Part Three

Chapter Six: Darren Moves In

"So what did the police have to say?"
Copper cast Sylva a concerned glance, as the final Jewel joined the rest of the group in one of Misfit Music's practice rooms, tossing her jacket down onto the unit with a sigh. "Nancy told me what happened last night...I'm sorry."
"Me too. I liked that car." Sylva looked pensive. "The cops? Not much. There isn't a single trace of anything on the thing. Whoever it was must have not just been wearing gloves, but full body armour. Not even a drop of blood anywhere. And I've seen the car now. My poor mercedes!"
"What are they doing about it?" Topaz asked. "Do they have any leads?"
"None." Sylva groaned. "The voiceprint on the phone call isn't one I recognise at all. The MO still seems to be Sammi's car-wrecking-when-drunk style, so I've asked them to drop it unless any major leads come in to the contrary...but it totally sucks. And I'm without wheels for who knows how long? I've called my insurance company but their line was busy so I've left a message and am waiting for them to call me back. I don't know what their policy is about nutcases stealing cars and wrecking them."
"At least there's a police report you can show them." Sadie said soothingly. "I would have thought that anything the thief did with it once they'd stolen it isn't your responsibility. They'll pay out. In the meantime, so long as I'm not using it, you're welcome to use my car."
"Thanks, Sadie." Sylva managed a faint smile, pulling the car keys from her pocket and tossing them across the room. "And thanks for this morning. It runs nicely and I filled it up with gas on my way here. It's just not my car, you know?"
"No, but it gives you leave to buy a brand new model." Nancy said sensibly. "It could be worse, Syl. At least whoever it was tackled your car. Not you."
"I don't think that whoever it is behind this is interested in hurting people." Copper mused. "I mean, the studio was torn to pieces but noone was hurt at all. And the car was driven purposefully into a wall...but it doesn't seem like anyone was hurt there either. It's almost like a point is being made that we don't understand."
"Something connected to what, though?" Sylva demanded. "There is nothing tying those things together. Not to do with the Misfits and the Holograms. That rivalry was dead so long ago it's not funny. Why start in on it now?"
"That's easy." Topaz said quietly. "Think about it. What's just happened change everything?"
"Jerrica's death!" Copper exclaimed. "Do you think there was something suspicious in how she was killed, after all?"
"I don't think Jerrica was murdered." Topaz shook her head. "But maybe it's not me who thinks that. Do you see what I'm saying?"
"That whoever it is attacking Misfits Music holds the Misfits somehow responsible for Jerrica's accident?" Nancy's eyes widened. "Do you realise how deranged that sounds?"
"Completely." Topaz nodded. "Which is why I'm sure it's the right explanation."
"So why has noone gone for Video Montgomery or Rio Pacheco, then?" Sadie wondered. "Why just the Misfits?"
"Maybe they have. We wouldn't automatically know about it." Topaz shrugged. "Our only connection to that is Zoe, and she hasn't said anything about Vivien's affair to the outside world."
"Zoe is blond." Copper observed absently.
"You don't think she's behind this?" Sylva asked sharply. Copper shook her head.
"No. I'm just realising how many blonds we actually know. If we discount Sadie and Topaz as suspects, there's still Zoe and Daisy."
"And Opel. I suppose if we're counting Los Angeles' blond population, she's here at the moment too." Nancy added reluctantly. "Anyone else?"
"Do we need anyone else?" Sylva buried her head in her hands. "What has Cynnie said? I didn't see her this morning before I left...did her sensors pick up anything?"
"No. She was scandisking, like I thought - and though she re-ran her records for last night she picked up nothing." Topaz shook her head.
"Well, when we're done here I'm going to head to the villa and speak to my cousin." Sylva said at length. "I don't know right now if she's the one who totalled my beautiful mercedes, but I want to see for myself that she's in one piece. If she ran the car into that wall she must have been at least scratched. And if she is, I'll know it was her."
She looked rueful.
"Besides, if it was her, before I see her sectioned, I want to know she's not critically injured. She is family, after all."
"Well, it might rule out one avenue of investigation." Sadie shrugged. "In the meantime, is there nothing we can do to find out who this person is?"
"Not unless they give us a clue." Nancy grimaced. "You do realise they could easily be a hired pro...and not the real perpetrator at all."
"Which opens our suspect list wide up." Copper sighed. "Okay. I vote we drop this for now and get to work on some music. Then Syl can go see Sammi and settle in her mind if the Teenangels had anything to do with it - though I greatly doubt it!"

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"I want a word with you."
Clay stormed into the conference room, banging the door behind him and throwing a newspaper down onto the table. "I want to know why the Tribune have a sudden exclusive story about my forbidden heritage? I thought I told you I didn't want any kind of publicity into my background and those connections? God knows I hate it enough that I've his blood in my veins without the world thinking of my mother as some kind of whore after his money!"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Darren cast the drummer a concerned glance, reaching over to scoop up the newspaper. "The Tribune has a story on you?"
"Well, so you don't know everything?" Clay raised an eyebrow. "You surprise me. I find it mighty damn suspicious that we talk about this then two days later it's in the paper, when you were full on encouraging me to spill the beans to some rag or other. I know you're doing our PR, but geez, do you have no ethics at all?"
"I'm distressed that things have happened this way." Darren pushed the newspaper aside, casting Clay a troubled look. "The reason I mentioned this to you the other day was because I had heard something buzzing in one of the press rooms about some exposé on your past and your background. It's what made me do my own digging. I wanted it to come out in your words, not in some tabloid reporter's. I'm truly sorry that I wasn't quicker to the trigger on this one, but it can be hard to predict these things. I told you already that it's about controlling the media...and this, well, we lost control."
"I don't believe you." Clay's eyes flashed. "Noone has ever bothered about me before. Noone! They all think I'm some kilt-wearing clansman from north of the border and I've damn well let them believe it! You come on the scene...and bam, there it is. Earl of Wissex's illegitimate lovechild."
"Well, I don't ask you to believe me, and Mr Llewelyn doesn't pay me to be believed." Darren said matter-of-factly. "I did warn you that if I can find it out, so can anyone else. Reporters are not stupid people. You'd be wise to keep them on your side."
"Bah." Clay banged his hands down on the table. "And what next? Marissa and me all over the gossip pages?"
"That depends entirely on you and the charming Miss Young." Darren offered him a smile. "I can arrange the interview - you only have to say the word."
"Leave it out." Clay shook his head. "I want to keep what's left of my private life private!"
"Clay, what are you yelling about? I can hear you from down the hall and I'm trying to learn my part to the new song."
The door swung open to reveal Stefana, an irate look on her face. "Can you keep it down? I'm on a tricky passage."
"Keep it down?" Clay looked incredulous. "Have you seen the back page of the Tribune today?"
"No, can't say I read the papers often, if I don't have to." Stefana shook her head. "What about it?"
"Look for yourself. I'm too sickened to read it again." Clay grabbed up the offending paper, thrusting it at her. "Mr PR here has decided to go it alone on the publicity much for wanting our cooperation!"
"Darren?" Stefana glanced at the article, then at the reporter. "Is that true? Is that the kind of guy you are, huh? Should have guessed - you're so Rory's type of employee. Always out for your own interests!"
"I told you yesterday that someone was already pushing in on this story, Stefana." Darren said evenly. "I was hoping to nip it in the bud by having Clay's own telling of it as some press exclusive...where we had control. Unfortunately they got there before I did. It's unfortunate, but sometimes in this business it's inevitable."
"Wait a minute." Clay held up his hands. "You told her someone was closing in on my family background, but you didn't tell me?"
"I didn't want to influence your decision. I wanted it to be your own." Darren explained, sitting back in his chair. "But I was afraid of something like this."
Stefana looked doubtful.
"He did mention something like it, Clay. I remember now." She admitted. "Maybe that is what happened."
"Well, right now I don't care what did. I'm bloody mad as hell about it either way." Clay fumed. "And so will Mum be. We've always agreed that Mason Hawthorne isn't any part of our family and I don't need the world connecting me with some titled estate in the south of England. It's not mine. It never will be mine, and even if it was, I wouldn't want it. My life is here, with Diablo...and that's that."
"Passionate words." Darren looked interested. "Would you allow me to release that as your statement to the press, regarding this story? You know how it is - they'll all be carrying it by lunchtime."
"You can tell the press to go screw themselves." Clay said darkly. "And also, if you're so close to them, tell them that if I find out what sleaze dug up this story and made it public knowledge, well, he'll wish he'd never heard of the name Clayton Blake!"
With that he stormed out of the room, slamming the door twice as hard behind him. Stefana winced.
"Clay's mad." She said, unnecessarily. "That's not a good start for you, is it? Annoying your employer's top band?"
"I didn't get to where I am by making people like me, Stefana." Darren said calmly. "He'll calm down."
"So did you leak his story? Is that the way it's gonna work around here?"
"Do you think I leaked it?" Darren countered. "After mentioning it to him in a room full of witnesses? Drawing attention to myself? Very subtle."
"I don't know." Stefana sank down into an empty chair. "Listen, Darren, we know the kind of people Rory likes to employ. Clay has a point that way. We need to know you're not like the others, if you want us to trust you. We don't like Rory. You might have guessed."
"Liking isn't really important in this business. Success is." Darren told her. "I don't like Mr Llewelyn much either. He's paying me, so that's why I'm here. If I always liked my bosses, I'd have a very limited pool to choose from."
"Really?" Stefana looked startled. "I thought he and you were on the same wavelength."
"I'm a good actor." Darren laughed. "Between you and me, Stefana, I can't stand the man. He's corporate slime. But you're not. You're a publicist's dream. And that's why I took the job. There's so much involved with a big act like Diablo."
"I suppose that's true." Stefana sighed. "These days we are big business and we are busy a lot. Things just seem to be getting more and more mental. Rory bringing you in. Starlight Music getting all this hype. Even Jewel aren't getting a look in."
"On the contrary." Darren flicked open the discarded paper, pointing to an article on page two. "Someone broke into the Starlight Mansion's grounds last night and made off with one of the girls' cars. Ran it into a wall somewhere on the south side. Police issued a statement but there are no suspects."
He tapped the paper. "This is the kind of thing which nets front page headlines, on a normal basis. This Jerrica press is being stretched thinner and thinner, and it still shows no sign of abating."
He smirked.
"I suppose they're all hanging on in there hoping for the scoop of the century."
"What scoop?"
"Finding that mythical computer, of course. What else?"
Stefana bit her lip.
"You mean Synergy?"
"Yeah. I think that's what they call it." Darren snorted, though his quick eyes had noticed the change in her expression. "I don't believe it exists, myself. Maybe it did once, but I think it's all a big hoax. There are gonna be some big tabloid chiefs with egg on their faces when it's exposed as a fraud."
"You don't think it's real?" Stefana asked. Darren shook his head.
"I outgrew scifi when I was fifteen." He said flippantly. "Don't tell me you do?"
"I don't know what to believe about it. The information is all so confusing." Stefana sighed. She got to her feet, moving to the window so that her companion would not see her face. "Do you think that they really will keep on the Jerrica trail till someone proves whether or not it exists?"
"Sadly, I do." Darren's eyes narrowed, noticing the sudden rigidity of Stefana's demeanour. "Far as I'm concerned, if you can't find something as big as this, it's probably not there. Even the feds can't find I think it never existed. But I'm boring you with stuff that has nothing to do with Diablo or your publicity, aren't I?"
"Hrm?" Stefana turned to look at him, then shook her head.
"No, I'm not bored." She said absently. "Though I should probably get back to my song..."
"You don't have to." Darren shook his head. "I'd still like to buy you lunch, if you'll let me do that today."
He grinned. "Now you know I'm not some two headed monster."
"Why do you want to buy me lunch?" Stefana raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, please."
"You're a very attractive young lady." Darren shrugged his shoulders. "And I'm always intrigued by the bad girl."
"Hrm." Stefana narrowed her eyes. "Are you going to try it on with me? I can defend myself, you know. I've had guys in hospital before now because they misplaced their hands...if you get my meaning."
"I am a perfect gentleman, I promise." Darren grinned. "My hands never wander where they're not invited. It's just lunch. Part professional interest, part personal. Can you say fairer than that?"
Stefana sighed.
"All right. I guess I'll come." She agreed at length. "But somewhere public, and you've been tricks."
"You have my word, if you'll take it."
"It depends if your word is like Rory's word." Stefana said acidly. "He has a habit of forgetting when he's made a promise."
"Well, I never forget my promises, and I made one to myself to take you out to lunch by the end of the week." Darren's eyes twinkled. "So we'd better keep it."
"Did anyone tell you you're full of yourself?" Stefana demanded, as they made their way down to the parking lot. Darren nodded.
"All the time." he agreed. "My mother began it when I was about four, and it's a symptom I notice flaring up from time to time." He winked. "Why, is it wrong to be full on? As I see it, you go for what you want in this world. Life's too short not to."
"That's something I guess I identify with." Stefana admitted. She paused, then, "Darren, if I have lunch with you, am I going to see every word of our conversation in tomorrow's papers?"
"I give you my promise that won't happen." Darren said solemnly. "Im as distressed as anyone about the Tribune's story today. I'm not taking you out to provide the follow-up."
"Okay. Good." Stefana tucked her hair behind her ear. "Because between you and me, it's nice to find someone else working for Rory who realises what a scumbag he is. And that isn't exactly something I want the press to know I think."
"It wouldn't be good for your image." Darren agreed carefully. "And that wouldn't be good for my future at Rebel Records, either."
He shrugged. "Besides, I don't think the papers would make much of a killing on that. As far as I understand it, noone in Los Angeles much likes Rory Llewelyn, or that scam-artist common law wife of his."
"Scam-artist? Sophie?" Stefana's ears pricked up. "What do you mean?"
"You didn't know she was wanted in France? Escaped prison there years ago and was eventually granted asylum in the US when a court ruled she'd acted under her husband's influence." Darren looked surprised. "I thought everyone knew that old tale. The French dropped the charges against her in the end. It was her husband, after all, who was a little nuts. He killed a prison guard and was gunned down in the resultant crossfire - but everything I read pointed to the fact Sophie Devereux hates violence. That sealed her case, in a sense."
"No wonder she was so edgy in France." Stefana chuckled appreciatively. "I knew there was some kind of past there, but I thought it was just that she was commandeered as a Stinger by Rory under shady circumstances. I had no idea she was an ex-con."
"Oh, an infamous one." Darren assured her. "I'm really surprised you didn't know about it. Working for her, and all."
"I don't read the papers much, I told you." Stefana shrugged. "And Rory doesn't encourage that kind of thing. We're sposed to consider Sophie his equal, though I've never seen her sit behind the desk taking the big decisions. I don't know what she does behind the scenes - besides the stuff I don't want to think about, considering they're living together...but I guess there must be something."
"Well, from everything I read, she's a fairly skillful manipulator." Darren responded, unlocking his car and holding the passenger door for his companion. "So I'm sure she has a finger in the pie."
He grinned.
"I should be badgering her to write a book of her life. That might generate some major publicity your way."
"Yeah, maybe you should." Stefana agreed. She laughed. "Hell, I might even read it!"

"I don't believe this."
Up in the studio above, Clay turned from the window, a dark look on his face.
"Now what's eating you?" Marissa came up behind him, slipping a gentle arm around his waist and standing on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. "Come on, Clay. You're tense as anything and it's doing our writing no good. We've got three bars done today...come sit down. Please?"
"Stefana and that PR guy." Clay banged his fist on the windowpane in frustration, oblivious to his girlfriend's words.
"What?" Marissa looked startled, peering down through the glass. "What about them?"
"She just got into his car. Laughing." Clay grimaced. "I don't know where he's taking her, but I don't trust that man. I'm telling you it's no coincidence that my family history was all over the news today, after our chat the other day. And if he can do that to me on the basis of one conversation, God only knows what he'll get out of Stefana. She's a walking publicity timebomb as it is!"
"Stef is street-smart." Marissa said sensibly. "And she doesn't discuss her drug issues, not even with us these days. Not even with Farah or I, in truth. I don't know what she and Luca talk about when they're together, but I think she's burying it as hard as she can in the past, and she's not going to tell a complete stranger she used to be doped on speed."
"If he doesn't already know." Clay sighed. "The bloke seems to know everything."
"Then you're worrying unecessarily about Stefana revealing anything." Marissa told him. "If he already knows, and if he did leak your story to the press, he might well already have leaked hers."
"That doesn't make me feel better." Clay clenched his fists. "I can't put my finger on it, Mari, but there's something going on here. He appeared on the scene way too conveniently for my liking. And Rory likes him way too much. I swear there's something else going down...I just don't know what it is."
Marissa paled.
"You're serious, aren't you?" She whispered.
"Mari?" Clay looked startled at the sudden change in her demeanour. He nodded.
"Deadly serious." He agreed. "Something's up. Why?"
Marissa cursed.
"Stef..." She shook her head. "Clay, Stef's in no state to be hassled by someone who's trying to get information out of her. She's been a bit confused since we got back from Europe. Farah and I aren't quite sure what we make of it, but we're both agreed that confusion is at the root of it. Maybe caused by the drugs she was taking - I don't know. Bottom line is, she thinks she knows something she can't possibly know anything about."
"You've lost me."
"I know, and I can't clarify without betraying the promise I made her." Marissa sighed. "The thing is, Clay, Farah and I are both certain that what she thinks she knows, she actually doesn't know at all. And she's somewhere got confused or overheard something that's made her jump to some conclusion or other. There's no other explanation, because what she said to us doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But just because she doesn't know anything doesn't mean that she's not in danger. She thinks Rory wants information from her on something...information she doesn't want to give him. Do you think Darren's Rory's answer to that situation?"
"Almost certainly." Clay said darkly. "You can't tell me any more about this information that Stefana supposedly knows?"
"No." Marissa shook her head. "And I'm sure she doesn't know it, any more than you or I do. But Rory thinks she does...and if she won't tell him of her own accord, I'm worried he'll try another method."
"Like bringing in some strange guy she won't suspect." Clay sighed. "I thought she was more wary than that."
"I did too, but whoever she's seeing for counselling has been trying to get her to be more trusting of people. To overcome the paranoid complex the speed instilled in her." Marissa sighed, resting her head on his shoulder. "She told me so."
"What a great time to begin." Clay sighed. "Do you have your phone on you?"
"Yes. Why?"
"Can't you call Stef back here, say it's a musical emergency?"
"It would be a lie."
"I don't care. I don't like to think of her being prodded for information when she's still only a matter of a month or two off the chemicals. She might not make the right judgement and dammit, I don't want the girl hurt."
"All right." Marissa frowned, but reached for her bag, pulling out her phone and dialling Stefana's number. After a moment she shook her head, setting it down.
"She's turned it off." She reported. "I guess we'll just have to trust in her paranoia a little, won't we, and hope we're wrong about Rory's newest protegee!"

Chapter One: At The Funeral
Chapter Two: Stefana's Secret
Chapter Three: Nancy's Studio
Chapter Four: An Old Rivalry
Chapter Five: An Act Of Pique
Chapter Six: Darren Moves In
Chapter Seven: Daisy's Ghost
Chapter Eight: An Unlikely Team
Chapter Nine: Scheming
Chapter Ten: The Synergy Ruse
Chapter Eleven: A Legacy Reborn

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.
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