Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

  "What are you doing here, Wednesday?" demanded Richard. He rose from the sofa as if levitated with anger.

  Michael Wenton-Weakes was a large sad-faced man known by some people as Michael Wednesday-Week, because that was when he usually promised to have things done by. He was dressed in a suit that had been superbly well tailored when his father, the late Lord Magna, had bought it forty years previously.

  Michael Wenton-Weakes came very high on the small but select list of people whom Richard thoroughly disliked.

  He disliked him because he found the idea of someone who was not only privileged, but was also sorry for himself because he thought the world didn't really understand the problems of privileged people, deeply obnoxious. Michael, on the other hand, disliked Richard for the fairly simple reason that Richard disliked him and made no secret of it.

  Michael gave a slow and lugubrious look back out into the hallway as Susan walked through. She stopped when she saw Richard. She put down her handbag, unwound her scarf, unbuttoned her coat, slipped it off, handed it to Michael, walked over to Richard and smacked him in the face.

  "I've been saving that up all evening," she said furiously. "And don't try and pretend that's a bunch of flowers you've forgotten to bring which you're hiding behind your back. You tried that gag last time." She turned and stalked off.

  "It's a box of chocolates I forgot this time," said Richard glumly and held out his empty hand to her retreating back. "I climbed up the entire outside wall without them. Did I feel a fool when I got in."

  "Not very funny," said Susan. She swept into the kitchen and sounded as if she was grinding coffee with her bare hands. For someone who always looked so neat and sweet and delicate she packed a hell of a temper.

  "It's true," said Richard, ignoring Michael completely. "I nearly killed myself."

  "I'm not going to rise to that," said Susan from within the kitchen. "If you want something big and sharp thrown at you why don't you come in here and be funny?"

  "I suppose it would be pointless saying I'm sorry at this point," Richard called out.

  "You bet," said Susan, sweeping back out of the kitchen again. She looked at him with her eyes flashing, and actually stamped her foot.

  "Honestly, Richard," she said, "I suppose you're going to say you forgot again. How can you have the gall to stand there with two arms, two legs and a head as if you're a human being? This is behaviour that a bout of amoebic dysentery would be ashamed of. I bet that even the very lowest form of dysentery amoeba shows up to take its girlfriend out for a quick trot around the stomach lining once in a while. Well, I hope you had a lousy evening."

  "I did," said Richard. "You wouldn't have liked it. There was a horse in the bathroom, and you know how you hate that sort of thing."

  "Oh, Michael," said Susan brusquely, "don't just stand there like a sinking pudding. Thank you very much for dinner and the concert, you were very sweet and I did enjoy listening to your troubles all evening because they were such a nice change from mine. But I think it would be best if I just found your book and pushed you out. I've got some serious jumping up and down and ranting to do, and I know how it upsets your delicate sensibilities."

  She retrieved her coat from him and hung it up. While he had been holding it he had seemed entirely taken up with this task and oblivious to anything else. Without it he seemed a little lost and naked and was forced to stir himself back into life. He turned his big heavy eyes back on Richard.

  "Richard," he said, "I, er, read your piece in... in Fathom. On Music and, er..."

  "Fractal Landscapes," said Richard shortly. He didn't want to talk to Michael, and he certainly didn't want to get drawn into a conversation about Michael's wretched magazine. Or rather, the magazine that used to be Michael's.

  That was the precise aspect of the conversation that Richard didn't want to get drawn into.

  "Er, yes. Very interesting, of course," said Michael in his silky, over-rounded voice. "Mountain shapes and tree shapes and all sorts of things. Recycled algae."

  "Recursive algorithms."

  "Yes, of course. Very interesting. But so wrong, so terribly wrong. For the magazine, I mean. It is, after all, an arts review. I would never have allowed such a thing, of course. Ross has utterly ruined it. Utterly. He'll have to go. Have to. He has no sensibilities and he's a thief."

  "He's not a thief, Wednesday, that's absolutely absurd," snapped Richard, instantly getting drawn into it in spite of his resolution not to. "He had nothing to do with your getting the push whatsoever. That was your own silly fault, and you..."

  There was a sharp intake of breath.

  "Richard," said Michael in his softest, quietest voice--arguing with him was like getting tangled in parachute silk--"I think you do not understand how important..."

  "Michael," said Susan gently but firmly, holding open the door. Michael Wenton-Weakes nodded faintly and seemed to deflate.

  "Your book," Susan added, holding out to him a small and elderly volume on the ecclesiastical architecture of Kent. He took it, murmured some slight thanks, looked about him for a moment as if he'd suddenly realised something rather odd, then gathered himself together, nodded farewell and left.

  Richard didn't appreciate quite how tense he had become till Michael left and he was suddenly able to relax. He'd always resented the indulgent soft spot that Susan had for Michael even if she did try to disguise it by being terribly rude to him all the time. Perhaps even because of that.

  "Susan, what can I say...?" he started lamely.

  "You could say "Ouch" for a start. You didn't even give me that satisfaction when I hit you, and I thought I did it rather hard. God, it's freezing in here. What's that window doing wide open?"

  She went over to shut it.

  "I told you. That's how I got in," said Richard.

  He sounded sufficiently as if he meant it to make her look round at him in surprise.

  "Really," he said. "Like in the chocolate ads, only I forgot the box of chocolates..." He shrugged sheepishly.

  She stared at him in amazement.

  "What on earth possessed you to do that?" she said. She stuck her head out of the window and looked down. "You could have got killed," she said, turning back to him.

  "Well, er, yes..." he said. "It just seemed the only way to... I don't know." He rallied himself. "You took your key back remember?"

  "Yes. I got fed up with you coming and raiding my larder when you couldn't be bothered to do your own shopping. Richard, you really climbed up this wall?"

  "Well, I wanted to be here when you got in."

  She shook her head in bewilderment. "It would have been a great deal better if you'd been here when I went out. Is that why you're wearing those filthy old clothes?"

  "Yes. You don't think I went to dinner at St Cedd's like this?"

  "Well, I no longer know what you consider to be rational behaviour." She sighed and fished about in a small drawer. "Here," she said, "if it's going to save your life," and handed him a couple of keys on a ring. "I'm too tired to be angry anymore. An evening of being lobbied by Michael has taken it out of me."

  "Well, I'll never understand why you put up with him," said Richard, going to fetch the coffee.

  "I know you don't like him, but he's very sweet and can be charming in his sad kind of way. Usually it's very relaxing to be with someone who's so self-absorbed, because it doesn't make any demands on you. But he's obsessed with the idea that I can do something about his magazine. I can't, of course. Life doesn't work like that. I do feel sorry for him, though."

  "I don't. He's had it very, very easy all his life. He still has it very, very easy. He's just had his toy taken away from him that's all. It's hardly unjust, is it?"

  "It's not a matter of whether it's just or not. I feel sorry for him because he's unhappy."

  "Well, of course he's unhappy. Al Ross has turned Fathom into a really sharp, intelligent magazine that everyone suddenly wants to read. It was just a bumbling shambles before. Its only
real function was to let Michael have lunch and toady about with whoever he liked on the pretext that maybe they might like to write a little something. He hardly ever got an actual issue out. The whole thing was a sham. He pampered himself with it. I really don't find that charming or engaging. I'm sorry, I'm going on about it and I didn't mean to."

  Susan shrugged uneasily.

  "I think you overreact," she said, "though I think I will have to steer clear of him if he's going to keep on at me to do something I simply can't do. It's too exhausting. Anyway, listen, I'm glad you had a lousy evening. I want to talk about what we were going to do this weekend."

  "Ah," said Richard, "well..."

  "Oh, I'd better just check the messages first."

  She walked past him to the telephone-answering machine, played the first few seconds of Gordon's message and then suddenly ejected the cassette.

  "I can't be bothered," she said, giving it to him. "Could you just give this straight to Susan at the office tomorrow? Save her a trip. If there's anything important on it she can tell me."

  Richard blinked, said, "Er, yes," and pocketed the tape, tingling with the shock of the reprieve.

  "Anyway, the weekend--" said Susan, sitting down on the sofa.

  Richard wiped his hand over his brow. "Susan, I..."

  "I'm afraid I've got to work. Nicola's sick and I'm going to have to dep for her at the Wigmore on Friday week. There's some Vivaldi and some Mozart I don't know too well, so that means a lot of extra practice this weekend, I'm afraid. Sorry."

  "Well, in fact," said Richard, "I have to work as well." He sat down by her.

  "I know. Gordon keeps on at me to nag you. I wish he wouldn't. It's none of my business and it puts me in an invidious position. I'm tired of being pressurised by people, Richard. At least you don't do that."

  She took a sip of her coffee.

  "But I'm sure," she added, "that there's some kind of grey area between being pressurised and being completely forgotten about that I'd quite like to explore. Give me a hug."

  He hugged her, feeling that he was monstrously and unworthily lucky. An hour later he let himself out and discovered that the Pizza Express was closed.

  Meanwhile, Michael Wenton-Weakes made his way back to his home in Chelsea. As he sat in the back of the taxi he watched the streets with a blank stare and tapped his fingers lightly against the window in a slow thoughtful rhythm.

  Rap tap tap a rap tap a rap a tap.

  He was one of those dangerous people who are soft, squidgy and cowlike provided they have what they want. And because he had always had what he wanted, and had seemed easily pleased with it, it had never occurred to anybody that he was anything other than soft, squidgy and cowlike. You would have to push through a lot of soft squidgy bits in order to find a bit that didn't give when you pushed it. That was the bit that all the soft squidgy bits were there to protect.

  Michael Wenton-Weakes was the younger son of Lord Magna, publisher, newspaper owner and over-indulgent father, under whose protective umbrella it had pleased Michael to run his own little magazine at a magnificent loss. Lord Magna had presided over the gradual but dignified and well-respected decline of the publishing empire originally founded by his father, the first Lord Magna.

  Michael continued to tap his knuckles lightly on the glass.

  A rap tap a rap a tap.

  He remembered the appalling, terrible day when his father had electrocuted himself changing a plug, and his mother, his mother, took over the business. Not only took it over but started running it with completely unexpected verve and determination. She examined the company with a very sharp eye as to how it was being run, or walked, as she put it, and eventually even got around to looking at the accounts of Michael's magazine.

  Tap tap tap.

  Now Michael knew just enough about the business side of things to know what the figures ought to be, and he had simply assured his father that that was indeed what they were.

  "Can't allow this job just to be a sinecure, you must see that, old fellow, you have to pay your way or how would it look, how would it be?" his father used to say, and Michael would nod seriously, and start thinking up the figures for next month, or whenever it was he would next manage to get an issue out.

  His mother, on the other hand, was not so indulgent. Not by a lorryload.

  Michael usually referred to his mother as an old battleaxe, but if she was fairly to be compared to a battleaxe it would only be to an exquisitely crafted, beautifully balanced battleaxe, with an elegant minimum of fine engraving which stopped just short of its gleaming razored edge. One swipe from such an instrument and you wouldn't even know you'd been hit until you tried to look at your watch a bit later and discovered that your arm wasn't on.

  She had been waiting patiently--or at least with the appearance of patience--in the wings all this time, being the devoted wife, the doting but strict mother. Now someone had taken her--to switch metaphors for a moment--out of her scabbard and everyone was running for cover.

  Including Michael.

  It was her firm belief that Michael, whom she quietly adored, had been spoiled in the fullest and worst sense of the word, and she was determined, at this late stage, to stop it.

  It didn't take her more than a few minutes to see that he had been simply making up the figures every month, and that the magazine was haemorrhaging money as Michael toyed with it, all the time running up huge lunch bills, taxi accounts and staff costs that he would playfully set against fictitious taxes. The whole thing had simply got lost somewhere in the gargantuan accounts of Magna House.

  She had then summoned Michael to see her.

  Tap tap a rap a tappa.

  "How do you want me to treat you," she said, "as my son or as the editor of one of my magazines? I'm happy to do either."

  "Your magazines? Well, I am your son, but I don't see..."

  "Right. Michael, I want you to look at these figures," she said briskly, handing over a sheet of computer printout. "The ones on the left show the actual incomings and outgoings of Fathom, the ones on the right are your own figures. Does anything strike you about them?"

  "Mother, I can explain, I..."

  "Good," said Lady Magna sweetly, "I'm very glad of that."

  She took the piece of paper back. "Now. Do you have any views on how the magazine should best be run in the future?"

  "Yes, absolutely. Very strong ones. I..."

  "Good," said Lady Magna, with a bright smile. "Well, that's all perfectly satisfactory, then."

  "Don't you want to hear...?"

  "No, that's all right, dear. I'm just happy to know that you do have something to say on the matter to clear it all up. I'm sure the new owner of Fathom will be glad to listen to whatever it is."

  "What?" said a stunned Michael. "You mean you're actually selling Fathom?"

  "No. I mean I've already sold it. Didn't get much for it, I'm afraid. One pound plus a promise that you would be retained as editor for the next three issues, and after that it's at the new owner's discretion."

  Michael stared, pop-eyed.

  "Well, come now," said his mother reasonably, "we could hardly continue under the present arrangement, could we? You always agreed with your father that the job should not be a sinecure for you. And since I would have a great deal of difficulty in either believing or resisting your stories, I thought I would hand the problem on to someone with whom you could have a more objective relationship. Now, I have another appointment, Michael."

  "Well, but... who have you sold it to?" spluttered Michael.

  "Gordon Way."

  "Gordon Way! But for heaven's sake, Mother, he's..."

  "He's very anxious to be seen to patronise the arts. And I think I do mean patronise. I'm sure you'll get on splendidly, dear. Now, if you don't mind..."

  Michael stood his ground.

  "I've never heard of anything so outrageous! I..."

  "Do you know, that's exactly what Mr Way said when I showed him these figures and
then demanded that you be kept on as editor for three issues."

  Michael huffed and puffed and went red and wagged his finger, but could think of nothing more to say. Except, "What difference would it have made to all this if I'd said treat me as the editor of one of your magazines?"

  "Why, dear," said Lady Magna with her sweetest smile, "I would have called you Mr Wenton-Weakes, of course. And I wouldn't now be telling you straighten your tie," she added, with a tiny little gesture under her chin.

  Rap tap tap rap tap tap.

  "Number seventeen, was it, guv?"

  "Er... what?" said Michael, shaking his head.

  "It was seventeen you said, was it?" said the cab driver, "'Cause we're 'ere."

  "Oh. Oh, yes, thank you," said Michael. He climbed out and fumbled in his pocket for some money.

  "Tap tap tap, eh?"

  "What?" said Michael handing over the fare.

  "Tap tap tap," said the cab driver, "all the bloody way here. Got something on your mind, eh, mate?"

  "Mind your own bloody business," snapped Michael savagely.

  "If you say so, mate. Just thought you might be going mad or something," said the cabbie and drove off.

  Michael let himself into his house and walked through the cold hall to the dining room, turned on the overhead light and poured himself a brandy from the decanter. He took off his coat, threw it across the large mahogany dining table and pulled a chair over to the window where he sat nursing his drink and his grievances.

  Tap tap tap, he went on the window.

  He had sullenly remained as editor for the stipulated three issues and was then, with little ceremony, let go. A new editor was found, a certain A. K. Ross, who was young, hungry and ambitious, and he quickly turned the magazine into a resounding success. Michael, in the meantime, had been lost and naked. There was nothing else for him.

  He tapped on the window again and looked, as he frequently did, at the small table lamp that stood on the sill. It was a rather ugly, ordinary little lamp, and the only thing about it that regularly transfixed his attention was that this was the lamp that had electrocuted his father, and this was where he had been sitting.

  The old boy was such a fool with anything technical. Michael could just see him peering with profound concentration through his half moons and sucking his moustache as he tried to unravel the arcane complexities of a thirteen-amp plug. He had, it seemed, plugged it back in the wall without first screwing the cover back on and then tried to change the fuse in situ. From this he received the shock which had stilled his already dicky heart.

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