You've got stars, you've got icons,
Live junkies, dead junkies,
The only difference is dead junkies don't ask for royalties!
Wolf-howls greeted Intoxicant when the band took the stage at seven-thirty-two that evening. Word of the new song had travelled across the Pennines. The trouble-makers of the music press had been suggesting that the Railhead Raiders had been upset by some severe competition from their support act. The promoters were taking the line that any publicity is publicity and that it is better to have the tour talked about than not. The support act knew better than to believe the propaganda.
Even so, they were there to do a job and professional pride demanded that they do it to the best of their abilities. They had worked the new song based on the grimoire up to a twenty-minute tone poem cum jam session and when they came off stage at a quarter to nine, Pete Astor felt that it had been Intoxicant's best night of the tour. It was clear that the others agreed. As he wiped off his ultraviolet-fluorescent make-up in the dressing room, Syd Melchior was buzzing brightly; as if he had enjoyed a triple snootful of Quark.
"Flying high and feeling no pain," grinned Dexie Jordan, nodding toward the band's self-styled leader.
"And people wonder why we load ourselves up with dangerous drugs to get that feeling back when we're off-stage," remarked Blood Axe, lighting a modest joint. "I reckon we've got a big hit on our hands with your new song, Pete."
"Try doing that on Top of the Flops," grinned Dexie. "Or a so-called music programmes for people with a two-second attention span."
"Yeah, it is more for your intellectual music buff," nodded Astor. "Cheers," he added, taking a big lungful of smoke from Blood Axe's joint. "Definitely harking back to the long, boring pieces cobbled together by the mega-bands of the early Seventies like Yes and ELP."
"I had the weirdest feeling when I started singing the words again after all that rambling in the middle," said Syd. "It was as if someone had opened this huge door in front of me and I was looking out into a stadium big enough to hold a million people."
"Whatever he's on, I want some," grinned Blood Axe.
"Know what you mean," said Dexie. "I started to get the feeling I could walk forward off the stage and just keep going up and up and up forever."
"We had communion with infinity. We were looking at the crest of the ultimate wave and wondering if we were bothered about riding it," said Blood Axe. "And the next thing you know, some bloody Jap's lackey will be round to tell us not to be so bloody brilliant tomorrow night because we're only the support band." He crushed the life out of what was left of his joint, which was just a tobacco tip now. Then he split open the cigarette paper, spilled a couple of drops of vodka into the ashtray and set fire to it.
"The Drug Squad's not going to be your friend," remarked Dexie. "Destroying the evidence."
"Why make life easy for the bastards?" grinned Blood Axe.
Someone knocked on the dressing room door.
"Everyone decent?" called Angela Melchior.
"No, but come in anyway," called Blood Axe.
"God, have you lot been burning haystacks again?" Angela wrinkled her nose at the distinctive smell. "Are we going out for something to eat now? We're starving."
"Hello, long time no see," Astor remarked to Belinda as the ladies crowded into the somewhat ungenerous dressing room. "I thought you'd gone over to the enemy."
"It was quite fun, actually," she said. "I don't know how Tony manages. He should have at least three more people to handle the stuff he's got do."
"You try telling that to the Jap accountants in charge of the record company," scoffed Syd. "Doshan bleedas! Tours don't make money as a rule. They're promotional – to remind people a band's still around and they ought to buy their product. So that's why they crew them with masochists like Tone. And roadies who think at least they're going to get a shag in every town, even if the money's no good. We're being organized by workaholics and shag-seekers."
"Said that well-known sociologist Mr. Sydney Melchior last night," scoffed his wife.
"Syd Melchior, rider of the ultimate wave," said Syd.
"Isn't that something to do with surfing?" said Belinda.
"And part of this lot's pagan pseudo-religion," said Angela. "A belief they can create a piece of music that will totally mesmerize an audience and put them in their power."
"Next stop, Poland," remarked Blood Axe.
"Actually, Pete's to blame for it in a big way," added Angela. "Syd's had this fantasy about the ultimate piece of music for as long as I've known him. The musical ultimate wave. But he's only started believing it's really possible to create it since he met Pete."
"Which makes Pete Dr. Frankenstein?" laughed Belinda.
"In my defence, I'd like to say it's a well known fact that music has tremendous emotional and spiritual powers," said Astor. "And the idea of the ultimate piece of music isn't as daft as Ange makes out."
"Well, I suppose searching for it keeps you out of mischief," said Angela.
"This business is all about having goals," said Syd. "Aiming yourself at a particular point in space and time. Getting out on the stage and kicking ass. No safety nets, no excuses, just you and an audience you've got to blow to bits. And when you do it, when you feel the mushroom cloud rising up and up endlessly for the rest of the night, well..."
"Zen and the Art of Rock Music," remarked Dexie.
"Do you believe this ultimate wave stuff?" Belinda said to Astor.
"I can go along with the concept," nodded Astor.
"One-oh-one, baby," said Syd. "One hundred and one per cent."
"It's not complete bullshit, Bee," said Angela. "It doesn't happen every night. Hell, it doesn't happen very often. But they do sometimes hit the spot somehow and it's like they're on rocket fuel for the rest of the night. That's supposed to be why so many people in the business self-destruct, looking for drugs that can recreate that ultimate high they get when they do it right and everyone knows it."
"I bet that's a straight quote from her famous book, which no one's allowed to read," said Dexie.
"Might be," said Angela. "Anyway, are you ready now, or what? The bus is waiting to take us back to the hotel."
"Oh, well, we'd better not keep Cath waiting," scoffed Blood Axe. "Or she'll be coming after us with a mike stand."
The musicians made the usual detour to check that all of their instruments had been packed away safely, then the four couples headed for a side door.
"Really great show, you guys. Knockout performance," said an unfamiliar figure in a backward baseball cap and a suede jacket with six-inch fringes down the outside edge of the arms. He was around fifty with close-cropped silver-grey hair and a craggy jaw. His accent was American of some sort.
"Glad you liked it, sir," said Syd with a politeness that told the others that he was taking the mickey.
"Just one small word of criticism, though. You don't score any points for looking better than the main act."
"Who was that?" said Carol-An as they emerged into a side street.
"It was just some ball and bat from the record company," said Syd dismissively.
"Jap lackey," added Blood Axe.
"But you were good tonight," said Belinda. "Especially that new number."
"That really, I mean really, blew me away," said Carol-An. "And calling it The Portal was just exactly right. I was standing at the side of the stage, and when it finished, when Syd did that wolf-howl, I was really, really surprised to find I wasn't on my own somewhere out in a wilderness."
"Yes, I felt that," said Jenny. "As if I was completely alone for a while. In miles and miles of open space. Then, all of sudden, I was back in the theatre. It was quite strange."
"Whatever she's on, I want some," laughed Blood Axe.
"Are we all on board?" called Cath from the driver's seat of the minibus.
"Yo!" called Syd.
"That was a bloody good gig tonight," Cath added as she moved off.
"Doesn't it embarrass you, saying something like that after all the rude things you've said to us in the past?" laughed Syd.
"It just shows that even a bunch of total wankers like you lot can get it right occasionally," said Cath.
"I think we should just accept the praise in the spirit in which it was offered," said Dexie. "And I think we should all apologize to Cath for thinking she's a total wanker when she's obviously a young lady with educated musical tastes."
"Oh, God! Forget I spoke," groaned Cath. "I hate the lot of you and I think you're total crap, okay?"
"That's the Cath we know and love," mocked Blood Axe.
"Where are we again?" said Belinda, looking out at a city street. "There doesn't seem to be anything distinctive about Yorkshire."
"Leeds," said Jenny.
"Oh, yes. And where are we going next?"
"Saturday night in Hull," said Angela. "Then we get the Sunday off. After we've got to Norwich."
"That's a really nice place," said Belinda. "I went there once. They've got this really amazing underground shopping centre. They put it underground so it wouldn't spoil the view of the castle."
"Just try and get this lot to take you shopping," scoffed Angela.
"No, they're too busy trying to earn the cash their wives blow in underground shopping malls," scoffed Syd.
"I fancy a Chinese," remarked Blood Axe.
"I hope you're talking about food," said Carol-An.
"I wonder if they have McChinese?" said Dexie.
"We're not going to McDonalds," said Jenny firmly.
"I bet they daren't put one in the rough old spot your hotel's in," Cath remarked from the driving seat. "I did notice a Chinese takeaway down the street, though."
"Did you know your Pete reckons he's never ever been in a McDonalds?" Angela remarked to Belinda.
"That doesn't surprise me," said Belinda.
"Not only that, he reckons he's never ever watched a single episode of Coronation Street, East Enders, Brookside, Neighbours or any Aussie or any other sort of soap."
"Always was a cultural fascist, our Pete," said Syd.
"Spud-U-Like," said Carol-An. "I've never been in one of those."
"I'd never, ever, buy Haagen Dazs ice cream," said Angela.
"You can't say the same about a Walls Viennetta, though," said Syd. "You'd live on that if you got the chance."
"No, that's exempt from contempt," said Blood Axe. "You get points for buying it. I wonder if they've got it at Cath's Chinese?"
"And I've never ever smoked a Silk Cut, except in the direst emergency, and never with the filter on," said Astor.
"Or drunk Gordon's gin since they dropped the strength and the amount in the bottle but kept the price the same," said Melchior.
"Right," said Dexie. "Not even if it's duty-free."
"Hotel. Everybody out," called their driver. "Chop, chop."
"Don't you just hate bossy women?" said Astor.
"Present company excepted," said Blood Axe with a toothy grin at Belinda. "See you, people."
The group disintegrated into four couples, each with their own plans for the evening. Sometimes, they spent the whole day together. At other times, the men came together only for sounds checks, rehearsals and a performance. It was necessary to be a team only when they were working. Four experienced musicians knew the value of leaving one another plenty of space.
Padraig M'Cracken had a sense of chasing shadows but his quarry was worth the effort of pursuit. One of his contacts had spotted what had looked like a Rixborough reprint of A Registry by Geoffrey Hallan, the 17th Century authority on practical magic, at a modest book auction. The problem was that he had lost sight of it while trying to contact M'Cracken by telephone.
Making time to get up to Stockport to find out if there was any substance in the story and getting hold of a list of people who had bought items at the auction had caused M'Cracken a degree of inconvenience. Arriving at a small shop in a suburb of Manchester, he was flattered to find himself recognized by the owner.
"Padraig M'Cracken!" said a grey-haired man in a brightly coloured shirt. "It's not often we get anyone famous in here."
A teenage assistant inspected the celebrity for a moment then turned away, letting him know that she had never heard of him.
"I always make a point of having a look in shops like this whenever I come across them," said M'Cracken with a smile. "You never know what you'll find."
"Funny that, I had someone who shares your line of country in during the week," said Bob Emmery.
"Anyone I know, I wonder?" said M'Cracken.
"Just a minute, they left a card." Emmery dug through a drawer in his cluttered counter. "Jane Vance. Of the Vukovar Foundation. Here with her husband. Looking for something by Geoffrey Hallan."
"And did they find it?" M'Cracken knew that his mission was over now, one way or the other.
"Not here, they didn't. Pity, really. They said they were on the track of a copy of his Registry, sold at an auction I was at last weekend. I had a look in a couple of catalogues after they left. A copy of in reasonable condition would have been worth about five hundred pounds."
"That sounds like a Rixborough edition."
"Yes, they thought it might be floating around in a job lot."
"But not one that you bought, obviously."
"Afraid not. Pity, it would be interesting to look through something of that vintage. I have a mild interest in typography, you see. Rather than your field."
M'Cracken smiled with suitable modesty. He had established a public image as an authority on the delusional aspects of magic; black and white. He was about ten years younger than the bookshop's owner, he wore his longish blond and grey hair quite long and his full beard was always trimmed to an inch and a half long.
He had started his career in journalism in a very small way. Then he had suddenly found himself making a fortune out of his television appearances and lecture tours in the United States on the strength of a couple of books on magic, which had acquired cult status. He had ridden that wave until it had started to break, then he had stepped off.
M'Cracken had managed to hang on to most of his earnings and he had sufficient good sense to avoid doing anything tacky. Now, he was seen as a serious authority on magic, an expert on the things that people believe that they can do and the things that they can make others do from fear of the consequences of refusing to co-operate.
He had brought a healthy scepticism to his field of study but, over the years, he had come to realize that things happen in this complex world that he was unable to explain. He viewed them as the magical equivalent of Unidentified Flying Objects –phenomena lacking a sensible explanation. And, just as a lack of identification is hardly proof that a UFO is a spacecraft belonging to a more advanced civilization, Padraig M'Cracken remained hopeful that he might discover a new natural law that would explain magical phenomena without having to resort to angels and demons.
He was coming to believe that he was in search of a particular combination of knowledge and a type of person. His research had told him that specific rituals or mind-sets work with specific individuals and not with others. Works like Hallan's Registry, he believed, contain triggers which can unlock unusual talents in the right person.
"Is it a book you know?" said Emmery. "The Registry?"
"Oh, yes," smiled M'Cracken. "Very interesting typography, too."
"These two were telling me it's a dangerous book. It could give people dangerous ideas if it gets into the wrong hands. They also mentioned they ask people to donate similar books in that field to their Foundation's library if they can afford to. I hope you're not looking for any free gifts," Emmery added with a smile.
"No, I pay for any books I want," laughed M'Cracken. "Still, it's a good story, isn't it? And I suppose people do fall for it."
"I suppose they do. These two seemed quite keen to get hold of this book. They even had a list of who'd bought things at the auction."
"They do sound well organized." M'Cracken never admitted to working from a list. He believed that he would get better results if he seemed to be making a casual visit to a shop. "Well, could you point me at your travel section? I'm interested in Europe and Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."
"Yes, of course, this way."
Bob Emmery escorted the celebrity to an inner room after giving a sign to his assistant to put the kettle on for some tea. Padraig M'Cracken put himself off-duty. Clearly, he and the Vances had started at opposite ends of the list of buyers at the auction. If they had met, then the grimoire had either been sold without being recognized for what it was or it had never been in the sale.
In either event, Padraig M'Cracken could stop looking.
Many people assumed that Jane and Peter Vance were husband and wife who had chosen a partner of similar physical appearance. In fact, they were brother and sister. Jane had been married for a time but she was now divorced. Peter's relationships had never developed that far, but there had been a few near misses. Now in their early forties, they were enjoying the considerable benefits of a vast inheritance from their uncle, the TV evangelist Hobbert Vance, who had creamed off hundreds of millions of dollars from the sums donated by a gullible American public to support unspecified good causes.
Uncle Hobbert's following had been enormous, dedicated and enthusiastic. He had been cynical enough to arranged a string of exposés by apparently disenchanted former members of his staff, knowing that the news media would go to town on them and knowing that both his popularity and the cash contributions to his cause would soar even higher when he was found to be totally innocent of all charges of disreputable conduct.
The Reverend Vance had made a very good living out of promoting the Christian way of life but he had been working with a hidden agenda, to which all the cash diverted from phoney reputation-protection funds had been directed. His nephew Peter had not been surprised to learn that the main condition of Uncle Hobbert's will was that his younger brother's children could use the money only to further Uncle Hobbert's personal crusade against the evil forces of Black Magic. The Reverend Vance knew from personal experience that there are dark forces at work and that they have to be fought ruthlessly and using the same tactics that the CIA uses to keep America safe from Earthly malign influences.
At the time of Uncle Hobbert's death in a plane crash – his private jet had tried to fly through a mountain near Denver during a storm four years earlier – Peter Vance had been working as his personal assistant. Peter had lost all belief in the Christian faith at an early age but the money was very good and the hours were elastic and he could make all the right noises for a committed member of the team. His sister had been equally sceptical but, coming out of a dog-fight of a divorce, she had soon learned how to seem to be a believer if it meant a vast leap upward in living standards.
In order to create a little space between themselves and the cause, they had established a front organization, which they had named the Vukovar Foundation. Most of the Reverend Hobbert Vance's former staff had become employees of the foundation. They did all the hard work, such as answering correspondence, screening study applications and generally running things, while leaving the Vances free to operate without restrictions behind the scenes.
Advanced communications systems allowed their Foundation's staff to scan the world's news and reviews for malign influences to battle. The Vances were able to place a very elastic interpretation on how they should take the good work forward. If they felt a need to travel luxury class and use five-star hotels to prop up their standing as Christian messengers, then the trustees of the estate had no choice but to make the necessary payments whenever Jane and Peter could prove that they were furthering the Foundation's cause.
The Vances preferred to do this abroad at the greatest possible distance from the trustees to give themselves more scope for fiddling their expenses. Unlike their uncle, who had attempted to suppress all dangerous books on black magic, Jane and Peter had recognized that such information is bound to spread.
Their solution was to take as many 'dangerous' volumes as possible into protective custody at the Foundation's library, where they could be studied freely. And as the Foundation was a private organization, anyone wishing to use the library had to supply personal information and references to gain admittance. Knowing who was interested in dangerous areas of black magic let the Foundation's staff work toward neutralizing the evil influence of such people.
The scheme allowed the Vances to enjoy unlimited wealth while solving a minor problem of accountability. Taking books into custody for storage in the Foundation's vaults was something that the trustees always had to swallow as evidence that a trip abroad had been on Foundation business. Tracking down a copy of a work as subversive as Hallan's Registry would justify their current trip to England, which was why the Vances had spent so much time on the hunt.
They could afford to pay their own hotel bills and any travelling expenses, of course. The Vances had been able to syphon off quite considerable amounts of their expenses into personal bank accounts. Even so, they saw no reason why a bunch of lawyers should deny them the use of their inheritance and they were always open to a new way to be inventive in the fight against The Great Enemy – which was why they were sitting in their Park Lane hotel room with its view of the posh part of London, discussing whether to abandon the search for the grimoire, when another opportunity to be inventive arrived by special messenger.
Jane Vance opened a padded bag and found a CD with a Post-it note attached to the case. Is this what I think it is? read the message.
"The trustees aren't going to go for this." Peter Vance turned away from the CD to pour the last of the champagne into their glasses. "It doesn't take someone at our level to handle product from one of these lousy BMR bands."
"Don't you think Anselmo knows that?" Jane said sharply. "He wouldn't have sent this if he didn't think it was useful."
"Since when did an Eye-talian jerk-off know what's useful?"
"There's no use being jealous because he's better looking than you, darling," laughed Jane. She opened the jewel case and dropped the CD into the room's music centre.
Peter took a mouthful of champagne and prepared not to be impressed. Half way through the first number, he turned to face the speakers and used the remote control to raise the sound level. He began to join in, playing an air-guitar, during the second number.
"Hey, these guys are good. I mean really good!" he remarked.
"I only hope the trustees don't have this room video-bugged," laughed Jane. "And see you getting off on the Devil's music."
"Well, they reckon the guy has all the best tunes. What's the name of the band again?"
"They're called Intoxicant." Jane studied the brief sleeve notes on the CD. "Oh, right! This is one of those Italian bootlegs of live concerts."
"This is seriously good stuff," enthused Peter. "I'm going to have to get their regular albums."
Eventually, the track of the CD began. Peter had opened another bottle of champagne and he was feeling very relaxed and contented. He stopped dead with his glass half-way to his mouth.
"Oh, my God!" breathed Jane.
"That's it, isn't it?" Peter said as Syd Melchior was chanting a calling ritual in the background. "That's stuff from the grimoire."
"Pay dirt!" laughed Jane.
"Okay, first thing we do is get our cuttings agency on the job, find out what we can about this band." Peter switched from semi-drunk music lover to semi-drunk organization man. "Find out if these guys were in Manchester recently. Maybe we should get Ivan to burglarize their hotel rooms. If one of them's got the grimoire, we're home free."
"Except we don't have to go home right away if we find it," Jane realized. "If we've chasing something as mega-important as a copy of Hallan's Registry, we can go on looking for a few weeks more. Take in some of Europe. The South of France is great at this time of year. Well done, Anselmo."
"Okay, we give the guy a bonus," Peter said ungraciously. "Now, can we listen to this CD?"
Jane retired to her bedroom to phone their cuttings agency. She knew that her brother would want to play the CD through several times more and she had never been much of a fan of heavy rock music. She preferred light opera and musical shows, both of which her brother despised. She tapped out the number on the telephone with a sense of achievement.
Suppressing a dangerous book by taking it out of circulation was one thing. Taking action against someone spreading dangerous ideas paid much higher dividends. Jane's favourite quotation was a passage from her late uncle's will, a document almost as long as a film scenario:
‘No intelligent person can dispute that ideas have power. And that applies equally to beneficial and harmful ideas. Indeed, the very category into which an idea is place is highly subjective. If people see the opportunity to gain wealth and personal power in a "bad" idea, they will seek to gain followers for their cause, no matter how many others get hurt.
‘It is our Christian duty, therefore, to identify "bad" ideas and suppress them. If we are to consider ourselves "good" people, we must take steps to protect vulnerable people from harm. We must seek to strike a balance between personal freedom and "bad" ideas, and if those who attempt to spread "bad" ideas suffer some small personal inconvenience, then so be it.'
The trustees were under an obligation to ensure that the money in their charge was spent on projects that matched the criteria laid down by Hobbert Vance. Jane and Peter Vance believed that their guiding principles should be considerably more elastic than the trustees wished. Both sides knew that Hobbert Vance had defined a disputes procedure and both, which could result in replacement of either the trustees or the beneficiaries of the will. The respective sides were unwilling to evokeinvoke it in case they lost aeither their well-paid job ands or access to a lot of easy money respectively.
Thus each side pushed and each side gave ground as they looked for their own balance. And if third parties suffered inconvenience during their manoeuvring, well, that was just too bad.
Week Five of the Railhead Raiders' tour began in Norwich. Gigs in Ipswich, Peterborough, Milton Keynes and then two nights in Bristol were planned for that week. Despite a lot of music media focus on Intoxicant's new number and the impact that it was having on the audience, there was no real friction between the bands. All that happened was that the tour management pushed Railhead Raiders' merchandise harder and increased the number of record store signing sessions. The members of Intoxicant had also reached an unspoken agreement to throttle back slightly.
They had made their statement, they had wowed the fans with a new number, but they were in the music business to make a living. Maybe they could become headliners on the next tour, but they knew that they had to be good without rocking the boat too much on this particular tour.
Belinda had become virtually a full-time member of the tour management team during the day. Pete Astor was not sure whether to be insulted because she found him less fascinating than organizing people or relieved because he no longer had to keep her amused. Ex-secretary Jenny Grover, Dexie Jordan's current companion, also seemed to be caught up in the general urge to be useful.
The band had started to drop broad hints to Tony Stock that he should be paying his unofficial assistants and that he would be denounced to the press as an exploiter if he didn't. It was just routine harassment of the tour manager. Belinda was enjoying life on the road because it was totally new and very interesting. And actually doing something to earn her keep did wonders for her battered sense of self-esteem.
She did her share of drinking, tempered by the knowledge that she had to function in the morning, and she took the odd drag at a joint. She took no sort of high moral line on the more serious drugs that the other members of the party enjoyed, men and women, but she declined opportunities to try them. She was quite content to stick to what she knew: alcohol and cannabis.
Pete, she learned, never had to buy routine drugs. There were always people in circulation who thought it smart to hang out with musicians and who were willing to buy dope and share it with the musicians. She soon learned to spot the dopeheads among the general hangers on.
A typical one joined her and Pete Astor on the afternoon of their day at Milton Keynes. It was a warm, sunny Thursday and Belinda had skived off her unofficial work to join Astor for some sunbathing. He was wearing a sweatshirt with a scowling sun logo and the slogan: FU** skin cancer! He had chosen in preference to one with the slogan: Fcku Dyslexia! They had found a quiet spot in a park to sit and do nothing, and just enjoy not having anything to do.
A not particularly loud but penetrating wolf-howl jerked Belinda out of semi-sleep. She opened her eyes to see a man in well-worn denims approaching. He was wearing a baseball cap backwards, which marked him as what Syd Melchior called a jerkington of the first water.
"Yo! Pete! Wie geht's?" said a man in his middle thirties with a solid figure. "Schönes Wetter, nicht?"
"Yo! Al!" said Astor. "Es geht Gut, und du?"
"Nicht so schlim. Sagt, mal; ich hab' 'was wirklich besonderes Heute."
"Wirklich?" said Astor sceptically.
"Doch, Mensch! Wie immer."
"Ja? Das letzte war..., was kann man sagen? Unerträglich gewöhnlich, vielleicht?"
"Willst du's mal prüfen, oder? Ich hab' 'was Leb Cartelle."
"Als besondere Gunst. Bee, this is Al," Astor added, switching to English. "By the way, did you know you've got your hat on backwards?"
"Hello, Al," Belinda said with an empty smile, not letting on that she had studied German up to O-Level at school and she knew that he had ‘something special' in the way of dope.
"Hi, there." Al ignored the crack about his backward hat and produced a chrome-plated cigarette case. He took out what looked like a perfectly ordinary, unfiltered cigarette. It didn't look like a roll-up, but Belinda suspected that it was just that, Al's ‘something special'.
Al stayed with them for the time it took to carry out the ritual of smoking one of his joints. He presented Pete Astor with a couple more for later on in exchange for a pair of tickets to that evening's gig. Although she was no connoisseur of good dope, Belinda felt that Al's was well worth the tickets. When she had sampled the joint, she was even willing to forgive him for being such an arsehole and speaking to Pete in German to exclude her from the conversation.
"Das war sehr schön, das Dope," Belinda remarked when Al had left them, a quarter of an hour later. "Und sehr nett von Al."
"Du sprichst Deutsch?" Astor asked through a grin.
"Doch!" grinned Belinda. "Nearly enough to know what he was talking about most of the time."
"You bastard! Fancy not letting on."
"Not that I've ever been there. All I've done with my German since I left school is translate a few letters to impress a particularly dim boss."
"Hidden depths. I can't say the same. I must have been to the Fatherland a couple of dozen times on tours. And lots of other times on odd trips; visiting people or recording."
"I bet you've been to France too, you sod."
"More recording than gigs in France. They have this system of state subsidies for the music industry. So the studios import the odd foreigner to beef up their albums to give them some international marketing potential."
"How sordid! So you've got to speak French without an English accent?"
"Something like that."
"I bet you've been to the States, too, haven't you?"
"A few times, yes. I've spent a year or two there in quite big chunks."
"Is this working?"
"Right. I used to be in a band called Free Flight with Jimmy Rail of the Railheads, and we decided we'd go on a world tour. Two Yanks and two Brits, all the gear and this single-decker ex-school bus that one of the Yanks had bought. We spent about eighteen months on the road in the States, Canada and North Mexico."
"That's the world, is it?" scoffed Belinda.
"It's as much of the world you can drive to without risking what they call roads in the deep south of South America."
"You must have got on well with them. The four of you in this bus for a year and a half."
"Yeah, we had a great time. We'd work for a couple of months then take a week or so off to do some sight-seeing and fix up some more gigs. And we stayed in motels when we were feeling rich, so we weren't in the bus all the time."
"So why did you split up in the end?"
"The Yanks got a job on a film through one of their mates. And Jimmy and I wanted to see if the civilized world was still there across the Atlantic."
"Something else I've not done, been to the States, Canada or North Mexico," Belinda said mournfully.
"Go on, where else haven't you been?" grinned Astor. "Or are we going to be here all day? Maybe you'd better tell me where you have been abroad."
"I've been to France on day trips a couple of times. You know, booze-cruising, buying a vanload of cheap booze and fags and then selling it on. And I've been to Spain three times. Well, Majorca."
"If you haven't got fed up with us, we're off to Scandinavia in a few weeks."
"I know. Week Eight. I can even quote you the venues."
"Yes, of course," grinned Belinda, "you have this great aversion to knowing things."
"Actually, I think that probably goes back to that tour with Free Fall. All the hassle of getting gigs and getting to them on time; and even being there on the right day. Has Moanin' Tone said anything about paying you yet?"
"The advantage of doing something because you feel like it is you can walk off the job whenever you feel like it. And he's not so bad, you know. You may think Tone's a doshan bleeda but he's got a bloody difficult job."
"Speaking as someone who's doing most of it for him?" laughed Astor. "Isn't he worried the Japs are going to sack him and give you his job?"
"I doubt it. You know Monica was working a fiddle? And she got the sack? She didn't just leave."
"So she wasn't a victim of sexual harassment?"
"Just greed. Weird place, this, isn't it?"
"Come to sunny Milton Keynes, city of the future," Astor said in a dramatic tone.
"Does that Al bloke live here?"
"No, he's just passing through like the rest of us."
"What does he do?"
"I think he's in advertising or something. On the visual side. Probably taking photographs of something in the city of the future for some feature or other."
"Figures. Are we heading back now? I'm getting quite thirsty."
"Yo! Let's go and hang out at the venue like proper groupies," laughed Astor.
Someone from the record company had arranged a press briefing after the concert to announce the release date of a video about the Railhead Raiders. The members of Intoxicant and their entourage had been invited to the late party at the hotel to meet yet another bunch of journalists and to show that it was a happy tour and everyone was getting on very well together. That happened to be the truth, but the press, being the press, immediately assumed the opposite if the record company wanted to point it out.
As he drank a glass of medium-dry, medium-decent white wine and wondered what the insurance position would be if he caught food poisoning from the vol-au-vents, Pete Astor resisted temptation nobly. He wasn't quite sure that Blood Axe Stoker was being quite so noble, judging from the look of innocence on his face as he gave a gullible young journalist a colourful, 'real' inside story on the tour. Always giving in to temptation was an established part of Blood Axe's image.
The briefing was scheduled to run from eleven o'clock to midnight. When a man in a tatty raincoat called for silence a quarter to twelve and announced that he was Detective Inspector Holland of the Regional Drug Squad, Astor suspected some sort of a stunt. He looked on with total unconcern when two tough-looking men headed for his table. Belinda frowned anxiously at him, then she remembered that they had smoked the two joints supplied in the park by Al.
"Would you turn your pockets out, sir?" said one of the detectives.
"Got a search warrant?" said Astor, not getting up.
"Just do it, sir," said the detective with false patience.
Astor emptied his trouser pockets, then reached for his jacket, which was hanging on the back of his chair.
"Allow me, sir." The other detective plucked the white suede jacket away while Astor was leaning forward. "Oh, dear. What do we have here?"
Silence spread as he held up a small, clear plastic bag containing a corner filled with white powder. Pete Astor experienced a moment of violent shock. He realized that someone had seized an opportunity to ditch contraband into his jacket. He was innocent, but he knew that trying to prove it would be a waste of time in the circumstances. And then he thought of something that someone else had thought of a long time after he had been busted in similar circumstances. It was worth trying.
Astor leaned back in his chair and put on a mocking smile. "Is that what you do at the Police Ball?" he asked scornfully. "Your turn? The disappearing and reappearing bag of white powder? That was the worst attempt there's ever been at planting evidence on someone. And I've been in this business over twenty years, so I've seen plenty."
"You what?" said the detective indignantly.
"Or is this some stunt?" Astor continued. "Is this where your alleged detective inspector rips his clothes off and does a cop-a-gram because it's someone's birthday?"
"This is no stunt and you're under arrest under suspicion of possession of a controlled substance," said the inspector. "You're not obliged to say anything but I have to warn you it may harm your defence if you fail to mention when questioned something you later rely on in court. Anything you do say will be taken down and may be given in evidence."
"Okay," said Astor, "I wish to say I'm amazed you did such a bad job of planting something on me in front of a room full of witnesses. I think your man needs to go back to the conjurer's training school."
"Right!" agreed Blood Axe. "That was a really pathetic job of fitting someone up."
"Shut it, you," said one of the detectives.
"Or what?" sneered Blood Axe. "You'll fit me up too?"
"I did not bloody well plant that," the detective with Astor's jacket told a reporter when she aimed her cassette recorder at him.
"I would like to add, for the record, and I hope you're writing this down, that I think this is a really cheap trick," Astor added in a loud voice as the two detectives bundled him toward the door.
The detective inspector looked at the other musicians as if he was thinking about having them searched. Then he thought better of it. The tour staff went straight into damage-limitation mode as the reporters buzzed eagerly in search of a comment. Jimmy Rail launched into an account of his elder brother's experiences of the time when the London drug squad had been chasing after every famous musician in the capital, using the New Musical Express to compile lists of people to visit, making legal arrests when they could, planting evidence when there was none to be found.
Rail compared the tactic to train-spotting and he took great delight in remembering the names of scourges of the pop scene who had been arrested in their turn and either imprisoned or slung off the force for corruption. Belinda let Angela take her back to her room. She had a sick feeling inside and she knew that the bubble had burst.
Pete Astor was seven-nil in terms of arrests and convictions. On each previous occasion, he had been scooped up in a raid on a party or a club and released later for lack of evidence. As he travelled to a police station in the back of a police car, he reflected that it was ironic that his luck should run out again on a night when he had such a perfect defence.
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.