Rio frowned. "There's not much to tell about him. He just sort of appeared. Almost no background information. Kind of a mysterious character."

Jerrica, sitting at her desk at Starlight Music, tapped the end of her pen on papers Rio had given her about Underground. "There has to be something. People don't just come out of nowhere."

"Jem did," he reminded her.

She gave him a quick, irritated glance. "Don't you think about anything else?" she snapped, her mouth running away with her. She instantly regretted the words, but it was too late. Rio's temper flared.

"Well, you're awfully interested in Jared..."

"Jareth!" she corrected.

Rio gave her a look of smug triumph.

"Just because I care enough about the competition to learn his name does not mean that I'm interested in him! I haven't even met him yet!"

But he was already walking out of the office. He slammed the door. As usual.

Jerrica sat down at her desk and sighed. Her eyes went immediately to the information Rio had collected about Jareth. He was right, there wasn't much there. Only that he was thirty-five, born in England, and came to America very recently. Jerrica smiled to herself. No one even knew Jem's age and birthplace. She at least had that much to go on.

Well, if she really wanted to know about him, there was only one thing to do. She reached for the phone, about to call Underground Music and set up a meeting.

And the phone rang as her hand touched the receiver.

Startled, she jumped, then reached over and picked it up by the third ring. "Hello?"

Ms. Benton? Jerrica Benton?" The voice that drifted into her ear was honey sweet and lightly accented with almost as much teasing as English.

"Yes?"

"This is Jareth Trevale, CEO of Underground Music...I do hope you've heard of it."

Jerrica felt as if she'd had the wind knocked out of her. She sat there for a second, and then stammered, "Yes, of course I've heard of you, it, I mean..."

He was chuckling on the other end. She blushed. Come on, Jerrica, get a grip. You're not a giggling fourteen year old. Be a businesswoman...

"What I meant to say is," she tried again, "Of course I've heard. And I'm very interested in knowing about what kind of company you've started."

"You want to know if I'm going to do things the way Stinger Sound does, is that it?"

Jerrica breathed a relieved sigh. "Exactly."

"I've met Eric Raymond. I can't say I was impressed. No, I do not think I shall be doing business in his inimitable style."

She smiled. "It's good to know. Perhaps we can have lunch sometime? Are you free tomorrow? I know a great Italian place..."

There was a silence on the other end. Jerrica panicked. Was she being pushy? Did he know the truth... that she meant more than just business?

"Ms. Benton, I would be delighted...but I am not free. You understand, the responsibilities of being...well, so many things at once."

"Of course." She tried to hide her disappointment.

"But I'm sure you'll be seeing me soon. Until then...au revoir."

"Goodbye," she answered, letting the phone slip into its cradle.

Jareth smiled, musing again. Jerrica and her secrets. What did she hide? She was the real mystery woman, not the Jem that her fiancee was so tortured about.

A goblin entered his shiny, modern office. "What is it, Snitch?"
he sighed. "And what are you doing out of costume?"

"That's the trouble, yer majesty. I seems to 'ave lost the spell."

"Oh, come here, I'll give you another." Jareth waved a hand, and the goblin
instantly turned into a person. A not-very-quick-looking young man, but a young man nonetheless.

When it left, Jareth slumped in his seat. Underground Music was little more than a mock-up of his own castle. What he longed for was a new life, a life where he wasn't being depended on by witless goblins. He had dreams of lights and stages and crowds that swayed to his music and lifted their voices to sing his songs. Jareth, the Goblin King, was starstruck.

 

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