The attempt at a plan had been thrown together in a grand total of three minutes, but it was easily the best one that they had. Paul was in the process of both getting dressed and also calling around all of Ally's friends that he had available to him. Adam and Veronica were heading down towards the student halls to meet Paul, while Jace had been instructed to get Matthew Cooper involved. Unfortunately, with office hours long since passed, Julia was leading Jace towards Cooper's home on the outskirts of town.
Of course, due to remaining in the company of Julia, Jace was still receiving the most brutally vicious of glares. For the entire half hour of bus journey, he had felt that burning gaze bearing down on him. Somehow, she seemed to be more than slightly insulted with the very idea that Jace would witness Cooper's home. However, it was hard to find evidence to support that fact.
"You know, people don't usually get to see Mr. Cooper's home," she announced. It was the first thing that she had said to him on the entire journey. "I hope you're not expecting some fantastic mansion or something."
The bus journey had been both trial and a huge cause for concern. One part of him was horribly worried about the disappearance of Ally, while another was getting frustrated by the continually derogatory gaze of Julia and finally, one part was curious about the lifestyle of Matthew Cooper outside of normality.
The moment that Jace stepped out of the bus however, he accepted that there was nothing particularly grandiose in store. From the boarded up doors and windows to the broken bottles on the street corners, this looked nothing like he had expected from a major record company producer like Matthew Cooper.
Julia took the lead quite confidently, leading Jace through a positive honeycomb of streets and alleys, even over a couple of busy main roads and around the back of a supermarket. All in all, it seemed more than out of the way. It wasn't until they were travelling down a street that was silent to the point of dead that Julia finally stopped and, with one last judgemental look in his direction, she led him up to a battered wooden door that came off of a complete lack of garden. She fumbled in her pockets for a moment, produced a chain of keys, and let them both into the pitch black inside.
The first impression came in an instant and stayed with him for a long time. Before his foot had even managed to enter the open doorway, he heard a yell in the distance.
A female voice called out, labelling somebody as a 'worthless piece of shit'. This was followed by one of the doors opening, bathing the corridor in light while a child of no more than five years ran into another of the rooms, crying uncontrollably. In the time that it had taken for Jace to as much as blink, silence and darkness had once again taken charge of the cramped confines.
"Welcome to the madhouse," announced Julia, almost jovially. As strange as the idea was, he could almost see embarrassment in her eyes, but then she slammed the door behind him and darkness blocked his view. "I should warn you; a lot of people live here. Make sure not to make any enemies."
At that very moment, as the last word escaped her lips, all three doors that led from the corridor burst open in near unison. The curious stare of two young children and a round, wearing an apron and bearing a rolling pin mother, was not something that Jace was used to at all.
"He's here to see Matt," said Julia quickly, before Jace had even considered a word to open his mouth for. "Some band business or something that couldn't wait until tomorrow. It's about Alice. Do you remember Alice?"
To Jace's surprise, it was the young girl in tears that answered first. "Is she the one who was colouring with me?" she asked, still between sobs and angry glares at what Jace believed would be her mother.
"Yes Hats, that's the one," responded Julia, in a voice that was a completely new one to Jace. She knelt down to be on the girls level and continued to speak in what was actually a relaxed and soothing tone. "Do you remember? She comes every now and again and helps Matt out with the sewing and the cleaning and the papers and things."
The little girl, Hats supposedly, came up towards Julia slowly, while the other two retreated without as much as a word. It was all quite perplexing. "She hasn't been in a while," explained Hats. "Matty's doing all of his work on his own now. He doesn't have much time to see us anymore. He's up in his room fixing Uncle Ray's curtains."
"I'll go and give him a hand, and he can have a talk with this young man here while I do," replied Julia. "You have your homework to do, right?"
At once, the youngster leapt into defensive statements. "Mum told me to do that, but I've been trying so hard to do it. I don't know my numbers and it's easiest to get mum or Matt to help, but Matt's doing that and mum's cooking. Will you help me Julie? I need somebody to help. Bagsy Jones has been making fun of me 'cos I can't do my numbers on the board."
Julia spent a quick moment considering her response before answering. "I'll come and help in about an hour, alright? After dinner, when Matt's finished and everybody's free, I'll come and I'll help you with your numbers. Now, I have to go and help. I'll catch up with you in a bit."
"Okay," said Hats, before rushing off back into her room and shutting the door behind her.
"If you mention this to anyone, I will steal your penis and feed it to the pet dog that my father calls Peepee," Julia whispered carefully into the renewed darkness. Actually frightened by this woman, Jace followed her very closely when she began to lead the way, once again, up the stairs.
Matthew Cooper, in jeans and a jumper, was waiting as soon as they reached the top of the stairs. He had a small collection of sewing needles coming out of the arm of his jumper, and the usual beaming grin that he had sported quite literally every time that they had met.
"Jace Manning, it is a surprise to hear from you," Cooper exclaimed with his usual exuberance. "I hear there's some issue with Alice that could benefit from my help. By all means come into my bedroom. It makes for a terrible office, but I'm afraid that it's all that's available to us right now. I'm sorry to say that my hands will have to be busy while we talk, but I'm sure that you can manage to survive while we talk."
"Actually, it's quite important," Jace began. "Ally's kind of missing. We saw her earlier and-"
"You guys talk," interrupted Julia, leaping into the conversation and pulling a needle out of Cooper's jumper as she passed him. "This is supposedly important. Take over again once you're done, alright? Hats needs help with her homework and Peter wants another loan from you and I have a missed call from Caroline, so she might need bail again."
In the time that it took for Julia to cross the tiny landing and enter the bedroom at the far end, Cooper had said only one word: "Joy."
"We were talking to her, and she left because she got a phone call," Jace continued quickly. "We sent Adam's girlfriend into the bathroom and she found Ally's phone in pieces, but we couldn't find her. You guys talked a lot, and we've got Paul doing everything he can to try and find her, but I need some information from you. Literally, just any you have that you think might help us. She could be anywhere right now; we would have no idea. Judging by the phone she's in a dangerous spot. Any ideas?"
"No, and I regret to say that I'll need a minute or two," replied Cooper. He sighed, looking thoroughly panicked, then started throwing questions forwards. "Who was the phone call from?"
"We don't know," answered Jace.
"Do you know where Paul was at the time?" came the next.
"No, but we're quite sure that she wasn't talking to him. We've talked to him since and he didn't mention it," Jace sent back.
"What about Sean?" Cooper sent forwards quickly, with seemingly no time spent thinking about it. "Do we know where he was? He's been pestering her to no end for as long as I've known her."
"No idea, none of us have his number and none of us really want to call him," responded Jace. It was the fastest conversation that he had ever had, and yet the concern came through loud and clear from Cooper.
"Nor do I, which is something of a pain," Cooper said, his hand running through his hair. "Any plans? Any idea of where to go from here?"
"Well, other than Paul calling her friends, you're our last real plan," admitted Jace uneasily. He didn't want to put his faith in this man. He didn't really want to put his faith in any man other than himself, but this was the decision that everybody had reached, so this was the necessity of the situation. "Do you have any idea of what we're supposed to do? This isn't something I've ever had to face before and, if it is Sean, I'd like the chance to get my hand on his throat."
"Right, I need to make some calls," Cooper began with a glance at the watch hidden beneath the fabric of his jumper. "I'm sorry, but that's just what people do when they have a contact list as high as my own. I would suggest that you look into finding out where Sean is and talking to him about this. Perhaps you'll still get the chance to choke him, though I would advise against violence. It's gotten you into trouble before after all Mr. Manning. I'll keep you updated. You should give me your number so that I can."
"And then what, what if she isn't there?" asked Jace.
"As I've told you sir, I shall keep you informed," Cooper replied, quickly and quietly. "You have your extra associate. We need people in the field sir. Off you go."