The long meeting room was dimly lit. The walls were covered in soundproof panels that were covered in a harsh fabric of dark blue-green. They hung like windows into nothing. There were no real windows.
This served to focus attention upon the long, rectangular table that dominated the room. It had a rich, pearwood surface, full of bronzed burgundy veins and a varnish so thick and blemishless that it reflected the silhouette of every black leather chair, and the vague countenance of each person seated around it.
A grand piano was being played with bright and quiet care, lifting forth a four-part harmony that sauntered through a ballad from cadence to cadence. The shiny black behemoth of an instrument sat beyond the head of the table. There was no sheet music upon its face. Every note was perfectly in tune, too well-calibrated, such that it almost sounded digital, were it not for the subtle imperfections created by the pianist. The tiny mistakes built upon themselves gradually, and it became clear that they were intentional -- to build a up to something without a loud crescendo.
Many seats at the table were vacant, especially those furthest from the piano and closest to the windowless twin grey doors with their translucent push-bars. The doors held fast beyond the foot of the table, waiting for someone to pull them open from the other side.
Nobody did. Then.
Of all the black leather chairs, horizontal stripes of pale grey Velcro. It would seem that all the chairs possessed these stripes, but kept them covered by a removable strip of black leather that Velcro'd over it. These two chairs sat opposite each other. They were occupied by the youngest of the adults in the room.
One was dressed entirely in American Apparel, giving off the look of a young hipster behind smart, rectangular glasses and a bent nose. He was tall and awkwardly hunched over a typed document of jot-notes.
The other young man had a thick, tight wool hoody with thick horizontal bars of black and grey. The hood was down, and his shag of hair was dyed a charcoal black, still wet from a shower. A patinaed copper ring hung from the bridge of his nose, and his left eyebrow was pierced with silvery sharp cones protruding above and below the brow. He had a square jaw and a thick neck. His broad shoulders and pronounced pectorals were intimidating. With every movement of his arms, his biceps seemed to flex unnecessarily. An over-abundance of harsh deodorant hung around him in an invisible cloud.
Beside him, sat a bleach blond late-twenty-something wearing a jean jacket. There was a digital camera in front of her, sitting on the table. To the young man with the bent nose, who watched her every time he looked up from his notes, she seemed awkward and out of place. Every so often she'd fidget nervously as if she really had to use a restroom.
Finally, one of the grey doors opened. Eighteen heads turned to look and see who it was. For a moment, a brief look of disappointment flickered across their faces as a younger woman entered in a white lab coat.
It was at that moment that the pianist played a deceptive cadence, when expected to his lingering ballad. His head, the nineteenth head, had never turned away from the keys of the piano.
However, the other door opened just over a second later, and an older woman in a white lab coat entered. She was muttering to herself under her breath.
Professor Gregory, unfashionably late, thought the young man with the bent nose and rectangular navy blue glasses. As usual. But who's the rookie?
As the professor walked slowly down one side of the room toward the empty chair closest to the head of the table, the music matched her pace and then playfully danced high and low in a sequence of arpeggios before sounding out a faintly heard perfect cadence right as the professor tucked in her chair.
Opposite the professor sat the director's administrative assistance, a laptop in front of him ready to write down everything everyone said and did over the course of the meeting.
The man at the piano was no taller than five foot six inches, and his moustache was so triangular that it gave his nose the look of a wind-up metronome. He walked swiftly to the black leather chair at the head of the table. Though the chair was no larger than the others, it looked larger with him in it, and that seemed to give him a commanding presence far greater than the intensity in his dark blue eyes and grayish black hair.
"Stephanie Faber," he began, without turning directly to any particular woman at the table, "why are you late?"
The young woman in the lab coat cleared her throat. "My apologies, Director Guiscard. Something pertinent to this meeting came up. You will hear of it once other matters have been dealt with, and those not privileged to the full extent of our project have been dismissed.”
At this, the woman in the jean jacket gave a fake smile.
“Very well, Miss Faber,” said Director Guiscard, his brow slowly unfurrowing. The little man's voice was thick with a French accent that distinguished him from everyone else in the room.
The tall young man with the glasses was unable to guess whether the director's accent was Parisian or Quebecois.
“Gavin, did the paparazzi flash mob force him to leave the dorm room according to plan?”
The young man looked up and down the table at the director before speaking. “It took a little longer than you wanted, sir, but it worked like a charm. I was surprised that security let so many young girls in at once.”
Director Guiscard nodded. “Where did 'e flee to?”
“The parking lot. I gave him the keys. He tried to continue studying in my car, with his iPhone in the stereo's terminal. As I've noted before, he needs music to study. I don't mind, unless I'm trying to nap. I bought ear plugs though. But they don't--”
“Yes, it is a bad studying 'abit. Speaking of bad 'abits, we're not 'ere to discuss your naps, Agent Vasser.”
“Yes sir,” said Gavin, face reddening as he looked down at his papers. His eyes became lost in the typed notes in front of him.
The room fell silent.
“Well?” said the director.
Someone nudged Gavin Vasser in the side.
“Oh, right!” he said much too loudly.
“What 'appened next? Don't tell me our subject's frustrations ended there!”
“No sir!” reported Gavin. “They swarmed him, leaving hand prints and breath marks all over my old Volvo.” He smiled at that. His teeth and the sides of his well-rested eyes were nearly as white as the papers in front of him. “He signed one autograph without getting out. Then he opened a door, pushing some of them away, and bolted for his motorcycle. No time for his helmet. As he ran, he dropped the autograph. The fans fought over it, and from the security footage it looks as if they accidentally tore it to pieces as he got away.”
“Did he go to the library?” asked Professor Gregory. “He had his iPhone, right?”
“No, it was left in my car. I... ummm... I have it here,” said Gavin.
“What is it, boy? I can tell you're not telling us something,” said Guiscard.
Gavin felt awkward being addressed as 'boy' by a man nearly a foot shorter than him. “His musical tastes have changed. Or should I say, he has deleted many songs from his playlist. I have a list of them here.” He took the last page of his notes and passed it down the table.
It stopped in the hands of Gavin's media studies professor who scanned it with an intimate look that seemed to suck all the knowledge he could from it. Then it continued its journey down to the head of the table, to Director Guiscard who did not know what to make of it, and simply looked back at Gavin.
“Hmmm...” was all the media studies professor could say at first. “Fax it to my office, Director, and I'll have an analysis report to you within twenty four hours, though I have many essays to mark at the moment.”
“If 'e didn't go to the library,” began Director Guiscard, “then where did 'e go?”
“The Pan,” put in Stephanie, the new girl.
“Isn't that the club on the edge of campus that you young'ns go to?” Professor Gregory asked.
Stephanie and Gavin nodded.
“On a Thursday!?” Guiscard was alarmed.
Bryan, the young man sitting opposite Gavin, couldn't help but laugh, breaking his stoic demeanour.
“Celina,” said the director. “Does this mean we won't be paying you?”
The blond woman in the jean jacket turned her attention to Director Guiscard. “This one, here, beside me,” she said, tilting her head toward Bryan. “He told me there was a change of location. I drove from the library to the club.”
“And you took the photographs we wanted?” he asked.
She nodded, and removed the SD card from her camera. Then she got out of her chair and walked it down to Director Guiscard, who had a tiny envelope for it.
“Thank you, Celina. The school newspaper appreciates your services. You may go now.”
She bowed graciously and then walked steadily toward the back of the room and left. Nobody said anything until she was gone and the grey doors both closed.
“You saved the day, Agent Haines,” noted the director.
“Thanks for covering my ass,” Gavin whispered to him across the table.
Bryan smiled at this praise that was directed at him.
“I hope you're being as diligent toward your own subject,” said Guiscard.
“I am,” Bryan intoned with stoic confidence. “We're not here to discuss him tonight.”
“Was he with you at The Pan?” asked Guiscard.
“My roommate? Yes. And I saw Darrion, too, while I was on the dance floor. So, I called Celina from in the bathroom. When I returned to the dance floor, my girl showed up.”
So the newbie is Bryan's new girl! realized Gavin.
“Is that where you witnessed what you have to report, Miss Faber?” asked the Director.
“Yes sir. After I submitted my robotics report to Professor Gregory so she could use it in preparing the outlines for the proposal she gave Darrion moments ago, I went to the club to relax with one of my friends. She's a student here, named Vivian Oliver.”
The director began to ask a question, “Is your friend pertinent to --” and cut himself short when he caught a stern look from Professor Gregory.
The professor spoke, “We want him to forge him under pressure. We want him to crack, and thus give in to the proposal he just received from me. That will be the only way out he can see. The only way to balance the demands of being both an actor and a scholar. Both are his passions. To him, his parents are on separate sides of the issue. As most of us know, they have even pretended to separate. He blames his inability to choose between the two sides of his life as the reason they're not together. And, psychosexually speaking, that is entirely relevant to what Miss Faber is getting at.”
At that, Stephanie Faber pulled down the white plastic sheet as a projector hummed to life.
“The following,” said Professor Gregory, “is feed from the dormitory room shared by Agent Gavin Vasser and our dear subject, Darrion Swain. It was taken thirty-four minutes ago.”
Within a second, the projector displayed for them the view of a large dark room. There was a large curtain divider running between it. One side was clean, well-kept and uninhabited. This side was obviously Gavin's. The other, however, was in enough disarray to have belonged to someone very busy, though not necessarily unorganized. The laundry hamper was piled high. The desk was cluttered. There was a couple articles of clothing and a textbook on the floor.
However, everyone's attention was focused on the queen-sized bed and the two half-naked figures resting in it. The larger of the two looked to be Darrion himself, who had his body wrapped around the other person.
Gaping and gasping mouths watched the screen.
“What's he doing?” asked Bryan.
“Singing to her, but we can't hear it without turning the projector's sound on,” said Stephanie.
“Is that Vivian?” asked the director.
“I have reason to believe so,” suspected Stephanie, “based on what I witnessed at the club.”
“It's too dark to tell,” said Professor Gregory. “And she wasn't with him when he came to see me. He came and left alone on his motorcycle. Still no helmet.”
For a long moment, the room full of university staff and a couple students remained silent as they watched the dark silhouettes of two people cuddled up together on the bed of Darrion Swain.