“If we get caught, it’s your fault,” I warn him, in a tone that hopefully changes his mind.
“Do you trust me?”
I roll my eyes. Nope. He is too set in his ways to change his mind.
We step out of the car and move towards the gate. There is a line of expensive cars heading up the driveway of the Westbury mansion.
“Masks on.” He commands.
I reach into the large velvet pouch that he handed over to me in the car, and pull out an intricate silver masquerade mask with cobalt blue feathers in a plume crowning the top. He himself dons a black mask, and all I can see is his strong jaw. I fasten my mask and look at him.
“As if my ‘no’ would change anything!”
“You look beautiful.”
“Thanks.” I finally manage to put up a smile.
For the first time this evening, I agree with him. I’m wearing a floor-length, silver satin gown, and my hairs fall softly around my face. And yeah, I look pretty. And I must admit that although I don’t like him much, he looks stunning too… black dinner suit, black bow tie, and the black mask.
A red carpet runs along the lawn leading to the gate of the mansion. I can see the guards outside the gate waiting for us. Oh, no. What now! We are without any invitation cards. We are anyways not supposed to be here! I look at him anxiously. He casually whispers something in their ears and they finally let us in. Well, the guards look elite in their get-up too. What did he say to them? He takes my hand and leads me into the hall.
What I see is stunning. It’s a masquerade ball, and people look glamorous in their elite dresses and the masks. I’m thankful for the dress I’m wearing. The waiters are clad in white suit, and they move effortlessly through the crowd with bottles of champagne and other drinks, and one of them tops off my glass with some. The interior looks breathtaking. Frankly, the wealth, the glamor and the lavish scale of the event intimidate me, and I make sure I stay close to him.
I feel like I don’t belong here. Well, of course, I don’t. I’m not related to these people in any possible way. Why on earth has he brought me here?! What if someone sees us? The thought is unsettling, though it’s comforting that I’m unrecognizable behind my mask.
We both are standing in one corner of the hall so that we get an overall view of everything. There’s chatting over glasses of champagne, food, dance, raffle-everything! They know how to throw a party! No one has approached us yet, and I’m grateful.
“Why have you brought me here?” I whisper.
“I need you to do something for me.”
“What?! This better be something important!” I can almost hear my heart pounding.
“It is. You’ll come to know. Keep your temper under control for now.” Oh. He knows how to shut me up.
“Who are these people, anyway?” I try to ask in a casual tone.
“Do you recognize that man there in cobalt blue suit, dancing with that girl in a black dress?”
“He’s wearing a mask. How on earth do you expect me to recognize him from this distance?”
“He’s Marcus, your colleague. The party is organized by his family”
I observe him for few seconds. Yeah, it’s him. Marcus Westbury is a colleague. We haven’t talked much until now. If gossips are to be believed, he’s an extremely competitive and a materialistic guy who leaves no stone unturned in achieving what he wants. Well, good for him.
“How do you know all this?” I ask, surprisingly.
“I’m a detective. That’s what I do Miss Stevens.”
“I’m sure I must’ve told you before,” I say teasingly. “So, what’s up with you and Marcus?”
“Just some unfinished business.”
“And why do you need me?”
“Because he’s your colleague.”
“And that’s one of the reasons why I shouldn’t help you out, Derek. He’s a colleague. I’m not going to do anything that will affect our work relation.”
“You don’t have a choice, Miss Stevens.”
Of course, why would he listen to me!
“I wasn’t even at home this morning. How’d you find me anyway?”
“I’m a detective. That’s what I do Miss Stevens.”
“My mother told you, didn’t she?”
I smile at the brilliant comment I just passed. I look at him, his expressions raw and unreadable. What’s going on in his mind? I hope I didn’t offend him.
“Derek, are we going to stand here all night?” I ask softly.
He takes my hand and we walk up the sweeping staircase with its elegant, polished wooden balustrade, which leads us to the corridor on the first floor. Oh, mine! The arrangements look beautiful. He leads me to the rear of the house and we stop outside a room with no one inside.
I look at him, clueless.
“Okay, so there’s something that Marcus has that doesn’t belong to him”, says he, finally opening his mouth.
“And I want you to go in this room and steal that.”
“What? You’re crazy! I’m not going to keep up with your stupid plans.” My tone a blend of shock and laughter.
“I have never been so insulted!”
“You don’t listen much, do you?”
“Let’s deal with that later, Miss Stevens. Get in the room and search the closets and the drawers. I promise that it’s for your own good too. If you find something suspicious, call me. I’m waiting here. Quick!”
What’s his problem?
“Don’t you think it should be the other way round? You go in while I stay here.”
He gives me a stern look.
“For the love of god Mia, do as I say for once!” And I’m jarred into silence.
I rush into the room, clueless where to start from. I aimlessly wander in the room. I decide to start from the closet. I open it up, trying to search for….
What am I searching?
All I can see is his suits, his ties, a pile of documents… Nope. Nothing suspicious here.
Why am I doing this?
I hardly like to accept the strange and seemingly improbable reason that urged me on to this senseless act; the fact, however, is that somewhere deep down, I trust him. And he’s onto something. But what? And it’s going to help me out too. But how? And under the double pressure of curiosity and prospective gain, I decide to give it my best shot.
I open one of the drawers by the side of his large size bed, and I see clutter everywhere in there. There’s paper, crumbled paper, torn paper, scotch tapes, a swiss army knife (whoa! I have no idea what’s this doing in a pile of bits and pieces) and a disc. The disc looks familiar!
Before I get a chance to scrutinize the disc, I hear footsteps approaching. With the disc in my now trembling hands, I freeze. I’m caught, I guess. I turn around to find a man, a shade taller than me, standing in front.
Thank heavens it’s Derek.
“Any luck, Miss Stevens?”
“I found this disc. Looks kinda familiar.”
“Would you mind if I have a look, Miss Stevens?”
I hand over the disc to him. He stands in a casual yet sophisticated stance and examines the device.
“RT450. Do you recognize this code on the disc?”
RT450. Yes, it sounds familiar. Very familiar.
“RT450. Of course! This disc is mine! What’s this doing here?”
“That’s the question now, isn’t it? Looks like your colleague envies you to such an extent that he has spared no pains at all to scandalize and defame you. You have no idea about how he has planned to misuse this disc, Miss Stevens.”
Oh. I’m almost losing my temper right now. Why would he do that? My astonishment is unspeakable. A bit of scare shoots through me, as scenes of what-could’ve-happened-had-he-not-been-here flash in my mind. This picture brings such an agony that I am so like to choke; my eyes swim in a blur of water, which overflows when I wink and runs down my cheeks.
I somehow compose myself to look at him again. He’s looking at me with an expression that shows that beneath his surface strength of character, there flows a gracious undercurrent of human weakness.
“How do you know all this?” I finally ask.
“I’m a detective. That’s what I do, Miss Stevens.”
We both are sitting in the bar downstairs with a glass of smoked martini for each. I take a sip. It’s sedating. I feel better.
“So what do we do next?” I ask.
“Don’t worry Mia, I’ve got this.” His warm and comforting voice works wonders in calming me down. “I have a plan” He continues.
“Is it a good one?”
“I have a plan.”
“Okay,” I say, not knowing what else to say.
“I’m definitely not sparing him at any cost. Maybe I can start by casually asking him questions that are full of guile, and very deep- for I want to trap him into damaging revealments.”
“Why are you doing this for me?” I ask genuinely.
“Isn’t it obvious, Mia?”
We take another sip of the martini.
“Hypothetically speaking, if someone in your immediate presence were to ask you to dance with them, would you, hypothetically, say yes?” He asks, smiling like a child.
“If the guy knows how to dance, then I see no reason not to say yes.”
He grins at me and holds out his hands.
“I don’t really know how to dance, but wanna give it a shot, Miss Stevens?”