Dirk gentlys holistic de.., p.8
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, p.8Part #1 of Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams
The man stopped his obsessive twitching of his fingers. He cocked his head slightly on one side and then seemed to need to go on a long journey inside himself to find a voice, which when found turned out to be a thin and soft little one.
He said, "That is the first thing anybody has said to me for seventeen years, three months and two days, five hours, nineteen minutes and twenty seconds. I've been counting."
He closed the door softly again.
Richard virtually ran through Second Court.
When he reached First Court he steadied himself and slowed down to a walking pace.
The chill night air was rasping in his lungs and there was no point in running. He hadn't managed to talk to Susan because Reg's phone wasn't working, and this was another thing that he had been mysteriously coy about. That at least was susceptible of a rational explanation. He probably hadn't paid his phone bill.
Richard was about to emerge out on to the street when instead he decided to pay a quick visit to the porter's lodge, which was tucked away inside the great archway entrance into the college. It was a small hutchlike place filled with keys, messages and a single electric bar heater. A radio nattered to itself in the background.
"Excuse me," he said to the large black-suited man standing behind the counter with his arms folded. "I..."
"Yes, Mr MacDuff, what can I do for you?"
In his present state of mind Richard would have been hard-pressed himself to remember his own name and was startled for a moment. However, college porters are legendary for their ability to perform such feats of memory, and for their tendency to show them off at the slightest provocation.
"Is there," said Richard, "a horse anywhere in the college--that you know of? I mean, you would know if there was a horse in the college, wouldn't you?"
The porter didn't blink.
"No, sir, and yes, sir. Anything else I can help you with, Mr MacDuff, sir?"
"Er, no," said Richard and tapped his fingers a couple of times on the counter. "No. Thank you. Thank you very much for your help. Nice to see you again, er... Bob," he hazarded. "Good-night, then."
The porter remained perfectly still with his arms folded, but shaking his head a very, very little bit.
"Here's some coffee for you, Bill," said another porter, a short wiry one, emerging from an inner sanctum with a steaming cup. "Getting a bit colder tonight?"
"I think it is, Fred, thanks," said Bill, taking the cup.
He took a sip. "You can say what you like about people, they don't get any less peculiar. Fellow in here just now asking if there was a horse in the college."
"Oh yes?" Fred sipped at his own coffee, and let the steam smart his eyes. "I had a chap in here earlier. Sort of strange foreign priest. Couldn't understand a word he said at first. But he seemed happy just to stand by the fire and listen to the news on the radio."
"In the end I told him to shoot off. Standing in front of my fire like that. Suddenly he says is that really what he must do? Shoot off? I said, in my best Bogart voice, 'You better believe it, buddy.'"
"Really? Sounded more like Jimmy Cagney to me."
"No, that's my Bogart voice. This is my Jimmy Cagney voice--'You better believe it, buddy.'"
Bill frowned at him. "Is that your Jimmy Cagney voice? I always thought that was your Kenneth McKellar voice."
"You don't listen properly, Bill, you haven't got the ear. This is Kenneth McKellar. 'Oh, you take the high road and I'll take the low road...'"
"Oh, I see. I was thinking of the Scottish Kenneth McKellar. So what did this priest fellow say then, Fred?"
"Oh, he just looked me straight in the eyes, Bill, and said in this strange sort of..."
"Skip the accent, Fred, just tell me what he said, if it's worth hearing."
"He just said he did believe me."
"So. Not a very interesting story then, Fred."
"Well, maybe not. I only mention it because he also said that he'd left his horse in a washroom and would I see that it was all right."
Gordon Way drifted miserably along the dark road, or rather, tried to drift.
He felt that as a ghost--which is what he had to admit to himself he had become--he should be able to drift. He knew little enough about ghosts, but he felt that if you were going to be one then there ought to be certain compensations for not having a physical body to lug around, and that among them ought to be the ability simply to drift. But no, it seemed he was going to have to walk every step of the way.
His aim was to try and make it to his house. He didn't know what he would do when he got there, but even ghosts have to spend the night somewhere, and he felt that being in familiar surroundings might help. Help what, he didn't know. At least the journey gave him an objective, and he would just have to think of another one when he arrived.
He trudged despondently from lamppost to lamppost, stopping at each one to look at bits of himself.
He was definitely getting a bit wraithlike.
At times he would fade almost to nothing, and would seem to be little more than a shadow playing in the mist, a dream of himself that could just evaporate and be gone. At other times he seemed to be almost solid and real again. Once or twice he would try leaning against a lamppost, and would fall straight through it if he wasn't careful.
At last, and with great reluctance, he actually began to turn his mind to what it was that had happened. Odd, that reluctance. He really didn't want to think about it. Psychologists say that the mind will often try to suppress the memory of traumatic events, and this, he thought, was probably the answer. After all, if having a strange figure jump out of the boot of your own car and shoot you dead didn't count as a traumatic experience, he'd like to know what did.
He trudged on wearily.
He tried to recall the figure to his mind's eye, but it was like probing a hurting tooth, and he thought of other things.
Like, was his will up-to-date? He couldn't remember, and made a mental note to call his lawyer tomorrow, and then made another mental note that he would have to stop making mental notes like that.
How would his company survive without him? He didn't like either of the possible answers to that very much.
What about his obituary? There was a thought that chilled him to his bones, wherever they'd got to. Would he be able to get hold of a copy? What would it say? They'd better give him a good write-up, the bastards. Look at what he'd done. Single-handedly saved the British software industry: huge exports, charitable contributions, research scholarships, crossing the Atlantic in a solar-powered submarine (failed, but a good try)--all sorts of things. They'd better not go digging up that Pentagon stuff again or he'd get his lawyer on to them. He made a mental note to call him in the mor...
Anyway, can a dead person sue for libel? Only his lawyer would know, and he was not going to be able to call him in the morning. He knew with a sense of creeping dread that of all the things he had left behind in the land of the living it was the telephone that he was going to miss the most, and then he turned his mind determinedly back to where it didn't want to go.
It seemed to him that the figure had been almost like a figure of Death itself; or was that his imagination playing tricks with him? Was he dreaming that it was a cowled figure? What would any figure, whether cowled or just casually dressed, be doing in the boot of his car?
At that moment a car zipped past him on the road and disappeared off into the night, taking its oasis of light with it. He thought with longing of the warm, leather-upholstered, climate-controlled comfort of his own car abandoned on the road behind him, and then a sudden extraordinary thought struck him.
Was there any way he could hitch a lift? Could anyone actually see him? How would anyone react if they could? Well, there was only one way to find out.
He heard another car coming up in the distance behind him and
The car swept by regardless.
Angrily he made an indistinct V sign at the receding red rear lights, and realised, looking straight through his own upraised arm, that he wasn't at his most visible at the moment. Was there perhaps some effort of will he could make to render himself more visible when he wanted to? He screwed up his eyes in concentration, then realised that he would need to have his eyes open in order to judge the results. He tried again, forcing his mind as hard as he could, but the results were unsatisfactory.
Though it did seem to make some kind of rudimentary, glowing difference, he couldn't sustain it, and it faded almost immediately, however much he piled on the mental pressure. He would have to judge the timing very carefully if he was going to make his presence felt, or at least seen.
Another car approached from behind, travelling fast. He turned again, stuck his thumb out, waited till the moment was right and willed himself visible.
The car swerved slightly, and then carried on its way, only a little more slowly. Well, that was something. What else could he do? He would go and stand under a lamppost for a start, and he would practise. The next car he would get for sure.
". . . so if you'd like to leave a message, I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Maybe."
"Shit. Damn. Hold on a minute. Blast. Look... er..."
Richard pushed the phone back into its cradle and slammed his car into reverse for twenty yards to have another look at the signpost by the road junction he'd just sped past in the mist. He had extracted himself from the Cambridge one-way system by the usual method, which involved going round and round it faster and faster until he achieved a sort of escape velocity and flew off at a tangent in a random direction, which he was now trying to identify and correct for.
Arriving back at the junction he tried to correlate the information on the signpost with the information on the map. But it couldn't be done. The road junction was quite deliberately sitting on a page divide on the map, and the signpost was revolving maliciously in the wind. Instinct told him that he was heading in the wrong direction, but he didn't want to go back the way he'd come for fear of getting sucked back into the gravitational whirlpool of Cambridge's traffic system.
He turned left, therefore, in the hope of finding better fortune in that direction, but after a while lost his nerve and turned a speculative right, and then chanced another exploratory left and after a few more such manoeuvres was thoroughly lost.
He swore to himself and turned up the heating in the car. If he had been concentrating on where he was going rather than trying to navigate and telephone at the same time, he told himself, he would at least know where he was now. He didn't actually like having a telephone in his car, he found it a bother and an intrusion. But Gordon had insisted and indeed had paid for it.
He sighed in exasperation, backed up the black Saab and turned around again. As he did so he nearly ran into someone lugging a body into a field. At least that was what it looked like for a second to his overwrought brain, but in fact it was probably a local farmer with a sackful of something nutritious, though what he was doing with it on a night like this was anyone's guess. As his headlights swung around again, they caught for a moment a silhouette of the figure trudging off across the field with the sack on his back.
"Rather him than me," thought Richard grimly, and drove off again.
After a few minutes he reached a junction with what looked a little more like a main road, nearly turned right down it, but then turned left instead. There was no signpost.
He poked at the buttons on his phone again.
". . . get back to you as soon as possible. Maybe."
"Susan, it's Richard. Where do I start? What a mess. Look I'm sorry, sorry, sorry. I screwed up very badly, and it's all my fault. And look, whatever it takes to make up for it, I'll do it, solemn promise..."
He had a slight feeling that this wasn't the right tone to adopt with an answering machine, but he carried straight on.
"Honestly, we can go away, take a holiday for a week, or even just this weekend if you like. Really, this weekend. We'll go somewhere sunny. Doesn't matter how much pressure Gordon tries to put on me, and you know the sort of pressure he can muster, he is your brother, after all. I'll just... er, actually, it might have to be next weekend. Damn, damn, damn. It's just that I really have promised to get, no, look, it doesn't matter. We'll just do it. I don't care about getting Anthem finished for Comdex. It's not the end of the world. We'll just go. Gordon will just have to take a running jump--Gaaarghhhh!"
Richard swerved wildly to avoid the spectre of Gordon Way which suddenly loomed in his headlights and took a running jump at him.
He slammed on the brakes, started to skid, tried to remember what it was you were supposed to do when you found yourself skidding, he knew he'd seen it on some television programme about driving he'd seen ages ago, what was the programme? God, he couldn't even remember the title of the programme, let alone--oh yes, they'd said you mustn't slam on the brakes. That was it. The world swung sickeningly around him with slow and appalling force as the car slewed across the road, spun, thudded against the grass verge, then slithered and rocked itself to a halt, facing the wrong way. He collapsed, panting, against the steering wheel.
He picked up the phone from where he'd dropped it.
"Susan," he gasped, "I'll get back to you," and hung up.
He raised his eyes.
Standing full in the glare of his headlights was the spectral figure of Gordon Way staring straight in through the windscreen with ghastly horror in its eyes, slowly raising its hand and pointing at him.
He wasn't sure how long he just sat there. The apparition had melted from view in a few seconds, but Richard simply sat, shaking, probably for not more than a minute, until a sudden squeal of brakes and glare of lights roused him.
He shook his head. He was, he realised, stopped in the road facing the wrong way. The car that had just screeched to an abrupt halt almost bumper to bumper with him was a police car. He took two or three deep breaths and then, stiff and trembling, he climbed out and stood up to face the officer who was walking slowly towards him, silhouetted in the police car's headlights.
The officer looked him up and down.
"Er, I'm sorry, officer," said Richard, with as much calmness as he could wrench into his voice. "I, er, skidded. The roads are slippery and I, er... skidded. I spun round. As you see, I, I'm facing the wrong way." He gestured at his car to indicate the way it was facing.
"Like to tell me why it was you skidded then, exactly, sir?" The police officer was looking him straight in the eye while pulling out a notebook.
"Well, as I said," explained Richard, "the roads are slippery because of the mist, and, well, to be perfectly honest," he suddenly found himself saying, in spite of all his attempts to stop himself, "I was just driving along and I suddenly imagined that I saw my employer throwing himself in front of my car."
The officer gazed at him levelly.
"Guilt complex, officer," added Richard with a twitch of a smile, "you know how it is. I was contemplating taking the weekend off."
The police officer seemed to hesitate, balanced on a knife edge between sympathy and suspicion. His eyes narrowed a little but didn't waver.
"Been drinking, sir?"
"Yes," said Richard, with a quick sigh, "but very little. Two glasses of wine max. Er... and a small glass of port. Absolute max. It was really just a lapse of concentration. I'm fine now."
Richard gave him his name and address. The policeman wrote it all down carefully and neatly in his book, then peered at the car registration number and wrote that down too.
"And who is your employer then, sir?"
"Oh," said the policeman raising his eyebrows, "the computer gentleman."
"Er, yes, that's right. I design software for the company. WayForward Technologies II."
"We've got one of your computers down the station," said the policeman. "Buggered if I can get it to work."
"Oh," said Richard wearily, "which model do you have?"
"I think it's called a Quark II."
"Oh, well that's simple," said Richard with relief. "It doesn't work. Never has done. The thing is a heap of shit."
"Funny thing, sir, that's what I've always said," said the policeman. "Some of the other lads don't agree."
"Well, you're absolutely right, officer. The thing is hopeless. It's the major reason the original company went bust. I suggest you use it as a big paperweight."
"Well, I wouldn't like to do that, sir," the policeman persisted. "The door would keep blowing open."
"What do you mean, officer?" asked Richard.
"I use it to keep the door closed, sir. Nasty draughts down our station this time of year. In the summer, of course, we beat suspects round the head with it."
He flipped his book closed and prodded it into his pocket.
"My advice to you, sir, is to go nice and easy on the way back. Lock up the car and spend the weekend getting completely pissed. I find it's the only way. Mind how you go now."
He returned to his car, wound down the window, and watched Richard manoeuvre his car around and drive off into the night before heading off himself.
Richard took a deep breath, drove calmly back to London, let himself calmly into his flat, clambered calmly over the sofa, sat down, poured himself a stiff brandy and began seriously to shake.
There were three things he was shaking about.
There was the simple physical shock of his near-accident, which is the sort of thing that always churns you up a lot more than you expect. The body floods itself with adrenaline, which then hangs around your system turning sour.
Then there was the cause of the skid--the extraordinary apparition of Gordon throwing himself in front of his car at that moment. Boy oh boy. Richard took a mouthful of brandy and gargled with it. He put the glass down.
It was well known that Gordon was one of the world's richest natural resources of guilt pressure, and that he could deliver a ton on your doorstep fresh every morning, but Richard hadn't realised he had let it get to him to such an unholy degree.
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Humor / Mystery & Detective have rating 5.3 out of 5 / Based on32 votes