Part One: North Of The Border
Chapter Seven: Under The Radar

"So, from what I understand, it was another perfect performance from Canada's latest musical sweetheart."

Phyllis unlocked the door of her hotel room, ushering her companion inside. "That's my girl. If you keep going like this, the country won't have anything to talk about except Sirena and what Sirena's about. Maybe I shouldn't have worried about coming to Canada after all. It seems it was the right move."

She slipped off her jacket, dropping it down onto her bed and moving towards the mini-bar, pulling open the cooler door.

"Are you going straight to bed or do you want a drink to celebrate?" She asked, pulling out two bottles and holding them up. "We've a first class vintage Merlot...or if you prefer, Chardonnay."

"I'm not really thirsty, honestly." Emily sighed, sitting down on her mother's bed and rubbing her temples. Phyllis paused, frowning.

"What do you mean?" She asked, setting both bottles back down and crossing the floor to her daughter's side. "Are you all right? Don't tell me you were freaked out by one hysterical fan tonight, because I won't believe it. You're my daughter. You're tougher than that."

She sat down on the bed beside her, wrinkling up her nose.

"Em, have you been smoking?"

"So I'm an adult, it's my life." Emily snapped. "Isn't that my business?"

"Not when my company are promoting your voice." Phyllis shook her head. "Don't you get that? Your vocal chords are damn important. Good singers don't smoke, Emily. They just don't. Look at me. Look at Topaz. Your precious Luca. Do they smoke? Do I?"

"No, but..."

"Because it's bad for your career prospects." Phyllis said frankly. "And I won't have it. Your voice is worth way too much money to me to put at risk. Do you have any more?"

"Mom, I've been smoking on and off since I was fifteen. It's not like it's a habit." Emily shook her head. "Besides, I was stressed out tonight. If you'd been there, you'd have probably been smoking too."

"What do you mean, if I'd been there?" Phyllis's brows knitted together. "One hysterical fan and you can't handle it?"

"No." Emily toyed with the scarf in her hair, pulling it loose and idly playing with it between her fingers. "Something else happened, Mom."

"Stuart didn't report anything else to me." Suspicion flashed into Phyllis's eyes. "I told him to be with you at all times - did he let me down?"

"No, he didn't. And I didn't tell him what happened because it wasn't his fault it did." Emily said simply. "I like Stuart. He's a good guy and we both know that. That fan - the hysterical one - she went off on one big time. She was screaming and yelling and pounding the door...he had to forcibly remove her from the building. I made him. Her screaming was giving me a headache. So he took her off and got shot of her. He was protecting my safety, just like you told him to. Not to mention my hearing."

"And while he was doing that...?" Phyllis began.

"Dad showed up." Emily glanced at her hands.

"What?" Phyllis's eyes became big with incredulation. "Eric was there? The slimy creep! What did he want?"

"To discuss some kind of business with me." Emily grimaced. "It's all right, Mom. I threw him out. But he said some things and they wound me up. Hell, him even being there wound me up enough. I could've quite happily smashed his face in."

"But you didn't?"



"Well, you know an assault charge wouldn't make good publicity." Emily groaned. "Unfortunately, so did he. But dammit, I was tempted."

She shrugged.

"The cigarette calmed me down. I was about at the wall-pounding stage when Stuart came back and I didn't want him to know. For a start, I don't really like pouring my heart out to someone unconnected to things. And secondly, he didn't let me down. He had to get rid of that girl, she was a nutjob. He couldn't be in two places at once."

"Wonder if Eric banked on that." Phyllis pursed her lips thoughtfully. "If he was there all night watching for an opportunity, or..."

"If the fan was somehow not a fan at all?" Emily's eyes widened. "Do you think he set it up?"

"I know Eric." Phyllis said grimly. "I more than believe him capable of setting up something like that. Too convenient, the timing. Don't you think? Stuart's not a man to leave his post unless he has to. That's why I chose him to stop behind with you and keep an eye out. Isn't it too much of a coincidence that your father was on the scene in the what, ten minutes that Stuart was called away?"

"Yeah. It is." Emily sighed. "I guess you're probably right. It was a diversion. He really wanted to talk to me, so made sure he could."

She frowned.

"And maybe none of your execs owned up to calling you away because none of them did." She added. "If he set up one thing, why not the other?"

"Good point." Phyllis owned. "Dammit. That man is a sleaze and a slimeball. I'm beginning to think that something needs to be done about him once and for all."

"Like?" Emily raised an eyebrow. "Short of sending him into orbit, there's not much we can do."

"Well, we can start with a restraining order, to keep him away from you." Phyllis said darkly. "Followed by threats of further legal action if he bothers you again. Emily, if you see him one more time while we're here, tell me and we'll kick some of these into motion. I've spent long enough regretting the time I spent in that man's company. I'm not going to have a constant reminder of it flitting in and out of my life and I'm damn well going to keep him out of ruining your life the way he did mine."

"Did he ruin your life by wrecking the company or by getting you pregnant with me, Mom?" Emily asked softly. Phyllis pulled a graphic face.

"Both." She said honestly. "Whatever our relationship these days, Em - I still sometimes think we'd have both been better off if it hadn't have happened."

Emily pursed her lips.

"Sometimes I think you're right." She owned. "I told him that any issues I had being a child were past now, but I guess a lot of them never really will be. Maybe you are right. Maybe we'd have been better off if I hadn't existed at all."

"This is not exactly the celebratory night I was expecting when we got back here." Phyllis said ruefully. "I guess we'll save the wine for another night, huh?"

"Yeah...I think I'm gonna just go to bed." Emily admitted. "But it's cool, Mom. I told Dad in no uncertain terms how I felt about his intrusion. If he's as rational as he claims, he'll realise I'm a bad business venture and move on to someone else."

"Well, just in case he does try again, keep me posted." Phyllis ordered. "Good night, Em. And put him out of your head, huh? Tomorrow we've got more important things to tackle, and Eric Raymond is not going to be the one who wrecks this tour!"

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"And that's all the news this morning on CFTR - don't touch that dial!"

With a pensive frown on his face, the solitary man leant over to flick the radio off, pursing his lips as he considered the morning's news stories.

"Nothing on the Gabor woman." He mused. "Maybe she doesn't drink, or maybe she just hasn't taken the bait yet. But that's all right. Plenty of time to worry about her. I did a pro job - and there's a buzz in playing the game this way. We'll see what happens. I can always find a more decisive method, if my little surprise doesn't take effect."

He spread out his papers on the floor, flicking through them for the contact information he was seeking.

"For now, I have someone else to worry about." He said aloud. "Target number one. I hope all this information that jerk gave me is right. Last thing I want to be doing is trekking all over Toronto looking for my man. And it's not just him I'll be looking for, either."

A slow smile spread across his lips.

"There's his bitch. The girl. She's not been in the club much since the last time we spoke, and I know that that's his doing. Well, he's an old man now. He can't possibly keep a young girl like her happy all of the time."

He scooped up another sheet of paper, leaning up against his bed as he skimmed over the contents.

"Besides, I know a bit more about you now, Harriet Fisher." He added. "About the kind of woman you really are. All that crap about not being that sort of girl...well, this sheds some new light on that for me, I'll tell you! You had your chance to come with me and I'd have shown you the time of your life. So this is a freebie. If you won't come of your own accord, then I'll just find another way to take you and show you that nobody gets in my way and nobody crosses my path without regretting it. Once you see what I have in store for your old guy, you'll be begging me for mercy."

He laughed, dropping the sheet back onto the pile and reaching under the bed for his gun, running his finger over the steel barrell contemplatively.

"I've a lot to do." He realised. "To make sure everything is ready and none of it can be traced back to me. The Gabor woman and her wine - she can wait. It might even be better if she doesn't drink it till after I've settled my first target. People might even think she was behind everything, if I'm clever enough. What's the difference between one mad millionaire's money and another's, huh? Guess we'll soon find out."

He slid the revolver back into it's holster.

"Either way, there are plenty enough people with a motive to hurt Eric Raymond." He mused. "And I'm not one of them. I'm under the radar this time, and I intend to make sure I keep it that way!"

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

"So she didn't buy it?"

Harriet tossed her jacket down over the railings, casting her companion a quizzical look. "Not even a little bit? After all the trouble I went to, she still wasn't interested in your proposition?"

She slid a hand into her pocket, pulling out her compact mirror and examining her reflection with a sigh.

"I look like a ragamuffin." She said sadly. "It's going to take ages to get these knots out of my hair."

"Emily is her mother's daughter." Eric said slowly. "Pizzazz has had far longer to get her claws into the girl and manipulate her for her own financial ends. Emily is volatile as her mother was before her, and it all relies on striking the right note. I'm used to coming up against opposition, Harriet - in this case, it will only be temporary."

"What?" Harriet paused in her primping, staring at him. "You mean this isn't over? You're going to try again? Eric, please God, see sense! That's twice this girl has rejected you, right? And you said her mother's not to be tangled with. Why are you so keen to play with fire like this?"

"Because the prize is Starlight Music." A slight smile touched Eric's lips. "Harriet, you're far too young to understand, but this all began a long, long time ago. Back before you - or Emily - were even thought of."

"Okay." Harriet frowned, shutting her compact with a snap. "But I think it's time you explained it to me anyway. This Starlight Music is in America, right?"

"Yes, I told you that already."

"But what I don't get is why you want to be within tangling distance of this Gabor woman again." Harriet shook her head. "Unless you have money too, rich people are people to keep away from. Believe me. They have some strange ideas."

She shivered. "And it's cold in here all of a sudden."

"I'm not scared of Phyllis Gabor." Eric said quietly. Harriet raised an eyebrow.

"Then why were we hiding out from her the other day, and why did I distract her tonight?" She demanded. "Get real, Eric. Even after all this time, she freaks you out. And if you ask me, that's a good survival instinct to follow. She didn't look like the kind of person you meddle with too much if you know what's good for you."

"You forget, my dear, that I've already survived one major tangling in that department." Eric said lightly. "And my business isn't really with her. It's with the remains of the Benton hierarchy, back in Los Angeles."

He took her by the hand, leading her into the lounge and indicating for her to sit down. Harriet did so, making herself comfortable as he pulled down several old volumes from the top of the book shelf, sitting down beside her. As he flipped them open, she let out an exclamation.

"Scrapbooks? You?" She demanded. "And just when I think I know a guy!"

"They're business records." Eric said with a shrug. "Consider it my trophy cabinet, if you like. You see, back in 1985, I was on the verge of running the most powerful music company in Los Angeles. I didn't even have to wheeler deal to get it. The owner, Emmet Benton, was ill and when he passed away, he left me controlling interest of his company. The first act I signed was the Misfits. I made the Gabor woman's career."

"Okay." Harriet pursed her lips. "So...what went wrong? Aside from the fact you seduced the woman, of course...that's a pretty big red flag. But Emily's not so old as that. Something else must've gone wrong."

"Emmet had two daughters." Eric nodded his head. "Jerrica and Kimber. Kimber was a child, barely out of High School when her father died. She was always a flake - very talented, but equally gullible and disorganised. The kind of girl I would have found easy to manipulate if not for her sneaky, conniving elder sister."

A shadow touched his face.

"Emmet left the company in halves." he admitted. "Half to me and half to Jerrica. I was to control the business...and the idea was for Jerrica to learn from what I taught her."

"But it didn't happen that way?"

"Let's just say we had a parting of the ways." Eric spread his hands. "Jerrica went on to build Starlight Music around Jem and the Holograms and I wound up being at the beck and call of Gabor money for the best part of four years. Everything came to a head in 1989 - when relations between Pizzazz and I finally became...untenable."

"I see." Harriet's clever face lit up with amusement. "So you have a track record in jilting - or being jilted by - women involved in powerful music companies. Is that why you're so businesslike about me?"

"Harriet, this has never been about anything but business." Eric said sharply, irritation clear in his eyes. "Sometimes your mind is in the gutter."

"Sometimes I just follow the clues and they lead me there." Harriet seemed unperturbed. "But anyway. So Jerrica Benton kicked you out too...and now you think Emily is the key to getting the company back?"

"Emily was raised by Kimber Benton at the Starlight Foundation, Emmet Benton's other godforsaken doo-gooder project." Eric nodded. "And as far as my research goes, she didn't have a happy childhood. Harnessing that resentment is what this is just takes time to tame a savage beast. Especially one with Gabor blood somewhere in the veins. Jerrica is dead and Starlight Music belongs to Kimber and two other former Holograms - one of whom runs it. Emily's inside knowledge on these people, coupled with her hatred for them...that's what I need on my side if I'm going to regain the music company Emmet left me in his will by rights."

"Well, I still think you should give up and let it go." Harriet stretched out on the couch, leaning her head against his shoulder. "You have plenty in Canada and only fools demand more than they need."

"This is principle, Harriet. Not greed."

"Whatever." Harriet dismissed his words with a flick of her hands. "I still think it's a foolish idea."

"Well, this is not really your concern." Eric told her lightly. "So don't let it bother you. Your help was useful tonight - but I can't spare you another night at the club in any case."

"All right." Harriet sighed, but nodded her head. "Just be careful where you tread, all right?"

She stifled a yawn.

"I think I'm going to go to bed." She added. "I'll need it if I'm going to be working tomorrow night. Sweet dreams, Eric...don't be up too late!"


Prologue: Toronto
Chapter One: Preparations
Chapter Two: Heading North
Chapter Three: First Show
Chapter Four: A Hotel Scare
Chapter Five: Diversion
Chapter Six: Eric's Gambit
Chapter Seven: Under The Radar
Chapter Eight: Flight

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