Good omens the nice and.., p.28
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       Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, p.28

           Terry Pratchett
 

  There was a thin skin of crusted, melted rubber left around the metal wheel rims, but seeing that the wheel rims were still somehow riding an inch above the road surface this didn’t seem to make an awful lot of difference to the suspension.

  It should have fallen apart miles back.

  It was the effort of holding it together that was causing Crowley to grit his teeth, and the biospatial feedback that was causing the bright red eyes. That and the effort of having to remember not to start breathing.

  He hadn’t felt like this since the fourteenth century.

  THE ATMOSPHERE in the quarry was friendlier now, but still intense.

  “You’ve got to help me sort it out,” said Adam. “People’ve been tryin’ to sort it out for thousands of years, but we’ve got to sort it out now.”

  They nodded helpfully.

  “You see, the thing is,” said Adam, “this thing is, it’s like—well, you know Greasy Johnson.”

  The Them nodded. They all knew Greasy Johnson and the members of the other gang in Lower Tadfield. They were older and not very pleasant. Hardly a week went by without a skirmish.

  “Well,” said Adam, “we always win, right?”

  “Nearly always,” said Wensleydale.

  “Nearly always,” said Adam, “an’—”

  “More than half, anyway,” said Pepper. “’Cos, you remember, when there was all that fuss over the ole folks’ party in the village hall when we—”

  “That doesn’t count,” said Adam. “They got told off just as much as us. Anyway, old folks are s’pposed to like listenin’ to the sound of children playin’, I read that somewhere, I don’t see why we should get told off ’cos we’ve got the wrong kind of old folks—” He paused. “Anyway … we’re better’n them.”

  “Oh, we’re better’n them,” said Pepper. “You’re right about that. We’re better’n them all right. We jus’ don’t always win.”

  “Just suppose,” said Adam, slowly, “that we could beat ’em properly. Get—get them sent away or somethin’. Jus’ make sure there’s no more ole gangs in Lower Tadfield apart from us. What do you think about that?”

  “What, you mean he’d be … dead?” said Brian.

  “No. Jus’—jus’ gone away.”

  The Them thought about this. Greasy Johnson had been a fact of life ever since they’d been old enough to hit one another with a toy railway engine. They tried to get their minds around the concept of a world with a Johnson-shaped hole in it.

  Brian scratched his nose. “I reckon it’d be brilliant without Greasy Johnson,” he said. “Remember what he did at my birthday party? And I got into trouble about it.”

  “I dunno,” said Pepper. “I mean, it wouldn’t be so interesting without ole Greasy Johnson and his gang. When you think about it. We’ve had a lot of fun with ole Greasy Johnson and the Johnsonites. We’d probably have to find some other gang or something.”

  “Seems to me,” said Wensleydale, “that if you asked people in Lower Tadfield, they’d say they’d be better off without the Johnsonites or the Them.”

  Even Adam looked shocked at this. Wensleydale went on stoically: “The old folks’ club would. An’ Picky. An’—”

  “But we’re the good ones … ” Brian began. He hesitated. “Well, all right,” he said, “but I bet they’d think it’d be a jolly sight less interestin’ if we all weren’t here.”

  “Yes,” said Wensleydale. “That’s what I mean.

  “People round here don’t want us or the Johnsonites,” he went on morosely, “the way they’re always goin’ on about us just riding our bikes or skateboarding on their pavements and making too much noise and stuff. It’s like the man said in the history books. A plaque on both your houses.”

  This met with silence.

  “One of those blue ones,” said Brian, eventually, “saying ‘Adam Young Lived Here,’ or somethin’?”

  Normally an opening like this could lead to five minutes’ rambling discussion when the Them were in the mood, but Adam felt that this was not the time.

  “What you’re all sayin’,” he summed up, in his best chairman tones, “is that it wouldn’t be any good at all if the Greasy Johnsonites beat the Them or the other way round?”

  “That’s right,” said Pepper. “Because,” she added, “if we beat them, we’d have to be our own deadly enemies. It’d be me an’ Adam against Brian an’ Wensley.” She sat back. “Everyone needs a Greasy Johnson,” she said.

  “Yeah,” said Adam. “That’s what I thought. It’s no good anyone winning. That’s what I thought.” He stared at Dog, or through Dog.

  “Seems simple enough to me,” said Wensleydale, sitting back. “I don’t see why it’s taken thousands of years to sort out.”

  “That’s because the people trying to sort it out were men,” said Pepper, meaningfully.

  “Don’t see why you have to take sides,” said Wensleydale.

  “Of course I have to take sides,” said Pepper. “Everyone has to take sides in something.”

  Adam appeared to reach a decision.

  “Yes. But I reckon you can make your own side. I think you’d better go and get your bikes,” he said quietly. “I think we’d better sort of go and talk to some people.”

  PUTPUTPUTPUTPUTPUT, went Madame Tracy’s motor scooter down Crouch End High street. It was the only vehicle moving on a suburban London street jammed with immobile cars and taxis and red London buses.

  “I’ve never seen a traffic jam like it,” said Madame Tracy. “I wonder if there’s been an accident.”

  “Quite possibly,” said Aziraphale. And then, “Mr. Shadwell, unless you put your arms round me you’re going to fall off. This thing wasn’t built for two people, you know.”

  “Three,” muttered Shadwell, gripping the seat with one white-knuckled hand, and his Thundergun with the other.

  “Mr. Shadwell, I won’t tell you again.”

  “Ye’ll have ter stop, then, so as I can adjust me weapon,” sighed Shadwell.

  Madame Tracy giggled dutifully, but she pulled over to the curb, and stopped the motor scooter.

  Shadwell sorted himself out, and put two grudging arms around Madame Tracy, while the Thundergun stuck up between them like a chaperon.

  They rode through the rain without talking for another ten minutes, putputputputput, as Madame Tracy carefully negotiated her way around the cars and the buses.

  Madame Tracy found her eyes being moved down to the speedometer—rather foolishly, she thought, since it hadn’t worked since 1974, and it hadn’t worked very well before that.

  “Dear lady, how fast would you say we were going?” asked Aziraphale.

  “Why?”

  “Because it seems to me that we would go slightly faster walking.”

  “Well, with just me on, the top speed is about fifteen miles an hour, but with Mr. Shadwell as well, it must be, ooh, about … ”

  “Four or five miles per hour,” she interrupted.

  “I suppose so,” she agreed.

  There was a cough from behind her. “Can ye no slow down this hellish machine, wumman?” asked an ashen voice. In the infernal pantheon, which it goes without saying Shadwell hated uniformly and correctly, Shadwell reserved a special loathing for speed demons.

  “In which case,” said Aziraphale, “we will get to Tadfield in something less than ten hours.”

  There was a pause from Madame Tracy, then, “How far away is this Tadfield, anyway?”

  “About forty miles.”

  “Um,” said Madame Tracy, who had once driven the scooter the few miles to nearby Finchley to visit her niece, but had taken the bus since, because of the funny noises the scooter had started making on the way back.

  “. . . we should really be going at about seventy, if we’re going to get there in time,” said Aziraphale. “Hmm. Sergeant Shadwell? Hold on very tightly now.”

  Putputputputput and a blue nimbus began to outline the scooter and its occupants with a gentle sort of a
glow, like an afterimage, all around them.

  Putputputputputput and the scooter lifted awkwardly off the ground with no visible means of support, jerking slightly, until it reached a height of five feet, more or less.

  “Don’t look down, Sergeant Shadwell,” advised Aziraphale.

  “. . .” said Shadwell, eyes screwed tightly shut, gray forehead beaded with sweat, not looking down, not looking anywhere.

  “And off we go, then.”

  In every big-budget science fiction movie there’s the moment when a spaceship as large as New York suddenly goes to light speed. A twanging noise like a wooden ruler being plucked over the edge of a desk, a dazzling refraction of light, and suddenly the stars have all been stretched out thin and it’s gone. This was exactly like that, except that instead of a gleaming twelve-mile-long spaceship, it was an off-white twenty-year-old motor scooter. And you didn’t have the special rainbow effects. And it probably wasn’t going at more than two hundred miles an hour. And instead of a pulsing whine sliding up the octaves, it just went putputputputput …

  VROOOOSH.

  But it was exactly like that anyway.

  WHERE THE M25, NOW a screaming frozen circle, intersects with the M40 to Oxfordshire, police were clustered around in ever-increasing quantities. Since Crowley crossed the divide, half an hour earlier, their number had doubled. On the M40 side, anyway. No one in London was getting out.

  In addition to the police there were also approximately two hundred others standing around, and inspecting the M25 through binoculars. They included representatives from Her Majesty’s Army, the Bomb Disposal Squad, MI5, MI6, the Special Branch, and the CIA. There was also a man selling hot dogs.

  Everybody was cold and wet, and puzzled, and irritable, with the exception of one police officer, who was cold, wet, puzzled, irritable, and exasperated.

  “Look. I don’t care if you believe me or not,” he sighed, “all I’m telling you is what I saw. It was an old car, a Rolls, or a Bentley, one of those flash vintage jobs, and it made it over the bridge.”

  One of the senior army technicians interrupted. “It can’t have done. According to our instruments the temperature above the M25 is somewhere in excess of seven hundred degrees centigrade.”

  “Or a hundred and forty degrees below,” added his assistant.

  “. . . or a hundred and forty degrees below zero,” agreed the senior technician. “There does appear to be some confusion on that score, although I think we can safely attribute it to mechanical error of some kind,50 but the fact remains that we can’t even get a helicopter directly over the M25 without winding up with Helicopter McNuggets. How on earth can you tell me that a vintage car drove over it unharmed?”

  “I didn’t say it drove over it unharmed,” corrected the policeman, who was thinking seriously about leaving the Metropolitan Police and going into business with his brother, who was resigning his job with the Electricity Board, and was going to start breeding chickens. “It burst into flames. It just kept on going.”

  “Do you seriously expect any of us to believe … ” began somebody.

  A high-pitched keening noise, haunting and strange. Like a thousand glass harmonicas being played in unison, all slightly off-key; like the sound of the molecules of the air itself wailing in pain.

  And Vrooosh.

  Over their heads it sailed, forty feet in the air, engulfed in a deep blue nimbus which faded to red at the edges: a little white motor scooter, and riding it, a middle-aged woman in a pink helmet, and holding tightly to her, a short man in a mackintosh and a day-glo green crash helmet (the motor scooter was too far up for anyone to see that his eyes were tightly shut, but they were).

  The woman was screaming. What she was screaming was this:

  “Gerrrronnnimooooo!”

  ONE OF THE ADVANTAGES of the Wasabi, as Newt was always keen to point out, was that when it was badly damaged it was very hard to tell. Newt had to keep driving Dick Turpin onto the shoulder to avoid fallen branches.

  “You’ve made me drop all the cards on the floor!”

  The car thumped back onto the road; a small voice from somewhere under the glove compartment said, “Oil plessure arert.”

  “I’ll never be able to sort them out now,” she moaned.

  “You don’t have to,” said Newt manically. “Just pick one. Any one. It won’t matter.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Well, if Agnes is right, and we’re doing all this because she’s predicted it, then any card picked right now has got to be relevant. That’s logic.”

  “It’s nonsense.”

  “Yeah? Look, you’re even here because she predicted it. And have you thought what we’re going to say to the colonel? If we get to see him, which of course we won’t.”

  “If we’re reasonable—”

  “Listen, I know these kinds of places. They have huge guards made out of teak guarding the gates, Anathema, and they have white helmets and real guns, you understand, which fire real bullets made of real lead which can go right into you and bounce around and come out of the same hole before you can even say ‘Excuse me, we have reason to believe that World War Three is due any moment and they’re going to do the show right here,’ and then they have serious men in suits with bulging jackets who take you into a little room without windows and ask you questions like are you now, or have you ever been, a member of a pinko subversive organization such as any British political party? And—”

  “We’re nearly there.”

  “Look, it’s got gates and wire fences and everything! And probably the kind of dogs that eat people!”

  “I think you’re getting rather overexcited,” said Anathema quietly, picking the last of the file cards up from the floor of the car.

  “Overexcited? No! I’m getting very calmly worried that someone might shoot me!”

  “I’m sure Agnes would have mentioned it if we were going to be shot. She’s very good at that sort of thing.” She began absentmindedly to shuffle the file cards.

  “You know,” she said, carefully cutting the cards and riffling the two piles together, “I read somewhere that there’s a sect that believes that computers are the tools of the Devil. They say that Armageddon will come about because of the Antichrist being good with computers. Apparently it’s mentioned somewhere in Revelations. I think I must have read about it in a newspaper recently … ”

  “Daily Mail. ‘Letter From America.’ Um, August the third,” said Newt. “Just after the story about the woman in Worms, Nebraska, who taught her duck to play the accordion.”

  “Mm,” said Anathema, spreading the cards facedown on her lap.

  So computers are tools of the Devil? thought Newt. He had no problem believing it. Computers had to be the tools of somebody, and all he knew for certain was that it definitely wasn’t him.

  The car jerked to a halt.

  The air base looked battered. Several large trees had fallen down near the entrance, and some men with a digger were trying to shift them. The guard on duty was watching them disinterestedly, but he half turned and looked coldly at the car.

  “All right,” said Newt. “Pick a card.”

  3001. behinde the eagle’s neste

  a grate ash hath fellen.

  “Is that all?”

  “Yes. We always thought it was something to do with the Russian Revolution. Keep going along this road and turn left.”

  The turning led to a narrow lane, with the base’s perimeter fence on the left-hand side.

  “And now pull in here. There’s often cars here, and no one takes any notice,” said Anathema.

  “What is this place?”

  “It’s the local Lovers’ Lane.”

  “Is that why it appears to be paved with rubber?”

  They walked along the hedge-shaded lane for a hundred yards until they reached the ash tree. Agnes had been right. It was quite grate. It had fallen right across the fence.

  A guard was sitting on it, smoking a cigarette.
He was black. Newt always felt guilty in the presence of black Americans, in case they blamed him for two hundred years of slave trading.

  The man stood up when they approached, and then sagged into an easier stance.

  “Oh, hi, Anathema,” he said.

  “Hi, George. Terrible storm, wasn’t it.”

  “Sure was.”

  They walked on. He watched them out of sight.

  “You know him?” said Newt, with forced nonchalance.

  “Oh, sure. Sometimes a few of them come down to the pub. Pleasant enough in a well-scrubbed way.”

  “Would he shoot us if we just walked in?” said Newt.

  “He might well point a gun at us in a menacing way,” Anathema conceded.

  “That’s good enough for me. What do you suggest we do, then?”

  “Well, Agnes must have known something. So I suppose we just wait. It’s not too bad now the wind’s gone down.”

  “Oh. “ Newt looked at the clouds piling up on the horizon. “Good old Agnes,” he said.

  ADAM PEDALED STEADILY along the road, Dog running along behind and occasionally trying to bite his back tire out of sheer excitement.

  There was a clacking noise and Pepper swung out of her drive. You could always tell Pepper’s bike. She thought it was improved by a piece of cardboard cunningly held against the wheel by a clothes peg. Cats had learned to take evasive action when she was two streets away.

  “I reckon we can cut along Drovers Lane and then up through Roundhead Woods,” said Pepper.

  “’S all muddy,” said Adam.

  “That’s right,” said Pepper nervously. “It gets all muddy up there. We ort to go along by the chalk pit. ’S always dry because of the chalk. An’ then up by the sewage farm.”

  Brian and Wensleydale pulled in behind them. Wensleydale’s bicycle was black, and shiny, and sensible. Brian’s might have been white, once, but its color was lost beneath a thick layer of mud.

  “It’s stupid calling it a milit’ry base,” said Pepper. “I went up there when they had that open day and they had no guns or missiles or anythin’. Just knobs and dials and brass bands playin’.”

 
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