Dirk gentlys holistic de.., p.5
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       Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, p.5

         Part #1 of Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams
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  Steve Mander noticed that if ever Dirk went to bed drunk he would talk in his sleep. Not only that, but the sort of things he would say in his sleep would be things like, "The opening up of trade routes to the mumble mumble burble was the turning point for the growth of empire in the snore footle mumble. Discuss."

  ". . . like rebounding hail,

  Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:"

  The first time this happened Steve Mander sat bolt upright in bed. This was shortly before prelim exams in the second year, and what Dirk had just said, or judiciously mumbled, sounded remarkably like a very likely question in the Economic History paper.

  Mander quietly got up, crossed over to Dirk's bed and listened very hard, but other than a few completely disconnected mumblings about Schleswig-Holstein and the Franco-Prussian war, the latter being largely directed by Dirk into his pillow, he learned nothing more.

  News, however, spread--quietly, discreetly, and like wildfire.

  "And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever It flung up momently the sacred river."

  For the next month Dirk found himself being constantly wined and dined in the hope that he would sleep very soundly that night and dream-speak a few more exam questions. Remarkably, it seemed that the better he was fed, and the finer the vintage of the wine he was given to drink, the less he would tend to sleep facing directly into his pillow.

  His scheme, therefore, was to exploit his alleged gifts without ever actually claiming to have them. In fact he would react to stories about his supposed powers with open incredulity, even hostility.

  "Five miles meandering with a mazy motion

  Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,

  Then reached the caverns measureless to man, And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:

  And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far

  Ancestral voices prophesying war!"

  Dirk was also, he denied, a clairaudient. He would sometimes hum tunes in his sleep that two weeks later would turn out to be a hit for someone. Not too difficult to organise, really.

  In fact, he had always done the bare minimum of research necessary to support these myths. He was lazy, and essentially what he did was allow people's enthusiastic credulity to do the work for him. The laziness was essential--if his supposed feats of the paranormal had been detailed and accurate, then people might have been suspicious and looked for other explanations. On the other hand, the more vague and ambiguous his "predictions' the more other people's own wishful thinking would close the credibility gap.

  Dirk never made much out of it--at least, he appeared not to. In fact, the benefit to himself, as a student, of being continually wined and dined at other people's expense was more considerable than anyone would expect unless they sat down and worked out the figures.

  And, of course, he never claimed--in fact, he actively denied--that any of it was even remotely true.

  He was therefore well placed to execute a very nice and tasty little scam come the time of finals.

  "The shadow of the dome of pleasure

  Floated midway on the waves;

  Where was heard the mingled measure

  From the fountain and the caves.

  It was a miracle of rare device,

  A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!"

  "Good heavens... !" Reg suddenly seemed to awake with a start from the light doze into which he had gently slipped under the influence of the wine and the reading, and glanced about himself with blank surprise, but nothing had changed. Coleridge's words sang through a warm and contented silence that had settled on the great hall. After another quick frown, Reg settled back into another doze, but this time a slightly more attentive one.

  "A damsel with a dulcimer

  In a vision once I saw:

  It was an Abyssinian maid,

  And on her dulcimer she played,

  Singing of Mount Abora."

  Dirk allowed himself to be persuaded to make, under hypnosis, a firm prediction about what questions would be set for examination that summer.

  He himself first planted the idea by explaining exactly the sort of thing that he would never, under any circumstances, be prepared to do, though in many ways he would like to, just to have the chance to disprove his alleged and strongly disavowed abilities.

  And it was on these grounds, carefully prepared, that he eventually agreed--only because it would once and for all scotch the whole silly--immensely, tediously silly--business. He would make his predictions by means of automatic writing under proper supervision, and they would then be sealed in an envelope and deposited at the bank until after the exams.

  Then they would be opened to see how accurate they had been after the exams.

  He was, not surprisingly, offered some pretty hefty bribes from a pretty hefty number of people to let them see the predictions he had written down, but he was absolutely shocked by the idea. That, he said, would be dishonest . . .

  "Could I revive within me

  Her symphony and song,

  To such a deep delight "twould win me,

  That with music loud and long,

  I would build that dome in air,

  That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!"

  Then, a short time later, Dirk allowed himself to be seen around town wearing something of a vexed and solemn expression. At first he waved aside enquiries as to what it was that was bothering him, but eventually he let slip that his mother was going to have to undergo some extremely expensive dental work which, for reasons that he refused to discuss, would have to be done privately, only there wasn't the money.

  From here, the path downward to accepting donations for his mother's supposed medical expenses in return for quick glances at his written exam predictions proved to be sufficiently steep and well-oiled for him to be able to slip down it with a minimum of fuss.

  Then it further transpired that the only dentist who could perform this mysterious dental operation was an East European surgeon now living in Malibu, and it was in consequence necessary to increase the level of donations rather sharply.

  He still denied, of course, that his abilities were all that they were cracked up to be, in fact he denied that they existed at all, and insisted that he would never have embarked on the exercise at all if it wasn't to disprove the whole thing--and also, since other people seemed, at their own risk, to have a faith in his abilities that he himself did not, he was happy to indulge them to the extent of letting them pay for his sainted mother's operation.

  He could only emerge well from this situation.

  Or so he thought.

  "And all who heard should see them there,

  And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

  His flashing eyes, his floating hair!"

  The exam papers Dirk produced under hypnosis, by means of automatic writing, he had, in fact, pieced together simply by doing the same minimum research that any student taking exams would do, studying previous exam papers, and seeing what, if any, patterns emerged, and making intelligent guesses about what might come up. He was pretty sure of getting (as anyone would be) a strike rate that was sufficiently high to satisfy the credulous, and sufficiently low for the whole exercise to look perfectly innocent.

  As indeed it was.

  What completely blew him out of the water, and caused a furore which ended with him being driven out of Cambridge in the back of a Black Maria, was the fact that all the exam papers he sold turned out to be the same as the papers that were actually set.

  Exactly. Word for word. To the very comma.

  "Wave a circle round him thrice,

  And close your eyes with holy dread,

  For he on honey-dew hath fed,

  And drunk the milk of Paradise..."

  And that, apart from a flurry of sensational newspaper reports which exposed him as a fraud, then trumpeted him as the real thing so that they could have another round of exposing him as a fraud again and then trumpeting him as the real thing again, until they got bored and
found a nice juicy snooker player to harass instead, was that.

  In the years since then, Richard had run into Dirk from time to time and had usually been greeted with that kind of guarded half smile that wants to know if you think it owes you money before it blossoms into one that hopes you will lend it some. Dirk's regular name changes suggested to Richard that he wasn't alone in being treated like this.

  He felt a tug of sadness that someone who had seemed so shiningly alive within the small confines of a university community should have seemed to fade so much in the light of common day. And he wondered at Reg's asking after him like that, suddenly and out of the blue, in what seemed altogether too airy and casual a manner.

  He glanced around him again, at his lightly snoring neighbour, Reg; at little Sarah rapt in silent attention; at the deep hall swathed in darkly glimmering light; at the portraits of old prime ministers and poets hung high in the darkness with just the odd glint of candlelight gleaming off their teeth; at the Director of English Studies standing reading in his poetry-reading voice; at the book of "Kubla Khan" that the Director of English Studies held in his hand; and finally, surreptitiously, at his watch. He settled back again.

  The voice continued, reading the second, and altogether stranger part of the poem...

  CHAPTER

  7

  This was the evening of the last day of Gordon Way's life, and he was wondering if the rain would hold off for the weekend. The forecast had said changeable--a misty night tonight followed by bright but chilly days on Friday and Saturday with maybe a few scattered showers towards the end of Sunday when everyone would be heading back into town.

  Everyone, that is, other than Gordon Way.

  The weather forecast hadn't mentioned that, of course, that wasn't the job of the weather forecast, but then his horoscope had been pretty misleading as well. It had mentioned an unusual amount of planetary activity in his sign and had urged him to differentiate between what he thought he wanted and what he actually needed, and suggested that he should tackle emotional or work problems with determination and complete honesty, but had inexplicably failed to mention that he would be dead before the day was out.

  He turned off the motorway near Cambridge and stopped at a small filling station for some petrol, where he sat for a moment, finishing off a call on his car phone.

  "OK, look, I'll call you tomorrow," he said, "or maybe later tonight. Or call me. I should be at the cottage in half an hour. Yes, I know how important the project is to you. All right, I know how important it is, full stop. You want it, I want it. Of course I do. And I'm not saying that we won't continue to support it. I'm just saying it's expensive and we should look at the whole thing with determination and complete honesty. Look, why don't you come out to the cottage, and we can talk it through. OK, yeah, yes, I know. I understand. Well, think about it, Kate. Talk to you later. Bye."

  He hung up and continued to sit in his car for a moment.

  It was a large car. It was a large silver-grey Mercedes of the sort that they use in advertisements, and not just advertisements for Mercedes. Gordon Way, brother of Susan, employer of Richard MacDuff, was a rich man, the founder and owner of WayForward Technologies II. WayForward Technologies itself had of course gone bust, for the usual reason, taking his entire first fortune with it.

  Luckily, he had managed to make another one.

  The "usual reason" was that he had been in the business of computer hardware when every twelve-year-old in the country had suddenly got bored with boxes that went bing. His second fortune had been made in software instead. As a result of two major pieces of software, one of which was Anthem (the other, more profitable one had never seen the light of day), WFT-II was the only British software company that could be mentioned in the same sentence as such major U.S. companies as Microsoft or Lotus. The sentence would probably run along the lines of "WayForward Technologies, unlike such major U.S. companies as Microsoft or Lotus..." but it was a start. WayForward was in there. And he owned it.

  He pushed a tape into the slot on the stereo console. It accepted it with a soft and decorous click, and a moment or two later Ravel's Bolero floated out of eight perfectly matched speakers with fine-meshed matte-black grilles. The stereo was so smooth and spacious you could almost sense the whole ice-rink. He tapped his fingers lightly on the padded rim of the steering wheel. He gazed at the dashboard. Tasteful illuminated figures and tiny, immaculate lights gazed dimly back at him. After a while he suddenly realised this was a self service station and got out to fill the tank.

  This took a minute or two. He stood gripping the filler nozzle, stamping his feet in the cold night air, then walked over to the small grubby kiosk, paid for the petrol, remembered to buy a couple of local maps, and then stood chatting enthusiastically to the cashier for a few minutes about the directions the computer industry was likely to take in the following year, suggesting that parallel processing was going to be the key to really intuitive productivity software, but also strongly doubting whether artificial intelligence research per se, particularly artificial intelligence research based on the ProLog language, was really going to produce any serious commercially viable products in the foreseeable future, at least as far as the office desk top environment was concerned, a topic that fascinated the cashier not at all.

  "The man just liked to talk," he would later tell the police. "Man, I could have walked away to the toilet for ten minutes and he would've told it all to the till. If I'd been fifteen minutes the till would have walked away too. Yeah, I'm sure that's him," he would add when shown a picture of Gordon Way. "I only wasn't sure at first because in the picture he's got his mouth closed."

  "And you're absolutely certain you didn't see anything else suspicious?" the policeman insisted. "Nothing that struck you as odd in any way at all?"

  "No, like I said, it was just an ordinary customer on an ordinary night, just like any other night."

  The policeman stared at him blankly. "Just for the sake of argument," he went on to say, "if I were suddenly to do this--" he made himself go cross-eyed, stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth and danced up and down twisting his fingers in his ears--"would anything strike you about that?"

  "Well, er, yeah," said the cashier, backing away nervously. "I'd think you'd gone stark raving mad."

  "Good," said the policeman, putting his notebook away. "It's just that different people sometimes have a different idea of what "odd" means, you see, sir. If last night was an ordinary night just like any other night, then I am a pimple on the bottom of the Marquess of Queensbury's aunt. We shall be requiring a statement later, sir. Thank you for your time."

  That was all yet to come.

  Tonight, Gordon pushed the maps in his pocket and strolled back towards his car. Standing under the lights in the mist it had gathered a finely beaded coat of matte moisture on it, and looked like--well, it looked like an extremely expensive Mercedes-Benz. Gordon caught himself, just for a millisecond, wishing that he had something like that, but he was now quite adept at fending off that particular line of thought, which only led off in circles and left him feeling depressed and confused.

  He patted it in a proprietorial manner, then, walking around it, noticed that the boot wasn't closed properly and pushed it shut. It closed with a good healthy clunk. Well, that made it all worth it, didn't it? Good healthy clunk like that. Old-fashioned values of quality and workmanship. He thought of a dozen things he had to talk to Susan about and climbed back into the car, pushing the auto-dial code on his phone as soon as the car was prowling back on to the road.

  ". . . so if you'd like to leave a message, I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Maybe."

  Beep.

  "Oh, Susan, hi, it's Gordon," he said, cradling the phone awkwardly on his shoulder. "Just on my way to the cottage. It's er, Thursday night, and it's, er... 8.47. Bit misty on the roads. Listen, I have those people from the States coming over this weekend to thrash out the distribution on Anthem Version 2.00, handlin
g the promotion, all that stuff, and look you know I don't like to ask you this sort of thing, but you know I always do anyway, so here it is.

  "I just need to know that Richard is on the case. I mean really on the case. I can ask him, and he says, Oh sure, it's fine, but half the time--shit, that lorry had bright lights, none of these bastard lorry drivers ever dips them properly, it's a wonder I don't end up dead in the ditch, that would be something, wouldn't it, leaving your famous last words on somebody's answering machine, there's no reason why these lorries shouldn't have automatic light-activated dipper switches. Look, can you make a note for me to tell Susan--not you, of course, secretary Susan at the office--to tell her to send a letter from me to that fellow at the Department of the Environment saying we can provide the technology if he can provide the legislation? It's for the public good, and anyway he owes me a favour plus what's the point in having a CBE if you can't kick a little ass? You can tell I've been talking to Americans all week.

  "That reminds me, God, I hope I remembered to pack the shotguns. What is it with these Americans that they're always so mad to shoot my rabbits? I bought them some maps in the hope that I can persuade them to go on long healthy walks and take their minds off shooting rabbits. I really feel quite sorry for the creatures. I think I should put one of those signs on my lawn when the Americans are coming, you know, like they have in Beverly Hills, saying "Armed Response".

  "Make a note to Susan, would you please, to get an "Armed Response" sign made up with a sharp spike on the bottom at the right height for rabbits to see. That's secretary Susan at the office not you, of course.

  "Where was I?

  "Oh yes. Richard and Anthem 2.00. Susan, that thing has got to be in beta testing in two weeks. He tells me it's fine. But every time I see him he's got a picture of a sofa spinning on his computer screen. He says it's an important concept, but all I see is furniture. People who want their company accounts to sing to them do not want to buy a revolving sofa. Nor do I think he should be turning the erosion patterns of the Himalayas into a flute quintet at this time.

 
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