Behind the Lights is Soap Hub’s exclusive fanfiction, set in the bustling metropolis of Genoa City… and you, the reader, have the chance to influence the story! If you have an idea for how things should progress, leave your suggestion in the comments. Then, come back for the next installment to see how the saga takes shape!
“So, where’s a good place to eat around here?”
Simone waited while the receptionist slowly turned her gaze upward. The expression of seemingly perpetual boredom was still present on the young woman’s face, and the two hours since Simone had last talked to her – during which she had showered, reapplied her makeup, and spent some time flipping through Genoa City’s local television channels – hadn’t seemed to have improved her mood.
A short sigh preceded the eventual answer. “What do you like to eat?”
“I’m not picky,” Simone replied. “I’ll try pretty much anything once!” Her chipper response didn’t seem to have its intended effect of lightening the mood. In fact, the receptionist almost appeared to grow more hostile… but either a sense of professionalism or some not-at-all-visible reserve of patience kept the exchange from becoming even more tense.
“Your neighbors like to eat at the athletic club,” the young woman finally said. “I’ve never been, but I guess it must be okay.”
Simone snorted. “‘Athletic club?’ Should I order the filet of free-weights and the protein smoothie?” Once again, the joke had no visibly positive effect on her conversational partner. Maybe all of Genoa City’s crankiness is being stored in this one person, Simone thought. She regretted the internal jab almost immediately: Having worked as a cashier through most of high school, she was all too familiar with how frustrating service jobs could be.
“There’s a fancy restaurant attached to it,” said the receptionist. “Also a hotel, I think. I don’t know. The lady who lives in the penthouse eats there sometimes.” A haughty sneer crossed her face. “You probably wouldn’t want to talk to her, though.”
“Really?” asked Simone before she could stop herself. “Why not?”
At last, the young woman’s eyes lit up, and her demeanor became more animated. Apparently the prospect of sharing some gossip made her come alive. “Oh, she’s a real piece of work! Like, a day or two ago? She got in some huge fight with her boyfriend, then kicked him out!” She leaned forward conspiratorially. “Do you know what happened next?”
How could I? Simone thought to herself. Rather than saying the sentence aloud, she just shook her head, glad to have finally found herself in the girl’s good graces.
“He tried to break back in!” The receptionist laughed and clapped her hands once. “Can you believe it? He actually got onto her balcony somehow, and she had to open the door!”
“Wait.” Simone held up a finger. “She let him back in after that? She didn’t call the police or anything?”
“I don’t know.” The young woman shrugged. “I only know about it because someone heard the shouting. Word travels fast here.”
Duly noted. Simone cleared her throat. “So, the athletic club, huh? Is there anywhere else I can go?” She glanced at her watch – a slim timepiece that she’d worn since college – and made a show of considering something. “It’s just a bit early, is all, and I’m not sure that I’m ready for a big meal.”
As quickly as it had arrived, the energy evaporated from the receptionist’s attitude, once again being replaced with the dull, tired-sounding tones of a person who would rather be anywhere other than where they were. “I don’t know. Crimson Lights? It’s a coffee shop down the street. They have food.”
“That sounds perfect! Which direction is it?” A lazily extended finger pointed the way, and Simone started to walk off… but she paused and turned back. “Can I… am I allowed to tip you or anything?”
For the briefest of moments, the young woman’s eyebrows raised in excitement, then fell just as quickly as she replied with what was obviously a rehearsed line. “Thank you for your generosity, but my service is all part of your residence in Lakeview Towers.”
“Ah. Well…” Simone offered what she hoped was a friendly wink. “I won’t tell if you don’t.” She slid a folded bill onto the counter, which the receptionist snatched up with an almost hungry gesture. The two women shared a smile – the grin being decidedly warmer on Simone’s side – and the exchange was apparently considered to be finished. This time, as Simone turned away, she did so with an air of conviction, intent on finding this coffee shop before her own hunger got to be too insistent.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Darryn watched as the two women finished their conversation, then ducked out of sight as the older of them – the one who wasn’t stuck behind a glorified desk – walked toward the building’s exit. He was confident now that she was the person he had been assigned to follow, and the one who had received the package from his employer. Of course, the parcel had come by way of a courier, but Darryn had a decent idea of who was pulling the strings. One didn’t spend time in Genoa City without learning about the perpetual power-struggle going on in its upper echelons, nor the names of the kings and queens who went through their dance of intrigue, espionage, and fiery romances. There were only a handful of people with the clout (or the desire) to spy on a competitor’s new employee, and each of them resided at the very top. Darryn had once thought that he, too, could climb to those highest rungs, but had learned the hard way that rising too fast could leave a person looking at an equally quick fall.
He shivered at the memory.
A practiced motion brought a smartphone from out of Darryn’s pocket and up to his ear, with only a tiny moment’s hesitation to start it dialing. The preprogrammed number would more than likely connect him to a machine, he knew… but he also knew that someone would be waiting on his report.
His heart jumped as a deep-voiced man answered. “I trust you have some information?”
Darryn licked his lips, glancing back in the direction of the apartment complex. “I’ve spotted her.”
“Excellent,” the voice replied. “What can you tell me?”
“Uh, she seems friendly.” He could still see the woman walking away from him, peering at signs as though looking for something. “Composed, but not entirely sure of herself.” He held his tongue for a few seconds, uncertain of how much he should say. “If I might speculate…”
“By all means.”
Darryn took a deep breath. “She strikes me as being very generous. I watched her slip a concierge some money just now, after talking with her for a while.”
The silence from the other end of the line went on just a bit too long for Darryn’s comfort. “Intriguing,” the voice finally said. “It would seem that Miss Abbott’s prospective protege has a soft streak to her. Not at all what one would expect from a fledgling executive. You’re certain she received the package?”
“I’m certain,” Darryn answered.
“Good. You may proceed.” With that, the line went dead.
The smartphone was placed back in Darryn’s pocket. Short though it had been, the conversation had left him with more than a few questions. Fortunately, he was well-practiced in dismissing such concerns… although he couldn’t help but wonder about the identity of the person with whom he had been speaking. It was the most direct contact that he’d ever had with an employer – assuming that the voice on the other end had actually been his employer, and not just an intermediary – and Darryn was discovering that he disliked making reports in realtime. Far better, he thought, to spend a while writing them, and be sure of getting everything right.
There would be time enough for that later, though.
For now, he hurried after the woman, staying just far enough back to keep from arousing suspicion.