Tear down the barriers,
Let the light flood in! And what do you end up?
Pete Astor was quite used to opposition when he recruited new bands to the Kiron Sounds label. His latest prospect had been called Domaged Goods originally, the intention being to make people think of quel domage. In fact, the punters and everyone else had assumed that the name was a typographical error for Damaged Goods, which had become their official name, eventually, when fate had proved to the band just how apt it was.
Two of the original five members of Domaged Goods had been killed in a motorway crash on the way to a gig. The replacement guitarist had OD'd between tours and the previously undamaged lead vocalist had lost his right leg from mid-shin down after a motorcycle accident.
Having heard bootleg tapes of the band previously, Astor had gone to see the Doms knowing that they had a lot of talent and that they held nothing back when performing. According to their music-press interviews, they didn't believe they had much of a future left, so they were trying to get their music on record and get their kicks before they croaked.
Astor's database program had proved that they were a source of useful energy spikes for Kiron on the day that his personal extra-dimensional contact had denied all knowledge of a further plane of existence for humans, as claimed by the Talmy Group. Kiron's information had left Astor with two problems. The first was selling the Doms to his colleagues at Kiron Sounds. James had advised against taking them on because they would be a heap of trouble. Astor preferred to have the co-operation of his senior staff rather than just telling them to do things because the boss wanted them done.
His second problem was the familiar one of not knowing whether apparently lucid conversations with strange beings really took place while people were under the influence of exotic drugs or electronic instruments. A lot of people were having the conversations –himself, the members of the Lihmahl Support Group and the various factions of the Talmy Group to name but a few.
They seemed to be contacting real entities, assuming everyone else wasn't lying to him, but Astor had no objective, external test to prove that the entities were real. Which was why he was playing a waiting game with The Others as long as Kiron was denying all knowledge of the existence of the entities which other humans were allegedly contacting. As Kiron had told him, Kiron's lack of knowledge of other planes of existence and other extra-dimensional species was no proof one way or the other about their reality.
When he attended an afternoon policy meeting in the board room at the Astoria, Astor arrived with no better reason for signing the Doms than that the big boss liked them. Inspiration struck during the round of moans following his announcement of the decision.
"Okay, what's the problem exactly?" Astor invited.
Financial director Walter Merion just laughed. James Faucumberg provided a credible duplicate of Wendy's stare of wordless outrage at Astor's stupidity.
"No, really, what is the problem?" Astor persisted. "They're a great band musically. And stage-show-wise."
"And ten bloody tons of extra work when they wreck some joint," said James.
"So what is all this extra work you think you'd have to do to service the Doms relative to another band?"
"All the PR work, apologizing for them, clearing up after them...," Nick Pennington listed.
"Okay, we don't do any apologizing for them," Astor told him. "If anyone complains, just shrug and say it goes with the territory. If people want to make money out of them, they're going to have to deal with the down side."
"Yeah, sure," scoffed Nick.
"No, really," said Astor. "We're here to swap music for money. But we're certainly not in the business of subsidizing bad behaviour. So if the Doms choose to spend their royalties on having a good time, then that includes the bill for clearing up after them. We make it their own personal problem if they suddenly find they can't afford another round of drinks because their credit has run out."
"That sounds a bit radical," said Walter. "Almost what you'd expect from a corporate suit and bloody tie."
"If I've been corrupted, you're to blame, Walt," grinned Astor. "But, being practical, what's to stop us signing them up on those terms? They're told – up front and in their contract – that they're responsible for everything they do. No apologies on their behalf from the company. We just hand them the bill for anything they wreck and everyone gets told all damage is to be considered an operating expense that KS covers. But we make bloody sure we're not ripped off by unscrupulous hoteliers out to make a few bob for themselves. And we have it in their contract they don't do any damage to the Astoria."
"I almost think we could take them on, if it's on those terms," laughed James.
Astor shrugged. "So put it in a contract and see if they sign it. And if they won't wear it, let the buggers sign up with someone else."
"He's nothing if not radical, our Pete," said Nick.
"Real solutions to real problems," Astor quoted at back him. "Has anyone got any problems with this? If so, tell me now instead of sneaking off to write Pete Astor is a bastard on the bog walls."
"I take it any extra administration work in making sure some bastard hotelier isn't ripping us off is also charged to the band?" said Walter.
Astor nodded. "All expenses arising from clearing up after them. Which will be clearly stated in normal-size type in the contract, not shoved in two point type on the edge of the page. They pay for their own good times."
"Fair enough," said James.
"Another Internet page for Caroline to design, if they do sign," said Nick. "Did you see that article in Netanalia magazine? There's an interview with Caroline where she shares her secrets of web page design."
"Yeah, she's pretty good at it," nodded Astor. "I don't usually bother with all that Internet rubbish, but I did have a look at the KS pages when I was in the States. A guy I met over there had his PC permanently hooked up to the Internet because his service provider was offering unlimited access and he was getting free local calls."
"Can you imagine BT doing that?" laughed Walter.
"Not unless they get re-nationalized," said Astor. "I liked all the stuff on Dead Junkies gigs they were doing without me. I reckon they should have had a black border round that page."
"It's certainly proving a very useful source of mail orders," said James. "After all the effort to get the on-line credit card facility secure."
"Next item on my agenda," said Astor. "The Drachs tour of Australia. Is that looking likely to come off?"
"Your pal Mr. Di Mento checks out," said James. "Good track record. Very high satisfaction quotient from people he's dealt with."
"Doesn't that make you suspicious? People saying good things about him?" said Astor.
"The Drachs are up for a tour of Australia." James ignored the comment. "And things are looking good for sending HellBridge there after their Japanese tour. The plan seems to be to do gigs in Australia and New Zealand around a couple of weeks off, before they do another series of gigs in the Far East."
"Are these guys happy being permanently on the road, Pete?" Walter asked with a frown.
"Depends whether you're attached or not," said Astor. "If you've got a wife and kids back home, spending all the money you earn, things can get a bit fraught. But if you're unattached and having a good time, or you've got your wife with you, like Syd Melchior of Intox, and you can take the time to enjoy yourself around all the grind of going to different places and working there, it's great."
"Which seems to be borne out by the feed-back we get from our bands," said James.
"I suppose you'll be off to Oz to look the ground over," said Astor. "How was Italy, by the way? It bloody snowed last time I was there."
"Not bad for January," said James. "You mean KS would really stand for my going to Australia?"
"Well, you'll probably have to kidnap Walter's granny to get the ticket out of him," laughed Astor, "but we're the sort of international company that ought to be sending our executives out to see the world. I mean, it's not as if we can't afford it."
"Do we all get a trip to Australia?" said Nick.
"As long as you don't all go at once. And you don't expect me to go with you," said Astor. "It takes a whole bloody day to get there. Twenty-three hours, or something."
"To quote Pete, far out," said James.
"You certainly can't get much further out than Australia," laughed Walter.
Astor's mobile phone began to chirp for attention. He dug out his headset and offered a general apology for being a bloody yuppie.
"Pete? It's Padraig," said the caller. "I just thought you'd better have some somewhat strange news."
"How strange?" said Astor.
"You remember Alice Hraldy? The leader of the Talmy splinter group? Someone's just told me she committed suicide by jumping off a suspension bridge somewhere. What you might call the ultimate bungy jump without the bungy cord."
"What, she was about to be found out, or something?"
"Quite the reverse. Her deputy, Jane Polon, reckons she's gone on ahead so that she can help others ‘go on through' to the other side."
"And you believe that?"
"It's possible she, Hraldy, believed she could do it. Anyway, I thought you should know."
"Right, cheers, Padraig."
"Problems," said James in response to Astor's frown.
"Not for us." Astor sketched Padraig M'Cracken's news.
"That's what I call weird," said Nick. "Killing yourself for something as daft as that."
"It certainly gives weird a bad name," nodded Astor. "Although you can see it doing a bit of good for the survivors. Someone believes in what they're doing so strongly she's prepared to kill herself."
"I hope KS doesn't expect any demonstrations of conviction like that," said James.
"It would be an interesting corporate plan," said Astor. "One of the directors has to kill himself every year to prove the board has confidence in the company. Sounds a great way of getting new talent on board without a lot of bad feeling. And if you tell someone the Talmy philosophy of life is the latest management gimmick from the States, it might just work."
"What's the Talmy philosophy?" James obliged.
"One of their guys gave me this card," Astor said as he searched his pockets. "Here we are:
"One day, it all stops.
"And when it does, all the things you did
"and all the things you were planning to do,
"but never got round to doing,
"all that ends in chaos
"wrapped up in other people's perceptions.
"And as far as you're concerned,
"If you can ‘Go On Through',
"You've passed the course!
"You're out the other side.
"And when it happens, boy! The relief!!!"
"Yeah, well, that's not going to work on me," said Nick.
"Oh, well, if it won't work on the PR guy, what chance have we got?" laughed Astor. "Is there a next item on the agenda?"
"The bonuses for the first three months of operation," said Walter in a neutral tone. "I take it they won't be the subject of a press release? Or we'll have some government minister accusing us of ripping off the punters outrageously."
"Is there any other way to rip them off?" said Astor. "Good, are they? These bonuses?"
"If they're approved, they are."
"Were they worked out according to the agreed formula based on turn-over and attendances at concerts?"
"Then they're approved. If the company's making lots of lovely dosh, there's no problem about giving some of it back to the people creating the wealth. Of course, if we start losing money, we may come round looking for a sub from the people who are screwing up..."
"There's nothing in my contract about giving the company subs," remarked Nick.
"Sounds like you've got a bloody good contract," laughed Astor. His mobile phone began to ring again. "It's all go today," Astor added, pressing the connect button.
"Help," said Wendy's voice.
"With what?" said Astor.
"You know I went on that demo with Jenny today?"
"What, to keep her company?"
"Right. Anyway, we've both been busted for obstruction and we need a solicitor."
"Right, give me the details and I'll get on it," said Astor. "How come you're on the phone? I thought they notified someone on your behalf? You personally can't make the phone call you're entitled to."
"It's hell on wheels for the poor old coppers," laughed Wendy. "We're in a van and they've not searched us yet. So get busy, okay?"
"Trouble?" said James when Astor rang off having received details of Wendy's destination.
Astor pulled a face. "Wendy was off saving the universe with one of her weird mates and the fascist police have busted them. So can I get her out of gaol, please? So do you mind if I leave you to it?"
"Yes, I think everything else we want to discuss is the sort of detail you rise above," said James.
"Right, then. See you in due course. If I don't get busted myself," Astor added with a smile.
"Before you go, do you have a position on the detox thing?" Nick asked, almost apologetically.
"What detox thing?" frowned Astor.
"There's a story going round that you've been to a detox clinic and the meeja are asking which one, rather than if it's true."
"They reckon I need detoxing? Cheeky bastards!"
"I've been telling them it's drivel," Nick added.
"Not only that, it would be none of their sodding business if I did need it," said Astor. "And that's my position, if you want one."
"I'll pass it on," laughed Nick.
A sudden burst of paranoia sent Astor home when he had spoken to Rachel Billington about legal assistance for Wendy and her friend Jenny. He had a suspicion that police friends of DI Farne might just have taken some revenge on his behalf as Jenny was the person whom Astor would have voted as least likely to obstruct the police.
Recent consumption had left him in a temporarily drug-free state and almost a non-smoker. In fact, he tended to do most of his smoking on tours when he had to do a lot of hanging about with other bored musicians. With Wendy behind bars somewhere in Kent, Astor felt it might be a good idea to do a contraband check, just in case.
There was the familiar crowd with still and video cameras in front of his home when he turned onto his street. He reached his front door just as DI Farne was making up his mind to break down the door of the empty house. An hour and a half later, the police left without bothering to take token samples of white powders found in the kitchen. DI Farne decided against giving a press conference.
Astor filled the vacuum by telling the news media that the police had found absolutely nothing illegal and that he hoped they had enjoyed their cheap day out because it was about to become the subject of another official complaint, even if they hadn't broken anything this time. He also wondered how long he was going to have to put up with drug busts whenever the local CID had nothing better to do with themselves.
"What would you like to do about it, Pete?" called a voice from the press pack.
"I reckon it might be a good idea to sack a few of them. If the CID can come and waste hours and hours here, they're making a liar out of their chief constable when he complains about under-manning."
"You're saying there's never anything for them to find?"
"I'm saying maybe we citizens should carry out a few random busts on police stations to find out just how much work is actually going on there. And how much skiving."
"So you don't take drugs, Pete?"
"Mind you, I suppose I shouldn't complain. No bugger's going to burgle me if I've got the police raiding me every five minutes and keeping me under surveillance."
"They've got you under surveillance?"
"They must have if they can do their drug busts when I'm not here. They were probably hoping to plant something."
"You think they were trying to do that?"
"All the other raids have been in the early morning, when I'm usually in bed. Odd they should have picked the middle of the afternoon, when I'm out working."
"You're seriously saying the police are trying to stitch you up, Mr. Astor?"
"I think things have got to the point where they should be required to prove they're not. And if you lot are really guardians of public liberty, you should be asking how they manage to get all these search warrants. I thought you had to have some sort of evidence to get one, but I may be wrong."
"You think there's something dodgy going on?"
"I reckon there's some back-scratching going on."
"Have you got any proof of that?"
"Isn't finding you lot on my doorstep eager to see me being led off in handcuffs proof enough?" said Astor. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some political prisoners to visit."
Pete Astor arrived in Leeds – the home of Leeds Castle rather than the one in West Yorkshire - in nice time to take Wendy and her friend Jane to dinner. They had been released without charge, and without apology, because the police had found that their evidence was too slight to make a charge stick.
All three found their pictures featured prominently in the tabloids the next day. Always on the lookout for a good conspiracy, the papers were finding it odd that both Pete Astor and his friend Wendy Xanadu should have been the focus of unwarranted police attention quite so often.
The press laid siege to Astor again the following day when the parents of the boy who had died in Croydon on the Astoria's opening night revealed that they were ready to go ahead with their claim for compensation. Wearing a sheepskin coat and thick gloves on a raw February day, Astor held another of his garden-gate press conferences, having been advised by Rachel that he should say nothing but he couldn't be in contempt of court if the case had not yet started.
Most of the subsequent media quotations were based on Astor's comment: ‘When you read what their lawyers say, you have to bear in mind it's been concocted by people who are paid to bend the truth into unrecognizable shapes to keep the guilty out of gaol and extort money from anyone who looks as if they've got a few bob.'
The media returned when the lawyers for the parents announced that they were conducting the case on a no win, no fee basis. Astor waited until he had a decent crowd then, as a concession to the light rain, he made Wendy move her van out of the garage so that he could speak to his fans under cover.
"That's great," Astor told the reporters when they reminded him that the opposition's lawyers were working without a guarantee of payment. "That means they've crossed the line. They're not impartial agents of the people having a go at us. They now have a direct financial interest in the outcome of the case. In effect, they've become partners in the whole deal."
"So?" frowned one of the journalist.
"So now we can sue them for damages for the emotional stress their actions have caused us and for compensation for all the expense they've involved us in. Stress and trauma, they call it in the States."
"You reckon you can get away with that, Pete?" laughed one of the journalists.
Astor shrugged. "I don't see why not. If they can import junk concepts like no win, no fee from the States, I can import the counter-action that goes with it. S and T cases are killing the no win, no fee business over in the States now. Anyway, that's all you're getting. I'm going to work now, so goodbye."
Reg Drew of the local paper ambushed him in the afternoon as Astor was crossing Sydney Road, heading for the Astoria. Drew was in a combative mood.
"Our legal eagle reckons you've got no hope if you're going to sue their lawyers," he told Astor in a challenging tone.
"Really?" said Astor. "I thought you were supposed to deal in news, not the blindingly obvious."
"So what's your game?" Drew persisted.
"I think you're forgetting that's just an opinion from your wing of a vested interest, which is trying to frighten us off. Lawyers all over the country expect to make lots of lovely money out of this no win, no fee system. So they're not about to let anyone wrench the trough away from their snouts without putting up a fight. And it's not what the bloody lawyers think that counts. It's what the jury decides when the case eventually gets to court. Like, in about ten years' time."
"You reckon it could take that long?"
"I've no idea how long it's going to be before the case gets to court. But you're going to see some monumental foot-dragging from the other side because that's the way these guys operate to rack up the expenses."
"The lawyers want this sorted out as quickly as possible."
"Really?" scoffed Astor. "I don't associate the word quickly with the legal profession."
"Lots of firms are having second thoughts about taking no-win, no-fee cases in case losing makes them liable for more than just the unrecovered costs. They want to know where they stand."
"Yeah, but not it's the instinct of the legal profession to do anything at a reasonable speed. They're like a bunch of cowboy builders. They start a case, then they bugger off for six months working on other contracts. Then they come back to you and tell you they need to get back up to speed on your case. And sneak in a bill for a couple of grand for an hour spent reading through the case papers. You may have all their mates on the side-lines yelling at them to get a move on, but it doesn't do much good if the fat old juggernaut doesn't know how to put on a burst of speed."
"I take it you've not got a very good opinion of the legal profession, Mr. Astor?" Drew said with heavy sarcasm.
"Some of them are very good at what they do. Like the people Kiron Sounds uses. Some of them are just a bunch of ambulance-chasers and a total waste of space. A bit like most of you journos. But I think the main problem is the system. I suppose it's typical, but parliament's full of QCs, who are supposed to be legal experts, but they create a system designed to look after the interests of the criminal at the expense of the rights of the victim. Still, come the Revolution, we're going to hang all the lawyers and the trade union leaders, so that should solve a few problems."
"And the journalists?"
"Nah, we won't hang them. We'll just feed them to the sacred crocodiles. Okay, is that enough to fill up your column? Because I've got an orchestra to listen to while they rehearse some new stuff."
"Is this Dan Creel's stuff?"
"You've heard of him?"
"I wouldn't mind an earful of that myself. I could maybe do a review of it. And if he's here, I could do an interview with him. There you are, a bit of free publicity for you. Just what Nick's always after."
"You're a bloody journalist. What do you know about Classical music?"
"You'd be surprised what I know about, mate," Drew returned defensively. "And what about a rock label releasing Classical albums? Isn't that some sort of cheap gimmick?"
"You're making the wrong sort of distinction between types of music. There are only two basic types of music – good and bad. And Kiron Sounds is all about promoting good music. Which is why we're recording Darren Creel."
"And you're making the wrong sort of distinction between types of journalism, mate."
"You mean, there's only bad and worse?" scoffed Astor.
"Are you inviting me in, or what?" said Drew.
"If you start coughing, I'll get Security to chuck you out." Astor produced his swipe card and decided to take whatever was going in the way of free publicity.
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.