ARC ONE: NEW DAWN
OF BENTON BLOOD
Chapter Six: End Of An Era
"That was a day I would not like to re-live."
Cynthia sat back in the front seat of Aaron's car, letting out a heavy
sigh. "I feel a persecuted woman, Aaron...my sensors are on overdrive. Every
time your pager went off, I was sure it was something bad."
"Well, it wasn't, and we got aunt Phyl's drives all installed for good
measure." Aaron told her with a grin. "So don't worry about it, huh? I'll
drop you home and you can have a nice relaxing...er...scandisk?"
Despite herself, Cynthia giggled.
"Well, better than a long soak in the bath." She returned, a little of
her usual banter back in her tone. "Yes, I think that is what I may do.
I suppose I have expected the worst since Jerrica spoke to Topaz and the
others last night - it's like waiting for the axe to fall."
"You know, it isn't too late to drop by Starlight Music and see her." Aaron
remarked. "You could talk to her...either try and persuade her you're not
what she thinks you are, or try and make up with her."
"Making up seems a little beyond the bounds of possibility." Cynthia sighed,
running her nails idly along the edge of the passenger window. "And I am
fairly sure she must have seen through me last night, to be so sure of what
she said. I fear such a venture would be a waste of my run-time."
"But at least you'd have tried." Aaron pointed out. "Well? Do you want
to stop off at Starlight Music on the way back? We're not three blocks from
it, and there's a direct route from there to the Starlight."
"Yes, well do I know it." Cynthia looked pensive. "Often have I tracked
the journey between Starlight Music and the Mansion, in happier times."
"Oh, I don't think it can do more harm." Cynthia shrugged. "All right.
But only if you come with me, Aaron. I would have a witness, in case Jerrica
is more...difficult than either of us anticipate."
"Do you think she might be?" Aaron looked surprised. Cynthia pursed her
"Truly, I do not know what to say to a sister who abandoned me." She said
quietly. "I loved her and Kimber so much - Emmet made me and they were my
world. I was there to protect them and I knew no other life or purpose.
It's still there, you know. Inside of me...somewhere. The reason I am still
so angry with Jerrica...she took away my purpose for being."
"But indirectly, she gave you your freedom." Aaron reminded her. "Cynthia
would not have come to be, if I hadn't found you and rebuilt you. I know
it was a high price to pay, Cyn...but wasn't it worth it in the end?"
"Yes..." Cynthia faltered, and Aaron frowned.
"Wasn't it?" He asked gently. Cynthia nodded.
"My freedom is everything to me." She agreed. "But you can never quite
forget the hurt of being rejected by your family."
"Well, who knows? Maybe talking to Jerrica will be better than you thought."
Aaron flicked on the indicator, turning back towards the music companies.
In the dimming daylight, the black tower of Misfits Music seemed to cast
a shadow over the whole of the street, and despite herself, Cynthia smiled.
"To think that Pizzazz's company would stand over all." She murmured, waving
a hand to the building across the street. "Starlight Music has not been
the same since the Memorial. To think, my words did all that. Did I really
change the future so much, Aaron? Me, a simple computer?"
"Philosophical thought." Aaron commented, parking his car and pushing open
the driver's side. "I guess we all do that, at some point or another. Come
on. It's not so late yet that a workaholic like Jerrica would have already
gone home, so you might just catch her."
"I'm not sure if I wish to catch her, or to have found that I just missed
her." Cynthia pursed her lips. "But now I am here, I shall continue. Lead
the way, Aaron. My familiarity with this company brings a bad memory over
"We'll go together." Aaron linked arms in his friend's, guiding her over
towards the main double doors, and into the building.
The lobby was a hive of activity, not dissimilar to that of Misfits Music,
and for a moment, they were not noticed. In the centre of the chaos was
a young woman in her mid twenties, dressed in a smart executive suit and
obviously very much in charge.
"And that had better be on my desk by tomorrow morning, else I'll review
your contract with Jerrica after her engagement tomorrow." She concluded,
patting a hapless employee firmly on the shoulder and turning on her heel.
As she did so, she froze, recognition filling her hazel eyes. She let out
"Margot Buchan." Aaron schooled his features into something resembling
a smile. "Well...I didn't expect to see you here!"
"Margot Locke." Margot corrected him, holding out her left hand
to exhibit the slim gold band nestled up to the delicate diamond engagement
ring. "And I could say the same of you. I've been working here for the past
few months as Je...Ms Pacheco's personal assistant, since Joanie retired.
Yourself? I thought you were tied up with quite another company these days!"
"Yes...I work for Misfits Music, largely as Jewel's road manager." Aaron
"And I understand you've made the big commitment yourself in recent months."
Margot's expression was playful. "Daisy was telling me all about it."
"If you mean marriage, yes. Copper and I did the deed back in March." Aaron
paused, then, "I hate to change the subject, but is Ms Pacheco still here?
Last night she expressed an interest in our lightning techniques and asked
if we could recommend her a good technician...by the way, this is my colleague,
Cynthia Benton. Anyhow, Cynthia's spoken to me about it, and, well, we'd
like to see her."
"You're out of luck." Margot spread her hands, casting Cynthia a brief,
disinterested smile. "Jerrica had a meeting with a journo this morning, and
then she left. Hasn't been back to the office, so I'm guessing she got tied
up somewhere else with some red tape - it often happens when you're running
a busy company. I'm sure your Mom must be all over the place all the time."
"Yes, she can be." Aaron agreed good-naturedly. "It's a shame we've missed
"I hope that seeing me after such a long time didn't make your trip a total
disappointment?" Margot raised an eyebrow. Aaron laughed, shaking his head.
"No, not at all." He assured her. "Hey, would you be so good as to tell
Ms Pacheco I called by, when you see her tomorrow?"
He fumbled in his pocket, handing her a card. "Here. Aunt...Ms Gabor likes
me to carry these with me, in case something like this comes up. Get her
to give me a call, when she's got a moment? As a favour to an old friend?"
"Oh, you can count on me." Margot took the card, winking at him. "Sorry
you missed her. Though she's got a lot on her mind at the moment - I'm not
sure it would have been the best time. She's often best off winding herself
down before you approach her with any kind of new concept."
She laughed. "You know how some people are. All work and no play."
"I believe that would make her a very dull girl." Cynthia remarked drolly.
Margot raised an eyebrow, then nodded.
"That's what I was taught, too." She agreed. "And that being the case,
I have a company to shut down and a husband to get home to...if you catch
my drift." She grinned at Aaron. "But I'm sure you do, since you're newlywed
yourself. So I hate to be rude, but..."
"Oh, it's all right. We have to be on our way too." Aaron assured her.
"Thank you, Margot...I appreciate your time and help."
"Never a problem." Margot assured him. "It was good to see you!"
"Why do I feel you don't share her sentiment entirely?" Cynthia muttered,
as carefully they made their way back out of the big double doors. Aaron
rolled his eyes.
"You could say...she is not really high on my list when it comes to ideal
high school reunions." He said dryly.
"Did you call her Margot Buchan?"
"That's the name she went by in High School...guess she's married, from
the blatant hints she pushed my way." Aaron grinned. "She was always a bit
in your face about the men in her life, even back then."
"Daisy's name is also Buchan. Such a coincidence!"
"No. They're cousins. I suppose Margot is how Daisy got her gig here."
Aaron pursed his lips. "It wouldn't surprise me. Those in the know tell
me that Margot was the reason Daisy was prom queen for their senior prom...one
of my friends was dating her as the time."
"So what is her problem?"
"She's a viper, pure and simple." Aaron replied. "She and Daisy bullied
my sister a lot in high school. Daisy was the real bully - the one who came
up with the petty, spiteful things to do to make people laugh. Margot...Margot
had brains. Lots of them. She was an organiser - a schemer. The bigger deal
projects were usually down to her somewhere along the line. I often wondered
why she put her energy into promoting Daisy, when she could have saved herself
some work and pushed her own cause."
"Family agenda, maybe." Cynthia shrugged. A faint smile touched her lips.
"Sometimes family members do look out for each other that way, you know."
"Yes, they do." Aaron agreed. "Kimber would be there for you in a flash,
and you know it."
"Indeed I do." Cynthia acknowledged. "One sister is better than none."
She glanced back at the building.
"So it is fate that I do not speak with Jerrica tonight. Perhaps it is
better not to try at all." She mused.
"Perhaps. We'll see if Jerrica calls me, and take it from there." Aaron
"You think Margot will pass on your message?"
"Yes, I do." Aaron agreed. "I wonder if Nancy knows that Margot is involved
in operations here? It might explain Daisy's sudden and meteoric rise to
fame. Jerrica was always good at her job, but time has cost her a lot of
things. Then, suddenly, Joanie retires and Margot takes over...and Daisy
shoots to the top of the publicity ladder. There has to be something in that."
He grimaced. "Daisy I could deal with. She's spiteful, but brains are not
plentiful - average, but not plentiful. Margot's a different kettle of fish.
"Something like Jetta was, in her youth, perhaps?" Cynthia asked lightly.
Aaron looked rueful.
"Exactly, and then some." He agreed. "And she'll do for Daisy's career
what Mom's done for Nancy's. Maybe Starlight Music are going to be bigger
contenders in this than I thought...Margot is not exactly the kind of person
who'll lie down and accept second place if she thinks first is there for
"So calling by Starlight Music was not a total loss." Cynthia observed,
slipping into the front seat of Aaron's car as he put it into gear. "We learnt
something new about Jewel's latest competition."
"That we did." Aaron agreed, pulling back onto the main road. "And useful
information, too. Do you think I should pass it on to Mom and Aunt Phyl?"
"Where would your loyalties be if you didn't?" Cynthia teased. Aaron grinned.
"True." He acknowledged. "All right. Tomorrow, that's what I'll do. Tonight,
though, I...hey, what the hell? Are those road blocks up ahead?"
"Looks like some kind of an accident." Cynthia peered out of the window.
"Stop the car, Aaron...maybe we can help."
"Gonna have to stop, anyhow...if this road is closed, I'm going to have
to go back and take the other route." Aaron obediently braked the car, glancing
behind him for any more oncoming traffic. "Can you make out any of what's
going on? You see in the dark better than I do."
"I see squad cars, flashing lights...and what looks like the coroner's
van." Cynthia said gravely. "Obviously there is not anything we can do to
"Sobering thought, how quickly life can be snatched away." Aaron agreed,
putting his car into reverse and turning into a layby, pulling his vehicle
around. "I wonder what happened."
"Drink, perhaps...or some form of narcotic. I have learnt that vehicular
accidents are not uncommon in Los Angeles." Cynthia frowned. "I confess, though,
this is the first time I have seen the coroner's van near one."
"Maybe it's not what we think."
"Well, the coroner would only be called if there was a body to take to
the morgue for autopsy." Cynthia said quietly. "Drive carefully back to
the Starlight, Aaron. It gives me chills to think that, while we were driving,
laughing and talking, a human life was being snuffed out."
"Me too." Aaron agreed. "Though if the cops are here, maybe it's more than
a simple crash. Perhaps it's a crime scene...would explain the road blocks
and all the chaos down there. Was there just the one car?"
"I could only make one out." Cynthia agreed. "It looked badly twisted.
Perhaps it was a suicide."
"Don't." Aaron grimaced. "Whatever it was, we can't do anything about it
now - and it reminds me way too much of the way that lunatic almost killed
Copper in Las Vegas."
"I am sorry." Cynthia was contrite. "It had slipped my mind."
"Well, hopefully it'll slip mine again as soon as I get home and see her."
Aaron said darkly. "And here we are...Starlight Mansion. Forgive me if I
don't come in - I have a sudden urge to spend the evening with my wife in
front of the TV."
"I understand." Cynthia cast him a smile, opening the door and stepping
out into the cool night air. "Take care, Aaron, and drive safely."
"I always try to do that." Aaron said firmly, reaching over to pull the
passenger door shut. "Night, Cyn. See you tomorrow."
He put the car in gear, pulling slowly back along the arc shaped gravel
drive, and for a moment Cynthia just watched him, a thoughtful look on her
"I think I am relieved Jerrica was not there, though it puts me a little
at peace to know I tried." She murmured. "And since nothing has happened today,
maybe nothing will. Maybe she woke up this morning and decided she was mistaken.
Whatever the truth, I'm glad that tonight has come and I still have my freedom.
And I mean to enjoy it. After all, who knows what tomorrow may bring?"
She turned, making her way slowly up the front steps, and sliding a holographic
key into the lock, opening the door.
"Cynthia!" Topaz greeted her with a grin as she entered the main lounge.
"We were wondering if you got lost between work and here - it's getting late.
Syl's gone out with Logan - she said she'd see you when she got in. Hollie
was asking for you - I just put her in her crib, but I'd appreciate it if
you'd pop up and say hi."
"I will do so." Cynthia promised.
"What did take you so long?" Sadie asked. "Did Alex come and see you?"
"Alex?" Cynthia looked startled. She shook her head, coming to perch on
the edge of the couch. "No, I have not seen Alex. Aaron and I were caught
up with the last few bits and pieces of Phyllis Gabor's newest internet system,
that's all. And we had to take an alternate route back, because there were
road blocks on the usual road. Seems there was an accident."
She pursed her lips. "Why would Alex have come to see me?"
"Because he spoke to Jerrica this morning." Nancy looked grave, reaching
for the handset and pausing the DVD they had been watching. "Gave us all a
heart attack too, turning up on the front forecourt of Misfits Music and asking
all kinds of questions."
"Oh." Cynthia was silent for a moment, then, "I suppose, then, this rules
out the idea that my sister has had second thoughts about her plans for
me." She sighed, spreading her hands. "But if it were Alex she spoke to...well.
It could be worse."
"You could have told us he knew about you." Sadie remarked. Cynthia looked
"It was a gamble I took to help Copper. It did not seem relevant, and I
presumed he would speak to you of it himself." She admitted.
"No. He said he was a federal agent and discretion was part of his job."
Sadie shook her head. "But you're right, at least. Since Alex does know
about you, he's taking a big risk in trying his hardest to bury this case
back where it came from. He's meeting Jerrica tomorrow, to discuss it with
her and he hopes to put any ideas of your continued existance out of her
head. He's taking a big gamble himself for you - so, don't do anything crazy
in the next few days, all right?"
"And for heaven's sake, stay away from Starlight Music!" Nancy added.
Cynthia glanced at her nails.
"It seems a little late for that particular warning." She admitted.
"Cyn? What did you do?" Topaz looked anxious.
"Aaron and I stopped by there before coming home." Cynthia responded. Topaz's
"Why on earth? Last night you were adamant that you wouldn't go near the
"Well, Aaron convinced me it was worth a try." Cynthia shrugged. "But it
was to no avail. Jerrica had already left, so we did not speak with her."
"Thank goodness for small mercies." Sadie sighed. "Really, Cyn, keep away
from Jerrica and Starlight Music until Alex can be sure things have settled
down. Okay? We don't want anything to happen to you."
"Believe me, I do not have any intention of returning there." Cynthia assured
her. She smiled. "But our trip there did uncover some intriguing information
about your latest competition here in Los Angeles."
"You saw Daisy?" Nancy demanded. "Did she see you?"
"I did not see Daisy." Cynthia shook her head. "But Aaron spoke to Jerrica's
newest personal assistant. He told her we were there about Jerrica's lighting
queries last night, so I don't suppose she will find it strange that we
stopped by. It appears, however, that Aaron already claims an acquaintance
with this new executive. As do you."
"As do I?" Nancy looked confused. "Stop talking in riddles - who was at
Starlight Music tonight?"
"She called herself Margot Locke now, but Aaron remembers her as Margot
Buchan. Apparently she has become married since last they met."
"Buchan?" Topaz stared. "Like Daisy Buchan?"
"Nance, didn't you mention last night a girl called Margot? When we were
talking?" Sadie added. Nancy nodded grimly.
"Yes. And things just got a whole lot clearer. Margot explains in a nutshell
why Daisy's been able to sweep in as easily as she has and get herself noticed.
I should have known."
"So this girl is Jerrica's new assistant? Should we expect trouble from
"Probably." She agreed. "Maybe it was a good thing you went by Starlight
Music tonight, Cyn. It seems we just end one rivalry with Stefana and Diablo,
and we're immediately in the middle of another. Except that this one is personal...very,
"Well, on that note, I should pop upstairs and say sweet dreams to Hollie
before she falls asleep." Cynthia got to her feet. "And I will do as Alex
suggests and keep a low profile."
With that she headed out of the room, and the three remaining Jewels exchanged
"If Jerrica wasn't there, I don't suppose she's made things worse." Sadie
said at length. "And now we've passed on Alex's warning..."
"I wonder what Margot knows about Synergy." Nancy pursed her lips. "I wonder
if Jerrica's told her what happened last night."
"How much of a problem is she going to be?" Topaz asked. Nancy shrugged.
"My guess? Quite a lot." She said grimly. "She operates on the same levels
as Mom does, only without...well, without the bits that make Mom Mom, and
not a completely heinous monster. That a clear enough picture for you?"
"Goodie." Sadie grimaced. "First thing tomorrow, we're sharing this news
with the boss."
"I'm with that." Topaz spread out on the rug. "You think Alex will cover
this all up okay?"
"I think he'll do his best to try." Sadie sighed. "Though I feel a little
guilty about it. His job and his badge mean a lot to him and though I haven't
exactly asked him to break the rules, he's doing it for us...and for Cynthia.
If he gets caught he'll lose everything. I wish he didnt have to take such
a big risk."
"Guess he knows what he's doing." Topaz shrugged. "Besides, Sade, he loves
you, and Cynthia's your friend. Work isn't everything."
"No, I know...but Alex's work is important to him." Sadie sighed. "Oh
well. No doubt it will be fine and it'll all blow over. At least, I hope
"Was that the door?" Nancy frowned, pulling herself into a more upright
position. "Anyone else hear that?"
"I thought I heard something." Topaz owned. "Shall I go see if it's something
"Sounded like a key in the lock." Sadie shuffled back against the wall.
"Who has a key to this place?"
"Maybe Syl forgot something." Topaz suggested.
"Syl is probably in the middle of her first course by now, out with Logan."
Nancy shook her head. "Get ready, you guys. Sounds like we have an intruder."
"Well, we can deal with intruders." Sadie got to her feet, moving stealthily
to the door and reaching for a table lamp. "Even intruders who pick locks,
She faltered, as the door of the living room turned and began to swing
open. Sadie's grip tightened on the lamp, and Nancy grabbed a cushion, coming
to join her. The intruder stopped dead in the doorway, letting out a squeal
"What in hell are you guys doing?" She demanded.
"Copper?" Sadie pushed the lamp back down onto the table. "Hell,
girl, what are you doing here? We're all on edge as it is...we thought you
were some kind of intruder or federal spy or something!"
"Sorry to disappoint you." Copper cast a glance at Nancy, who sheepishly
dropped the cushion. "I only moved out a couple of months ago...didn't you
hear the key in the lock?"
"Yes. Guess we forgot you still had one." Sadie looked rueful. "Sorry."
"What's up, Copper?" Topaz frowned, eying her friend's countenance carefully.
"Something must be, since you've come out here like this...in the rain."
She added, as she noted Copper's wet coat and damp curls. "Is something wrong?"
"Yes, something is wrong." Copper nodded grimly, sliding her jacket off
her shoulders and moving to hang it over the heater to dry. "And I don't just
mean the change in the weather. Did you guys watch the news tonight?"
"The news?" Sadie looked confused. "No...why?"
"Oh God...Jerrica hasn't gone public about Cynthia after all, has she?"
Nancy's eyes opened wide. Copper looked troubled.
"Jerrica's gone public all right." She agreed. "But not about Cynthia.
Guys, something awful has happened and I need to speak to her right away.
Aaron said she was going to scan-disk - please tell me she hasn't already
"No. She went upstairs to say goodnight to Hollie." Topaz shook her head.
"Why? Copper, what's happened?"
Copper swallowed hard, then,
"Jerrica Pacheco was involved in an automobile accident this afternoon."
She said slowly. "At the moment, they don't know what caused it, or if anything
did...but the witnesses say she ran a red light."
There was a long pause, then,
"Guys...she didn't make it. Jerrica...she was killed on impact."