Chapter Twenty Three
Greg’s voice was the first sound after the door closed and a bolt latched. “Well, this is nice.”
Sarah’s voice was next. “Can we take off our blindfolds?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Greg answered. “I already took mine off, and you can’t see any better without it.”
He was right. We were in a pitch-black room. There wasn’t a slip of light coming in anywhere. As we moved around the space, exploring with our arms outstretched, it was natural to stay very close together. One hand out front, and one hand on your neighbor.
When I realized my neighbor was Mason, I grumbled an apology and pulled my hand away.
“Come on, Laura,” he said. “Don’t do that.”
“Yeah, I don’t know why I’m worrying,” I said sarcastically. “It’s not like we have boundaries.”
I heard him sigh. “Just be careful. I think there’s a step up here.”
“There is,” Greg affirmed. “And a row of couches... and another step. I think we might be in a movie theatre.”
“Oh, yeah. Marcus likes movies.” That was Sarah from clear across the room. She must have stayed near the door while the rest of us milled around like blind mice.
My hands found the back of a leather sofa as Mason drifted away to my left. I could hear his booted steps fade and return, then his voice was very close.
“Yeah, home theatre. Greg, see if you can find any light-switches on that side of the room.”
“On it,” Greg called.
It only took a few minutes before he found a dimmer switch and turned it up halfway. Not too bright, just perfect to set the mood - for whatever weird things Marcus had planned. The room was pretty big, with a tray ceiling and walls painted dark brown, a burgundy carpet, and rows of khaki sofas and their matching chairs. Giant movie posters were framed along the walls. And in the back, there was even a counter with both popcorn and soda machines and what looked like a full bar. No expense was spared.
Greg opened the door to a large wardrobe. “Seriously, guys. There are costumes in here.”
We gathered around him to see what looked like rows and rows of movie-themed costumes. From Dorothy to Chewbacca.
“He is not going to make us wear those,” Cat said.
“Don’t worry,” I told her, earning a glare. “There’s a Tomb Raider one in there. It looks about your size.”
“Oooh, Share Bear!” Sarah exclaimed, pushing toward the front of the group and touching a purple Carebear costume. At Greg’s teasing look, she asked, “What? I used to play with these when I was little. I had like twelve of them. I watched the cartoon, too.”
I gave Cat a sideways look, and she shook her head.
“Don’t even say it,” she warned me.
I shrugged. “Okay.”
Mason, completely uninterested in the closet, was inspecting the room. He followed the steps to the front of the theatre, found a door, and disappeared. When he came back through the door, he was shaking his head. “That’s just another room filled with old movie reels and a few things I don’t even want to talk about,” he said, taking the steps two at a time.
“Dude, we’re not getting out of here,” Greg told him with an impassive shrug. “Just chill and wait, okay?”
Mason’s response was to remove his hat, pull his hair back, and replace the hat. After another calculating glance around the room, he asked, “Do you think we’re being recorded?”
“Why?” Greg asked.
“This just feels weird,” Mason answered. “And those guys didn’t even pat us down. I could have brought my H-and-K.”
“Your gun?” Greg asked him, brows lowered.
“You have a gun?” I asked Mason who barely looked at me.
“I have three,” he said, distractedly, removing his hat again and curling the bill. “But they’re all pretty useless inside their safe.”
Just then, we heard the bolt on the door release and three people entered - the two who’d brought us here and a very boyish looking man who walked through a cloud of smoke with a flourish.
“Well, hellooooo!” He greeted us like we were guests at a party, waving a slender hand and trailing cigar smoke. “I’m so glad everyone could make it!”
We stared at him, entranced. This delicate elfin creature with short, platinum hair and ridiculous hoop earrings was in charge of our fate? One by one, he reached to shake our hands. Sarah first, Cat next, then Greg... But when he stopped in front of me, hand outstretched, I ignored his entreaty to make my cordial acquaintance.
“You... must... be... Laura,” he said to me, very slowly. “Is it not a pleasure to meet me?”
I said nothing. For once, I was able to keep my gigantic mouth shut and simply watched him assess me. After a very long staring contest, our eye-contact was broken by the sound of Sarah’s quivering voice.
“I ha- have your money,” she stuttered, pulling the check from her pocket. It was folded into a square the size of a quarter, a reminder that even though Mason had stomped all over my trust with his army boots, he was probably saving our hides. Without that ninety grand, we might never escape this room. And may even have us starring in this week’s murder mystery soiree.
Marcus took the check, unfolded it, and gave Sarah an amused smile. “Charming,” he told her. “Payable to cash.”
“So, we can leave, right?” She asked, ever the naive optimist.
He laughed. And not a chuckle, not a gesture of courtesy, but a doubled-over, holding his stomach show of absolute glee. When he was done wiping the tears from his eyes, each of us received another calculating stare before he settled on Mason.
“And who are you?” He asked.
One of the guards broke into the conversation then. “You said to bring anyone involved. He was with the girls.”
“Um-hmm,” Marcus murmured, fanning himself with the check. He took a long drag then gestured impatiently for an ash tray. While one of his hired men went to retrieve a crystal saucer, Marcus leaned against one of the sofas and released the puff of smoke, never taking his eyes off of Mason. “Are you planning to answer me?”
Mason was quiet. He crossed his arms, his stance was wide, as he stared down at the tiny man. Finally, he spoke. “Mason.” The word was flat, emotionless.
Marcus ground out his cigar in the saucer offered then waved his driver away. Crossed his legs at the ankle and sighed like a child not used to being denied. “Just Mason?” He blinked. “Like Madonna? Or Cher?”
His question was met with quiet obstinance as Mason took a deep breath. He seemed to be weighing the consequences of breaking the rules. Compliance was weakness, but so was pride. Finally, after a quick look in my direction - one that seemed to say here we go - he gave his answer. And it changed my entire world, because in that moment, everything made perfect sense.
In a quiet voice, nearly too low for the rest of us to hear, he said simply, “Smith. My name is Mason Smith.”