A bonus content prequel story to accompany Downfall (The Incorruptibles Book 1).
The video chat alert beeped annoyingly, Albion’s llama-in-pyjamas icon popping up on my screen. I ignored it. I was researching flights.
Dad’s next tour was scheduled: fall in Revel City, Saint Michael and Cryer Lake City, finishing up in Los Luminos—one of my favourite places. I remembered the river that wound through Los Luminos, and the night time ferries. This time I would take the longer tour, right out to the river’s mouth …
Flights to Revel City could be tricky. I needed to find one that would get us there in time for his first gig, with a few hours to spare for rest and preparation. My cousin ended the video chat request and immediately commenced a new one. I groaned and muted the beeping. If I declined the call he’d know I was online.
Dad’s newest book was almost ready. I calculated as I flicked through the flight options … we would need maybe two weeks to get it through the editing process and then it could go straight to print. Four weeks maximum to make sure everything was perfect and get the promotional gear organised. I scribbled a note to myself to order 20,000 Don Carver Are You the One? car mirror dangles. I would need them there waiting for us in Revel City when the tour started. I remembered the winding laneways full of shops and cosy coffee houses in Revel City, known as The Maze. I got lost there for hours last time.
My phone buzzed with a text message. Albion.
I know you’re there. PICK UP or I’m coming around.
I sighed and contemplated Albion’s flashing llama. I knew exactly what he wanted to discuss. I unmuted the computer and clicked on the video chat more aggressively than was required. After a moment, a window opened and showed me Albion’s pointy-nosed face glaring into his webcam.
“Why wouldn’t you answer?”
“I’m busy, Alby. I’m trying to book flights and order merchandise.”
“What the hell is going on? Dad said Vanessa’s pregnant!”
I winced and hastened to plug in my headphones. “Be quiet!” I glanced around but I was on my own on the second floor of Dad’s house. “Dad told Uncle Max?”
Alby stared, his mouth falling open. “So it’s true? She’s pregnant? We are talking about the same Vanessa … my cousin, your sister?”
“Yes, we are. And no, she’s not pregnant … anymore,” I added reluctantly.
Albion’s jaw dropped even further. “W … T … A … F?”
“She’s fine. Everything’s back to normal.” I willed it to be true.
“But how … who?”
I checked again for eavesdroppers and lowered my voice to a whisper. “Brendan.”
He frowned for a moment, trying to remember who Brendan was, I guess. Then his face cleared, his eyebrows shooting up. “Brendan—your private tutor Brendan?”
I stared at my keyboard. “Yeah.”
“Vanessa and Brendan have been fu—”
“Yes, Albion!” I interrupted. “Yes! They have. But he’s left. It’s over. And Vanessa … took care of it.”
“Is this why you failed senior year?” Albion could never stay serious for long, even when he was scandalised. “Because Brendan was too distracted by Vanessa to teach you properly?”
His eyes danced with laughter but he was so close to being correct it was scary. I shuffled papers on the desk. “I’m super busy, Alby. Can’t chat. Seriously.”
“I want details. There’s a party tomorrow night. Come along. Come over beforehand and get ready at my place. You can tell me the whole story.”
Oh, God. He wouldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go to a party or gossip about my disastrous past month. And I knew Albion. If I tried to refuse he would nag me until I caved.
“I’ll ask Dad,” I said—my old faithful way of getting out of anything social that involved Albion or the other young people of Augur’s Well. “Talk later.” I ended the video chat before he could protest. Not a moment too soon either, because when I pulled off my headphones I realised there were people in the hall.
My dad pushed open the office door. “Frankie, what are you doing, honey?”
“Just helping Nessa get things organised for the tour,” I said quickly. I didn’t want Dad to know Vanessa did squat to organise his tours these days.
“Frankie’s amazing,” came the purring voice of Dad’s wife, Starr. Starr-with-the-double-ahhh, Albion always called her. That usually made me smile.
I turned around on my roller chair. Starr was beautiful, if you liked things a bit nipped, tucked and unnaturally buoyant. She had dark blonde waves of hair, carefully highlighted with gleaming copper red. Contacts that made her eyes look violet. Stunning curves encased in a pale lemon, spotless corporate-looking suit.
“Stop doing that, honey,” my father beseeched. “You’re a kid and it’s the summer break! You should be swimming, hanging with friends, goofing off – having fun.”
“I like doing this, Dad,” I told him. “Being your PA is my fun.”
He glanced sideways at Starr, who dropped her eyes. “I’ll make coffee,” she murmured and made a silent exit. I looked back at Dad curiously. He crossed the floor, pulling up one of the meeting chairs to sit beside me.
“Frankie. Starr and I have been talking. She needs a job and she has some experience in office work and public relations. She’d like to have a shot at being my personal assistant for the next tour—you know, just to see how she goes. If it works out, it might become something more permanent.”
My mouth dropped open. “But that’s my job! I’ve been your PA fulltime for over two years. Me and Vanessa, I mean. Don’t we do a good job?”
“The best, honey. But Nessa told me she needs a break after … what happened.” He couldn’t look at my eyes when he said that. “And you need to complete your senior year. I checked and you can repeat it at the local Community College. Plus, Starr doesn’t want to feel useless anymore.”
“Isn’t that her problem?” This fell out of my mouth before I thought about it, and Dad’s lips turned down at the corners immediately.
“Francesca, that’s uncharitable.”
I dropped my eyes. “I’m sorry. I just … I love being your PA! I was thinking I could maybe do it instead of college …”
Dad sighed. “Frankie, I know you enjoy it, and you’re great at it, but I can’t let you do that. You’re eighteen and you’re smart. You need to graduate school. Experience university. Your mother is as adamant as I am about that.”
I couldn’t speak. I’d been thinking for over a year that I would continue as Dad’s PA after finishing my high school studies and somehow I’d deluded myself into believing my father would allow it. In fact, he probably would have if Starr hadn’t come along and started sniffing around my job. I took a breath.
“Please Dad …” To my horror, my voice cracked on the words.
“Oh, honey.” Dad pulled me in for a hug. “Don’t be sad. Uncle Max says he’ll be delighted to have you stay, and Albion will be over the moon –”
“Wait, what?” I pulled away, staring at him. “What are you talking about? Why can’t I stay in the house?”
Dad frowned. “I’d rather you live under Uncle Max’s care.”
With growing disbelief, I realised what was going on. “You just said I’m eighteen. Are you … are you taking me off the tour because you don’t trust me? Because you can’t watch me constantly and Uncle Max can?”
“I trust you—”
“What about Vanessa?”
“She’ll live here with Antonia.”
My twenty year old sister could live in Dad’s house with our housekeeper but I had to go stay with Uncle Max like a child? “Dad—”
“Francesca,” he said, suddenly stern. “Don’t carry on like this. You’ve never been a drama-queen. Don’t disappoint me.”
I sucked in my breath, trying to calm myself. I didn’t want to disappoint him. But he’d disappointed me – bitterly. Didn’t he know that travel was my life? That I lived for the tours? Even though I joked with Albion about our touring family, calling us Caravaggio’s Travelling Circus, I lived for seeing new places, eating different local specialities and exploring galleries, museums and landmarks. At that moment, I knew my father didn’t understand me at all.
He was still talking. “Francesca, this doesn’t mean I don’t value your work. Starr’s going to need some help at first. I’d love for you to work with her for the next few days while she eases into the job.”
That was too much. “If Starr’s got so much experience,” I snapped, jumping up, “she can find her own damn way. I bet she’ll do a super job. I might as well pack my gear and leave for Uncle Max’s straight away.” I headed for the door without looking back. “I guess I’ll see you in a year, Dad.”
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