Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

  "I know it well, Bill, thank you, and my best to what remains of Mrs Roberts."

  They swept on through into First Court, or at least Dirk swept, and Richard walked in his normal heron-like gait, wrinkling up his face against the measly drizzle.

  Dirk had obviously mistaken himself for a tour guide.

  "St Cedd's," he pronounced, "the college of Coleridge, and the college of Sir Isaac Newton, renowned inventor of the milled-edge coin and the catflap!"

  "The what?" said Richard.

  "The catflap! A device of the utmost cunning, perspicuity and invention. It is a door within a door, you see, a..."

  "Yes," said Richard, "there was also the small matter of gravity."

  "Gravity," said Dirk with a slightly dismissive shrug, "yes, there was that as well, I suppose. Though that, of course, was merely a discovery. It was there to be discovered."

  He took a penny out of his pocket and tossed it casually on to the pebbles that ran alongside the paved pathway.

  "You see?" he said, "They even keep it on at weekends. Someone was bound to notice sooner or later. But the catflap... ah, there is a very different matter. Invention, pure creative invention."

  "I would have thought it was quite obvious. Anyone could have thought of it."

  "Ah," said Dirk, "it is a rare mind indeed that can render the hitherto non-existent blindingly obvious. The cry "I could have thought of that" is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is that they didn't, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too. This if I am not mistaken is the staircase we seek. Shall we ascend?"

  Without waiting for an answer he plunged on up the stairs. Richard, following uncertainly, found him already knocking on the inner door. The outer one stood open.

  "Come in!" called a voice from within. Dirk pushed the door open, and they were just in time to see the back of Reg's white head as he disappeared into the kitchen.

  "Just making some tea," he called out. "Like some? Sit down, sit down, whoever you are."

  "That would be most kind," returned Dirk. "We are two." Dirk sat, and Richard followed his lead.

  "Indian or China?" called Reg.

  "Indian, please."

  There was a rattle of cups and saucers.

  Richard looked around the room. It seemed suddenly humdrum. The fire was burning quietly away to itself, but the light was that of the grey afternoon. Though everything about it was the same, the old sofa, the table burdened with books, there seemed nothing to connect it with the hectic strangeness of the previous night. The room seemed to sit there with raised eyebrows, innocently saying "Yes?"

  "Milk?" called out Reg from the kitchen.

  "Please," replied Dirk. He gave Richard a smile which seemed to him to be half-mad with suppressed excitement.

  "One lump or two?" called Reg again.

  "One, please," said Dirk, "and two spoons of sugar if you would."

  There was a suspension of activity in the kitchen. A moment or two passed and Reg stuck his head round the door.

  "Svlad Cjelli!" he exclaimed. "Good heavens! Well, that was quick work, young MacDuff, well done. My dear fellow, how very excellent to see you, how good of you to come."

  He wiped his hands on a tea towel he was carrying and hurried over to shake hands.

  "My dear Svlad."

  "Dirk, please, if you would," said Dirk, grasping his hand warmly, "I prefer it. It has more of a sort of Scottish dagger feel to it, I think. Dirk Gently is the name under which I now trade. There are certain events in the past, I'm afraid, from which I would wish to disassociate myself."

  "Absolutely, I know how you feel. Most of the fourteenth century, for instance, was pretty grim," agreed Reg earnestly.

  Dirk was about to correct the misapprehension, but thought that it might be somewhat of a long trek and left it.

  "So how have you been, then, my dear Professor?" he said instead, decorously placing his hat and scarf upon the arm of the sofa.

  "Well," said Reg, "it's been an interesting time recently, or rather, a dull time. But dull for interesting reasons. Now, sit down again, warm yourselves by the fire, and I will get the tea and endeavour to explain." He bustled out again, humming busily, and left them to settle themselves in front of the fire.

  Richard leant over to Dirk. "I had no idea you knew him so well," he said with a nod in the direction of the kitchen.

  "I don't," said Dirk instantly. "We met once by chance at some dinner, but there was an immediate sympathy and rapport."

  "So how come you never met again?"

  "He studiously avoided me, of course. Close rapports with people are dangerous if you have a secret to hide. And as secrets go, I fancy that this is somewhat of a biggie. If there is a bigger secret anywhere in the world I would very much care," he said quietly, "to know what it is."

  He gave Richard a significant look and held his hands out to the fire. Since Richard had tried before without success to draw him out on exactly what the secret was, he refused to rise to the bait on this occasion, but sat back in his armchair and looked about him.

  "Did I ask you," said Reg, returning at that moment, "if you wanted any tea?"

  "Er, yes," said Richard, "we spoke about it at length. I think we agreed in the end that we would, didn't we?"

  "Good," said Reg, vaguely, "by a happy chance there seems to be some ready in the kitchen. You'll have to forgive me. I have a memory like a... like a... what are those things you drain rice in? What am I talking about?"

  With a puzzled look he turned smartly round and disappeared once more into the kitchen.

  "Very interesting," said Dirk quietly, "I wondered if his memory might be poor."

  He stood, suddenly, and prowled around the room. His eyes fell on the abacus which stood on the only clear space on the large mahogany table.

  "Is this the table," he asked Richard in a low voice, "where you found the note about the salt cellar?"

  "Yes," said Richard, standing, and coming over, "tucked into this book." He picked up the guide to the Greek islands and flipped through it.

  "Yes, yes, of course," said Dirk, impatiently. "We know about all that. I'm just interested that this was the table." He ran his fingers along its edge, curiously.

  "If you think it was some sort of prior collaboration between Reg and the girl," Richard said, "then I must say that I don't think it possibly can have been."

  "Of course it wasn't," said Dirk testily, "I would have thought that was perfectly clear."

  Richard shrugged in an effort not to get angry and put the book back down again.

  "Well, it's an odd coincidence that the book should have been..."

  "Odd coincidence!" snorted Dirk. "Ha! We shall see how much of a coincidence. We shall see exactly how odd it was. I would like you, Richard, to ask our friend how he performed the trick."

  "I thought you said you knew already."

  "I do," said Dirk airily. "I would like to hear it confirmed."

  "Oh, I see," said Richard, "yes, that's rather easy, isn't it? Get him to explain it, and then say, "Yes, that's exactly what I thought it was!" Very good, Dirk. Have we come all the way up here in order to have him explain how he did a conjuring trick? I think I must be mad."

  Dirk bridled at this.

  "Please do as I ask," he snapped angrily. "You saw him do the trick, you must ask how he did it. Believe me, there is an astounding secret hidden within it. I know it, but I want you to hear it from him."

  He spun round as Reg re-entered, bearing a tray, which he carried round the sofa and put on to the low coffee table that sat in front of the fire.

  "Professor Chronotis..." said Dirk.

  "Reg," said Reg, "please."

  "Very, well," said Dirk, "Reg..."

  "Sieve!" exclaimed Reg.


  "Thing you drain rice in. A sieve. I was trying to remember the word, though I forget now the reason why. No matter. Dirk, dear fellow, you look as if you are about to explode about something. Wh
y don't you sit down and make yourself comfortable?"

  "Thank you, no, I would rather feel free to pace up and down fretfully if I may. Reg..."

  He turned to face him square on, and raised a single finger.

  "I must tell you," he said, "that I know your secret."

  "Ah, yes, er--do you indeed?" mumbled Reg, looking down awkwardly and fiddling with the cups and teapot. "I see."

  The cups rattled violently as he moved them. "Yes, I was afraid of that."

  "And there are some questions that we would like to ask you. I must tell you that I await the answers with the very greatest apprehension."

  "Indeed, indeed," Reg muttered. "Well, perhaps it is at last time. I hardly know myself what to make of recent events and am... fearful myself. Very well. Ask what you will." He looked up sharply, his eyes glittering.

  Dirk nodded curtly at Richard, turned, and started to pace, glaring at the floor.

  "Er," said Richard, "well. I'd be... interested to know how you did the conjuring trick with the salt cellar last night."

  Reg seemed surprised and rather confused by the question. "The conjuring trick?" he said.

  "Er, yes," said Richard, "the conjuring trick."

  "Oh," said Reg, taken aback, "well, the conjuring part of it, I'm not sure I should--Magic Circle rules, you know, very strict about revealing these secrets. Very strict. Impressive trick, though, don't you think?" he added slyly.

  "Well, yes," said Richard, "it seemed very natural at the time, but now that I... think about it, I have to admit that it was a bit dumbfounding."

  "Ah, well," said Reg, "it's skill. you see. Practice. Make it look natural."

  "It did look very natural," continued Richard, feeling his way, "I was quite taken in."

  "You liked it?"

  "It was very impressive."

  Dirk was getting a little impatient. He shot a look to that effect at Richard.

  "And I can quite see," said Richard firmly, "why it's impossible for you to tell me. I was just interested, that's all. Sorry I asked."

  "Well," said Reg in a sudden seizure of doubt, "I suppose... well, so long as you absolutely promise not to tell anyone else." he carried on, "I suppose you can probably work out for yourself that I used two of the salt cellars on the table. No one was going to notice the difference between one and another. The quickness of the hand, you know, deceives the eye, particularly some of the eyes around that table. While I was fiddling with my woolly hat, giving, though I say so myself, a very cunning simulation of clumsiness and muddle, I simply slipped the salt cellar down my sleeve. You see?"

  His earlier agitation had been swept away completely by his pleasure in showing off his craft.

  "It's the oldest trick in the world, in fact," he continued, "but nevertheless takes a great deal of skill and deftness. Then a little later, of course, I returned it to the table with the appearance of simply passing it to someone else. Takes years of practice, of course, to make it look natural, but I much prefer it to simply slipping the thing down to the floor. Amateur stuff that. You can't pick it up, and the cleaners never notice it for at least a fortnight. I once had a dead thrush under my seat for a month. No trick involved there, of course. Cat killed it."

  Reg beamed.

  Richard felt he had done his bit, but hadn't the faintest idea where it was supposed to have got them. He glanced at Dirk, who gave him no help whatsoever, so he plunged on blindly.

  "Yes," he said, "yes, I understand that that can be done by sleight of hand. What I don't understand is how the salt cellar got embedded in the pot."

  Reg looked puzzled once again, as if they were all talking at cross purposes. He looked at Dirk, who stopped pacing and stared at him with bright, expectant eyes.

  "Well, that's... perfectly straightforward," said Reg, "didn't take any conjuring skill at all. I nipped out for my hat, you remember?"

  "Yes," said Richard, doubtfully.

  "Well," said Reg, "while I was out of the room I went to find the man who made the pot. Took some time, of course. About three weeks of detective work to track him down and another couple of days to sober him up, and then with a little difficulty I persuaded him to bake the salt cellar into the pot for me. After that I briefly stopped off somewhere to find some, er, powder to disguise the suntan, and of course I had to time the return a little carefully so as to make it all look natural. I bumped into myself in the ante-room, which I always find embarrassing, I never know where to look, but, er... well, there you have it."

  He smiled a rather bleak and nervous smile.

  Richard tried to nod, but eventually gave up.

  "What on earth are you talking about?" he said.

  Reg looked at him in surprise.

  "I thought you said you knew my secret," he said.

  "I do," said Dirk, with a beam of triumph. "He, as yet, does not, though he furnished all the information I needed to discover it. Let me," he added, "fill in a couple of little blanks. In order to help disguise the fact that you had in fact been away for weeks when as far as anyone sitting at the table was concerned you had only popped out of the door for a couple of seconds, you had to write down for your own reference the last thing you said, in order that you could pick up the thread of conversation again as naturally as possible. An important detail if your memory is not what it once was. Yes?"

  "What it once was," said Reg, slowly shaking his white head, "I can hardly remember what it once was. But yes, you are very sharp to pick up such a detail."

  "And then there is the little matter," continued Dirk, "of the questions that George III asked. Asked you."

  This seemed to catch Reg quite by surprise.

  "He asked you," continued Dirk, consulting a small notebook he had pulled from his pocket, "if there was any particular reason why one thing happened after another and if there was any way of stopping it. Did he not also ask you, and ask you first, if it was possible to move backwards in time, or something of that kind?"

  Reg gave Dirk a long and appraising look.

  "I was right about you," he said, "you have a very remarkable mind, young man." He walked slowly over to the window that looked out on to Second Court. He watched the odd figures scuttling through it hugging themselves in the drizzle or pointing at things.

  "Yes," said Reg at last in a subdued voice, "that is precisely what he said."

  "Good," said Dirk, snapping shut his notebook with a tight little smile which said that he lived for such praise, "then that explains why the answers were 'yes, no and maybe'--in that order. Now. Where is it?"

  "Where is what?"

  "The time machine."

  "You're standing in it." said Reg.



  A party of noisy people spilled into the train at Bishop's Stortford. Some were wearing morning suits with carnations looking a little battered by a day's festivity. The women of the party were in smart dresses and hats, chattering excitedly about how pretty Julia had looked in all that silk taffeta, how Ralph still looked like a smug oaf even done up in all his finery, and generally giving the whole thing about two weeks.

  One of the men stuck his head out of the window and hailed a passing railway employee just to check that this was the right train and was stopping at Cambridge. The porter confirmed that of course it bloody was. The young man said that they didn't all want to find they were going off in the wrong direction, did they, and made a sound a little like that of a fish barking, as if to indicate that this was a pricelessly funny remark, and then pulled his head back in, banging it on the way.

  The alcohol content of the atmosphere in the carriage rose sharply.

  There seemed to be a general feeling in the air that the best way of getting themselves in the right mood for the post-wedding reception party that evening was to make a foray to the bar so that any members of the party who were not already completely drunk could finish the task. Rowdy shouts of acclamation greeted this notion, the train restarted with a jolt and a lot of those
still standing fell over.

  Three young men dropped into the three empty seats round one table, of which the fourth was already taken by a sleekly overweight man in an old-fashioned suit. He had a lugubrious face and his large, wet, cowlike eyes gazed into some unknown distance.

  Very slowly his eyes began to refocus all the way from infinity and gradually to home in on his more immediate surroundings, his new and intrusive companions. There was a need he felt, as he had felt before.

  The three men were discussing loudly whether they would all go to the bar, whether some of them would go to the bar and bring back drinks for the others, whether the ones who went to the bar would get so excited by all the drinks there that they would stay put and forget to bring any back for the others who would be sitting here anxiously awaiting their return, and whether even if they did remember to come back immediately with the drinks they would actually be capable of carrying them and wouldn't simply throw them all over the carriage on the way back, incommoding other passengers.

  Some sort of consensus seemed to be reached, but almost immediately none of them could remember what it was. Two of them got up, then sat down again as the third one got up. Then he sat down. The two other ones stood up again, expressing the idea that it might be simpler if they just bought the entire bar.

  The third was about to get up again and follow them, when slowly, but with unstoppable purpose, the cow-eyed man sitting opposite him leant across, and gripped him firmly by the forearm.

  The young man in his morning suit looked up as sharply as his somewhat bubbly brain would allow and, startled, said, "What do you want?"

  Michael Wenton-Weakes gazed into his eyes with terrible intensity, and said, in a low voice, "I was on a ship..."


  "A ship..." said Michael.

  "What ship, what are you talking about? Get off me. Let go!"

  "We came," continued Michael, in a quiet, almost inaudible, but compelling voice, "a monstrous distance. We came to build a paradise. A paradise. Here."

  His eyes swam briefly round the carriage, and then gazed briefly out through the spattered windows at the gathering gloom of a drizzly East Anglian evening. He gazed with evident loathing. His grip on the other's forearm tightened.

  "Look, I'm going for a drink," said the wedding guest, though feebly, because he clearly wasn't.

  "We left behind those who would destroy themselves with war," murmured Michael. "Ours was to be a world of peace, of music, of art, of enlightenment. All that was petty, all that was mundane, all that was contemptible would have no place in our world..."

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