"It's not a whole lot to go on."
Alex took a sip of his coffee, settling himself more comfortably in
the booth and casting his girlfriend a troubled look. "The bureau don't
have much more information on it, either. All I can tell you is that some
time during the night someone - male or female, we don't know which - stole
up on Copper - probably at the gas station you mentioned - and grabbed
her. Since her car is missing, it seems most likely that they took that,
too. Maybe they forced her to drive. I don't know."
"Surely the security film from the gas station is a start, though?"
Sadie asked. "Alex, Nancy and I spoke to the manager and he said that
he'd be only too happy to cooperate with police or FBI regarding this film.
Won't that be some way towards it?"
"Only if the suspect shows up on the film." Alex set his coffee mug
down on the unit. "And clearly enough to make an identification. The range
of the camera might or might not include the area where you found Copper's
missing earring, but Ray has had the tape pulled in anyway, for them to
examine more carefully. Men have been all over the gas station forecourt
but aside from the earring - any prints on which are lost now - we have
nothing to go on. One of the employees remembered speaking to Copper in the
early hours, so we know that she did call by there. But what happened next?"
He shrugged. It's still a mystery."
"She can't just vanish." Nancy said stubbornly. "You're supposed to
be FBI, Alex. FBI stands for Federal Bureau of Investigation
it would be a lot better looking at the things we do have, rather than
moaning about what we don't. We know her car make, colour and registration.
Sadie reckons that the kidnapper took the car as well as Copper, so that's
one thing we have on him. We know that he was in the gas station forecourt,
because of the earring..."
"Which a good defence lawyer would quickly overturn, since you touched
the earring and could easily have planted it there." Alex interjected.
"Well, we don't care much about a court case. We care about finding
Copper." Nancy snapped back. "Which I thought was supposed to be part
of your job!"
"Easy, Nance." Sadie put a hand on her friend's arm. "I'm sure Alex
and Ray and all the others will do their best to find her. It's just difficult
while they're trying to get a trace on the car details. California is
a big state and we don't know which part of Cali she might be in. If she
hasn't crossed state lines."
"My superior officers believe she probably has -or soon will. That's
why we're involved as much as anything." Alex nodded. "County police have
limited jurisdiction outside their own area, and it saves a lot of time
getting us on the case. Nancy, I promise you, we will do our utmost to track
her down and bring her back unharmed. Every FBI department across California
is on red alert. Every police unit is notified to look out for Copper's
car. They're even in the know in Washington."
Before anyone could respond, the door of the coffee house swung open
to reveal Aaron, Topaz and Sylva in tow. Spying the group in the corner,
they headed over.
"I'm glad to see you." Aaron cast Alex a relieved smile. "At least
it means I know something is being done."
"Everything we can, Aaron. That's for sure." Alex assured them quietly.
"Is there anything any of the rest of you can tell me?"
"Not really." Aaron spread his hands. "I just spoke to Carmen in Detroit.
Of course, that wasn't a good phonecall to have to make, but I felt it
my responsibility to tell her that her daughter was missing. And she'll
see it in the press anyway, as soon as it gets that far north."
"We drove out all over the area, but we didn't see any sign of Copper's
car." Topaz grimaced. "And nobody we spoke to had seen her, either."
"Did you lose Hollie as well?" Sadie looked surprised. Topaz shook
"No. Left her with Kimber at the foundation, so that I could focus
my attention on the hunt and not on her needs." She replied. "Kimber understood
- she always does."
"I figured Cynthia would be watching her." Nancy owned. Topaz smiled
"No. She wanted to conduct some searches of her own, through a...a computer
database she has access to." She said, settling herself more comfortably.
"In the circumstances I thought that was probably best. Cynthia is good
at unearthing information."
"I know you all want to help Copper, but I don't want any of you getting
more involved than you have to." Alex warned. "It's all very well wanting
to track her down - I know you all do, as do I - but we don't know
if he or she's armed or dangerous or what they might do if you tried to intervene.
I want everyone's word that, if you discover something, you report it to
myself or to Ray or to one of the other officers working the case, okay?
Don't just run in headlong. We don't want a tragedy."
"We understand, Alex." Sadie nodded. "I have faith in you guys to find
"If we discover anything, you have all of our words that we'll let you
know." Nancy added. "As soon as humanly possible."
"Do you think this person is armed?" Aaron looked alarmed.
"We have to consider the possibility - after all, we believe they forced
Copper to go with them against her will." Alex spread his hands. "I'm sorry,
Aaron bit his lip.
"We don't know anything." He muttered. "Not a damn thing! A button,
an earring - what in hell do they prove! Copper could be anywhere, and
we're no damn closer to finding her than we were the night she disappeared!
At this rate I might never get my fiancee back!"
* * *
* * * *
"I do not like this building."
Cynthia stepped out of the taxi, paying the driver and stepping resolutely
up the front walkway, pushing open the doubledoors and entering the lobby.
"It speaks of a coldhearted, manipulating man inside. But does it speak
of one whose mind would really be easy if a murder were committed? I wonder
what lengths Rory Llewelyn and his company would go to to have Jewel out
of the picture for good. It does not make pleasant thought."
"Hi, Miss Ranieri." The security guard greeted her with a salute, and
Cynthia snorted, tossing her head and stalking past him into the lift.
Despite her claims that she was naive to the ways of humans, she had spent
time observing her companions and building a database of their characteristics
in order to better understand how to make Cynthia believable and real. Consequently
she had Stefana's gestures down to a tee, and she knew that nobody would
"Nobody except the real Stefana." She mused. "So I must be aware of
who is here as I go. If I should see Stefana, I must hide myself so that
she does not get suspicious. She knows, unlike her companions, what I am
capable of. And if I am correct in my suspicions, she is not entirely innocent
in all that has been going on."
At that moment the lift juddered to a halt on a lower floor and the
door pulled back, admitting a young intern. The girl took one look at Cynthia
and cowered back against the wall of the car, and Cynthia surmised that she
had met with Stefana's harsh tongue already in her time at the music company.
She pursed her lips, then,
"Hey, kid, is Ms Asche here today?"
"Come on, spit it out, if you want to keep your internship." Cynthia
put her hands on her hips, inwardly feeling sorry for the frightened girl.
"Yes, Miss Ranieri. She...she was with Mr...Mr Llewelyn in his office."
The girl stammered. "About ten minutes ago I saw her go in there."
The lift stopped again, and the girl darted out into the safety of the
corridors before Cynthia could ask any questions. The hologram looked thoughtful.
"Obviously it is not easy being an intern here." She mused. "But she
told me what I hoped she would. Rapture is in the building, and that saves
me a journey looking for her."
She stepped out of the car, pausing to work out which way to go. She
had not been to Rebel Records before, and it took her a moment to get her
bearings, before heading down the main corridor towards the turning for
Rory's office. There were voices inside, and Cynthia melted back into the
shadows as the door opened to reveal Rory himself, a folder in his arm.
He took no notice of the new pot-plant that had apparently just appeared
in his barren hall, striding swiftly towards the lift and banging the button
for the ground floor. Once sure he was gone, Cynthia returned herself to
her Stefana disguise, pushing open the door of the office and entering.
Phoebe was sat behind the desk, skimming over a sheet of paper. She
glanced up at the girl's entrance, offering her a slight smile.
"Hello, Stefana." She said levelly. "Can I help you?"
"I thought this was Rory's office. Not yours." Cynthia observed adroitly,
dropping down onto a chair. "What are you doing here?"
"Visiting an old friend...why should it matter to you?" Phoebe countered
easily, folding the paper in two and slipping it into her pocket. "Was there
something wrong? Surely you don't expect me to pay you for your silence
as well as what you've already had from me."
"Did you know Copper was going to be abducted?" Cynthia shot straight
to the point. Phoebe looked surprised.
"Are you worried about her?" She demanded, a note of irony in her tone.
"Or is it that fool fiance of hers that you've lost your silly head over
that's concerning you?" She shrugged. "I can't say I knew anything for sure.
But you met Jason. I'm surprised it didn't occur to you what the outcome
She smiled, a nasty glint entering her eyes. "Are you having a call
"I have no conscience." Cynthia told her coldly, returning the look
with a perfect Stefana glare. "If Rory didn't tell you that then I'm telling
you myself. I don't care about the Jewel brat, but this is a big deal. Why
shouldn't I ask you to pay me to keep quiet? I know enough."
"Yes, my dear, you do." Phoebe pursed her lips. "But you forget, so
do I. I don't need to buy your silence, and you need not worry about mine.
The police will not hear from me that you ransacked Jewel's dressing room.
In return, you will not tell the FBI that I had anything to do with the abduction
of that snivelling Jewel brat. Don't you think that's fair? It's not like
I'm staying in Los Angeles long, anyway." She patted her pocket. "That was
confirmation of my flight out, the day after tomorrow. Rebel Records is not
my concern - I've done what I intended and it's never good to hang around
and outstay one's welcome."
Cynthia's eyes narrowed as she digested all of this, and for a moment
she didn't speak. Phoebe laughed.
"Lost for words are we?" She asked lightly. "I suggest you keep it that
She got to her feet, tapping her companion condescendingly on the shoulder.
"It was a pleasure doing business with you, Stefana. I hope maybe
one day we'll do so again." She winked. "And now that Jewel are out of
the way, I expect Rory will have great things to say about Diablo."
With that she swept out of the office and down the hall, leaving Cynthia
staring after her.
"Stefana was the intruder in the dressing room." She murmured. "That
is no surprise to me. Then she was involved. But Marissa spoke the
truth - Stefana did not know about Copper's abduction, nor is she likely
to be able to tell us where to find her. This is a pity. It did not sound
like Phoebe knew much more on that score, either. What did Marissa say? That
she'd said something flippant about Las Vegas? Well, perhaps Rory Llewelyn
knows more. It is worth a try, anyway."
Carefully she morphed her features into the older ones of Phoebe herself,
glancing down at her attire with disdain.
"Heaven forbid that I have to wear these clothes for very long." She
decided. "I may be a hologram, but I have my limits!"
She pushed open the door, glancing around her to make sure the corridor
was deserted. Phoebe had long gone, and she was able to return to the lift
"But where will I find Riot?" She wondered. "He obviously does conduct
business when he's not trying to sabotage my friends. I wonder."
She pressed the ground floor button, waiting impatiently for the car
to reach it's destination. As she stepped into the lobby, however, she realised
that Rory Llewelyn was no longer on the premises, and that his car was
just pulling away. She sighed, clicking her tongue in exasperation.
"There he goes." She muttered. "And I have lost my chance for today."
A gently accented voice came from behind her, and she turned, casting
the speaker a smile.
"I thought that you left with Rory. Did you forget something?" Sophie
Devereux eyed the hologram in confusion. Cynthia shook her head.
"No. I was just checking my flight details on his computer. I will join
him presently." She lied glibly. "I had to make sure that there was no
trouble from a...a liability."
Sophie's pretty features became grave.
"I wish you were not involved in all of this, Rapture." She said softly.
"I care nothing for Jewel, but I do care for this music company and it's
reputation. If you are caught..."
"When have I ever been caught?" Cynthia raised an eyebrow. "Have faith
in me, Sophie. I will be out of this state before the Feds even think of
"I have faith in you." Sophie nodded slowly. "In truth, I worry about
"The girl?" Cynthia stared.
"Yes." Sophie nodded again. "Copper."
"Worried about her? Why in hell?"
"Sabotage is one thing, but if he should hurt her...even kill her..."
Sophie shuddered. "I do not like to think of that. I never did like violence.
I don't want the girl to die, Rapture - not because of something you did.
You are my dearest friend - I will protect you with my silence as long as
I live, and you know that. But I wish you had not gone this far. It was
enough of a risk helping you prepare your disguise so that you could trail
her at that restaurant. I had no idea it would go so far as this."
"I didn't go at all far. The fan did that." Cynthia forced herself to
effect a Rapture laugh. "He didn't even tell me where he would take her,
so the police would find nothing useful out from me anyway."
"Rory said that you thought he'd go to Las Vegas...but I don't like
how things have gone quiet." Sophie twisted her hands together. "I heard
on the radio a few minutes before that they have found her car, Rapture
- abandoned in a parking lot outside a motel. I fear for her."
"Well, don't." Cynthia snapped, more harshly than she intended for her
mind was whirling at Sophie's revelations. "Keep out of it."
Before the frenchwoman could say anything else, she stalked towards
the door and out into the parking lot, heading into a secluded patch of
undergrowth as she adjusted her features back into that of her normal self.
For a moment she just stood there, carefully turning over everything that
"Her car has been found at a motel, but Copper is still missing. Copper
was abducted by a man, and the old woman who Copper encountered when she
missed her bracelet must have been Rapture, considering what Sophie said
about the restaurant. Stefana ransacked Copper's belongings and stole her
earrings and the money, but it is Rapture who is the main thrust behind all
of this. And Marissa was correct, Las Vegas is where he is probably taking
her. But if he has abandoned her car - has something gone wrong? And how
are we ever going to track her down now we don't know what vehicle he is
driving? How on earth are we going to get one step ahead of this madman before
he does what Marissa thought and forces Copper to become his wife?"