Chapter 15

“This mission just got a hell of a lot more impossible.”- Ben Stiller aka Tom Crooze



“Where the hell is the music?!” Justin shouted out, his muscles cramping from being stuck in the same pose for more than twenty minutes.

            A shout answered him. “Hold on just a sec, we’re looking for it!”

            All the guys let out an exasperated sigh. It was drizzling lightly around them, and although it wasn’t exactly chilly, the dampness from the weather felt like it was seeping into their bones. The raised canopy protected the stage from the rain, but not the gloom of the day. But they had already wasted too much time on “frivolous activities,” according to Dominic, and couldn’t risk giving up another rehearsal.

            Joey started jumping in place, swinging his arms wildly in an effort to occupy himself.

            Chris caught his actions and began jumping himself, trying to get a better hang-time than his friend. Soon, their mini contest had escalated into a full-out competition.

            “I bet I can touch that cord,” Joey claimed, pointing to a stray cord hanging a little more than ten feet over the stage.

            “Oh, no way my fat-feathered friend,” Chris disagreed. “You can’t even make all your dunks on a regulation hoop!”

            “Shaddup, Christopher. I can do it, believe me.”

            “Nope, not gonna happen,” Chris maintained, shaking his head stubbornly.

            “Put your money where your mouth is!” Joey demanded. “Fifteen bucks says I can get the cord.”

            “Haha,” Chris mocked. “I’m always in the mood to make some extra cash. Let’s make it an even twenty, and we got a deal!”

            “Twenty it is! I will be loving it when you pay up,” Joey replied with anticipation.

            Chris turned to the others. “You guys in? It’s easy money, I’m telling you! Everyone knows how Joey can’t dunk worth anything. Except a donut,” he snickered.

            “I’m in!” JC laughed. “This should be pretty interesting.”

            “Too rich for my blood,” Lance refused, throwing his hands out in front of him. “I’m just not a gamblin’ man.”

            “Sure thing, cowboy,” Joey said, rolling his eyes. He caught Justin’s curious glance. “What about you, J? Don’t you want to see me embarrass Chris? That’s always fun!”

            Justin observed the way his friends were acting like nothing had happened the day before. Did it even matter to them? “No, I’ll pass,” he declined.

            “Your loss,” Joey shrugged. He backed up a few steps on the stage, readying himself for his leap. Behind his back, Chris motioned for a drum roll, and the percussion section quickly complied. Justin watched the event with interest, though he tried to hide it.

            “Okay, here I go!” Joey announced before beginning his run. He approached the dangling cord in a traditional lay-up fashion, and jumped with all his might. His arm reached and reached-

            Everyone stared with their breaths held, until-

            “Oh my God!”

            “Yes! Who touched it?! Who touched it?!” Joey shouted, pumping his fist up and down. “Take that you jerks,” he said, reaching his hand out to Chris and JC. “Now pay up.”

            Chris closed his gaping mouth and grudgingly reached into his pocket. “I can’t believe it. Impossible. I refuse to believe it!”

            Joey grabbed the twenty-dollar bill from his slack hand and took JC’s money too. “Tough luck. I believe I can fly,” he began singing in a gratingly loud voice. “I believe I can touch the sky. I think about it every night and day, spread my wings and fly away.”

            “Hey, that reminds me,” Lance spoke up. “What happened to the music? You know, the reason we’re all here in the first place.”

            They all turned around to stare at the sound control panel, waiting for an explanation. A couple of minutes later, Tim walked up to the stage.

            “It’s gone,” he said disbelievingly. “All our tapes are gone.”

            “Then get the back-up tapes out,” JC said. “Problem solved.”

            “Yeah, well, it’s not as simple as that. We looked for the back-ups too. And they’re missing.”

            “What?!” Justin exclaimed. “How is that even possible? I thought we kept more than one back-up recording of everything. They can’t all be gone. What about the ones that you keep in the safebox on the bus?”

            Tim shook his head, frustrated. “Gone. We checked the safebox and there’s nothing there.”

            Lance exchanged a glance with Joey. “Wait. So the music’s missing, and someone got into the safebox and stole the back-ups. Doesn’t this mean whoever’s sabotaging the tour is still around? Lillian wasn’t guilty!”

            Tim moaned and scratched his head, the stress overwhelming him. “We don’t have time for this now. What’s important is the damn music. How will be put on a concert tomorrow with no music?! Thompsen!” he shouted, turning away and running off.

            Lance looked at Justin. “It wasn’t Lillian, then,” he prompted his friend.

            Justin stared into space, deep in thought. “Maybe,” he assented. “Maybe.”

            Lance was ready to punch Justin, if it would force him to open his eyes and get past his stubbornness. But he was interrupted by a frazzled-looking Dominic.

            “You guys can go. There’s no use in rehearsing when we don’t have music.”

            Chris looked at his friends enthusiastically as they climbed down from the stage. “Now we can get started on the party!”

            “What party?” Justin asked, lost. He was still preoccupied with the idea of Lillian being innocent. What happens then?

            “We’re throwing a party tonight at nine,” Joey explained. “In the third banquet room. It is gonna be hot! Everyone’s invited. Maybe we can get some people off the streets or something. That would be cool.”

            “Yeah,” Chris agreed. “In fact, I’m gonna go so far as to say it will be crunkin’.” He ignored the others’ astonished looks at hearing him say the forbidden word. He didn’t like Justin’s obstinacy, but he was his friend, after all. And he hated to see him look so down.

            Justin immediately beamed at hearing his word. “I knew you would get with the times eventually, old man,” he joked.

            “So are you coming?” JC asked.

            Justin hesitated before answering. “Actually, I will come. If you promise that it’ll be crunkin’.”

            “Definitely crunkin’,” Lance smiled. “Definitely.”


*                       *                       *                       *


            “That sucks,” Karen said sympathetically, handing Lillian another tissue.

            Lillian accepted it gratefully, roughly wiping away the fresh set of tears. “Thanks,” she murmured.

            They were sitting in Lillian’s newly single room, and Lillian had just finished explaining what had happened during her short-lived internship.

            “So what are you going to do?” Karen asked. She really had no idea what to tell her depressed friend. She had never been in such a situation before. Poor Lillian. Doesn’t ever have a crush, and when she finally succumbs to the opposite sex. . . something like this happens.

            Lillian shrugged. “I don’t know,” she whispered tearfully, never feeling as lost as this. “I was kind of hoping you’d be able to offer some advice.”

            Karen smiled gently. “I don’t have any advice this time. But maybe I can help you sort out your emotions, if nothing else.”

            Lillian nodded eagerly, ready for her friend’s words of wisdom.

            “I think you love him,” she stated bluntly.

            “What?” Lillian replied, taken aback. She hadn’t been expecting her to say that, of all things. What happened to ‘This is just a phase’ or ‘Crushes never last long’?

            “You love him,” Karen repeated compassionately. “I’ve never seen anyone become so affected by another person. I noticed you the other day. You were listening to the radio, and when an ‘N Sync song came on you didn’t turn it off like someone else would have. You sat there and listened to the whole thing with this peaceful look on your face.”

            “No, I didn’t,” Lillian immediately denied. “I was just-“

            “You were just thinking about Justin,” Karen supplied for her. “You were remembering all the good things- and bad things- that happened. Don’t lie to yourself.”

            She nodded reluctantly. “But I was just reminiscing.”  She didn’t think that her feelings for Justin were so obvious. It was discomfiting. It made her feel completely vulnerable.

            “Of course you were. But there’s a difference between reminiscing and crying nonstop for days. And from what you’ve told me about Justin, which is not that much, you are obviously in love with him. Even when you talk about his bad habits, like burping or acting immature, your face just shows everything.”

            “It hurts so much,” Lillian explained, referring to her constant tears. It felt like Justin’s words and actions had torn her soul away from her body, and now she was just an empty shell without it. How had a simple infatuation escalated into this?

            “I know it hurts,” Karen comforted, putting an arm around her friend. “Love always hurts the most.”


*                       *                       *                       *


            “Everyone at the club is jumpin’, jumpin’,” Justin sang to the table.

            JC rolled his eyes at his friend’s ebullience, but couldn’t help smiling. He was glad that Justin was enjoying himself. There had been way too much angst lately. He noticed Lance staring off into the crowded banquet room.

            Suddenly, Lance began rubbing his head, then tugged twice on his left ear, and once on his right ear. He finished by tapping his chin. Justin looked at him strangely, catching the odd motions. Lance instantly cleared his throat uncomfortably and directed his embarrassed gaze down at the table in front of him.

            Justin shrugged off his friend’s weird behavior. Maybe an allergic reaction to something. He resumed humming to himself, for once content to watch the action on the dance floor instead of participating. Various crew members were shaking their stuff, accompanied by a stereo that had been quickly hooked up to some extra speakers. Everyone had dug into their own personal CD collections to contribute to the impromptu party. And it was pretty fun, a good way to take their minds off more serious things. He shook his head when one of the more ‘serious things’ tried to push into his thoughts. He didn’t want to think of that now.

            Noticing some dust on his pant cuff, he reached down to brush it off. As he was still leaning down, a pair of shapely legs came into view. He quickly sat back up to see who was in front of him.

            “J, this is my friend Theresa,” Joey quickly introduced, motioning to the vivacious redhead. She grinned and grabbed Justin’s hand.

            “It’s a great song. Wanna dance?” she invited brazenly.

            Justin was a little reluctant. He wasn’t exactly in a dancing mood. “I don’t really-“ he began, before catching the glares of his friends. “Uh, actually, sure.” He stood up and allowed Theresa to pull him towards the other couples moving to the music.

            Behind his back, Lance gave the other three a thumbs-up, and a sly wink. “Let phase two begin,” he intoned solemnly.

            Chris immediately left the table and headed toward the double doors leading out of the banquet room. He had already spotted his target, and made a beeline towards it. Or rather, her.

            “Elaine! I was wondering where you ran off to,” he beamed, intercepting her after she left a conversation with some technicians and stagehands.

            She looked at him, a little startled at seeing him appear so happy to see her. But she quickly erased the surprise from her face and smiled flirtatiously at him.

            “Hey, Chris. You wanted to see me?” she asked, batting her curled lashes.

            He forced his stomach to keep from heaving at her obvious display of syrupiness. “Uh, yeah, actually I wanted to see if you cared to dance.”

            “Sure!” she accepted, taking a firm grip on his arm. “I can get my groove thang on!”

            “Shoot me now,” he muttered, swiftly pasting an innocent expression on his face when she turned to look at him questioningly.

            “Did you say something?”

            “Yes, I said ‘Show me how’,” he pronounced carefully. “JC’s always saying that I need to work on my dancing.”

            She smiled widely at him and burst into a fit of movement. That’s what she calls dancing?! Looks like she learned from a stripper.

            “Wonderful,” he whispered under his breath, resigned to his fate.

            “What?” she questioned, finally stopping her movements.

            “Sounds like Hole,” he quickly covered. “You know, the band with Courtney Love.”

            “Oh!” She cocked her head to listen to the Destiny’s Child song. “Yeah, it does sound like Hole!”

            Chris ignored the stupid comment and started dancing in a pocket of available space, with Elaine quickly followed suit. He saw her sneaking glances at Justin, who was dancing a few yards away. When she was preoccupied looking at his friend, Chris caught Joey’s eye and snapped his fingers twice.

            Joey grinned and rose from the table, dancing his way over to Justin and Theresa.

            “Hey, having fun?” he asked, trying not to laugh as he saw Justin attempting to put some distance between him and Theresa, who was busy grinding into him.

            Justin looked relieved at the appearance of his friend. “Joey! Yes, lots of fun. Why don’t you dance now? I’m getting kind of tired.”

            “Oh no,” he refused with a fat smile. “I was just making the rounds. I’m not really in the mood right now, you know how it is.”

            Theresa grabbed Justin down to her, practically shoving her cleavage in his face. Joey took advantage of his friend’s current distractions and motioned across the dance floor to Chris.

            His older friend acknowledged the wave and subtly herded his own overexcited partner to join the others. Finally! I thought Elaine was gonna start swinging on a pole any minute.

            “Let me introduce everyone,” Joey grinned. “This is Theresa, and Theresa, this is Elaine.”

            When they were standing only a couple of feet away, Elaine’s eyes narrowed into angry slits at the sight of Theresa. The redhead was still all over Justin, her hands running through his hair.

            “You whore!” she spat out, pulling Theresa off the overwhelmed Justin.

            “Excuse me?” Theresa questioned forcefully, her hands on her hips. Elaine grabbed Justin and clung to his arm.

            “Don’t rub your fleas on my man!” Elaine glared.

            Justin threw her hand off him and interrupted Theresa before she could retort a proper insult. His blood was boiling at Elaine’s domineering ways. And her completely false claim. This was the last straw.

            Your man?! The last time I checked, I wasn’t your man,” he exclaimed, turning to Elaine. “We are not together! How many friggin’ times do I have to tell you?! Leave me alone, or else you’re going to seriously regret it.”

            After finishing his threat in a lowered voice, he let out an exasperated groan and quickly left the banquet room. Theresa shrugged at her missing partner, satisfied that Elaine had been brushed off, and started dancing with Chris and Joey. Elaine stubbornly ran after Justin’s retreating back.

            Joey caught her action and nodded to JC’s interested gaze. JC reached over to the empty chair next to him and grabbed a small object before racing outside. As soon as JC left, Joey turned back to Chris and Theresa.

            “Our job here is done. Now we can party!” he whooped, and immediately received answering shouts from the two in front of him.

*                       *                       *

            “Don’t even try following me, Elaine,” Justin warned, pivoting around to glare at her after he heard footsteps behind him. His whole mind was a jumble of thoughts. She’s annoying as hell. Lillian was never this annoying. Why am I thinking about Lillian? Stop thinking about Lillian!

            Elaine halted in her pursuit and noticed the angry glint in his stormy blue eyes. It was the angriest she had ever seen him. Not wanting to risk his wrath any further, she nodded and left him quickly.

            Justin gave a relieved sigh at seeing her leave him alone, and strode over to the elevators. He reached out and jammed the button repeatedly, although he knew it wouldn’t make the elevator come any quicker. As soon as the doors slid open he darted inside and pressed the button to close the doors. When he was finally alone, he leaned his forehead on the cool metal interior and took calming breaths, trying to focus his thoughts on something mundane and harmless.

            “Blue skies,” he muttered to himself, looking for a distraction. “Lillian wore a blue dress at the club. No! Um, skies. We stared at the sky together that night. Don’t think about her!”

            He shouted in frustration and punched the red emergency stop button. As the elevator halted he sank down to the floor, clutching his head in his hands. Finally he stopped trying to avoid the issue. It was useless.

            I miss her. I can’t believe how much I miss her.


*                       *                       *


            Elaine walked through the hotel lobby, her steps determined. A curious pair of eyes saw that she left through the doors leading to the side parking lot. After checking what he held in his hands, JC jogged after her and into the mild night, the camcorder on.

            He trailed closely but quietly behind her as she went straight for the last bus in the caravan parked outside. She paused in front of the bus door and glanced around her. Quickly, JC ducked in back of a car and started recording her actions with his camcorder. She didn’t disappoint.

            Elaine reached into her pocket and pulling out a long pick, began working at the lock. After a few seconds, she slipped it back into her pocket and grabbed the door’s handle. It turned easily and after checking her surroundings, she slipped inside.

            JC was ecstatic. Damn, this is like Mission Impossible or something! He mentally hummed the theme song in his head, the excitement coursing through him as he followed her inside the bus.

            He stealthily crouched next to the driver’s seat and silently filmed her. She went to the filing cabinets near the back of the bus. Filing cabinets? he thought to himself, confused for a second. Then he realized which bus they were in. The management one. Where all the head honchos stayed when they were on the road.

            Yanking open one sliding drawer, Elaine flipped hurriedly through various files before picking one out. She closed the drawer and made her way off the bus, not noticing JC’s scrunched figure under the driver’s seat.

            JC looked at the cabinet another second before shrugging to himself. He turned the camcorder off and headed back to the banquet room. That was all they needed for now.



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