The eyes of Rick Ash were cold and dark. Adam felt like they were boring through his head. He had been led to one of the many benches arrayed outside of the entrance to Indy's. They were mostly for smokers, but the parasols that were open over each one showed that they were also used when the sun was out. It was not busy outside. Disbelief has been finished for long enough for people to have smoked their cigarettes and returned in preparation for Redchip's performance. The exception was Ash himself, who had lit up almost as soon as the had left the bar.
I've heard you guys play a couple of times now, Ash announced between inhales. His voice showed the strain of years of nicotine addiction. You're a tight unit in Disbelief. I admire that. I saw it in action at your Mountford Hall bit. It was crazy. You can't deny that you're overshadowed though. What's the name of the other guy, Ted? You just lay down and let him walk all over you. He makes you look like you can't even play properly.
Adam could feel a frown settling across his face with every word that Ash said. If not for the fact that Adam could hear him, he wouldn't believe that Ash was even talking. The expressionless mask that was Ash's face, framed by thick curtains of long black hair, gave nothing away. With nothing guiding him, Adam simply opened his mouth and the words came as though they had been there all along.
It doesn't sound like you've actually been paying attention to me, said Adam slowly. For once, he felt entirely justified. I provide the backing so that Ed can sound that good. He's not better than me, I'm not better than him. Disbelief isn't an Ed backing band. We do things together, regardless of who gets their name mentioned the most.
There was a brief pause before Ash began to laugh quietly to himself. Thoroughly perplexed, Adam suddenly found himself unable to form words once again. This man had caught him completely off guard.
You get told a band's a democracy, not a dictatorship', right? Responded Ash with his first smile. The revelation of his yellowing teeth did not carry to his eyes. Instead, the grin just made him look even more skeletal. Bret used to say that to me too. I'll save you some time: it's bollocks. Anybody who says it to you is lying to you. We have to stick together. Listen, I'm putting together a supergroup for one of those fancy record company guys. There's room for you to back me up. You're not going to be signed as Disbelief are-
Please tell me you're not talking about Matthew Cooper, Adam interrupted.
As impossible as it was to read his face, Ash's tone showed his confusion plainly when he said: You've heard of him then?
Far too often lately, Adam answered. Quite suddenly, he was looking at Rick Ash like an enemy. Lately, anything involving Matthew Cooper was the cause of nothing but heartache and headaches for Disbelief. The one time that they had actually had dealings with him, Paul had told him to go away anyway. I guess you were sad to miss out on getting Ed then, weren't you? Adam guessed.
Ash spent a few moments focussed entirely on his cigarette. He was most of the way through it now, but he lengthened each drag, almost ignoring his company as he did so. I don't know how you know about that, he said eventually. I was very clear that my name was not to be mentioned. Somebody must have gotten it wrong somewhere. It doesn't matter anyway. I don't think Ted and I would work well together. He doesn't seem to like sitting back and doing what he's told so that I can do my thing.
Adam glared at Ash. That's what you want me for though, isn't it? You've come from a dictatorship and you've decided to start a dictatorship. Haven't learned much, have you?
Look, Ash began forcefully, I can tell that you're not too happy with how things are going, but I think you'd be smart to reconsider. You'll get a much better deal with Cooper and me that you will with Disbelief and Ted-
Ed, interrupted Adam, standing up from the bench and looking down on Ash. He was not the taller of the two, but being able to look down on the cause of his aggravation made him feel quite powerful. His name is Ed. Edgar Finn. You really should remember it because he can embarrass you when he's got a guitar round him.
A quite sudden change came across Rick Ash's face. It was as though the dead eyes in their hollow sockets had suddenly caught light. Something about him was not burning with life whereas a moment ago it had seemed like he was verging on death. You're giving up on being signed, was all that he said. A spiteful edge had crept into his voice. It shook Adam a little, but he held his ground.
Tell your boss that there's more than one way to be a successful band. Good day to you, sir.
Bass, Jace said quietly as he reached his friend and band mate, I need a word with you, if you remember.
Paul did not look up. Instead he kept his eyes focussed firmly on the numbers, dials and switches in front of him. He moved each one slowly, returning it to the settings that he had been instructed to return it to. Yeah, I remember, he said, eyes down. It might have to wait a minute though. Bret wants these sorting out, doesn't he? We have to look after this friend of yours, man. He seems influential.
Jace let out a single sarcastic laugh. Bret Turner is about as influential as a fly trapped in a condom. He can do it himself for all I care. We've done our part, now come on, it's important.
Paul raised his head with a smirk that quickly turned into a frown. Taking one last glance at his work, before locking eyes with somebody near the bar, most probably Bret himself, he decided to step away, over the wires and towards Jace. With no idea what was going on behind him, Jace was relying on Paul to let him know if Bret was attempting to hit him. He found it unlikely, but he liked to be prepared just in case.
Where's Adam? asked Paul, passing Jace and heading towards their seats, where Ally, Veronica and Anna were still waiting patiently for the return of Disbelief. Jace had a quick scour of the bar, but the clusters of drinkers, talkers and music fans defeated him.
Never mind that, he answered a moment later. Don't be leading this conversation. Now come on, over here. This is personal.
Ed's gone too, Paul added. This was confirmation that his friend was trying to avoid the subject now. Ed's disappearances were far from rare and in no way a cause for concern. The fact that they actually saw him from time to time was an amazing feat in itself. Nobody ever knew where he would wander off too, but he was well known for it. I didn't think they would leave before seeing if Redchip were any good, continued Paul. You've got to shape up the competition, haven't you? Tell you what, I'll go and find Ed, you can go and find Adam. I'll ask the girls.
He made to walk away, but Jace took a firm grip of his upper arm. With a look of confusion that Jace felt certain was faked, Paul turned back to him.
Look, this is important for you, so you'd better be ready to listen, Jace stated, leaving no room for miscommunication. Paul was going to hear this whether he liked it or not. I've been talking to Ally a lot recently. I wanted to know what was going on with this Sean deal, but she wouldn't tell me. I got some other stuff out of her though and I think you could do with hearing it.
Cornered, Paul conceded and allowed himself to be led into one of the quieter corners of Indy's, near the entrance to the bathrooms. The rush of people wandering by them in either direction masked most of the words from passing ears, while often making it quite difficult to hear each other.
Okay, said Paul once they had reached their target location. Go ahead then, what's the deal?
Almost nervously, which surprised even himself, Jace looked around them at the people coming back and forth, making sure that none of the girls were coming towards them before he began. Anna's been talking to her too. That's how I know most of this. Supposedly she was just meeting with Sean because Sean wants to get back together, but Ally told him to go to hell. He's been bugging her non-stop. Anyway, that's not the issue. Did you know that she's working for this Matthew Cooper guy now?
Another look of polite bewilderment crossed Paul's face, and once again, Jace found it very difficult to swallow. What do you mean working for him? asked Paul simply. It was somewhat hard to hear, but Jace made out enough of it to form his answer.
She's working as a talent scout for Redchip tonight, he explained. I had it confirmed by Bret that somebody was coming and she's mentioned to Anna that she's not really here for Disbelief tonight. Add that up with what Ed said about Cooper and what Colt said about her hair and all. Come on man, you told me most of this, it's easy enough to work out.
What? was Paul's only response. He leaned closer to Jace, seemingly desperate to hear the parts that he had missed.
She's a talent scout for Cooper. I know that there's somebody here working for Cooper and we already know that she's been meeting up with him. You told us that Colt said something about it, didn't you?
After this, the expression on Paul's face became one of fear. Don't be stupid, man, he exclaimed, his voice rising so that he was almost shouting. Why would she want to hang around with a guy like that, much less work for him. She's a student, she doesn't need a job.
I don't think it's about the job man, Jace hinted. I've been hearing the name of this Cooper guy all over the place. He has quite a reputation. I've done some research too. I've heard stories about women going crazy for him because he's rich, he's well known and he's bloody influential. He's probably one of the most powerful men around here. Don't you think Ally might be a little drawn in by that? It's why she went for Sean, isn't it?
Are you trying to piss me off of something? Paul responded defensively. He was glaring at Jace now, fury written in his features. She wouldn't just go for this guy. I know her.
She was talking to him at Fuse, wasn't she? added Jace. He felt almost as though he was verbally attacking his friend now.
Yes, Paul replied, but-
And who called her the night you two nearly got together again? Jace continued.
I don't know, probably Sean, Paul answered quickly. Despair was settling over his face and, for a moment, Jace felt cruel and sadistic for torturing his best friend so. It caught him quite off guard when Paul pushed past him, simply saying: I have to talk to Ally.