The warning about a lack of seating had proven entirely justified; Cooper's redecoration had been extremely harsh. Originally, the first time that Paul had been in this office, it had been sparse and barely furnished, but still warm and comfortable. The second time, he could recall beanbags, lots and lots of beanbags. The room had been virtually filled to the brim with nothing else. At the time, Paul had thought nothing of the change in decoration, but, considering this was the third time he had been both in the office and also the third time it had looked completely different, he was beginning to wonder. Perhaps Cooper simply became bored extremely easily, or maybe he just enjoyed spending money too much.
The beanbags had vanished, and the thick and luscious royal blue carpet had somehow turned blood red, but without losing any of the wonderful feeling it gave out whenever it touched the skin. Cooper's desk was gone, leaving the room practically empty but for a collection of full bookcases that lined the far wall. The light from the window on Paul's left illuminated the books, files and random papers organised haphazardly by some system that must have confused Cooper as much as it confused Paul. It was not alphabetical. It was not chronological. Perhaps, in actuality, there was no system. There were ten years of files amongst the fantasy novels and motorcycle manuals that were stacked, side by side, for reasons unknown.
Casting his eyes around for somewhere to sit down, Paul discovered that the right wall had many differently sized cushions against its base. Some were round, some square, some were large enough to cover a double bed on their own, while some could fit neatly in Paul's palm. By these cushions were a few small stacks of papers and a tub filled with pens. Supposedly, the floor was now Cooper's desk. Paul rolled his eyes at the strange practices of this man who just so happened to be stupidly rich and incredibly successful. Once he had finished that, he went over to the wall and sat on the carpet, his back against a series of cushions. To his surprise, he suddenly felt as though the floor had wrapped around him, almost lovingly caressing his body. It was quite eerie.
With no method of entertainment, Paul simply sat there, waiting for Cooper to turn up. His mind wandered briefly, but he reigned it in before it went anywhere that he didn't want it to. There was something dangerous about allowing himself to think recently; it had constantly shown itself to be a bad idea. A pessimistic mood had fallen over him, tainting his every daydream until it became almost a living nightmare that he despised. Unfortunately, it was simply a repeating shadow of his life, bringing his every mistake forward for him to observe yet again. He shut his eyes, willed it away, then opened them again and thought, very carefully, about how much he dislikes sprouts. When boredom consumed him, he grabbed one of the many pens that were available beside him and started to twirl it idly between his fingers. It was one of the earliest dexterity exercises that he had began to do, and, even now, it kept his hands busy in lectures when he should have been taking notes. Thankfully, Cooper was not too long.
He entered his office in his usual exuberant fashion, accompanied by a wide smile that would have made any flasher proud. "Welcome back, Mr Taylor," he said, positively beaming. "It's always a pleasure to have you sharing my fluffy rug. Have you seen the new Cause and Effect album yet? You should, it's got some very good packaging."
Somehow, Paul could tell that the packaging was not what Cooper actually wanted to talk about, but the mischievous glint in his eye said that he would have trouble learning more. Still, the real direction that Cooper wished to pursue was almost crystal clear.
"I saw it," Paul said slowly. "You wouldn't be trying to remind me that you put my name on the back, would you?"
"Ah, you are a clever one, aren't you?" Cooper replied. He took up a patch of carpet and a collection of cushions next to Paul, with only his papers between the two of them. "I think you've missed a few things though," he continued. "We haven't just put your name on the case, we've added a special page on the Fire Brand Records website just for you. If people like what they hear and search for your name on the internet they'll be taken to that page, which tells them a little something about you, that you play in Disbelief and also tells them about when you're next playing at Fuse and any other places you want to add."
The conflicting emotions of excitement and dread hit Paul's body at once, causing his head to ache horribly. On the one hand, this page could do wonderful things for Disbelief publicity. On the other, it was an almost definitive way that his extra work could be found out by his friends. Confused as he always was whenever he came into this building, Paul sank his head into his hands and sighed.
Puzzled, Cooper frowned at him. "I thought you'd be happy with this," he announced slowly. "Think about how much of a boost this could give you guys. Besides, everybody got a piece about them, so it's not unbalanced. We even added a couple of videos of you guys playing so that people have a sample. It's all from Indy's. We've got a clip from Thrillseeking, a clip from Ruin and this little guitar battle of yours in its entirety."
"I appreciate what you're trying to do," mumbled Paul through his fingers. "I really do, but I'd still appreciate it if not everybody in the world knew that I was out singing for other bands and potentially becoming successful without my own band. They all deserve better than that," there was a pause, during which Paul reviewed everything that Cooper had said to him and found something which made his head pound ever so slightly harder. "Wait," he continued, "how did you get footage from Indy's?"
The mischievous smile returned, making Paul a little more angry than he had been previously. Something about Cooper's every expression had recently become very annoying, and Paul could not quite place where the change had occurred.
"I had somebody there to do some filming," announced Cooper, almost gloating to himself now. "I thought you'd be grateful for that too, as I understand you missed the little duel. It was very good, I was impressed. It's such a shame that Mr. Ash couldn't do a better job. He was very much against having the video on the website, but it's my decision, not his. I wanted to make sure that Disbelief got the publicity that it deserved. I noticed that your lead and rhythm guitarists switched places half way through, do they do that often?"
"If they feel like it," answered Paul. "Ed's kind of like a coach for Adam. If he thinks that Adam's ready then he'll let him jump in. If not, he'll handle things himself. Ally wasn't the one filming then?"
"Oh no, she doesn't own a camera," Cooper said, as though this was the most obvious thing in the world. "She gave me the little report on Redchip and that was all. I know that they didn't play, that's not what I was after. Strange although it seems I was actually looking for some more personal information, so she talked to your drummer about it. It's a fun little file. The singer is a drug abuser with a drug dealer brother, the drummer hates the singer, the singer hates the drummer, the two guitarists both play rhythm, it's strange."
"How does that work?" Paul inquired.
"Well," Cooper began slowly, evidently thinking hard about his phrasing, "supposedly this singer of theirs doesn't like guitar solos. He's probably worried that they'll hog his spotlight like Rick Ash did. He got two of them because he thinks it makes their powerchords sound more metal when they're harmonised in minor seconds or thirds. I don't know the technicalities, but it doesn't sound very clever to me."
"Doesn't sound too great to me either," Paul said simply. The recollection of the huge collection of pedals that both the two guitarists and the bassist of Redchip had prepared for use confirmed this theory for him. "You know, I used to really like Redchip, and not just for Rick Ash. I can't remember his name now but their bassist was tremendous. Why haven't you got him on board too?"
For a moment, Cooper's pleasant smile and optimistic demeanour was broken. His eyes dropped and his body seemed to wither ever so slightly. "Actually, we did have a deal in the works," he began. "Unfortunately, Mr. Brooks died of an overdose two days before Mr. Ash came over. We don't really like drug users here. We suspect it was Bret Turner who supplied him, but, obviously, we have no way of proving it. It actually hit Rick really hard; they've been playing together for years. I gave him a paid vacation just to relax for a bit, it's why he vanished for a couple of weeks. Likely if he'd have been more successful a bit deal would have been made about it, but Brooks was just a bassist. He didn't want to be anything else."
The sudden change of pace caught Paul off guard. He hesitated, not sure what to say. However, Cooper took a few deep breaths, and then returned to his typical exuberance. "So," he continued, the wideness of his smile showing his pristine teeth yet again, "you don't like the page then? That's alright, but I think, if you talk to your friends, they might well see the appeal of it. It could work as a fantastic launch pad for Disbelief, especially considering that people will stick your name in a search engine and also find Ronnie Taylor coming up. I don't want you being defined purely by your brother like our mutual friend Colt seems to do, but it's still a good thing. What about these Fuse dates I booked for you? Aren't you interested in those?"
Remembering Cooper's promise from long ago did nothing to diminish the surprise that Paul felt at the mention of plural Fuse dates to play. It was, of course, conflicting with The plan that Paul had come up with with Colt, but Fuse was a major place to headline at. If Cooper had arranged them performances there then Paul was not going to turn them down.
"What dates have you booked?" Asked Paul quietly. He felt quite reserved about the whole situation, but the opportunity was too good to miss.
"Well, you'll just have to check the page out won't you, Mr. Taylor," Cooper responded cheerfully. "Anyway, we have some business to attend to before we go into that. I have a few phone calls to make and a few bands to see to. If you'd be so kind as to leave your report over here somewhere then I can look at it closely later on."
"What report?" Paul asked in mild bewilderment.
Cooper looked him over sceptically. "You recall that I asked you to give me a bit of information on Redchip's new incarnation, right?"
"Oh, right," said Paul, forcefully being brought back to the events of the Indy's gig. "I didn't write anything down though," he added. "I thought we'd be talking in person about it."
"Well unfortunately I don't have time right now," announced Cooper sadly. "I have something of a minor festival to run. Your brother's going to be coming to town with his band and headlining a few dates for us, but I'm sure he's told you already. Here, write it down on this and then you can head off at your own discretion. A pleasure speaking to you as usual, sir."
With that, Cooper lifted himself up onto his feet and, with his trademark smile, left the room. Paul, left with only a stack of paper, suddenly felt beyond angry that Cooper was always much more informed than he was. One question still burned at the back of his mind, but he hadn't gathered the courage to ask it.