Downstairs in the foyer, I glance at my watch when I hear footsteps overhead. One minute late. I’m cynical enough to think she would do that just to spite me. I know my behavior has been extreme as of late, but she wasn’t making it any easier on me.
Checking that my earpiece is in place, I push the curtain aside to survey the status of things out front. Joe and Big are getting into the black SUV behind the one waiting for E, and two other men I hired are getting into one in front.
Sandy, E’s personal assistant, is waiting by the car door talking to our driver. I take in her bright-pink glasses and large backpack she uses to carry God knows what. I’d noticed over the past couple of days that she’s very efficient, like me. Quiet, but I could sense there was a lot going on behind those colorful glasses.
I turn when I hear footsteps coming down the stairs and have to hide a small jolt. It’s the most dressed up I’ve ever seen her. She takes each step slowly, as if she has all the time in the world. My eyes home in on the different hair color immediately. Her gaze meets mine, and I spot the flash of annoyance in her eyes and the small frown on her lips. My eyes travel quickly down her petite frame of their own accord, taking note of the tight top and jeans that I know will drive her fans crazy. She looks expensive and out of everyone’s league. “You’re late.”
She’s looking in her purse for something as she walks up to me. “I know.”
Sandy suddenly appears beside me and gives E a big smile. “Ellie, I love your hair!”
“Thank you Sandy,” E replies, a little flushed. I can tell she likes the new style, too, but I don’t see any of the conceit I would have expected.
“Let’s get a picture for social media,” Sandy says, already taking out her phone.
“No, there’s no time,” I cut in.
“Good idea,” E replies, as if she hasn’t heard me.
I watch in annoyance as she fluffs her hair around her shoulders and smiles brightly for the camera. Sandy snaps a few photos and quickly gets to uploading them as we all finally walk outside.
“Are you on social media?” E asks, taking me by surprise, once she and I get settled in the backseat. Sandy sits up front with the driver.
“No.” I look out the back window to make sure that the third car is following once we pull off.
Instead of the judgment I expected, she nods. “I wasn’t, either, until I had to be. But it’s a good way to connect with my fans.”
Something occurs to me as I watch her enthusiastically wave goodbye to Harold at the front gate. “Have you gotten any messages on those accounts I should know about? Now that I think about it, I should scan them. Let me see your phone.”
She grips it in her hands. “Sandy deals with all my messages, and there is nothing there you need to see. She would have mentioned it. Right, Sandy?”
“Right.” Sandy turns around in her seat to face us. Her bright glasses fall down her nose, and she pushes them up before responding. “I promise, X. If I see anything remotely suspicious, I’ll let you know right away.”
I nod, agreeing for the time being. There are more pressing matters at hand. Along with my other observations about Sandy, I know she is a no-nonsense assistant who doesn’t have any trouble doing what she is supposed to. If only E could read a page out of that book.
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see E wringing her hands together. “Are you nervous?” The question comes out before I have time to think about it.
She glances up at me. “No, just excited. This was my favorite music store when I was a little girl. It’s…surreal that I get to sell mine here.”
“You grew up in Connecticut?” I ask, surprised.
She frowns at me as if I should already know that information. “In Norwalk, yes.”
Stunned, I turn to face her. “I grew up in Stamford.”
Her mouth drops open. “No way! I guess we have something in common after all, huh?”
She gifts me with the first genuine smile I’ve seen from her since we met, and I’m so taken aback I stare for a few seconds longer than I normally would. Angry at myself for being distracted even momentarily, I turn to stare out the window and don’t respond. After a few moments of awkward silence, she busies herself by talking to Sandy.
My phone suddenly rings, breaking the silence. After a short conversation, I lean forward to redirect the driver toward a set of side streets.
“Where are we going?” E looks at me in confusion.
“The front entrance is swamped. There’s a larger turnout than expected.”
Her mouth forms an O shape. “I hope I get to meet everyone. I thought this would just be a local crowd.”
Sandy turns around. “I think we’re officially at the point in your career where those days are behind you. Even unmarketed appearances like this one. You just sold out a four-month tour.”
A stressed expression crosses E’s face, and I feel compelled to reassure her. “Don’t worry. We’re prepared for every possibility.”
I call the rest of my security team and inform them of the change in plan just as we pull into a narrow side street. I scan the sides of the road for any movement, and my eyes home in on a lone figure by the back door.
“That’s Lynette. Her family owns the music store.”
I nod. “Stay here.”
I hop out and note that the two other security SUVs pull in behind us. I check in with the crew members already on the scene, and they inform me that everything is good to go.
Lynette eyes me warily as I approach—an expression I’m used to seeing on women. She has long blond hair and dark lipstick, and she is probably around twenty-five years old.
I stick a hand out for her to shake. “X. Head of Eloisa’s security team,” I say in way of greeting. My eyes dart around the back lot, looking for any sign of movement. Everything looks as it should be.
“Pleasure to meet you. I’m Lynette.” She gives my hand a small shake. “We’re going to open the doors in ten minutes. Is Ellie ready?”
E hops down from the SUV. I guess it would have been too much to ask to follow my instruction to stay put. I make sure she sees the frown on my face before grabbing the handle on the back door.
The two women follow me inside, chattering away while I scope out the scene. I nod to the guards lingering by the front entrance, letting them know it’s go time. The music store is nothing more than a quirky storefront. A small, boxlike room with rows of used CDs and even a section for cassettes. Old posters of eighties rock bands and folk artists dot the walls, and a worn red rug covers the floor. I’m unimpressed.
I turn toward Lynette. “We’re going to let five people in at a time. No more than fifteen seconds with each person.”
E frowns. “Fifteen seconds? That’s barely any time at all.”
Thinking quickly, I play toward her emotions. “It’s the only way we’d be able to get through everyone.”
She nods reluctantly and takes a seat at a table set up in the middle of the room. Sandy enters through the back hallway alongside Joe and Big, who are carrying two boxes filled with studio photographs of E.
“Showtime!” Joe says, bending down to give E a loud kiss on her cheek. I can’t help but wonder at the nature of that relationship. I’ll make it a point to find out. Joe goes over to Sandy and tries to kiss her cheek as well, but she ducks out of the way just in time. She glares at him and adjusts her glasses before taking the seat beside E. Hmm.
“Thank you so much for doing this,” Lynette says, giving E a tight squeeze.
E leans back into the hug. “Thank you,” she replies emphatically. “I only wish your dad was able to come. I miss him!”
Lynette smiles warmly. “He’s hoping to stop by later. He wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
They continue to chat quietly as I conduct one final run-through to make sure everything inside the store is in place.
“Where’s Rob?” E asks me.
“Not coming,” I tell her. “He’s hammering out some details for the tour.” I peek outside and take a deep breath, noting the sheer size of the crowd. “Showtime.”