Matthew Cooper was a man who seemed to be incapable of stopping his smile. It was almost like the grin was glued to his face. It was actually extremely unnerving to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that somebody was standing behind you, baring his teeth like a pack animal on the hunt. It didn't help that the office was almost completely empty. There were cushions, there were books and there were papers. That was about all. In a small tub, on the floor, next to the papers, there were a colourful collection of pens, though many were also scattered amongst the papers.
Jace was not offered a seat. Even if he had been, it would have been rather a pointless offer. Instead, Cooper wandered by him over to the cushions that took up the floor beside one wall of the room. He sat down on a few thick ones with a muted thump and waved to the cushions beside him to indicate that Jace should join him. The gesture was ignored. First, Jace hesitated, but, remembering that he came of his own volition, he knelt down where he was and sighed slowly.
Cooper looked him over with a smirk. Right, he began quite quickly, what's the real reason you came to see me Mr. Manning? As important as those Disbelief dates are, I'm sure there are more reasons than the ones that you've explained.
Jace caught himself glaring and told himself off for it vigorously. There are a few reasons, he said, considering each word carefully. I still want those dates added as the major reason though. If we've got a web page then I think it's important that anybody reading it knows what's going on. We haven't really had that many shows so far, and, to be honest, I reckon we probably don't have that many fans right now, but people seem to be liking what we do. We're going to be playing Colt's festivals as headliners. We've had a lot of luck so far.
Well, you happen to present quite an impressive performance, announced Cooper as though he was bestowing some great privilege upon Jace. The last time I saw you was when you last performed at Fuse. You make quite a lasting impression, even without factoring in the music. There were fights, you were thrown out and your friend Alice showed off her body on the stage. I doubt anybody could forget those curves easily. Of course, then you had your little warm up tease as well. Everybody was waiting for the turn of midnight so that the music would begin and Paul was standing there like a braggart watching his watch and mocking them all.
I'll admit, it was a good show, Jace admitted. The memories were playing in his mind. The music at least had been remarkably exhilarating. Unfortunately, the show was tainted by the recollection of his anger overtaking him. There were downsides to it too though. I know that fighting makes you more popular in that place, but I'm still amazed that they would let me back in the doors. You're sure, right?
Well I talked to them directly, Cooper replied eagerly. It seemed as though they knew you by name as well. Apparently you're something of a regular, so they actually didn't mind so much. Besides, in my line of work I don't even need to pull strings, people pull them for me. If I feel the tug of a greedy promoter or an excitable venue I'm going to give them what they want. It's good business to make as many friends as possible.
This made Jace frown. Good business yes, he responded, but surely making friends for the sake of making business isn't really making friends. It's just making business.
Yes, and it did take me a while to realise that myself, declared Cooper. I've never been too good at keeping myself from becoming attached to people, but I have a business head that I can put on if need be. Right now I have no idea which to use though. It doesn't seem very likely that I'll ever even see you again, and you're not somebody I usually do business with. Still, that leaves me with the same dilemma. Am I professional, knowing that we arent exactly doing business? Am I friendly, knowing that Im barely likely to speak to you again? You can see the issue. After all, youre just here to add dates according to you.
Something in Cooper's smirk made a mockery of Jace's planned cover story. The omnipresent smile showed no signs of vanishing. Quickly, Jace considered his options once again. His plan to gather information had so far collected nothing concrete. Instead, all that he had was entirely circumstantial hearsay. He wondered briefly about how much he should divulge, but decided to ask a few questions instead.
So there are a few things I wanted to ask you as well, he stated, moving swiftly onwards. First off, I'm confused by this whole website deal.
He paused for a moment, a little put off by the knowing look that Cooper gave him. It seemed quite obvious that this is what he had been waiting for all along. Unaffected by the pause, Cooper simply folded his hands on his lap and waited patiently for Jace to continue his question.
What gets me is the point of it, Jace continued, still taking his time to choose his words. You've never shown any sign of wanting to sign us to your label, so why are you making us a web page on your company website in order to promote us? Paul told me that you put up a video of the whole guitar battle thing where Ash got his arse kicked for trying to challenge our own little guitar team. That's what gets me most. Ash is one of your guys but Adam and Ed aren't. Where's the benefit to you and Fire Brand in that?
I have my reasons, I assure you, Cooper said with a slow nod. Obviously I can't share any information relative to our friend Rick, but rest assured that he is as confused by it as you are. Still, nobody really needs to understand my methods except for me, right? It means no harm for Disbelief. In fact, I can't imagine anything bad that could possibly come of it. I'll talk it down if you'd rather, but when Paul was here last he seemed to like the idea. Well, in truth, he seemed rather reticent, but I decided not to push it.
Is he here often? asked Jace, attempting to sound flippant. It didn't work; Cooper's expression made this startlingly obvious.
He comes here when I ask him to, Cooper answered clearly. This web page isn't the first thing that I've done in the attempt to promote Disbelief. Paul has been helping me out in the doing of it. If you're likely to come back then you can help us both out too. It's not that hard, it's just getting your name out there. After all, you can't really be a band worthy of signing unless you have a following to come with you.
Quite surprised by the answers that he was receiving, Jace realised that his face had gone back to offering Cooper a quite sharp glare. He took a moment in the attempt to wrap his head around what he was hearing, then continued. So you are thinking about signing us eventually then?
I didn't say that, Cooper responded with a sly smile. The expression said, quite clearly, that Jace would receive no more information on the subject. He decided to change it instead of trying to push for more.
So, what have you and Paul been working on? he inquired next.
Well, we started out by just getting his name on the Fire Brand database, Cooper offered. That means that, whenever somebody scrolls through looking for a voice that would work with one of their recordings, the Disbelief name appears, though obviously Paul Taylor turns up first. After that, if people are interested in using his voice they let me know and I call him up.
And that's happened? Jace asked, more than a little angry at the possibility.
I've never been instructed to call him, answered Cooper soothingly. At this point, with the conversation moving on to quite delicate matters, Jace realised that he was actually starting to feel quite comfortable, despite the fact that he was kneeling on a carpet. It was an interesting office, but it worked. He's shown discomfort concerning the idea really, continued Cooper. I've never forced him to do anything that he doesn't want. I quite like him; I'd probably call him in just to chat really. I'm used to dealing with some very different musicians.
The image of the bloated, selfish and arrogant guitarist that typically occupied the bands of the rich and famous wandered through Jace's head. I would imagine that you get a lot of childish little bastards in your line of work, he said with an even smile.
Another shrewd smirk overtook Cooper's face. No comment, he answered. It gave the answer that Jace had expected. Now, is there anything else that you would like to ask me before we get down to handing this information over concerning our mutual friend Colt's festivals?
Actually yes, but it's rather delicate so I'll apologise before I ask it, Jace said with absolute confidence. Cooper rewarded him with a nod before waiting patiently for more information. I'm sure you understand that I want to look out for Paul, but I know that sometimes he just doesn't know how to say things. A lot of the time I have to look after him without him even knowing about it.
So you want to know what's going on between Alice and I? asked Cooper. He was, of course, spot on.
Yes, stated Jace succinctly. I would have got to it you know, you could have just been patient.
Oh please, you were stalling to no end, Cooper said with a laugh. It's alright. I expected him to ask when last he was here, but I didn't have much time and I don't think that he got around to it. He did seem rather distracted. Well, let's see. I find her a wonderful person. She comes here every now and again to talk to me. I'm not going to say what we talk about obviously; she's a lady. She's fun to talk to and rather beautiful. If you're asking if I'm sleeping with her then I'd have to say no, but I wouldn't be happy to admit it. Going to take that back to Paul, are you?
No, answered Jace, she's my friend too. I'm more asking because I've been having difficulty finding a moment when we're both free and I just wanted to ask. I look after her too. It's what I do.
A noble pursuit, Cooper returned. It's nice to know that there's somebody else looking out for her. She's a nice girl; I wouldn't like anything bad to happen to her. Anyway, shall we move on to business then?
I suppose so, Jace conceded. All in all, he still hadn't learnt much, but he felt glad of the visit. Will you be watching our next Fuse performance then?
I hope so, answered Cooper thoughtfully. I certainly enjoyed the last one, but it was rather monotonous being on my own for the performance. I suppose it all depends on whether or not I can find a fake date for the evening. It's a rather lonely life up in this little office. Perhaps I could be Alice's custodian for the night. What do you think?
For a moment, Jace's suspicions rose. It was almost as though Cooper was trying to size him up in some way. The polite face that he had so carefully constructed before he came up cracked ever so slightly, but it held.
I think Paul would be very upset if he didn't get that honour himself, he stated, trying, once again, to remain flippant.
Well, unfortunately, it doesn't seem to me as though that's quite what's on her mind, replied Cooper, almost sadly. Still, we can only hope that they work things out. Let's have a look at these dates.