I hide, you hide, we all conceal
Everything, compulsively, lest we reveal
A hint of what we're really all about.

None of the issues around the police raid had been resolved by the middle of the following week, when Intoxicant and the band's escorts set off on their long journey to the far side of the United States. Caroline had been a little doubtful about having friends who, she had been reminded quite forcibly, took drugs. Wendy had cleared the air by reminded her that she and Pete Astor harmed no one but themselves if the drugs had adverse effects and they could afford to buy them without robbing and maiming their fellow citizens.
   Caroline now recognized that smoking cannabis can be a matter of personal recreational choice, and she had realized that her friends would not do it under circumstances that would put her in danger of being arrested because they were decent human beings first and dope fiends second.
   Another member of the broad Kiron Organization was already in the United States. Astor had put Tom Maddox on the job of tracing copyright holders in songs and pieces of music in his archives that he wanted to release on CD now that he had the opportunity. In some cases, he knew, the private investigator would be tracing the next-of-kin. Pete Astor was in a job with a heavy mortality rate. Tom Maddox had welcomed the chance to expand his CV and make some further contacts abroad in the cause of musical honesty.
   When adding to the Kiron Sounds Internet pages, Caroline had included a request for his former collaborators to contact Pete Astor. He had been surprised by the level of response but, as he had suspected, most of the more important ones had no interest in communicating via the World Wide Web. Those with whom he had regained contact, he was pleased to find, were more than willing to sign a conventional royalty-sharing agreement and eager to see their work in the market-place and available for the world's punters to buy.

Pete Astor got his money back at the end of a week of unsatisfactory dealings with the police. There was supposed to be someone on the job of investigating his complaints, but nothing much seemed to be happening. He had received a very formal letter with a slightly grovelling tone from the chief constable, who wished to assure him that any information given in confidence would remain confidential. There was no mention of the matter of the dodgy search warrant and nothing about compensation for the smashed Christmas present. Astor had a distinct feeling that the police were hoping that the matter of the bad bust would just go away if nobody mentioned it again.

On the day after the Intoxicant tour started, Astor was surprised to hear from another person from his recent past. Cath, who had been driving the band around on the previous tour, sent him an email telling him that Bee had recommended Kiron Sounds as an employer and asking if there were any jobs going. Caroline had felt that it was something that the Pete Astor Fan Club was not competent to handle. As he wondered what to put in his reply, Astor asked himself again if he was fated to have everyone whom he had ever met working for him at Kiron Sounds.
   The following day, Astor received a phone call from the drummer and unofficial leader of his Danish band HellBridge. Olly Rindt wanted to thank Astor on behalf of the band for their up-coming Japanese tour, which James Faucumberg had arranged despite Astor's strong anti-Japanese bias. Rindt seemed to think that Astor supervised every aspect of the company's affairs and he wanted to tell him that being signed by an English record company had given them 'a hell of a lot of credibility' in Scandinavia and Germany - certainly much more than a deal with a recording label in their own country would have provided.
   As far as Astor was concerned, the Danes had earned every ounce of their credibility. Everyone at Kiron Sounds, on both the theatre management and recording sides, had told him that HellBridge could be moulded into a world sensation to rival the likes of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and similar bands. On the other hand, the same people thought that his other foreign signing, Drachensblut, was too weird ever to be successful.
   The only problem with that state of affairs was that Astor was hearing exactly the opposite from Kiron. They had great difficulty in communicating certain types of information but Kiron knew, more or less, how to tell one human day from another. While locations and distances still remained a fairly unbridgeable gap, Kiron could tell Astor approximately when he had observed energy being emitted and they could usually, but not always, link the events to performances by BMR bands.
   Kiron could identify Croydon as a focus of energy emissions because Drachensblut was creating strong, regular energy bursts there. Intoxicant was easy to spot as a separated energy source, especially when performing The Portal. Astor's other signings, Pandaemonium and Belfry were also making their presence felt, but to a lesser degree. Yet Astor had never been able to link an energy burst to a point corresponding to wherever HellBridge had been working.
   As responsible businessmen in a conventional sense, Astor's executives at Kiron Sounds wanted to push HellBridge and cut back on support for Drachensblut as a means of maximizing the company's profits. Unwilling to tell them that the company's real business was creating energy sources for an extra-dimensional creature called Kiron, Astor resorted to his secret weapon. He just let James and Nick know that the big boss liked Drachensblut and support for the Germans was to continue at the same level.
   As far as Kiron was concerned, places in Astor's set of dimensions were as easy to locate as any individual letter in a cauldron of boiling alphabet soup. Knowing that Kiron could tell him when the Other had observed a strong energy surge, Astor had hit on the simple plan of giving a wide range of bands a chance to play at the Astoria as a means of spotting those that his extra-dimensional contact would wish to have encouraged.
   His managers were concerned by Astor's policy of low ticket prices and fairly low bar prices to encourage a full house for little-known bands, but they had to accept that if the 'Man At The Top' was happy, then they were doing the right things.
   Walter, the Kiron Sounds financial director, was less inclined to let the matter drop and he raised it again at a routine Friday meeting to tell Astor how the company was looking in terms of profits. They had both enjoyed a good lunch at the Meridan Hotel and they were feeling relaxed and inclined to push home what both of them considered to be good debating points in Walter's office at the Astoria.
   "I don't see what the problem is," Astor remarked when Walter had just outlined the huge amounts of money coming in from the HellBridge tour of Japan and how much of a dent he could make in the vast deficit in the company's accounts associated with refurbishing the theatre. "If we're making a hell of a lot of money out of HellBridge, we can afford to spend a bit on servicing Drachensblut. It all evens out."
    "But that's not the way a business works, Pete," Walter told him with remarkable patience. "The shareholders want to see the company making a profit, not just 'evening things out'. And you need to make money to survive. Just breaking even is a recipe for disaster."
   "We're doing a bit more than just breaking even," scoffed Astor.
   "Yes, right, we are, but what I'm talking about is sound operating practices. It all mounts up, Pete. If you foster a culture of waste, you end up with a greedy, lazy operation that ends up with no corporate pride and no sense of responsibility to its customers and the people who put their money into it."
   "Yes, I can see where you're going, even if you are talking like a bloody suit and tie ..."
   "Somebody has to."
   "Right, I know, Walt. It's your job and you're doing it the best way you know how. But let's not forget that this weird way of operating is what the source of the investment capital wants. And the big boss's basis for estimating the company's success, and also calculating the staff bonuses, is how big the audiences are at gigs."
   "Maybe I ought to get that in writing from the big boss."
   "I'll mention it next time I see him."
   "Actually, there's a rumour going round that he's a mythical being."
   "What, a sort of human unicorn?" laughed Astor, sensing trouble ahead.
   "People find it strange he delegates everything to you and doesn't do a personal tour of inspection every so often. If I owned all this lot, I know I'd come round and look at it occasionally."
   "Or every five minutes?"
   "Possibly even more often."
   "How do you know he doesn't?"
   Walter frowned. "What d'you mean?"
   "I mean, would you know him if you met him? And how do you know he doesn't visit the theatre regularly, posing as an ordinary punter, to check us out?"
   "I hadn't thought of that."
   "I must tell him some of this. It should give him a good laugh. Meanwhile, coming back to Drachensblut and the other weird outfits we've given a chance to, the boss likes the Drachs and he believes in giving people a chance to show they've got some talent. And even the tightest run ship has room for one or two exceptions to sound business practices."
   "As long as it is only one or two exceptions, though, Pete."
   "Come on, Walter, the Drachs aren't costing us an arm and a leg. It's more like an occasional haircut. Their separate Internet site costs peanuts to service, or so Caroline tells me. And the marketing strategy for them, according to Nick, is a conspiracy. Lots of word-of-mouth and low-key ads. Lots of very affordable tee-shirts and so on. A bit of hospitality for the radio presenters who give them air-time with interviews. In the small potatoes league, we're talking marbles."
   "But let's not forget, a big, strong man can come crashing to the ground if he steps on a few marbles. And their video ain't costing peanuts."
   "We'll make that back out of sales. The punters will buy it. You know what your trouble is, Walt? You're much too much of a bloody Puritan. You could have been a Pilgrim Father."
   "I'll take that as a compliment," laughed Walter. "So we're agreed that there's only going to be this one major exception to sound financial management?"
   "We are," nodded Astor. "But the big boss might not be."
   "Why do the words outfit and cowboy spring to mind?"
   "Especially when time and having a good should be what you're thinking about?"
   "They'd never let you be a Pilgrim Father, that's for sure."
   "Thank Christ for that!" laughed Astor.
   "I still think it's a crazy way to run a business."
   Astor shrugged eloquently "You worry too much. Some businesses have priorities that aren't conventional. And the smart executive adapts to meet them."
   "I think I'll have that done out with some fancy graphics and framed and hung on my wall," laughed Walter.
   "And you've got to admit, our policy of gigs for promising bands is doing us a lot of good. Nick says it's great PR."
   "Yes, well, you can always write anything off to advertising and PR, can't you?" scoffed Walter.
   "I suppose you're going to have a go about the expense of getting that Welsh band here for the gig on Thursday?"
   "No, actually, I've heard them before and I like them."
   "You've actually heard of Caradoc and you like them?" said Astor incredulously.
   "Yes," said Walter defensively. "So does Caroline."
   "Yeah, I know, she's into all that ethnic Celtic stuff. We've got the van full of Scots Gaelic and Breton CDs. So anyway, the bottom line of what you're telling me is the business is healthy?"
   "Robustly so," nodded Walter.
   "In that case, we must be doing something right," said Astor.
   The mock Art-Deco telephone on the desk began to ring. Walter lifted the receiver and gave his name. "Ah, hello, Dominik," he added. "Nice to hear from you. Yes, Pete's here."
   Astor took over the brass and ebony receiver. "Yo, Dom! Yeah, I'm surprised you remember us. You're getting to be so much of an establishment figure, I might have to fire you for not making enough trouble."
   Dominik Wekling responded with a hollow laugh. His media career was enjoying an upswing. He was currently very much in demand by all sorts of television and radio shows. "That'll be a first. Being fired for not making trouble!"
   "So what can we do you for?" Astor added.
   "I hear you're in touch with a Welsh band called Caradoc."
   "Right. We're giving them a gig at the Astoria next Thursday."
   "I need a contact number for them. It looks like I'm going to get my own programme on Channel Four. I've got hooked up with an independent programme maker. Virtual Image, heard of them?"
   "I don't really watch that much telly, Dom."
   "Just cop shows and ultra-violence?" mocked Dominik. "Anyway, the show will be called Artefacts or Artifice or some other cutesy name with 'art' in it. We're doing eight shows on Thursdays from mid-January."
   "I'll have to remember to set my video."
   "Record me as an alternative to watch me, you mean? So the point is, I'd like to put Caradoc on it because I think they've got some potential for trouble-making."
   "How's that?"
   "They have a vision of being Welsh that's totally at odds with the professional Welsh-persons. Possibly enough to upset a lot of them if they get some media exposure."
   "Right, I'll get back to you with the number, Dom. So are you still going to have any time for KS with all your multifarious commitments to TV and radio?"
   "The master plan is to blend it all in together and use the TV and radio spots to plug what I'm doing for KS. If you get it right, it's like a chain reaction. The publicity you generate feeds the monster and makes it cough up more publicity."
   "Cough, as opposed to a more messy form of excretion?"
   "Yeah, something like that. By the way, why's your mate Hellen D'Amnation telling everyone she's not doing a gig at the Astoria over Christmas? What's all that about?"
   "She's not doing a gig because no one's asked her to. She's just using the journos to get her name mentioned. And they fall for the free publicity gag every time."
   "Oh, right. So you'll get me that number?" added Wekling.
   "Better still, if you ring Wendy, she knows the sister of one of the guys in the band. She lives just down the road from us, so Wendy can fast-track you to them. Cheers, Dom."
   "Nice bit of delegation there," Walter remarked as Astor replaced the receiver.
   "I didn't get where I am today by doing things myself," Astor told him. "And so saying, he left to do some things."
   Astor's next stop was the recording studio for discussions with Reg Aspen, the engineer, on the progress that he was making with cleaning up some ancient recordings that Astor and others had made on an eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorder in the dim and distant past. It was the sort of challenge that Reg enjoyed and he was confident that he would have created clean, crisp digital sound, but with the proper ambience, long before Astor had assembled the necessary signatures on copyright agreements.
   Reg was also involved in the tweaking of the five piano tracks that made up Under Alien Skies. Using Piano One as a master track, Astor was getting him to stretch and shrink the other digital recordings to make Piano Two fit the master exactly, then Piano Three match the combination and so on.
   As soon as he spotted Pete Astor approaching the control room at Melody Studios, Reg Aspen reached for a card with a printed message. Astor knew, without looking, that it was an invitation to stop messing about with the piece and settle on a final version. The only problem with that was that every contact with Kiron left Astor with tantalizing fragments of music running around in his head - sometimes previous tunes and sometimes something entirely new which absolutely had to be incorporated into UAS.
   Reg had set up an executive swivelling chair in one of the rooms at Melody and surrounded it by speakers placed at the points of an invisible pentagram. He kept telling Astor that people were queuing up to take in the Pete Astor Experience in the chair, and that he was getting all sorts of tempting offers for a copy of the tape.
   When Astor entered the control room, Reg just sat there, looking at him and holding the sign. "Okay, you bastard, I'm intimidated," laughed Astor. "I've got Cherryl coming in tomorrow to do one final tweak. Then we go with what we've got."
   "Yeah, right! I believe you," scoffed Reg. "Thousands wouldn't."
   "Anyone ever told you you're getting a bit cynical in your old age, Reg?"
   "You reckon, Pete? Must be something to do with having to work with bloody perfectionists all day."
   "Being one yourself, like?"
   "Me! Next to you, I'm positively slap-dash," laughed Reg.
   "Yeah, well, executive decision. Chezzer's going to re-do P-Two and P-Five tomorrow. Then we call it a day."
   "I bet she'd not happy about that. Getting her Christmas bonuses cut short."
   "Into every life, a little rain must fall. And she's going to cop for some royalties if anyone buys the album."
   "What, paid ten years behind by a twisting record company that's screwing her royally?" scoffed Reg.
   "Yeah, well, the accountants have got to have their bit of fun too," laughed Astor. "So how are you getting on with my tapes?"

By the time he arrived home in the late afternoon, Astor had reached another decision. It was time to unveil his new secret weapon. Henry Hall-Carter had been on the payroll for just over a fortnight. It was time that Kiron Sounds had a look at their human unicorn. Astor dialled the latest contact number expecting to have to leave a message. To his surprise, he found himself in touch with the man himself.
   "How are you fixed for a trip to Croydon?" Astor began. "In your capacity as the head honcho?"
   "I could leap on a train right away," replied Hall-Carter. "One isn't exactly over-burdened with work at the moment."
   "Oh! This isn't your busy season, then?"
   "It might be if I did pantomime. But things can get rather slack for we serious actors in December if we can't pick up something for radio or TV. I did have an almost-definite on a part in a particularly good play. But some miserable bastard of an accountant wouldn't wear it."
   "Which is worse, a miserable accountant blocking something or one who's cheerful about it?"
   "A moot point, old boy. But you have a role for me?"
   "Yes, we've got this a German Black Magic Rock band cum theatre troupe. The big boss likes them but they haven't got the profit potential the management team are looking for."
   "So my part is to come among the Philistines and smite them and tell them your Germans are a damn good thing?"
   "Got it in one."
   "And are they?"
   "Are they what?"
   "A damn good thing?"
   "I think so. And the big boss thinks so. But if you don't think so, we'll soon find out how good an actor you are. How are you fixed for coming among the Philistines on Monday?"
   "Raring to go, old boy. Do I have a name, by the way? For my character, the head honcho?"
   "Oh, shit, I didn't think of that."
   "How does Alec Carstairs sound?"
   "Great. I'll get him a suite at the Meridan in Croydon."
   "That's suite as in several rooms as opposed to a pudding?"
   "Head honchos are VIPs, H.H. Give me a ring when you get here and I'll arrange to meet you. Don't make it too early, though, Mr. Carstairs."
   "Someone else with an aversion to getting up in the morning?" laughed Hall-Carter. "I shall make a point of not catching the early train."
   Having done his bit to make Kiron happy, Astor retired to his music room for some guitar practice. He had three gigs lined up over the weekend - a Saturday nighter at the Astoria with the regulars and then two club gigs as a member of a completely different Dead Junkies line-up with another set of local musicians. Filthy rich or not, he was still heavily into making music and having a good time.

The two late-risers barely managed a quick tour of the Astoria on Monday morning before it was time for lunch. Hall-Carter was quite comfortable with people calling him 'Mr. Carstairs', but that was only to be expected. When he introduced his guest to Walter, Astor got the impression that the actor was mentally making the sign of the Cross with his index fingers and holding them up in front of the accountant for spiritual protection.
   Drachensblut was doing a lunchtime show at The Gap, their local pub, which gave Hall-Carter a chance to see them in action and to fortify himself with some pub grub before he met them. The band seemed quite flattered by a visit from the head man of Kiron Sounds. To Astor's surprise, Hall-Carter found their blend of music and theatre very much to his taste. There was no acting involved in his interest in the unseen parts of the act that the band had left out of the briefer, lunchtime show.
   Astor found himself very much surplus to requirements when Megan Glyndwr and Nick Pennington arrived to talk over the final version of their press release on the video, which would be launched in two days' time. Megan quickly realized that 'Alec Carstairs' was a kindred spirit and he was more than willing to offer the benefit of his years of stage-craft to fellow professionals. Astor left them to it and headed for Melody Studios to get on with some re-recording work and the positively last and final tweaks to Under Alien Skies.

The launch party for the Drachensblut video was the usual booze-up and good time. Wanderers of the World Wide Web had sent in a steady stream of orders since Caroline had included the release date in the Kiron Sounds website's information section. Astor felt that everything had got off to a good start by the time the party ground to a natural conclusion and the vultures of the news media dispersed.
   The next day's reviews were somewhat mixed, but Astor had been expecting that sort of response. The Drachensblut video wasn't exactly immediately accessible. It required a lot of exploration before the viewer could locate familiar ground, which Astor felt was a good thing. It was something that people would return to again and again rather than watching once and dumping on a shelf, which would help to give Kiron Sounds a reputation for providing good quality material.
   Hoping that Kiron was gathering energy from a new source every time someone played the video, Astor decided to treat himself to lunch at the Meridan Hotel, knowing that he was just spending money for the sake of getting rid of it. He found himself following Henry Hall-Carter when he entered the dining room. The actor seemed to sense his presence and turned his head.
   "Yo, Mr. Carstairs, how's it going?" Astor remarked.
   "Ah, Peter," said Hall-Carter. "Remarkably well, actually. Are you on your own? Abandoned by your lady minder?"
   "She's working on the Internet pages, today. Adding some new tour dates for the Drachs, any good reviews we got and stuff like that. The first sales are officially brisk, I hear."
   "Good afternoon, Mr. Carstairs, Mr. Astor," said the head waiter, putting the names in his perceived order of importance. "Are you taking lunch together?"
   "Yes, I think so," said Hall-Carter.
   Astor was quite used to the VIP treatment by now. He assumed that his guest had dropped into a role from some play or other. Hall-Carter had the air of a man who expected others to fall in with his plans, whatever they turned out to be.
   "I've been meaning to speak you about the Drachs," Hall-Carter said when the waiter had departed with their order. "Have you set any sort of time limit on my visit here as the Great White Chief?"
   "Why, are you anxious to zap off?" said Astor.
   "On the contrary, I really think I'm doing some quite useful work with them in a directorial capacity."
   "An expert overview from off-stage, kind of thing?"
   "Yes, that sort of thing. They were asking if I could go with them on the early part of the tour. As a director. They want to develop their act beyond the video now."
   "Yeah, if you fancy it, we can write you into the tour. No problem."
   "You'd be able to square it with your accountant chappie?"
   "Walt can moan even less about the Drachs if the big boss is going on the road with them," laughed Astor. "And talking about the tour," he added, producing his mobile phone's headset, "excuse me for being a yuppie bastard for a moment."
   Astor hit a speed-dial button. "Hi, it's Pete," he said when Caroline answered. "You remember I got an email from someone called Cath about a job? Can you send one telling her we've got a tour coming up? It should make life interesting for the Drachs, having Cath driving them around. Cheers."
   Astor returned the headset to its pocket, wondering yet again if he was fated to have everyone he had ever met working for him, and hoping that his mother was not included in the package.
   "Quite an interesting group of people they've collected," said Hall-Carter.
   "The Drachs?" said Astor. "Yes, they're sort of a pocket industry. Give them an opportunity and they'll make the most of it. And they have the obvious advantage that the big boss likes them. So anything you can do to help them get better is okay by me."
   "I find it rather strange to be in such a fortunate position myself."
   "Used to struggling, like the rest of us?"
   "To be true to oneself often involves sacrifices, I admit," nodded the actor.
   Astor shrugged. "So the best thing to do is enjoy it while it's there. And talking of enjoying things, lunch approaching."

After being busy for most of the week, Pete Astor was in the mood to watch others work. Well lunched, he left Henry Hall-Carter waiting to receive someone in the hotel's bar and headed across the road to the Astoria. He had remembered that it was Caradoc's big night.
   He went round to the artistes' entrance, planning to stroll in unobserved with the roadies, who were transferring the usual mountain of kit from vans to the interior of the theatre. He got about three yards into the building before one of the security staff stepped in front of him.
   "Just to let you know," said a man in his mid-thirties in a brisk voice, "we know you're the boss, Mr. Astor, but we have to ask you for a means of identification."
   "Is James having a purge?" Astor produced his swipe-card.
   "It's part of the routine to change the level of security upwards at the entrance areas every so often." The security guard took the card from him, looked at it, then ran it through a reader, just to confirm that it was genuine.
   "So I can come in now?" said Astor.
   "Yes, sir. Miss Xanadu and her guest are on the balcony."
   "What guest?" frowned Astor. "Not some Welsh witch?"
   "She does have a Welsh accent." The security guard smiled. "No broomstick visible, though."
   Astor found Wendy and Mwrdn Smith on the front row of the balcony, watching the other support band combining a spot of rehearsal with a sound check. Mwrdn was enjoying herself in a way that made the mother of a teenage daughter look positively girlish. She was reliving her own teenage groupie days, even if her brother's band had only been slotted in as a second support act to Gorgon, one of the current giants of the BMR circuit.
   "Lovely place this, Pete," Mwrdn remarked as Astor dropped onto the seat beside Wendy's and sprawled. "Being here is just like being in that telly play that was on the other night."
   "Except the music's louder than they had in the Thirties?" said Astor. "I hope your brother's been grateful for your influence, getting him the gig."
   "He said there's no comparison with the clubs he usually plays in."
   "Yeah, I can believe that," laughed Astor.
   "Been there, done it, got the T-shirt, has our Pete," said Wendy.
   "Isn't it great, watching other people working?" said Astor.
   "Certainly makes a nice change for me," agreed Mwrdn.
   Wendy and her friend Mwrdn seem to be there for the day. Astor, overcome by inertia, just stayed with them. As a reward, they let him buy them an early meal at the theatre's café before they returned to the balcony to watch the show. Astor gravitated to the back-stage area. He had a feeling that something was going to happen. He had no idea what, or whether it would be good or bad, but he was aware of a restless expectation.
   That restlessness set him on the prowl soon after the headliners had begun their act. He had watched them on their first visit to the Astoria and he had not been impressed. His private opinion of Gorgon was that they may have been big, but they were also over-rated. They kept the accountants happy but they were just not musically deep enough to impress a serious musician.
   There was a lot of loud noise going on at the heart of the theatre but it was muffled in the surrounding corridors, which were now empty of paying customers. Astor's prowling took him toward the back of the building.
   He felt no particular sensation of becoming 'hot' or 'cold' as far as the coming event was concerned, but the feeling was growing stronger.
   "Hey, quick, over here."
   Astor turned in response to a female voice behind him. He was surprised to see Toy Graham beckoning him into a gents' toilet. Astor joined her inside, assuming she knew what she was doing. The young man on the tiled floor lay ominously still. He looked as if he had checked out of the hotel of life at the age of twenty-four or five.
   "Shit!" said Astor. "The bastard's ODed?"
   Toy shrugged. "Could be. But it's going to take a postmortem to decide. I think it would be better if he was found off the premises."
   "So do I," nodded Astor. "You reckon we can just tell everyone not to look at the security monitors while we carry him outside?"
   "We can get him through one of the windows and over to the car park, if you're up for it."
   Against his better judgement, Pete Astor found himself responding to the challenge in Toy's voice. She had already unlocked one of the windows. They draped the body over the window sill, Toy climbed out, then they eased the dead man out of the building. Toy closed the window, then they carried the body round some cars to a low wall.
   "Sit him on the wall," said Toy.
   "What now?" gasped Astor.
   "Now lower him to the ground."
   "Then leg it?"
   "No, I get on my radio." Toy unclipped it from her belt. "Toy for HQ, I'm in the west car park. Can you call an ambulance?"
   "What's up?" said a voice from her radio.
   "We've got a bloke on the ground. We're just checking him out now."
   "Right, we're calling the ambulance now."
   "I hope we're not on any security cameras," said Astor.
   "No, this is a council car park. They can't afford them," Toy said confidently. "And now, we check for signs of life."
   "What for? We know the guy's dead."
   "No, we don't. We've only just found him."
   "Oh, right," Astor realized. "Have you done this before?"
   "No, but it's something that's seemed on the cards, the way these young lads and girls guzzle pills. Help me move him to the recovery position."
   "Confusing the forensic?"
   "Correct. Remember, I was taking a look at the car park and you were with me when we happened to see him lying here." Toy unclipped her radio from her belt. "Toy for HQ. The guy seems to be dead. We're going to need the police."
   "Shit," said Astor.
   "It was always going to end up with the police, Mr. Astor."
   "I think, as a co-conspirator and fellow perverter of the course of justice, you can call me Pete," said Astor. "So how did you know he was in the bog?"
   "I've had this funny feeling something was going to happen. I've had it all night."
   "You're kidding!"
   "No, seriously, that's why I was checking all the toilets ..."
   "No, I mean, I've had the same feeling. That's why I was wandering around when I ran into you."
   "That's weird," said Toy as a siren began to grow in volume.
   "My middle name is supposed to be weird," Astor remarked. "I must say, I'm impressed by your loyalty to the company and your sense of judgement."
   "Yeah, well, it does none of us any good if he's found at the Astoria. He must have just gone somewhere to cool off. He could have come out here as easily as going in the toilet."
   An ambulance turned into the car park. Astor could see a police car right behind it. He resigned himself to having to answer a lot of the same questions and lots and lots of hanging around. Death can be extremely inconvenient to the living.
   It also meant the wrong sort of publicity, Astor realized, as he took out his mobile's headset in preparation for blasting off a quick call to Nick to alert the Astoria's PR-man.

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 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.
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