"So they don't think it was murder, after all?"
Phyllis set down the newspaper, resting her chin in her hands.
"I almost think it's a pity. That woman caused me so many problems...it
seems a shame that she should go out in such a mediocre way."
"Smashin' yourself up in a car accident ain't what I'd call mediocre."
Jetta pushed the drawer of the filing cabinet shut, sending her friend
a wry smile. "And the press sure 'aven't thought so, neither. They're still
full of it."
"I know. It's a pain." Phyllis looked pensive. "Much as I'm enjoying
reading about Video Montgomery and Rio Pacheco and their sordid love affair.
I have to say, the press have gone to town on this one. I thought it was
bad when it came out that Emily was my daughter and that Eric and I had
had a fling, but that was nothing compared to this. It's better than cable."
"I guess it's 'ard to sue from beyond the grave." Jetta came to perch
on the edge of the desk, pulling the paper around so she could see it. "Don't
you think it's a bit trashy, though? All this...well...sex scandal stuff
days after she snuffs it?"
"Yes, I do, but more for the reason that she's filling more columns
dead than she was alive, and I have groups to promote." Phyllis frowned.
"Though this does mean that Starlight Music is in chaos again and that Daisy
girl has gone quiet. You know, I've thought seriously about putting in
an offer for the place, just to keep it that way."
"Buy Starlight Music?" Jetta looked surprise. "I would have thought
that was an 'eadache noone wanted."
"Well, maybe. But I could break it up and sell the parts." Phyllis
was thoughtful. "There'd be takers. And if this article is right and the
whole shebang is left to the Holograms, well, aren't they all tied up
with their own lives? They won't want the hassle."
"I realise that they've settled it wasn't a murder." Jetta said slowly.
"That the car weren't tampered with and that Jerrica weren't poisoned. But
it looks a mite shady to be puttin' in offers for a music company when the
woman ain't even in the ground yet. Besides, I wouldn't put money into that
mess. Might as well be cursed as anything. It's never brought Jerrica any
"I guess you do have a point." Phyllis frowned. "It was just an idea."
"A bloody odd one, if you don't mind my saying."
"You'll say it anyway, so I don't have much choice." Phyllis scowled.
"But there is more to it than just eliminating competition." She tapped
a paragraph with a neatly manicured nail. "Read that."
"The will is also said to settle Jerrica Pacheco's various assets...blah
blah blah...and makes reference to electronic stage equipment most people
are interpreting as the ghost machine that shocked the world at the Jem
Memorial in 2010."
Jetta glanced up. "The Jem Memorial? Jerrica's computer? You think
it's at Starlight Music?"
"Where else would it be?" Phyllis demanded. "It was hers. It was built
by her father. He began Starlight Music...join the dots and that's the
"If Jerrica had it, why did it turn on her at the Memorial?" Jetta
raised an eyebrow. "Sure, it probably was there, once...but it ain't there
no more. If it was, the Feds woulda picked it right up."
"True." Phyllis sighed. "Oh well. Maybe it's a long shot, then. But
I'd like to play around with that machine. I figured it was probably dismantled,
"This will is old, though." Jetta pointed out. "It mentions the Starlight
Mansion, which you now own on behalf of Jewel."
"Gee, so I do." Phyllis' green eyes became contemplative. "I wonder
what else I bought along with it. Jetta, did you ever stop and think that
the damn thing might be tucked away in a corner of that house?"
"And our girls didn't ever notice it?" Jetta looked sceptical. "I know
they can be damn silly, but Pizzazz, I got the impression we weren't talkin'
about a laptop. This is a big hunk of junk. Surely they'd have seen it."
"Well, one way to find out." Phyllis shrugged. She scooped up her phone.
"Alice? You out there? Is Aaron still with you?"
"Yes, Miss Gabor."
"Send him in, will you? I want a word with him."
"Certainly, Miss Gabor."
"Aaron?" Jetta frowned, as her colleague dropped the receiver back
into the cradle. "What 'as 'e to do with anything? 'E and Copper don't
even live there!"
"No, they don't." Phyllis's gaze became predatorial. "But Aaron renovated
that place before Jewel moved in. Rewired it and such. If there's something
there, I'm sure he would have seen it."
"And not told us?"
"Aunt Phyl?" Before Phyllis could answer, the office door swung open
and Aaron entered, dusting off his hands on a spare piece of cloth. "Alice
said you had a problem - something up with the new system?"
"No...it's an old system we want to talk about." Phyllis shook her
head, indicating for Aaron to take a seat. Aaron frowned, doing as he
"An old system? Something you want to fix up?"
"Possibly." Phyllis ran her tongue along the edge of her teeth contemplatively,
then, "Aaron, you fixed up Starlight Mansion before Jewel moved in, didn't
"Yeah, of course. Why?"
"And re-wired it?"
"Sure. But a lot of the wiring was fine...just some sections had got
damp and needed replacing." Now Aaron was on his guard. "What's this about,
"We were just talking about Jerrica's ghost machine, your mother and
I." Phyllis eyed him carefully. "I don't suppose that, when you rewired
the place, you happened to notice anything...unusual there?"
"Unusual?" Aaron raised an eyebrow, inwardly saying a prayer for help.
"I don't follow."
"Yes, you do, so don't be funny." Jetta put in sharply. "When you rewired
Starlight Mansion, did you find Jerrica's computer?"
"If the FBI can't find it, what hope do I have of doing so?" Aaron
demanded. "I'm just a road manager, not some miracle worker. Besides,
didn't they decide s...it had been dismantled and deactivated?"
"They certainly found no trace of it." Aaron was aware of his mother's
eyes boring into him. "But I don't remember them searchin' the Starlight
Mansion for it. The place 'ad been sold off, after all..."
"Mom, what are you getting at?" Aaron asked. "Look. If you want to
go search the Starlight Mansion for Jerrica's computer, it isn't my permission
you need. I'm sure the girls wouldn't mind, if you asked them...but leave
me out of it. It was a long time ago and all I did was a little repainting
"Damn." Phyllis grimaced. "I really hoped we were onto something then."
Jetta's eyes narrowed and she met her son's gaze quizzically. Aaron
bit his lip imperceptably, forcing himself to meet the questioning grey
eyes with his own.
"I'm sorry I couldn't help you more." He said, injecting regret into
his tone. "If that's all, can I go? Alice's printer won't stop spewing
things in magenta and I need to fix it so she can get her letters printed."
"Yeah, get lost with you." Phyllis nodded, waving a hand at the door.
"So much for that idea. I wonder where the damn thing is. It must be somewhere
in Los Angeles."
"Maybe it is, but if it is, it doesn't belong to me." Aaron said calmly.
"And it doesn't belong to Jewel, either."
He pushed open the door, slipping out into the hall before he could
be called back, and there was a moment of silence.
"Dammit!" Phyllis clenched her fists. "It would have been so convenient
to have it right there, under my nose."
"It's right under someone's nose." Jetta mused. "But not ours. Honestly,
Pizzazz, till 'e said it didn't belong to 'im or Jewel I thought 'e was
'oldin' out on us. But 'e ain't never been any kind of a liar, and 'e's
never been able to lie to me and meet my eyes before."
She paused, then, "It wouldn't surprise me if 'e knew somethin' about
it, though. Computer circles an' all that."
Phyllis's eyes narrowed till they were almost slits.
"You mean Cynthia?"
"Well, she's a Benton, ain't she?" Jetta shrugged. "Stands to reason."
"I should have thought of that myself." Phyllis admitted reluctantly.
"Though weren't she and Jerrica rivals?"
"And what did the ghost say at the memorial? Who was it victimising?"
"Good point. Maybe you're on to something." Phyllis reached for the
phone again, then paused. "Oh, but dammit, she's still off sick, isn't she?
How damn long is compassionate leave, anyhow?"
"She's off the rest of this week." Jetta glanced over her colleague's
shoulder, reaching across to open the computer diary. "So you'll have to
wait to speak to 'er. But if anyone 'ere knows anything about this machine,
Pizzazz, I'd lay odds it's 'er. Whether she's workin' for us or not, she's
still a Benton an' she must know somethin' about it, somewhere along the
"See, Hollie, it goes in the box that way."
Topaz pushed the yellow cylinder carefully into the shape sorter, casting
her daughter a grin. "Now, where do you suppose we put this green one, huh?"
It was the following morning, and, as the word had begun to spread that
Jerrica's death was no longer being treated as murder, the press hype in
Los Angeles had begun to retreat to a dull buzz. After an early morning appearance
on Dean Stacey's morning chat show, Jewel had retreated to the security
of the Starlight Mansion to enjoy a rare quiet day before work began again
on their newest single, and Topaz had decided that it would be the perfect
opportunity to spend some quality time with her ever more curious little
girl. For once, she was alone, for Sadie was outside swimming, Nancy had
gone over to Copper's an hour earlier, and Sylva had headed out to meet
Logan for brunch at a local restaurant. Secretly Topaz was glad of the solitude.
"After all, I don't get half enough time to myself with you." She mused,
glancing at her companion. "And it's nice sometimes to just be Mom and Baby.
Though I wonder if Cynthia will come up from the basement today. If I were
her, I'd probably stay off the holograms a while and get to grips with what's
going on. She seemed very shaken still last night. No sense in moving too
far too fast."
"Green." Hollie took the next shape, staring at it thoughtfully, then
putting it to her lips to chew on it. Topaz rolled her eyes.
"No, it's not edible, silly Hollie." She chided gently. "It goes in the
box. Can you find the right hole?"
"Topaz? Your mother is on the telephone for you."
As if she had known she was on the singer's mind, Cynthia pushed open
the door of the sitting room, casting Topaz a slight smile. "Didn't you
say they were talking about her going back to Missisauga soon? Perhaps she
has the final details."
"Oh, maybe she does." Topaz frowned. "Thanks, Cyn. Oh, could you keep
an eye to Hollie for me for a few minutes while I speak to her? Sadie's
out by the pool, but I know she'll drip all over the carpet if I yell for
She paused, eying her companion doubtfully.
"If you're up to it, that is."
"I always have time for Baby Jewel." Cynthia assured her, though her violet
eyes were sad. "Go speak to your mother. Hollie and I will be fine."
"Well, okay." Topaz dimpled. "Thanks, Cyn. Hol, I'll be right back - Grandma's
on the phone but Cynthia's come to play with you!"
"Cynta!" Hollie reached out a chubby pink fist for her playmate. "Cynta,
"All right, Hollie. We'll play." Cynthia agreed, sitting down beside the
toddler. "What's this, huh? Sorting shapes?"
"Green." Hollie thrust her prize at her companion.
"Yes, it is green." Cynthia agreed. "Do you know where it goes?"
Hollie was silent for a moment, chewing on her fingers as she considered
the problem. Then a wide grin spread across her face and she lifted the shape,
tossing it across the room.
"Green!" She exclaimed.
"No, I can be absolutely sure that that is not where it is supposed to
go." She said with a shake of her head, reaching across to scoop it back
up. "Here you go. Shall we try again?"
Hollie giggled, grasping the toy, and then sending it back across the
room, watching with delight as it bounced off the edge of the sofa and into
the leaves of a nearby potplant. She clapped her hands together.
Cynthia pursed her lips, getting to her feet and retrieving the shape.
"Normally it's so cute when you do this." She said quietly. "But it's
not so cute today. Hollie, I don't quite know on what levels you yet comprehend,
but if you can understand me at all, please. Don't try my patience. I am
not so very well yet, and I cannot deal with this today."
Hollie stared up at her companion with big eyes. She did not understand
Cynthia's words, but something in the girl's tone told her that something
was not right, and she frowned, biting on the edge of her thumb. As Cynthia
held out the shape to her, she paused, then took it carefully in her hand,
turning it over. She tapped it once cautiously on the edge of the shape
sorter, then, finding it made a funny noise, she repeated the action.
"Shall we try and get it in the hole?" Cynthia asked softly. "You see,
Hollie, each hole is different...and each shape is different. Can you see
where that one fits? Is it perhaps this one?"
Hollie ran her finger over the hole Cynthia indicated, then she frowned
"Green." She murmured, glancing down at the toy once more. She shook her
head, then, lifting her arm, she sent the shape flying once more across the
room. This time it collided with a picture on the mantle, sending it flying
into the vase next to it and both frame and vase crashed to the floor, sending
pieces of shattered glass and ceramic everywhere, and liberally soaking
the carpet in the process.
Something inside Cynthia snapped.
"Now look what you've done, you silly child!" She exclaimed, scooping
the baby up and placing her unceremoniously into her playpen. "You see what
happens when you're silly? Now you've made a mess and who's going to have
to clean it up? Me!"