Chapter Two: Spies and Secrets

"Well, you took your time."

As Robin stepped into the spacious top floor office, the room's sole occupant turned, a look of irritation and displeasure on her face.

"I expected you at least a half hour ago - we don't have time to be hanging around and waiting all day."

"I got here as quickly as I could, considering I don't have a car and I only knew you wanted me twenty minutes ago." Robin said mildly, closing the door behind him with a soft click and moving towards the big oak desk. "What do you mean, we don't have time? I was under the impression that I had today to see to clearing junk in my new apartment, since the furniture is due tomorrow. Or has that changed, too?"

His companion bristled, her green eyes sparking with anger at his tone.

"You'd do well to remember who's paid for your apartment and who's providing the furniture." She said in low tones. "When I call you, I expect you here on the double. Make sure you remember that - if you're going to have a career in Los Angeles, you'd do well to pay attention."

"Yes ma'am." Robin shrugged his shoulders. "So what's going down? Obviously something is, if you need me here this urgently."

"Something is." Phyllis nodded her head, reaching across her desk for a sheet of fax paper. She glanced at it, then passed it to him. He took it, skimming the contents, then glanced up at her in surprise.

"Connie's Corner? Tomorrow? The song's barely through editing!"

"That's how it works." Phyllis shrugged her shoulders. "That's when the slot came up, and I accepted on your behalf. The song is ready, regardless - or if it isn't, it should be and it will be by tomorrow night. If your furniture spends a night on the street, noone will care. If you blow this opportunity, noone will listen to a damn note you play ever again."

"High stakes." Robin observed softly. "I thought you wanted me to have a video first."

"I did, but this was too good an opportunity to miss, and Zoe Montgomery, the best of the video artists is taking a vacation this week."

Phyllis's expression became one of displeasure, giving Robin the impression that she felt Zoe's holiday a personal insult. "That being the case, you'll have to play live and do the video when she gets back. Snagging a video artist is not easy in this climate, and very few have Zoe's credentials. We'll just have to wing you think you're up to the challenge?"

"Playing live is what I do." Robin nodded his head. "Sure, not usually on national television, but if this is the deal, then I won't let you down. You or your company."

A slight smile touched his lips.

"I'm a better musician than that."

"I damn well hope you are, because otherwise I wasted my time bringing you here." Phyllis said acidly. "Anyhow, a car will pick you up from here at about four o' clock tomorrow afternoon. You've got between now and then to perfect any rough edges and get yourself absolutely primed for the show. It doesn't air until nine, and I don't usually send Jewel on set till about seven...but they're experienced, and you're not. It won't hurt you to be there early, get a feel for the set and the stage before you play."

"Probably a good idea." Robin nodded his head. "Nancy told me a few things about Connie, but I'm still quite in the dark about how the show works."

He paused, then,

"I'm a little concerned about the kind of questions she's gonna ask me."

Phyllis eyed him for a moment. Then she snorted.

"The press can smell fear a mile away." She said bluntly. "Connie's a gentle interviewer - you won't get much crap from her. Just ask any of the other bands who do her show. She and I go way back, in any case - and she's one of the most popular television hosts in the state. She's a good foundation for what will come later. I don't think she'll ask you anything too you needn't get stage fright about it. It will be fine."

"It isn't stage fright." Robin hesitated again, glancing at the closed door. Then he lowered his voice.

"It's other things I'm more concerned about. People ask a lot of questions. That Cool Trash magazine already has me down as some cursed stranger from the south. I can live with that, but I can't live with the prying. There are things I don't want the world to know. I want assurance from you that they're going to stay under wraps."

Phyllis fixed him with a thoughtful look.

"I can't buy off the whole of Carrowville." She said at length. "That would look shifty, and I'm not for putting this company in a questionable light. I've done my best already to cast shade over your...prior doings, shall we say. You've been here a few months now, and noone has managed to dig up anything except the fact your name is Robin Sheppard and you come from Arkansas. I'll continue to do my best in that department, so long as you give me the music that I know you'e capable of producing. That is part of the deal we cut, isn't it?"

"Yes." Robin sighed heavily. "It is. Ms Gabor, I'm not ashamed of anything I've done. I just don't want her name dragged through the press like some cheap scandal. My side of it is one thing. I won't have her made front page news."

"If you ask me, you should be more concerned about what you've done than the name of a girl you once knew." Phyllis said coolly. "But I'm doing my best. The only people in California who know anything about Sian Mulhavy are you, me, and my business partner, Jetta. Noone else. And I'll do my best to keep it that way."

"Thank you." Relief flickered in Robin's eyes. "And I'll go and begin working on the song again, if the television appearance is going to be as soon as tomorrow. I won't let the company's investment go to waste, Ms Gabor. That's a promise."

"Then no doubt everything will go smoothly." Phyllis offered a smile, but there was a predatorial glint in the depths of the green eyes. "First impressions are important. We know, Jetta and I, that you have a damn good song to put out. How you put it out is part of the magic. I'm all right about concealing your past, because people are always attracted to mystery and secrecy. God knows I learnt that well enough when the Misfits were competing with Jem and the Holograms for bragging rights thirty years ago. It suits me to play this your way. Just don't let me down, and we'll both be happy."

Robin nodded his head.

"Not a problem." He assured her. "If you need me, I'll be in the studio."

Phyllis made no reply and, before she could think of something else, he turned on his heel, heading back out into the corridor and closing the office door firmly behind him. He paused for a minute, leaning up against the soft panelled walls as he considered the encounter.

Things moved fast in Los Angeles, that he knew. He was not surprised that he was being shown off to the world at such short notice.

"But the way she was talking in there, I almost wonder if I've taken on more than I can handle." He mused. "She can protect me, sure...but did I take too much of a gamble telling her everything that I have? Mind you, her spies in Little Rock found out most of it before I even opened my mouth - either way she'd have the mallet over my head regardless. It's probably best to have been up front with her. I just hope that her implications..."

He trailed off, pursing his lips.

"I hope that she isn't going to use Sian as a lever whenever she wants me to do something." He muttered. "Sounded very much in there like blackmail wasn't beneath her, should I choose to do anything she doesn't approve of."

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"This is so boring."

Daisy Buchan glanced out of the window of the office, a pout touching her painted lips as she watched the people on the street below. "Why are we still here, Margot? I thought we were hitting the town tonight...going out like the old days. You've become a drag since you got hitched and since that old bag Aja took over Starlight Music. We never do anything interesting any more. You're just worried about keeping our noses clean and our heads down as if we're not wanting to be noticed. Did you forget that it's my musical career you're meant to be managing?"

"Sometimes, Daisy, listening to you whine is enough to give me a migraine."

Margot Locke glanced up from the pile of papers that were strewn all over her desk, an exasperated look on her face. "If you weren't my cousin, there are some days I could happily strangle you. Don't you realise how difficult it is to do anything within actual working hours, without Aja or that godforsaken British turd Taylor Conway breathing down my neck? My job has gotten way too stressful because of my interest in you. And it's frankly starting to bug me. A whole lot."

"Meaning what?" Daisy turned from her perch, blue eyes becoming wide at her cousin's words. "You're not going to back me any more? Is that what you're saying?"

"No, that's not what I'm saying." Margot sighed, rubbing her temples. "Listen, Daisy. I know it sucks ass to be stuck here after hours some nights, and I know it's making you whine and me crabby. But this is the thing. If I work late, then I can do things that otherwise I can't do during normal hours. Taylor has a wife to scurry home to, and he's always more than keen to do it, too. Aja doesn't tend to work late more than she has to. It's the only time the place is quiet and I can have free roam of the files."

"You have a husband to run home to, as well." Daisy pointed out. "Or isn't he worth the effort any more?"

"That was below the belt." Margot scowled. "You know that his new job has meant he's been outta state a lot this last couple of months. Now please, stop it and let me think. I've already got enough of a headache and we're both here with your best interests at heart. I wish sometimes you'd realise how much I sacrifice to help you be the star your mother and mine always said you could be."

Daisy pursed her lips.

"It's hard to be a star when that bitch Nancy Pelligrini and her company are prancing around all over the place, doing this show or that interview while I'm stuck recording an album that's already late." She said softly. "Don't you think that matters too? I don't want to play second fiddle to freak girl. God, Margot, the girl even has a poky little studio in the middle of the old nightclub that someone just bought for her to use on a whim! Why don't I get windfalls like that? When Jerrica was alive I at least felt like I mattered. Now it's all about these Teenangel Outsiders." She spat out the words. "Stupid British no-talents who can't sing properly and certainly aren't as pretty as I am."

Margot frowned.

"While Aja runs this company, I'm willing to put up with the Teenangels." She said carefully. "At least, I am for now. I actually have another project in mind right at the moment. And it's something you might like. It's something which would take a direct hit at your favourite freak's music company and, well, recent personnel."

"Misfits Music?" Daisy stared, then, "Recent? Like...Robin Sheppard recent?"

"Yes." Margot nodded her head. "Him."

"Bah, I don't want him." Daisy dismissed this with a careless sweep of her hand. "He's creepy. He stares and his hair is too long. Plus, he talks way too much. I don't do smart guys. They're just no fun."

"I wasn't thinking of him in that sense." Despite herself, amusement flickered at the corners of Margot's mouth. "No, Daisy. This is more juicy than that."

She pulled open her desk drawer, fishing around for a battered magazine clipping. Smoothing it out on the desk, she indicated a paragraph.

"The city is currently buzzing with rumours and stories of a curse whenever his name gets mentioned." She began slowly. "Yesterday I was in an admin meeting with Aja, Taylor and a bunch of other execs and the topic actually came up. One of the bores in PR said that whoever was doing his PR, it was being carefully managed so as to create hype...much like Starlight Music did with Jem all those years ago. He thinks it's all designed and most of it is nonsense...but I disagree."

"Okay, so maybe he is a creepy cursed dude." Daisy slipped down from the windowsill, coming to perch on the edge of the desk. "What else?"

"Well, when he said it, Aja looked...kinda thoughtful. Then she exchanged looks with Taylor, and changed the subject." Margot responded. "It got me to thinking. I know Aja was interested in signing him too at one point. I even know he spoke to her...I wish I'd been at that meeting. I just get the feeling that maybe there's something more to this than meets the eye."

"And you think Aja knows what it is?" Comprehension flashed across Daisy's face.

"I don't know." Margot shook her head. "But I intend to find out. I still have keys to most of the cabinets in Jerrica's old office, and I have a lot of her filofax data. But first things first. We need to know whether Aja or Taylor have a file on Robin Sheppard, and whether or not that file gives us any leads."

"You can't just break into her office, Margot." Daisy frowned. "What about the security cameras?"

"I'm admin, dummy. I can override most of those." Margot grimaced back at her. "Now, are you coming? It's late enough that there shouldn't be anyone around but the security guards. And, if I take this folder with me..." She patted a fat volume on the edge of the desk. "Then I have a perfectly valid reason for being in Aja's office. She said she wanted certain data on her desk for tomorrow morning. So it shall be."

"Well, then let's go raid her office." Daisy said with a grin. "I'm curious to know what it is about this dude anyhow. One of the tabloids had a picture of him and Nancy all cosy in her car this afternoon - and if she's getting some from him, it might be fun to wreck their sad little lives with a scandal. Whatever it is must be important, if it's the reason why Aja didn't sign him on. Don't you think?"

"That's what I want to know." Margot agreed. "And it's what we're going to find out."

Getting to her feet, she gathered up her keys and her security card, pushing open the office door and beckoning for Daisy to follow her. Aja's office was at the far end of the hall, the gleaming new nameplate a cold reminder to both girls of how much had changed since Jerrica Pacheco's untimely death. Deftly Margot slid her security pass into the slot, keying in the code that would deactivate both alarm and cameras from the office. Then she put her key in the lock, turning it and pushing open the office door.

Daisy flicked on the light as they stepped into the big office, glancing around them. It was neatly laid out, with everything in it's own place. Files were carefully labelled, and it was clear from the pictures on the walls and the photograph on the desk that the new boss had more than made herself at home. Fighting the urge to dash the picture onto the floor, Margot crossed the room towards the big filing cabinet, dumping her alibi folder onto the desk as she did so. Searching through the keys on her ring, she found the one she wanted.

"Jerrica used to keep all potential artist information in here." She said in low tones, slipping the key into the lock and unfastening it with a quiet click. "If Aja's kept Jerrica's filing as neatly as Jerrica did, then we shouldn't have too much work to do. I'd rather do as little messing up of the office as possible, if you don't mind. Aja's sharp and she'll notice - and if she doesn't, her guard dog will."

Daisy chuckled appreciatively.

"Taylor's a weirdo." She observed. "Aside from the ponytail thing he has going on - which does not work with the suit - he prowls round this place like he expects the sky to fall in half the time. What's his problem, anyway?"

"Insecurity of position?" Margot laughed. "Maybe he thinks I'm ready and waiting to take his place."

"You are, aren't you?"

"I would be, if I could find enough dirt to stick on him and get him fired." Margot sighed. "Unfortunately, he's useless in that department. Nothing even remotely improper to use as ammunition. Unless you count the fact he's some relation of your friend Nancy - but I did broach that one with Aja on a, well, delicate level, and she said that she trusted Taylor implicitly in his job. She made it clear that family loyalties weren't going to come into the equation, and I didn't want to push her. So for the time being, we'll have to make do with this."

"Taylor Conway is related to Nancy Pelligrini?" Daisy snorted. "That explains a lot. Are we sure he's not a spy?"

"Yeah, 'fraid so." Margot grimaced. "I did a whole lot of looking, too. But he's just boring and weird. Not disloyal. Unfortunately. No cheating on his wife, no aspiring to take his boss's job...just boring."

"Oh well." Daisy shrugged. "If you ask me, something's wrong with him if he can look at me and not want to cheat on his wife, but whatever. Back to Robin the cursed redneck. Is there anything we can use?"

"I don't know." Margot bent down to open the final drawer, rummaging through the files. "I can't...a-hah! Bingo!"

"Bingo?" Daisy hurried to her side. "What is it? What have you got?"

"Aja's file." Margot flipped the folder open, scanning the contents. "Hrm. Not much. Either she hasn't written everything down, or she really doesn't know as much as I thought."

"Anything we can use?"

"Not sure." Margot pursed her lips. "Name, address in Arkansas, but like that's any use when we know where to find him here in Los Angeles. References..."

She trailed off, skimming through the information. "Aja's made a few notes, none of them particularly revealing. The last thing she's written is that Robin decided to reject their offer on personal grounds. She doesn't say what those grounds were, though. I wish she had more of a nose for gossip. It'd really help if she'd pry a little more into people's lives."

"She doesn't need to. She has you to do it for her." Daisy grinned. "You're a pro at that, Margot. Always have been."

"Good damn thing, too, else neither of us would get anywhere." Margot responded astutely. "Well. Looks like Aja is a dead end. And I thought..."

She paused, frowning. Then she tapped the edge of the sheet of paper.

"Wait a minute. That's not a reference."

"What is it, then?" Daisy looked confused. "Looks like a reference to me. Phone number, details, the works...what's wrong with it?"

"What's wrong with it is that Aja asks for two and this file has three people to contact." Margot said thoughtfully. "We've got the person who ran a bar he played in in Arkansas, and we've got some grocery store manager in the same city. And then..."

A slow smile touched her lips.

"And then we have someone who happens to be associated with the Carrow County Sheriff's Dept." She added. "Now, which of those three things sounds like the odd one out to you?"

"I always hate these guessing games." Daisy grimaced. "Just tell me, will you?"

Margot turned the sheet of paper over, and her smile widened.

"I thought as much." She said triumphantly. "He doesn't list anywhere on here that he ever had a job in or around the Sheriff's office. But he has ticked the box on the form which says 'any prior convictions.'"

"Ooh." Daisy's eyes lit up with understanding. "You mean...?"

"Our boy has a record." Margot nodded her head, dropping the file back into the cabinet and shutting the drawer with a bang. "All we have to do now is find out what it's for...and then work out exactly what to do with it!"

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

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.
All other characters, including their likenesses, are copyrighted to myself as webmistress of Jewel's World from 2001 to the present day and are not to be reproduced elsewhere without permission.
The Teenangel Outsiders, Jesta, Flame, Ryan Montgomery and the future interpretations of Aja, Danse and certain of the other original characters are all or in part the concept of Gemma Dawn whose teenangel outsider fiction world is twinned with Jewel's World. You can visit her site at!
All events in the stories on this site are based on original ideas and are not rooted in any existing Jem fiction nor in any real life event or person.