Authors: Ranger and Rolf
"Look up- toward the light Val, can you open your eyes a little more?"
"The light HURTS buddy, do you think you could shine it a little more in my eyes and I'll just go blind for you?"
Luke cast a quelling glare across the studio, folding his arms as he leaned against the wall. The photographer was world famous. Unfortunately, so was Val Quentin. So far, Val had hated the clothes, hated the image Orion had decided on for his next album, hated the studio, hated the food they were providing, and most of all, he hated the photographer. Luke rolled his eyes skywards as Val ripped his jacket off yet again.
The photographer stopped, slamming his hands down in frustration.
"MISTER Quentin, do you want these damn pictures done or don't you?"
"DO you want me to die of heat exhaustion or don't you?" Val snarled back.
Luke called across the studio in a measured tone that Val at least would understand.
"How about we take a break for five minutes and we'll all cool off."
He saw Val's look at him. His partner, small, lithe in a way that made Luke start to ache if he looked too long, and perfect in studio make up and tight fitting tank top and jeans, was hot, tired and agitated. Luke quietly jerked his head at the several studio staff who were converging with fruit juice and took a bottle of water from a table, waiting for Val. The photographer, swearing audibly, headed towards the carpark, slamming the door behind him. Val moved very much more slowly towards Luke.
"Have a seat," Luke said, indicating a chair along the wall.
"Is this idiot EVER going to take a picture?" Val groused, flopping into the chair.
"Hey. He's a professional, same as you. He wants the best shot he can get, because it's his name on the credits and you're not making his life any easier, are you?" Luke asked pointedly.
"It's HOT -"
"Are you?" Luke asked again.
Val sighed, knowing his partner was not going to stop until he surrendered the point.
"If you'd like to get out of this hot environment, out of the concrete makeup and back to doing what you want, then just cooperate and let him get his pictures made."
Val dropped his head, not liking the answer at all. Luke, shaking his head at the perfect, and not at all unphotogenic pout, gave him a gentle push back towards the stage and a discreet but meaningful tap on the bottom.
"Save it for the camera Quentin, it doesn't impress me."
"Why?" Val demanded, looking back over his shoulder.
Luke gave him a quick glance under heavy eyelids, a quick glint of dark eyes that made Val's pout swiftly lose focus.
"Because I know several ways to shift it if you don't. Go on and behave. Quick."
Val's cupid's bow lips became slightly less pronounced at the veiled threat but from the swing of his hips as he walked away, he wasn't noticeably impressed and he intended on Luke remembering- clearly- that he too had his means of getting what he wanted.
Luke stifled a grin at the blatancy of it and straightened up off the wall, feeling the vibration of his cellphone.
The day I let you manipulate around me by shaking that tight little butt my boy, they'll be making snowballs in hell.
"Hello?" he said into the phone, watching Val take over the stage once more, swapping scowls with the photographer. Orion were in for another set of mean, moody and magnificent shots again.....Val had a highly saleable scowl, teenagers all over the country slept in rooms with Val glowering from their walls on posters.
"Luke, it's Mick Downey, Orion Liason-"
"Hey Mick." Luke turned away from the stage in surprise, covering his free ear. "What's up? Something wrong with the Manchester venue? Fire hazards? I told Jessica when I sent in the paperwork-"
"No, this is a lot more serious." Mick sounded upset. "I've just had a meeting with the London Met CID. A couple of them will be on their way out to you in the next few hours, they're going to need to talk to you in detail about where Val is and what your team's set up is exactly."
"What's happened?" Luke said crisply. "Who's made a threat?"
"They did a raid this morning, part of some work on breaking into a vice circle- nasty people, photographs, some kid stuff found in amongst it, real bastards- the guy wasn't there that they were looking for but they found a mountain of stuff on Val."
"How standard stalker type?" Luke demanded. Mick sounded hassled.
"Beyond the standard. All the usual stuff, pictures, photos, not just the public events but some he must have taken in the street, or from cars, you'll need to see the pictures to identify when and how long he's been following Val- and how close he's got-"
"Not THAT close, we'd have picked up on anyone consistently around." Luke said shortly. Mick snorted.
"This guy's clever Luke. We're not talking the usual looney, this one is completely out of his tree. He's done some computer hacking into the Orion systems network, he's pulled out strings of data on Val-"
"Some meaningful stuff- dates, times, venues, some totally meaningless costume details, measurements, that kind of thing. CID are looking at this as a serious risk to Val's safety, this guy's got a reputation and a half, the police are dying for an excuse to pin a conviction on him."
Luke straightened up making a silent vow that Val was NOT going to provide the evidence to make that conviction.
"We need a meeting, your department, my team, CID and the local police here- and the manager of the hotel where Val's based at the moment, set up for today. Then I need to see CID and this evidence and make some assessments on that with my team, we need to know everything about this guy we can."
"What's really bothering the police is they have no clue where he is." Mick said unhappily. "We're going to have to start checking the identity of everyone who goes NEAR Val."
"Set that meeting up." Luke turned and Glared at Val as another argument broke out by the cameras. "This should take another hour or so, then Val's scheduled back at the recording studios, we can meet there. I don't want a WORD of this to get near him, or to reach ANYONE not on the named list we draw up at that meeting. This goes onto a need to know basis."
"Gotcha." from the sound, Mick was scribbling frantically. "I'll set that up now, we should get everyone there for four pm."
"I'll start briefing my team as soon as I can. See you later." Luke killed the line and promptly dialled another number, waiting for the voice at the other end to reply.
"Brad, full alert. Call Tim and Colin back to duty, make it casual as possible. Low profile."
Brad was well trained enough not to ask questions. Luke pocketed the phone just as Val's scowl became outright rebellion and the jacket was hurled to the floor.
"I'm NOT a fucking contortionist! Make up your MIND what you want me to do, YOU're supposed to be the bloody artist here!"
Luke turned around and his eyebrows raised at the sound of that word. Lines were clearly being drawn in the sand. He walked quickly over, knowing the pictures needed to be completed today, particularly with the current problems developing.
"Mr. Kramer, what are you looking for?" Luke asked, picking up Val's jacket.
"He's looking for a circus performer!" Val spat.
"Mr Kramer?" Luke said again, louder. The photographer was calming down at his tone, he could see. Val kicked the jacket, stalked down off the stage and flounced across to the table at the back, sweeping his hair back with one hand and drinking deeply from the bottle of water there. Hips canted, throat arched- Luke knew the pose. Several of the makeup girls, as intended, had their eyes wide with admiration. His own temper by now somewhat strained, he gave the photographer a straight look.
"How near done are you?"
"I need to check my films." the photographer spat, glowering after Val. "Maybe enough. HOPEFULLY enough."
"Why don't you check then, and I'll be back in a minute." Luke stepped down off the stage and advanced on his partner, dropping a hand on his shoulder to speak softly into one perfect ear.
"Mr Quentin, I think it's time for a bathroom break here."
Val's face burned as he preceeded his partner down the hall, being carefully guided by the hand on his shoulder. A passing employee got one full fledged scowl from Val and a look that seemed to burn through him from the larger man behind the star. Val heard him cough nervously and skulk around the pair before nearly running down the hallway.
Luke spotted a team member at the far end of the hall before opening a door on the right. He followed Val into an empty dressing room and shut the door behind him, leaning against the door.
"What did I say to you?"
"He's being a total-"
Luke reversed him before he saw the move coming, and Val screeched as he landed over his bodyguard's lap. Luke gave the struggling, upturned bottom one sound swat and paused.
"WHAT did I say to you?"
In this position there was no point in arguing. Val growled.
"To stop, but he's being such a-"
Luke's hand fell again, and hard, covering both cheeks. "I said to STOP."
Val grimaced and worked on catching his breath before he spoke, one hand pressing hard against Luke's leg. "I've STOPPED."
"And it's going to stay that way, even when we leave the quietness of this dressing room, correct?"
"You don't - OW!" Val said, arching his back against the strong hand of his lover. Obviously the only thing that mattered right now was agreeing with the Gorilla. "Yes!" Val yelped as another swat landed, this time threatening tears.
"Yes, what?" Luke asked conversationally. He could almost feel the deep growl that his partner was making.
"Yes, SIR," Val finally responded, before scrambling to his feet the instant Luke let him, rubbing frantically to quell the sting.
Luke gave his partner only a moment to gather himself before he took his chin and brought the beautiful eyes up to meet his. "If I have to speak to you again about this photography session, it'll be my hand on your bare bottom, and more than a few times, am I clear?"
"Yes, sir," Val said unhappily, knowing he was just going to have to put up with the photographer. Sometimes it irritated him that he seemed to be the only one held to such high standards.
"If Mr. Kramer doesn't have the shots he needs, we get them taken without argument. If he says he's finished, we'll head straight to the studio for the album cut."
The grey eyes were fixed on his, absolutely steady and very warning. Val slipped a hand behind him to rub, pouting in spite of himself.
"What's the rush?"
"The rush is that we have a job to do." Luke dropped a hand on his shoulder and steered him back towards the studio. "Which you're going to get right on with. And Val?"
Val paused, looking as sulkily as he dared back up at his partner. Luke looked back, not moving.
"If I hear ONE more obscenity from your mouth today, it's going to get soaped out when we get back to the hotel this evening. Clear?"
"Crystal." Val said shortly, stalking back into the studio.
Mr Kramer looked up from his camera with an open snarl that Val returned just as promptly, teeth baring.
Luke gave him a firm push towards the stage.
"Go on. Smile."
Luke kept Val in the dressing room after the shoot for a good ten minutes, under the pretence of seeing he ate at least a few of the sandwiches the studio had laid on for him. Actually he was waiting for the rest of his team, who bleeped him to let him know, the truck was in the front and the street was clear. Luke got up from the door-frame where he was lounging and took Val's hand.
"Done? Come on then."
"I haven't got my music." Val objected. Luke towed him out of the door.
"You don't need it, you've got the tapes in the truck."
"I need the sheets, we were going back to the hotel!"
"We're running late because SOMEONE kept the shoot running overtime." Luke said firmly.
"HE'S the one that had the problem!" Val argued back to no avail. Luke was in bodyguard mode and that meant his eyes and ears were focused elsewhere than on him. The stare he was giving Luke's back should have set him on fire but there was nothing, not even a whisper of smoke. He got into the truck without argument and belted up, watching Luke survey the area as he stepped around to the driver's side door. He missed the three sets of eyes looking around the area and their hurried footsteps as they headed for their own vehicles in order to follow Val.
"Your tapes are right there," Luke said without taking his eyes from the road. Val dug through them like a terrier after a rabbit, then straightened up with an indignant glare.
"They're not there."
"They are Val, just look."
Luke cast a quick look around at the road, nodded at Brent who was in the car that would follow them, and pulled out onto the road. Val folded his arms, flopping back in his seat.
"We're going to have to go back to the hotel."
"We are not. Look again."
"YOU look gorilla, they're not there." Val gave his bodyguard a fulminating look. "If I have to turn up unprepared, I'm NOT singing you know-"
"If you make me have to pull over Mr Quentin, you'll sing all right." Luke said mildly, checking his mirrors. His bleeper sounded again at his hip and he glanced at the number. The other of their party at the recording studio, clearing it as checked and safe. Luke looked at his watch for the fifth time and took a breath, wishing that they COULD just head to the hotel and finish for the night, be safe, have Val somewhere he knew was secure and get his eyes over the information he needed to see on this crazy. Having Val out on open streets without knowing enough, without having time to meet was NOT his idea of a safe or comfortable way to kill time.
"It's NOT." Val said again more hotly, dropping the unwanted tapes on the floor of the truck.
Luke checked the road again and signalled, pulling off into a parking lot. He held out his hand. "Tapes, please," he said sternly.
Val wanted to tell him what he could do with the tapes, but knowing that by stopping he was just that much closer to real trouble, he chose to pick them up and hand them over to Luke, only a little roughly.
Luke glanced through them, them turned around in his seat to check the bag that had held the tapes. The irritation with his partner stopped boiling and became a pit of dread, gnawing at his insides.
"I TOLD you!" Val said dramatically.
Luke finished a cursory review of the backseat without getting out and came up empty handed. He was almost certain he'd placed the tapes in the bag before they left, knowing that it was more than possible they'd be running late. He keyed his radio. "Change of plans. We're going to swing by the hotel first."
"Luke," Brad began, "We've got-"
"Yes, and I've got a red light right ahead." Luke said shortly. Val glanced up.
"The traffic around here's always bloody awful."
Brent, who knew the signal codes better than Val, shut up fast.
"Ok Luke, following."
Val sat back in satisfaction and folded his arms. "I TOLD you I couldn't find the tapes."
Luke didn't answer. The hotel was near by, too near by, and Luke parked in front of the hotel, striding rapidly around the bonnet to reach Val as he slid out of the passenger seat and stretched, arching his back like a cat. Luke acquired hold of his hand and steered him through the front door, aware of Brent following and Steve taking over the truck. The lift seemed to take forever to arrive. Several worried eyes from the reception desk caught Luke's as he waited, Val singing absently to himself and dancing a few steps on the spot. The doors slid open, and Luke caught a flash of someone moving, someone his height and solidly built, before he shoved Val behind him, hearing Brent's step quicken.
The guy got one step from the lift and was tackled by Luke, landing across his back and holding his arm up behind him in a submission hold, the other arm where he went to catch himself now being stepped on by Brent. Steve appeared at a run and knocked a stunned Val against the wall, covering him with his body.
Val leaned around Steve, staring with wide eyes as the manager came at a run, hotel security hot on his heels. The guy would have been yelling for the police if he'd had any air left in his lungs, or was able to get the grimace of pain removed from his face.
Luke's breath was hot against the guy's ear. "One wrong move -"
"Mr. McNeil! McNeil, that's John Rowe, our maintenance man!"
Luke grabbed a hand around to the front of the man's uniform, then dug in the pocket and jerked out the ID. And stood up, releasing his hold.
"You might want to wear your ID where I can see it, especially if you intend getting that close to Mr Quentin. NOT smart."
"I'm sorry Mr McNeil." the manager looked terrified. Several receptionists rushed to help Brent get the wheezing Mr Rowe to his feet.
Luke brushed off his hands and fixed the man with a glare.
"The regulations are quite clear. This lift is EMPTY when Mr Quentin uses it, that's part of the contract with the hotel."
"I'm sorry, we weren't expecting you back quite so-" The manager found himself talking to empty air as Luke took Val's arm and steered him into the lift.
Val jerked his arm free and gave his lover a hard look as the doors slid closed, aware of Brent and Steve's expressions. He kept his mouth shut until the doors opened once more and Luke unlocked the door to their suite, leaving the other two members of the team to take up their positions outside. Then as Luke locked the door behind them, he put his hands on his hips, glaring his bodyguard down.
"Do you want to tell me what that was all about?"
"Nothing." Luke said flatly. "Just a stupid move by someone who hadn't read the-"
"Bullshit." Val interrupted flatly and indelicately.
"Sit," Luke ordered, pointing at the couch.
Val started to harness his flat E screech but was interrupted by a gorilla in no mood to argue.
Val huffed and flopped down on the appointed couch, sighing loudly. Luke paid no attention, immediately going to the box that held their tapes. It only took one look to determine that the current tapes Val had been working on, and which HAD been in the truck, were now missing. He keyed his radio.
"Steve, McNeil. Check the truck for the current tapes, should be labeled Session 24 and Session 25. Report immediately."
"Steve, out," was his reply. Luke's gnawing was becoming more intense and he jumped on the radio button as soon as it buzzed. "No tapes Luke."
"Don't take your eyes off the truck, Steve. Code Orange. I repeat, Code Orange. Channel six, check in please." He waited a moment as everyone switched channels to a more secure one. "Brad, get everyone here for a meeting in exactly one hour. I'll work on locals and we'll get everyone briefed in. McNeil out."
"You want to tell me just WHAT you're playing at?" Val demanded from the couch. Luke didn't answer. A minute later two small hands slipped under his shirt and ran up his back.
"What? What's the fuss about the tapes?"
"It looks like my truck was broken into." Luke said with an effort, calming his voice down. He heard Val's grin against his back.
"About time, it's a travelling rust bucket. Now maybe you'll let me buy you something with a decent security system to it."
"A BMW truck. Or a Range Rover."
"Over my dead body." Luke turned and linked both hands in the small of Val's back, looking down into his face. Wide blue eyes, amused at the moment, the devilry and temper of the last three hours promptly forgotten.
"Or whoever's body gets in your way?" Val suggested, glinting at him. "Beating up the maintenance staff Luke..."
"If people break rules they get jumped, they know this." Luke bent his head and kissed Val, very firmly. "In the meantime that's compromised security so we're going nowhere."
"Because your rotten truck -"
"Because someone's had access to the inside and I need to be sure it's cleared." Luke said firmly, well aware to Val this was going to look like fussing and beaurocracy, and very happy right now that he held onto that belief. He kissed Val again, more gently and a lot more thoroughly, taking his time. Val softened beneath him, his arms lifting and winding around Luke's neck, fingers sliding into his hair. Regretfully, somewhat calmed, Luke ran both hands down his back and inside his drum tight jeans.
"This is going to take a while. Why don't you have a bath, order some lunch and make yourself comfortable hmm? I'm going to hold a meeting next door, so you might as well find a movie or a book or something to do.
"I've found something I want to do" Val said silkily against Luke's neck, his hands making it very clear what he intended.
Luke's legs weakened at the touch for just a moment, before the sense of urgency of safety took over. Saying no to Val hurt, but it would hurt much worse if he weren't given the opportunity to say no again. He captured his lover's hands and kissed him hard, taking Val's breath away. "You're going to need to hang onto that feeling just a while longer sweetheart," he growled. "Business first."
"You ARE my business," Val tried again, but found himself facing away from Luke before he was finished.
"Stay away from the windows - humor me," Luke said when he heard Val start to argue. "My truck was invaded and I don't like it. If you want anything more to eat or drink, get it ordered. The door won't open again if I'm not in the room," Val's lips slipped into the perfect pout.
"It's JUST the old rustbucket! It could very well be some passerby that nicked the things, NOT having a clue it was our - your - truck. We don't have to go apeshit about -"
Luke turned around and fixed him with a VERY meaningful look. Val, despite himself, stopped. And flushed, pulling a face.
"Ok, sorry. But you don't."
"We'll talk about that after my meeting." Luke said dryly. "You were warned, Mr Quentin. And we don't know who messed with the truck, which means I'm going to take the precautions I think are necessary. Now, if you DO want anything, get it ordered."
Luke walked into the connecting room, leaving the door open with a clear sight line to Val, picking up the room service menu and dialing the phone. He would probably order enough for a small army but it would keep him busy for a while, and right now that was all Luke wanted. He picked up the small sheaf of faxes and read through them, scanning them rapidly. What he saw made his heart start to thump.
The information the police had found on Val was -
To put it mildly. Costume details. Measurements. Times, places, dates. Photographs. Videos. The list, just written in print was alarming, Luke was already itching to demand the police here immediately to go through the stuff himself. They needed to know when the photos were taken, how recent, how close.
And the truck. That was too much of a coincidence for Luke to believe in. The most recent tapes gone and nothing else touched. If this crazy could identify the truck he'd been watching for a while and he knew their day's routine too. Val was not going near another venue until they knew a great deal more about this guy and they had some real leads on him.
Glancing back at Val, who, not sorry for a break which was rare at the moment, had flopped on the sofa and was channel surfing, Luke picked up the phone and dialed Orion.
"McNeil. I'm at the hotel, we're on an orange alert, I need the police department here ASAP plus the Orion security director, I have a major security breach here."
Val ate his way through the assorted buffet that was delivered shortly before Luke and a small crowd- several of them Orion officials- vanished into the conference room next door. They always totally over reacted to the silliest things. Bored with them, Val took a book into the bathroom and settled in the bath for a long soak. He was aware when he got out, passing through the suite on the way to his bedroom, that the door to the suite was still under guard. It was one of the Orion security men, not one of their own team, and he only nodded as Val passed, but it was still an aberration and Val wondered at it. Picking up now cooled crab claws, he wandered into the bedroom and stretched out on the bed, flicking on the tv. In a while, in the sitting room, he heard voices, the conference room doors opened and people started to leave. Val got up and wandered to the door of the bedroom, watching them leave. Plenty of them. And Luke at the back, arms folded, looking grim. Dressed as he was in a loose robe which wasn't properly tied and nothing else, Val expected a sharp request to dress. As it was, at the sight of him Luke's arms unfolded and he automatically dropped a hand on Val's shoulder. Val glanced at the last of the crowd vanishing out of the suite, waited until the door shut behind them, then leaned into Luke's arms.
"That took a long time."
"Yes, it did," Luke said, pulling Val close to him for a moment, his head resting on the fair one below his chin.
"Get enough to eat?" Luke ventured.
"Food, yes," Val said, turning around to face his partner. "Why all the big wigs?"
Luke's eyes traveled around his lover's face before they settled on the eyes. Val needed to know something about what was going on, he'd be suspicious in no time and more importantly, he needed to know to be more careful. The trick was going to be telling him enough to warn him, but not scare him.
"The truck is a breach in itself." he said mildly, still thinking. "I always would take anything like that very seriously, we have to. But there is a guy we've picked up on who is acting suspiciously, and we wanted to discuss him too."
"A fan?" Val said, not particularly interested. This sort of thing happened enough that it was normal, Luke's team kept close watch on the circuit of regular fans.
"Yes. We've identified him, going to keep an eye on him, but with both events happening together we're going to need to tighten up on security for a few days."
Val pulled a face. "How MANY days....."
"As many as it takes." Luke said firmly. "We're staying on orange alert, and that means you too Mr Quentin, you're a part of this team. Understood, or do we need to go over what that means?"
"I KNOW what it means." Val pulled away from him, scowling.
Luke snagged Val's wrist and pulled him back, linking his hands in the small of Val's back to hold him still. "I think we will recap on it one more time. Orange alert MEANS......?"
"It MEANS I don't get to do ANYTHING," Val said, pouting.
"Be specific." Luke said sternly.
Sighing, Val answered. "I don't open the door to anyone, alone. I don't go anywhere without you or a team member with me and it gets planned in advance. I stay behind someone until it's clear. AND I follow directions as if my life depends on it. I GOT it," Val finished, trying to move away.
"And?" Luke prompted, not letting go. "You don't talk to.....? Or touch, or accept ANYTHING from...?"
"I live like a hermit. I GOT IT."
"From anyone. ANYONE. Not even if you know them. Unless I tell you it's ok."
Luke looked hard at Val, ignoring both the pout and the tone. Val would have to realise he was serious, he had no intention of taking ANY risks at all with his young lover until this maniac was identified and caught. Val eventually gave him a sullen nod. Luke nodded in return, keeping hold of him. "That leaves your mouth to discuss young man. I warned you what would happen if I heard any more choice words dropping from it today-"
"EVERYONE swears!" Val protested.
"You don't." Luke said sternly. "Bathroom young man, pick a corner and face it. I'll be there in a minute." The expression on his face didn't invite argument.
"Today has SUCKED." Val said bitterly, stamping towards the bathroom.
"WHY do people have to do this to me!" Val said pitifully, half an hour later, burying himself against Luke. They were sitting in the larger armchair by the window, Val still curled in Luke's lap, red eyed and still gulping slightly on the last taste of soap.
"It's the price you pay for being well known." Luke said calmly, hugging him. "You know that. People regard you as their property, and they get attached to your image. And not everyone is as well balanced as they could be. We're cancelling this afternoon's recording, we'll reschedule that for tomorrow. How about I talk to the hotel security and get the pool set up for you?"
"Will you swim WITH me?" Val asked without much hope, not looking up.
Luke kissed the top of his head, thinking it through rapidly.
"Yes, allright. Give me a minute to set it up."
Val let go and walked slowly over to the couch to settle down against the cushions, swallowing once more and pulling a face at the taste. Breaks were nice in his business, but to have one only to hide from everyone was both aggravating and saddening. He flipped the tv on, not really paying attention.
Aware of his mood and more than sympathetic, Luke buzzed the hotel front desk, checked that the pool was cleared and the corridor leading to it would be locked off, then spoke to the rest of his team who would discreetly assemble in the area while they were there. Then clicked the tv off and held out a hand to Val.
"Come on kitten. Take that look off your face, how often do you get a day off?"
"Why can't I just get a day off without lunatics," Val groused as he stood up. "The suit in the bedroom?"
"Yes, there's towels down there." Luke stood and waited for him. "I don't know why you're fed up, we've got nowhere to be, nowhere to go, no appointments to keep, and no interruptions until 9.30 tomorrow morning, you can't think of ANY way to enjoy that time?"
Val headed towards the bedroom with Luke following, shrugging off his robe and shaking his bottom suggestively, without looking back.
Luke smiled and mentally abandoned the pool idea for a time.
The recording studio- although Val wouldn't know- was searched within an inch of it's life by nine am, and no less than five of Luke's team were on duty around it when Luke and Val arrived together. Val, happy to be back at the studio and working on his latest album was charm itself, talking to everyone as the band finished it's setup in the studio. Luke roamed the halls as Val went over the last day's tapes with the sound engineer to determine whether the previous song needed any more work.
They were setting up for the next take when Val left the sound room and headed towards the studio where the band were tuning up and practicising the key changes.
The corridors were busy, lots of staff toing and froing, more musicians assembling in the second recording studio where the orchestra were setting up, and Luke's team in amongst them, all recogniseable by their headsets. Someone in a t shirt touched Val's arm, and Val paused, met by a smile and an offered cup of coffee.
"Here Mr. Quentin? Thought you might be ready for this."
"Thanks," Val said, distracted, accepting the coffee. He continued down the hall and stepped into the room where his band was assembled. There were several waves and calls, and he spent some minutes talking to them and going over the music, sipping at his coffee, before he noticed the note wrapped around it. When Luke came back in, Val gave him a brief smile, indicating the note before he pocketed it.
"Why are you needing to send me notes via other people? Especially ones I've already seen?"
Luke gave him a blank look. Val pulled the note and held it out, glancing quickly again at Luke's familiar scrawl.
"Kitten, make sure you order breakfast, Brad's on duty, I'll be back in 20 minutes"
"Val, we're ready!" The producer called.
"Okay, Val called back, handing the note to Luke. He turned immediately back to the band, the food completely forgotten.
Luke started to open the note but was distracted by the buzzing of his radio. "All clear," Brad said, indicating he was ready to take over from Luke.
"Twenty minutes," Luke said, pocketing the note. He headed down the hall and out the door to a building across the parking lot. The police were bringing some updated information for him to review.
"Mr McNeil? You can meet in that conference room," the secretary said, indicating an open door. "You're the first to arrive, can I get you any coffee?"
"No, thanks," Luke said, heading into the room. He unhooked his radio and set that on the table before remembering the note that Val had handed him. He pulled it back out of his pocket and opened it - and froze.
The note was in his handwriting allright. He'd left it for Val this morning, at five thirty, on Val's bedside table while he went out jogging. He sat, staring at it, trying to remember Val's exact words-
"Why are you needing to send me notes via other people? Especially ones I've already seen?"
He got up and headed back towards the studio at a dead run. The recording light was on, and Val was dancing behind his mike, both hands over the earphones, waiting for his cue to pick up the chorus as the orchestra swelled. Brad, standing in the doorway to watch him, gave Luke a curious look as he passed.
"What? what's the matter, you look white?"
"I need to talk to Val," Luke said firmly, heading straight into the studio amidst several comments to just wait. The band stopped one at a time lending an eerie tone to the moment, while the lead engineer punched his button and demanded to know what was going on. Val looked up in surprise when Luke's hand landed on his arm, taking off the headphones with a quizzical look.
"Where did the coffee come from?" Luke demanded.
"Coffee?" Val said, confused.
"The coffee earlier, with the note. Who handed that to you?"
"The coffee.. boy. I don't know who it was!" Val said, getting angry over what seemed to be a stupid reason for interruption.
Luke put both hands on his shoulders, keeping his voice quiet. "Who, Val?"
Val caught the tone and stopped, looking up at him. "Some guy. In a t shirt, a crew t shirt, he just came up and handed it to me."
Luke picked up his radio and keyed it, keeping his voice low.
"Seal off the building please, code red. All rooms shut the door please, we're going to do a full ID check. I've got Val, I'll keep him with me."
The security team went to work immediately, sealing off the exits while others shut the doors to the different rooms with instructions to the occupants to stay put. The lead engineer was in a foul mood because of the rescheduling the day before and the interruption to this day only made it worse.
"Would SOMEONE like to tell me what's going on?"
Luke?" Val said, anxiously.
Luke put a hand on his arm and drew Val with him, keeping him in front and close as he took him to a quiet corner of the recording studio.
"I thought I told you not to take ANYTHING from someone you didn't know? Where's the coffee?"
"There-" Val said, pointing. Luke pulled out his handkerchief, wrapped it around his hand and picked up the cup to sniff it cautiously. Then put it down separately. "Ok. Are you ok? You feel ok?"
"Yes, I'm fine! He works here, you've cleared everyone," Val snapped, his adrenaline running. "I can't live in a fucking bubble!"
Not wanting to freak him totally, Luke kept his mouth shut and picked up his radio, keying it in. "Brad, what's happening?"
"All clear here." Brad said at once. "The exits are all locked, the car park only has recognised vehicles, reception hasn't spotted anyone, we're doing ID checks in all the rooms now."
"I want the ENTIRE staff assembled and questioned, all of them, I want Val to see if he can identify them."
"Will do Luke."
The engineer burst into the room, hair and tie flying, face flushed with exasperation. .
"WILL SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT IS -"
Before he could finish he had two of Luke's team members in between he and Luke.
"Get BACK in the other room, sir," George said firmly.
"NOT until -"
"Get back in the other room before we remove you ourselves," George replied, meaning it.
The engineer took a quick measure of George and turned out of the room.
Val's mouth was dropped open, suddenly realising it had gotten seriously quickly. He hooked his hand in Luke's belt and stepped a little closer to his back. Luke glanced back at him and gave him a reassuring nod, reaching for his hand.
"It's ok kitten. Brad, where are the staff being gathered?"
"We've got them in the main office." Brad's voice answered, tinny over the radio. "we'll line them up if Val wants to try IDing the guy?"
"Ok, I'll bring him through. DON'T let anyone else leave their room. And get THAT checked." Luke added, nodding at the coffee. He glanced around their room, the orchestra and band looking anxious and handing over their badges as the other security officers went through each one in turn.
"Come on Val. Come see if you can find this guy for me."
Val followed him quietly, hearing some of the indignant remarks and excited whispers of the individuals still holed up in the different rooms. He pulled against Luke before they got to the staff room.
"What is it?" Luke asked, turning around.
"What if he's got a gun? Or tries to jump me?" Val asked in a small voice.
"No one could have brought a gun in here, and there will be at least three of us in the room. I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation," Luke lied easily, while almost knowing for sure that the guy they were looking for wasn't anywhere around.
Val didn't say anything further but he held on to Luke's hand as they walked, staying close to him down the hallway. The room where the staff were gathered was crowded, and Luke put both hands on Val's shoulders, ostensibly as reassurance, nodding through the door at Brad.
"Can you ask them to line up? no bunches. Val, do you see the guy there?"
"Their IDs are all good," Brad said, moving to give Val a clear look. "Hey, spread out. In a line please. Theyre all known employees."
Val looked carefully, then shook his head. "No. He was dressed the same, but he's not here."
"Ok." Luke said calmly. "George, Jase, IDs all clear?"
"We've searched the whole building Luke." Jase's voice answered. "Cupboards, toilets, cellars, the lot. We've got everyone in the rooms and all the IDs are good, the guy's either in the rooms or he's long gone."
"He was definitely in a crew shirt?" Luke asked Val who nodded.
"Ok. I'm going to take you right round, I want you to see if you can spot him." Luke said, steering him back and pulling the RT. "George, can you get everyone off shift back on duty and say we need a total home search, I mean with a toothcomb, and then get back to me."