Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

  "Yes, but I feel sure it was a prelude to something. A sort of short toccata on the theme of what a splendid fellow you are prior to introducing the main subject of my discourse, the nature of which I currently forget. You have no idea what I was about to say?"


  "Oh. Well, I suppose I should be pleased. If everyone knew exactly what I was going to say, then there would be no point in my saying it, would there? Now, how's our young guest's pot doing?"

  In fact it had reached Watkin, who pronounced himself no expert on what the ancients had made for themselves to drink out of, only on what they had written as a result. He said that Cawley was the one to whose knowledge and experience they should all bow, and attempted to give the pot to him.

  "I said," he repeated, "yours was the knowledge and experience to which we should bow. Oh, for heaven's sake, take your hands off your ears and have a look at the thing."

  Gently, but firmly, he drew Cawley's right hand from his ear, explained the situation to him once again, and handed him the pot. Cawley gave it a cursory but clearly expert examination.

  "Yes," he said, "about two hundred years old, I would think. Very rough. Very crude example of its type. Utterly without value, of course."

  He put it down peremptorily and gazed off into the old minstrel gallery, which appeared to anger him for some reason.

  The effect on Sarah was immediate. Already discouraged, she was thoroughly downcast by this. She bit her lip and threw herself back against her chair, feeling once again thoroughly out of place and childish. Her father gave her a warning look about misbehaving, and then apologised for her again.

  "Well, Buxtehude," he hurried on to say, "yes, good old Buxtehude. We'll have to see what we can do. Tell me..."

  "Young lady," interrupted a voice, hoarse with astonishment, "you are clearly a magician and enchantress of prodigious powers!"

  All eyes turned to Reg, the old show-off. He was gripping the pot and staring at it with manic fascination. He turned his eyes slowly to the little girl, as if for the first time assessing the power of a feared adversary.

  "I bow to you," he whispered. "I, unworthy though I am to speak in the presence of such a power as yours, beg leave to congratulate you on one of the finest feats of the conjurer's art it has been my privilege to witness!"

  Sarah stared at him with widening eyes.

  "May I show these people what you have wrought?" he asked earnestly.

  Very faintly she nodded, and he fetched her formerly precious, but now sadly discredited, pot a sharp rap on the table.

  It split into two irregular parts, the caked clay with which it was surrounded falling in jagged shards on the table. One side of the pot fell away, leaving the rest standing.

  Sarah's eyes goggled at the stained and tarnished but clearly recognisable silver college salt cellar, standing jammed in the remains of the pot.

  "Stupid old fool," muttered Cawley.

  After the general disparagement and condemnation of this cheap parlour trick had died down--none of which could dim the awe in Sarah's eyes--Reg turned to Richard and said, idly:

  "Who was that friend of yours when you were here, do you ever see him? Chap with an odd East European name. Svlad something. Svlad Cjelli. Remember the fellow?"

  Richard looked at him blankly for a moment.

  "Svlad?" he said. "Oh, you mean Dirk. Dirk Cjelli. No. I never stayed in touch. I've bumped into him a couple of times in the street but that's all. I think he changes his name from time to time. Why do you ask?"



  High on his rocky promontory the Electric Monk continued to sit on a horse which was going quietly and uncomplainingly spare. From under its rough woven cowl the Monk gazed unblinkingly down into the valley, with which it was having a problem, but the problem was a new and hideous one to the Monk, for it was this--Doubt.

  He never suffered it for long, but when he did, it gnawed at the very root of his being.

  The day was hot; the sun stood in an empty hazy sky and beat down upon the grey rocks and the scrubby, parched grass. Nothing moved, not even the Monk. But strange things were beginning to fizz in its brain, as they did from time to time when a piece of data became misaddressed as it passed through its input buffer.

  But then the Monk began to believe, fitfully and nervously at first, but then with a great searing white flame of belief which overturned all previous beliefs, including the stupid one about the valley being pink, that somewhere down in the valley, about a mile from where he was sitting, there would shortly open up a mysterious doorway into a strange and distant world, a doorway through which he might enter. An astounding idea.

  Astoundingly enough, however, on this one occasion he was perfectly right.

  The horse sensed that something was up.

  It pricked up its ears and gently shook its head. It had gone into a sort of trance looking at the same clump of rocks for so long, and was on the verge of imagining them to be pink itself. It shook its head a little harder.

  A slight twitch on the reins, and a prod from the Monk's heels and they were off, picking their way carefully down the rocky incline. The way was difficult. Much of it was loose shale--loose brown and grey shale, with the occasional brown and green plant clinging to a precarious existence on it. The Monk noticed this without embarrassment. It was an older, wiser Monk now, and had put childish things behind it. Pink valleys, hermaphrodite tables, these were all natural stages through which one had to pass on the path to true enlightenment.

  The sun beat hard on them. The Monk wiped the sweat and dust off its face and paused, leaning forward on the horse's neck. It peered down through the shimmering heat haze at a large outcrop of rock which stood out on to the floor of the valley. There, behind that outcrop, was where the Monk thought, or rather passionately believed to the core of its being, the door would appear. It tried to focus more closely, but the details of the view swam confusingly in the hot rising air.

  As it sat back in its saddle, and was about to prod the horse onward, it suddenly noticed a rather odd thing.

  On a flattish wall of rock nearby, in fact so nearby that the Monk was surprised not to have noticed it before, was a large painting. The painting was crudely drawn, though not without a certain stylish sweep of line, and seemed very old, possibly very, very old indeed. The paint was faded, chipped and patchy, and it was difficult to discern with any clarity what the picture was. The Monk approached the picture more closely. It looked like a primitive hunting scene.

  The group of purple, multi-limbed creatures were clearly early hunters. They carried rough spears, and were in hot pursuit of a large horned and armoured creature, which appeared to have been wounded in the hunt already. The colours were now so dim as to be almost non--existent. In fact, all that could be clearly seen was the white of the hunters' teeth, which seemed to shine with a whiteness whose lustre was undimmed by the passage of what must have been many thousands of years. In fact they even put the Monk's own teeth to shame, and he had cleaned them only that morning.

  The Monk had seen paintings like this before, but only in pictures or on the TV, never in real life. They were usually to be found in caves where they were protected from the elements, otherwise they would not have survived.

  The Monk looked more carefully at the immediate environs of the rock wall and noticed that, though not exactly in a cave, it was nevertheless protected by a large overhang and was well sheltered from the wind and rain. Odd, though, that it should have managed to last so long. Odder still that it should appear not to have been discovered. Such cave paintings as there were were all famous and familiar images, but this was not one that he had ever seen before.

  Perhaps this was a dramatic and historic find he had made. Perhaps if he were to return to the city and announce this discovery he would be welcomed back, given a new motherboard after all and allowed to believe--to believe--believe what? He paused, blinked, and shook his head to clear a momentary system error.
  He pulled himself up short.

  He believed in a door. He must find that door. The door was the way to... to...

  The Door was The Way.


  Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to.

  Brusquely he tugged the horse's head round and urged it onward and downward. Within a few minutes more of tricky manoeuvring they had reached the valley floor, and he was momentarily disconcerted to discover that the fine top layer of dust that had settled on the brown parched earth was indeed a very pale brownish pink, particularly on the banks of the sluggish trickle of mud which was all that remained, in the hot season, of the river that flowed through the valley when the rains came. He dismounted and bent down to feel the pink dust and run it through his fingers. It was very fine and soft and felt pleasant as he rubbed it on his skin. It was about the same colour, perhaps a little paler.

  The horse was looking at him. He realised, a little belatedly perhaps, that the horse must be extremely thirsty. He was extremely thirsty himself, but had tried to keep his mind off it. He unbuckled the water flask from the saddle. It was pathetically light. He unscrewed the top and took one single swig. Then he poured a little into his cupped hand and offered it to the horse, who slurped at it greedily and briefly.

  The horse looked at him again.

  The Monk shook his head sadly, resealed the bottle and replaced it. He knew, in that small part of his mind where he kept factual and logical information, that it would not last much longer, and that, without it, neither would they. It was only his Belief that kept him going, currently his Belief in The Door.

  He brushed the pink dust from his rough habit, and then stood looking at the rocky outcrop, a mere hundred yards distant. He looked at it not without a slight, tiny trepidation. Although the major part of his mind was firm in its eternal and unshakeable Belief that there would be a Door behind the outcrop, and that the Door would be The Way, yet the tiny part of his brain that understood about the water bottle could not help but recall past disappointments and sounded a very tiny but jarring note of caution.

  If he elected not to go and see The Door for himself, then he could continue to believe in it forever. It would be the lodestone of his life (what little was left of it, said the part of his brain that knew about the water bottle).

  If on the other hand he went to pay his respects to the Door and it wasn't there... what then?

  The horse whinnied impatiently.

  The answer, of course, was very simple. He had a whole board of circuits for dealing with exactly this problem, in fact this was the very heart of his function. He would continue to believe in it whatever the facts turned out to be, what else was the meaning of Belief?

  The Door would still be there, even if the door was not.

  He pulled himself together. The Door would be there, and he must now go to it, because The Door was The Way.

  Instead of remounting his horse, he led it. The Way was but a short way, and he should enter the presence of the Door in humility.

  He walked, brave and erect, with solemn slowness. He approached the rocky outcrop. He reached it. He turned the corner. He looked.

  The Door was there.

  The horse, it must be said, was quite surprised.

  The Monk fell to his knees in awe and bewilderment. So braced was he for dealing with the disappointment that was habitually his lot that, though he would never know to admit it, he was completely unprepared for this. He stared at The Door in sheer, blank system error.

  It was a door such as he had never seen before. All the doors he knew were great steel-reinforced things, because of all the video recorders and dishwashers that were kept behind them, plus of course all the expensive Electric Monks that were needed to believe in it all. This one was simple, wooden and small, about his own size. A Monk-size door, painted white, with a single, slightly dented brass knob slightly less than halfway up one side. It was set simply in the rock face, with no explanation as to its origin or purpose.

  Hardly knowing how he dared, the poor startled Monk staggered to his feet and, leading his horse, walked nervously forward towards it. He reached out and touched it. He was so startled when no alarms went off that he jumped back. He touched it again, more firmly this time.

  He let his hand drop slowly to the handle--again, no alarms. He waited to be sure, and then he turned it, very, very gently. He felt a mechanism release. He held his breath. Nothing. He drew the door towards him, and it came easily. He looked inside, but the interior was so dim in contrast with the desert sun outside that he could see nothing. At last, almost dead with wonder, he entered, pulling the horse in after him.

  A few minutes later, a figure that had been sitting out of sight around the next outcrop of rock finished rubbing dust on his face, stood up, stretched his limbs and made his way back towards the door, patting his clothes as he did so.



  "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

  A stately pleasure-dome decree:"

  The reader clearly belonged to the school of thought which holds that a sense of the seriousness or greatness of a poem is best imparted by reading it in a silly voice. He soared and swooped at the words until they seemed to duck and run for cover.

  "Where Alph, the sacred river ran

  Through caverns measureless to man

  Down to a sunless sea."

  Richard relaxed back into his seat. The words were very, very familiar to him, as they could not help but be to any English graduate of St Cedd's College, and they settled easily into his mind.

  The association of the college with Coleridge was taken very seriously indeed, despite the man's well-known predilection for certain recreational pharmaceuticals under the influence of which this, his greatest work, was composed, in a dream.

  The entire manuscript was lodged in the safe-keeping of the college library, and it was from this itself, on the regular occasion of the Coleridge Dinner, that the poem was read.

  "So twice five miles of fertile ground

  With walls and towers were girdled round:

  And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills,

  Enfolding sunny spots of greenery."

  Richard wondered how long it took. He glanced sideways at his former Director of Studies and was disturbed by the sturdy purposefulness of his reading posture. The singsong voice irritated him at first, but after a while it began to lull him instead, and he watched a rivulet of wax seeping over the edge of a candle that was burning low now and throwing a guttering light over the carnage of dinner.

  "But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!

  A savage place! as holy and enchanted

  As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted

  By woman wailing for her demon-lover!"

  The small quantities of claret that he had allowed himself during the course of the meal seeped warmly through his veins, and soon his own mind began to wander, and provoked by Reg's question earlier in the meal, he wondered what had lately become of his former... was friend the word? He seemed more like a succession of extraordinary events than a person. The idea of him actually having friends as such seemed not so much unlikely, more a sort of mismatching of concepts, like the idea of the Suez crisis popping out for a bun.

  Svlad Cjelli. Popularly known as Dirk, though, again, "popular" was hardly right. Notorious, certainly; sought after, endlessly speculated about, those too were true. But popular? Only in the sense that a serious accident on the motorway might be popular--everyone slows down to have a good look, but no one will get too close to the flames. Infamous was more like it. Svlad Cjelli, infamously known as Dirk.

  He was rounder than the average undergraduate and wore more hats. That is to say, there was just the one hat which he habitually wore, but he wore it with a passion that was rare in o
ne so young. The hat was dark red and round, with a very flat brim, and it appeared to move as if balanced on gimbals, which ensured its perfect horizontality at all times, however its owner moved his head. As a hat it was a remarkable rather than entirely successful piece of persona! decoration. It would make an elegant adornment, stylish, shapely and flattering, if the wearer were a small bedside lamp, but not otherwise.

  People gravitated around him, drawn in by the stories he denied about himself, but what the source of these stories might be, if not his own denials, was never entirely clear.

  The tales had to do with the psychic powers that he'd supposedly inherited from his mother's side of the family who he claimed, had lived at the smarter end of Transylvania. That is to say, he didn't make any such claim at all, and said it was the most absurd nonsense. He strenuously denied that there were bats of any kind at all in his family and threatened to sue anybody who put about such malicious fabrications, but he affected nevertheless to wear a large and flappy leather coat, and had one of those machines in his room which are supposed to help cure bad backs if you hang upside down from them. He would allow people to discover him hanging from this machine at all kinds of odd hours of the day, and more particularly of the night, expressly so that he could vigorously deny that it had any significance whatsoever.

  By means of an ingenious series of strategically deployed denials of the most exciting and exotic things, he was able to create the myth that he was a psychic, mystic, telepathic, fey, clairvoyant, psychosassic vampire bat.

  What did "psychosassic" mean?

  It was his own word and he vigorously denied that it meant anything at all.

  "And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething, As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing, A mighty fountain momently was forced:

  Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst

  Huge fragments vaulted..."

  Dirk had also been perpetually broke. This would change.

  It was his room-mate who started it, a credulous fellow called Mander, who, if the truth were known, had probably been specially selected by Dirk for his credulity.

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