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Chapter 4

He switched positions and sat opposite to the chair that he had been sitting on to get a clear view of Erska and her entourage. Erska seemed to have dressed a lot casual than her friends. Not that they were in gowns, even their sweatshirts and pants had labels all over it. They seemed to be discussing animatedly over something, laughing, taking a sip of their drinks occasionally.

It was a hard job for Bastian to observe the ongoing because one - Erska seemed overly suspicious of Bastian’s presence that she was glancing from time to time undetected and two - his drink was a monstrosity from hell which required the utmost concentration.

From what he gathered, he felt that Erska was slightly simpler than her friends and they seemed to be having a good time. That wasn’t enough, of course, he has to get to know her as personally as possible in order to fulfill her deepest desires. That’s the only way anyone’s death was at peace.

Twenty minutes passed and he was getting agitated. All they seemed to do was talk and laugh. As soon as he finished the drink, he went out and decided to explore the mall a bit before he could tail her. ‘Stalking’ was not the term for what he was doing though plenty of times he had felt like a toxic ex-boyfriend.

The ceiling seemed like a far cry, the floors going on forever. It would take a millennium to explore. He surveyed the ground floor and found a book store in one corner called Lettered. Seemed pretty high class given the kind of image they were trying to present themselves as. Large shelves, green plants potted in asymmetrical jars, black metal lanterns, comfy cushions and even a space for coffee and sweet treats for readers to linger on. He pushed through the store and directly found a path to the hot bestseller collection.

Since Erska was considered ‘upcoming’, there had to be a slight presence of her somewhere. She also had the added advantage of being born in the high-class society. That eventually did mean something. But no book of hers was to be found in the rack.

“Can I help you, sir?” asked an employee who startled Bastian out of nowhere.

“Oh, umm..I’m actually searching for a book of Erska’s. I was told she was..‘upcoming’...I guess…” he dragged awkwardly, doubtful of the words rolling out his mouth.

“Erska Saphine! Oh yes, but you are searching in the wrong place. Follow me,” she said as she practically led him like a mother duck through the shelves of books.

“Here we are! I would suggest you to read Erska’s. It seems like the stereotypical romance but it isn’t, I assure you, sir. Many guys have also shown a particular interest towards it too which is a surprise but I personally think they are around her to woo her out. Anyways, we’ve set up a special place for her since she seemed to have a unique impact..” she said as she gestured him to an array of similarly printed purple covered books with random doodles on it. The title screamed in dripping white “His way. Her rules.”

Bastian picked up the nearest book to peruse through the gist of it. He was not an ardent reader himself. His attention span was very low and words made him sleepy. Lowkey couldn’t understand those who spent time reading for long hours. He had always considered that bookworms were of Herculean nature.

“Tori’s long list of dating history was starting to be a burden. Almost 30, she was no longer a coveted jewel like her younger counterparts. While those of her age were planning their weddings, she spent her nights drinking alone. Along comes Daniel, determined to hitch off and con an unsuspecting gal. When these opposites meet, who’ll win the game? The romantic practitioner or the experienced charmer?”

Bastian immediately expressed his disapproval with a shrug. It didn’t seem any different from the typical romantic plotlines he knew.

“So, what did you think of the book?” a voice whispered near his ears.

Bastian jolted back at once, perplexed by the employee’s antics. He managed a smile on his face, not to come off rude. “Excuse me?” he asked.

“I’m sorry if I startled you. It’s just it is so easy to persuade people to like this book...I mean, it is an easily likeable book and I wondered if you are going to buy it?” she said rapidly, her eyes glittering.

“Umm the book..was ve-very good. Everyone must like it, huh?”

“Yes!! And Erska is a sweet person too!! I met her at a fan signing event and she recognizes me whenever she hangs out in Leisure!!”

Good intel.

“Does she have fan signs often?” prodded Bastian.

“Just at various books stores across Lessa but everyone knows that she’ll be mostly found at Bon Voyage. It is a niche publishing house/writer cafe. She writes a lot there but no one dares to disturb her when she’s creating art. That’s all there is..Oh! Check her social media for updates too..”

“…” he replied as he went to replace the book.

“Oh! I’m sorry! I start ranting without knowing the situation! I’ll bill the book for you.” Saying that she took the book from Bastian’s hand with a blinding smile and walked off quickly to the counter. Bastian followed her lazily and pulled out his wallet.

This ploy is costing me money. Goodness.

He was quick to leave the store, afraid that he might be duped into buying more. He pulled out his smartphone to check the time. 7:00pm.

Well, it wouldn’t hurt to check out one more place.

He grabbed the nearest taxi and rode off to Bon Voyage.

Bon Voyage was not only favoured by local but also international authors. They specialized in managing authors, their events, careful editing of their books, production and cover design. A state-of-art facility with their own manufacturing unit, designers and international publishers. They also had self- publishing services too. That’s what their pamphlets told Bastian. Yet the building’s structure did not look as gaudy. It was quite small but had enough space for an arranged selection of authors under their management, a large working space, in house cafeteria and a small library for research.

He was under the pretense of being a struggling writer who was availing their services. Not that a company would care for a weasel like him but it meant that he could interact with the employees and get to know about Erska in a professional environment.

“I’m not sure how to help you but I can suggest some online courses that we have verified for a beginner to broaden one’s experience. Maybe start there?” asked the man in a hesitant tone as he scrolled through his computer at the reception. He seemed to be the only one working. No one expected a late visitor.

Bastian looked around, scratching the back of his neck. This was not what he expected. Tiring questions. His eye caught Erska’s book on a shelf and he gestured towards it.

“Th-That book! The author!! She’s my role model!!” he exclaimed all of a sudden.

The man looked in the direction of Bastian’s finger. “ mean Erska? We are fans too.”

“Yesss!” He nodded his head fast in enthusiasm. Bastian continued, “I-I hope you don’t take this the wrong way...Just want to know if she’s a good person, you know...I mean all these people are celebrities but like in their private lives, they are all she like that? Erska?”

The man’s face stiffened in suspicion.

Bastian got up almost immediately and said, “I’m sorry. I know I talk like an idiot. Thanks for your help.” Five steps towards the door and he was stopped.

“Look, we have a lot of problematic people. They go violent and stuff..okay...we try hard to control the situation. You seem nice. But if your name pops up along with some mishap, you’re dead. Like very dead. Erska’s fans would maul you. I’m not even joking, ya hear me clearly?”

The man got so serious that Bastian started mentally noting down the consequences. “Well?” Bastian asked.

“Umm she is sweet. Doesn’t talk a lot. When she gets stressed, she goes full on rage. Absolute crankiness like nothing logical would make sense but that’s how any artist would be. They like to be perfect. So, we often adjust to their needs. But she has apologized after every ‘breakout’. Even sends us her homemade chocolates on special occasions..”

Woah. How many people have you got wrapped under your finger, dear?

“She is definitely a good person. No doubt, ” approved Bastian.

“She is, alright. Just like her mother. As soon as her mother took over, Bon Voyage - things seemed to look bright. We expanded internationally, pulled in new writers who explore a lot of controversial stuff. It is very common to see us being a hot topic in the industry. I’m very proud of being a part of Bon Voyage. We like to take different paths, away from the traditions,” he stated. Bastian could almost feel a halo glowing on his head.

Family influence is strong. Okay, Missy I’ve-Got-It-All.

“Well, a person like Erska must have friends in high places too, right?” he asked.

“Bingo! All of them are from families equivalent to the wealth of the Saphines. Birds of the same feathers flock together. Childhood buddies and still going strong. They are famously known as the ‘Cheetah Clique’. That’s majorly because of Alia, one of Erska’s friends who is a famous vlogger.”

“Uh umm thanks, I guess? I’m going to aspire to be more productive like her in the future as well as get myself into Bon Voyage!” stated Bastian positively like an overhyped crow flapping its feathers after seeing a pool of water to quench its day long thirst.

The man gestured a thumbs up in return. “I’m just going to look around,” Bastian said as he walked into the section of books, trying to calm himself. He wasn’t used to so much amount of pretentious fangirling in a day and it weakened his immune system.

The bell rang as the door opened. A black hooded figure entered. “Hey, Nate. Just came to drop off this script for the first draft. Thanks a bunch.”

The man smiled sheepishly as he held the script strangely. “No big deal. Anything for you, miss. May I know a very teeny tiny description of the story..? Ju-Just a little,” he begged with pleasing words.

“No can do, son. It has to be a secret. But when it gets released, you’ll be the first to know the spicy details. What do you say, Nate?”

“That’s an honour,” Nate replied, doing a quick salute.

As the person turned around to leave, the sight of a grey hood wearing stranger with a top knot had her feet rooted to the ground.

“You...You! How are you here?!!”

Bastian looked up, partially astounded to find a silent building being a sudden source to noise pollution. His hands froze - the book he lifted was on the floor. Wrong timing, again. Oopsie daisy.

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