The Story So Far...
Starlight Music's latest act, Daisy Buchan, is starting to put the company back on the map, thanks to the behind the scenes scheming of her crafty cousin Margot, Jerrica's newest assistant. After Daisy plays warm up for Jewel at a big Los Angeles show, Jerrica stumbles on the fact that Synergy is still in operation and sets things in motion to have her old protector dismantled once and for all. However, before she can speak in full to the FBI, Jerrica's car comes off the road, crashing and killing her instantly. In the aftermath, Synergy shuts herself down, believing she has no purpose to be if Jerrica is no longer there. Desperate to find a way to fix their friend, Sylva goes to ask her Aunt Aja for help, discovering in the process that Jerrica's husband Rio was having an affair with Video Montgomery, and that her aunt is one of the beneficiaries of the only existing will. Their meeting does not go unnoticed, however, for Aja's daughter Sammi has overheard their talk and has determined to find Synergy herself...
Chapter One: A Troubled Conscience
"And you haven't seen him, either?"
Zoe Montgomery dropped down on the end of her bed, casting her companion a frown. "Dammit. I thought if he wasn't responding to my calls, someone would have seen something of him. I'm worried about him, Fi. His Mom and Dad are all over the press and I know Ryan. He keeps things bottled up."
"Well, he's your cousin. If you can't find him, I don't see how I'm gonna have much luck." Fiona Daniels shrugged her shoulders flippantly. "But for your information, I haven't seen him hanging about. Not even to see Rose...so I can't help you. I guess with all the media speculation he's hiding out, waiting for it to die down." A rueful look touched her face. "I can understand that. When you and I first came out about our relationship, the last thing I wanted was the press asking questions I didn't know how to answer."
"It's never been Ryan's fault, though, the way he was concieved." Zoe looked pensive. "Oh well. Thanks, Fi. I know you're running late already, so I appreciate it."
"It's no biggie, and if I see him, I'll tell him you're looking for him." Fiona promised. She kissed her companion gently, then, "And I'll call you tonight, either way. The whole city might be in chaos and they all might want to know what you think of your cousin's sordid affair, but I'm game to take all that on and keep our dinner plans at the Red Rock regardless. You?"
"For sure. Screw the press." Zoe grimaced. "If we can't survive them by now, we'll never learn. Besides, I think I need it. If it wasn't for the fact I was hoping to hear back from Ryan, I'd have taken my phone off the hook already."
"I wouldn't blame you." Fiona rolled her eyes. "Okay, I'm outta here. Till tonight, then."
"Till tonight." Zoe agreed. She pursed her lips. "When for once the fact Zoe and Flame are out together on a hot date will be secondary news to the reporters who decide to get in our face."
"Quite." Fiona snorted. "But I'll have a fist or two ready, just in case. Take care, Zo, and don't let them get you down."
With that she was gone, and Zoe moved to the window, gazing down at the bevy of reporters still camped outside her apartment building. She sighed, pulling the curtains across and turning back towards the bed.
"I wish they'd just leave me alone." She muttered. "I have nothing to do with Vivien or her affair. Bad enough I've always had to know about it, and keep the secret. It seems like any excuse to harass me and it's been like that since Fi and I came out. Don't they realise that I chose to work behind the camera because I didn't want all the publicity my Mom gets every time she does a show on TV? I dunno. I guess there's something in the fact that being a Montgomery guarantees you press interest and scandal. Dad was right when he said we Montgomery girls attracted these things. It would just be nice to take a break for once and not have to deal with it."
A knock at the door startled her and, mindful of the number of reporters around she grabbed her dressing gown off her bed, pulling it over her shoulders and tying it at the waist as she headed cautiously down the corridor towards the front door. There was a second knock, and she hesitated, then pulled the latch back, half preparing herself to push a waiting press-man back into the corridor. What she saw, however, made her let out an exclamation of surprise.
"Can I come in?" Her cousin's expression was troubled and Zoe could tell he had not shaved that morning. "I know it's early, Zoe, but..."
"Of course you can." Zoe got to grips with herself, pushing the door open wide to admit him, then locking it firmly behind him. "Where have you been? I've been trying to call you since yesterday!"
"I know, I got your messages when I checked my phone this morning, but I couldn't get through to your number." Ryan dropped down onto the sofa, letting out a sigh. "And I figured I knew the reason why. As for where I've been, hiding out. But they found where I was staying, and I know how press are from my own experience. Even at the magazine, they want me to use my connections to write a hot, juicy story about the latest in the Pacheco scandal."
There was a note of bitterness in his tone, and Zoe sat down beside him, putting a gentle arm around his shoulders.
"You mean, they want the inside scoop on your Mom and Dad?" She asked softly. Ryan nodded his head.
"Who doesn't?" He demanded. "It's all anyone can talk about at the moment. I will never, ever be able to hold my head up in a public place again. Not now everyone knows what I am."
"What you are is my cousin. Nothing else matters and it's never been your fault." Zoe soothed. "It will die down. It's just because of Jerrica, that's all. They'll forget soon enough. You're a reporter. You know what sells papers and how quickly those things change."
"I'm not that kind of reporter." Ryan said stiffly.
"I know that." Zoe said patiently. "But you know I'm right. It will die down. I don't know how they found out, but now it's in the open, it will get better. Believe me, Ryan, I know. Fiona and I have weathered the worst of the storm, and these days we can deal with it. It makes you stronger. Just stick to what you believe and who believes in you. It will calm down."
"And what if it's not that simple?" Ryan rubbed his temples. "It's a lot worse than you know, Zoe. I feel like I'm carrying so much with me at the moment...and I don't know what to do about it."
"Maybe you could tell me?" Zoe asked gently. "I can try to help."
"I don't think you can." Ryan sighed. "But all right. You might just be the only friend I have in this city at the moment, so I guess I could give it a try."
"Rose?" Zoe looked startled. Ryan bit his lip.
"I'm not going to be seeing Rose any longer." He said, his voice trembling slightly. "In the circumstances it wouldn't be right."
"Why? Because she's Kimber's daughter and your father is Jerrica's husband?"
"No, because it's my fault she's dead!"
"What?" Zoe stared at her companion in shock. "Ryan, what in hell are you talking about? How is it your fault? Jerrica crashed her car...it was an accident!"
"An accident which happened because of me." Ryan swallowed hard, then, "I can never face Rose and have things the same as before, Zoe. Not knowing that it's my fault her aunt is dead. I might not have been driving the car, but it's my fault all the same."
"She won't hurt for it, anyway. She's keen enough on that Dean Stacey dude as it is. She'll get over it."
"Now you're talking insane." Zoe scolded him lightly. "Dean's been dating Nancy for as long as I can remember, almost...and Rose loves you. The shock of the past twenty four hours is getting to you. Just because you're Rio's son does not make you responsible for his wife's death."
"Oh, but it does. It really does, Zo." Ryan ran an agitated hand through his thick wavy hair. "Look...I was at Starlight Music the morning she died."
"Yeah, you were going to interview that new signing of theirs, weren't you?" Zoe remembered. "What about it?"
"Well, she wasn't there, and there was a whole big mess-up in the booking." Ryan sighed. "Jerrica was in...I dunno, her mood was off. She seemed angry that I was even bothering her, like she had something much more important to worry about than me. It made me angry, too. Things...came out that shouldn't have. Starting with..."
"The fact your Dad was seeing your Mom, and had been for years?" Zoe whispered. Ryan nodded.
"Oh, Ryan..." Zoe bit her lip. "So what happened?"
"She didn't believe me." Ryan spread his hands. "So I told her that's what was going on right now...that they were probably together, laughing at her behind her back. I didn't mean to!" As Zoe looked horrified. "But I was angry, Zoe! So damn angry. It came out before I could stop it. And then she grabbed her coat and left the office."
"I know it's my fault, Zo. Dad pretty much said as much." He added.
"Rio? What has he to do with it?" Zoe frowned, confused.
"He and I had a hell of a fight. He hit me." Ryan rubbed his chin. "And he told me that if I'd kept my mouth shut, Jerrica would be alive now. He was right. If I'd not told her, she wouldn't have seen...and then she wouldn't have driven off like she did."
"Wait a minute!" Zoe put up her hands. "Let me get this straight. Jerrica confronted your parents and saw for herself you were telling the truth?"
"So how in hell is it your fault?" Zoe demanded, anger sparking in her green eyes. "Ryan, you weren't the one having the affair for God knows how many years! Your father knows that as well as anyone. It is not your fault! Even if you did tell Jerrica about it - if Rio and cousin Viv hadn't done it, then there'd have been nothing to tell. If you ask me, your Dad knows it as well as anyone, and is trying to find someone to blame. Mom always said he was a hothead and no good for Viv...if he'd hit his own son, maybe she had it right all along!"
"That might be true, but it doesn't change the fact that Jerrica probably died because of my big mouth." Ryan buried his head in his hands. "I might not be a murderer in an actual sense, Zoe, but I will always carry it with me. Rose's aunt died because I couldn't keep my tongue quiet. That's the truth."
"Do you think she did it on purpose? Do you think she meant to crash?" Zoe asked softly. Ryan shrugged.
"Guess we'll never know." He said helplessly. "And it doesn't really matter, does it? She's dead. That's all that does. She's dead, my parents are today's big tabloid news and I can never speak to Rose in the same way again."
"Rose loves you, and she'd tell you what I'm telling you." Zoe hugged her cousin tightly. "That it wasn't your fault for being who you are. If anything, she should understand. It's not been easy for her, finding out who she really is and getting the relationship she wants with her mother. Noone chooses their parentage. I've never thought of you as anything but my cousin - it's never mattered to me how you came to be."
She shrugged. "If it comes to it, Mom and Dad's affair wasn't exactly free of problems, nor entirely appropriate at the time."
"The big difference being, of course, that neither Connie nor your father were involved with anyone else when you happened, let alone married to them." Ryan was bitter. Zoe sighed.
"I'm not going to convince you, am I?" She asked resignedly. Ryan shook his head.
"No. You're not."
"Well, at least know this." Zoe pursed her lips. "If you need someone to hide out with, or someone to talk to, I'm always here. Okay?"
"I know you are." A slight smile touched Ryan's lips. "That's why I came here. You're the only one who understands what it's been like for me growing up with this hanging over me. I knew I could talk to you."
He paused, then, "You won't mention any of this to anyone? To Rose?"
"Not a word." Zoe promised. "Not even to Fiona, if you don't want me to." She looked rueful. "Some Montgomery secrets are best not splashed all over the local papers. And I'm serious about you staying here, if you need to. So think it over."
"I will." Ryan agreed. "Thanks, Zo. I knew I could count on you."
"Sometimes, I swear, it'd be easier just not being part of this family." She said absently, then, "Ryan?"
"If Jerrica's death was an accident...or suicide...what happened to her will? Do you know? The papers think she was murdered because of it."
"From what Dad said, she destroyed it in front of him." Ryan said slowly. "And that she'd demanded a divorce. She was pretty upset...I guess there wasn't much left of it."
"So why hasn't he told the cops this?"
"My guess?" Ryan's lip curled into a disdainful frown. "He was hoping this whole affair business would be kept under lock and key. Now it's out in the open, I expect he will tell them. And at least they can stop investigating her death as murder. Kimber can bury her sister, if nothing else."
"Yes. I'm sure she'll be glad to have things resolved." Zoe pursed her lips. "And if Jerrica did tear up the most recent will, I suppose that was her way of saying she wanted to go back...and that the old will they found should stand. I wonder what that will mean to Starlight Music, to have Holograms back in control of it. It's been so many years...maybe the press will forget the affair in light of that hot story."
"Stop trying to make me feel better. It won't work." Ryan said morosely. "My father hates me, and I'm more mad at my parents than I've ever been in my life. I can't even face my girlfriend and everyone wants me to write the inside story on the sordid scandal of Dad's double life. Nothing can make me feel better."
"Sometimes, you know, you really remind me of him." Zoe said thoughtfully.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ryan's temper flared in his eyes, and Zoe patted his arm gently.
"I didn't mean it in a bad way. Just that when something happens, you tend to brood on it in the same way he does." She said quietly. "I know this isn't a good time for you, but Ryan, think it over. It's not a good time for your mother either...and much as she's done wrong, the biggest crime she committed was to love a man who couldn't give her all of him. And Rose...will you really break her heart over something that wasn't honestly your fault?"
"My mind is made up." Ryan shook his head, getting to his feet. "Zoe, I appreciate what you're saying, but I know what I have to do."
Zoe sighed, shrugging.
"Well, it's your life." She acknowledged at length. "But my offer of sanctuary remains open, regardless."
"And I'm glad to know it." A faint smile touched Ryan's lips, but it did not meet his eyes. "And maybe it will all die down soon. At least, I hope it will. I don't know how you and Fiona managed being in the public eye so much...the sooner they forget I was ever born, the better!"
* * * * * * *
"So, what's the final word?"
Alex Bray cast his partner a questioning look. "I presume that was the coroner's office, with the toxicology on Jerrica Pacheco?"
"Yes, it was." Raymond Nicholson set the receiver back in the cradle, nodding his head.
"Are you going to share the results with me?"
"Should I?" Raymond raised an eyebrow. "I mean, are you really in this case, Alex? Because I want to know that when we put a case to bed, we've done everything we can do to investigate it."
"Ray, will you stop nagging me as if you were my wife or something?" Alex rolled a pen between his fingers, frustration in his tone. "I want to know as much as you whether Jerrica's death was suspicious or not."
Raymond pursed his lips, then,
"Well, toxicology was negative and her injuries were entirely consistant with a nasty car wreck." He relented at length. "Coroner is happy to put on the death certificate that it was an accident, and that there was no murder."
"And the will?"
"Ah yes. That's another story altogether." Raymond reached for a folder, extracting a statement and pushing it across the desk to his partner. "Here. Read this."
"Where did you get this?" Alex skimmed it over, casting his companion a startled look. "What happened to teamwork, Ray? I didn't know you'd had the Pacheco guy in for questioning again?"
"Well, now you do." Raymond said levelly. "And it seems the will suffered an accident at Jerrica's own hands. Since Rio Pacheco was the main beneficiary of the will that was destroyed, I see no reason to doubt his statement. I sent Marshall and Willis down to speak to Vivien Montgomery and she's confirmed that Jerrica Pacheco did indeed confront them about their affair that morning. She seemed quite upset and shaken, but she said that Jerrica was in a high temper. It's starting to sound like Jerrica's little accident was just that...an accident."
"That we will never know for sure." Raymond acknowledged. "But since there was no note or anything, I'm game to go with the idea that Jerrica did not intend to end her own life. She was coming to see you, after all...and whatever she had to say, she obviously felt it was important. Why kill yourself beforehand? Doesn't make any sense."
"So it was just a messy accident?" Alex paused, then, "Case closed?"
"I think so. This one, anyway." Raymond nodded his head, flipping the folder shut. "Jerrica's body is being released to her family this afternoon, for them to make funerary arrangements and the like. To be honest, I'm glad it's panned out this way. Murder when it's someone so high profile is always messy."
"Yes, it is. The press are always on your back and it's almost impossible to hold a fair trial." Alex agreed. He sighed, then,
"Why didn't you tell me Pacheco gave you a statement? Or that you searched out Miss Montgomery?"
"Honestly?" Raymond rested his chin in his hands. "Because I didn't know what your agenda was, Alex. You've been odd since this case began. Before it, even. And I wasn't sure whether you were going to be able to be entirely objective if it came to the wire. Obviously you had a personal interest in seeing justice done, since Jerrica was speaking to you before her death. But I still don't entirely know what that was about...and I still feel you haven't been entirely straight with me. I've never felt that with you before...and I'd rather we were working as a team."
"So would I." Alex nodded. "And since we know Jerrica wasn't murdered, we can put this behind us. Whatever she was going to tell me died with her - I told you that. Case closed."
"Mmmhm." Raymond got to his feet, moving over to the filing cabinet and pulling out a worn file, handing it to his friend. "But this one, I'm afraid, is once more wide open."
"I beg your pardon?" Alex looked startled, flicking the folder open. His eyes widened in consternation.
"Ray, you're becoming obsessed with this computer!"
"Yeah?" Raymond raised an eyebrow. "Well, I'm still convinced one of the Holograms - or all of them - know more than they are telling and are perhaps even hiding it. Jerrica believed it still existed...so it probably did. And I believe it's a security risk to the whole of Los Angeles, if not the country as a whole. That's our job, Alex...to clamp down on things that threaten the safety of civilians. Isn't that why you joined up?"
"Yes. Yes, it is." Alex agreed with a weary sigh. "But who's to say Synergy is a threat to anyone?"
"Once and for all, Alex, I want to know what you know about this computer!" Raymond banged his fist down on his desk. "Don't tell me you know nothing, because I know it's not true and I won't have it. You're a good agent, and you have a flawless track record. Jerrica trusted you. What if her death had been tied up with this machine, huh? What if your reticence had cost her her life?"
"Do you think I didn't think of that?" Alex shot back. "Hell, Ray, of course I did!"
"So you do know something!"
"I didn't say that!"
"No, but I'm a Federal Agent. I can read between the lines." Raymond snapped back. "Dammit, Alex, doesn't the fact we've been partners for more than seven years mean anything to you?"
"Yes. It means a lot to me." Alex said quietly. "But so does something else. This country operates on a system of freedom. You know that. It's in the constitution, it's why we salute the flag and why we do our job. This computer of Jerrica's may or may not still be running. That's debatable and right now I don't honestly know if it is or not. But what I do believe - and strongly believe - is that we have no grounds to scan the whole of Los Angeles for this machine unless it does something to threaten anyone's lives. We can't drag people in off the street in anticipation that they are going to commit a crime. We can only arrest them afterwards. And this is the same thing. However curious you are about this contraption, it's not our right to confiscate it and take it to pieces unless it's been used as a weapon to national security."
Raymond eyed his companion thoughtfully for a moment. Then,
"You didn't feel that way after the Memorial."
"Then I was afraid it was a threat." Alex agreed. "But nothing has happened since then. That was five years ago now, and we've seen and heard nothing. The Memorial was a strange occurance, but nobody was hurt because of it. And you know as well as I do that the law of this country allows freedom of expression and opinion. Even if the opinion is expressed via a holographic projection."
"And you honestly don't know if this machine is really operating now or not?"
"Right at the moment, Ray, I haven't a clue. I give you my word." Alex said truthfully. "So are you quite done being pissy at me? We've got a thousand and one other things to settle, and this is not a priority case."
"I don't know."
Raymond pursed his lips. "I suppose you have a point about the computer and the fact it hasn't been used to our knowledge in anything nefarious for some time. But I guess we'll disagree on whether or not we have a right to find out about it. The only way we'll know for sure if it's a threat to our security is by examining it...and I want to settle that doubt in my mind."
"Then we'll agree to disagree on it." He said calmly. "But for the time being, until the machine invades our office and shoots up half the team...can we focus on one of our real homicide cases? Please? There are families of real people who need our justice, and we're wasting time talking about this."
"All right. For now." Raymond agreed. "But I haven't forgotten about this, Alex. I still want to find it. If it's out there...I intend to track it down. Operational or not - I want to close this case. Once and for all."
DISCLAIMER: PLEASE NOTE
The copyright for the original Jem characters featured in this and other stories by me belongs entirely to Hasbro and their interpretations to Christy Marx and the other writers of the Sunbow Jem series. Their future selves are based on concepts that are entirely my own and are not to be repeated elsewhere without due permission.
All other characters, including their likenesses, are copyrighted to myself as webmistress of Jewel's World from 2001 to the present day and are not to be reproduced elsewhere without permission.
The Teenangel Outsiders, Jesta, Flame, Ryan Montgomery and the future interpretations of Aja, Danse and certain of the other original characters are all or in part the concept of Gemma Dawn whose teenangel outsider fiction world is twinned with Jewel's World. You can visit her site at www.teenangeloutsiders.com!
All events in the stories on this site are based on original ideas and are not rooted in any existing Jem fiction nor in any real life event or person.