Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

  He had surrendered himself completely. All doubt, disparity and confusion had ceased.

  A new mind had him in full possession.

  The spirit that was not Michael Wenton-Weakes surveyed the college which lay before it, to which it had grown accustomed in the last few frustrating, infuriating weeks.

  Weeks! Mere microsecond blinks.

  Although the spirit--the ghost--that now inhabited Michael Wenton-Weakes' body had known long periods of near oblivion, sometimes even for centuries at a stretch, the time for which it had wandered the earth was such that it seemed only minutes ago that the creatures which had erected these walls had arrived. Most of his personal eternity--not really eternity, but a few billion years could easily seem like it--had been spent wandering across interminable mud, wading through ceaseless seas, watching with stunned horror when the slimy things with legs suddenly had begun to crawl from those rotting seas--and here they were, suddenly walking around as if they owned the place and complaining about the phones.

  Deep in a dark and silent part of himself he knew that he was now mad, had been driven mad almost immediately after the accident by the knowledge of what he had done and of the existence he faced, by the memories of his fellows who had died and who for a while had haunted him even as he had haunted the Earth.

  He knew that what he now had been driven to would have revolted the self he only infinitesimally remembered, but that it was the only way for him to end the ceaseless nightmare in which each second of billions of years had been worse than the previous one.

  He hefted the bag and started to walk.



  Deep in the rain forest it was doing what it usually does in rain forests, which was raining: hence the name.

  It was a gentle, persistent rain, not the heavy slashing which would come later in the year, in the hot season. It formed a fine dripping mist through which the occasional shaft of sunlight would break, be softened and pass through on its way towards the wet bark of a calvaria tree on which it would settle and glisten. Sometimes it would do this next to a butterfly or a tiny motionless sparkling lizard, and then the effect would be almost unbearable.

  Away up in the high canopy of the trees an utterly extraordinary thought would suddenly strike a bird, and it would go flapping wildly through the branches and settle at last in a different and altogether better tree where it would sit and consider things again more calmly until the same thought came along and struck it again, or it was time to eat.

  The air was full of scents--the light fragrance of flowers, and the heavy odour of the sodden mulch with which the floor of the forest was carpeted.

  Confusions of roots tangled through the mulch, moss grew on them, insects crawled.

  In a space in the forest, on an empty patch of wet ground between a circle of craning trees, appeared quietly and without fuss a plain white door. After a few seconds it opened a little way with a slight squeak. A tall thin man looked out, looked around, blinked in surprise, and quietly pulled the door closed again.

  A few seconds later the door opened again and Reg looked out.

  "It's real," he said, "I promise you. Come out and see for yourself." Walking out into the forest, he turned and beckoned the other two to follow him.

  Dirk stepped boldly through, seemed disconcerted for about the length of time it takes to blink twice, and then announced that he saw exactly how it worked, that it was obviously to do with the unreal numbers that lay between minimum quantum distances and defined the fractal contours of the enfolded Universe and he was only astonished at himself for not having thought of it himself.

  "Like the catflap," said Richard from the doorway behind him.

  "Er, yes, quite so," said Dirk, taking off his spectacles and leaning against a tree wiping them, "you spotted of course that I was lying. A perfectly natural reflex in the circumstances as I think you'll agree. Perfectly natural." He squinted slightly and put his spectacles back on. They began to mist up again almost immediately.

  "Astounding," he admitted.

  Richard stepped through more hesitantly and stood rocking for a moment with one foot still on the floor in Reg's room and the other on the wet earth of the forest. Then he stepped forward and committed himself fully.

  His lungs instantly filled with the heady vapours and his mind with the wonder of the place. He turned and looked at the doorway through which he had walked. It was still a perfectly ordinary door frame with a perfectly ordinary little white door swinging open in it, but it was standing free in the open forest, and through it could clearly he seen the room he had just stepped out of.

  He walked wonderingly round the back of the door, testing each foot on the muddy ground, not so much for fear of slipping as for fear that it might simply not be there. From behind it was just a perfectly ordinary open door frame, such as you might fail to find in any perfectly ordinary rain forest. He walked through the door from behind, and looking back again could once more see, as if he had just stepped out of them again, the college rooms of Professor Urban Chronotis of St Cedd's College, Cambridge, which must be thousands of miles away. Thousands? Where were they?

  He peered off through the trees and thought he caught a slight shimmer in the distance, between the trees.

  "Is that the sea?" he asked.

  "You can see it a little more clearly from up here," called Reg, who had walked on a little way up a slippery incline and was now leaning, puffing, against a tree. He pointed.

  The other two followed him up, pulling themselves noisily through the branches and causing a lot of cawing and complaining from unseen birds high above.

  "The Pacific?" asked Dirk.

  "The Indian Ocean," said Reg.

  Dirk wiped his glasses again and had another look.

  "Ah, yes, of course," he said.

  "Not Madagascar?" said Richard. "I've been there--"

  "Have you?" said Reg. "One of the most beautiful and astonishing places on Earth, and one that is also full of the most appalling... temptations for me. No."

  His voice trembled slightly, and he cleared his throat.

  "No," he continued, "Madagascar is--let me see, which direction are we--where's the sun? Yes. That way. Westish. Madagascar is about five hundred miles roughly west of here. The island of Reunion lies roughly in-between."

  "Er, what's the place called?" said Dirk suddenly, rapping his knuckles on the tree and frightening a lizard. "Place where that stamp comes from, er--Mauritius."

  "Stamp?" said Reg.

  "Yes, you must know," said Dirk, "very famous stamp. Can't remember anything about it, but it comes from here. Mauritius. Famous for its very remarkable stamp, all brown and smudged and you could buy Blenheim Palace with it. Or am I thinking of British Guiana?"

  "Only you," said Richard, "know what you are thinking of."

  "Is it Mauritius?"

  "It is," said Reg, "it is Mauritius."

  "But you don't collect stamps?"


  "What on earth's that?" said Richard suddenly, but Dirk carried on with his thought to Reg,

  "Pity, you could get some nice first-day covers, couldn't you?"

  Reg shrugged. "Not really interested," he said.

  Richard slithered back down the slope behind them.

  "So what's the great attraction here?" said Dirk. "It's not, I have to confess, what I was expecting. Very nice in its way, of course, all this nature, but I'm a city boy myself, I'm afraid." He cleaned his glasses once again and pushed them back up his nose.

  He started backwards at what he saw, and heard a strange little chuckle from Reg. Just in front of the door back into Reg's room, the most extraordinary confrontation was taking place.

  A large cross bird was looking at Richard and Richard was looking at a large cross bird. Richard was looking at the bird as if it was the most extraordinary thing he had ever seen in his life, and the bird was looking at Richard as if defying him to find its beak even remotely funny.

>   Once it had satisfied itself that Richard did not intend to laugh, the bird regarded him instead with a sort of grim irritable tolerance and wondered if he was just going to stand there or actually do something useful and feed it. It padded a couple of steps back and a couple of steps to the side and then just a single step forward again, on great waddling yellow feet. It then looked at him again, impatiently, and squarked an impatient squark.

  The bird then bent forward and scraped its great absurd red beak across the ground as if to give Richard the idea that this might be a good area to look for things to give it to eat.

  "It eats the nuts of the calvaria tree," called out Reg to Richard.

  The big bird looked sharply up at Reg in annoyance, as if to say that it was perfectly clear to any idiot what it ate. It then looked back at Richard once more and stuck its head on one side as if it had suddenly been struck by the thought that perhaps it was an idiot it had to deal with, and that it might need to reconsider its strategy accordingly.

  "There are one or two on the ground behind you," called Reg softly.

  In a trance of astonishment Richard turned awkwardly and saw one or two large nuts lying on the ground. He bent and picked one up, glancing up at Reg, who gave him a reassuring nod.

  Tentatively Richard held the thing out to the bird, which leant forward and pecked it sharply from between his fingers. Then, because Richard's hand was still stretched out, the bird knocked it irritably aside with its beak.

  Once Richard had withdrawn to a respectful distance, it stretched its neck up, closed its large yellow eyes and seemed to gargle gracelessly as it shook the nut down its neck into its maw.

  It appeared then to be at least partially satisfied. Whereas before it had been a cross dodo, it was at least now a cross, fed dodo, which was probably about as much as it could hope for in this life.

  It made a slow, waddling, on-the-spot turn and padded back into the forest whence it had come, as if defying Richard to find the little tuft of curly feathers stuck up on top of its backside even remotely funny.

  "I only come to look," said Reg in a small voice, and glancing at him Dirk was discomfited to see that the old man's eyes were brimming with tears which he quickly brushed away. "Really, it is not for me to interfere--"

  Richard came scurrying breathlessly up to them.

  "Was that a dodo?" he exclaimed.

  "Yes," said Reg, "one of only three left at this time. The year is 1676. They will all be dead within four years, and after that no one will ever see them again. Come," he said, "let us go."

  Behind the stoutly locked outer door in the corner staircase in the Second Court of St Cedd's College, where only a millisecond earlier there had been a slight flicker as the inner door departed, there was another slight flicker as the inner door now returned.

  Walking through the dark evening towards it the large figure of Michael Wenton-Weakes looked up at the corner windows. If any slight flicker had been visible, it would have gone unnoticed in the dim dancing firelight that spilled from the window.

  The figure then looked up into the darkness of the sky, looking for what it knew to be there though there was not the slightest chance of seeing it, even on a clear night which this was not. The orbits of Earth were now so cluttered with pieces of junk and debris that one more item among them--even such a large one as this was--would pass perpetually unnoticed. Indeed, it had done so, though its influence had from time to time exerted itself. From time to time. When the waves had been strong. Not for nearly two hundred years had they been so strong as now they were again.

  And all at last was now in place. The perfect carrier had been found.

  The perfect carrier moved his footsteps onwards through the court.

  The Professor himself had seemed the perfect choice at first, but that attempt had ended in frustration, fury, and then--inspiration! Bring a Monk to Earth! They were designed to believe anything, to be completely malleable. It could be suborned to undertake the task with the greatest of ease.

  Unfortunately, however, this one had proved to be completely hopeless. Getting it to believe something was very easy. Getting it to continue to believe the same thing for more than five minutes at a time had proved to be an even more impossible task than that of getting the Professor to do what he fundamentally wanted to do but wouldn't allow himself.

  Then another failure and then, miraculously, the perfect carrier had come at last.

  The perfect carrier had already proved that it would have no compunction in doing what would have to be done.

  Damply, clogged in mist, the moon struggled in a corner of the sky to rise. At the window, a shadow moved.



  From the window overlooking Second Court Dirk watched the moon. "We shall not," he said, "have long to wait."

  "To wait for what?" said Richard.

  Dirk turned.

  "For the ghost," he said, "to return to us. Professor--" he added to Reg, who was sitting anxiously by the fire, "do you have any brandy, French cigarettes or worry beads in your rooms?"

  "No," said Reg.

  "Then I shall have to fret unaided," said Dirk and returned to staring out of the window.

  "I have yet to be convinced," said Richard, "that there is not some other explanation than that of... ghosts to--"

  "Just as you required actually to see a time machine in operation before you could accept it," returned Dirk. "Richard, I commend you on your scepticism, but even the sceptical mind must be prepared to accept the unacceptable when there is no alternative. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands."

  "Then what is a ghost?"

  "I think that a ghost," said Dirk, "is someone who died either violently or unexpectedly with unfinished business on his, her--or its--hands. Who cannot rest until it has been finished, or put right."

  He turned to face them again.

  "Which is why," he said, "a time machine would have such a fascination for a ghost once it knew of its existence. A time machine provides the means to put right what, in the ghost's opinion, went wrong in the past. To free it.

  "Which is why it will be back. It tried first to take possession of Reg himself, but he resisted. Then came the incident with the conjuring trick, the face powder and the horse in the bathroom which I--" he paused--"which even I do not understand, though I intend to if it kills me. And then you, Richard, appear on the scene. The ghost deserts Reg and concentrates instead on you. Almost immediately there occurs an odd but significant incident. You do something that you then wish you hadn't done.

  "I refer, of course, to the phone call you made to Susan and left on her answering machine.

  "The ghost seizes its chance and tries to induce you to undo it. To, as it were, go back into the past and erase that message--to change the mistake you had made. Just to see if you would do it. Just to see if it was in your character.

  "If it had been, you would now be totally under its control. But at the very last second your nature rebelled and you would not do it. And so the ghost gives you up as a bad job and deserts you in turn. It must find someone else.

  "How long has it been doing this? I do not know. Does this now make sense to you? Do you recognise the truth of what I am saying?"

  Richard turned cold.

  "Yes," he said, "I think you must be absolutely right."

  "And at what moment, then," said Dirk, "did the ghost leave you?"

  Richard swallowed.

  "When Michael Wenton-Weakes walked out of the room," he said.

  "So I wonder," said Dirk quietly, "what possibilities the ghost saw in him. I wonder whether this time it found what it wanted. I believe we shall not have long to wait."

  There was a knock on the door.

  When it opened, there stood Michael Wenton-Weakes.

  He said simply, "Please, I need your help."

  Reg and Richard sta
red at Dirk, and then at Michael.

  "Do you mind if I put this down somewhere?" said Michael. "It's rather heavy. Full of scuba-diving equipment."

  "Oh, I see," said Susan, "oh well, thanks, Nicola, I'll try that fingering. I'm sure he only put the E flat in there just to annoy people. Yes, I've been at it solidly all afternoon. Some of those semiquaver runs in the second movement are absolute bastards. Well, yes, it helped take my mind off it all. No, no news. It's all just mystifying and absolutely horrible. I don't want even to--look, maybe I'll give you a call again later and see how you're feeling. I know, yes, you never know which is worse, do you, the illness, the antibiotics, or the doctor's bedside manner. Look after yourself, or at least, make sure Simon does. Tell him to bring you gallons of hot lemon. OK. Well, I'll talk to you later. Keep warm. Bye now."

  She put the phone down and returned to her cello. She had hardly started to reconsider the problem of the irritating E flat when the phone went again. She had simply left it off the hook for the afternoon, but had forgotten to do so again after making her own call.

  With a sigh she propped up the cello, put down the bow, and went to the phone again.

  "Hello?" she demanded.

  Again, there was nothing, just a distant cry of wind. Irritably, she slammed the receiver back down once more.

  She waited a few seconds for the line to clear, and then was about to take the phone off the hook once more when she realised that perhaps Richard might need her.

  She hesitated.

  She admitted to herself that she hadn't been using the answering machine, because she usually just put it on for Gordon's convenience, and that was something of which she did not currently wish to be reminded.

  Still, she put the answering machine on, turned the volume right down, and returned again to the E flat that Mozart had put in only to annoy cellists.

  In the darkness of the offices of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Gordon Way clumsily fumbled the telephone receiver back on to its rest and sat slumped in the deepest dejection. He didn't even stop himself slumping all the way through the seat until he rested lightly on the floor.

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