Chapter Thirteen: Ambush

The rain was beginning to drizzle out of the sky by the time Robin left Misfits Music. As he crossed the asphalt, fumbling in his pocket for his cell phone, he cast a glance around for a car he knew, but only one was familiar. At the sight of it, he pursed his lips, shaking his head slowly.


"Not a good person to be talking to right at the moment. Not since she's started jumping on bandwagons and joining the Robin Sheppard is a killer party." He muttered. He glanced at his phone, and then cursed again.

"Out of power again. What is wrong with this thing? Like pouring money down a sewer - stupid Californian phone! Stupid Californian phone company!"

In a sudden fit of anger he tossed the phone against the smooth black wall of the music company, watching it shatter with little pleasure.

"Temper, temper."

A cool, amused voice came from behind him and he turned on his heel, a frown crossing his face as he surveyed the stranger before him. At his expression, the newcomer smiled, bending to pick up the body of the phone and handing it back to him.

"Littering isn't a good habit." He said softly. "And much as I'm sure that rich bitch is paying you to sing for her company, I'm sure you can't afford to smash things on a whim like that."

"Who are you?" Robin snatched the remains of the phone roughly away from him, meeting the stranger's gaze with a glare. "What do you want?"

"Darren McMillan." The reporter did not seem at all ruffled by the menace in Robin's tone. "Los Angeles Tribune. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance at long last."

"Get away from me." Robin's eyes darkened and he shoved the reporter aside, stalking across the carpark towards the company gates. Darren shook his head slowly, tut-tutting as he did so.

"Those the kind of manners they teach you down south, Robin?" He asked mockingly. "But then for a man who kills his wife...what else should I expect?"

Robin froze. He swung around, rage sparking in his eyes as he made a beeline for the reporter.

"Don't you bring her into this." He said in low tones, his voice shaking. "Don't you dare. Not ever. Do you hear me? She's none of your business and neither am I! Keep your nose out, or else you'll be sorry!"

"Threatening doesn't stop freedom of speech." Darren said calmly, eying his companion with interest. "Am I to take this sudden impassioned outburst as a confession of guilt?"

"No you damn well aren't!" Robin exclaimed. "I didn't kill nobody, though I'm real tempted to start that off with you right here and right now. How dare you fling out things you don't understand anything about? How dare you write an article about me without doing any of the proper research? People think I'm a killer and you know what? I'm not. I'm sorry to disappoint you and your scandal-seeking readers, but I'm sick and tired of it!"

"Well, at least you're able to be sick and tired." Darren said acidly. "Sian...isn't that her name? She's not so lucky. Six feet under and gathering worms faster than you can say redneck, that'd be my guess. And it's a shame, don't you think, for her story to be so hushed up like this? Because you know, Robin, much as I'd like to believe your side of things, I've a pretty good idea of what happened. I've been in touch with your local smalltown rag and it seems pretty clear and concise to me."

Robin grabbed Darren by the shirt collar, pushing him up against the slick black surface. The rain was beginning to fall more heavily now, but he took no notice, his grip on his prey tightening.

"Shut your goddamn mouth and keep your ideas and insinuations to yourself." He growled. "Do you hear me? I'm not afraid of you and your press hound friends any more than I'm afraid of Phyllis Gabor or Jetta Pelligrini. You start printing garbage about me again and you'll find yourself on the end of a lawsuit, never mind a fist! Leave Sian alone and leave me alone. It's not your story. It's old news."

"Not when you're the newest sensation on the block." Darren deftly wriggled himself free. "See, the thing is, Robin, I'm not afraid of you or Phyllis Gabor either. I'm a pressman and I do a lot of digging. When you dig, you're bound to wind up touching nerves here and there. I've been threatened get used to it. So unless you plan to kill me right here in the parking lot, you're not going to shut me up. The Tribune has faced down any number of lawsuits from idiots who think they can beat freedom of speech. But this is America, Robin. Truth will out."

"Yeah, well, it seems to be taking its time about it." Robin spat back. "Sian's death wasn't my fault. Print that."

"Prove it and I will." Darren returned. "I'm not interested in printing falsehoods, Mr Sheppard. The Tribune likes truth - it sticks better."

Robin stared at him for a moment. Then his eyes narrowed and he shook his head.

"It's not up to me to do your job for you." He said scathingly. "If you're such a good reporter, do some proper digging and find out what really happened. You're not getting anything from me. I won't have my wife's name dragged across scandal sheets city-wide with just your pathetic aspersions to back them up...and I certainly won't be any part of it."

"But you have confirmed for me that she existed...and that she was your wife." Darren observed calmly. "I had the obituary and I did dig up a marriage certificate for you and one Sian Ellen Mulhavy...people I spoke to sure seemed positive you were involved in her death."

"You're not speaking to the right people." Robin muttered. Then, he glanced up, pursing his lips.

"If I give you one thing, will you promise to keep Sian's name out of your rag?" He hazarded. Darren looked startled.

"That depends on the thing." He said cautiously. "People want to read about identities, not generalisations, you know. Tragic heroines and all of that."

"I'll give you a tip, if you leave her to rest in peace." Robin said slowly. Darren considered.

"What's the tip?" He said finally.

"I have your word?"

"All right, hillbilly. I'll play your game - at least for now." Darren spread his hands, clever eyes sparkling with curiosity as he spied a chink in Robin's armour. "What's this magical tip of yours? Spit it out. I don't got all day."

"You like to dig?" Robin asked. "Go dig into Calvin Reynolds. See what that gives you. And leave me alone. I'm sick of your company and your excuses that wrecking someone else's life is 'freedom of speech' and 'in the public interest'. The public wouldn't care if you didn't tell them they did. They're all too mindless to know better and you manipulate them into paying good cash for garbage. Don't think I don't know your type."

Darren chuckled.

"Interesting conspiracy theory." He said with an amused shrug. "Calvin Reynolds? Nothing else you'd like to tell me about that?"

"No. I've said more than enough to you." Robin said flatly. "A name for a name. I gave you his, you leave hers alone. I think you'll find it's more than enough to go on, anyhow. Once you start looking."

"We'll see." Darren said carefully. "If it doesn't pan out, at least I have a backup."

He winked at Robin,

"I knew it would be a pleasure meeting you." He said mockingly.

Robin muttered several unrepeatable words under his breath. Then, as the reporter turned to get into his vehicle, he swung around, heading purposefully back towards the main building in search of shelter and a phone to call a taxi cab.

Once inside he took a deep breath, leaning up against the wall and closing his eyes briefly.

"Damn reporters." He muttered, clenching his fists and pounding them helplessly against the panelling. "Damn them!"

"Why are you standin' in the lobby soakin' wet an' cussin' out the press?"

Jetta's clipped tones made him start and he opened his eyes, staring at her in wary confusion.

"I just got ambushed by Mr Tribune." He said darkly. "That's enough to make anyone cuss."

"He's still on your tail, is he?" Jetta asked, her expression becoming thoughtful. Robin pulled a face.

"Yes. Obviously he is." He snapped back. "And obviously I'm fed up with it. If Phyllis would get her act together and do some damn work to protect my reputation, it'd be good around about now. I don't like being branded as a killer for the whole of the city to see."

"The trouble with past secrets, love, is that if you're not willing to share them, someone else will." Jetta said tartly. "You're not the first employee this company has had who's run away from their past and tried to build a new self without acknowledging the old one. It don't work. You can't amputate part of your life an' leave it floatin' in the ether. And it ain't Pizzazz's job to nanny you an' make your life choices for you. It's your own. The last time one of our people was accused of murder, it wasn't pretty. I'm not surprised she doesn't want to get involved this time."

"What is this company?" Robin's eyes opened wide at her words. "Other employees getting accused of murder? Running away from past secrets? Hell, what do you run here? A safehouse or a music company?"

"Sometimes I wonder that myself." Jetta said with a shrug. "Stop wallowin' in your own self pity, Robin. It ain't pretty. Stand up an' be a man about it at least."

"What do you know about it?"

"More than you'll ever find out." Jetta said curtly. "Now make yourself useful, since you're 'ere. Your tapes from this mornin' are still in the main studio. Run up an' get them, will you? Then come to my office. I'd like to go over some paperwork with you an' settle a few things before we make an official release. Pizzazz spoke to Zoe this afternoon an' I think there's a video date set."

"I was heading home."

"Well, we'd all like to do that, but not when there's work still undone. That just makes twice as much for tomorrow." Jetta said frankly. She eyed him thoughtfully, then, "Nancy's still 'ere workin'. I thought she was the professional that inspired you to sign 'ere?"

"Nancy's like everyone else, and I don't care if she's your daughter." Robin snapped. "She thinks I'm a killer as much as the next person and you know the truth - you haven't even set her straight."

"Why should I need to?" Jetta asked him with a slight smile. "It ain't my secret. I'll meet you in my office...I have a couple of calls to make an' the sooner we get through, the sooner you can go 'ome."

Robin muttered something unintelligible under his breath, but made his way reluctantly towards the lift shaft, jabbing buttons and tapping his foot impatiently as he waited for the car to arrive. It did so in record time, and he stomped inside, thumping the button for the main studio floor and dropping back against the wall, folding his arms across his chest.

"I wish I'd never come to this stupid state." He said aloud. "It's nothing but trouble and there's noone here I can trust. At least back home there were people. At least there they knew what was right."

The chime of the lift bell alerted him to the fact the car had stopped, and the steel doors slid open. Nancy stood on the other side, but as she saw him, she hesitated, biting her lip. Robin glowered at her.

"Wait for the next one if that's how you feel." He snapped. Nancy stared at him, then she scowled. Tossing her head, she stalked into the lift, refusing to meet Robin's gaze as she pushed the button for the top floor. Robin cast her a sidelong glance, and his frown deepened. He rolled his eyes.

"Gee, catching an elevator with a killer. That must be a real bummer for you." He said sarcastically.

"We don't have to talk. I'd rather not." Nancy replied. "I'm here to work - whatever you're doing."

She paused to appraise him, then,

"Apparently taking a bath, or something. Don't they have running water in homes in Arkansas? Or do you just like the wet dog look?"

"As if that's worth a reply."

"Then don't reply. I told you. I'd rather you didn't."

Robin opened his lips to retort, but before he could say anything, the light in the lift flickered above them. As he glanced up, he felt the car give a shudder and a creak, and the light flickered again. At length it went out, and the lift gave another almighty judder, causing Nancy to shriek and lose her footing, reaching out desperately for the side of the car to stop herself from falling headlong.

With another almighty groan, the lift shook once more and then, without any warning, there was a crack and something gave way. Nancy let out another shriek as the car began to plummet back the way it had come, gathering speed as it did so. Robin bit his lip, his mind a whirl of panic and confusion. In that mad instant, he almost thought he saw Sian in the darkness and then, as quickly as the illusion had come it was gone. He reached out a hand to grab something for support as the lift's momentum grew ever faster.

And then he closed his eyes, and prayed.

Prologue: Flashback: Carrowville, Arkansas
Chapter One: Memory
Chapter Two: Spies and Secrets
Chapter Three: Jack
Chapter Four: Flashback: The Hartlin Bar, Carrowville
Chapter Five: Margot's Plan
Chapter Six: Confidences
Chapter Seven:Flashback: The Wedding Reception
Chapter Eight: Fallout
Chapter Nine: Advice
Chapter Ten: A Friend In Need
Chapter Eleven: Logan
Chapter Twelve: Flashback: Sian's News
Chapter Thirteen: Ambush
Chapter Fourteen: Reconciliation
Chapter Fifteen: Flashback: Farewell
Chapter Sixteen: The Curse

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