We grow up in a field of dreams,
Shielded from the hard light of day,
Which always manages to penetrate our isolation somehow.
Astor's general air of unconcerned amusement persuaded Inspector Holland to call in the police surgeon to confirm that he was fit for questioning. Holland suspected that Astor was on something that was making him so calm. The doctor, a fiftyish, greying blonde with an air of professional detachment, frowned at Holland when she delivered her report. To her, it was quite obvious that Astor was a little bit drunk but perfectly aware of what he was doing and saying, and that the call-out had been a total waste of her time.
Tony Stock had been busy, following one of his emergency routines. A somewhat weary-looking solicitor called Brian Radlett arrived at the police station just after the doctor had completed her examination and just before the detective inspector was ready to interview Astor. The solicitor insisted on speaking to his client before the formal interview.
Believing that he had an unshakable case, Inspector Holland let him. He wanted to get the job finished and get home. The taped interview began at a quarter to one. Astor was feeling quite perky. Everyone else looked as if he had reached the end of a long, very hard day. Brian Radlett was looking tired but quietly confident.
"Before we get too involved," the solicitor said when D.I. Holland had listed those present for the benefit of the tape, "my client wishes to tell you something that may be useful."
"Oh, yes?" said Holland with a mocking smile.
"Yes. Mr. Astor gave the jacket he's wearing to the hotel's cleaning service when he arrived this morning. And a member of the hotel staff actually delivered it to him in the function room just before the press conference began. So as far as he knew, the pockets were empty."
"And yet, what we expect will be identified as a quantity of cocaine was found in his jacket," said the inspector.
"Says who?" said Astor. "You've got no proof that packet was ever in my pocket. The first I saw of it was in your bloke's hand."
"Don't be silly," said Holland. "Someone must have put it in your pocket. Are you telling me it wasn't you?"
"I'm saying I have no reason to believe it was ever in my pocket," said Astor. "I've actually seen coppers planting drugs on people in London, so I know it goes on. And I can give you details of drug busts on musicians that were thrown out of court because the police made a lousy job of the fit-up. So don't expect me to roll over and play dead for you."
"You might find it somewhat inconvenient if we have to keep you in custody for twenty-four hours while we make inquiries. Where is it you're supposed to be tomorrow? Bristol, is it?"
"And you might find it somewhat embarrassing when I shove a complaint in about the way you and your posse fitted me up. And sue the chief constable of Milton Keynes for loss of earnings. The only person I ever saw with that plastic bag was the detective who planted it on me. That's what I saw and that's the way I'm telling it. You can try and put whatever spin you like on it, pally, but if anyone asks me why I was down the police station, that's what they're going to hear. I still say that's the worst job of planting 'evidence' ever. In fact, I reckon it's my public duty to lodge an official complaint against the bloke concerned because he's so inept. I really expect your men to be better trained at fitting people up, Inspector."
Inspector Holland gave Astor a long, patient look, then he put on a reasonable tone of voice. "Look, Peter, you can't deny we found drugs in your jacket, can you? They were found in front of a whole roomful of witnesses."
"It's Mr. Astor to someone who pays your wages, Inspector. And I do deny drugs were ever in my jacket. The first time I ever saw that plastic bag was in your bloke's hand."
"After he took it out of your pocket."
"He says," scoffed Astor.
"I really do think you're flogging a dead donkey on this one, Inspector," said the solicitor. "My client was carrying around a jacket that was just back from the cleaners and as far as he knew, the pockets were empty. And he's prepared to defend himself vigorously against any suggestion that he was in possession of illegal drugs."
"Not even a little coke, perhaps for personal use?"
"I don't do coke," said Astor, telling the literal truth.
"What do you do?" said the inspector. "Lebanese Cartelle, maybe?"
"You don't have to answer that question," said the solicitor.
"Okay," said Astor, beginning to wonder if the local drug squad had been keeping an eye on his good buddy Al in the hope of seeing him talking to interesting people.
"We could go and search your hotel room and see what that turns up," said the inspector.
"You can go on an excursion to Blackpool for all I care," Astor told him. "It'll probably do you more good."
"Yes, your friends will have flushed anything illegal by now. I bet you're popular in the morning."
"What's a morning? Us musicians never get up before the crack of noon."
"Do you have anything more you wish to put to my client, Inspector?" interrupted the solicitor. "Because I suspect both you and I have to be up and about tomorrow morning even if my client doesn't. If not, in view of the circumstances and my client's lack of opportunity as far as possessing your alleged packet of white powder is concerned, I would suggest you release him without further ado."
The inspector terminated the interview and left Astor and his solicitor in the interview room for as long as it took them to smoke one of Brian Radlett's cigarettes apiece. Five minutes later, Astor was shown the door. He had been released on police bail for a month pending further inquiries.
"You won't have to come back, you know," Radlett told Astor as they walked to his car. "It's just a formality. You'll be notified in due course that the whole matter's being dropped. So you really think the Drug Squad planted that coke on you?"
"Nah, it was probably one of the journalists," grinned Astor. "Not planting it specifically. Just panicking and dumping it in the first place that was handy."
"Not one of your fellow musicians, then? Or the road managers?"
"No way. Anyone from the bands or the roadies would have just dropped the bag and walked away from it. I mean, it's not as if it's the first raid we've ever been in. Or likely to be the last one in the whole history of the universe."
"So yelling 'fit-up' was just a bargaining position?"
"They accused me so I accused them right back. After that, it's all down to who's got the worst image. The drug-crazed musician or corrupt cops."
"And truth, honour and justice fly straight out of the window?"
"Since when have those things had anything to do with getting arrested?" scoffed Astor. "Or much to do with how you make your living?"
"Touché," smiled the solicitor.
Belinda was still awake and worrying when Astor reached his hotel room. She was amazed to see him. She took his release as proof that the British system of justice does actually work occasionally. After raiding the mini-bar for a celebration drink, they settled down to sleep. Belinda was surprised to find that she had managed to drop off when a mid-morning wake-up call woke her.
A typical suit-and-loud-tie from the record company caught up with Pete Astor as he was unpacking in the hotel in Bristol. A number of journalists had left messages for him seeking his comments, but Astor and Belinda had crawled out of bed with just enough time to grab some breakfast, pack and be last aboard the Intoxicant minibus.
They had seen sketchy reports in that morning's newspapers of a musician being busted for possession of drugs. There were very few details and editors seemed reluctant to say too much in case there really had been a fit-up, they overstepped the mark and they ended up being sued. Some articles mentioned Intoxicant's sensational new number and a few journalists were trying to stir up trouble by hinting that the band was blowing the Railheads off the stage every night, but the whole scandal was pretty much of a non-event.
What was really giving the papers a thrill, and filling their pages, was the juicy political-financial scandal just breaking in Japan. There were rumours that current and past British government ministers were also involved, and the papers were digging furiously into a blizzard of official denials.
The suit-and-loud-tie, whose name was Colin, had been stuck with the job of composing a press release. Astor gave him the bare facts and shooed him out of the room. Colin was looking reasonably happy with a story of some sort to tell. The provable saga of the suede jacket added a little credibility to a musician's denial when the natural reaction of a journalist would be that Astor was a lying bastard; and so were the police too, most probably.
It had to be the bad bust, Astor decided after the gig, that had made him play out of his socks that evening. He had gone on stage in an unenhanced condition chemically, but the combination of the heat and the noise and the vibrations and the lights had sent him off on what had felt like a wild trip.
Syd Melchior's wolf-howl at the end of the The Portal brought him down to Earth somewhat, leaving him with a vague impression of having gazed at impossible landscapes peopled with a multitude of fantastic creatures. He knew from past experience that it was possible to work so hard on his playing that he buggered up his blood chemistry in terms of the oxygen/carbon dioxide balance, which could launch him into an hallucinatory state. He knew that he had just been on a really good, self-generated trip.
He left the stage feeling drained, content and sure that he had played one of the best sets of his life. When Tony Stock delivered another warning to the band in the dressing room, Astor let it pass over his head while the others traded the usual insults. If the fans were talking about Intoxicant and not the headliners, that was a reason for the Railheads to do better.
The others seemed to share Astor's post-excellence lethargy. Nobody felt like going out to a club. After a leisurely meal in a nearby restaurant, they just hung about in the hotel's bar chatting and watching television. Belinda started yawning uncontrollably at about eleven. Astor decided they needed an early night.
"Do you have to crash out too when your groupie can't keep her eyes open?" Belinda remarked when they were in their room. "Aren't you supposed to carry on partying until dawn?"
"What, with a reserve groupie?" laughed Astor. "Actually, I'm feeling quite knackered myself. It's been quite a strenuous twenty-four hours, what with one thing and another."
"Do you often get arrested and chucked in gaol like that?"
"One of the hazards of the job. Fortunately, I can afford a decent lawyer now. Or the record company can. Saves having to wake up at some ungodly hour for a police breakfast."
"They just chucked you out in the middle of the night and let you make your own breakfast arrangements?"
"Something like that. I take it you're much too respectable ever to have been arrested?"
"In my case, it's more a lack of chances to be led into temptation," Belinda said, half regretfully.
"Stick with me, kid. We'll soon cross that off your Not-Nevers list."
"I think I can do without that one. Oh, yes, I can tell you another I've thought of. I've never had any K.F.C."
"Any what?" frowned Astor.
"Kentucky Fried Chicken."
"And I've never been to Balti. You know, that sort of Indian food that used to be fashionable in restaurants."
"Have you ever been to Euro-Disney?"
"You've got to be joking!"
"Have you ever been to the Parc Astérix in France? That's well worth a look. I spent an afternoon there on the way back from some recording sessions. It's a great place. All about Astérix the Gaul and his mates."
"Oh, yes, I used to have some of the cartoon books about him. The park sounds well worth a visit."
"Maybe we could take a run over there the week after next, in our week off. If you've not got fed up with me before then."
"Not much danger of that." Belinda put on a smile of contentment. "This life really suits me."
"Yeah, well, you wait till you've been doing it for twenty years," Astor warned.
"Wow! Do people in your business really live that long?"
"One or two. Nearer one than two. We could go by train, too. Or have you been through the Channel Tunnel?"
"Joke!" said Belinda.
"If having a shag in an airliner's bog two miles up in the air is called joining the Mile-High Club, what would you call having a shag on a Chunnel train?"
"I don't know. How deep is the Channel Tunnel?"
"Beats me." Astor shrugged. "The Fifty-Metre-Deep Club? Doesn't have the same ring to it, does it? And what would you call it on a cross-Channel ferry? The Forty-Two-Feet-Above-Sea-Level Club? That doesn't work either."
"Bet that doesn't stop people doing it." Belinda yawned massively. "God, I'm tired."
Astor yawned too. "Yeah, this is obviously an alternative to having a headache. Get the bloke yawning his head off."
"There's always tomorrow."
"As they said to the bloke they were hanging at midnight."
"Oh, yes," Belinda remembered between yawns, "you nearly lost your book on black magic. It must have fallen down between the bed and the bedside cabinet last night. I only found it down there this morning when I lost the top off an aerosol and I had to scrabbling around looking for it."
"Oh, great," said Astor between yawns. "We can't afford to lose that. It's got a lot more trouble-making capacity in it."
After inspecting the cuttings delivered by their agency and listening again to the track on the bootleg CD, the Vances knew that Intoxicant was a legitimate target for the Vukovar Foundation's attention. They decide to attend the gig advertised in Bristol on Friday to see for themselves how just 'dangerous' the band could be branded. Jane Vance also commissioned a search of the musicians' hotel rooms.
Ivan, her tame private investigator, turned in a negative report on Friday morning. He had seen no sign of the grimoire. Deprived of this physical evidence, Jane settled for the second prize and phoned the director of the foundation's Action Wing. There was clear evidence on the CD that the composer of The Portal had seen the grimoire. If Pete Astor had not bought the one that had been floating around in the Stockport/Manchester area, then he had taken notes from a copy seen in either a library or a private collection. In either event, a number like The Portal moved Intoxicant into a 'getting noticed and therefore dangerous' category.
One way for the Vances to justify a claim for expenses for their trip to Europe was to use the foundation to put pressure on the record company to stop the band performing dangerous material and deprive the forces of evil of the oxygen of publicity. And if the trustees tried to give the Vances a hard time, Jane and Peter would just provide them with a transcript of the lyric and mention that Hallan's Registry featured prominently in their late uncle's index of dangerous books.
The Vances knew that they could back up that line by getting some tame psychologist to say, for an appropriate fee, that The Portal's potential for having a highly undesirable effect on impressionable people was every high, and that it was likely to have a triggering effect on people close to the edge.
Further, Jane realized, if Pete Astor had not bought the grimoire, then it could still be 'loose' in the North of England and they could still claim legitimate expenses while looking for it. The trustees were liable to be more difficult over expenses for an unproductive search but the Vances were becoming quite expert at transferring cash out of their control.
The foundation had provided Jane with the name of a record company executive, who was susceptible to the machinations of Christian pressure groups. Ellen Mayberry finally returned one of Jane's calls on Sunday. The executive had been hopping around the United States in pursuit of a new signing. By then, the Vances had obtained opinions from three well respected psychologists about The Portal's dangers. They had also consulted the tactical program on the foundation's main computer, which had told them that isolating Pete Astor would be a sufficient initial damage-limitation exercise.
Persuading some record company executive to order the band not to play The Portal was one thing. Paying bribes to get Pete Astor thrown out of a band and off the tour involved a higher level of expenses and greater skimming potential. The Vances were now skilled at spinning a few possibilities into a full-scale and costly search for 'dangerous' people or books.
Their building blocks were usually fewer and less substantial, but on this trip, they had clear evidence that a copy of Hallan's Registry had passed through a sale in the North of England and conclusive proof that Pete Astor had seen another copy in a private library if a snap search had failed to turn up the grimoir from the sale in his hotel room. The pickings from this trip looked like being particularly rich.
Just taking a quick look at the enemy's territory, the Vances had called at Astor's home, where a female house sitter was in permanent residence. According to Ivan, their private eye, the woman was around Astor's age, she had known him since his school days, she was not living there as an employee and her name was Wendy Xanadu.
The house sitter was suspicious of American strangers on a Sunday, even if they asked for Pete, as if suspecting them of being Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses, and she had no idea what a grimoire was. To her, it was a grim-what? She had told the Vances only that Pete was on tour and that the tour dates were available in the national press.
The Vances had concluded that Astor had come across the grimoire just before the tour and that the band had been polishing their shock number for a couple of weeks before performing it. Back-tracking would give the Vances another set of well-padded expenses to unload on their trustees as they searched for two copies of the grimoire. Peter Vance liked his namesake's music and he was starting to feel a little sorry for Astor, but greed overcame compassion any day of the week.
The second night in Bristol went almost as well as the first for both bands. Then came a day off before Cardiff. The bands had decided to stay in Bristol, fearing that Wales would be shut on a Sunday. On Monday morning, they started out for the motorway at the unusually early hour of ten o'clock. Their route lay along the M32 to the M4 and then across the Severn Road Bridge to South Wales.
Astor was the last to arrive at the venue for the inevitable sound check. He was surprised to find that the others had gone on ahead of him and that the tour manager had been prepared to let Cath make the extra trip for Belinda and himself. One of the roadies directed him to Tony Stock's caravan-truck when the late arrivals reached the venue.
The mobile headquarters was parked near the rear entrance to the concert hall and served as a travelling office and crisis centre. Belinda, now a familiar figure to the security staff, wandered on ahead to look at the concert hall. Astor found the rest of the band waiting with Tony Stock, all looking very uncomfortable.
"This looks like a lynching," remarked Astor. "I take it some Jap didn't go a bundle on my bad drug bust?"
"Not quite." Tony Stock handed him a CD. "The problem they had was with this."
Astor looked at it, frowning. The cover showed a picture of the band on stage with the familiar Art Deco Intoxicant logo. The track listing seemed to cover the current set. "So what's this?" Astor said at last. "I don't remember signing up for a live album. Unless I was out of my head at the time."
"It's an Eyetie bootleg," said Syd Melchior.
"The cheeky bastards!" said Astor.
"The point is, Pete," said Stock, "they bootlegged you but not the Railheads, and the record company is going up the wall about that. You know what these Orientals are like about pecking orders. They reckon if someone says the support band is better than the headliners, they've screwed up and that means they lose face."
"Maybe they did screw up." Astor said warily.
"And they're also pissed off because the opening band's being picketed by the 'Christians Against Black Magic', or whatever," added Stock. "And getting noticed more than the non-BMR Railheads. And just to complicate things even further, three psychologists have come out and said listening to The Portal could have a dangerous effect on impressionable people. And the recording company is sure it doesn't want to be involved in claims for compensation - whether justified or vexatious litigation."
"What a load of bollocks!" scoffed Astor.
"Even so," said Stock, "the bottom line is either Intoxicant drop your new song and never play it again, and get a new lead guitarist, or the band's off the tour."
"I reckon we should tell them to phuck off," said Blood Axe.
"So then they'll tell you to phuck off," said Astor. "And given the state of the music business, they'll just bring in another band and we'd all be out of a job."
"Even so, it's your call, Pete," said Syd Melchior. "If you want to fight them, we're with you. And that includes Jimmy Rail and his crew. Everyone. One-oh-one."
"Do I play the Sydney Carton part and go to the guillotine quietly or do I sue the hell out of the Japs and kick up a stink and get us all black-balled forever?" Astor mused. "And make sure no one ever works with me again? Okay, Tone, I expect to be paid in full for the tour. In cash. Today. And I expects the usual royalty arrangements for the band using my material. And let's not be in any doubt I'll stop the whole tour with an injunction if there's any funny business about royalties."
"There certainly won't be any problems if I have any say in the matter," Stock assured him. "And I do feel very bad about this. And so do the Railheads. But the root problem is the amount of money a record company puts into a tour like this and the return they demand on it..."
"...and they're in shock because this tour's making money and they're not used to that," finished Astor. "Well, what can I say? It's been nice knowing you, guys."
"Phuckin' Jap bastards," said Blood Axe. "We're not going to stand for this, are we?"
"Maybe we can get together again when the tour's over?" said Syd, trying to make the best of a dirty deal.
"Why not?" said Astor, knowing that it was not likely to happen. "I assume you've got some bits of paper for me to sign, Tone?"
The rest of the band drifted away, leaving Astor to study the termination agreement that had been drawn up. It was a situation that he knew well, partly from previous experience and mainly from giving advice to others who had found themselves out of favour for one reason or another. Having been there before, he knew his rights, he knew the sort of sneaky tricks that recording companies slip in to the small print and he knew where to push to get his just entitlements, and maybe a bit more, and when to let an abuse ride.
Checking over the contract while Tony Stock carried on organizing around him took Astor a good half hour. Unaware of the irresistible pressure that had been brought to bear on the record company, and not knowing that the Vukovar Foundation was meeting the cost of getting rid of him, Astor was rather surprised by how generous the pay-off was. He knew, however, that talking freely about his sacking could lead to even more embarrassment for the record company and that they were being more generous than they had to be to get him to sign the no-press-comment clause without protest.
Eventually, Tony Stock fed the document, plus Astor's pushing-his-luck changes, into a fax machine for approval by a higher authority. Astor left the caravan-truck, taking with him the copy of the Italian bootleg CD that had caused all the trouble.
Things had been happening in the meantime. Astor knew that Tony Stock would have recruited a session guitarist to make up the numbers until Intoxicant could audition a more permanent replacement - as permanent as permanence ever gets in the rock music industry. Any fans hoping to hear the wolf-howl from the stage in Cardiff were in for a big disappointment. The set here would be a pale shadow of the Bristol sets with the lead guitarist trying to read unfamiliar music on stage and busking furiously.
Belinda was looking quite angry when Astor caught up with her. Inevitably, she was busy with one of the many organizational tasks that went with setting up for one night in a new venue.
"I suppose you know I've been sacked," Astor said casually.
"I don't see how the bastards can do this to you," Belinda said indignantly.
"They can do it because they've got all the money and all the power, and you can only make so many waves in this business before they let you drown. Plus the accountants are worried about being sued by some crook looking for a half-decent excuse."
"So that's it? You just stop being in the band?"
"Just like switching off a light," nodded Astor.
"What does a musician do with himself when that happens? I don't remember many cards for guitarists down the Job Centre."
"You make a few phone calls, let people know you're available for sessions, let others know you're available to be in their band if they're looking for someone brilliant... And like that."
"So you're going to be okay?"
"Oh, sure. I've been in this business over twenty years. You have to learn to enjoy the ups and wait out the downs. And there's my redundancy money, too."
"You get redundancy money?" said Belinda in a disbelieving tone.
"That's what it amounts to. I am under contract for the tour for another four weeks, even if one of them's a week off. If the Japs want to break that contract, it's going to cost them a few bob. And I shoved a bit extra on the bill for you. I'm sorry the bubble burst so soon."
"Ah," said Belinda.
"Something going on I don't know about?"
"It's just that Tony has offered me a properly paid job," Belinda said apologetically. "As his personal assistant."
"Impressed by how you don't let bolshy sods get away with anything?"
"Something like that."
"So you're still getting your holiday trip to Scandinavia? Except you won't see much of it if you're working for Tone. There's always more than enough going on to keep the support staff jumping."
"You don't mind, Pete?"
"Are you enjoying what you're doing?"
"Oh, yes. It's great. It's the best thing that's happened to me for ages, meeting you and getting in here."
"And what about after the tour finishes?"
"It's a permanent job he's offered me. I'll be getting straight on with helping to set up another tour, then going out on the road."
"So that's it, is it? No job, no girlfriend, no nothing?" Astor put on a comical expression of extreme misery. "Anyone got any sleepers and a bottle of cheap vodka?"
"You're not really that bothered, are you, Pete?" Belinda asked cautiously.
"It was always going to be fun for as long as lasted. Nothing more guaranteed. We both knew that. Okay, so it ends up with you having to work for a living again and me stuck on the outside with a life of leisure. C'est la stinking vie."
"Bee, can you sort this?" called someone.
"What are you doing now?" said Belinda.
"Hanging around, waiting for a fax to come in from the recording company to okay my termination agreement. I'll see you later."
"Bee! We need you. Like, now."
"Okay, don't doshan panic," Belinda called. "See you later, Pete." She flashed a quick smile at Astor and hurried away to sort out someone's problem.
Astor decided to walk back to the hotel, taking the chance to do some thinking. He was still mentally prepared for the routines of a day on tour -the sound check, hanging around, Intoxicant's warm-up set before the headliners, a meal and drinks in a new club, back to the hotel with Belinda... All that had come to a dead stop. As he had told Bee, the change was as final as switching off a light. Life had to go on but it would take a positive effort to get it kick-started again.
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.