Out here, we can touch each particle of life,
Fuse with infinity,
Ride the ultimate wave.
A call came in on his mobile phone while Astor was sitting in a café across the road from the theatre, waiting for Caroline to return from what was bound to turn into a shopping expedition. Walter reported that a royalty payment had been rushed into the Kiron Sounds bank account and that Astor's former record company now wanted an acknowledgement of its receipt.
"Why did they pay it to KS?" Astor wondered. "It's supposed to be my money. Why didn't they pay it to my bank account?"
"Yeah, well, you've got them in a bit of a panic," laughed Walter. "The last thing they expected was your bailiffs turning up at their London office to take possession of bits and pieces to the value of your County Court judgement. Not to mention a bunch of trouble-making reporters going along to watch the fun."
"Oh, shit," laughed Astor. "Have we embarrassed them? And are the bunch in London going to have to commit hara kiri to make up for the loss of face?"
"I bet their bosses aren't best pleased with them," laughed Walter. "Or with the press release saying it was a counter-strike on behalf of every artiste who's ever been swindled and buggered about by a record company."
"They can't object to that. Your sister-in-law assured me it's not libellous."
"Maybe not, but you've not made any friends with it, Pete."
"They didn't exactly make friends with me by not paying me."
"So what about this acknowledgement?"
"Let the buggers wait. If they want an acknowledgement, they're going to have to wait until my money is in my bank account. And you can tell them that if they ask."
"Right," laughed Walter. "I suppose you know your friends in Intoxicant are planning to pull the same trick? They're going to send individual faxes to let them know four lots of bailiffs might turn up if they don't get paid."
"Good for them."
"Oh, will we be seeing you again this afternoon, Pete?"
"Probably. Yeah, here's Caroline now. I'll be back in however long it took us to get here. Cheers!"
Caroline arrived at his table with two carrier bags and a green carton, which she insisted on opening to show off a new cactus for her collection. It was round, about fist-size and it had a fairly vicious set of spikes with hooks at the end to make extraction from flesh a painful business, according to the accompanying leaflet.
"You got a licence for that, or what?" Astor asked, resisting the temptation to test the sharpness of the spikes.
"It's supposed to flower at Christmas, too," said Caroline.
"That's a good story. I bet if you bring it back in about six weeks' time to complain, the shop will have changed hands."
"You're a cynic, you know that, Pete Astor."
"Noted for it. Have you bought everything in sight now? Are we out of here?"
"I'm ready if you're ready," nodded Caroline.
It was dark when Astor arrived home via Croydon, accompanied by Caroline, who wanted Wendy's opinion on her allegedly Christmas-flowering cactus. Astor had to look at his watch to find out that the time was only half past six. His street was so quiet that it could have been midnight or later. The lights were signs of genuine occupancy, not just attempts to make burglars think that there was someone in.
Astor found Kevin David washing his hands in the kitchen and looking pleased with himself. His dust-busting exercise had been a success and he had come across several dozen books that he wanted to read - in his own time, of course.
"Wendy in?" Astor asked after confirming the housekeeper's licence to roam his library. He was starting to feel quite hungry.
"Still out, sir," said David. "But expected back shortly. The young lady is still here. Still asleep."
"You're sure she's alive?" Astor frowned. "She's not OD'd on us?"
"That did occur to me, sir. Which is why I checked on her a couple of times to ensure she was indeed sleeping and still breathing."
"She must have had a bloody good time, then."
"Ah, is that her coming down the stairs, sir?"
A blonde, thirtyish woman in a dark pullover and jeans looked into the kitchen, then entered when she saw other people there. She was looking slightly embarrassed. "I know this is going to sound like a silly question," she said with a distinct Australian accent, "but this can't be the morning, can it? My watch has stopped."
"No, it's this evening," Astor told her with a smile. "Enjoy your kip, then?"
"God! I haven't slept like that for ages! And no hangover, either."
"I'll be off now, sir," Kevin David collected his coat and a stack of books, and left by the back door.
"So where are we, anyway?" added the Australian visitor.
Caroline started to laugh. "Excuse me," she giggled, "but Pete might have said that."
"I have this reputation for not being bothered about where I am," Astor explained. "I'm Pete, this is Caroline, and this was my place last time I looked."
"I'm Adele," said the Australian. "Yeah, I remember you. You're in that band, right?"
"Right," said Astor. "Anyone hungry?"
"Yes, me, boss," said Caroline.
"Starving," added Adele.
"Chinese?" Astor took out his mobile phone.
"Sounds great for breakfast," laughed Adele. "Oh, shit! What day is it?"
"Tuesday," said Caroline while Astor was ordering food.
"That's okay, then. I don't work on Tuesdays. I've got two part-time jobs in pubs."
"What, are you an illegal immigrant, then? Working in the black economy?" said Astor while the man at the Chinese takeaway was writing down part of the order.
Adele gave him a half-smile, half-frown that told him that he was skating very close to the uncomfortable truth. Under close questioning by Caroline, disguised as asking how she liked living in England, Adele admitted that she had once been a bright kid with big plans living in a small town. The plans had suffered a heavy setback when she had found herself pregnant just before her sixteenth birthday.
Her parents had insisted on marrying her off to the father, who had become a boozer and a perennial one-of-the-lads. Adele had endured endless trouble from their son, who had been born bad and refused to behave himself. Indeed, she was still partially deaf in left ear from when the kid, aged nine, had quite deliberately whacked her on the head with a cricket bat.
"I'm only glad the little bastard was a bit runty," Adele added. "If he'd been a bit older and a little bit stronger, he'd probably have killed me."
"How come you didn't take him out into the bush and feed him to the dingoes?" said Astor. "I'd have thought Australia's a great place for that sort of happy accident."
"I came close a few times, I can tell you!" laughed Adele. "But my trouble was I was too bloody respectable. I was married, I had this kid, and I even managed to train up as a librarian, which was a major achievement, I can tell you. Except all my job did was pay for my husband's boozing."
"That sounds a good reason to get married," remarked Astor, "getting subsidized boozing. So you're not on the run over here? A fugitive from justice after slaughtering your boozy husband and the obnoxious kid?"
"Not quite." Adele's expression suggested that it had been a close-run thing. "The kid started getting himself into even more serious trouble when he turned thirteen, and his father was more interested in going to the pub with his mates than keeping the kid in order. So in the end, I just walked out on both of them."
"Good for you," said Caroline.
"You can probably tell Caroline's divorced and a total man-hater," Astor remarked. "She'd like to see the lot of us put up against a wall and shot." The front door closed and voices in the hall filtered back to the kitchen. "Wendy, on the other hand, who you're about to meet, never made the mistake of getting married because she's never found a man weird enough to match her."
"Notice he says that when she's not here," said Caroline.
"I've brought Padraig back for dinner," Wendy announced as she entered the kitchen. "If anyone's done anything it."
"We're waiting for the doorbell to ring even as you speak," said Astor. "I hope you like Chinese, Padraig?"
"Just as long as no one expects me to use chopsticks," said the visitor.
Wendy gave Astor a significant look when Padraig learned that Adele was a librarian, who was wasting her talents working part-time in two pubs as part of the black economy. Wendy could see Astor's luck at work again, bringing together people with matching needs.
Padraig M'Cracken had found an ideal building for his archive - ironically, a redundant public library quite close to the centre of Croydon, which offered the right sort of facilities for storage, conservation, data retrieval and offices. Astor suspected that Wendy had chipped in a large chunk of the money that needed spending on renovations and beefing up security. Padraig had a small staff, but they were mainly there to provide secretarial, travel and PR support. A qualified librarian was a necessary addition to the expanded team than an archive would need.
Astor assumed that Padraig would have the contacts to get Adele a work permit more or less on the nod, even if she was an illegal immigrant from a non-EU country. Padraig seemed to have a broad spectrum of followers and Adele was a respectable woman living in a respectable area and she was getting a job offer from a respectable company. Her chances of swanning effortlessly through the system might be even better if she were a Black disabled lesbian with a terminal disease, Astor thought cynically, but not by much.
Intoxicant and the band's support staff were due to fly out to the United States the following week, on the last day of November. A gig at the Astoria, booked long before they had signed to the Kiron Sounds label, had become a final chance for their British fans to see that they were still around and still causing trouble, despite their recent sacking. Pete Astor and the other Dead Junkies needed little persuasion to appear as their warm-up band.
As the Friday night gig approached, the musicians were amused to find that they were being billed as rivals in the music press. Someone, somehow, had got hold of the idea that Pete Astor resented his former colleagues' success with a number that he had written, and that the gig could develop into a Battle of the Portals, with each band doing its own version of the ritual and the audience being left to decide which was the better.
The bands had already decided that the Dead Junkies would do most of the band's current repertoire, except for The Portal, and Pete Astor would rejoin Intoxicant to help out in the extended version. That didn't stop trouble-makers in both camps agreeing with suggestions made to them by journalists, and creating an illusion of mutual hostility.
Pete Astor used up the last of his stash of Charm during the early afternoon to tell Kiron about the gig and Intoxicant's tour of the US west coast. Their contacts were somewhat irregular, not every Charm excursion produced one, even though Astor achieved hits and misses under apparently identical circumstances. Kiron was unable to offer an explanation for why he was 'out' sometimes when Astor called and he seemed untroubled by what seemed to Astor to be long gaps between their contacts.
Astor emerged from the Charm excursion with some more of Kiron's Music and a sense that he was doing exactly the right things and that he should just carry on doing them. That was okay if he was just communicating with his own subconscious, he decided, but not so good if there really was a separate, extra-dimensional being called Kiron.
In Pete Astor's experience, he always did something to bug the people around him at sometime or other. If anything, Kiron's constant aura of approval was an indication that he/she/it was no more than a projection from the interior of a narcissistic personality to the surface.
On the other hand, Astor told himself as he prepared for a trip to the Astoria, he had nothing to worry about in either event. If Kiron was real, good old Pete was keeping him happy. If Kiron was just his subconscious talking to him, then Pete was the most together and at-peace-with-himself guy on the planet, and that had to be a good thing.
One advantage of being filthy rich, Astor had realized, was that it had given him a calmer outlook on life. He was even more laid-back than his pre-lottery-win self. He could frighten himself with worst-case scenarios, such as the theatre catching fire, the audience refusing to like anything offered, the musicians suddenly forgetting the words to the songs and how to play their instruments, James Faucumberg or the security staff running off with the box-office takings, or a suicide attack by a mob of armed and militant Christians. And then he could just shrug and tell himself that he could afford to abandon the disaster and walk away and start again elsewhere.
He was able to watch with a sense of detachment as the staff at the Astoria, the stage crew, fellow musicians and all the others there to make the evening a success milled around and followed their routines, swearing routinely as they tackled emergencies.
He was aware that he had the power to say, Oh, sod it! Let's call it all off, let's give the audience their money back and let's all go down the pub. And if he did, when the message had sunk in and people had convinced themselves that he was serious, the whole dynamic machine would judder to a halt.
But he didn't, of course. Astor found himself sucked in to the band's pre-performance rituals, the tuning up, the nervous conversation, one more drink or leave it alone for the moment, God, I hate doing this! and God, I wish we could just get on with it! And then, eventually, they did get on with it.
James Faucumberg was developing into a black art, pitching the ticket prices at a level that would ensure a full house and the maximum revenue. Astor and his band walked out onto the stage knowing that they faced a sell-out crowd of people who were there for a good time. An hour and an encore later, they felt that they had delivered their side of the bargain.
Pit-stopped in the toilets and refreshed in the bars, the audience joined in as a mighty roar when Syd Melchior advanced to the edge of the stage and yelled, "Where would you rather be than right here, right now!?" Then the band launched into Right Now!, a new opening number for the American tour. Wolf howls from the audience became more frequent as the music rolled on. Syd Melchior kept pretending to consult his colleagues before he turned back, shook his head and told the audience, "Later, later."
Pete Astor stepped onto the stage again as Syd Melchior was releasing the wolf howl that marked the opening of the extended version of The Portal. Being there, out on the stage, was almost an out-of-body experience at times. The sheer intensity of the music and the audience response gave Astor a sense of being part of something vast - and certainly a whole lot bigger than the body of one tiny human playing a guitar in a small provincial theatre.
He felt as if he could choose to move out into the greater dimension where Kiron lived. All that it would involve would be the decision to take the first step. And yet he had such a profound sense of belonging where he was that he felt no urge to make that step.
Then it was over. Astor felt as if he had been poured back into his body, which had continued to play a guitar and sing words without needing his conscious direction. Blood Axe was crashing out the final ringing, gong tones as the others faded out into mellow silence. The Portal had closed again and most people in the theatre were soggy, burnt-out cases.
Friday became Saturday and the back-stage party carried on. It was the small hours of a black November morning when the survivors moved on to the house that Angela and Syd Melchior had borrowed for their short stay in the Croydon area. Pete Astor, Wendy and Caroline travelled back through empty streets to Warleigh by taxi when they felt that they had had enough for one day. The moment after the taxi pulled up in front of Astor's house, it found itself part of a crowd.
"What the phuck's going on?" Astor wondered as he and Wendy surveyed the ranks of police vehicles and private cars.
"Whatever it is, I don't like the look of it," Wendy decided.
A man of about his own age in a dark blue anorak and dark trousers marched up to Astor and thrust a piece of paper at him. "Peter Raymond Astor?" he asked formally.
"His middle name's not Raymond," scoffed Wendy.
"I'm Detective Inspector Farne, Whyteal CID. I have a warrant to search these premises for controlled substances."
"He's not called Raymond," laughed Wendy.
"Do you want me to call Rachel, Pete?" said Caroline.
"Good idea," said Astor. "I'll try and call her myself but it would be good to have someone doing it independently, just in case they get heavy. Who the phuck tipped off all these reporters, Inspector?" he added when camera shutters began to machine-gun him.
"If you'd let me have the keys, sir?" The inspector wasn't there to answer questions.
Astor and Wendy entered the house in a crowd, unable to make out the details of the questions that were being hurled at them from the group of reporters on the pavement. Astor headed straight for the telephone.
"Before you start wrecking the place, Inspector, I want to phone my solicitor then I want to check your warrant to make sure it's all legal."
"I don't think we need to waste time on that, sir," said the inspector.
"Do the words official and complaint mean anything to you?" said Wendy.
Astor hit a speed-dial button on the dining room phone. A female voice answered the rings. "Hi, it's Pete," he said as Wendy was getting into an argument with Inspector Farne.
"That sounds like Pete Astor," said Rachel Billington, his solicitor, "but he's never up this early."
"He is when the phuzz turn up with a search warrant just as he's getting home from a party," said Astor.
"I'll be right over," Rachel told him.
"That would be nice" said Astor.
"Hoi, you, get off that phone and stop messing me about," ordered the inspector.
"Let's just remember who pays your bloody wages, pal," Astor told him indignantly. "And if you assault me or Ms Xanadu, we'll sue your ass from here to breakfast time."
The inspector slowly and deliberately folded his arms. "I'm just wondering how cocky you're going to be when you've spent a bit of time in a cell."
Astor yawned mightily. "Sounds like a good place to have a kip."
"What's the grounds for this search warrant?" said Wendy.
"We're not here to play twenty questions, madam, we're here to search these premises for controlled substances," said the inspector. "And we've wasted more than enough time. Sergeant, you start upstairs. Would one of you two care to go up to make sure we're not planting anything on you?" he added with heavy sarcasm.
There was a robust confidence in the inspector's manner and a suggestion that he was prepared to take a little nonsense from Astor, knowing that he would be able to throw it all back in Astor's face when he was sitting on the wrong side of the table in an interview room and confronted by sealed plastic bags of evidence.
Astor trailed upstairs with a male sergeant and a woman of undefined status. Searching seemed to involve tipping things out of drawers and pawing through cupboards. Astor's collection of cassettes posed a serious problem. A thorough search demanded an inspection of every single box to make sure that it contained a tape cassette. The sergeant was looking quite annoyed as he surveyed the equipment in Astor's music room between assaults on cassette boxes. He clearly assumed that it had been bought with drug money. That Astor might have won the lottery never crossed his mind.
Astor left the detectives to it when the doorbell rang. He arrived downstairs to find a detective trying to tell his solicitor that she couldn't come in. Rachel Billington soon changed his mind. She was just about to ask Astor what sort of a mess he had got himself into when there was a loud crash from upstairs.
Astor bounded up, two stairs at a time. The female detective had pulled out a drawer in his bedroom - and pulled it too far. The drawer had come out of the unit and some of the contents had not survived the drop onto a carpet.
Astor returned to the stairs and yelled, "Inspector, you'd better get your ass up here. You're in one hell of a heap of trouble."
A small crowd assembled in Astor's bedroom to inspect the sad wreckage.
"So what is it?" demanded Inspector Farne.
"Those bits of jade used to be my mother's Christmas present," Astor told him. "And I bet your chief constable is going to be dead thrilled to hear he's just bought a broken statuette with an insured value of thirty-one thousand pounds. I wonder how much police overtime off his budget that represents? Oh, yes, and I'm sure you'll be chuffed to hear I'm putting in an official complaint about how it got broken, Inspector, and the mess you've created."
"There may be a problem with your insurance company, Inspector," added Rachel Billington, having inspected the warrant. "My client's middle name isn't Raymond so this warrant is defective."
"I can soon get another," said Inspector Farne.
"Go on, then," invited Astor.
"But I'd have to start the search again from scratch," added the inspector.
"But what would be the point?" said Wendy. "We'll have smoked all the dope before you get back, so you'll be wasting your time."
"Not if I leave someone here to watch you."
"Except you can't, mate," said Astor. "You need permission from a magistrate to be in my house, which you don't have. So you're trespassing on top of causing criminal damage."
"And if you come back with another warrant when you know there's going to be nothing to find, that amounts to harassment," added Wendy. "And that'll be grounds for another complaint. What do you think, Rachel?"
"I'd suggest you stop digging this hole and retire with dignity, Inspector," said Rachel. "You blew it with the warrant and things aren't going to get any better."
"Boss, in here," called a voice. The search had continued in the background while Farne had been arguing his corner. One of the team had found a drawer full of money in the kitchen.
"Nearly twenty-one thousand pounds, Mr. Astor," the inspector said with controlled hostility when his sergeant had finished counting. "Care to tell me where you got it from?"
Astor shrugged. "It's petty cash for expenses."
"You expect me to believe that?" scoffed the inspector. "Twenty-one thousand pounds? Just lying about as petty cash?"
"I'd like to see you prove any different," said Astor.
"That's not the way it works." The inspector smiled at him. "Give him a receipt, Sergeant. You can have this back when you explain where you got it."
"Can he do that?" Astor asked Rachel.
"If it's suspected as drug money, yes, you have to explain where it came from" said the solicitor.
"Remind me to phone the bank to get some more cash sent round," Astor remarked to Wendy.
"I take it you can explain where you got the money?" smiled the inspector.
Astor returned the smile. "Sure. I'll explain it all to the chief constable when he comes round with a cheque for thirty-one grand to pay for the Christmas present you broke."
"And that's another thing," said Wendy. "What's the basis for this warrant of yours?"
"Yes, that would be nice to know," added Rachel, who had been keeping a low profile until the end of the search.
"Information received," said the inspector reluctantly.
"Who from?" demanded Wendy.
"I don't have to tell you that. Have you written that receipt out, Sergeant?"
"Hang about," said Astor. "I want you to count it in front of me to make sure the receipt is for the right amount and none of it disappears into someone's back pocket."
"If you're suggesting we'd steal money from you, you could end up in really hot water," said Farne in a menacing tone.
"We've already got you down for trespassing and criminal damage," said Astor. "I don't think you'd be bothered about adding theft to the list. In fact, I reckon this sergeant bloke should turn out his pockets, just to make sure he's not as slippery as his boss. I reckon he's looking incredibly shifty."
"Not a good idea, Pete," from Rachel coincided with "Are you accusing my sergeant of stealing from you?" from Farne.
"Reason to believe," quoted Astor. "Logical conclusion from the behaviour of the suspect's associates."
"I think another count of the money would be sufficient," Rachel said firmly. "So can we get on with it, please?"
The sergeant counted the money onto the kitchen table, note by note, arranging it in neat piles. Then he handed another sheet of official paper to Astor. Wendy looked ready to continue the argument but Rachel caught her eye and shook her head. When she looked at Astor, he shrugged. Their turn would come later.
How to fight back against a bad bust or police harassment was something that he and fellow musicians had been discussing for years. Now, Pete Astor was more than rich enough to be able to put the best of the pipe dreams into action.
When Astor's front door opened, the gang of photographers and camera operators wasted several miles of film and videotape as they scrambled out of their cars. Most of them had been there for a good two hours and a local café had been doing quite well out of their breakfast trade. There was some confusion as the reporters counted heads and tried to work out which of the people in street clothes were prisoners.
Inspector Farne admitted that there had been no arrests, but he added that items had been removed for forensic tests, hinting that his team had found drugs rather than a lot of cash. Then he invoked the usual confidentiality clause and just smiled knowingly when he was pressed about when he would be arresting Pete Astor.
"I hope you didn't have anything planned for this morning," Astor remarked to his solicitor as he closed the front door. "Other than making a few bob for legal services rendered."
"I was supposed to be doing a big shop," Rachel realized. "I had my husband all organized to go with me. He's going to be furious."
"Into every life a little rain must fall," laughed Astor. "We can carry on with this on Monday, if you want to zap off."
"What about all your complaints, and so on?"
"No rush. Let Inspector Fiend think he's got away with it for a couple of days, then we'll zap him."
"About explaining the money ...," said Rachel.
"Some of it's mine," said Wendy. "I want you to remember that when you get it back," she added to Astor.
"I've been thinking about the cash," said Astor. "And I bet that inspector is going to say it came from street drug deals. If so, he's going to have a problem when he finds it contains long runs of serial numbers in sequence and some of it's still got bank wrappers on it."
"They might say you were going to make a big drug buy with it," said Wendy.
"With cash traceable straight to me?" scoffed Astor.
"Yeah, sure! Anyway, if my solicitor can write a letter to the chief constable, telling him I won some cash on the lottery, that should do it," said Astor. "And she can also bung in a few threats about how I'll sue his arse from here to breakfast-time if he divulges this confidential information to any third parties. Such as Inspector Fiend."
"I'm not sure about the threats," said Rachel.
"All you have to say is, my client has instructed me to inform you," said Wendy. "Then it's Pete's responsibility, not yours."
"There you are," grinned Astor, "free legal advice from an expert trouble-maker. And I'd like you to pursue the grounds for this here warrant."
"We're not going to get much change out of the police if someone's informed on you," said Rachel.
"Ah, but that's the point. I don't think anyone has."
"How can you be sure of that?"
"Because of the type of people we get our illegal substances from," said Wendy.
"I don't think I heard that," Rachel said quickly.
"The point is," Astor continued, "I think this guy Inspector Fiend is just trying to build up his own profile. I think he got a dodgy warrant and he had a pop at me hoping to find something. Okay, he's buggered me about, he's had his fun ..."
"... but not as much as he was hoping to get," remarked Wendy.
"... so now it's pay-back time."
"I still don't see where you're going, Pete," said Rachel.
"Obviously, if some genuine informer has slandered me, the police aren't going to give you his name in case we give him a gob-job."
"A what?" frowned Rachel.
"Something Tom Maddox told me about. You lurk round a corner and whack the bastard in the gob with a baseball bat."
"Anyway, the point is, we don't need to know the name of the informant. All we need to get is the assurance from a senior officer, above Inspector Fiend's level, that the warrant is kosher. Anyone who has to give us that sort of assurance in writing will know he becomes an accessory if that warrant was obtained on false information. Like Inspector Fiend lying to some dozy old dope of a magistrate."
"You wouldn't like to bring the Kennedy Assassination into your grand conspiracy theory, Pete?" laughed Rachel.
"Hey, listen, when you've been around the music business as long as I have, you get to know the system for bad busts. Okay, you've not had much to do with criminal work. Not before you met me," Astor added with a smile. "But check with your colleagues in that line of business and see what horror stories they can tell you. Abuse of the system in the interests of justice, is what the police think of it as. In the case of Inspector Fiend, though, it's abuse of the system to get himself noticed and promoted."
"Okay, I'll look into it," said Rachel. "So you actually won something on the lottery? More than a tenner, I mean?"
"Someone has to. I hope you enjoy your big shop."
Astor accompanied Rachel to the garden gate and provided a diversion while she returned to her car. He was starting to feel very tired, but he had a few things to get off his chest.
"What I plan to do," he said, responding to one of the many questions, "is make a complaint about whichever police officer tipped off the meeja that they were coming here to search the place for drugs - just on the off-chance of finding some, mind, not because they had any sort of a good reason. I expect his boss to take disciplinary action against whoever it was because it was a deliberate attempt to sling mud at me. His intention was to get you lot to try, convicted and hang me just on his say-so. And we all know what you lot are like. Banner headlines one day, half a paragraph on page nineteen a week later when you have to apologize."
Astor paused to yawn. The reporters took the opportunity to fire more questions at him. "They were so well organized, they got my name wrong on the warrant, but we let them do the search anyway. No, they didn't find any drugs. All they did was wreck the place, breaking my mother's Christmas present in the process, which I'll have to replace now. Oh, yes, they also confiscated the petty cash. But the good news on that is I have a receipt for it, so they can't use it to buy a big lunch on the way back to the cop shop."
Astor yawned again. More questions flew at him.
"What are my plans now? I'm going to bed because I've been up all night. One final thought. There were five cops here on a Saturday morning. And with travelling and planning this fiasco, they must have spent at least five hours each on the job. Imagine how much that cost and remember it when some senior cop goes on TV to moan about not having enough resources to pay for proper policing. See you."
Astor turned his back on further yells for information and returned to the house. He found Wendy briefing Caroline and Kevin David in the kitchen.
"They didn't lynch you, then?" laughed Wendy.
"I don't think Her Majesty's Press has the power of execution yet." Astor yawned mightily. "I'm going to bed."
"I was wondering if you wanted me to straighten things up?" said Kevin David. "Miss Xanadu says the mess is considerable."
"Brilliant idea," nodded Astor. "And you needn't tiptoe around. We'll be well out of it until this afternoon, won't we, Wezzer? I don't know where Caroline gets all her energy."
Caroline yawned. "Oh, excuse me. I actually went to bed but I couldn't sleep."
"If they've trashed my bed, I'm going to sleep in the wreckage," said Wendy. "Good night, all."
Wendy and Astor headed for the stairs, leaving Kevin David letting Caroline out of the back door.
"Tell you what, they picked the wrong day for it today," Astor remarked on the stairs. "I used up the last of my stash yesterday. There was nothing for the sods to find for once."
"Me too," said Wendy. "I ran out of dope on Thursday and I've not got round to getting any more. Good job we've got the seven blind bastards on our side. And I think we're going to need them again if you give that inspector what he deserves."
"You can count on that," vowed Astor. "The revenge of the Dead Junkie. Watch this space."
As he entered the remains of his bedroom, Astor wondered if one of Wendy's cosmic balance theories was in operation. Perhaps he had been enjoying so much good luck that the universe felt that it had to throw a certain amount of not very serious bad luck at him to stop things from straying totally out of balance.
On the other hand, it was entirely possible that the definition of good luck included a spot of adversity at a time when he was rich enough to be able to stand up to the insolence of office, as portrayed by Inspector Fiend; that he was being allowed to find out if all those hours of idle speculation with fellow musicians about how to get revenge for a bad drug bust had produced anything worthwhile.