Fall in love. Some people made it sound easy, but it was also a burden because no one was ever the same after that happened to them. The thought alone was frightening.
“Let me know if my theory about Anita is right. I think it would help Toby.”
Billy nodded. “Sure thing.”
Mason still had one thing to ask. “I also want to ask you about the man Levine hired to kill Renzo. Do you think he’ll come after Rhys?”
Billy shook his head. “That guy doesn’t lift a finger if he’s not paid royally. Plus, he’s a con artist above all else. He likes to squeeze his so-called employers of all the money he can before acting.” He made a disgusted face. Mason suspected that Billy’s dislike toward the hired hitman ran deeper than what met the eye. “Don’t worry about him. He won’t bother either of you. He doesn’t do personal, ever.”
Mason knew he had to be satisfied with that. His former partner had turned to be a capable individual, proficient in his line of business.
Billy threw the smoked cigarette on the ground. He looked around as if he wanted to remember that drab courtyard for some reason.
Mason knew what that meant. “I guess this is where we say goodbye, right?”
“Not forever,” Billy said with a smile. “Just save that drink for me. I want to make a toast for you and Rhys at the right moment.”
“You’re an optimist,” Mason said. “I told you --”
“He’ll believe you,” Billy said with conviction and offered his hand.
Mason shook it firmly.
Rhys stood with his head hanged low and looked at his hands as if there was some secret they could tell him. Mason knew there were many unanswered questions between them, but they were heading home, and no one appeared in the mood to talk.
Still, the way Rhys seemed so lost made him feel hurt, real hurt, in the middle of his chest. “It’s over now,” he said in a noncommittal voice.
“Yeah, I guess.” Rhys spoke monotonously, just like him.
“Levine will be put away for a long time.”
“Is that evidence truly enough? What about Toby?”
“I asked Billy to look into my theory. It shouldn’t take long for us to hear from him.”
Rhys looked out the window. An early fall rain was misting the glass. Mason stared for a moment at his back and then focused on the road ahead.
“Who do you think did it?” Rhys asked, but without looking back at him.
“There is only one person close enough to Levine to have interest in doing that.”
“Not the mysterious man in that recording, though.”
“No, this person was sloppy. So my guess is Anita, the creepy maid.”
Rhys turned toward him and stared at his profile. Mason could sense his questioning eyes on him.
“I understand that she tried to kill me, too,” Rhys said without emotion.
“We stopped her, me and Billy.”
“I’m lucky then. Toby wasn’t.”
Mason sighed and gripped the wheel tightly. The windshield wipers moved to and fro with metronome precision, but the rain was getting stronger, and it looked like they would become overwhelmed soon. “Please, Rhys,” he said softly.
“Don’t push yourself in a corner. Don’t punish yourself. It wasn’t your fault, any of it.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Rhys confirmed. “But it was Toby’s. He should have come to me. We would have left, gone to the police, something.” All of a sudden, he was animated, and his voice was on edge.
That took Mason by surprise. “He was trying to protect you.”
“He left me alone,” Rhys said with bitterness. “And he wanted to count on me, or else what would he put the card inside my pendant? I just wish he went all the way, and tell me about the danger he was in. We were both in. We were one.” His words hanged heavy between them.
Mason wished for the windshield wipers to work harder, faster. “Don’t blame him for loving you more than himself.”
“More than himself? Please stop it with the bullshit, Mason. He loved more? You think that’s it?”
“Yes, I do,” Mason said curtly.
“And you know that, how? What was left for me to do, then? To be a loved person and that should have been enough? But let me tell you this. It wasn’t. I loved Toby.” Rhys began choking on his words. “I love him,” he added as his words turned into whispers. “So I can’t forgive him.”
The road before them was a blanket of running water. Mason pulled over and killed the engine. He felt too messed up on the inside to drive in that kind of weather. “You should forgive him,” he said with finality.
Rhys shook his head, and it was evident he was fighting back the tears. Mason wished that he would just let them go, along with any resentment he still felt toward his late lover. The wound couldn’t close without letting go. “How can you ask me that? I can’t. I simply cannot.”
“But he would want that. He would want for you to forgive him.”
And let him go. The thought hit Mason with sudden clarity. What if that were what Toby really needed? What if it weren’t about finding his killer at all?
“You don’t know anything,” Rhys replied. “How could you? Only Toby would … and sorry to say,” he added with a short nervous laugh, “but he’s no longer around to tell us what he truly wants.”
Mason looked ahead, the deluge in front making it hard to see anything at all. “What if he were?”
“If he were what? Still around?” Rhys asked him. “I’m not the kind to visit psychics and throw money at them just so that they tell me what I want to hear. They and shrinks are the same bunch.”
They should have been at home by now, and this conversation should have been easier. But maybe it was for the best that they were trapped there, in the rain, with the world shut away from them for a while.
“He is still around,” Mason said softly.
“What?” Rhys looked at him.
He didn’t dare to say another word.
“Mason, what are you saying?” Rhys’s voice was guarded now.
He had to end what he had started. Horribly aware of how he sounded, he said, “I can see Toby. I can talk to him.”
The silence that fell between them was unbearable. Mason risked a look at Rhys, to be met by cold eyes.
“Toby is dead, Mason, dead and buried, so explain yourself right now,” Rhys said. “You’re not going to sell me on some story that he’s still alive, are you?”
“No. He’s dead. But … I’m talking to his ghost.” Yes, that sounded as insane as he had expected.
“His ghost?! Do you think I’m crazy? How can you spout such crap? Oh my God, are you Levine’s man? Are you trying to make me appears as if I’ve lost my mind?”
“No, no, no,” Mason protested. “I wouldn’t do this to you. But it’s the truth, and I don’t want any lies between us.”
“Isn’t it rich, then, that you’re trying to fool me with some crazy shit?” Rhys spat.
Mason was conscious of Rhys moving away from him, and not only emotionally. He had been through a lot, and hearing about his dead lover making an appearance as a ghost couldn’t be something reasonable and easy to accept.
“Rhys, I’m telling the truth.” There wasn’t anything else he could say but the truth.
“Okay. Let’s say I believe you,” Rhys said in an icy tone. “Tell me something only he and I know. Ask him. Is he here now? Chilling on the back seat?” He looked ostentatiously over his shoulder.
“No, he’s not. And I cannot tell you anything because he doesn’t remember his life before he died.”
“A ghost with amnesia? Damn, how convenient,” Rhys revolted.
Anyone in their right mind would have reacted the same. Mason squeezed his eyes shut. “I’m only telling the truth,” he repeated like a mantra.
“Why would you do this?” Rhys asked bitterly. “Are you afraid of being stuck with me? Is that it? If it is, it’s easier just to tell me that we’re through. Since I’m not in any danger anymore, according to the police, your job is done. Ah, and you’re right. It’s over now.”
Mason was surprised by Rhys opening the door on his side and climbing out of the car.
“Rhys, wait! Where are you going?”
The only reply was the door getting slammed in his face. With a curse, he climbed out of the car, too, and hurried after Rhys.
How fast could he run? He was already a white silhouette in the rain. Mason took a few steps and then stopped. No, it was better like this. Much better. He couldn’t force Rhys to believe him; that was a choice for another to make.
I shouldn't dare to ask you what you think at this point ... but I'm asking nonetheless! There is very little of the story left, so emotions - of the characters, not mine, I swear - run high at this point. I hope you enjoyed the new chappie, with all its ups and downs. And feel free to yell at me if that's how you feel.