Chapter Nine: A Lesson in Lying Part B
I feel… angry. Unexplainably. I know I shouldn’t feel angry, of course I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it. Mello was born this way, because he never knew his family. He’s tough and sharp and to the point. But I’m not like that. I can’t ever be like that, I don’t have it in me. He can emotionally distance himself from everyone we meet and everything we get involved with, but I can’t. And the worst thing is that I wonder if he’s distancing himself from me, shutting me out. Because I can’t shut him out. I can’t deny that I care about him, that I would be upset if something happened to him. Something is changing between us. It’s like I want to get as close to him as possible, but the harder I try the more walls he puts up in between us.
We eat dinner together in silence, and afterwards I get up and go outside and light up a cigarette. God knows I need one. The cool of the evening is calming, and there are some sort of birds talking to each other in the trees around. I close my eyes and let myself sink away until all that remains is the slow burn in the back of my throat, the poison I need to get through. I let the anger drip away.
When he comes to stand beside me, leaning on the railings of our veranda, quietly, I refuse to be the first to speak. I know that he will wait for me to speak, but I won’t.
“Matt?” He says, breaking the silence, and he sounds almost vulnerable, like he isn’t sure whether I will accept what he has to say.
“…Yes?” I reply, somewhat taken aback, wondering what is coming.
“You’re… you’re scaring me.” Mello says, and I turn to look at him in surprise, the forgotten cigarette trailing ash over the side of the veranda. “You’re changing.”
“I’m not changing.” I say after a moment, not sure what he means. “I’m just the same as I always was.”
“No, you’re…” Mello takes a deep breath, and I know this is hard for him, to talk about fear and weakness. “You’re different. Earlier, and now… You used to be smiling all the time and laughing and joking, even when something was wrong. Even when I told you to stop. But now you’re quiet and… distant. Did I… did I do something wrong, Matt?”
I’ve been stupid. I look up into his eyes and I see the hurt that was there back in Japan, the vulnerability that I forgot he had shown. I thought he was over it. How stupid! I should have known that this pain, this fear will never leave him.
“No!” I reply, putting a hand to his shoulder. “You’ve done nothing, I swear, Mello. It’s me. It’s me, thinking too much. I’m sorry, I promise I’ll be back to my old self. I’ve just been having a funny week.”
“It’s ever since the last case, isn’t it?” Mello says, his blue eyes reflecting troubled waters. “You defended Twinkle, and Mrs Appleby, because you thought that Richard wouldn’t betray his wife, and she wouldn’t betray him. But then you found out that they had. You’re… Matt, I can see the effect it’s having on you. You’ve got such a pure heart…”
“A… a pure heart?” I repeat, wondering where this is all coming from. “Mells, I swear, I’m fine. I promise you. Don’t worry about me so much. I’m a grown man.”
“I can’t help worrying.” Mello replies, looking down at the ground. “You mean a lot to me.”
“Mells…” I sigh, and, foregoing any more words, draw him into a hug. After a moment I feel him lift his arms to return the favour, and just as I thought things were sorted, I realise those feelings again. The ones I don’t understand so much. Why does it feel so good to have his arms around me? Why does my heart race?
And that’s when the cigarette burns down to my fingers.
“Shit!” I shout, jumping away, dropping the cigarette and shaking my hand to stop it hurting. Mello takes one look at me, and bursts out laughing.
Matt’s an idiot sometimes, but it’s funny. I’m glad he’s okay. I could never forgive myself if something happened to him because I wasn’t paying attention. But we’ve got a case on the go, and that can’t be forgotten either, so the next morning we got up early.
The first thing, of course, was to talk to the guards. We found out who was on duty, and questioned them closely, but found nothing. Not until we were about to leave, and one of them came back for another word. He was a young guy, looked about our age, and unsure of himself. His name was Peter Parkman. Even though I was the one who did the questioning, he went to Matt, and asked to speak to him, so I was forced to just listen through the door.
I heard them sit down, and then Peter cleared his throat, sounding nervous.
“What is it?” That was Matt, getting right down to business.
“Well, you see…” Parkman clears his throat again, before finally getting on with it. “I haven’t been honest with you. I was… afraid. Listen, if I tell you what really happened, will I get in trouble?”
“Did you kill anybody?” Matt asks, sounding lazy.
“Good. We’ll do our best to keep you out of trouble, then. Tell me what happened.”
“Well, Mister Rockaby, he… he asked me to do something for him, and said I’d get a pay rise if I did it and didn’t tell anybody. So I did it. What he told me to do was, to take a little box he gave me and go to a warehouse in town, and give it to a man. The man, he gave me a suitcase full of money, so I gave that back to Mister Rockaby. Then he gave me some of the money.” Parkman explains, and I can hear Matt’s brain working as much as mine is.
“This box. Ebony wood, inlaid with cherry?” Matt asks.
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“Because you just solved the crime. Thanks, Peter. You’re not in trouble at all. Now you keep that to yourself for a while, until the case is finished.” Matt says, and I hear his chair scraping back. He comes out of the room and grins at me, and we go back in to the office block.
“It’s solved, then.” He says to me, as the secretary leaves us outside again; but I shake my head.
“We have the how, but not the why.” I tell him. “Let me handle this, don’t contradict me if I lie. I have a plan.”
As soon as we go in to see Rockaby, I shake his hand and sit down, looking him square in the eye.
“No leads yet, I’m afraid. Looks like the guards are clean.” I tell him, and then flash him a smile. “That secretary of yours is… well, she’s something else, isn’t she?”
“Oh, yes.” Rockaby laughs, grinning back. “Linda Bubblegum is her name, she’s a great secretary. Thank the lord she’d gone home when the necklace was stolen, I hate to think what would have happened if she’d tried to stop him.”
“Him?” I say, leaning forward, one side of my mouth twisted up into a smile.
“Oh, a figure of speech. So, do you think you’ll ever find it?”
“It’s possible.” I say, leaning back again. “If you admit the affair you’re having with Miss Bubblegum, that could be a start.”
“What?!” Both Matt and Rockaby exclaim at the same time. I smirk coolly, getting up to trail a finger along a trophy shelf.
“Well, since you bought the necklace for her in the first place, it would help matters if you admitted to it.” I say, holding up my finger to show the dust on it. “Your office needs a bit of a clean-out, wouldn’t you say?”
Rockaby frowns angrily and opens his mouth, but I cut him off.
“And once it seemed your wife was going to find out, you had to think fast. She saw the ruby, didn’t she? And then you asked Peter Parkman, your loyal guard, to take it and sell it on the black market, so that you could say it was stolen. Isn’t that right?”
With Matt staring at me in surprise and Rockaby slowly sinking into his seat, pale and shaken, I grin my victory smile.
“Don’t worry. The police are already on their way.”
Christ, he’s quick. I realise that it was obvious, in retrospect, but there’s no way I could have put things together so quickly. It was amazing. But I can’t help but think that this just shows me that once again, I’m too soft, too trusting. I thought it couldn’t be possible that he could fake a robbery, or that he could have an affair with his secretary. I was wrong. Again.
After this, and after the Appleby case, it makes me wonder why people bother with love. It’s all false. Rockaby lied to the police because his love wasn’t strong enough to resist a pretty face - it corrupts everything! He was probably a nice guy before he fell in love. And Bubblegum - she only loved him because he was rich - in fact, I don’t think she loved him at all. I’m rich now… does that mean that I’ll have to be careful, in case someone pretends to love me just for my money? Everything is so complicated, why can’t it be like we were always told it was? Why isn’t love just love? I don’t understand how these men could cheat on their wives and lie to their families… I… I don’t understand how they can hurt them, and…
And I don’t understand why my parents didn’t love me enough to protect me… how they could… hurt me, their son, and abandon me…