The incessant thumping of the latest pre-pubescent pop miracle did nothing to ease the throbbing in Cassie’s head. As she sat, waiting, the scene at the office earlier that day haunted her.
Bruce had faced her, raising himself from his seat and speaking quietly, a hoarse menace in his voice.
“I can’t make it any clearer than that. You’re now a pop music correspondent and you will confine your journalistic researching to who’s screwing who. You will not continue this half-arsed pursuit of Alex Eristic. The paper won’t publish, and the internet lacks credibility, so you’re wasting your time.”
“I don’t care,” said Cassie. “What I found was the truth and people have a right to know. Don’t you care about the future? Something has to be done.”
“You’re a naïve fool. You can’t do anything – none of us can. All that will happen is that you’ll fall on your sword. It’s professional suicide to worry at a story that is off-limits.”
“Who says it’s off limits? Who puts on the pressure? This is all wrong, Bruce!”
“And if you stick your neck out too far you’ll lose your head.”
The menace with which Bruce had said this scared Cassie more than she cared to admit. And now his contact, the legendary Stella, would initiate her into the workings of the music industry.
Other images replaced her boss. Cassie shuddered. At least her boss was real!
Had it been some kind of monstrous hallucination? Shared by all three of them. And who would believe them?
Afterwards Linda had sheepishly crept into the other side of the bed.
“I’m not a kid any more Mum. Goodnight.”
Cassie had been glad of the company and listened to her daughter’s breathing gradually become calm as, safe in her mother’s bed, she fell asleep.
Cassie opened her eyes and immediately wished she hadn’t. She really didn’t like this kind of psychedelic décor.
“I’m Stella, Mr Raven’s personal assistant. I”ll be showing you around our establishment. You are fortunate, as we have some top artists recording today. The lab can also show you the rushes on a video clip that won’t be released for another month.
“More than that, Mr Raven will actually be free for a few moments before we begin our tour. Come with me.”
And now Cassie would meet B. B. Raven!
His office was worse than his reception rooms. The colour scheme was not jarring, but the blatant display of success was nauseating. The office had been decorated in the manner of a nineteenth century gentleman’s study. Every stick of furniture breathed out expensive authenticity.
Antique volumes were arranged ostentatiously on the shelves that lined the walls. In a strategically placed display case, the climate control mechanism of which was imperfectly hidden, was, Cassie realized with a shock, one of Shakespeare’s plays – an original manuscript!
Objet d’art and priceless memorabilia decorated the braggart’s museum.
The balding man who crouched in the elegant leather chair behind the carved desk, seemed very out of keeping with the tone of the room. He did not share the air of careful preservation and Cassie briefly wondered what Annie would make of the man. Some appropriately nervous insect, or perhaps a frog lying in wait for a fly.
“Well, well,” he leered, “your journalistic reputation is too good for you to be so . . . attractive.”
Cassie formed an instant dislike for the man.
“I hope you will excuse me Mr Raven, I have no wish to detain such a busy man. It is kind of you to see me in your precious free time.”
“Yes. Of course.” Cassie’s frigid courtesy had the desired effect. He quickly calculated her value to him as part of the media, and subtracted all traces of lechery from his demeanor. “Your . . . aah . . . predecessor has left rather suddenly, I believe.”
The comment took Cassie by surprise. She looked at B. B. Raven and wondered at the change in him. The air of agitation had been smoothed over, replaced by a slick operator. But how did he know about Lilly?
“In this industry information is our most important tool. Know as much as we can about everybody. Sometimes think my spy network could tell Uncle Sam more about Iraq than the C.I.A.” He stopped to laugh at his joke, looked at Cassie, decided she was too clever, decided that he did not like her, decided that he would have to watch her carefully and, abruptly, stood up.
“You see my Shakespeare.” Cassie was actually pleased to have a reason to look more closely at the relic. B.B. Raven stood uncomfortably close to her, however, as he gave his carefully rehearsed discourse.
“Lot of people think this First Folio is out of place in a music company – particularly one that deals mainly with the the . . . aah . . . younger end of the market. Disagree – strongly disagree.
“Look at who Shakespeare was and what he did when he was alive. Here was an actor. To make sure he had work, he wrote his own plays. Bloody good plays too – best bits borrowed from here and there. People loved them. Guy built his own theatre from the money people paid to see’em. And he wrote for everybody! High-flown language for the gentry and bawdy humour for the folks on the floor.
“And that’s what we do. We entertain everybody – the whole family. The Searchers for Pa and Gran, The Insects for Mom and Dad, Ezekial’s Armageddon for the incurably trendy, Venom for the teens and Joey Blue for kid brother and sister. Even have a selection of classical music in the catalogue now.”
The quietly efficient Stella, who had waited by the desk, politely in the background, answered the intercom.
“Yes, I’ll tell him.” She turned to her employer. “Excuse me Mr Raven, you have an appointment.”
“Aah yes. Pity. Pity. Not finished with this charming woman. But this won’t be the last time we share common interests, will it? A positive pleasure. Good fortune in your new position.”
Cassie barely managed to mumble an appropriate response before being shepherded from the room by the invaluable Stella. The encounter left Cassie disoriented as Stella led her around, explaining multiple-track recording and electronic manipulation.
She took in the studios, met the stars who were in for the day and learned about the organization behind a hit single. But all the while she was haunted. A sleazy little man who chopped his sentences and bragged about his sources of information would not rest peacefully in her mind.
Why was an avenging ghoul looking for B.B. Raven?
B.B. sat behind the immaculately polished desk. One hand absently stroked his face. The woman was handsome, there was no doubt about that. But she was also shrewd and intelligent, and had a reputation for being like a boy who’d discovered his dick once she had a hold of something.
“Long as she doesn’t get a hold of me,” he mused.
The intercom buzzed. This month’s secretary quavered with fear. “Shall I send in Mr Larsen now?”
“Yes!” he snapped. He cursed being surrounded by unreliable people. Why were women so flighty? Stella was an exceptional woman. One who understood and was not afraid to do as she was told.
Larsen insinuated himself into a chair before B.B. could stop him. He tossed a large envelope onto the desk in front of B.B. and stifled a yawn.
“I think you’ll like these,” he hissed, his breath fouling the air. Years of habitual hedonistic abuse had soaked through the frame on which he hung his rather tasteless clothes.
B.B. opened the envelope. He looked at the photographs, lingering over each one before turning to the next.
“This one’s good,” he finally said.
He handed the photo to his procurer, who looked briefly at the naked figures. The children tried to hide their faces.
Larsen had contempt left for no-one but himself, and returned the photo to B.B. in exchange for his blood money.
“It’s not really to my taste,” he replied.