Out of the cold-hearth stillness of the night,
Out of the shadows beckoning,
Out of all control...
Pete Astor's feeling of being caught up in group mania was revived when the group took over the stage at the venue for a sound check. There was the usual period of fiddling about at the mixer desk, during which Syd handed a print-out of Astor's music to Blood Axe Stoker and told him that the others wanted to try out the new number. Blood Axe just looked at Syd before delivering a long, slow shrug.
Astor took a drag at his joint and wedged it under a string of his guitar in the approved fashion. He was feeling quite mellow after the usual hassle of the journey and booking into the hotel. One of the roadies had come up with some good dope.
There was no atmosphere in the hall. All the lights were on, people were wandering around and, as usual, some nut-case was hammering vigorously in the background. Syd performed a combined heel-tap on echoing, bare boards and head-nod to count the rest of the band in across Blood Axe's slithering caresses of his drums with wire brushes.
To his credit, Syd knew the words by heart and he could go along with the flow of the new song without having to divide his attention between performing and a piece of paper. Astor had the music nearby for safety's sake. He knew that smoking dope made him feel mellow; sometimes too mellow to be bothered remembering what he should be playing.
He could let enough of his attention slide away from picking out the notes, and bending and sliding them, to hear what the others were doing. Blood Axe on drums was caressing the hi-hat with a brush and tapping gently on the big gong. Dexie seemed to be experimenting with the sub-sonic notes that he had programmed into his synthesizer, looking for vibration effects rather than musical sounds. And out front, Syd was pouring out the words in a liquid growl.
The hammering had stopped. As he eased the last chords out of his guitar, Astor became aware of stillness in the hall. Everyone had stopped what they were doing to watch what was happening on stage. Syd finished with a lingering wolf-howl, which blended seamlessly on to the end of Dexie's final synthesizer passage. The stillness lingered on and on for a few moments after the music ended, then everyone else seemed to rediscover what they had been doing.
"Wow, man! That was far out! That was something else!" breathed Carol-An.
"Was that good? Or was that phuckin' brilliant?" beamed Syd.
"Total crap," said Astor. "I reckon we should knock it on the head right now."
"I agree," said Blood Axe. "It was the worst number I've ever heard. And I've heard some crap in my time."
"Shit! Anyone get it on tape?" said Syd. "Ange?"
"Yes, darling, I remembered to push the button," Angela said patiently. She switched the cassette recorder off furtively. She had been as spellbound as anyone else by the new number.
"I can't think of anything that needs doing to it," said Dexie. "I mean, I can't believe we could get it so right first time out, but..."
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said Blood Axe. "Nice one, Pete. About time we had a number with a decent drum part in it."
"Sorry, loves," said the voice of the sound engineer over their headsets. "I was too busy listening to watch the little needles. Can you do something else? I'll slap my wrist for being so unprofessional."
There was the usual moaning and swearing from the band, but they knew that the sound engineer had paid them a great compliment. Three weeks into a tour, the crew had heard it all before and they could concentrate on setting up the speaker systems as just a job of producing a decent noise. Getting someone to stop and listen to the message in the noise was highly unusual.
Belinda was fascinated by everything that was going on around her. Angela was giving her the full briefing of how to be a rock musician's helper. Angela was enjoying the chance to see life through another new pair of eyes and gathering more material for her book.
There was too much going on around her for Belinda to take it all in at once. At the same time, she realized that most of the activity passed Intoxicant and their followers by. The headliners were the main focus of the tour, even though both bands had current CDs issued by the same recording company and, to the cynical, revenue from one CD looks no different from another's on a balance sheet.
Belinda sensed that Astor and his companions were fairly happy in the background. They didn't have the hassle of being whisked round to record stores for signing sessions. They did have to do press and TV interviews, after the headliners had had their say, but as long as they turned up for a sound check when the mass of stage equipment had been set up, and as long as they were there to open the show, no one seemed to care much what happened to them in between times.
Angela had a fund of stories of the horrors of being on-the-road on a shoestring tour, of times when having a second cup of coffee at lunchtime required authorization from the person in charge of the budget. Luckily, ticket and CD sales for this tour were healthy and the recording company wasn't having to fund it from a publicity budget, and so the expenses were appropriately generous.
"So you really are all having a good time?" said Belinda.
"Especially the blokes," nodded Angela. "Your Pete's a professional musician. He loves doing this, just going from town to town, playing a gig and moving on. It's the best job in the world to him. And Syd too, if it comes to that. No worries, no responsibilities, just do the business and go. And get paid for it. You can just lose yourself in the whole deal. Be like Pete and not care where you are or where you're going. Just tie yourself up in your own little world of the tour."
"Sounds like there's a bit of personal experience in there," said Belinda.
"Yes, I go to Planet Tour every so often," Angela admitted with a smile. "But unlike Pete, I keep dropping out into the real world again. I keep wanting to know where I am. Mind you, you never know if it's what Pete really thinks or he's just projecting an image."
"And it's fun trying to find out," nodded Belinda.
Seven-thirty arrived that evening. Pete Astor walked out onto the stage with the rest of Intoxicant feeling very relaxed and in control. He had decided to stick with the excellent dope that one of the road crew had given him instead of preparing with anything heavier. Blood Axe had taken his usual ‘energy' cocktail and his drum kit could look forward to a severe thrashing. The hall was about three-quarters full for the opening act as people wandered in and out, doing the bar profits a lot of good, but the band got a good cheer when they took the stage. There was an encouraging amount of noise when Intoxicant's own fans joined in with the second number, clapping on and off the beat, as audiences always do.
Syd Melchior took a good swig from his Jack Daniels bottle before the new number. The bottle was mainly for effect and contained an apple juice and vodka mixture that was mainly apple juice. Syd began to chant the words of the spell into almost silence to a background of swishing wire brushes on a snare drum.
The fans were waiting to clap and cheer in the traditional fashion when they recognized the number but they were unable to do so for a brand new one. As the new number developed and he concentrated on getting things exactly right on the guitar, Astor was able to wonder what the hell Blood Axe was doing behind him. The reverberations from the gong were not particularly loud, but they seemed to fill the huge space of the auditorium and create the sensation of the whole building being poised on the edge of an earthquake.
Astor could see kids at the front of the audience drumming frantically or playing air-guitars at hyperspeed, which seemed totally inappropriate for what was supposed to be a slow part of the number. He had a weird sensation of being divorced from what was happening to everyone else – leading his life at a normal pace while they had been speeded up somehow.
Syd was winding up to a mighty shout of the ‘power word' of the spell. Astor felt dragged along, faster and faster. Dexie continued to bombard the crowd with long, slow chords and subsonics from his synthesizer. Blood Axe was making the gong roll out solemn notes with one hand while beating hell out of the top cymbal of his hi-hat with the other.
When Syd hit the final forever, the hall seemed to shiver, as if reality had moved sideways a notch and brought everything and everyone rushing back into sync. The wolf-howl brought immediate echoes from the body of the hall and the sort of sustained screaming cheer that told the band that they had hit the spot.
More wolf-howls from the audience during the rest of the set told Astor that his new song had made an impact. The shouts of ‘More!' when the quartet left the stage after the obligatory encore sounded totally sincere for once, not just a plea for a bit more diversion before the headliners came on. The band returned to their dressing room feeling very satisfied with the way the set had gone.
"Okay, you doubting bastards, did we do a good job tonight or did we do a good job tonight?" crowed Syd.
"Pity we don't get paid any more for doing a good job," said Dexie.
"They don't take any money off us for doing a bad one," Astor pointed out.
"Tell you what, the Railheads are going to have to work bloody hard to follow us," crowed Syd. "We were bloody good tonight. Especially that new number. Phuck rehearsals. Who needs them?"
"Before you start getting a Messiah complex, Syd," laughed Astor, "remember you're only going to make our Japs unhappy if we blow the headliners off the stage."
"Yeah, but the music press will love it," laughed Syd.
"Bunch of phuckin' trouble-makers," remarked Blood Axe.
"Still, it won't harm the Railheads to get the odd reminder we're not just here to make up the numbers," said Dexie. "What the phuck were you doing to that gong, Blood? I've never heard anything like it before. It felt like the stage was going to blow up."
"Beats me," grinned Blood Axe. "The phucker was playing itself. We were in ultimate wave territory, there."
"Maybe not quite there, but definitely peri-ultimate," agreed Dexie.
"I hope Ange has found somewhere decent to go tonight," said Syd. "Is there any life in bloody Sheffield after nine o'clock?"
"Yeah," said Astor. "There's a great band on in town. What are they called? The Railhead something, I think."
"Yeah, I've seen them," grinned Syd. "They're crap."
After the usual checks that their equipment had been packed away safely, the band headed back to their hotel. Angela wanted to go to a club called the Raballa, which offered good food and live music. It sounded a good place to start the evening and a good place to meet people who might know somewhere better. Pete Astor and Belinda got back to the hotel on their own just after midnight after visiting two more clubs. The others were off to a third. Astor and Belinda were interested more in sex and sleep.
Room service was off the agenda for the support band. They had to go down to the breakfast room like everyone else in the morning. Belinda was surprised at how easily she had been accepted into the party, although she did detect a look of resignation on the otherwise smiling face of Tony Stock, the tour manager.
"Earth to Pete," Belinda remarked when they were back in their room, packing, and she found herself having trouble getting his attention. "What's on your M-track?" she added when Astor looked at her apologetically.
"I don't know," he said after a pause. "I think it's a bit of Handel. Whatever it is, it's bloody good."
"What, Handel as in Water Music? He's Classical."
"I may make a living out of rock music, but I can play what I like in my head."
"I suppose you can. Leeds."
"What about it?" said Astor.
"That's where we're going next."
"Bloody women!" laughed Astor. "Always wanting to know things. How far is it?"
"Who's wanting to know things now?" said Belinda indignantly. "Forty miles. Most of it up the M-One, according to Cath. You know, she's quite normal when she's not around you lot. You know, not bossy or anything."
"Someone probably advised her not to take any crap from the musicians. Ever been to Leeds?"
"Not as far as I know. Still, there's lot of things I've never done before. Until last night," Belinda added with a sly grin.
"Sure!" scoffed Astor. "Go on, name six things you've never done."
"I've never been to a cricket match. Or a football match."
"I've never read a book by Barbara Cartland. Or a Mills & Boon. Or any of the Royal biographies."
"I read a Jeffrey Archer once."
"But it was a free gift someone got from a book club. One of the left-overs they give away to make warehouse space. As far as I recall, it was one you got when you joined. A compulsory book that you had to take to get the other five for fifty pee each."
"That's okay, then."
"So where are we up to? That's three."
"Five!" said Belinda indignantly.
"Three. And you're lucky you got one each for cricket matches and football matches."
"I've never bought a lottery ticket."
"I've never had any Foster's lager or 4X."
"This is quite hard, even though there should be millions of things I could say."
"So we're not going for the really obvious things, then?"
"Such as what?"
"Never had a ride on the Space Shuttle. Or on the Royal Yacht Britannia when we had one."
"Never been on Concorde. There, that's my six. What have you never done, if anything?"
Someone banged on their door. "Okay, guys, saddle up and ship out," called a voice in the corridor.
"Never ignored a bus-call," said Astor. "Although I've felt like it often enough. Are you fit?"
"I always worry about leaving something behind in a hotel."
"That's the trouble with having too many possessions."
"That's the trouble with having too few to be able to do without any of them," Belinda said sadly. "Oh, by the way, someone called Wendy phoned you to say thanks for the birthday present. And there was nothing interesting in your mail so she's binned it."
"Nice of her. She's my house-sitter," Astor added into an expectant pause. "A mate who keeps the place occupied when I'm touring."
"A house not being that portable," nodded Belinda.
A new venue meant yet another sound-check to make sure that the reassembled stacks of amplifiers and speakers had been matched to the concert hall's acoustics. The crew was experienced enough to do the job fairly well just from 'look and feel', but the musicians liked to think that they were in control to a certain extent.
Tour manager Tony Stock was at his most harassed during the afternoon as he rushed around being bombarded with things that needed to be done or lists of things that should have been available but weren't. His struggle had not been aided by the abrupt resignation of Monica, his assistant. The headliners' crew got his attention first, as of right. The opening act could pester Tone only if they had a real problem.
Belinda was a naturally active person and not well suited to the role of idle admirer. She started down the slippery slope to usefulness when the tour manager made a random plea for someone to sort out a delivery driver because he had three other more important things to handle at the same time.
Pete Astor glanced at the scene of an increasingly loud argument and saw, to his surprise, Belinda and a beefy van driver locked in mortal combat. Belinda had mentioned that she had been a secretary for a while and she was good at dealing with awkward customers. Astor gave Belinda his full attention as she brandishing a clipboard and told the driver that she wanted everything on the list that Tony Stock had given her, or she was going to cancel the whole order and get on the phone to his firm to complain about him.
"Bloody noisy things, women," remarked Blood Axe Stoker. "Got a light?"
Astor flicked his lighter into life. The driver was telling Belinda that she couldn't have everything or he would be short for other deliveries because of some problem at the warehouse.
"There's four of those on my list," said Belinda. "And it's not my problem if you can't run your warehouse properly."
"But, missus...," said the driver, looking as if he never hit women but he was about to make an exception.
"You're not listening to me. Four. And twelve of these."
"I can give you eight."
"You're not listening to me again. Twelve. Look, we've got a show to put on here and you've contracted to deliver this stuff."
"Like a dominant type, do you, Pete?" grinned Blood Axe.
"Pete, move that van back about three feet," called Belinda.
"That's you, mate," laughed Blood Axe. "Hey, Bee, I'll do it."
"Stirring bastard," Astor said as Blood Axe passed him his joint before jumping into one of the equipment vans.
His escape route blocked, the driver glared at Blood Axe, who grinned back at him, daring him to do anything. As Blood Axe looked like a paid-up Hell's Angel and ready for any sort of mindless violence going, the driver decided that he was in more trouble than he could handle on his salary. Resigned to his fate, he unloaded everything listed on Belinda's clipboard and told himself that any bossy bastards he met at his next stops were going to be right out of luck.
Blood Axe moved the equipment van back to its original position to let the glowering delivery driver escape. He made the sign of the Cross with his fingers as he returned to join Astor and Belinda again.
"What's up with him?" said Belinda.
"He's scared you'll start ordering him around," laughed Astor. "I think he's secretly into being dominated."
"Yeah, she'd look great as a dominatrix in black silk underwear with a whip," grinned Blood Axe.
"Yeah, sure!" scoffed Belinda.
Tony Stock came rushing back, talking into his personal radio on the move. "You lot, sound check in five minutes," he told Astor and Blood Axe. "Don't argue, get on with it. Did we get that stuff off the van okay?"
"All of it," said Belinda. "He wanted to short-change us."
"Oh, well done!" Stock looked impressed. "Nice to see there's at least one person around here who isn't totally helpless."
"Nice to be appreciated," smiled Belinda.
"You two, bloody sound check," added Stock. "Like, now!"
"Ja, boss," said Blood Axe.
"Doshan bleeda!" said Astor.
"What sort of language is that to use in front of a lady?" Belinda pretended to be shocked.
"Japanese." Astor supplied an unexpectedly literal answer.
"Oh! What does it mean?"
"No idea, but I know what I want it to mean." Astor glared at Tony Stock.
"Bugger off and get to work, you two," Stock said to the musicians. "Oh, Bee, there's something else you could give me a hand with, if you don't mind," he added as the musicians headed for the stage.
"Typical of the managerial class, exploiting unpaid labour," Blood Axe remarked loud enough to be heard at a distance.
"I think Bee's one of life's natural doers," Astor remarked at a more conversational level. "Idle lounging just doesn't work for her."
"You mean there are actually still people like that wandering around unkilled?" Blood Axe sounded profoundly shocked. "And showing the rest of us up?"
"Well, isn't life a son-of-a-bitch bastard!"
"I think that's written into the rules," said Astor.
As usual, Syd Melchior was the last to arrive for the sound check, but he was just a token couple of minutes late. He considered that the bloke who stood at the front doing the singing was the leader of the band and he made a point of getting away with as much as possible in the leader line. His almost punctuality underlined his eagerness to do some more work on the new number.
Syd was humming a tune to himself as he strolled past Astor, who was tuning a reserve guitar. The words passed in and out of audibility and Astor was able to continue them in his head.
Up your snoot
Can be quite unforgettaboot
Quarkoid leads you round the bend.
Recently fashionable drug cocktails included three blends known as Quark, Strangeness and Charm. Their creator was either interested in the physics of elementary particles or he been a Hawkwind fan in his younger days. His story was that he had discovered the first blend's psychotropic properties through accidental contamination – in much the same way that the properties of LSD-25 had been discovered.
According to the chemical literature, the molecules were of interest only because they were convenient intermediates in the synthesis of more complex molecules. In theory, as the forces of law and order knew nothing about them, it was not illegal to possess them or offer them for sale, and they could be bought at quite a reasonable price.
The three drugs looked remarkably similar when displayed on a computer monitor as 3D molecular models but they had quite different properties. Syd was a devotee of Quark, which he called Quarkoid to fit the metre of his dotty little rhyme. He enjoyed the cocaine- and crack-like sense of power and total mental clarity that it gave without the subsequent plunge into depression.
Astor preferred Charm because it had reality-splitting properties, which he found quite useful in his song-writing. He enjoyed the warm rush that came when he cooked up the mixture and inhaled it. He preferred inhalation to injection because there was less equipment involved and he saw no reason why he should make himself into a human pin-cushion in pursuit of pleasure.
Charm, for him, was a pleasure to be enjoyed in solitude when he wanted to relax. The consciousness-expanding effects of the drug could also increase his pleasure from certain types of music, as he had made found during a second try-out to a background of the overture to Tannhäuser. But Charm was most certainly the wrong thing to load up on just before going on stage.
Up your snert
Can be quite unforgettabert
Quarkoid is the living end.
Syd Melchior was buzzing nicely as he put on his headset and positioned the microphone just below his mouth. Quark made him hyperactive but he found it a necessary aid to getting through the stop-and-start boredom of a routine sound check. His clowning at the front of the stage helped the others through their boredom too. The band was working well together.
Robert Emmery had taken early retirement from teaching to get on with something of greater personal importance. He had always enjoyed going to auctions to buy decent editions of 'classic' works of fact and fiction. The opportunity to buy a small shop at a knock-down price, and his wife's reluctance to have him cluttering up their bungalow all day, had turned him into a dealer in second-hand books at just above a hobby level.
Emmery was in the fortunate position of having enough money coming in to let him price his books modestly and take a small profit on a high turn-over. He also knew a friend of a friend, who would buy up totally unsellable volumes and convert them into concealed doors, which had a veneer of bookcase. While Emmery was moderately horrified at the destruction of any book, he could recognize that there were some that would just gather dust and go mouldy if they had to wait for a purchaser who wanted to read them.
A friend of his wife's had wished Caddy, her teenage daughter, on him as an assistant on a very modest salary. Caddy's mother believed that she stood more chance of getting a reasonably paid job if she could tell prospective employers that she had some experience of real work. They had come to an accommodation that allowed Caddy to take as much time off as she wanted as long as she was there to look after the shop when Emmery had to go out on business and no other stand-in was handy.
The shop had become a hang-out for several of Emmery's friends. It was a place where they could enjoy a chat and a cup of tea or coffee to break up an otherwise empty day. There was quite a lot of adult under-employment in that suburb of Manchester. Emmery had just finished washing up three mugs when the bell on the door summoned him out of this back room.
The fortyish couple looked squeaky clean in an evangelical sort of way. Emmery half expected them to try to sell him a range of totally unshiftable religious tracts. Surprisingly, the man drifted off on a survey of the shelves while the woman took a list from her handbag.
"I don't know if you have any of these in stock?" She offered the list with a smile.
Emmery started to frown as he read the list of titles and authors. "This is a bit too specialized to have on the shelves. It's more the sort of thing I'd be asked to look out for. Still, let's have a look."
Jane Vance looked on in surprise as the bookseller turned to an elderly laptop computer and entered search data into a databank program. "No, sorry. Not at the moment. I had a fairly poor copy of the Schbinkeld about six months ago. I found it in a box of oddments. But some chap came in a couple of days later."
"What sort of price would that fetch these days?"
Emmery realized in passing that the woman's strange accent was American rather than some exotic form of English upper-class. "This was a complete copy but it was rather battered. Definitely in need of re-binding and page reinforcement. Even so, its catalogue value was three hundred pounds."
"Sounds a good price for a Schbinkeld," said Jane Vance. "You've not bought a Hallan's Registry recently?"
"I'm not sure I know that one," frowned Emmery. "Is that in the same sort of magic and occult field?"
"Right. We heard a Rixborough edition of it was sold in an auction in Stockport last Saturday. Not as a specific item. But there was one in the auction. It must have just gone in a box of... oddments?"
"If so, it was one that got away from me," smiled Emmery. "I was at that auction and I've just about got my purchases on the old computer. What was the title again?"
"It's called A Registry and it's by G. Hallan."
"No. No hits on Registry or Hallan, except for a publisher. Hallan and Company of Norwich. Not the same chap, obviously."
"Could I leave you my card in case you come across anything similar?" Jane Vance opened her handbag and detached a business card from a well-filled plastic packet as Peter Vance arrived back at the counter with two fairly expensive books, both early first editions.
It was their routine for small bookshops. One chatted the owner up and the other softened him or her up by spending a decent amount. Bob Emmery offered them tea or coffee and he was ready to chat. He seemed quite promising unpaid scout material.
No trees were consumed by Farrago & Farrago and Henry T. Smith Productions, 10/12 SK6 4EG, UK in creating this material for Jon A. Gored. Sole © Jon A. Gored, 2001.