Enter The Stray
"So, this is Los Angeles, huh?"
In the busy, bustling high streets of the city, one man paused, stopping to appraise the big, black-glass building that loomed impressively over him, shouting to anyone who happened to glance it's way that here stood the power base of one of California's most intimidating businesswomen.
"And this is Misfits Music." He wrinkled his nose. "I wonder what it's like inside. I still don't know what possessed me to come all this way."
He glanced up at the clear blue sky, his expression pensive.
"Did you make me come?" He wondered, half-aloud, half to himself, and oblivious to the odd looks that were passed his way. "You always did believe in my music. Perhaps it was you. I don't know though. Commercialism never was my style."
With a resigned shrug, he pushed open the double doors, making his way slowly to the reception desk, and casting the man on duty there a reserved smile.
"My name is Robin Sheppard. I have an appointment with Ms Gabor." He said quietly. "Where am I to go, please?"
"One moment, sir...if you'd like to take a seat." The security man cast him a businesslike smile, reaching for a phone receiver and tapping in an extension number. There was a pause, then,
"Miss Gabor's office. Someone to see her. No, don't tell me wait a minute! Now! I got things to do myself, and I'm not nannying her guests all day while you file your nails!"
Another pause, then the man's tone changed, and it became apparent to the waiting Robin that he was now speaking to his employer.
"Miss Gabor, there's a Mr Sheppard here to see you. Shall I send him up? Oh...oh, I see. Yes, Miss Gabor, if you think that's best. Very well, Miss Gabor. I'll tell him. Yes ma'am. At once."
He replaced the receiver, casting the waiting Robin another slight smile.
"Miss Gabor is coming down to meet you herself." He said impressively. "Said she had a fax to collect from the ground floor anyway, and that it would save you from getting lost."
"That's very good of her." Robin responded. The man's expression did not waver, but something in his lack of response told Robin that the less time Miss Gabor spent prowling her establishment, the better for her employees.
He did not have a chance to voice his observations, however, for at that moment the lift door swung back and a tall, slim woman stalked into the lobby, sending interns and executives alike into an anxious flurry. There was something of the predator about her, Robin decided, as she made a beeline for the desk, casting her visitor a cool, appraising stare as she did so. Finally, she put out a hand.
"You must be Robin Sheppard." She said briskly, as Robin hesitated, then shook it. "You're on time - even early. That's a good start. I'm Phyllis Gabor...you spoke with my man Dawson in Arkansas, I believe?"
"Well, he's never failed me yet, so you must have something pretty special." Phyllis responded. "Follow me, huh? My business partner is in the main studio - we like to screen people together, where possible."
"Your business partner? Mrs Pelligrini?"
"Yes." Phyllis agreed. "So you're familiar with us?"
"Everyone's familiar with Misfits Music." There was a touch of irony in Robin's tone, and Phyllis eyed him sharply.
"Did Dawson tell you to say that?" She demanded. Robin spread his hands.
"No." He replied. "But I've done a lot of reading since he came to see me. I was in two minds about making the trip to Los Angeles but...well...it wasn't really an invite I could refuse. Not when I realised the scale of things here. I've nothing to keep me in Arkansas anyway, now. Nice to get a change of scene."
Phyllis folded the sheet of fax paper idly in half, casting him a thoughtful smile as she eyed him up and down.
"If you're going to make any kind of splash in the music industry, it's worth your while coming to us." She said at length. "There is no competition. No matter what other people would have you believe."
Robin made no reply, merely following his new acquaintance into the lift-shaft, watching her stab at the buttons with long, carefully manicured fingers. He knew from the amount of reading he had done on the Greyhound trip to California that Phyllis Gabor had been a rock legend in the eighties, and that her youthful appearance probably owed more to her wealth and human intervention than it did to the generosity of nature. She was an attractive woman, with sharp, emerald eyes that gave the only clue to the temperamental character that lurked behind the businesswoman attire and the stiff, brisk manner she had adopted that morning. He eyed her warily. She was not a woman to be crossed, he could see that the press had been right on that front. Though she was no taller than he was, and more slightly built, he had the sensation that he was imprisoned in the car with a dangerous wild animal, and one whose moods and tempers would never be easy to predict. Again he asked himself why he had come to California.
"The last thing I want to do is get wound up in some power-mad bitch's organisation, and become another fad." He mused to himself as the car reached the right floor. "I must be mad to be here. Insane."
"So this is 'im, is it?"
Clipped English tones brought him to his senses at that moment, and he realised that he was now in a spacious and well-lit studio, with big windows pushed back to let the slight California breeze ripple through the room. Phyllis had settled herself on the edge of one of the units, and a second woman was lounging in the doorway of an inner practice room, thick dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, and clever grey eyes giving him the once over. He offered a smile.
"You must be Mrs Pelligrini." He said.
"An' you're Robin Sheppard." The dark lady nodded her head. "So we all know each other, good. Dawson says you're somethin' worth 'earin'...that's why we called you out 'ere. You can realise for yourself we're busy people...with Jewel's promotions an' Sirena's music we front two of the biggest acts in America at the moment. What I mean is, we don't waste our time - so you give us an idea of what you can do an' then we'll talk."
"I got the impression that you wrote music, as well as played it." Phyllis put in. "Did you bring anything with you?"
"Plenty." Robin pulled his folder out of his bag, holding it out to her. "And I'll do my best to give you what you want to hear."
* * * * * *
"Well, if we ever have to play that
song again, I might be forced to savage the recording technicians."
Topaz pushed open the door of the main recording studio, casting her companions a grimace. "But it's done, thank goodness, and they can start the mix down for the single release. I feel like I might be singing the B track in my sleep."
"I think we all feel a bit like that." Copper sighed. "If yesterday wasn't enough, spending from six in the morning till...what time is it?"
"Half ten." Sylva groaned. "I was supposed to meet Logan at seven but I had to text him and tell him work ran over. This song had better be a number one hit, considering the work we've put in on it. And that's just the second track!"
"Well, it's done now." Nancy said simply. "And the next thing we'll get is the memo about the music video, most probably. I haven't a clue what Mom and Aunt Phyl have planned for that, but I spect we'll be brainstorming with Zoe before we know it. I got the feeling we're meant to have this song ready to go out by a week's time."
"Fun." Sadie reached into her purse for her cigarettes and her lighter. "So more late nights, then?"
"Yes." Nancy agreed. "And Sadie, if you light that thing up in my car, you're walking home. Understood? Smoke stinks out the upholstery and I don't want my car smelling like an ashtray."
"Fine." Sadie rolled her eyes, pushing the cigarettes back into her purse. "I'm too tired to argue with you."
"Have Phyllis and Jetta gone home, do you suppose, or should we report to them before we trot off?" Copper wondered.
"At half ten? I wouldn't think they'd still be here. Noone except night staff and the people working with us would be around, surely?" Sylva asked.
"Well, you'd be wrong, Sylva...you ain't quite that alone."
A voice from behind them made them jump and as one girl the quintette turned to greet the music company's Chief Executive. British born, Jetta Pelligrini had once been one of four-piece eighties rock act The Misfits and even now, twenty five years on, she was as sharp and direct as she had ever been. Nancy's mother, the resemblance between the two was unmistakeable and though sentimentality was no part of either's make up, they were very close.
"Jetta!" Topaz exclaimed now. "We'd assumed you'd gone home."
"Normally, love, I would have." Jetta grimaced. "But I got a bunch of paperwork to sort out. Pizzazz an' I 'ad meetings all day and I 'ave to get some of this stuff filed before tomorrow's annual review. Believe me, I'd much rather 'ave spent my day recordin' a song!"
"Sounds tragic." Sylva looked sympathetic. "Remind me never to take over a music company when Jewel splits."
"Did you kids see the article write up in Music Bizz?" Jetta asked. Sadie nodded, casting Nancy a glance, and the youngest Jewel reddened.
"Not only that." She agreed darkly. "Mom, they wrote some crazy thing about Dean and me getting married."
"And are you?"
"No, of course not! Don't you think I'd have told you?"
"Well, possibly." Jetta seemed unperturbed. "But if it ain't true, don't sweat on it. Press will be press - it's not negative publicity so let it go. It's good to 'ave Jewel back in the public eye, to be honest. Every little 'elps."
"Did you leak that story?" Suspicion flitted into Nancy's dark eyes, and Jetta laughed.
"No, spikin' my own daughter's reputation ain't a part of my job description." She responded, shaking her head. "The rumour didn't come out of this mill. But magazines like that are jumpin' to conclusions all the time. Copper got 'itched to your brother an' she an' 'im were together a long time. You an' Dean 'ave been too. That's their way of thinkin'. Like I said, don't worry about it. If it isn't true, it's irrelevant."
"I guess you're right." Nancy nodded her head. "And I suppose it's better than Daisy press or Starlight Music press or new signings the Teenangel Outsiders...all of that after the Jerrica story broke."
"Definitely." Jetta agreed. "Though Starlight Music ain't the only company trawlin' for new talent. You girls are big sellers an' our top act, but we don't sit back on our laurels an' rely on you producin' everything for Misfits Music. We're always lookin' for a new publicity splash."
"You're not going to replace Jewel, are you?" Sylva looked anxious. "I mean, just because we've all been busy and not recording so much, and..."
"Sylva, no hysterics. It's too late." Jetta shook her head. "And no, that'd be daft. You're our top act, I told you. But if the competition are lookin' for new signings...well...it doesn't 'urt for us to be doin' the same, just to keep us as 'igh profile as we like to be. That's all."
She tapped the folder in her hands.
"And now I'm goin' to ditch this in my office an' get going, which is what I suggest you kids do, too." She added. "Plenty enough hours to be 'ere tomorrow so take advantage of a few hours off while you got it, all right?"
"We intend to." Topaz agreed. "Come on, guys. Let's cut out of here before someone finds something else for us to record!"
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