Jacqui's Legacy: Part One

Chapter Eleven: Stefana's Warning

It was already dark by the time Stefana drew her car up outside the Flash Recording studios, pausing for a moment as she assessed the vehicles in the carpark. After a quick search she recognised the numberplate of Sadie's car and she muttered a silent thank you, slipping into the shadows of the building as she judged where the security staff were placed.
"If Jewel are still working - and they are - then the security will be high inside." She mused, making her way slowly along the outside wall. "So either I need a distraction or a bribe. Maybe both. And I don't have any money...dammit. Trust Sadie to be working late when I need to talk to her."
She flattened herself against the plasterwork as a man passed her, holding her breath for a moment until she was sure he was out of earshot. Then she sighed, closing her eyes briefly.
"What am I doing here?" She wondered. "I'm stalking the studio like I'm about to perform a heist, looking for a band who mostly hate my guts, to warn them that I think their computer housemate has gone psycho. Maybe Marissa wasn't so far off when she said it sounded like I was tripping. If I didn't know better, I'd think I'd stepped onto a film set."
"Who's there?"
The gruff voice of a security official startled her and she jumped, turning to face the torch beam.
"Miss Ranieri?" The guard looked surprised. "Are you supposed to be here? I didn't see Diablo on the schedule."
"No, I'm not recording or filming tonight." Stefana composed herself, though her heart was still pounding in her chest. "I actually dropped by to see She told me that Jewel were putting down their video yesterday and today and I couldn't get an answer at their house, so I thought I'd try here. It's quite important...are they here?"
The guard eyed Stefana long and hard.
"Yes." He admitted at length. "Though I don't know about letting you in, Miss. You're not on the day's clearance, you see. Been tightened security ever since some nutter broke in and tried to set it aflame a coupla years ago. After the fiasco at Misfits Music, Mr Gabor doesn't like just anyone getting in and out."
"But you know me." Stefana bit her lip. "I mean, you know who I am - I work here from time to time and you know I'm legit."
She fished in her purse, producing her Rebel Record's pass.
"Here." She added. "If I give you this, and then I cause any trouble inside, you have proof I was here and you can take action."
"I'll lose my job as well, if they find I've let someone in I shouldn't have." The guard looked doubtful.
"Please." Stefana slid the pass back into her bag, gripping the guard around the wrists. "Please. It's really, really important. It could even be life or death and it can't wait. Someone...well, it seems someone she's close to might be very sick and I need to tell her about it myself. In person. Please...I need to see her."
The guard eyed her once more, then sighed.
"Well, seeing as I know you." He said at length. "Follow me. But I'm warning you, Miss Ranieri - noone's to know I let you in here. You understand me? I need this job. Just if it's that important..."
"It is." Relief flooded Stefana's expression. "Thank you. You have no idea how big a favour you just did me, I'm telling you. And don't worry. I won't get you into trouble."
"See that you don't, miss." The guard told her firmly, unlatching the door and leading the way into the bowels of the building. "Jewel are up this way - studio 14. Do you know where you're going, or do you need me to show you?"
"I've recorded in fourteen before. I know where I'm going." Stefana assured him.
"Well, make sure whatever it is, you do it quickly." The guard told her. "I want you out of here as soon as possible."
"I promise." Stefana drew her fingers solemnly across her chest. Then she turned on her heel, racing up the stairs to the floor which studio 14 was housed. As she reached the recording suite, the door of the studio opened to reveal Zoe Montgomery, Jewel's video artist, with a group of tired musicians in tow.
"Well, at least it's done." She heard Zoe say. "Tomorrow I'll start splicing it up and hopefully we'll have a workable copy by the end of the week."
"I'm so dead I could sleep here." That was Sylva, and Stefana resisted the urge to smirk. "Thank god it's finished."
Copper was the first to notice the Diablo musician, stopping dead. "Wait...what are you doing here?"
"Causing trouble, probably." Zoe cast Stefana a dark look, and Stefana grimaced back at her.
"Well, I didn't come here for late night chick bitching." She shot back. "I came to talk to Sadie."
"Me?" Sadie frowned, taking in her friend's expression. "Stef, is something wrong?"
"A lot of things are wrong, else I wouldn't come here to talk to you in the middle of the enemy camp." Stefana favoured Zoe with another withering glare, then held out a hand to the English girl. "Sadie, it's important. Can we talk?"
"What's wrong with saying it in front of all of us?" Sylva folded her arms. "Jewel don't have secrets, you know."
"Yes, you do." Stefana said quietly. "And one of them is a pretty big one that a lot of people would really like to know about. Unless you'd like me to talk about that secret in a loud voice, give me some space. I came to talk to Sadie. I didn't come to talk to you."
Her eyes narrowed.
"And where were you at lunch time, by the way? Just out of curiosity."
"I was here." Sylva bristled. "Not that it's your business, but we've been working all day. Have you?"
"No, I've been threatened." Stefana shot back. "In the presence of witnesses, by someone who bears a striking resemblance to you."
"What?" Sylva stared.
"Someone's impersonating Syl?" Topaz looked confused. "I don't get it. Stefana, what do you mean? Syl was with us all day, so it couldn't have been her."
"Oh, I know it wasn't her." Stefana said softly. "But it was good, Topaz. It convinced Marissa and it convinced that deadbeat Tribune journalist, too. You owe me a big favour that it's not going to be tomorrow's headline - because I told him it wasn't Sylva and I stopped him writing it down. You seem to be owing me a lot of favours recently. If you bitch at me, I might decide it's time to collect."
"Shall I get security?" Zoe asked. "Whatever she wants here, it's probably not good."
"No, Zoe, wait." Sadie held up her hands. "Stef came to speak to me, and whatever it is, it's obviously rattled her. You guys go on - I'll talk to Steffi and then we'll meet back at home, okay? Everyone's tired and losing their temper and it's not worth it."
"Are you sure?" Nancy looked doubtful. Sadie nodded.
"Stef isn't exactly going to hurt me." She said ironically. "And even if she was, I can defend myself. Seriously, you guys go on. I'll see you back home."
"Well, all right then." Sylva shrugged. "Come on, guys. Zoe, you want a ride back to your apartment?"
"Thanks, Syl." Zoe dimpled. She cast a glance at Sadie, then,
"I hope you know what you're doing."
"I do." Sadie nodded her head. "It's fine, Zoe. Go with Syl."
Once they were alone, Stefana let out a heavy sigh.
"I thought they'd never get lost." She admitted. Sadie frowned, slipping a hand through her friend's arm.
"So why did you come here?" She asked gently. "You seem agitated - and what was all that about Sylva attacking you? She was with us, you know. Topaz wasn't making it up."
"I told you, I know that." Stefana sighed. "Can we go talk in your car? I'm not supposed to be here, and it's more private there."
"Sure. Though why not wait for me at the Starlight?"
"Because at the Starlight, you are never alone." Stefana looked haunted. "Even if they all go out."
"Okay." Sadie shrugged her shoulders. "My car it is. Come on."
For a while they walked through the halls in silence, Sadie casting the security guard a grin as they left the building and crossed the car park to Sadie's waiting vehicle. Sadie unlocked the doors, pulling open the passenger side and indicating for Stefana to get in.
"I'll drive you home and you can tell me what's going on." She suggested, as Stefana did as she was bidden. "Since it is late and Luca will wonder where you are."
"Marissa knows I've come to speak to you." Stefana said, as Sadie got in the driver's side, closing the door and putting the vehicle in gear. "I had to tell her you were my counsellor, by the way. And...a few other things."
She looked guilty.
"More than I should have, really."
"I don't mind if she knows that." Sadie shrugged. "It was you who wanted to keep it a secret."
"It's not just about that." Stefana sighed, sitting back in her seat. "I've been trying to call you since lunchtime, pretty much."
"Is this a therapy chat? Or something else?"
"Something else, I think. Though if it goes on I might need therapy." Stefana groaned.
"So start at the beginning." Sadie pulled out of the parking lot. "Tell me."
"Well, Mari bought me lunch today after our practice, and we went to this cafe in the centre of the city." Stefana twisted her hands together absently. "While we were there that jerk-off Darren McMillan dropped in on us and started demanding to know what I knew about the theft of Synergy's bits and pieces from the FBI lab. For the record, I don't know anything." She added hurriedly.
"I know you don't." Sadie shrugged, flicking on her indicator. "Go on."
"So anyhow, while we were trying to get shot of him, Sylva came into the restaurant and started laying into me." Stefana said quietly. "She accused me of having Synergy's componants and called me a liar and a thief. She threatened me too."
"But we just said..."
"Exactly. I knew it wasn't Sylva as soon as I saw the watch."
Stefana's eyes clouded, then,
"Honest to God, Sadie, it was Cynthia's watch. And when I looked at her properly, her eyes...they weren't right either. I know it was a hologram."
"Cynthia?" Sadie looked startled. "Why would she threaten you? I thought you were getting along better these days - didn't you help her out once already?"
"How did you know that?"
"I worked it out. And Cyn told us so." Sadie shrugged. "She's spoken up in your defence a few times of late - especially since you came to warn her about this theft stuf before we knew of it. Why would she be after you?"
"I don't know. Because I was right in the first place and she's deranged?" Stefana spread her hands. "All I know is that it was her."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. It was her watch."
"I'm sorry, Stef, but it sounds crazy." Sadie looked troubled. "Cyn's been depressed and preoccupied since Jerrica died, it's true - but she's not psycho. This just doesn't sound like something she would do."
"Well, she did do it." Stefana snapped. "I thought you at least would believe me. Mari thought maybe someone was using the stolen Synergy parts to frame Sylva, but it was Cynthia's watch. I know what I saw. And it made me wonder if maybe Cynthia knows more about this whole theft thing than she's admitting. She did threaten me before, Sadie. Doesn't seem so out of character to me for her to do it again. Particularly if she thinks that she's safe and no longer public interest."
"Look, Stef, a lot of odd things have been going on." Sadie bit her lip. "There's been holographic projections of Jacqui Benton at Misfits Music and on our forecourt at home - like someone's trying to scare us with a ghost. And someone has been breaking into our studios, slashing equipment and so on and so forth. Plus, Syl's car didn't drive itself into a wall last May...that's still a case that's way open. It seems much more likely to me that whatever happened to you today is connected to all these things."
"Then how do you explain the watch?"
"Maybe whoever it is knows more about Cynthia than we realised." Sadie said at length. "Enough to turn you against her."
"I don't buy it." Stefana shook her head. "I know what I saw, Sadie, and I'm not stupid. If you don't believe me, it's your funeral...but there is a highly unstable and volatile machine living in your basement and if I were you I'd be asking her all kinds of questions. Like where she was at lunchtime today, that'd be a good place to begin."
"Sadie, I'm scared." Stefana shook her head. "And being scared is not good for my mental health, if you get my meaning. I want to know what's going on and that I'm not involved in something bigger and more dangerous than anything else I've ever done. But most of all, I want to know that keeping Cynthia's stupid secret isn't going to wind up killing me!"
"I don't think that Cynthia's capable of hurting anyone." Sadie admitted, as she drew up in front of the Diablo estate. "I will speak to her, but Stef, I don't think it sounds like her. Honestly, I think it's more likely to be whoever's behind the other pranks."
"Well, think what you like." Stefana shrugged. "But be careful, and don't say I didn't warn you. If you ask me, that machine is mad enough to kill - and I don't want to be in the crossfire."
Without waiting for a response, she flipped open the car door, stepping out onto the gravel and hurrying up the driveway. Sadie sighed, then put her vehicle in reverse, pulling slowly back onto the main road.
Neither girl noticed a figure watching from the shadows, fixing Stefana's retreating figure with a thoughtful look.
"You are going to be trouble for me." She murmured softly. "I wasn't wrong about that. I thought my little charade in the cafe might throw you off spending time with Jewel, but obviously I was wrong."
She sighed, shrugging her shoulders.
"Then I will just have to make sure your testimony is compromised." She decided at length. "Unstable psychology and an untrustworthy past should make that simple. And if not? Well..."
She paused, a slight smile touching her lips.
"Well, there's always elimination."

Prologue: Emmet's Task

Chapter One: Discontent
Chapter Two: Jewel In Session
Chapter Three: Mirage
Chapter Four: The Contact
Chapter Five: Le Klub Kool
Chapter Six: Sullivan
Chapter Seven: Cracks
Chapter Eight: Illusion
Chapter Nine: Jacqui
Chapter Ten: Marissa Demands
Chapter Eleven: Stefana's Warning

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