Christabel loathed the cover of her debut album. The photographer had spent hours trying to get her to simper for the camera just so, because it seemed that most people who bought recordings of women performing classical music expected the performers to look like courtesans. While she had learned from the best in the business at the Garden of Earthly Delights, she had no interest in teasing yuppies who thought themselves superior because they fantasized about classically-trained soloists instead of pop divas. The photographer had eventually given up, and made do with a photo Christabel standing at the center of a blizzard in jeans, a red brocade corset complete with whalebone, and black patent leather spike heels meeting the camera with an icy stare as she held her bow poised to wrench a chord from an electric violin. She would have preferred to not be on the cover, but the record label's marketing people had overruled her.
She had only herself to blame, though. The album had been her idea. Though the New York Philharmonic /had/ offered her a seat in the first violins section before the conductor's habit of demanding inappropriate favors of young women in exchange for a favorable recommendation had been exposed and the conductor brought down by the Phoenix Society, the orchestra's directors had rescinded the offer afterward.
This was fine with Christabel; she had taken to reviewing updated dossiers of Morgan Cooper and Naomi Bradleigh in her spare time over the past year and come to the conclusion that while Morgan might appreciate classical music, he was not the sort to spend his evenings at the symphony or the opera. If she was going to get involved with Morgan and start a band with him, it would be a pain to also cope with the Phil's grueling schedule of rehearsals and performances. Furthermore, it gave her another angle for marketing herself as a solo performer. /Christabel Crowley: too hot for the New York Philharmonic./
The downside was that the record label was determind to make an idol of her, despite her being a violinist rather than a vocalist. It was the reason behind the photography. It was also the reason she was sitting at a merch table in the Flaming Telepath, a bar in Brooklyn with a reputation among discerning metalheads, flogging copies of /Shattered Harmonies/ after staring down crowds who couldn't decide whether to try booing her off the stage or demanding that she show her tits while waiting out her set so they could hear the night's headliners.
"The crowds are always tough when you're a warm-up act nobody's ever heard of." Naomi Bradleigh had warned her in between takes; they had met while Christabel was recording her album and Naomi was doing guest vocals on a bonus track for Seiten Taisei's first album, /Monkey Business/. "And there's always going to be at least one bloke who thinks it's clever to mistake you for a stripper. It's hard not to take it personally, but it's sort of a trial by ice. When you're just the warm-up act, nobody gives a toss about you. But if you become a headliner, then everybody brags about how they were your biggest fans before you made it big.
"Excuse me." Christabel looked up and saw a tall man with a dancer's build standing in front of her. He was wearing a Magician, Heal Thyself t-shirt, and had his shimmering blue-black hair bound into a tail that spilled over one shoulder and down his chest. His slit-pupilled eyes were the green of the forests surrounding the Garden of Earthly Delights. He held a bottle of beer in each hand, and one still had its cap on. "I know this is forward, but after the performance you gave earlier I figured you could use a beer."
"Why, thank you," said Christabel, surprised as much by this stranger's consideration as his generosity. Not only had he bought her a beer, but thought to leave it capped so that she could safely drink it. "Have we met?"
"Not in person, I but remembered your name from work." He held out his hand. "I'm Morgan Cooper, and while I'm sorry things didn't work out for you with the New York Philharmonic, it looks like you landed on your feet."
"I suppose I did."
"Yeah," Christabel wrapped the hem of her t-shirt around the cap and twisted it off. After a long pull from her bottle, she set it down on the table. "I try to ignore the booing; I figure they do it to everybody they haven't heard of."
"Pretty much. I got the same treatment at an open mic event last week."
"Did anybody tell you to take off your clothes?"
Morgan laughed. "Somebody's grandma wanted a cheap thrill. Probably would have done it anyway, since the stage lights were hotter than I expected."
"Oh, muses, yes. I hadn't expected that. It was never that bad playing in an orchestra."
Morgan eyed the stack of LPs. "Is that your album?"
"What do you think?"
He produced his wallet. "I think I'd like a copy. A shirt, too, if you have one in extra-large."
Christabel smiled behind the mouth of her bottle. "Should I autograph the LP?"
"I'd like that. You're good live, and I want to know what you sound like in the studio."
"Just a moment." Having had a slightly wicked idea, she reached into her purse for her lipstick. Once she had applied it, she unwrapped a copy of /Shattered Harmonies/, pulled out the record in its paper sleeve, and set about giving Morgan something she hoped would prove more memorable than an autograph. "Here you go."
He tucked the LP under his arm. "Thank you."
"Thanks for the beer," said Christabel, her gratitude not part of the act. Furthermore, now that she thought of it, she had seen Morgan in front but off to the side, listening intently to her performance. He had not been one of those booing her or demanding a striptease. "And for actually listening earlier."
Morgan shrugged. "When I heard you were performing, I looked you up. Your band, too. I recognized your bass player, Marcus Phillips."
"Oh, so you play bass? I had you pegged for a guitarist." According to the dossier, Morgan played both, but Christabel wasn't about to admit her possession of such information. Nor would she admit to knowing that his primary instrument was some kind of hybrid that allowed a musician to play bass lines with one hand and melody with the other. "Too bad I wasn't at that open mic."
He turned away, as if embarrassed. "I play both, but I've still got a lot to learn."
"I'd like to hear you play sometime." It was risky, but Morgan had not looked at the protective sleeve of his new LP and seen the rather explicit clue she had left for him there.
"I'm sure I'll be at the next open mic," said Morgan, and she found herself wanting to reach up, grab this clueless git by the collar of his leather jacket, pull him down, and snog some sense into him. "Thanks again for being here tonight. I enjoyed seeing you play."
After spending the rest of the night fuming and counting the seconds until she could pack up and get the hell out of there, the last thing Christabel wanted was to report her progress, or her lack thereof, to Isaac Magnin.
"Was he there tonight?"
"Yes, Isaac, he was there. He actually listened to me play, and then brought me a beer while I was attending the merch table and failing to flog copies of my record. He even had the sense to leave the cap on so I'd have no reason to suspect foul play."
"That sounds like a good start. Did he buy a copy of your album?"
"Yeah. Said he wanted to know what I sounded like in the studio." She let out a frustrated huff. "We had a nice, polite chat. I found out from him that he plays, and told him I'd like to listen. You know what he did?"
"The transcript from your feed just came through. I suppose that wasn't quite the result you hoped for."
That, Christabel thought, was the understatement of the century. While it might have been unreasonable for him to say he wanted to hear what she sounded like in the bedroom, knowing it was unreasonable to be miffed about it hours after the fact did not stop her from being annoyed that after she all but asked him out all he did was say he'd be at the next open mic. "Are all the einherjar this dense?"
Magnin shrugged on his side of the video call. "Some are much worse."
"Small mercies, eh?"
"But you autographed his copy of Shattered Harmonies, right?"
"And wrote down my network address. I even left a kiss. How much more obvious do I have to be?"
"I think I see why you're annoyed. You spent a lot of time learning how to appeal to men, and you thought it would be easier to get into his head."
"I think I'm already there, but he doesn't see me the way I need him to see me. He's not one of those guys who fantasizes about getting into bed with every vaguely attractive female musician whose albums they've collected."
"That was in the dossier," said Isaac, gently chiding her.
"We both know the dossier is only 95% reliable."
"Fair enough. What will you do now?"
"I guess I could watch for open mic events in the area and try to catch Morgan at one. Just please don't tell Elisabeth that I finally met the guy and couldn't even get a definite maybe out of him."
A text message came from an address Christabel did not recognize. «I'm listening to your album and wondering how personally I should take the kiss you left on my copy. —Morgan»