Chapter Seven: A Call For Help
"Is California really always this hot?"
Sadie pushed open the door of the music company, stepping into the air conditioned front hall with a sigh of relief. "Ooh, so much better! I swear that I've lost six or seven pounds this morning, just posing for those photographs!"
"You're such a wimp. It's only ninety degrees out." Nancy snorted, casting her companion an amused grin. "What are you going to be like when the temperature soars into the hundreds, huh?"
"Dead and buried, probably." Sadie grimaced. "Can I help it if I grew up in a climate where heat like today in October was unheard of?"
"S'pose not." Nancy relented. "I grew up in Cali, so I'm probably better used to the climate." She pursed her lips, looking wistful.
"I do envy you a little, though." She admitted, leading the way across the foyer to the lift shaft and hitting the button.
"Envy me? How?" Sadie stared. "Nancy, what on earth could you possibly envy me for? You're a star, a highly successful songwriter, you have the world at your feet. What in hell do I have that you don't?"
"Oh, nothing to do with music." Nancy looked a little embarrassed. "Just, you grew up in England. Mom and I have always been so close that, when we go to the UK, I feel like it is my home. You know? But I'm never there long enough, and I always wind up coming back to California. I guess I'm envious that you grew up there, that's all."
"Believe me, you didn't miss anything." Sadie told her ruefully. "Oh, England's okay, Nance. It's a country I know and understand, but if you ask me, having a secure family is far more important than where you grow up. Your mother is awesome - makes me realise how much I miss my own."
"I suppose the grass is always greener, huh?" Nancy looked thoughtful, stepping into the lift and indicating for her companion to follow her. Sadie nodded.
"Guess it is." she agreed. "Hey, what are we doing here, anyway? You drag me back here after that killer of a photoshoot - any reason why?"
"Yes." Nancy nodded. "Mom texted my phone to say that she wanted to see copies of my scripts this afternoon - you know, for the new single? I figured it was as good a time as any to bring you here, and introduce you to the world of music writing." She dimpled. "Besides, I'm clutching at straws a little on the bassline for the new track. I need a fresh opinion, and I thought it would be a good way to induct you into Jewel's music, if you helped me out."
"You have way more faith in me than I do." Sadie bit her lip. "I'm really not that good a writer, Nancy."
"You'll do." Nancy told her firmly. "I've heard the little tunes you made up for your cousins, and if nothing else, it proves you can compose. With a little careful teaching, you'll be great, and I really need help on this bassline. Mom in a rage isn't something either of us want to encounter."
"I'd rather take your mother in a rage than Phyllis." Sadie said fervently. "She scares me a whole lot."
"Funny, most people say that." Nancy observed, as they reached the studio floor. "But I grew up with her there, and she never scared me at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. I call her Aunt Phyllis because that's pretty much how she was to me - an unofficial aunt. I could always go to her if I couldn't go to Mom - which did happen from time to time. Between the two of them, they got me through school - and trust me, I loathed school with a passion."
"Me too." Sadie remembered. "Secondary school in particular. I didn't get very good grades, and the teachers hated me. I think that the only class I never got a fail in was Art - but I never hit higher than a C." She shrugged sheepishly. "I'll be honest. I didn't see much point in working. It was so much more fun to skip off school with a friend, go shopping, you know."
"Mom woulda belted me if I'd skipped off school without her knowing." Nancy looked rueful. "She'd tell me it was chickening out. I was skipped up a grade when I was about eleven, and I hated the entirety of my grade. That was okay, though, because they hated me just as much. I was bullied relentlessly till the day I graduated, pretty much, and sometimes I'd wake up and just want to stay in bed. But Mom told me once that the only person I'd hurt by running away was me...so I stuck at it. Also, I knew that I wouldn't be allowed to sign my music contract here till I'd graduated with a good diploma. It was part of the arrangement."
"So you always knew you'd come into music here?" Sadie looked interested. Nancy nodded her head.
"From when I was twelve. Aunt Phyl heard me play piano and decided she had to sign me." She said, a slight blush touching her cheeks. "She would've signed me up right away, but Mom stood in her way and said no, not until I'd done school. So, soon as I'd gotten my diploma, I put pen to paper here. Jewel happened around the same time. Syl's mother is another former Misfit - I don't know if you've met her yet? - and Stormer sent her to LA to audition for the company. Someone - I forget who - had the bright idea of linking the two of us up, and when a scout in Detroit brought Copper into the equation, then Jewel came into being. It really happened almost overnight - between Syl arriving in LA and Copper signing her contract, there couldn't have been more than a week or so." She laughed. "You would not believe how violently I reacted to the idea of Syl even staying at our house, initially. But it worked out. Our first single was so well hyped it hit the number one spot, and from then, Jewel were on the way up."
"Wow." Sadie looked impressed. "It's kinda neat - I didn't know how the group started out as such. Topaz told me how she came to join, but I didn't know where the idea came from."
"Topaz joined because I was a numbskull." She said bluntly. "But that's enough on that topic. Come on, I want you to look at this manuscript."
She pushed open the door of the main studio, holding it open to allow Sadie through, then following her inside. Heading up to the big steel filing cabinet, she unlocked the top drawer, pulling out a folder and setting it down on the table.
"I keep a copy of everything I write at home, but these are the neater write-ups." She explained. "Ones I give the group, so that they're legible. Syl moans like anything if the notes are too messy and she 'can't make out' what chord to play, so I'm always very careful to copy them out neatly."
She selected the bass guitar part, holding it out.
"Here. This is the bassline." She said. "As you can see, there are some pencilled in sections - I copied them from my master copy, but I don't like them much. If I play the melody through on the keyboard, can you grab an instrument and run this through for me? I need some inspiration!"
"If you really think that I can help, I'll try." Sadie agreed dubiously. "Where can I find a bass?"
"Through there." Nancy indicated a door at the far side of the studio, holding out a key. "It's kept locked for security reasons - remind me to ask Mom or Aunt Phyl to give you studio keys. We all have copies to get into this room and the instrument room. Just grab any bass for now - Aunt Phyl mentioned something about getting you a guitar to fit your pink image, so you'll probably have your own instrument before we start playing in public with you on bass. I don't know - we have a lot of shuffling and restructuring to think about once Topaz finishes with us."
"My own guitar? Really?" Sadie looked startled, unlocking the cupboard and selecting the first bass guitar that came to hand, grabbing its cables from the top shelf, and returning to the main studio. "Another expense? So far I've had more money spent on me than I ever earnt in my entire time working in Birmingham!"
"Company policy." Nancy winked. "Aunt Phyl believes in packaging and promoting her acts in the best manner possible. You have to understand that, though it's important for the company to make a decent profit, money has never been her objective. She's rolling in it. What matters to Aunt Phyl is being the best. And therefore, that means no expenses are spared where promoting her top acts is concerned. Jewel and Sirena both benefit from that."
"Sirena's her daughter, though. I can understand her wanting to help." Sadie pointed out. Nancy nodded.
"Their relationship isn't as clear cut as all that, but yeah, I suppose you're right." She agreed. "Oh, Sadie, can't you hook that thing up yet?"
"Noone really showed me how." Sadie admitted, looking embarrassed. "I don't want to blow it up."
"Well, watch and learn." Nancy set down her manuscript, coming to help her new bandmate link up the guitar to the amplifier. "It's really very simple, but connect them up wrong at your peril. Okay?"
"I think I follow." Sadie nodded, leaning over to flick the switch on. "All right, let me tune it and I'm ready when you are. If you really need my help - let's go!"
* * * * * * * * *
"Well, if you're going to play like that, then I will be surprised if
anyone buys your next record."
Rory Llewelyn glared at his hapless charges, folding his arms across his chest. "You are Diablo - you are a successful rock outfit. You are not some weedy musical troupe that turns up at weddings, funerals and kids birthday parties. This isn't good enough!"
"If you can do better, Rory, you play the damn guitar." Stefana returned the glare with an equally venomous one of her own. "We're the stars, and it would be nice if you'd bother treating us like stars!"
"Stars? Playing like that?" Rory raised an eyebrow. "You're resting on your laurels a little, my dear Stefana. Now get to work - I want to lay this track down by the end of the week, and as it stands it's only fit for the dumpster! Now, get it right! I won't tell you again!"
With that he turned on his heel, exiting the studio with an emphatic bang of the door.
"I guess he really likes that song, huh?"
Clay, Diablo's British born drummer observed wryly, twirling his drumsticks absently as he did so. "Funny, I didn't think that last runthrough sounded that bad."
"Me either." Marissa sighed. "But if he wants us to work harder, I suppose we have to do as he says. He is our boss."
"He's a jerk and I hate him." Stefana glowered. "If he's such a hot shot guitarist then why doesn't he show us how to do it, instead of just giving us lectures all the time? He's not our Dad and sheesh, what he knows about musical style could fit on a postage stamp."
"But we need his money and his company backing us." The final member of the group, singer Madeleine Dacourt pointed out astutely. "And to that end, we have to do as he tells us. Like it or not."
"Well, I vote we take a ten minute time out, and then come back to it." Clay remarked. He cast Stefana an amused look. "Steffi is getting ratty, which means she needs a fag break, and the rest of us could probably use a few minutes rest, too. We've been working on this same song since half eight this morning, and I don't know about anyone else, but my arms are aching like mad."
"I'll give you ratty, Clayton Blake!" Stefana tossed her guitar pick at the drummer. "And fine. We'll take a time out. But I'm so damn sick of this wretched song I'm ready to rip it up and toss it in the trash myself!"
"We're just burned out, that's all." Luca said with a smile. "It will come together, Stef, you know that. They always do. I..." He paused, frowning. "That's my phone...where did I put it when I came in this morning?"
"Here." Clay grabbed the ringing phone off the unit, tossing it to him. Luca caught it deftly, hitting receive and putting it to his ear.
"Hello? Luca Ranieri."
There was a pause, then, "Emily?"
"Gah, what does that bitch want?" Stefana rolled her eyes.
"Emily, calm down, I can't understand a word of what you're saying!" Luca cast his sister a glare which meant 'shut up', and despite herself, Stefana relented, falling sulkily silent. "Now, take a deep breath and tell me that again? This isn't like you!"
There was another pause, and Luca's expression transformed from confusion to horror as he understood what his friend was saying.
"What? You're kidding! Well, no, I suppose you're not kidding, but...what have you done? Did you call the police out?"
"Of course I damn well did, but what the hell can they do? I was so startled that I didn't even get more than three letters of the numberplate, and the woman? I'd know her if I saw her again but the chances of me doing that are minimal." Sirena snapped back down the phone.
"Okay, I realise." Luca's mind was racing. "Listen, Em, I'm at Rebel Records, but I'm gonna head right over to yours, okay? See if I can help. Whatever you do, try not to panic. We'll sort this out, I promise."
"I hope so." Sirena sighed, then, "Luca, I love him more than anything in the world. Who would be so evil as to take away someone else's baby?"
"I don't know, but we'll find out." Luca told her grimly. "And we'll get him back. Don't worry. Now you just sit tight - I'm heading right over."
"I...hoped you would." Sirena admitted. "I've never felt so alone and afraid as I do now."
"Well, you won't be alone for long. I'm on my way."
Luca clicked off the phone, placing his guitar back on it's stand and reaching for his jacket.
"Where in hell are you going?" Stefana put her hands on her hips. "Are you at that bitch's beck and call now?"
"Stef, shut up. Something's happened." Luca's expression was troubled and his tone lacked all of it's usual, teasing edge. "Something...involving Michael - Em wasn't entirely clear on the phone, but she needs me and I'm going. Tell Rory that something came up, okay?"
"But what about the song?" Stefana demanded.
"No, Luca's right, Stef." Marissa intervened. "If something's happened to Michael then he has to go. That's more important than whether we record this track today or tomorrow or not until next week."
"Thanks, Mari." Luca cast her a grateful look. "I'll call you folk when I know better what the situation is. For the time being, I'm outta here."
As he slipped into the driver's seat of his car, revving the engine, a startling thought occured to him.
"The woman at the beach." He murmured. "I wonder if she's tied up in all of this somehow? But that's crazy! I met her once! She couldn't have been involved."