Dirk gentlys holistic de.., p.7
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       Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, p.7

         Part #1 of Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams
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  Richard moved quickly to the door but did not open it. The chill of the room oppressed and disturbed him. He shook his head to try and shake off the feeling, and then held his breath as the footsteps started once again slowly to traverse the two yards of the landing and to pause there again.

  After only a few seconds, this time Richard heard the long slow squeak of a door being opened inch by inch, inch by cautious inch, until it must surely now at last be standing wide agape.

  Nothing further seemed to happen for a long, long time.

  Then at last the door closed once again, slowly.

  The footsteps crossed the landing and paused again. Richard backed a few slight paces from the door, staring fixedly at it. Once more the footsteps started to descend the stairs, slowly, deliberately and quietly, until at last they reached the bottom. Then after a few seconds more the door handle began to rotate. The door opened and Reg walked calmly in.

  "It's all right, it's just a horse in the bathroom," he said quietly.

  Richard leaped on him and wrestled him to the ground.

  "No," gasped Reg, "no, get off me, let me go, I'm perfectly all right, damn it. It's just a horse, a perfectly ordinary horse." He shook Richard off with no great difficulty and sat up, puffing and blowing and pushing his hands through his limited hair. Richard stood over him warily, but with great and mounting embarrassment. He edged back, and let Reg stand up and sit on a chair.

  "Just a horse," said Reg, "but, er, thank you for taking me at my word." He brushed himself down.

  "A horse," repeated Richard.

  "Yes," said Reg.

  Richard went out and looked up the stairs and then came back in.

  "A horse?" he said again.

  "Yes, it is," said the Professor. "Wait--" he motioned to Richard, who was about to go out again and investigate--"let it be. It won't be long."

  Richard stared in disbelief. "You say there's a horse in your bathroom, and all you can do is stand there naming Beatles songs?"

  The Professor looked blankly at him.

  "Listen," he said, "I'm sorry if I... alarmed you earlier, it was just a slight turn. These things happen, my dear fellow, don't upset yourself about it. Dear me, I've known odder things in my time. Many of them. Far odder. She's only a horse, for heaven's sake. I'll go and let her out later. Please don't concern yourself. Let us revive our spirits with some port."

  "But... how did it get in there?"

  "Well, the bathroom window's open. I expect she came in through that."

  Richard looked at him, not for the first and certainly not for the last time, through eyes that were narrowed with suspicion.

  "You're doing it deliberately, aren't you?" he said.

  "Doing what, my dear fellow?"

  "I don't believe there's a horse in your bathroom," said Richard suddenly. "I don't know what is there, I don't know what you're doing, I don't know what any of this evening means, but I don't believe there's a horse in your bathroom." And brushing aside Reg's further protestations he went up to look.

  The bathroom was not large.

  The walls were panelled in old oak linenfold which, given the age and nature of the building, was quite probably priceless, but otherwise the fittings were stark and institutional.

  There was old, scuffed, black-and-white checked linoleum on the floor, a small basic bath, well cleaned but with very elderly stains and chips in the enamel, and also a small basic basin with a toothbrush and toothpaste in a Duralex beaker standing next to the taps. Screwed into the probably priceless panelling above the basin was a tin mirror--fronted bathroom cabinet. It looked as if it had been repainted many times, and the mirror was stained round the edges with condensation. The lavatory had an old-fashioned cast-iron chain-pull cistern. There was an old cream-painted wooden cupboard standing in the corner, with an old brown bentwood chair next to it, on which lay some neatly folded but threadbare small towels. There was also a large horse in the room, taking up most of it.

  Richard stared at it, and it stared at Richard in an appraising kind of way. Richard swayed slightly. The horse stood quite still. After a while it looked at the cupboard instead. It seemed, if not content, then at least perfectly resigned to being where it was until it was put somewhere else. It also seemed... what was it?

  It was bathed in the glow of the moonlight that streamed in through the window. The window was open but small and was, besides, on the second floor, so the notion that the horse had entered by that route was entirely fanciful.

  There was something odd about the horse, but he couldn't say what. Well, there was one thing that was clearly very odd about it indeed, which was that it was standing in a college bathroom. Maybe that was all.

  He reached out, rather tentatively, to pat the creature on its neck. It felt normal--firm, glossy, it was in good condition. The effect of the moonlight on its coat was a little mazy, but everything looks a little odd by moonlight. The horse shook its mane a little when he touched it, but didn't seem to mind too much.

  After the success of patting it, Richard stroked it a few times and scratched it gently under the jaw. Then he noticed that there was another door into the bathroom, in the far corner. He moved cautiously around the horse and approached the other door. He backed up against it and pushed it open tentatively.

  It just opened into the Professor's bedroom, a small room cluttered with books and shoes and a small single bed. This room, too, had another door, which opened out on to the landing again.

  Richard noticed that the floor of the landing was newly scuffed and scratched as the stairs had been, and these marks were consistent with the idea that the horse had somehow been pushed up the stairs. He wouldn't have liked to have had to do it himself, and he would have liked to have been the horse having it done to him even less, but it was just about possible.

  But why? He had one last look at the horse, which had one last look back at him, and then he returned downstairs.

  "I agree," he said. "You have a horse in your bathroom and I will, after all, have a little port."

  He poured some for himself, and then some for Reg, who was quietly contemplating the fire and was in need of a refill.

  "Just as well I did put out three glasses after all," said Reg chattily. "I wondered why earlier, and now I remember.

  "You asked if you could bring a friend, but appear not to have done so. On account of the sofa no doubt. Never mind, these things happen. Whoa, not too much, you'll spill it."

  All horse-related questions left Richard's mind abruptly.

  "I did?" he said.

  "Oh yes. I remember now. You rang me back to ask me if it would be all right, as I recall. I said I would be charmed, and fully intended to be. I'd saw the thing up if I were you. Don't want to sacrifice your happiness to a sofa. Or maybe she decided that an evening with your old tutor would be blisteringly dull and opted for the more exhilarating course of washing her hair instead. Dear me, I know what I would have done. It's only lack of hair that forces me to pursue such a hectic social round these days."

  It was Richard's turn to be white-faced and staring.

  Yes, he had assumed that Susan would not want to come.

  Yes, he had said to her it would be terribly dull. But she had insisted that she wanted to come because it would be the only way she'd get to see his face for a few minutes not bathed in the light of a computer screen, so he had agreed and arranged that he would bring her after all.

  Only he had completely forgotten this. He had not picked her up.

  He said, "Can I use your phone, please?"

  CHAPTER

  9

  Gordon Way lay on the ground, unclear about what to do.

  He was dead. There seemed little doubt about that. There was a horrific hole in his chest, but the blood that was gobbing out of it had slowed to a trickle. Otherwise there was no movement from his chest at all, or, indeed, from any other part of him.

  He looked up, and from side to side, and it became clear to him that
whatever part of him it was that was moving, it wasn't any part of his body.

  The mist rolled slowly over him, and explained nothing. At a few feet distant from him his shotgun lay smoking quietly in the grass.

  He continued to lie there, like someone lying awake at four o'clock in the morning, unable to put their mind to rest, but unable to find anything to do with it. He realised that he had just had something of a shock, which might account for his inability to think clearly, but didn't account for his ability actually to think at all.

  In the great debate that has raged for centuries about what, if anything, happens to you after death, be it heaven, hell, purgatory or extinction, one thing has never been in doubt--that you would at least know the answer when you were dead.

  Gordon Way was dead, but he simply hadn't the slightest idea what he was meant to do about it. It wasn't a situation he had encountered before.

  He sat up. The body that sat up seemed as real to him as the body that still lay slowly cooling on the ground, giving up its blood heat in wraiths of steam that mingled with the mist of the chill night air.

  Experimenting a bit further, he tried standing up, slowly, wonderingly and wobblingly. The ground seemed to give him support, it took his weight. But then of course he appeared to have no weight that needed to be taken. When he bent to touch the ground he could feel nothing save a kind of distant rubbery resistance like the sensation you get if you try and pick something up when your arm has gone dead. His arm had gone dead. His legs too, and his other arm, and all his torso and his head.

  His body was dead. He could not say why his mind was not.

  He stood in a kind of frozen, sleepless horror while the mist curled slowly through him.

  He looked back down at the him, the ghastly, astonished-looking him--thing lying still and mangled on the ground, and his flesh wanted to creep. Or rather, he wanted flesh that could creep. He wanted flesh. He wanted body. He had none.

  A sudden cry of horror escaped from his mouth but was nothing and went nowhere. He shook and felt nothing.

  Music and a pool of light seeped from his car. He walked towards it. He tried to walk sturdily, but it was a faint and feeble kind of walking, uncertain and, well, insubstantial. The ground felt frail beneath his feet.

  The door of the car was still open on the driver's side, as he had left it when he had leaped out to deal with the boot lid, thinking he'd only be two seconds.

  That was all of two minutes ago now, when he'd been alive. When he'd been a person. When he'd thought he was going to be leaping straight back in and driving off. Two minutes and a lifetime ago.

  This was insane, wasn't it? he thought suddenly.

  He walked around the door and bent down to peer into the external rear-view mirror.

  He looked exactly like himself, albeit like himself after he'd had a terrible fright, which was to be expected, but that was him, that was normal. This must be something he was imagining, some horrible kind of waking dream. He had a sudden thought and tried breathing on the rear-view mirror.

  Nothing. Not a single droplet formed. That would satisfy a doctor, that's what they always did on television--if no mist formed on the mirror, there was no breath. Perhaps, he thought anxiously to himself, perhaps it was something to do with having heated wing mirrors. Didn't this car have heated wing mirrors? Hadn't the salesman gone on and on about heated this, electric that, and servo-assisted the other? Maybe they were digital wing mirrors. That was it. Digital, heated, servo-assisted, computer-controlled, breath-resistant wing mirrors...

  He was, he realised, thinking complete nonsense. He turned slowly and gazed again in apprehension at the body lying on the ground behind him with half its chest blown away. That would certainly satisfy a doctor. The sight would be appalling enough if it was somebody else's body, but his own...

  He was dead. Dead... dead... He tried to make the word toll dramatically in his mind, but it wouldn't. He was not a film sound track, he was just dead.

  Peering at his body in appalled fascination, he gradually became distressed by the expression of asinine stupidity on its face.

  It was perfectly understandable, of course. It was just such an expression as somebody who is in the middle of being shot with his own shotgun by somebody who had been hiding in the boot of his car might be expected to wear, but he nevertheless disliked the idea that anyone might find him looking like that.

  He knelt down beside it in the hope of being able to rearrange his features into some semblance of dignity, or at least basic intelligence.

  It proved to be almost impossibly difficult. He tried to knead the skin, the sickeningly familiar skin, but somehow he couldn't seem to get a proper grip on it, or on anything. It was like trying to model plasticine when your arm has gone to sleep, except that instead of his grip slipping off the model, it would slip through it. In this case, his hand slipped through his face.

  Nauseated horror and rage swept through him at his sheer bloody blasted impotence, and he was suddenly startled to find himself throttling and shaking his own dead body with a firm and furious grip. He staggered back in amazed shock. All he had managed to do was to add to the inanely stupefied look of the corpse a twisted-up mouth and a squint. And bruises flowering on its neck.

  He started to sob, and this time sound seemed to come, a strange howling from deep within whatever this thing he had become was. Clutching his hands to his face, he staggered backwards, retreated to his car and flung himself into the seat. The seat received him in a loose and distant kind of way, like an aunt who disapproves of the last fifteen years of your life and will therefore furnish you with a basic sherry, but refuses to catch your eye.

  Could he get himself to a doctor?

  To avoid facing the absurdity of the idea he grappled violently with the steering wheel, but his hands slipped through it. He tried to wrestle with the automatic transmission shift and ended up thumping it in rage, but not being able properly to grasp or push it.

  The stereo was still playing light orchestral music into the telephone, which had been lying on the passenger seat listening patiently all this time. He stared at it and realised with a growing fever of excitement that he was still connected to Susan's telephone-answering machine. It was the type that would simply run and run until he hung up. He was still in contact with the world.

  He tried desperately to pick up the receiver, fumbled, let it slip, and was in the end reduced to bending himself down over its mouthpiece. "Susan!" he cried into it, his voice a hoarse and distant wail on the wind. "Susan, help me! Help me for God's sake. Susan, I'm dead... I'm dead... I'm dead and... I don't know what to do..." He broke down again, sobbing in desperation, and tried to cling to the phone like a baby clinging to its blanket for comfort.

  "Help me, Susan..." he cried again.

  "Beep," said the phone.

  He looked down at it again where he was cuddling it. He had managed to push something after all. He had managed to push the button which disconnected the call. Feverishly he attempted to grapple the thing again, but it constantly slipped through his fingers and eventually lay immobile on the seat. He could not touch it. He could not push the buttons. In rage he flung it at the windscreen. It responded to that, all right. It hit the windscreen, careered straight back though him, bounced off the seat and then lay still on the transmission tunnel, impervious to all his further attempts to touch it.

  For several minutes still he sat there, his head nodding slowly as terror began to recede into blank desolation.

  A couple of cars passed by, but would have noticed nothing odd--a car stopped by the wayside. Passing swiftly in the night their headlights would probably not have picked out the body lying in the grass behind the car. They certainly would not have noticed a ghost sitting inside it crying to himself.

  He didn't know how long he sat there. He was hardly aware of time passing, only that it didn't seem to pass quickly. There was little external stimulus to mark its passage. He didn't feel cold. In fact he could
almost not remember what cold meant or felt like, he just knew that it was something he would have expected to feel at this moment.

  Eventually he stirred from his pathetic huddle. He would have to do something, though he didn't know what. Perhaps he should try and reach his cottage, though he didn't know what he would do when he got there. He just needed something to try for. He needed to make it through the night.

  Pulling himself together he slipped out of the car, his foot and knee grazing easily through part of the door frame. He went to look again at his body, but it wasn't there.

  As if the night hadn't produced enough shocks already. He started, and stared at the damp depression in the grass.

  His body was not there.

  CHAPTER

  10

  Richard made the hastiest departure that politeness would allow.

  He said thank you very much and what a splendid evening it had been and that any time Reg was coming up to London he must let him, Richard, know and was there anything he could do to help about the horse. No? Well, all right then, if you're sure, and thank you again, so much.

  He stood there for a moment or two after the door finally closed, pondering things.

  He had noticed during the short time that the light from Reg's room flooded out on to the landing of the main staircase, that there were no marks on the floorboards there at all. It seemed odd that the horse should only have scuffed the floorboards inside Reg's room.

  Well, it all seemed very odd, full stop, but here was yet another curious fact to add to the growing pile. This was supposed to have been a relaxing evening away from work.

  On an impulse he knocked on the door opposite to Reg's. It took such a long time to be answered that Richard had given up and was turning to go when at last he heard the door creak open.

  He had a slight shock when he saw that staring sharply up at him like a small and suspicious bird was the don with the racing-yacht keel for a nose.

  "Er, sorry," said Richard, abruptly, "but, er, have you seen or heard a horse coming up this staircase tonight?"

 
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