In the face of the unreasonable,
We all act badly, we all do exactly what we know we shouldn't,
And sod the consequences.
Pete Astor became aware of a hammering on his bedroom door and threats to wake him up with a bucketful of cold water. It was Wendy, he decided, proving that even though they had been out enjoying themselves at the Astoria until well into the small hours of that morning, she could still get up before lunchtime.
"Is that an angel of mercy with my breakfast?" he called before surrendering to a massive yawn.
"There's someone on the phone for you from Elizabeth, New Jersey. I thought it was one of your girlfriends at first."
"New Jersey!?" scoffed Astor. "It's still the middle of the night there."
"Yes, well, maybe your mate hasn't gone to bed yet. Are you going to answer it? Or shall I tell them to call back when you're alive?"
"Okay, I'm lifting the receiver right now." Astor stretched an arm in the general direction of his bedside unit. "Yo? Pete Astor?"
"I have Grenville Exonard the Third on the line for you, Mr. Astor," said an efficient, secretary voice.
"Hey, Pete, how the hell's it going, buddy?" bellowed an enthusiastic voice.
"God, is that you, Gren?" sighed Astor. "What are you doing up this early?"
"Some of us ain't been to bed yet," said Grenville. "So are you awake now?"
"Maybe I should just have spoken to your secretary."
"That was no secretary, that's Wendy. You remember her? We used to stay at her place when she lived on the West Coast."
"Yeah! That weird chick. Into all sorts of mysticism and such. What the hell happened to you? You get married, or something?" Grenville added incredulously.
"No, she's my house sitter. Looks after the place when I'm on tour."
"Except I hear you're not doing that any more. You're a real high flier in the recording and event management business now. Which makes two of us."
"What, you mean you've packed in playing the guitar for a living? Well, you never were much cop, were you?"
"I shall ignore that cruel remark." Grenville told him loftily. "So anyway, what I called about, we're looking to put a top English BMR band into a tour on the West Coast. December to February, with an option to do March if the demand stays hot. And someone told me Intoxicant came to Kiron Sounds after they got their asses fired off of the last tour."
"The guys are all on holiday at the moment, but I'll see if I can contact them to see if they're interested."
"You mean there's a chance they might not be?" laughed Grenville.
"Well, you know how awkward musicians get," Astor told him. "Having knocked about with some yourself. So what is it you're doing now, exactly?"
"Remember my Uncle Steve?"
"Is that the one with the bar in Jersey City?"
"No, that's Uncle Stan. Uncle Steve's with a growing theatrical management company, and things are really taking off for them on the rock music side. Tours going everywhere. I'm working for them as a technical advisor."
"What, on the brands of booze and illegal pharmaceuticals to put in the dressing rooms?" laughed Astor.
"So when will you be in contact with your guys?" Grenville ignored the question pointedly.
"I'll see if I can get back to you tonight. Or tomorrow morning. Is this something you want fixed up yesterday?"
"The day before, if possible."
"Okay, the best thing to do in the meantime is fax a draft contract to my people and they can start looking for all the sneaky tricks you've built into it. Hang on, let me find a pen to write your number down."
Astor exchanged telephone and fax numbers with Grenville. Wendy arrived to throw open his curtains and provide a mug of coffee as he was sending his closing regards to the First and Second Grenville Exonards.
"Where do I know that name from?" Wendy remarked, perching on the end of the bed to sip her own coffee.
"Remember nearly twenty years ago, when I was touring round the States and Mexico and Canada with a band called Free Fall in an old school bus?"
"That was with Jimmy Rail, wasn't it?"
"Right. Jimmy on drums, Grenville on bass guitar and Ashley Wendt on keyboards. And the two of us, Gren and me, stayed at your place a couple of times when you lived in Sunny California."
"So what does he want, Mr. The Third? Is he looking for a job?"
"No, it sounds like he's got himself a pretty excellent one in tour management. So what time did you get up, early bird?"
"About half an hour ago. That was a good night last night."
"Certainly was." Astor reached for his phone and moved it on to the bed, where he could see the speed-dial buttons. "Isn't technology marvellous? You can do all sorts of super-high-power business without getting out of bed, these days."
The doorbell shrilled.
"That'll be the postman." Wendy left at a gallop.
One press of a speed-dial button put Astor in touch with James Faucumberg. He warned James to expect a contract fax from the United States, then told him about Grenville's tour plans.
"Sounds great, apart from one thing," James told him.
"Like what?" said Astor.
"We don't actually have Intox under contract to us."
"Details, James," scoffed Astor.
"I don't suppose we need to send any tour staff with them," said James, thinking aloud.
"What about our secret weapon? R.V."
"Well, yes, sending him to the US as a security liaison executive, as I believe they're called now, that would be a very good idea."
"We should be able to put a crew together without too much trouble. We'll just need two or three of our people so the band have got someone on their side."
"You think that's important, having someone on your side?"
"Listen, when you're stuck out in the wilds of the West Coast of the U.S. of A., you do need someone to fight your corner and sort things out for you so you can concentrate on the music."
"The wilds of the West Coast, Pete?" scoffed James. "You make it sound like the Nevada bloody desert."
"Yeah, well, when you're living in Hotel City on the road, even the biggest cities can feel like a hundred miles of bad road if you think the tour management's screwing you and you haven't got a big enough stick to beat them with."
"Speaking as a persecuted, paranoid musician?"
"As they say in the States, phuckin' A!"
"Do you know where they are, the band?"
"Yeah, I can get in touch with them. So you'll get on the contracts and get R.V. up to speed?"
"I'll need to find a replacement for him while he's away."
"If you had an easy job, me old James," Astor told him, "I'd be doing it in my spare time and you'd be sitting at home, festering."
"How comforting those words are," scoffed James. "Right, I'll be in touch later."
Astor left a message at a contact number supplied by Angela Melchior in her latest postcard, then he decided that it was time for the busy tycoon to get up. The coffee had woken him up and he was feeling hungry. Wendy returned at that moment to deluge him with catalogues and prize-draw offers.
"If this is the best that bloody postman can do, I reckon we need a new one,"Astor complained.
"There's also a card from Craig."
"Mwrdn's brother. His band's called Caradoc and they're doing some gigs around Bristol this week."
"I'm surprised he doesn't call himself Crg if you're not allowed to have any vowels in your name if you're Welsh."
"Is this you having a go at my friends again, mate?" said Wendy aggressively.
"Everyone knows the Welsh are fundamentally weird and untrustworthy, especially those who invent names for themselves without using vowels. What was wrong with Mary Jones? Or even Mary Smith, after she got married. And why did she hang on to the Smith after the divorce ..."
"So you're going to see Craig's band and you're going to give them a gig at the Astoria, aren't you?" Wendy said in an uncompromising tone.
"Just because I used to know one of the guys years ago and just because his sister's another weirdo from the Planet Wezzer, that's a good reason for giving some Welsh band a gig?"
"Yes, it is. Are you getting up today?"
"I'll leave you to it, then."
Showered, shaven and feeling quite free of hangover symptoms, Astor was just about to attack a well-filled toasted bacon sandwich when the phone began to ring.
"Hi, it's Ange," said a familiar voice. "You wanted to talk?"
"Yo, Ange, how's it going?" said Astor. "I was expecting to hear from you about half-past next week."
"Luckily, you just happened to hit us on a rest day. If you'd called tomorrow, it would have been half-past next week before your message caught up with us."
"So where are you now?"
"Just round the coast from Gibraltar. On the Mediterranean side. Would you believe it, they're all here? The whole of the band? I think we all must have heard of the same good deal from separate travel agents."
"So you're having a good time, then?"
"The guys are enjoying just waving to each other in passing without having to get together. Syd's having one of his sight-seeing binges. I think we've covered ninety thousand miles since we got here."
"So you don't reckon the guys would fancy a three-month tour of the American West Coast?"
"You're kidding!" laughed Angela. "Who would they have to kill to get on that?"
"All they have to do is bribe someone with influence at KS and get themselves signed up."
"Just a minute. Syd's just come in."
Astor waited through fifteen seconds of off-phone briefing.
"Yo, Pete, me old mate, me old buddy! Consider it done!" said Syd. "When do we leave?"
"Hang on," laughed Astor, "we haven't got any details sorted out. We've got to argue about contracts and things yet. But you'll have to ship out within the next couple of weeks if it comes off. You'll have to spend Christmas and New Year in the States."
"Sounds great! Fix it up, Pete, please, please, please. I'll be your friend for life."
"And you reckon that's an incentive?" scoffed Astor. "I should have a word with the other guys first. Make sure they're all on-side. Ange tells me you're all there in sunny Spain?"
"It's more cloudy than sunny at the moment, but I bet it's a lot warmer than where you are. I should just go ahead and assume we'll all be on-side. Anyone who doesn't want to go, we'll just fire his ass off the band and replace him. The way we got rid of that guitarist guy. What was his name? Begins with an A ..."
"Okay. Have you got a fax number there? Do they have faxes in Spain?"
"Ange has just called you an insular petty Brit," laughed Syd. "I'll suss one out and get back to you. I always said we'd be better off signing with your label."
Astor finished his breakfast before contacting James with the news that Intoxicant was ready and willing to sign with Kiron Sounds. Feeling that he had done enough tycooning for one day, Astor retired to his music room to put some new ideas into his digital recording equipment and do some more tweaking to Under Alien Skies. He and Cherryl Lamar were spending so much time together at Melody Studios that some people were already gossiping about an affair.
The distant sound of a vacuum cleaner, heard in a quiet moment, told Astor that Kevin David, the live-out housekeeper, was on the scene and busy dust-busting. Everyone was hard at work on that particular Wednesday.
Eventually, in the early afternoon, Astor ran into a trough between ideas captured and ideas still in development. He went down to the kitchen to fix himself some coffee and a snack. He could see Kevin David out in the back garden, raking up the leaves, which was usually his parting gesture.
Astor took three cooked sausages and a couple of tomatoes from the fridge and zapped them with microwaves. He built himself a sandwich with thick slices from one of the unsliced wholemeal loaves that Wendy insisted on buying from a small local bakery. The coffee machine finished making its gurgling noises just when he was ready to fill his mug. Inevitably, the phone started to ring just as he was about to start his snack.
"Starving millions?" Astor announced himself.
"Is that you, Pete? It's Bee," said a puzzled voice.
"Every time I sit down to have something to eat, the phone rings. I mean, every time. It's uncanny. So how's it going?"
"It's not. Guess what? Your pals the Jap record company have fired me."
"It's all to do with the Intox row. The Japs reckon it made them look bad so someone has to take the blame for it. So they fired Tone. And as he hired me, I got the push too."
"So you're all bent out of shape?"
"More a bit droopy at the edges, but that's mainly because Tone and I have been giving his minibar a bit of a bashing."
"What, you're in his room?" Astor said, pretending outrage.
"Can I have a word with him?"
The telephone changed hands.
"Hi, Pete," said Tony Stock.
"Yo, Tone! I won't ask how it's going because Bee's just told me it's not."
"I guess you know exactly what it's like."
"Oh, sure, I get fired all the time," scoffed Astor. "So anyway, I've got this three-month US tour coming up and I need some support staff. Are you and Bee up for that?"
"A three-month US tour?" Stock repeated blankly.
"The good news is you're on the payroll right away if it comes off, the bad news is you're going with Intoxicant."
"Bee's just fainted," laughed Stock.
"Are you two itemized, by any chance?"
"More or less. Is that any sort of a problem?"
"I suppose double hotel rooms will be cheaper than two singles. So you know where to find us in Croydon?"
"I think every bugger in the business knows where Kiron Sounds hangs out."
"So when can you get down here? By tonight?"
"No problem," said Belinda, taking over the phone. "What are we doing about a place to stay in darkest Croydon?"
"I'll get my personal Travel and Transport Executive to book you the smallest room they've got in a cheap hotel somewhere grotty."
Astor passed on Caroline's mobile number. "Give her a ring later on and she'll tell you how to get there."
"Thanks, Pete. I hope one of us is sober enough to check us out of this place," Belinda added with a giggle.
Wendy looked at him in blank amazement the next morning when Astor told her she and Caroline might qualify for a trip out to the United States on company business if they played their cards right. He had a pile of faxes in front of him to confirm that signing Intoxicant and the details of the tour had been agreed and the contract work had been concluded in just about twenty-four hours.
"What is it that friend of yours calls it?" Wendy said eventually. "The luck of the seven blind bastards? You just happen to be somewhat compos mentis when your old pal The Third calls, the band just happens to be more or less together in the same part of Spain, and your pal Belinda and her boyfriend just happen to get the sack and be available to go on tour with them?"
"So you don't believe I arranged it all?" said Astor.
"Yeah, sure!" scoffed Wendy.
"Someone did," Astor added, half to himself, remembering that Kiron had once told him that The Others could influence what his species called 'luck'. Sending Intoxicant on a US tour and making reliable people available to Kiron Sounds for tour duty hardly involved manipulation on the scale as winning £26 million for Pete Astor on the lottery. And Kiron had mentioned that he wanted one of the KS bands to go to the United States as an experiment ...
"So do you fancy visiting your old stamping grounds on the Wild West Coast again? And showing them to Jeff?"
"Yes, I could do that."
Wendy's enthusiasm seemed strangely muted. Astor chose not to ask why. If she wanted him to know, she would tell him in due course.
"You reckon Caroline could tear herself away from Walter for a couple of weeks?"
"We're going for a fortnight?"
"By the time we've gone six thousand miles there and six thousand miles back, even flying Concorde across the Atlantic, it's not worth going for just the weekend."
"Oh, you're planning to Concorde it, are you?"
"Well, us millionaires aren't going steerage on a Jumbo jet, are we?"
"Is this the same millionaires who are having a go at your ex-record company for a paltry few bob in royalties?"
"A paltry few bob and a principle, mate," Astor told Wendy indignantly. "Even as we speak, a registered letter demanding payment on my Country Court judgement is winging its way to their offices in London. And if they don't cough up within seven days, things are going to get very tough for them."
"Yeah, well, there's just one small flaw in your strategy, Napoleon," laughed Wendy. "They don't know you're a millionaire. So they're just going to treat you like any jumped-up creep of a musician and ignore you."
"And there I was, thinking they're going to get the letter on the eleventh of November and thinking it would do my weird image good to start hostilities on Armistice Day."
"Bought your poppy yet, Mr. Millionaire?"
"If I start giving all my money to charity, I'll have none left."
"Have you given any of it away?"
"About half a million so far. I'm thinking of starting this hostel for fallen women, if you know any? Why, have you given anything to good causes? Good as opposed to merely fashionable and trouble-making ones?"
"About a hundred thousand. Which is more than you, pro rata."
"Oh, we're in a competition, are we?"
"Not if you're going to make the rules up, like you usually do. So your ex-record company's got a nasty shock coming?"
"Probably about the same time as I'm sitting in the dentist's chair, a week on Friday."
"Don't talk to me about dentists. I've got two fillings that need redoing. I'm not looking forward to tomorrow."
"Oh, well. Think about the good time you're going to have at the Astoria on Saturday."
The postman came and went the following Monday, bringing no response to his demands. Astor had not been expecting his former record company to give him a quick reaction, but there was always a chance that someone with his externally influenced good luck might get one.
Astor spent the day in his music room, continuing to add to a sequence of new songs and linking instrumental passages, and doing and undoing tweaks to Under Alien Skies. Wendy had gone out long before he had crawled out of bed. She returned an hour after Astor had realized that the rest of the house was in total darkness and she would appreciate having the porch light on so that she could find the keyhole.
Astor was watching the news headlines on the TFT-X television display built in to his control panel when Wendy brought a boxed pizza and two mugs of coffee into the music room.
"I assume you've not done anything about dinner?" she remarked.
"So you've been slaving over a hot stove?" scoffed Astor.
"Someone has to. What you need to do is let Kevin in here occasionally to keep this place in order." Wendy shifted a pile of printed sheets of music to make room for the pizza box.
"Are you doing anything tomorrow?" Astor cleared more space and found coasters for the mugs. He had a large supply of free CDs offering a month's free access to the Internet and megabytes of hard-disk-clogging software. They made handy coasters for mugs.
"Nothing exciting, why?" Wendy claimed one of the swivelling executive armchairs.
"I had my Dad on the phone this afternoon, inviting me up to Scotland to see something."
"He didn't say. It's all very hush-hush and mysterious. So do you fancy going?"
"What about your usual female companion and slave?"
"Cazzer's doing a job for Nick tomorrow. Did you know she's in total charge of the Internet stuff now? Updating the web pages and shoving new stuff in?"
"What, Carly's a computer anorak? Since when?"
"Since she got on her bike and learned it. Apparently, she's got a talent for it, or so Nick reckons. And being my personal assistant and associate, no one dared tell her to bugger off when she started trying her hand. She's even learned hypertext mark-up language so she doesn't have to rely on some buggy program doing it for her. And she even answers my email."
"I didn't know you got email."
"Neither did I. But we're On The Hub with UK-Link, which lets us be things like email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org as far as email is concerned."
"So what sort of messages do you get?"
"Routine fan-club stuff, proposals of marriage, that sort of thing. Or so Caroline reckons. As I said, she handles most of it for me. And drops the rest into faxes."
"The Pete Astor fan club?" laughed Wendy.
"Could happen," Astor said defensively.
"And I get loads of junk-email, too, which she screens out."
"Like what?" frowned Wendy.
"Things like: It ain't no joke, however you croak. But seriously, knowing you've made a will can give you peace of mind. Thirty-five quid buys you a basic will. Ask about your options today!"
"Another one was: Forty-odd per cent of all income tax demands are plain WRONG! Not many people know that. Most of the people who do know are our customers. An hour or two spent sorting out your finances with our experts will let you face the taxman with confidence. Don't worry about it – do it!"
"Makes me glad I'm not on the Internet," laughed Wendy.
"So anyway," Astor returned to the original question, "are you up for a trip to Scotland, or what?"
"Won't it embarrass you, being seen out with me? A woman of your own age? Don't you think you should only be seen with twenty-year-old nymphettes?"
"I don't really think of you as a woman of your age. You're my mate Wezzer so it doesn't matter if you look like the back end of a bus."
"Oh, right, it's okay to have ugly friends? ‘Sorry she's not got a bag over her head, but she's my friend' kind of thing?" mocked Wendy.
"What are you getting all bent out of shape for? When have I ever told you you're less than fanciable?"
"There was the time I got pushed in that polluted river and you said you'd have to hose me down in the garden before you'd let me in the house."
"Not even the most politically correct idiot in the world could fault me on that. But you were socially acceptable again when you'd scrubbed yourself down. Come on, what are you getting all paranoid about?"
"I saw Jenny Roberts on TV yesterday. Remember her? The girl from my class who got into television as a political reporter?"
"So she looked about half my age."
"Yeah, but if you hosed off all the TV make-up, how old would she look them? About a hundred and ninety-six, I bet. And have you looked in a mirror recently? You're in very good nick for a woman of forty-three. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the way you look. And I bet she hasn't got a couple of million quid in a suitcase under her bed."
"Neither have I. Not any more."
"And everyone knows TV has a glamorizing effect. Ask Cazzer."
"When was she ever on TV?"
"We were all on TV when they did that item on opening night at the Astoria on the local news programme after that kid croaked. One of her neighbours has taped all sorts of bits and pieces that she's in. All you have to do is stand next to a notorious character, like me."
"So that was what Nell Graham was going on about. She's the wife of a big mate of Carly's ex, and she still meets both of them. Separately, of course. Anyway, she was telling me it really bugs the hell out of her ex-husband, seeing Carly living it up, single and fancy-free. When he's probably up to his neck in poo-filled nappies and other disgusting things if he's got his bimbo in the club. And he's really pissed off that she's earning about twice what he gets."
"How does Roy know what she earns?" frowned Astor.
"He probably doesn't know the exact amount but she's obviously doing well now. Nell knows the mother of the little lad Carly gave all those foreign coins to. Which proved she really had been abroad. And she's obviously an insider at the Astoria because she can gets posters and CDs and things. And she's got that new van to give people lifts in. And she's bought a lot of new clothes since she started earning decent money. And she gets her hair done more often. Plus she smiles a lot more and she's a lot more relaxed. In fact, she looks like she did when she was still happily married."
"And you reckon, if she doing well and enjoying life, that's going to get right up her ex-husband's nose? And he's going to feel a proper arse-hole for dumping her?"
"I bloody well hope so!" laughed Wendy.
"That's nice, isn't it? The poor bloke's gone through all the hassle of trading his wife in for a younger model, and what does she do? Does she end up a terminally miserable wreck without him? No, she gets herself a flash company vehicle and she gets herself on telly and she starts earning ten times as much as him. I'd say the poor bloke's got every right to feel as sick as a pig every time he hears her name mentioned."
"Right!" scoffed Wendy.
"So anyway," Astor gave up a lost cause, "this day out in Scotland in November? Have you still got the necessary intestinal fortitude at your advanced age?"
"Do you seriously think I've got nothing better to do than go to Scotland with you at the drop of a hat?"
"Yes and no."
"What does that mean?"
"Yes," Astor nodded, "I don't think you've got anything better to do. No," Astor shook his head, "I don't think you've got anything better to do. Is that comprehensive enough for you, or what?"
"Well, okay, if you're going to be persuasive about it ..." Wendy surrendered.
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.