Dirk gentlys holistic de.., p.9
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, p.9Part #1 of Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams
He took up his glass again, went upstairs and pushed open the door to his workroom, which involved shifting a stack of BYTE magazines that had toppled against it. He pushed them away with his foot and walked to the end of the large room. A lot of glass at this end let in views over a large part of north London, from which the mist was now clearing. St Paul's glowed in the dark distance and he stared at it for a moment or two but it didn't do anything special. After the events of the evening he found this came as a pleasant surprise.
At the other end of the room were a couple of long tables smothered in, at the last count, six Macintosh computers. In the middle was the Mac II on which a red wire-frame model of his sofa was lazily revolving within a blue wire-frame model of his narrow staircase, complete with banister rail, radiator and fuse-box details, and of course the awkward turn halfway up.
The sofa would start out spinning in one direction, hit an obstruction, twist itself in another plane, hit another obstruction, revolve round a third axis until it was stopped again, then cycle through the moves again in a different order. You didn't have to watch the sequence for very long before you saw it repeat itself.
The sofa was clearly stuck.
Three other Macs were connected up via long tangles of cable to an untidy agglomeration of synthesisers--an Emulator II+ HD sampler, a rack of TX modules, a Prophet VS, a Roland JX 10, a Korg DW8000, an Octapad, a left-handed Synth-Axe MIDI guitar controller, and even an old drum machine stacked up and gathering dust in the corner--pretty much the works. There was also a small and rarely used cassette tape recorder: all the music was stored in sequencer files on the computers rather than on tape.
He dumped himself into a seat in front of one of the Macs to see what, if anything, it was doing. It was displaying an "Untitled" Excel spreadsheet and he wondered why.
He saved it and looked to see if he'd left himself any notes and quickly discovered that the spreadsheet contained some of the data he had previously downloaded after searching the World Reporter and Knowledge on-line databases for facts about swallows.
He now had figures which detailed their migratory habits, their wing shapes, their aerodynamic profile and turbulence characteristics, and some sort of rudimentary figures concerning the patterns that a flock would adopt in flight, but as yet he had only the faintest idea as to how he was going to synthesise them all together.
Because he was too tired to think particularly constructively tonight he savagely selected and copied a whole swathe of figures from the spreadsheet at random, pasted them into his own conversion program, which scaled and filtered and manipulated the figures according to his own experimental algorithms, loaded the converted file into Performer, a powerful sequencer program, and played the result through random MIDI channels to whichever synthesisers happened to be on at the moment.
The result was a short burst of the most hideous cacophony, and he stopped it.
He ran the conversion program again, this time instructing it to force-map the pitch values into G minor. This was a utility he was determined in the end to get rid of because he regarded it as cheating. If there was any basis to his firmly held belief that the rhythms and harmonies of music which he found most satisfying could be found in, or at least derived from, the rhythms and harmonies of naturally occurring phenomena, then satisfying forms of modality and intonation should emerge naturally as well, rather than being forced.
For the moment, though, he forced it.
The result was a short burst of the most hideous cacophony in G minor.
So much for random shortcuts.
The first task was a relatively simple one, which would be simply to plot the waveform described by the tip of a swallow's wing as it flies, then synthesise that waveform. That way he would end up with a single note, which would be a good start, and it shouldn't take more than the weekend to do.
Except, of course, that he didn't have a weekend available to do it in because he had somehow to get Version 2 of Anthem out of the door sometime during the course of the next year, or "month" as Gordon called it.
Which brought Richard inexorably to the third thing he was shaking about.
There was absolutely no way that he could take the time off this weekend or next to fulfil the promise he had made to Susan's telephone--answering machine. And that, if this evening's debacle had not already done so, would surely spell the final end.
But that was it. The thing was done. There is nothing you can do about a message on someone else's answering machine other than let events take their course. It was done. It was irrevocable.
An odd thought suddenly struck him.
It took him by considerable surprise, but he couldn't really see what was wrong with it.
A pair of binoculars scanning the London night skyline, idly, curious, snooping. A little look here, a little look there, just seeing what's going on, anything interesting, anything useful.
The binoculars settle on the back of one particular house, attracted by a slight movement. One of those large late-Victorian villas, probably flats now. Lots of black iron drainpipes. Green rubber dustbins. But dark. No, nothing.
The binoculars are just moving onwards when another slight movement catches in the moonlight. The binoculars refocus very slightly, trying to find a detail, a hard edge, a slight contrast in the darkness. The mist has lifted now, and the darkness glistens. They refocus a very, very little more.
There it is. Something, definitely. Only this time a little higher up, maybe a foot or so, maybe a yard. The binoculars settle and relax--steady, trying for the edge, trying for the detail. There. The binoculars settle again--they have found their mark, straddled between a windowsill and a drainpipe.
It is a dark figure, splayed against the wall, looking down, looking for a new foothold, looking upwards, looking for a ledge. The binoculars peer intently.
The figure is that of a tall, thin man. His clothes are right for the job, dark trousers, dark sweater, but his movements are awkward and angular. Nervous. Interesting. The binoculars wait and consider, consider and judge.
The man is clearly a rank amateur.
Look at his fumbling. Look at his ineptitude. His feet slip on the drainpipe, his hands can't reach the ledge. He nearly falls. He waits to catch his breath. For a moment he starts to climb back down again, but seems to find that even tougher going.
He lunges again for the ledge and this time catches it. His foot shoots out to steady himself and nearly misses the pipe. Could have been very nasty, very nasty indeed.
But now the way is easier and progress is better. He crosses to another pipe, reaches a third-floor window ledge, flirts briefly with death as he crawls painfully on to it, and makes the cardinal error and looks down. He sways briefly and sits back heavily. He shades his eyes and peers inside to check that the room is dark, and sets about getting the window open.
One of the things that distinguish the amateur from the professional is that this is the point when the amateur thinks it would have been a good idea to bring along something to prise the window open with. Luckily for this amateur the householder is an amateur too, and the sash window slides grudgingly up. The climber crawls, with some relief, inside.
He should be locked up for his own protection, think the binoculars. A hand starts to reach for the phone. At the window a face looks back out and for a moment is caught in the moonlight, then it ducks back inside to carry on with its business.
The hand stays hovering over the phone for a moment or two, while the binoculars wait and consider, consider and judge. The hand reaches instead for the A-Z street map of London.
There is a long studious pause, a little more intent binocular work, and then the hand reaches for the phone again, lifts it and dials.
Susan's flat was small but spacious, which was a trick, reflected Richard tensely as he turned on the light, that only women seemed able to pull off.
Despite the chill of the night he was sweating.
He looked back out of the window, turned and tiptoed across the room towards where the telephone and the answering machine stood on their own small table.
There was no point, he told himself, in tiptoeing. Susan wasn't in. He would be extremely interested to know where she was, in fact--just as she, he told himself, had probably been extremely interested in knowing where he had been at the beginning of the evening.
He realised he was still tiptoeing. He hit his leg to make himself stop doing it, but carried on doing it none the less.
Climbing up the outside wall had been terrifying.
He wiped his forehead with the arm of his oldest and greasiest sweater. There had been a nasty moment when his life had flashed before his eyes but he had been too preoccupied with falling and had missed all the good bits. Most of the good bits had involved Susan, he realised. Susan or computers. Never Susan and computers--those had largely been the bad bits. Which was why he was here, he told himself. He seemed to need convincing, and told himself again.
He looked at his watch. Eleven forty-five.
It occurred to him he had better go and wash his wet and dirty hands before he touched anything. It wasn't the police he was worried about, but Susan's terrifying cleaner. She would know.
He went into the bathroom, turned on the light switch, wiped it, and then stared at his own startled face in the bright neon-lit mirror as he ran the water over his hands. For a moment he thought of the dancing, warm candlelight of the Coleridge Dinner, and the images of it welled up out of the dim and distant past of the earlier part of the evening. Life had seemed easy then, and carefree. The wine, the conversation, simple conjuring tricks. He pictured the round pale face of Sarah, pop-eyed with wonder. He washed his own face.
". . . Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!"
He brushed his own hair. He thought, too, of the pictures hanging high in the darkness above their heads. He cleaned his teeth. The low buzz of the neon light snapped him back to the present and he suddenly remembered with appalled shock that he was here in his capacity as burglar.
Something made him look himself directly in the face in the mirror, then he shook his head, trying to clear it.
When would Susan be back? That, of course, would depend on what she was doing. He quickly wiped his hands and made his way back to the answering machine. He prodded at the buttons and his conscience prodded back at him. The tape wound back for what seemed to be an interminable time, and he realised with a jolt that it was probably because Gordon had been in full flood.
He had forgotten, of course, that there would be messages on the tape other than his own, and listening to other people's phone messages was tantamount to opening their mail.
He explained to himself once again that all he was trying to do was to undo a mistake he had made before it caused any irrevocable damage. He would just play the tiniest snippets till he found his own voice. That wouldn't be too bad, he wouldn't even be able to distinguish what was being said.
He groaned inwardly, gritted his teeth and stabbed at the Play button so roughly that he missed it and ejected the cassette by mistake. He put it back in and pushed the Play button more carefully.
"Oh, Susan, hi, it's Gordon," said the answering machine. "I'm just on my way to the cottage. It's, er..." He wound on for a couple of seconds. ". . . need to know that Richard is on the case. I mean really on..." Richard set his mouth grimly and stabbed at the Fast Forward again. He really hated the fact that Gordon tried to put pressure on him via Susan, which Gordon always stoutly denied he did. Richard couldn't blame Susan for getting exasperated about his work sometimes if this sort of thing was going on."
". . . 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."
"What?" muttered Richard to himself, and his finger hesitated for a second over the Fast Forward button. He had a feeling that Gordon desperately wanted to be like Howard Hughes, and if he could never hope to be remotely as rich, he could at least try to be twice as eccentric. An act. A palpable act.
"That's secretary Susan at the office, not you, of course," continued Gordon's voice on the answering machine. "Where was I? Oh yes. Richard and Anthem 2.00. Susan, that thing has got to be in beta testing in two..." Richard stabbed at the Fast Forward, tight-lipped.
". . . point is that there's only one person who's really in a position to know if he's getting the important work done, or if he's just dreaming, and that one person..." He stabbed angrily again. He had promised himself he wouldn't listen to any of it and now here he was getting angry at what he was hearing. He should really just stop this. Well, just one more try.
When he listened again he just got music. Odd. He wound forward again, and still got music. Why would someone be phoning to play music to an answering machine? he wondered.
The phone rang. He stopped the tape and answered it, then almost dropped the phone like an electric eel as he realised what he was doing. Hardly daring to breathe, he held the telephone to his ear.
"Rule One in housebreaking," said a voice. "Never answer the telephone when you're in the middle of a job. Who are you supposed to be, for heaven's sake?"
Richard froze. It was a moment or two before he could find where he had put his voice.
"Who is this?" he demanded at last in a whisper.
"Rule Two," continued the voice. "Preparation. Bring the right tools. Bring gloves. Try to have the faintest glimmering of an idea of what you're about before you start dangling from window ledges in the middle of the night.
"Rule Three. Never forget Rule Two."
"Who is this?" exclaimed Richard again.
The voice was unperturbed. "Neighbourhood Watch," it said. "If you just look out of the back window you'll see..."
Trailing the phone, Richard hurried over to the window and looked out. A distant flash startled him.
"Rule Four. Never stand where you can be photographed.
"Rule Five... Are you listening to me, MacDuff?"
"What? Yes..." said Richard in bewilderment. "How do you know me?"
"Rule Five. Never admit to your name."
Richard stood silent, breathing hard.
"I run a little course," said the voice, "if you're interested..."
Richard said nothing.
"You're learning," continued the voice, "slowly, but you're learning. If you were learning fast you would have put the phone down by now, of course. But you're curious--and incompetent--and so you don't. I don't run a course for novice burglars as it happens, tempting though the idea is. I'm sure there would be grants available. If we have to have them they may as well be trained.
"However, if I did run such a course I would allow you to enrol for free, because I too am curious. Curious to know why Mr Richard MacDuff who, I am given to understand, is now a wealthy young man, something in the computer industry, I believe, should suddenly be needing to resort to housebreaking."
"So I do a little research, phone Directory Enquiries and discover that the flat into which he is breaking is that of a Miss S. Way. I know that Mr Richard MacDuff's employer is the famous Mr G. Way and I wonder if they can by any chance be related."
"You are speaking with Svlad, commonly known as 'Dirk' Cjelli, currently trading under the name of Gently for reasons which it would be otiose, at this moment, to rehearse. I bid you good evening. If you wish to
"Dirk?" exclaimed Richard. "You... Are you trying to blackmail me?"
"No, you fool, for the pizzas." There was a click and Dirk Gently rang off.
Richard stood transfixed for a moment or two, wiped his forehead again, and gently replaced the phone as if it were an injured hamster. His brain began to buzz gently and suck its thumb. Lots of little synapses deep inside his cerebral cortex all joined hands and started dancing around and singing nursery rhymes. He shook his head to try and make them stop, and quickly sat down at the answering machine again.
He fought with himself over whether or not he was going to push the Play button again, and then did so anyway before he had made up his mind. Hardly four seconds of light orchestral music had oozed soothingly past when there came the sound of a key scratching in the lock out in the hallway.
In panic Richard thumped the Eject button, popped the cassette out, rammed it into his jeans pocket and replaced it from the pile of fresh cassettes that lay next to the machine. There was a similar pile next to his own machine at home. Susan at the office provided them--poor, long-suffering Susan at the office. He must remember to feel sympathy for her in the morning, when he had the time and concentration for it.
Suddenly, without even noticing himself doing it, he changed his mind. In a flash he popped the substitute cassette out of the machine again, replaced the one he had stolen, rammed down the rewind button and made a lunge for the sofa where, with two seconds to go before the door opened, he tried to arrange himself into a nonchalant and winning posture. On an impulse he stuck his left hand up behind his back where it might come in useful.
He was just trying to arrange his features into an expression composed in equal parts of contrition, cheerfulness and sexual allurement when the door opened and in walked Michael Wenton-Weakes.
Outside, the wind ceased. Owls halted in mid-flight. Well, maybe they did, maybe they didn't, certainly the central heating chose that moment to shut down, unable perhaps to cope with the supernatural chill that suddenly whipped through the room.
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