Robin vs Nancy
Robin pushed the sheets of manuscript paper aside with a sigh of disgust. "What in hell is wrong with me today? Why can't I get this passage straight? It plays so well in my head...what's stopping me from putting it down?"
He cast a glance around the studio as if looking for inspiration, but the modern decor and bright sunlight only succeeded in further distracting his attention away from the task at hand.
He got to his feet, moving over to the window and gazing absently down at the street below.
If he was honest with himself, writing had been difficult since he'd reached the big city. He'd never been anywhere as crazy and as unpredictable as the showbiz world Los Angeles boasted and, much as he hated to admit it, it had unsettled him.
He put a hand to his throat, fingering the silver cross that hung around his neck. He had always prided himself on his ability to survive and to fight through without any help from anyone else, but he was frighteningly alone in California, and he knew it.
"More alone than I've ever been." He murmured, holding the cross tightly for a moment, then letting it fall back against his skin. "More and more I'm wondering exactly what I've got myself into here."
A voice came from the doorway and he turned, seeing Phyllis Gabor watching him. "I was under the impression you came in here to get some of your script together, not stare at the window."
"I was thinking." Robin responded quietly, nonetheless returning to his discarded papers. "I want it to flow properly, and I was just running over the next section in my head."
"You have a television in your motel room, Robin?"
"Yes, ma'am. Why?"
"Ever think to tune it in?" Phyllis leant up against the door post.
"I don't follow."
"You told me that Nancy convinced you to sign papers with us." Phyllis said simply. "Last night, Jewel played Connie's Corner. It's a local show with a lot of pull - I advise you start watching it. Maybe you should be taking better note of how Jewel do things, if you really are serious about making a name for yourself here. You're not down south now, you know. This isn't about playing in small town bars. This is about selling your sound to the masses. To the world, not just Los Angeles. I want you to get yourself familiar with the local media. You'll be courting it soon enough - and I want you to have a song down and ready as your opening gambit. Are you with me?"
Robin sighed, casting a glance at the sheets of manuscript paper that lay scattered before him.
"Yes, Ms Gabor. I'm with you." Robin nodded his head. "And I'll be getting right back on it now."
"Good." Phyllis seemed satisfied. "And don't let me have to come nanny you again. We don't spoon-feed people at this company."
With that she was gone, and Robin groaned, running his fingers through his hair. He picked up the top sheet, running his gaze over it as he tried to pull the melody together, but try as he might it kept eluding him.
"And she expects me to be able to write, when she's piling on the pressure?" He asked aloud, dropping the sheet back down onto the desk.
"If you can't, you're not much of a songwriter." Came the acid retort and he jumped, glancing around him for the speaker.
"Sorry, did I make you jump?"
Nancy stood before him, a quizzical look on her face. "Are you working up here, or do you mind an interruption? I need to grab my folder for Mom to look over, and you don't seem to be doing anything important."
"Getting your folder, or spying on the competition?" Robin demanded. Nancy's eyebrows shot up into her fringe.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I heard you, spouting off to your airhead friend Sylva." Robin said darkly. "About keeping a step ahead of the new kid on the block."
"Well, and you'd do as well to learn the same survival tactics." Nancy told him astutely. "I've been doing this since I was eighteen, Robin. Every album we've released has hit platinum. I'm damn serious about my composition. I'm not going to take a back seat and let some new guy come in and railroad me. Would you expect me to?"
"No, I suppose not." Robin acknowledged. "But you don't need to come check up on me for your Ma, you know."
"If you overheard me talking to Syl, you seem to be the one doing the checking up." Nancy said with a shrug, crossing the floor to the main cabinet and sticking her key into the lock, pulling open the relevant drawer. "Don't you think so?"
"You tell me."
"I don't spy for my Mom." Nancy pulled out her file, shutting the drawer with a bang to emphasise her point. "Just because she runs this place and just because I grew up with Phyllis being like a surrogate aunt to me, it doesn't mean I get special favours."
"Guess again." Robin pulled himself up onto the unit. "Phyllis was very specific about me keeping my distance from you. Said that you weren't just another employee."
"No, I'd like to think that I'm not." Nancy returned. "But it's not because I'm Jetta's damn daughter. It's because I'm an award winning song writer and I play with one of the top musical acts around. That's why. I've earnt my spurs. Don't get sour grapes with me because you're having trouble getting yours."
Robin eyed her long and hard for a moment, then he sighed.
"Touche." He acknowledged. "I'm sorry. I have trouble with people in this city. Noone seems to be what they claim to be."
"That's life." Nancy said with a shrug, setting her folder down on the table. "Don't tell me that everyone is always what they seem in whatever town you crawled up out of back down south."
"No, I guess not." Robin agreed. "But here it's worse."
"I told you once that if you weren't committed, you should get back on the Greyhound before you put your pen to paper." Nancy said quietly. "I wasn't kidding. This isn't a business for people with doubts, and that's one thing you can be sure of. And I might be my own person, but this is still in part my mother's company and I'm not gonna have it shown up by some hack from Arkansas."
"I'm a hack and a redneck, huh?" Robin was riled by this. "What other pet epithets do y'all keep for southern guys who come west looking for a contract?"
"None." Nancy shot back. "We only keep them for the ones who sit up in studios feeling sorry for themselves, and are too arrogant to damn well ask colleagues for help!"
"Help?" Robin stared at her. "What do you mean, help?"
"Well, you obviously need it."
"I thought I was the competition."
"You are, dammit, but you're also playing for this company." Nancy said darkly. "And that makes you my colleague as well as my rival. I told you. Misfits Music doesn't have flops, and you're not going to be the first one. You called me on a chord the other night, so you think you know your stuff. Prove it."
"I know what I'm doing." Robin sighed. "I can hear it, I just can't write it out. I can't focus up here."
"You'll learn." Nancy reached over to grab up the first couple of sheets of Robin's manuscript before her companion realised what she was doing.
"Hey!" Robin tried to take them back, but Nancy was too quick for him, holding them out of his reach.
"Relax, will you? I'm just looking." She said cuttingly. "And you're right, you do know what you're doing. Only your harmonies are all over the place and you don't need a diminished seventh when an arpeggio would do just as well to end the first phrase."
She tossed the sheets back in his direction.
"It's okay, but it needs polish." She added. "Do you want my help, or shall I go away and leave you to struggle?"
"Is there a catch?" Robin eyed her suspiciously.
"No." Nancy shook her head. "Take it as something I owe you for the other night, when those thugs jumped me. And if I'm gonna have you as competition, I might as well make sure I know what I'm up against."
A mischievous look touched her dark brown eyes.
"Besides, anyone who can be as rude as you were to Syl without taking a direct hit deserves a chance to do something with his music in this city."
Robin looked confused.
"You don't like Sylva?"
"I do...she's one of my best friends." Nancy shrugged. "But she's more superficial than she needs to be sometimes. Don't you want to prove to her and everyone you're not just a redneck from down south?"
"I don't have anything to prove to anyone." Robin said firmly. "But I do have bills to pay and I have signed a contract that I intend on honouring. So all right. I accept your help."
He eyed her thoughtfully.
"I'm just not used to other people muscling in on my writing time."
"Me either." Nancy acknowledged. "Hell, when Jewel began, the last thing I wanted was to be part of any group. I threw several fits about it. But in the end, it's worked out okay. And now Sadie and I write together quite a lot. It's nice to have a different opinion. Sometimes it takes that to put the pieces together."
"Maybe it does." Robin looked thoughtful, spreading his scripts out on the unit before him. "So, give me the different opinion, then. You said something about an arpeggio instead of the seventh..."
"Your music is unecessarily minor in places." Nancy said bluntly. "It might be a pensive track but it doesn't need to be a dirge. Sevenths are fine but this isn't the funeral march and more, it's your debut song. You want to get people's attention, not send them into their graves."
"That's constructive criticism?"
"Yes, because it's right." Nancy said calmly. "And you'll realise it when you read over what you've written."
"Are you always this cocky?"
"Well, takes one to know one." Nancy responded. "Look."
She flicked on the nearby keyboard.
"This is what you have so far. Right? Listen to me."
Deftly she played the first few phrases. "See how unappealing that sounds? It's turn over the radio music. But, if you were to make it this..."
And she played an amended sequence of notes, "You'd get a totally different effect. People might actually listen."
Robin eyed her for a moment in silence. Then, slowly, he shook his head.
"You are just as hard to figure out as everyone else." He decided. "Did you come here to fix my song or show me how far I have to go before I'm in your song-writing league?"
"I didn't come here because of you at all. I came to get my folder for Mom." Nancy shrugged her shoulders. "But you needed help and you know I'm right. Just like you were with that damn A minor chord."
"You are right." Robin came to stand behind her, letting out a sigh. "Much as it burns me to admit it."
"Well, then that's progress." Nancy offered him a smile. "Do you need the note sequence or can you figure it yourself?"
"You want a writing credit on this song?"
"Not really." Nancy shook her head.
"Then let me figure it myself." Robin responded, grabbing the sheet of manuscript and his pencil. Carefully he restructured the phrase, pausing to read it over. He hesitated, then,
"I suppose it isn't a bad thing to have the input of someone who knows how this market works."
"No, it never is." Nancy agreed. "I respect the fact you want to make a name for yourself and not play the media game, but Robin, you have to. I'm not a public person, either. They know less about me than they think. It's all a game."
"It's easy for you to say." Robin pushed the sheet aside. "What kind of press do Jewel get? Aside from the adulation and adoration angle?"
"I don't care what they print." Nancy said simply.
"Really?" Robin looked sceptical. He glanced her over.
"When I met you the other night, you had no make up on - your hair was just scraped back and you were wearing old jeans." He observed. "This morning, at the music company, you're not that Nancy. Tell me again that image isn't important to you? Or won't Sylva go anywhere with someone who isn't made up?"
"I'm made up because I came here from an early morning photo shoot." Nancy bristled at this. "Which is one of the things you have to learn how to handle, if you want anything you do to sell. Jewel are Cool Trash's cover girls this month, and even though that magazine is the pits, it's still not a good idea to upset them. It has happened, before, and the publicity consequences of slighting anyone in this game are not pretty."
"I've read Cool Trash. I wouldn't use it to light a bonfire." Robin said tartly. Despite herself, Nancy laughed.
"Well, that's something you and Syl have in common." She said, amused. "Syl cleverly let slip once that she'd quite like the place to burn down. As you can imagine, relations between Jewel and Cool Trash have been strained since then. They took on backing our biggest rivals Diablo after that particular scandal got out, and it's only more recently they've actually asked us to come to their premises for interview or photos since. Little ripples make big ones. Remember that."
"I already know that." Robin said softly. "And I'll be careful. It's not my plan to let anyone out there know more than I tell them, anyway."
"If there's nothing more to know, then they won't." Nancy said pensively. "But take it from me, let your music do the talking. The media will make up their mind on you regardless of how you choose to play it. But if you produce damn good music - and with a bit of work, this could be just that - they won't care what kind of a person you are. You'll just sell records."
"And what about sleeping with the media?" Robin fixed Nancy with one of his strange looks. Nancy frowned.
"Dean Stacey. Ms Gabor seems to think that relationship was a big publicity boost for Jewel."
"Maybe it was, but it's not why Dean and I dated, and it's certainly none of your business!" Nancy reacted to this. "You haven't even met Dean yet, and you can't presume to know me based on two meetings!"
"I don't presume to know anyone, Nancy. Just you're Ma an' her partner have a bee in their bonnet about me paying attention to the local press." Robin said with a shrug. Nancy coloured.
"Dean and I broke up." She said hotly. "And if you're referring to the Music Bizz article, you're just proving my point about the media printing what they think instead of what the truth is."
"I was only asking." Robin's lips curled into a dry smile. "After all, I thought you were giving me tips on how to hit it big in this superficial city. Was I wrong?"
"Dean had nothing to do with that." Nancy said flatly. "As anyone who knows either of us would tell you in a heartbeat. If anything, the media attention was something we didn't want. When you're both in the spotlight, they always want a piece."
"Well, you needn't give me that warning." Robin's voice was tinged with bitterness. "There's no girl in my mind and there never will be. Just music, that's all."
He glanced once more at his song, then sighed. "Okay. Let me work with it now, and take Jetta your file, okay? She'll wonder where you are."
"She has other things to do than wait on me." Nancy said quietly. "And we've barely even begun."
"If you don't mind, it's more than enough for one day. I don't need any more displays of how clever you are."
Nancy eyed him carefully for a moment, then she spread her hands.
"Fine." She agreed. "But think about what I said. Even if you're one of those guys who has to do everything himself, I do know a bit about music and I don't mind offering help if you're big enough to ask for it. Just so long as you leave my personal life out of it, you only have to call."
And with that she was gone, the door swinging shut behind her.
For a moment, Robin did not move. Then he dropped down in front of the keyboard, slowly playing out the corrected sequence of notes once more. He pursed his lips.
"I'm competition, yet she still wants to help me." He remarked out loud. "Or keep an eye on me? Or simply show off what a pro songwriter Nancy Pelligrini is? I don't know. But she was right about my phrasing, and I owe her for that. Maybe I should just leave it at that. If she's game to give a second opinion on what I write, well, perhaps it won't hurt. Whatever kind of person she is, she does know her music. And I guess maybe I need that."
He played the sequence again, reaching for his manuscripts and pencil.
"But for now I'm gonna get this song finished." He decided. "Show Phyllis that I'm no kind of slacker, whatever she thinks!"
Prologue: Flashback - Sadie's
Chapter One: Los Angeles, 2015
Chapter Two: Enter The Stray
Chapter Three: Flashback - Sadie's Song
Chapter Four: Nerves
Chapter Five: The Dean Stacey Show
Chapter Six: Flashback - School Concert
Chapter Seven: Sandra Bray
Chapter Eight: The Dean Problem
Chapter Nine: Cursed
Chapter Ten: Flashback - Stir
Chapter Eleven: Secrets
Chapter Twelve: Robin Vs Nancy
Chapter Thirteen: In The Line Of Duty
Chapter Fourteen: Flashback - Griefstruck
Chapter Fifteen: Aftermath
Chapter Sixteen: Jewel Consult
Chapter Seventeen: Forever Changed