I drove slowly through the outskirts of town, unconsciously heading toward the downtown area. I turned a corner, intending to circle around and head back to the suburbs, but found myself facing a spectacle of lights and people. I’d completely forgotten about the Fall Festival, which wasn’t really surprising given the case I was working on. I was about to do a u-turn when I caught a glimpse of Payne, hanging out just at the edge of the crowd; I couldn’t believe my luck!
I quickly found a place to park, and was just about to run up to him when I noticed he wasn’t alone. There was a group of three other young men with him, the four of them together looking rather intimidating. I was so shocked by this turn of events that I momentarily wondered if I’d just found someone that looked eerily like Tristan Payne, but after getting a clear view, I knew I had the right guy.
After a few seconds of little more than loitering, the four of them started making their way into the crowd. I decided it would be a good idea to tail them rather than risk a confrontation. I had to find out what he was up to, if he was being coerced, or if he’d simply forgotten about our meeting after running into his ex, whom I noticed was absent.
I attracted more stares than I expected as I continued following them through the fair, still keeping a discreet distance. They stopped at the outer edges of a band performance, and at first I assumed they were just taking in the show. Then, I noticed Andrew Stone about fifteen feet away from them. He was dressed smartly but not too flashy, and his red hair had been cropped shorter than the last time I’d seen him. His facial hair seemed different, as well. As he moved away from the edge of the crowd, I wondered if I should continue following Payne and his friends, or take up a new pursuit. They made things easy for me by moving together, and, as ludicrous as it seemed to me, Payne appeared to be taking matters into his own hands.
After watching Stone and Payne's ex talk for a few minutes, the group stepped forward and made their presence known. I didn’t need to get very close to be able to hear their conversation, and what I witnessed astounded me. It seemed that his ‘serious relationship’ with Emily Laine had been a ruse, and that he and this platinum-haired dame were still together. More than that, I got the distinct impression that Andrew Stone was more wary of him than the other way around.
Nothing I saw happening made sense.
I couldn’t believe it; Tristan Payne wasn’t the man I thought he was. In our dealings, he’d seemed a humble, courteous young man. There’d seemed to be an edge to him, but I’d chalked this up to the stress of potential blackmail. This whole time I’d been worried about his safety, when in fact it was very likely he’d been the one setting up Selwyn the entire time; his house had shown a definite taste for very fine items, and it was possible I’d missed something when I’d done a quick background check on him.
Now I just had to decide between continuing to follow him, or warn James of his friend’s scam.