The encounter with Rick Ash, the supposed local guitar legend, had left Adam less than impressed. It was difficult to work out exactly what had disappointed him the most. Everything had been a let down in some way or another. Returning to Indy's felt like it had taken days. He could feel Ash's eyes boring into the back of his head, but he refused to turn and certainly had no plans to stop walking.
Inside, he cast his eyes around, looking for his friends. Standing in the doorway alone, he was surprised to see Paul marching furiously past him. Feeling thoroughly invisible, Adam followed Paul's movements with his eyes as his bassist and singer walked quickly over to the three women who were sitting by the window. As desperate as he was to go and see the woman who might or might not be his partner, it seemed as though Paul was speaking rather frantically about something dreadfully important, so, sighing, Adam turned away in order to give them some privacy.
Near the bar, a place that was currently so busy that the barmaids were a slightly colourful blur moving back and forth between people and bottles of alcohol, Adam spotted Jace, with Ed coming towards him from near their performance area. The sight of Jace caused a slither of fear to run through his body. This was not by choice, Adam had been trying hard to suppress his feelings of intimidation, but it was proving difficult. Jace still scared him. Nevertheless, he headed over to the bar to join his band mates. By this point, he was rather tired of the whole affair.
"Where've you been?" Jace asked as Adam drew near to the two of them. "None of us saw you wandering off. Bass was worried."
"I've just been outside getting some air," answered Adam. Turning around so that he could lean his back against the bar, he caught the sight of Rick Ash entering Indy's once again. Ash didn't look over at him, but he could tell that it was a very angry man who had just entered the bar. "It was quite a surreal experience actually," Adam continued. "I was grabbed by Rick Ash. Turns our he's working for Matthew Cooper now and he was trying to get me involved in his little project."
Jace growled to himself, frowning. "What is it about that man? He's got his hand in everything in some way or another. Wait, it wasn't Rick Ash who was trying to poach Ed, was it?"
"Spot on," Adam responded. He shook his head to himself, annoyed at record labels and big name musicians in general. "It's like these people get pissed off if they don't have everybody talking to them. Do you remember when I was excited at the idea of being signed? Doesn't sound so great now, I can tell you. Are we drinking anything? I don't have my wallet today."
Raising an eyebrow, Jace smirked at him. "I bet you don't have any ID either then, do you?"
After a moment of letting this sink in, Adam swore loudly.
She was leading him outside, anger in her every step, determined not to let anybody hear the words that she was going to give him. Paul actually felt scared, a feeling that was quite new for him. Her pace, her march and the way that she had been looking at him did not bode well. He didn't want to lose her, but there were some things that he just had to know.
There was nobody outside of Indy's now. It was too close to performance time for Redchip. Alone, and with the setting sun descending in the distance, Ally turned to face him with a glare that told him exactly what her first words were going to be.
"So what exactly are you trying to insinuate?" she said, staring daggers at him.
"I'm not trying to insinuate," Paul countered defensively. In fact, this was a lie. He had been trying damned hard to insinuate exactly what she undoubtedly suspected. "I've just heard a lot about you working with Matthew Cooper and I just wanted to make sure that..." briefly, he hesitated. He knew what he wanted to say, but the words were loath to come to his tongue. Quite suddenly, he felt as though he was being dangled over the edge of a bridge. One wrong word here could cost him more than he was ever willing to give up. Unfortunately, each moment that he spent considering his words was a moment of silence that would likely cost him just the same.
"Look," Paul eventually surrendered, "let me start again. I know this Cooper guy better than most of the people in that place. In fact, I'm quite sure that only you and I know anything beyond his name, so I'm just trying to look after you. I'm not going to say he's evil or anything, but from what I can see he's quite a dangerous man to get involved with. I haven't had the chance to talk to you in a while and I'm sorry about what happened when last we were together, because that's what you seem to want, but this is me trying to look after you."
Quiet beyond motion, Ally moved slowly to take up a seat on one of the many benches. Paul moved swiftly to sit down opposite her, accidentally placing his hand in an ashtray as he did. Moaning and wiping his hand wherever he could, he didn't have his eyes locked with hers when she continued speaking.
"What makes you think I need protecting?" she said simply. Paul looked up at her. She did not look happy. There was a cold fury growing behind her eyes, but, for now, she was containing it. "You've always done this," continued Ally. "You take it upon yourself to be there, but I don't want you there. Sometimes, I just want to be left alone. Besides, it's not up to you who I get 'involved' with. I'm not the same child I was when I met you. I can make my own decisions."
"I wasn't trying to imply otherwise," Paul answered, but seemingly too late. She had grasped hold of the word that she wanted, and, to her, that was all that she needed.
"Didn't you get involved with him to begin with anyway?" Ally shot at him. "This is your mess I got pulled into, and I've met some really good friends because of it. You've always been more interested in trying to charm me than in actually talking to me, or at least that's how it seems. I kiss you a couple of times and it's all that you talk about. Even Jace and Adam knew as fast as anything. Is that looking after me?"
"Well I'm sorry that they can read my face," came Paul's angry retort. "A kiss from you happens to make me extremely happy. Is there anything so bad about that? That might have been all that we had in the end, but it was enough to cheer me up."
There was another pause, during which Ally seemed to be waiting for something, but, try as Paul might, he couldn't figure out what it might be.
Finally, she decided to let him in on whatever she was withholding from him. "And the rest of it?" she said, which only served to confuse Paul further. At his blank expression she continued. "What about any of the things I said about Cooper? You didn't really listen to it then? You see what I mean? All you care about is getting back to my room again."
"That's not how it is," replied Paul. "That's just important enough to me that it pushes everything else out."
"Then that is how it is, isn't it?" Ally continued.
"No," Paul said forcefully. "I'm just a little addled that's all. Just give me a chance to explain, alright? I promise it won't take too long."
"What's this idiot doing?" Jace asked of Adam and Ed, though he knew that Ed wouldn't answer. Redchip, still not completely set up, seemed to be having something of a break down between Bret and the rest of his band. Taking up the opportunity, somebody had wandered over to one of their guitarists and, with their guitar and Bret's microphone, taken centre stage.
"Oh, not him again," Adam responded. From this, Jace worked out that it was in fact Rick Ash whom he was looking at. The thin body, gaunt face and straight black hair was not quite what he had expected.
"We have a short addition to the show tonight," Ash said through the microphone. Only just realising that he was there, the great majority of Indy's let out a cheer. Bret, at the same time, let out a howl of fury, but it was swallowed up by the audience. "I've heard a rumour that there's a guitarist in this bar that's better than me. Does anybody here think that that's true?"
Consumed by the infectious energy of the area, most of the crowd cried out their disagreements. His smile growing wider, and slightly more psychotic, Ash decided to press his advantage.
"Well I challenge this person, with the help of our friend Adam from Disbelief to provide rhythm for us," he continued. All eyes turned to Adam, Jace and Ed. Laughing aloud at how nervous Adam suddenly became, Jace raised his full glass to Rick Ash, who responded with a nod. "The challenger for my guitar championship, Edgar Finn."
Cheers for Rick Ash, or boos for his opponent, did not come. Instead, everything went quiet. A knowing smile seized Ed's face, while Adam, still looking quite nervous, frowned. Looking back and forth between the two guitarists, the contrast made Jace laugh again. Ash had absolutely no idea what he was getting himself in for.
"I'll go and get your guitars then shall I gentlemen?" Asked Jace with a wide smile. There were enough amplifiers on the stage for three guitarists to play. There was no way that Jace was going to allow either of them to back out of something that had the potential to be this spectacular.
He laughed all the way into the back room where the instruments were kept. The tight walls and low ceiling did not affect him. Checking the guitars that were leant against the far wall gave him the two that he needed, then, cases and all, he carried them both back out of the room.
The mood of the crowd had not changed. There was excitement, but it was not being broadcast as much as Rick Ash had been hoping for. Instead, a feeling of awe had come across the place. In truth, Jace doubted that anybody there could confidently state who the winner was going to be. Unfortunately for Ash, Jace was an exception. He knew exactly who was going to win. Adam and Ed had both moved over to the equipment, as had a vast majority of the accrued clientele. They both took up their instruments, Ed with evident glee, Adam with an expression of anxiety. He then moved into the crowd, eager to find himself somewhere with both alcohol and a good view. Behind him, he heard the volume swell.