Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

weekend. A police car played its regular game of dodgems down Upper Street and squealed to a halt just past him. Richard crossed the road behind it.

The day was cold and bright, which he liked. He walked across the top of Islington Green, where winos get beaten up, past the site of the old Collins Music Hall which had got burnt down, and through Camden Passage where American tourists get ripped off. He browsed among the antiques for a while and looked at a pair of earrings that he thought Susan would like, but he wasn't sure. Then he wasn't sure that he liked them, got confused and gave up. He looked in at a bookshop, and on an impulse bought an anthology of Coleridge's poems since it was just lying there.

From here he threaded his way through the winding back streets, over the canal, past the council estates that lined the canal, through a number of smaller and smaller squares, till finally he reached Peckender Street, which had turned out to be a good deal farther than he'd thought.

It was the sort of street where property developers in large Jaguars drive around at the weekend salivating. It was full of end-of-lease shops, Victorian industrial architecture and a short, decaying late--Georgian terrace, all just itching to be pulled down so that sturdy young concrete boxes could sprout in their places. Estate agents roamed the area in hungry packs, eyeing each other warily, their clipboards on a hair trigger.

Number 33, when he eventually found it neatly sandwiched between 37 and 45, was in a poorish state of repair, but no worse than most of the rest.

The ground floor was a dusty travel agent's whose window was cracked and whose faded BOAC posters were probably now quite valuable. The doorway next to the shop had been painted bright red, not well, but at least recently. A push button next to the door said, in neatly pencilled lettering, "Dominique, French lessons, 3rd Floor".

The most striking feature of the door, however, was the bold and shiny brass plaque fixed in the dead centre of it, on which was engraved the legend "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency".

Nothing else. It looked brand new--even the screws that held it in place were still shiny.

The door opened to Richard's push and he peered inside.

He saw a short and musty hallway which contained little but the stairway that led up from it. A door at the back of the hall showed little sign of having been opened in recent years, and had stacks of old metal shelving, a fish tank and the carcass of a bike piled up against it. Everything else, the walls, the floor, the stairs themselves, and as much of the rear door as could be got at, had been painted grey in an attempt to smarten it up cheaply, but it was all now badly scuffed, and little cups of fungus were peeking from a damp stain near the ceiling.

The sounds of angry voices reached him, and as he started up the stairs he was able to disentangle the noises of two entirely separate but heated arguments that were going on somewhere above him.

One ended abruptly--or at least half of it did--as an angry overweight man came clattering down the stairs pulling his raincoat collar straight. The other half of the argument continued in a torrent of aggrieved French from high above them. The man pushed past Richard, said, "Save your money, mate, it's a complete washout," and disappeared out into the chilly morning.

The other argument was more muffled. As Richard reached the first corridor a door slammed somewhere and brought that too to an end. He looked into the nearest open doorway.

It led into a small ante-office. The other, inner door leading from it was firmly closed. A youngish plump-faced girl in a cheap blue coat was pulling sticks of make-up and boxes of Kleenex out of her desk drawer and thrusting them into her bag.

"Is this the detective agency?" Richard asked her tentatively.

The girl nodded, biting her lip and keeping her head down.

"And is Mr Gently in?"

"He may be," she said, throwing back her hair, which was too curly for throwing back properly, "and then again he may not be. I am not in a position to tell. It is not my business to know of his whereabouts. His whereabouts are, as of now, entirely his own business."

She retrieved her last pot of nail varnish and tried to slam the drawer shut. A fat book sitting upright in the drawer prevented it from closing. She tried to slam the drawer again, without success. She picked up the book, ripped out a clump of pages and replaced it. This time she was able to slam the drawer with ease.

"Are you his secretary?" asked Richard.

"I am his ex-secretary and I intend to stay that way," she said, firmly snapping her bag shut. "If he intends to spend his money on stupid expensive brass plaques rather than on paying me, then let him. But I won't stay to stand for it, thank you very much. Good for business, my foot. Answering the phones properly is good for business and I'd like to see his fancy brass plaque do that. If you'll excuse me I'd like to storm out, please."

Richard stood aside, and out she stormed.

"And good riddance!" shouted a voice from the inner office. A phone rang and was picked up immediately.

"Yes?" answered the voice from the inner office, testly. The girl popped back for her scarf, but quietly, so her ex-employer wouldn't hear. Then she was finally gone.

"Yes, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. How can we be of help to you?"

The torrent of French from upstairs had ceased. A kind of tense calm descended.

Inside, the voice said, "That's right, Mrs Sunderland, messy divorces are our particular speciality."

There was a pause.

"Yes, thank you, Mrs Sunderland, not quite that messy." Down went the phone again, to be replaced instantly by the ringing of another one.

Richard looked around the grim little office. There was very little in it. A battered chipboard veneer desk, an old grey filing cabinet and a dark green tin wastepaper bin. On the wall was a Duran Duran poster on which someone had scrawled in fat red felt tip, "Take this down please".

Beneath that another hand had scrawled, "No".

Beneath that again the first hand had written, "I insist that you take it down".

Beneath that the second hand had written, "Won't!"

Beneath that--"You're fired".

Beneath that--"Good!"

And there the matter appeared to have rested.

He knocked on the inner door, but was not answered. Instead the voice continued, "I'm very glad you asked me that, Mrs Rawlinson. The term "holistic" refers to my conviction that what we are concerned with here is the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I do not concern myself with such petty things as fingerprint powder, telltale pieces of pocket fluff and inane footprints. I see the solution to each problem as being detectable in the pattern and web of the whole. The connections between causes and effects are often much more subtle and complex than we with our rough and ready understanding of the physical world might naturally suppose, Mrs Rawlinson.

"Let me give you an example. If you go to an acupuncturist with toothache he sticks a needle instead into your thigh. Do you know why he does that, Mrs Rawlinson?

"No, neither do I, Mrs Rawlinson, but we intend to find out. A pleasure talking to you, Mrs Rawlinson. Goodbye."

Another phone was ringing as he put this one down.

Richard eased the door open and looked in.

It was the same Svlad, or Dirk, Cjelli. Looking a little rounder about the middle, a little looser and redder about the eyes and the neck, but it was still essentially the same face that he remembered most vividly smiling a grim smile as its owner climbed into the back of one of the Black Marias of the Cambridgeshire constabulary, eight years previously.

He wore a heavy old light brown suit which looked as if it has been worn extensively for bramble hacking expeditions in some distant and better past, a red checked shirt which failed entirely to harmonise with the suit, and a green striped tie which refused to speak to either of them. He also wore thick metal-rimmed spectacles, which probably accounted at least in part for his dress sense.

"Ah, Mrs Bluthall, how thoroughly uplifting to hear from you," he was saying. "I was so distressed to learn that Miss Tiddles has passed over. This is desperate news indeed. And yet, and yet... Should we allow black despair to hide from us the fairer light in which your blessed moggy now forever dwells?

"I think not. Hark. I think I hear Miss Tiddles miaowing even now. She calls to you, Mrs Bluthall. She says she is content, she is at peace. She says she'll be even more at peace when you've paid some bill or other. Does that ring a bell with you at all, Mrs Bluthall? Come to think of it I think I sent you one myself not three months ago. I wonder if it can be that which is disturbing her eternal rest."

Dirk beckoned Richard in with a brisk wave and then motioned him to pass the crumpled pack of French cigarettes that was sitting just out of his reach.

"Sunday night, then, Mrs Bluthall, Sunday night at eight-thirty. You know the address. Yes, I'm sure Miss Tiddles will appear, as I'm sure will your cheque book. Till then, Mrs Bluthall, till then."

Another phone was already ringing as he got rid of Mrs Bluthall. He grabbed at it, lighting his crumpled cigarette at the same time.

"Ah, Mrs Sauskind," he said in answer to the caller, "my oldest and may I say most valued client. Good day to you, Mrs Sauskind, good day. Sadly, no sign as yet of young Roderick, I'm afraid, but the search is intensifying as it moves into what I am confident are its closing stages, and I am sanguine that within mere days from today's date we will have the young rascal permanently restored to your arms and mewing prettily, ah yes the bill, I was wondering if you had received it."

Dirk's crumpled cigarette turned out to be too crumpled to smoke, so he hooked the phone on his shoulder and poked around in the packet for another, but it was empty.

He rummaged on his desk for a piece of paper and a stub of pencil and wrote a note which he passed to Richard.

"Yes, Mrs Sauskind," he assured the telephone, "I am listening with the utmost attention."

The note said "Tell secretary get cigs".

"Yes," continued Dirk into the phone, "but as I have endeavoured to explain to you, Mrs Sauskind, over the seven years of our acquaintance, I incline to the quantum mechanical view in this matter. My theory is that your cat is not lost, but that his waveform has temporarily collapsed and must be restored. Schrodinger. Planck. And so on."

Richard wrote on the note "You haven't got secretary" and pushed it back.

Dirk considered this for a while, then wrote "Damn and blast" on the paper and pushed it to Richard again.

"I grant you, Mrs Sauskind," continued Dirk blithely, "that nineteen years is, shall we say, a distinguished age for a cat to reach, yet can we allow ourselves to believe that a cat such as Roderick has not reached it?

"And should we now in the autumn of his years abandon him to his fate? This surely is the time that he most needs the support of our continuing investigations. This is the time that we should redouble our efforts, and with your permission, Mrs Sauskind, that is what I intend to do. Imagine, Mrs Sauskind, how you would face him if you had not done this simple thing for him."

Richard fidgeted with the note, shrugged to himself, and wrote "I'll get them" on it and passed it back once more.

Dirk shook his head in admonition, then wrote "I couldn't possibly that would be most kind". As soon as Richard had read this, Dirk took the note back and added "Get money from secretary" to it.

Richard looked at the paper thoughtfully, took the pencil and put a tick next to where he had previously written "You haven't got secretary". He pushed the paper back across the table to Dirk, who merely glanced at it and ticked "I couldn't possibly that would be most kind".

"Well, perhaps," continued Dirk to Mrs Sauskind, "you could just run over any of the areas in the bill that cause you difficulty. Just the broader areas."

Richard let himself out.

Running down the stairs, he passed a young hopeful in a denim jacket and close-cropped hair peering anxiously up the stairwell.

"Any good, mate?" he said to Richard.

"Amazing," murmured Richard, "just amazing."

He found a nearby newsagent's and picked up a couple of packets of Disque Bleu for Dirk, and a copy of the new edition of Personal Computer World, which had a picture of Gordon Way on the front.

"Pity about him, isn't it?" said the newsagent.

"What? Oh, er... yes," said Richard. He often thought the same himself, but was surprised to find his feelings so widely echoed. He picked up a Guardian as well, paid and left.

Dirk was still on the phone with his feet on the table when Richard returned, and it was clear that he was relaxing into his negotiations.

"Yes, expenses were, well, expensive in the Bahamas, Mrs Sauskind, it is in the nature of expenses to be so. Hence the name." He took the proffered packets of cigarettes, seemed disappointed there were only two, but briefly raised his eyebrows to Richard in acknowledgement of the favour he had done him, and then waved him to a chair.

The sounds of an argument conducted partly in French drifted down from the floor above.

"Of course I will explain to you again why the trip to the Bahamas was so vitally necessary," said Dirk Gently soothingly. "Nothing could give me greater pleasure. I believe, as you know, Mrs Sauskind, in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Furthermore I have plotted and triangulated the vectors of the interconnectedness of all things and traced them to a beach in Bermuda which it is therefore necessary for me to visit from time to time in the course of my investigations. I wish it were not the case, since, sadly, I am allergic to both the sun and rum punches, but then we all have our crosses to bear, do we not, Mrs Sauskind?"

A babble seemed to break out from the telephone.

"You sadden me, Mrs Sauskind. I wish I could find it in my heart to tell you that I find your scepticism rewarding and invigorating, but with the best will in the world I cannot. I am drained by it, Mrs Sauskind, drained. I think you will find an item in the bill to that effect. Let me see."

He picked up a flimsy carbon copy lying near him.

"'Detecting and triangulating the vectors of interconnectedness of all things, one hundred and fifty pounds.' We've dealt with that.

"'Tracing same to beach on Bahamas, fare and accommodation.' A mere fifteen hundred. The accommodation was, of course, distressingly modest.

"Ah yes, here we are, 'Struggling on in the face of draining scepticism from client, drinks--three hundred and twenty-seven pounds fifty.'

"Would that I did not have to make such charges, my dear Mrs Sauskind, would that the occasion did not continually arise. Not believing in my methods only makes my job more difficult, Mrs Sauskind, and hence, regrettably, more expensive."

Upstairs, the sounds of argument were becoming more heated by the moment. The French voice seemed to be verging on hysteria.

"I do appreciate, Mrs Sauskind," continued Dirk, "that the cost of the investigation has strayed somewhat from the original estimate, but I am sure that you will in your turn appreciate that a job which takes seven years to do must clearly be more difficult than one that can be pulled off in an afternoon and must therefore be charged at a higher rate. I have continually to revise my estimate of how difficult the task is in the light of how difficult it has so far proved to be."

The babble from the phone became more frantic.

"My dear Mrs Sauskind--or may I call you Joyce? Very well then. My dear Mrs Sauskind, let me say this. Do not worry yourself about this bill, do not let it alarm or discomfit you. Do not, I beg you, let it become a source of anxiety to you. Just grit your teeth and pay it."

He pulled his feet down off the table and leaned forward over the desk, inching the telephone receiver inexorably back towards its cradle.

"As always, the very greatest pleasure to speak with you, Mrs Sauskind. For now, goodbye."

He at last put down the receiver, picked it up again, and dropped it for the moment into the waste basket.

"My dear Richard MacDuff," he said, producing a large flat box from under his desk and pushing it across the table at him, "your pizza."

Richard started back in astonishment.

"Er, no thanks," he said, "I had breakfast. Please. You have it."

Dirk shrugged. "I told them you'd pop in and settle up over the weekend," he said. "Welcome, by the way, to my offices."

He waved a vague hand around the tatty surroundings.

"The light works," he said, indicating the window, "the gravity works," he said, dropping a pencil on the floor. "Anything else we have to take our chances with."

Richard cleared his throat. "What," he said, "is this?"

"What is what?"

"This," exclaimed Richard, "all this. You appear to have a Holistic Detective Agency and I don't even know what one is."

"I provide a service that is unique in this world," said Dirk. "The term 'holistic' refers to my conviction that what we are concerned with here is the fundamental interconnectedness of all..."

"Yes, I got that bit earlier," said Richard. "I have to say that it sounded a bit like an excuse for exploiting gullible old ladies."

"Exploiting?" asked Dirk. "Well, I suppose it would be if anybody ever paid me, but I do assure you, my dear Richard, that there never seems to be the remotest danger of that. I live in what are known as hopes. I hope for fascinating and remunerative cases, my secretary hopes that I will pay her, her landlord hopes that she will produce some rent, the Electricity Board hopes that he will settle their bill, and so on. I find it a wonderfully optimistic way of life.

"Meanwhile I give a lot of charming and silly old ladies something to be happily cross about and virtually guarantee the freedom of their cats. Is there, you ask--and I put the question for you because I know you know I hate to be interrupted--is there a single case that exercises the tiniest part of my intellect, which, as you hardly need me to tell you, is prodigious? No. But do I despair? Am I downcast? Yes. Until," he added, "today."

"Oh, well, I'm glad of that," said Richard, "but what was all that rubbish about cats and quantum mechanics?"

With a sigh Dirk flipped up the lid of the pizza with a single flick of practised fingers. He surveyed the cold round thing with a kind of sadness and then tore off a hunk of it. Pieces of pepperoni and anchovy scattered over his desk.

"I am sure, Richard," he said, "that you are familiar with the notion of Schrodinger's Cat,"
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