Four days had passed since the events of Fuse and those that had followed. Insomnia had struck Paul, leaving him exhausted and irritable. During the long and lonely hours when sleep evaded him, Paul had taken up his bass and played, alone and unplugged, long into the night. This had left his fingertips aching, but it had given him quite a boost in confidence. Playing the same tunes he had been playing for years brought him back to his childhood. He had started out with a bass guitar that his brother had given him. Together, they had spent many days whiling away the hours of boredom while their parents argued. Neither of them would wear headphones, nor would they be particularly in time. They would simply play for the love of having something else to focus on. Right now, Paul missed his brother now more than ever. Something else to focus on was exactly what he was looking for.
His mind had been working overtime since leaving Ally's room. He had felt lonely, while at the same time he suspected that he might have been isolating himself. Unable to find distraction in his instrument, his mind had been driving him mad with doubt. Disbelief was in disarray, with two of the members assuredly despising each other. Paul had no idea how he would react when he next encountered Ally. His feelings were mixed enough that his indecision was constant. He had wanted her. He still wanted her. She had wanted him, but evidently not for long. He felt trapped by 'what ifs' and 'maybes'.
So far, his schedule had not brought him to a music lecture. This meant that he had not seen Adam since Fuse. Paul had no idea how much damage the patronage of Fuse might have caused. It weighed heavily on his mind. Adam was a close friend as well as a band mate. Paul wanted to look after him. Then again, he did not want to pick a side either. Nobody knew if Jace was still mad. Adam, as a rule, was fairly docile but Jace was not. Jace had a horrible temper and it was quite easy to raise at times. Still, Paul suspected that Jace would be most angry with himself. The depression he had began to sink into that night might well have stayed with him. That, for Paul at least, was a scary thought indeed. Ideas and scenarios played out in his mind repeatedly. None of them were pleasant.
These thoughts still present, the irony did not escape him when he arrived on Cooper's floor of the Fire Brand Records building and realised that he had absolutely no idea how to get to Matthew Cooper's office. Submitting the search immediately, Paul simply decided to follow the tall, muscular and blonde haired man that he had shared the lift with. Thankfully, his luck held out. After three left turns, he found himself shadowing his unwary companion directly into the office he was looking for.
The secretary, perpendicular as ever, watched them both as they entered the room with a tidy little smirk. "Well, aren't we a miserable pair? " she asked mockingly. Rather than being welcoming, she had apparently chosen to be amused by them both.
This brought the attention of the unknown man to Paul, while the secretary continued to regard him through her thin-framed glasses. Under such obvious scrutiny, Paul was unsure of a retort to reply with. He was quite suddenly aware that he hadn't shaved in days, and that his hair was now at the length where it would continually poke him in the eyes. His greasy fringe created something of a curtain, partially blocking his sight.
"Hey, you're Ronnie Taylor's little brother, aren't you? " came the voice of the man beside him. For a moment, Paul was taken aback by the strong Irish accent, but he recovered quickly. However, by this point the blonde had continued speaking. "I saw your brother playing in Manchester last month. He knows his way around a guitar, I'll tell you that much. My name's Colt by the way. I'm the guy Matty calls when one of his machines breaks down."
Paul took Colt's hand when it was offered. The steady shake reassured him a little, though he could still feel the eyes of the secretary boring into him. Choosing to withhold her own name, she cleared her throat quiet and began to talk to them as though she had the most boring job in the world.
"Matthew isn't here right now, " she told them. "He's with Cause And Effect in the East Window Studio. He told me to pass on these messages though." She paused to scrabble through the papers on her desk. Most of the documents there looked dreadfully important. There were numerous bills, invoices, contracts and letters. However, none of these were what she was looking for. She eventually came to a piece of folded up graph paper, or half of one. She lifted it with one hand, unfolded it with the other, and, after carefully securing her glasses, read the message that it contained: "Colt, he wants you to go into the recording room on the ninth corridor. Supposedly one of the mixing desks is faulty. He's marked it with green tape and left more instructions there." She paused again to drop the paper down onto her desk and remove her glasses. "Disbelief boy, " she continued, "you can do whatever you want while you're waiting for him, but don't be doing it here. Go with Colt and I'll tell him to follow. You don't look like the type to sit down and shut up, so bugger off both of you, I'm busy."
Paul opened his mouth to protest, but two things prevented him from saying anything. The first was the glare that the secretary gave him as soon as he opened his mouth. The other was the sound of Colt's voice cutting him off by saying: "Come on then, man. You can help me test the deck." With the fury of the secretary's gaze upon him, Paul conceded easily and followed the Irish man from the room.
Fortunately, Colt seemed to know exactly where he was going. He also seemed quite talkative - likely a better person to wait with than the secretary would be. Unsure of exactly what they were going to be doing until Cooper managed to catch up with them, Paul decided he would ask Colt for more information.
"I'm Paul, by the way, " he began in an effort to be polite. He wasn't a particularly polite person, but this man had made an effort, so Paul felt obliged to do the same.
"You play Bass for Disbelief, don't you? " Colt inquired. "I had a few beers with your brother after the show. He mentioned you. I've been to see you before now down at Mountford Hall. You're not bad."
"Thanks, " Paul responded eagerly. Any mention of the band could be construed as good publicity, and he was always glad to hear news of Ronnie doing well. "So what do you think's wrong with the mixing desk? "
"The deck's probably got a loose wire or something - happens all the time around here, " Colt answered. Paul noted that he didn't seem to be carrying any tools with him. This was strange considering he was here to make repairs to a piece of machinery. "Matty's always breaking things. It's not because he's bad with them, it's just that he doesn't know how to use them. He has hundreds of things just sort of scattered around. He does all of this on his own, so he's not really familiar with it all. It's alright though, it gives me a lot of work. You've got to pay the rent haven't you? "
"You're not at any Uni then? " Paul asked curiously. This was not a man that he had seen around, in either nightclubs or lectures, so he was interested in learning more about him. "I haven't seen you anywhere I go. The accent's fairly easy to remember."
Colt laughed to himself as he turned a corner. Hastily, Paul followed him. A line of red on the floor drew his eye as he walked alongside it. So far he was completely lost as to how anybody could find their way around the maze that was the Fire Brand Records building, but the coloured line on the floor was giving him quite a big hint.
"I don't need any University degrees, " Colt answered calmly, "I do what my father did and that pays my bills. When you've earned your degree, I'll have already earned more money than you will have by the time you're thirty. There's plenty of work going around for me nowadays, and my dad too. As long as we have this place we're sorted."
"Why were you at Mountford Hall then? " Paul inquired. Mountford Hall was the building of the student guild for his University. Admittedly, there were plenty of people who went to the Hall regardless. The shows and performances were quite prestigious. It was definitely a worthwhile place for a band to perform. Nevertheless, it was mostly a place where students gathered to get drunk, have random sex and take large quantities of drugs. The student life was a beautiful thing, though Paul was not a major partaker of it. Most of his friends were quite stereotypical in that sense though.
"I go drinking with one of the sound engineers there, " Colt said as he turned yet another corner. A green line joined the red one currently with them on the floor. "He gets me into a few free shows now and then. I look after his equipment if something major breaks. It's a good deal. I get to see guys like you for nothing. Unless it's charity of course, but that's a different thing, isn't it? You've got to let go of money for that. Here, it's in here we want to be."
Pulling a chain with several keys on it out of his pocket, Colt found the one he was looking for quite quickly and used it to unlock the next door they came to. Inside, he flicked on the light to reveal a small and cramped recording studio. The booth was only large enough to fit one person and had to be entered from a door outside of the room. The rest was only about three times the size as the booth, and somehow a mixing deck had been fit inside. It was in the middle, obviously not connected to anything, and covered in green tape. On the top, stuck with tape to the many knobs, dials and switches, was a sheet of A4 paper with instructions on it. This Colt ripped off eagerly and began to read. Paul, with no particular idea of what to do, leant against the glass wall of the booth.
"This is just a store room really, " he said to Colt. He surveyed the rest of the room, but all that his eyes could find was a mop without a bucket and the coat that had been left behind on his last visit. Both of these things were stuffed into a corner.
"In this place, " Colt began, "for every room in use there's one that isn't. It's a big mess really, but Matty handles it well. Let's get this open, shall we? "
Lifting up his jacket, Colt revealed a small satchel at his waist containing a collection of tools. He withdrew two flathead screwdrivers and, handing one to Paul, knelt down to begin unscrewing the panel on the front of the piece of equipment. The two of them worked in relative silence. They opened the mixing deck quickly and leant the panel they had removed against the closed door. Looking in at the exposed wires, Colt sighed slowly and shook his head.
"This could take a long time to check out, " he told Paul. "We're going to need to wait for Matty so that we can test these out. I don't know what any of these do. Do you? "
Reluctantly, Paul shook his head. The thought of having nothing to do for a while was not a particularly welcome one to him. He could almost feel the doubt creeping back into his mind. Having a project for a while had been rather liberating. However, he was rescued from those cold thoughts by Colt.
"Screw it, he's got my number, " he said. "Let's go and get a drink."
They leant the front panel against the deck and, leaving it unscrewed, walked back out of the door. A strange elation had filled Paul at the thought of ingesting monstrous quantities of alcohol. Quite suddenly he felt as though it was the only thing that was going to make him feel better. Having an Irish drinking buddy would be quite the change, but Paul could only see good things coming of it.
Unfortunately - at least in Paul's mind - they had not gone ten steps before they saw Matthew Cooper marching down the corridor towards them, bearing a wide smile. Under his breath, Paul cursed the very sight of him. A moment later, he heard Colt doing the exact same thing.