"So run that by me again."
Aaron lifted the pile of cables from the boot of his car, casting his
companion an amused grin. "The feds turned the whole place over and they
left fuming over a dud lead?"
"Well, it was not as easy as I anticipated, but I managed it." Cynthia
looked rueful. "Though I had to tell the officer who was watching me that
I was feeling sick and that's why I was so long in the restroom. Ray Nicholson
left the place in a bit of a mess, but the girls have been quite philosophical
about it all. We all consider the invasion worth the trouble, since the FBI
have issued a formal apology to Jewel and Misfits Music for the indignity
of the raid."
Humour danced in her violet eyes. "And Sadie said that Ray not only apologised
to Alex, he actually apologised to her for it personally, too. I don't know
what's behind that, but Sadie took some pleasure in it. They've never seen
eye to eye."
"And that's that? Burying the Synergy myth in plain sight?" Aaron let
out a low whistle. "Big gamble, Cyn. But...I think it's been good for you.
You seem much more yourself today."
"I have been feeling better." Cynthia owned. "I think I managed to overcome
the side effects of Aja's desperate measures to reboot me. While I realise
what she did was the only thing she could do in the circumstances, I was
glad to get a moment to tamper with my own wires and circuits. Honestly, I
felt a little out of control."
"I'm not sure you should be blocking out everything about Jerrica, though.
Bottling things up isn't healthy in a human and it can't be good for you
either." Aaron told her. "Plus, are you sure you're okay to be back at work
already? Aunt Phyl is a tough taskmistress, and she'll have your nose to the
grindstone the moment you walk in the door. I don't think she believes in
"I feel well enough to come back, and the less idle time I have the better."
Cynthia said decidedly. "Occupying my hard drive is as good a way as any
to deal with things. And I am not blocking things out the way people do, Aaron.
I have merely re-routed the emotional reflexes so they dilute before they
hit my main sensors, that's all. It is quite different for me than it would
be for you."
She touched his arm playfully. "Are you not glad to see me smile again?"
"Very." Aaron admitted. "All right. I'll go with you on this one. Just
be careful, okay? You're still recovering from a major shut down, and I don't
want you doing too much, too soon."
"Yes, doctor." Cynthia said dryly. "It's all right. I will be careful.
I know what my circuitry can take."
As the two entered the lobby, they were accosted by Jetta, who cast Cynthia
a startled look. "Ain't you still on leave?"
"I decided to come back to work, if it is all right for me to do so."
Cynthia cast Aaron a glance, then, "Home wasn't proving overly restful,
and I felt a need to be busy again."
"I heard about the raid." Jetta pursed her lips. "Why would the FBI be
interested in Starlight Mansion, anyway?"
"They were looking for Jerrica's computer." Cynthia said calmly. "At least
that's what the officer told me. She asked me what I knew about it, but I
could not help her. I think they had a tip-off...but the Starlight hasn't
been in Jerrica's control for some time."
"You're an official fixture there, then, now?" Jetta narrowed her gaze.
"Yes, I think so. I don't like to be alone at the moment, and I like helping
Topaz with Hollie." Cynthia nodded. "Ms Pelligrini, is it all right for me
to return today?"
"Sure, so long as you mention it to Pizzazz." Jetta shrugged her shoulders.
"She's been wantin' to talk to you, anyway. About the exact thing we're talkin'
"I don't follow."
"Jerrica's damn machine." Aaron groaned. "Mom, what is this! Everyone's
obsessed with Synergy at the moment! You can't tell me you're interested
in the reward the Tribune are putting out - or that Aunt Phyl is. So what's
the deal? First you interrogate me - your own son! - and now you want to
do the same to Cyn, days after her sister died?"
"We just want to know that, if the FBI are so 'ot keen on this machine,
we know we ain't shieldin' anything we shouldn't be. Or anyone
Jetta spoke gravely. "Pizzazz is interested in the computer...who wouldn't
be? I know after the Memorial I'd like to see what the damn thing can do.
But it's a federal affair now. An' listen to me, kids. If you know anythin'
at all, I want to know about it."
"Didn't you already do this to me once?" Aaron raised an eyebrow. "Mom,
how many times do I have to tell you that the computer is not at my house,
nor do I own it, nor have I ever owned it! It is not in my possession and
if the FBI want to come check my place out to confirm it then they're more
than welcome to drop by!"
"I'm glad to 'ear it." Jetta said grimly. "Because after the raid at Starlight
Mansion, it's clear the Feds think it 'as some link with Misfits Music."
"No, Jetta, on the contrary." Cynthia shook her head. "I believe they
raided the house because it once belonged to my sister and is detailed in
"Who gave you leave to call me that?" Jetta demanded, and Cynthia coloured.
"Ms Pelligrini. Sorry."
"That's better." Jetta pursed her lips. "And all right, I suppose that's
a valid point. But you are a Benton, Cynthia. Anything you do know about
"What can I tell you?" Cynthia affected a helpless look. "I was born in
nineteen eighty five. My father died the same year. When Jem and the Holograms
split up I was sent away from my family. What could I possibly know about
"It would've been helpful if you'd been a few years older." Jetta eyed
her keenly. "But I guess I can't expect a mewlin' babe to remember anythin'
useful about a computer. Not even with your interest in the subject. You
didn't grow up with Jerrica?"
"No." There was a note of bitterness in Cynthia's tone. "No, I did not.
In fact, I did not even know she had properly married and left Starlight
Mansion until I returned to Los Angeles, before I began to work for you.
That is the truth, Jetta. A lot of things in my sister's life I was never
"Shame, but I guess it puts Misfits Music in the clear." Jetta sighed.
"I suppose you better go upstairs and tell Pizzazz you're back. No doubt
she'll have plenty of things to ask you to do. Aaron, I want you. We got
a problem in studio seven an' I need your screwdriver."
"I'm on it, Mom." Aaron nodded, as Cynthia headed across the lobby towards
the lift. "What kind of a problem?"
"Somethin' to do with a shorted wire or fuse or somethin'. I ain't the
tech, that's your job." Jetta linked arms with her son, leading him along
the corridor to the one big ground floor studio where many of the lesser
acts of the company laid down their songs. "An' I also wanted to talk to
you about that girl."
"What about her?"
"I don't know anyone who gets over a death in a few days, Aaron. Doesn't
it bother you?"
"No, it doesn't. Or not in the way you think." Aaron frowned. "Truth is,
Mom, I think she's pretending it didn't happen. Distancing herself. You didn't
see her after she heard the news. Copper broke it to her, and she had a
complete breakdown. She wouldn't speak to anyone for two days. Not even
me, not even Copper. It took Aja, of all people, to bring her out of her...her
room. But I think she's decided the only way to deal with it is to put it
behind her. And the raid yesterday didn't help. Maybe she feels safer being
at work, under Aunt Phyl's protection."
"Perhaps you're right." Jetta frowned. "All right, kid. It was a professional
interest, anyway. Jewel are set to be very busy and they will need 'er, so
we don't need 'er breakin' down on the job. But God knows what 'appens if
she does an' we wind up bein' sued for not givin' 'er the requisite time."
"Cynthia is decided that she's ready. Nothing you can do about that."
Aaron assured her.
"She's never called me Jetta before." Jetta looked thoughtful. A wry smile
touched her lips. "Or not to my face."
"Jewel all do, though. I suppose it proves she's not quite her careful,
meticulous self." Aaron owned. "But unless she asks for help, Mom, I think
we gotta let her deal with this in her way. If working helps..."
"Yeah, I suppose so." Jetta nodded. "All right. I'll leave you to do your
rewirin'. I have paperwork to see to, anyway."
Upstairs in the main office, Cynthia stood before her boss's desk, eying
Phyllis with an apprehensive look.
"It's normal, when someone in my company takes compassionate leave, for
them to be signed off for a period of time, and then re-assessed by a doctor
or psych before they come back." Phyllis toyed with her pen, clicking it
on and off as she mulled over the situation. "It's procedure, and it's a
damn nusiance because I need you on the job now. But I can't have you back
here till the company shrink tells me you're fit to work. And that means...I
think you know what it means."
"I have to go and see her." Cynthia sighed, dropping down into the vacant
seat. "Must I, Ms Gabor? I do not wish to explore my feelings over Jerrica's
death. I do not wish to even think about it. I wish to get back to my normal
life and forget about it. I haven't given you a sicknote for the days leave
you gave me already. Why must I see the shrink?"
"Because it's procedure." Phyllis repeated. "And that's the bottom line.
I learnt something from my time here, you know. I'm rich, and when you're
rich, you don't survive by being stupid. If you have a nervous breakdown
because you came back to work too quickly, it's my neck on the block. I'm
not gonna be sued."
"I would not sue you."
"And I really don't need you wasting more time seeing Dr Nolan, but you're
going to go see her anyhow." Phyllis dropped the pen down onto the desk.
"And you're gonna do it this afternoon. It'll only be for an hour or so, and
then you can forget it ever happened. I need you to be on set with Jewel for
Connie's Corner tonight, and I need you to be at your best. Sooner this is
settled the better."
"Yes, Ms Gabor." Cynthia grimaced. "If I must."
"Sadly, bureaucracy says you must." Phyllis returned the grimace. "Oh,
one more thing!" as Cynthia stood to leave.
"Yes?" The hologram paused, casting her employer a questioning look.
"Tell me about the raid."
"Not much to tell. I was stuck on the step most of it." Slowly Cynthia
went over the details. "They didn't tell me much. Just asked me questions
about Jerrica's computer, and left."
"And do you know anything I might like to know about that computer?"
"Ms Gabor, there is a half million dollar reward out on that computer."
Cynthia said acidly. "If I knew anything about my sister's secret, don't
you think I'd have cashed in on it already? I really owe Jerrica no loyalty
for the way she treated me."
Her hand flew to her mouth.
"Oh God, did I just say that?"
"Maybe you're not as well as you look." Phyllis bit her lip. "Sit. I'll
call Dr Nolan's office and send you down there now. I have pull, and sooner
you're cleared the better."
"I suppose so. But Ms Gabor, I promise, I am quite well."
"Perhaps you are. But this company has to be sure." Phyllis scooped up
her phone receiver, keying in an extension number. "And I won't be happy
having you at Connie's Corner tonight unless...Dr Nolan? Phyllis Gabor. You
have a free slot now? Well, make it free. I'm sending Cynthia Benton down
to you and I want you to see her now. I don't care who else is on your books
- this gets priority. I need her checked out because we need her tonight,
and I want...right. I'll send her down."
She set down the receiver, gesturing to the door.
"Okay, go. She'll see you now. And Cynthia?"
"If you did know about this computer, you'd tell me before the press,
"Ms Gabor, if it was in my power to reveal anything about Synergy, my
loyalty is to Misfits Music." Cynthia said with a smile.
"Good. Make sure it stays that way." Phyllis nodded. "Now shoo. And come
back here when you've finished. I want to read the report, and dammit, I
want you at the show tonight - so don't give her any reason to think you're
not competent to work!"
* * *
* * * *
"I hate shopping for clothes."
Nancy sank down onto one of the benches outside of the row of changing
cubicles, a bored look on her face. "I especially hate shopping for clothes
with you, Syl. We should be working on the single, and we have to be at the
television studios in an hour to get everything ready for tonight. We don't
have time for one of your marathon shops."
"Believe me, you're the last person I'd choose to shop with either." Sylva
retorted, pushing back the curtain. "But Copper's busy helping Aaron, Sadie's
gone to the precinct to coax Alex out for lunch and Topaz is spending time
with Hollie and I didn't like to intrude. Cynthia's stuck speaking to Dr
Psyche, and you were the only one left. And shopping with you beats shopping
"Great." Nancy rolled her eyes. "I don't get it, though. We've hardly
worked enough on this song as it is, and you get the sudden urge to spend
our lunch break in Beverly Hills' designer stores? Why, exactly?"
"Because, stupid, I discovered I have absolutely nothing to wear tonight."
Sylva glared at her. "Stop whining and tell me what you think of this dress,
will you? I realise asking your opinion on fashion is like asking a goldfish
what they think of cafe au lait, but at least make an effort?"
"God give me strength." Nancy groaned. "All right. Want my honest opinion?"
"It makes you look like a hooker. No, wait." Nancy held up her hand. "Worse.
It looks just like something Daisy would wear."
"Really?" Sylva pulled a face, glancing at her reflection in the mirror.
"Ugh, you're right. I do look like a hooker. Maybe coming out with you wasn't
such a bad idea. At least when you're honest, you're brutally honest."
"Well, if you're playing on my song, I don't want you looking like a tramp."
Nancy said matter-of-factly. "Next one?"
"Fine." Sylva disappeared back into the cubicle. "Though I'm not sure
if red is my colour. Not this shade of red, anyhow."
"Put it on and let me see it already. Talking about it won't tell me anything."
"Okay, okay! The zip is stiff, gimme a break?"
"Well, well. Nancy Pelligrini."
A voice from the doorway made the young guitarist turn, a shadow touching
her expression as she recognised the speaker. Daisy lounged in the doorway,
running her gaze over her competitor with an air of derision. "Isn't this,
like, foreign territory to you? Don't you usually shop for last year's
"Oh, drop dead and go to hell, will you?" Nancy snapped. "It's a free
city. I can shop where I like."
"Nancy, who are you talking to?" Sylva pushed back the curtain. "I...Daisy?
What are you doing here?"
"Well, you must be the smart Jewel." Daisy snickered. "I'm clothes shopping,
honey. Something for my appearance on television tonight."
She paused for effect. "I'm playing Connie's Corner."
"Big deal. So are we. We do it a lot." Nancy shrugged. "Though I suppose
the first time is special for anyone."
"Kid, I've had more first times than you'd care to count." Daisy retorted.
"If you hadn't read the presses, I intend to make something of myself in
this country. Margot's got me this slot tonight...even Jerrica's death hasn't
stopped me, so if you thought it would, think again."
"We don't really care what you or Starlight Music do, Daisy." Sylva said
with a frown. "We don't need to. We focus on our music. Not other people's.
Being a groupie isn't cool."
"A groupie?" Daisy's eyes opened wide with outrage. "You call me a groupie,
when you're playing with that?" She pointed a red-painted fingernail
in Nancy's direction. "Do you know what she is? What she really is?"
"Yes." Sylva folded her arms across her chest. "She's the second most
talented songwriter in America. And in case you're wondering, Mary Martescu
- my mother - is the first."
"Songwriter." Daisy snorted. "Judging by the way she dresses, God knows
what kind of music she knows how to write. She's a nobody. Nancy, you hear
me? You've always been a nobody. Those things don't change."
"Sounds to me like someone's a little jealous about who made good after
graduation." Nancy said coldly. "And I hope you know that hairstyle knocks
about six points of your IQ...which really can't afford the loss."
"Time out, girls." Sylva put up her hands. "Daisy, we're kinda busy here,
so if you don't mind?"
"Maybe I do mind." Daisy pouted. "Maybe I'm fed up with all the damn press
reports over you girls. Think they'd be so much all over you if they knew
what a little nerd Nancy was in high school? She was the school freak. She
had no friends. Wednesday Addams, we called her. She was so damn weird not
even the teachers knew what to do with her. She was a loser. Think the press
would like to read about that?"
"You know what?" Sylva's eyes darkened. "High school was a lot of fun.
Hot dates, proms, parties, all that kinda stuff. Great. But, you know, it's
not the whole world. There's a life outside it, and if you're the same age
as Nancy and me, I'm surprised you haven't realised it. I don't care whether
Nancy was prom queen or class geek when she was in school. She was a kid
then. And there's not much in being a prom queen. I was one. I still had to
work damn hard to get where I am in the music business. The real world doesn't
care if you're a barbie princess or if you're eccentric and different. Actually,
I think it likes you better if you're the latter. Nancy's written most
all of our hits, and America loves them. Heck, so does the world. Till you've
something on your record that matches that, I'd hold your tongue about her.
You wouldn't want your comments to be misconstrued as petty envy...now would
"How dare you!"
"Very easily. I always say what I think - it's a habit of mine." Sylva
said sweetly. She reached into the changing room, pulling out the discarded
dress. "By the way, I think this would look great on you. Care to try it
"Oh, you think you're so smart, don't you?" Daisy snatched the dress,
tossing it back at her foe in anger. "I'm going to shop somewhere else.
If they let this kind of riff raff in this store it's way gone downhill
since I was last here!"
As she stormed out the door, Sylva let out an amused chuckle, bending
to retrieve the crumpled dress.
"Gee, guess it isn't Daisy's style after all." She remarked.
"What was all of that?" Nancy stared at her companion.
"That diatribe?" Nancy put her hands on her hips. "Did you mean it, or
was it just to get shot of her?"
"Hell, I've learnt a lot about you since I came to LA, Nancy." Sylva shrugged.
"Yeah, maybe you are eccentric. Damn eccentric sometimes. And I don't pretend
I always understand you. But God, high school isn't everything. You're damn
good at what you do. I meant it when I said only Mom does it better. And
that's probably cos she's done it since before either of us were born, too.
Daisy's just green-eyed about it, that's all. She was the popular kid in school
and now she's scrambling for a break, whereas you already made it to the
top of the pile. That's gotta burn her real bad."
Nancy was silent for a moment, considering. Then she pursed her lips,
glancing at her companion's attire.
"I like that dress." She said at length. "You were wrong about the shade
of red. It suits you - sets off your eyes."
"You think?" Sylva glanced down at it, then at her reflection. "Have I
actually taught you something about fashion over the last five years?"
"Yeah, I guess you have." Nancy looked self-conscious. "But I mean it.
It looks good on you."
"Then I guess I'll buy it." Sylva shrugged, reaching for the cubicle curtain.
"And then we'll go find something for you."
"No, Nance. I mean it." Sylva shook her head. "We're gonna make you look
so damn stunning tonight she dies of jealousy right there and then."
A slow smile touched Nancy's lips.
"Well, all right. If you put it that way." She agreed. "But nothing too
much, okay? You know how I feel about over the top."
"Yeah, and it won't be." Sylva promised. "I just think that, if Daisy
really reckons she looks good, well...Jewel need to look terrific. If image
is everything to that girl, we're gonna damn well teach her how to eat our
dust. And this is a very good place to start. Just let me change out of this
and we'll go see what we can do. Daisy-girl needs a quick lesson in Los
Angeles style, and we are sure gonna give it to her!"