The boys were now a good hour late, and repeated calls to their lines were going unanswered. I couldn’t help but wonder if Stone had finally managed to get to them, and would soon be gracing me with a call. They’d been counting on me to solve their case for them, and now it seemed like they’d be paying a pretty high price for their trust.
I paced around the living room one more time, weighing my options. I could scope out Stone’s place, but with Serge out of town, I’d be left on my own, leaving myself too vulnerable; while his gunsels couldn’t exactly kill me given my condition, it would still hurt and be difficult to explain. I had to keep a low profile, so my best bet would be to check at Selwyn’s and Payne’s residence, see if there were any clues of their disappearance left behind. Selwyn lived closest, so I’d check there first before making the trek across town to Payne’s. Decision made, I grabbed my overcoat and headed out the front door.
Much to my surprise, Selwyn had arrived, sporting a new car and looking moderately confused as he scanned my yard.
“Selwyn! What happened? You and Payne were supposed to be here for our meeting an hour ago! Don’t tell me Stone caught up with you guys.”
Selwyn’s confusion didn’t seem to lessen, even as he strode toward me across the damp pavement of my driveway.
“Markus? I am very sorry about arriving so late; I got caught up at the car dealer’s. Are you ready for baseball practice?”
It was my turn to look confused. Something about Selwyn wasn’t quite right, though I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was wrong. It occurred to me that he may have been trying to use a code language of some sort, as if he was afraid of our conversation being overheard by the wrong ears.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“I was going to ask you the same thing, buddy.”
“I can’t stop thinking about Mary. I’ve never seen such a beautiful girl in my entire life, someone so delicate and unaware of how perfect she is. I could hurt her so easily, and yet—“
I couldn’t believe James was suddenly going on about that dame. I’d completely missed the mark on what had been bothering him tonight, which probably explained why he hadn’t taken much note of the fact that his best friend was still currently unaccounted for. My attention must have wandered as well, since it took me a few seconds to realize he’d stopped talking and was now just staring at me with the darkest expression I’d seen cross his well-chiseled features in quite a long time.
“Why do you keep doing that?”
“Doing what?” I asked.
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about. Now, if you could just focus for a few seconds, I’d like to point out that your best friend still hasn’t shown up. You don’t seem overly concerned about this, so maybe you’ve got a message to pass along?”
“You know how flighty he is; I suppose he’s probably gone off shopping or some such. Now are we going to play ball or not? Because if not, I have to go check on Mary; she can be very clumsy and I hate the thought of her injuring herself because I wasn’t there for her.”
“Well, then, I suppose if you’re not worried, I won’t be, either. Why don’t you give me a call later if you hear from him; it’ll make me feel better.’”
James seemed even more distracted as he went back to his car. He paused to look back over his shoulder at me once, shaking his head before getting behind the wheel. I watched him drive off, going back over our conversation hoping to figure out some of the clues he’d slipped in. Something had obviously spooked him to the point where he felt he couldn’t speak openly, even out in my very own driveway. What was the meaning behind the baseball practice? Why did he think I was the one acting strangely? Was Mary somehow involved in all of this? One thing was certain: Payne must have been in some sort of trouble. I hopped in my car and headed for his house, hoping to shed some more light on this unfolding mystery.