The sight of the tall, clear-windowed building that belonged to Fire Brand Records provided quite an imposing image. It spoke of strength, rigid structure and unity. The building screamed of an extremely organised architect. Other than the first floor, which had long ago been modelled into a fairly large music shop, the pristine white exterior of the rest of the building rose like a powerful tower towards the sky. His first view of it had given him the exact opposite of what he had expected; it certainly didn't make him think of Matthew Cooper.
Jace had no appointment and no particular plan. Nobody knew that he was coming and he also had no clue as to where he was supposed to go, but that didn't really matter much. Jace was the sort of person to just go with the flow of things, taking his time and deciding things as they came to him. Post Roadkill, the inescapable idea of coming to this place popped into his head and refused to shift itself. He had surrendered easily enough. It felt right.
Entering the music store, a few extra urges hit him. It had been a while since he had last bought any new music, so he browsed through the new metal CDs by both the typical bands and the few local ones that Fire Brand was involved in. Each of the executives from the upper floors had a dedicated section for 'local talent' that, though now signed and horrendously successful, originated not far from this very building. Bands such as Blast Beat and Cause And Effect drew his attention, but the track listing didn't appeal too much for him. Other than that, very little actually caught his eye, so he moved on.
The young and cutesy girl behind the counter directed him to the fourth floor, where Cooper supposedly reigned supreme. She also warned him to place his hand on the left wall and follow it in case he became lost, which was not the most promising sign in his mind, but he persevered. The lift at the back of the shop beckoned him and, for a moment, he felt quite important, as though he was a part of something quite outstandingly professional. It was a good feeling while it lasted.
It was broken as the elevator passed the first floor and opened to admit Paul's friend and potential roadie Colt. Upon seeing Jace, his eyes widened in either shock or horror.
"What are you doing here?" Colt asked sharply, reminding Jace of the strong Irish accent that he had almost forgotten. "You're not supposed to be here, are you?"
"Easy man, no need to panic," Jace replied calmly. Colt actually seemed quite panicked, which was not a good sign. Jace's feeling of foreboding grew. "I don't always do what I'm supposed to do," he continued, keeping Colt from interrupting. "Perhaps I just have business with Mr. Cooper. Is that so strange?"
"Does Paul know you're here?" inquired Colt, evading the question. As coincidental as finding Colt here was, it definitely served to intensify Jace's suspicions.
Choosing to skip the question, as Colt had done, Jace moved the conversation back in his favour. "I'm just here to add a few more things to the Disbelief web page," he announced calmly. Evidently, this was something of a surprise for Colt because, briefly, he had nothing to say. The moving lift made him stutter and rush though.
"I need to get off," he forced out as the lift slowed for the third floor. "Do me a favour and tell Paul to call me, alright? We should all meet up again and get ready for this show after all."
The opening doors halted his words, so he sighed, gave Jace a cursory handshake goodbye and positively fled out of the doorway. Jace watched him go with a sense of trepidation, but he decided against letting it show. Halfway down the corridor, Colt glanced back. He looked almost suspicious as Jace felt, but the closing doors quickly shut him off.
His arrival on the fourth floor was one of the most confusing experiences of his life. Stepping out of the lift presented him with three different directions in which he could walk. There were no signs up on the walls, just three differently coloured lines on the floor. A green one led left, a blue one led straight on and a red one led right. Lost already, Jace trusted the information from the petite girl that he had talked to downstairs and chose the left option. Not far on, there was another three way fork, with the green line going left, a black one leading on and a purple one going right. He chose the left path again, hoping beyond hope that he wasn't going to simply walk out of a window or something. Thankfully, it brought him straight to a door bearing a plaque that announced it as Cooper's office. Promising to buy the girl a muffin or something, Jace knocked smartly on the door.
He had expected a curt 'enter' or perhaps a polite greeting. What he had not expected was for a female voice to shout out of the door. "Just come in!" it shouted. "If you make me get up I am going to bring a rusty knife with me and scalp you!"
His mouth fell open slightly. The pause cost him however, with the woman literally sending extra abuse out to him until he turned the handle and entered the room. As it turned out, it was not actually Cooper's office, but a room between the corridor and his destination. Cooper's secretary, a slight, blonde haired woman wearing small glasses and chewing on a pen, was already glaring at him as though he had just tried to pull her eyeball out and swallow it. Thus far, their first impression had not been fantastic.
"I'd like to meet up with Matthew Cooper, but I don't have an appointment," he began quietly. Her face didn't change; she continued to glare at him quite expertly. "So, wait," she said, every little bit of annoyance creeping out with each word, "you want to find space in my boss' schedule so that you can go in and see him, without warning or forethought? You didn't bother to ring ahead, you haven't even told me who you are and you haven't even bothered to ask if he's here. Does all of that sound about right?"
The aggression caught him off guard, but Jace stood his ground. "If you'd have let me get to that I'm sure that you would have had a much shorter speech there," he countered with a smile. "Although, since you seemed to have that all prepared I'm sure it's much easier to just let you be. So is he in or not?"
"Yes, he is," she responded, her scowl moving slowly into a smirk. "That doesn't mean that he's available though. Matthew Cooper is an extremely busy man and, after all, you have to get through me first."
She leant forwards, resting her chin on the palm of her hand and offering him a quite enticing view of her cleavage. Concerned by the change of mood, Jace thought carefully about his next choice of words.
"I'm not a fan of going through people unless they've done me something quite horrible," he stated clearly. Seemly unaffected, she pouted a little, then moved backwards again to rest against the back of her chair. "Now," he continued, "if I can go around you casually then I'd be grateful of that. I'm part of a band he knows called Disbelief. He isn't expecting me, but I have some information for him to add to our web page."
"No little grope while you're walking around me?" she teased, tracing her lips with her tongue. Thankfully, she didn't give him the time to answer, as he had absolutely no idea what he would have said.
"You're a friend of Paul's are you?" She asked, finally losing the teasing tone. The knowledge that Paul had most definitely spent some time with Cooper's secretary added more evidence that something was going on without Disbelief being informed. There were plenty of hints going back and forth. Colt had been quite a big one. The suspicious looks of the Irishman had not been particularly welcoming.
"Yeah, I call him Bass though," answered Jace, not sure how much this secretary might already know. "I'm his drummer, but more than that, we've known each other most of our lives. Honestly, I'd call him my best friend and I think he'd say the same."
"Really, that is rather close," she stated sarcastically. He narrowed his eyes at her, but, placing the tip of the base of her pen into her mouth, she went back into her teasing mode. "Are the two of you happy together?"
Jace's narrow glare quickly became a nonplussed frown. "So you think that we're gay then?" he requested, just after confirmation of the obvious implications.
Her first response was to present him with the sort of excitable smile that showed off every one of her teeth. "Ah, so you're not. That is a pity," she added next, causing an even greater sense of bewilderment by the fact that she wanted them to be gay. He wondered briefly if he had somehow stepped into an alternate world where nothing made sense.
While trying to work out what he might say next, the door by which he had entered opened again and in walked Matthew Cooper. His smile was wide, his step held a tiny dance to it and his hair was smoothly gelled and bouncing with him ever so slightly. The wild grin that refused to dissipate, despite finding a complete stranger standing in front of him, was almost nauseating. The man was not even remotely imposing. As a manager, Jace couldn't see how he could possibly maintain order.
Momentarily halted, Cooper paused to survey the man in front of him. He looked Jace up and down before he actually reached the eyes and, with a continuing grin, offered Jace his hand.
"You're from Disbelief, right?" He asked easily. They shook hands slowly and firmly, with Cooper continuing to talk as they did. "Paul's friend? Don't tell me, I had it typed up on the web page a couple of days ago. It's Jay. No, no it isn't. It's James. Wait, that's not it."
He paused to rub his chin thoughtfully, obviously trying hard. Jace was not impressed. He had heard the name of Matthew Cooper almost everywhere that he had gone for the last month or so, but he had expected something more to the man. Jace could look down on the man, and the organised exterior of the building didn't show even slightly in this scatterbrained person standing before him.
"Jace!" Cooper near shouted, his hands coming forwards to enunciate the point. "Jace Manning! That's it. Sorry about that - I used to work with somebody called James, he was built like you. I get confused. So how can I help you? Do you want to check out the page or add more dates or anything?"
Thoroughly overwhelmed by the collection of information being thrown at him, Jace lost his place in the conversation and had to take a few seconds to catch up.
"Well, I have a few more dates," he stuttered. "That's not the main reason I'm here though. I've been hearing your name a lot recently and there are a few things I want to clear up. Do you have some time to talk?"
"Of course," Cooper returned, his smile fading slightly. "We can go into my office and discuss whatever's on your mind, as long as you're not going to try and make me sign you. I'm a little sick of people trying to play that game, so do I have your word that it's not about that?"
"Yeah, sure," said Jace. "Honestly, I like the current Disbelief dynamic, especially with everything that we're setting up with Colt. We're moving forwards quite smoothly. I don't think we really need to be signed."
"Marvellous," stated Cooper, his smile returning once again. "Well come straight in and we'll have a chat. Would you like some tea or something? Julia can get you whatever you need."
"Oh yes," the secretary responded, finally letting Jace know her name. Even with Cooper here she still seemed to delight in her teasing tone.
"I'm fine," Jace muttered. By this point he was actually feeling quite overwhelmed. Perhaps it was the office itself.
Cooper walked quickly to the adjoining door and opened it, showing Jace a rather bleak and empty room. If that was his office then he was a very strange man indeed. Giving up on trying to guess his way around, Jace simply smiled at Julia as a brief goodbye and then walked in past Cooper.