“You found out who I am? Man, you’re a frigging genius! Damn! Is that my name? Tobias?”
“Curb your enthusiasm. And Toby sounds a bit better.”
“Okay, okay, so I’m a guy named Toby. What else?” Toby fell in line with him as Mason walked toward his room.
“This is your boyfriend’s house.” Mason didn’t slow down. Not that he had to since Toby was already inside his room when he walked in.
“Boyfriend? Oh, hot damn!” Toby made a gesture like he wanted to bite his fist. “I tapped that? For real?”
Mason went to the window and leaned against the sill. “Your full name is Tobias Davis. You were Rhys’s boyfriend, that until you got killed in a back alley behind a club.”
“Fuck,” Toby groaned, “I used to have it good, right? Wait a minute, killed? I mean, I suspected that, but, still --”
“Your boyfriend was the first suspect,” Mason continued, his eyes wandering outside, away from Toby.
“Who? That pretty boy? Nah, no way he whacked me. Unless I was cheating on him. Then maybe I deserved it. Was I cheating on him?”
Mason shrugged. “No idea. But you two were fighting like a couple on the brink of an ugly divorce when that happened.”
Toby scratched his head. “Maybe I was cheating on him. But why would I do that? I must have been both crazy and a total scumbag to cheat on that hottie.”
“He didn’t do it. The police released him.”
“Well, that’s unsettling. Who must have done it, then? And wait, he doesn’t even mourn me. I barely died and --”
“You’ve been dead for about a year.”
Toby stopped in the middle of the room. “What? A year? Nah, that’s not possible. Maybe I’m not this Toby guy.”
Mason took out his phone and displayed one of the pictures he had found earlier. “Is this you or not?”
Toby frowned and stared at the picture. Then he hurried to a small mirror on the wall and checked himself. At least, he wasn’t some vampire, incapable of seeing himself in the mirror.
“Yeah, it looks like I’m that guy.” Compared to his enthusiasm from earlier, he sounded pretty deflated right now.
“Now you know who you are,” Mason said. “My job is done.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Toby said and turned away from the mirror. “It can’t be.”
“You asked me to help you find out who you are. I did.”
Toby stood in the middle of the room with a frown etched on his face. “It can’t be all.”
“It can be. I did my part, so this must be when you disappear.”
Toby looked at his hands, then at his feet. “Sorry, man, it looks like I’m not disappearing at all. You’re stuck with me. Sorry.”
“Yeah, I bet that you’re sorry.”
“Hey, man, it’s not really my fault that I’m not disappearing. There must be other stuff I need to find out before I get my peace or whatever ghosts do when they stop being ghosts.”
Mason ran one hand through his short hair. Whether he liked it or not, Toby was right. He didn’t look like he was about to dematerialize into thin air.
“Maybe,” Toby offered, “you must find out who killed me.”
Mason tsked. “The police dropped the investigation. Unknown prep. End of story. I’m not a PI. I’m just a bodyguard. Plus, any clues must be cold as ice by now.”
“There must be a reason why I’m here, right now. You can’t say it’s random, right? You work for my boyfriend, and bang, you can suddenly see me. How long have you worked for him?”
“Just got hired yesterday.”
“And yesterday, we met! Come on, Mason, that can’t be a coincidence.”
He didn’t like it, but it was the truth. But what the hell did the universe want from him right now? He was just a simple guy, leading a simple life. Complications like seeing ghosts and trying to figure out who killed them weren’t supposed to happen to him.
“Now that you know your name and who you were, does anything seem familiar? Around here?”
Toby looked around. “Not really. And if I don’t remember being with that angel, whoever offed me must have hit my head pretty hard. Sorry. Nothing rings a bell.”
Mason rubbed his eyes. There was no manual on talking to ghosts and solving their problems. Maybe he could find a psychic; nah, the chances were zero for him to meet Whoopi Goldberg in real life and convince her he was seeing ghosts. Wait, was that how that movie played out? He couldn’t remember it well. That had been someone else’s favorite.
“All right. I can read you your life’s story, at least how it was told in the papers.” Mason stopped and looked around the room. “Now, where the hell he went out to?”
Toby was no longer in sight. Mason had a hunch, but he debated with himself whether it was a good idea or not to follow his instinct, after all.
“This morning, at least you knocked.” Rhys welcomed him with upset eyes, his mouth a straight line, arms across the chest.
Mason was a bit surprised with himself, too. He was standing in the middle of Rhys’s bedroom, much in the mood to grab a certain ghost and give him an earful about leaving in the middle of a conversation.
“What were you doing in his bedroom this morning?” Toby asked. He was moving slowly around Rhys, trying from time to time to reach him with one hand, but pulling it away as if he were afraid he could be discovered.
“Look, pal, I’m your only friend around here.”
“For real?” Rhys’s eyes grew wide. “A lot of people claim to be my friends. None of them are. And yes, you included.”
“I wasn’t talking to you.” Damn, that was the wrong thing to say.
Rhys pursed his lips. “You don’t have the earpiece on. I know you’re not talking to Billy.”
The angel was so damned pissed. For a moment, Mason played with the idea of telling him he could, somehow, see his dead boyfriend; maybe that would tear the magic veil, and Rhys would be able to see Toby, too. That would solve a lot of problems in one go.
But he couldn’t risk it. If things had been so simple, the universe would have given him a sign by now. No, the universe was silent, as Mason had known it to be since forever.
“Sorry for not knocking. I was just worried about you.”
Rhys sighed. “And it took you half an hour to realize that. I can only imagine how worried you were. And what the hell were you doing in my kitchen? Looking for places to put more of your cameras?”
Mason decided to take the bull by the horns. “No. I was looking for booze.”
Rhys stared him up and down for a few long moments. “You don’t seem like the type looking to get smashed so early in the day.”
“No, I’m not that type.”
“Hey, man, are you suggesting that my boyfriend is an alcoholic?” Toby intervened.
“Not your boyfriend,” Mason said through his teeth. Anymore.
“Not my boyfriend?” Rhys began tapping one foot. “Can you talk in full sentences? I know you’re not my boyfriend. What really is your deal, Mason? Come on, spit it out.”
“You’ve been out of rehab for one month. And last night, you went out drinking. Just for the record, I’m not going to assist you in destroying your life. My job is to keep you from doing that.”
Rhys began laughing, first, only a chuckle, and then it progressed from there into full hysteria mode. He bent from the waist, and there were tears in his eyes. Mason watched him nonplussed for a bit and then hurried by his side. Rhys pushed hard against him, but, this time, Mason wouldn’t have it. He took Rhys into his arms and then to the floor, keeping him there until the nervous howls of laughter turned into sobs.
“Fuck, you’re such an asshole. You made him cry,” Toby said.
“Just shut the fuck up,” Mason whispered while keeping one hand over Rhys’s exposed ear and holding him with his head pressed against his chest. Talking to two people at the same time was dangerous.
Rhys struggled against him, probably in need to breathe. Mason let him be but hurried to find a tissue to hand it to him. There was no sign of being acknowledged for a bit, but eventually, Rhys took it.
“What’s this?” The voice was faint, but it sounded sane. That was all that mattered.
Mason shrugged. “No matter how much you cry, you still have to blow your nose.”
“Are you some kind of philosopher now? What kind of quote is that?”
“I don’t know. Rhys, look, I’m not judging you or anything. But I’m in charge of you, so no drinking till you pass out on my watch. Get it?”
Rhys shook his head. His nose was red, and his eyes runny, but he was still beautiful. His back against the bed, Mason took his time to look at Rhys. Billy could be right; the police, too; and Mason, just like them, couldn’t picture Rhys Harmony killing his boyfriend, even angered and drunk beyond his wits.
“I wasn’t prying,” Mason continued to justify himself. “I just want to know what to expect when we go out there. Stuff like that shit on the radio that shouldn’t happen on my watch.”
Rhys laughed, but this time it was sad and heartfelt, unlike earlier. “You can’t plan for everything, Mason. And I’m fine. I can deal with assholes. I mean, I have to. It’s sort of a condition if I want to --” he trailed off.
Mason nodded. He could figure out the rest.
“Ask him if he still remembers me,” Toby said, all of a sudden.
Mason threw him a brief look. There had been enough blunders for one day. He was in no mood to entertain Toby and his shenanigans anymore.
“Don’t ignore me. Just, please, ask him.” Toby’s voice dropped to a whisper.
Mason worked his jaw. Who in their frigging right mind on the other side of the living world had thought he would be a good candidate for seeing ghosts? Or this ghost, in particular? “Rhys, about your boyfriend, the one who got killed.”
Rhys wiped his tears and watched him. “Do you want to know if I did it?” His voice was bitter.
Mason shook his head. “You didn’t do it.”
“How can you be so sure? You don’t know me.”
Mason linked his hands in front of him, balancing his elbows on his knees. “The police let you go.”
The answer was a short snort. “That’s not enough for most people.”
“You couldn’t have done it. You loved that guy, as much as you used to love yourself.”
Rhys turned his head away from Mason. “Do you have more of your bullshit philosophy to serve steaming hot?”
“Plenty.” Mason didn’t laugh. “I don’t know what went down with you two. But you’re a wreck, one year after his death, and if that’s not love, I don’t know what is.” He was talking out of his ass, but sure as hell hoped it would work.
“Love.” Rhys scoffed. “That’s just another pile of shit, isn’t it?” He got up and ran his hands through his hair. For a couple of moments, he looked around the room as if he was seeing it for the first time.
“For a guy who writes and sings about it so much, you surely sound like a cynical ass.”
“Thanks.” The simple word wasn’t said in spite, but more like a foregone conclusion.
“So, you didn’t love him? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
Toby was pacing the room, stopping from time to time, and stealing glances at Rhys.
“Love him?” For a moment, Rhys looked ready to lose it again. “I don’t. I just frigging hate him.”
Mason stared at his hands. That was just fucking great. The use of the present tense wasn’t lost on him. He had a few ideas about why Rhys felt like that, but he didn’t plan on debating them. “Enough to knock him out cold?”
Rhys let his eyes wander over the room again. “I don’t know. I don’t remember a thing.”
“You don’t believe me, do you?”
“You don’t.” Rhys’s voice was one notch higher, sharper.
Mason pushed himself up. “I suppose you’re used to people telling you lies. I’m not lying. Get used to it.”
Rhys caught his arm as Mason walked toward the door. “Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t think I’m capable of murder.”
Mason shook off his hand but took him by the shoulders. He squeezed them and looked at Rhys. “It wasn’t your fault.”
With that, he turned on his heels and left. He could hear the soft sobbing behind him, but he was done comforting Rhys for now. There was a lot of stuff to clear out; and Toby had to help him.
“You’re not going to cry, too, are you?”
Toby had found refuge in a corner of Mason’s room, and stood there looking down and gloomy.
“What did you want to tell me when you got back here?” Mason had no time to waste.
Toby looked in no mood to talk.
Mason took out his phone. There were many things unclear, and if he wanted to get rid of weird things such as seeing ghosts, he needed to get his ass in gear.
“He hates me.”
“Now, he hates you,” Mason pointed out.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Mason sighed. “Do you really want me to spell it out for you? He hates you now that you’re dead.”
“In what universe does that make any sense?”
“You left him alone, idiot.” Mason never put passion in his words, and he wouldn’t start now.
“And that’s why he hates me?”
“Clearly, he didn’t choose you for your brains.” That was said under his breath.
“I heard that!”
“And boy, am I glad. Now, stop moping around. What did you find out?”
Toby looked like he wanted to argue a bit more, but eventually, he reconsidered. “When you guys left the radio station, I stayed behind. Guess who those fuckers called like, right then?”
“A guy called Levine Goldman, and boy, that was one strange conversation.”
Mason put his phone on the nightstand. He was all ears. “Well?” he asked, seeing how Toby remained silent.
“First of all, it looks like this Levine dude is some big shot.”
“He is a big shot. Also, Rhys’s producer.”
“Ah. Okay. Anyway. The sooner you’re gone, one of those douchebags hurries to the phone. He gets in touch with Levine, not before boasting to the other host that Levine’s door is always open for him like that’s a big thing.”
“Okay. What next?” The smell of scumbag was getting stronger again.
“He just tells Levine a short version of what happened and then, he asks: ‘We still get our money, right?’”
“And?” Mason was starting to become impatient with Toby’s constant interruptions.
“And apparently, the answer was ‘yes’, because he high-fived the other asshole.”
“Yeah, that’s it. Don’t you find it weird?”
“Levine must have prepared the appearance for Rhys on that show. That’s not so strange, seeing how he’s his producer.”
“A little bit too hands-on, don’t you think? And I couldn’t hear him, but he didn’t seem upset or anything that those two had harassed Rhys. That’s weird as fuck, right?”
“Right,” Mason agreed.
No moment like the present. He swiped through his phone until he found his friend’s contact. “Hi, Boyd.”
“Hey, Mason, what’s up?” Boyd sounded as energetic as ever.
“I need Levine Goldman’s number.”
“No shit. And I need a Lexus in front of my house, but we can’t always have what we want.”
“And so am I. I don’t have Levine Goldman’s personal number. Let’s say that we’re not that well acquainted.”
“He needed you to hire Billy and me.”
“And did so through one of his assistants, like any normal billionaire. Before yesterday, I never met him in flesh and blood.”
It made sense, and Boyd wasn’t the type to beat around the bush. If he didn’t want to give Mason the guy’s number, he would just say so.
“And how can I reach him?”
“I can give you the office number I have. What business do you have with him?”
“It’s private and about Rhys.”
“Okay.” Boyd didn’t comment anymore and gave Mason the number. “Everything well there?”
“Hmm. Not that great, huh?”
“It’s okay,” Mason said. He didn’t need Boyd to start asking questions now. There was plenty on his plate as it was.
“Well, call me if you need anything.”
Mason called the number to Levine’s office right away. A pleasant but distant, feminine voice welcomed him. He was put on hold after he insisted that he needed to talk to Levine on a private matter. Eventually, he was transferred to another equally pleasant and distant voice, and after dropping Rhys’s name, he was finally rerouted to Levine’s private number by the looks of it.
“Who is this?” Levine’s voice was distant but unpleasant.
“Mason Knight, at your service, sir.”
Toby was looking at him with curious eyes. At least, he had learned, like a good ghost, to keep his mouth shut when needed.
“Please, stop it with this introduction. It grates my nerves.”
“I apologize, sir. I have a question, and then, I’ll be out of your hair.”
“Go ahead. Is Rhys all right?” A tad of worry affected the icy voice. At least, there was some life in that block of granite.
“He is fine. This is about the radio show from this morning.”
“All right. Please, make it fast. I don’t have time for you to work your suspense into my workday.”
“Did you pay the radio show hosts to harass Rhys?”
There was a short pause at the other end. “That’s preposterous --”
“It’s the truth, and I know it for a fact. Why?”
“That’s a second question. I thought you only had one.”
At least, he could give points to Levine for keeping his cool once outed.
“Indulge me. Please.”
Levine let out a sigh. “Rhys is not so well.”
“And a bit of harassment was all he needed, right?”
A short chuckle followed. “Call it a bitter pill, if you will.”
“A bitter pill?”
“Yes. Rhys insisted on coming back home, telling me he was completely fine. I know he might not see it that way, but what happened at the radio station this morning was nothing but a small demonstration. The world out there is still ready to rip him a new one, pardon my French. He would be better if he focused more on his health.”
“Do you mean that it would have been better if he had stayed in rehab some more?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“How long was he in there? Sounds like a long treatment.”
“The alcohol was the smallest of the problems.”
Mason knew what Levine wasn’t saying, and he didn’t like it. “As his bodyguard, I have the right to know. Has he ever hurt himself?”
“Those are personal details.”
“I’m in charge of his protection. I am only trying to do my job, sir.”
“All right. Since you’re so keen. Yes. The first sign of relapse and I intend to put him back into a facility where he can receive the proper care he requires.”
“You mean, where he can be watched.”
“Potayto, potahto. Let’s not split hairs. As I told you, I don’t have all day. I trust you will let me know if Rhys does anything that puts his life in jeopardy, right?”
“I should have known that firsthand.”
“Frankly, I didn’t think you would last.”
That was a strange thing to say. Mason had even more questions.
“I hope this is all.” Levine cut the conversation without saying goodbye. That came with any scumbag’s territory, so Mason wasn’t in the least surprised.
“Well?” Toby asked the soonest Mason put down the phone.
“He didn’t deny it, in the end. He just thinks Rhys would be okay locked away somewhere, with people in white serving him pills for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
“I don’t trust this guy.”
“I don’t, either. But hey, he allowed Rhys to come home when he could just say the word and keep him away for who knows how long.”
“Yeah. Any idea why he did that?”
Mason had an idea, but he didn’t want to share it with Toby. Since Levine Goldman wanted to get in Rhys’s pants, having the object of his lecherous affection stashed away in some rehab facility or clinic for the depressed couldn’t work for his plans.
The most important thing was, Rhys had been right about not having real friends. Mason wasn’t his friend, either, but, at least, he wanted to protect him because that was his job. That was something that worked in his favor, and Rhys, like everyone else, had to take from life what he could get.
Mason lay on the bed, his arms behind his head.
“Hey, man, are you spacing out or something?”
“I’m obviously trying to think here. Were you a chatterbox when you were alive, too?”
“No idea. Do you think Rhys hates me because he still loves me?” The last words were said quietly.
“That’s a reasonable explanation, yeah.”
“Why can’t I remember him? I can totally see myself loving someone like him.”
“Because he’s pretty?”
Toby snorted. “Pretty doesn’t cover it. He’s beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone like him.”
“You’ve barely been seeing people for one month. That’s hardly enough for comparison.”
“You know what I mean, man. I noticed how you kept looking at him.”
“You must be imagining things. I’m not looking at him in any way. He’s just the guy I’m paid to protect.”
“Nah. You like him. You can admit it. I won’t mind or anything.”
“I don’t think so. You strike me like the jealous type.”
“With a guy like that, can you blame me?”
No, Mason couldn’t say that he blamed Toby. “Has anything jogged your memory yet?”
“Nothing. I’m still blank.”
“Then maybe you should read some of this stuff.” Mason took his phone again and handed it to Toby.
The ghost threw him a crooked smile. “Really, man? This is the ‘let’s have fun on the resident ghost’s account’ hour or something?”
Mason sighed. “I could scroll the pages for you.”
“Nah. How about you just tell me what’s important?”
“All right. What do you want to know?”
“Tell me about how I died.”
Mason pulled at his ear lobe. “Okay. According to what the papers say, you and Rhys were at this big party at some club. You two had a row, and you went outside. Rhys was drunk to the point of becoming comatose and locked himself in a bathroom stall. Hours later, you were found dead in the back alley behind the club.”
“That was the shortest and most boring story I’ve ever heard in my life,” Toby moaned. “You make it look like I died like a schmuck.”
“The chances are that’s what you were at the time,” Mason said.
“Why were we fighting? Me and Rhys?”
“Apparently, because of money.”
Toby thought for a while. “It must be my current non-material form that makes me think that I couldn’t be in love with such material things.”
“You don’t remember anything, so everything is game.”
“Ask Rhys what we were fighting about.”
“No can do. The guy’s a nervous wreck.”
“That’s because he’s still thinking about me. But if you find out how I died, then Rhys will know, too.”
“And? Will that suddenly make him happy or something?”
“No, but maybe, you know, it could give him closure.”
“You must have watched a bunch of stupid movies before you died. There’s no such thing as closure. When someone dies, they die. It’s forever.”
“People move on.”
“If they cared for real, they don’t.”
Mason pushed himself up and out of bed. He had no time for that crap. There was plenty to do, and sitting around, talking to a ghost, was not that.
Sooo, do you guys think Mason's head-on approach will work? Once I got around to writing this chapter, I was personally happy to put a name on the ghost, and I guess Toby is happy about that, too. At the same time, I am well aware of how complicated things will get for Mason from now on, especially since he can't keep his mouth shut when Toby's getting on his nerves. Let's see how he manages Of course, troubles will come from more direction than one, but I hope you guys are with me!
All the best,
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