Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency Read online

Page 9

  The sofa was clearly stuck.

  Three other Macs were connected up via long tangles of cable to an untidy agglomeration of synthesisers — an Emulator II+ HD sampler, a rack of TX modules, a Prophet VS, a Roland JX 10, a Korg DW8000, an Octapad, a left-handed Synth-Axe MIDI guitar controller, and even an old drum machine stacked up and gathering dust in the corner — pretty much the works. There was also a small and rarely used cassette tape recorder: all the music was stored in sequencer files on the computers rather than on tape.

  He dumped himself into a seat in front of one of the Macs to see what, if anything, it was doing. It was displaying an “Untitled” Excel spreadsheet and he wondered why.

  He saved it and looked to see if he'd left himself any notes and quickly discovered that the spreadsheet contained some of the data he had previously downloaded after searching the World Reporter and Knowledge on-line databases for facts about swallows.

  He now had figures which detailed their migratory habits, their wing shapes, their aerodynamic profile and turbulence characteristics, and some sort of rudimentary figures concerning the patterns that a flock would adopt in flight, but as yet he had only the faintest idea as to how he was going to synthesise them all together.

  Because he was too tired to think particularly constructively tonight he savagely selected and copied a whole swathe of figures from the spreadsheet at random, pasted them into his own conversion program, which scaled and filtered and manipulated the figures according to his own experimental algorithms, loaded the converted file into Performer, a powerful sequencer program, and played the result through random MIDI channels to whichever synthesisers happened to be on at the moment.

  The result was a short burst of the most hideous cacophony, and he stopped it.

  He ran the conversion program again, this time instructing it to force-map the pitch values into G minor. This was a utility he was determined in the end to get rid of because he regarded it as cheating. If there was any basis to his firmly held belief that the rhythms and harmonies of music which he found most satisfying could be found in, or at least derived from, the rhythms and harmonies of naturally occurring phenomena, then satisfying forms of modality and intonation should emerge naturally as well, rather than being forced.

  For the moment, though, he forced it.

  The result was a short burst of the most hideous cacophony in G minor.

  So much for random shortcuts.

  The first task was a relatively simple one, which would be simply to plot the waveform described by the tip of a swallow's wing as it flies, then synthesise that waveform. That way he would end up with a single note, which would be a good start, and it shouldn't take more than the weekend to do.

  Except, of course, that he didn't have a weekend available to do it in because he had somehow to get Version 2 of Anthem out of the door sometime during the course of the next year, or “month” as Gordon called it.

  Which brought Richard inexorably to the third thing he was shaking about.

  There was absolutely no way that he could take the time off this weekend or next to fulfil the promise he had made to Susan's telephone-answering machine. And that, if this evening's debacle had not already done so, would surely spell the final end.

  But that was it. The thing was done. There is nothing you can do about a message on someone else's answering machine other than let events take their course. It was done. It was irrevocable.

  An odd thought suddenly struck him.

  It took him by considerable surprise, but he couldn't really see what was wrong with it.


  A pair of binoculars scanning the London night skyline, idly, curious, snooping. A little look here, a little look there, just seeing what's going on, anything interesting, anything useful.

  The binoculars settle on the back of one particular house, attracted by a slight movement. One of those large late-Victorian villas, probably flats now. Lots of black iron drainpipes. Green rubber dustbins. But dark. No, nothing.

  The binoculars are just moving onwards when another slight movement catches in the moonlight. The binoculars refocus very slightly, trying to find a detail, a hard edge, a slight contrast in the darkness. The mist has lifted now, and the darkness glistens. They refocus a very, very little more.

  There it is. Something, definitely. Only this time a little higher up, maybe a foot or so, maybe a yard. The binoculars settle and relax — steady, trying for the edge, trying for the detail. There. The binoculars settle again — they have found their mark, straddled between a windowsill and a drainpipe.

  It is a dark figure, splayed against the wall, looking down, looking for a new foothold, looking upwards, looking for a ledge. The binoculars peer intently.

  The figure is that of a tall, thin man. His clothes are right for the job, dark trousers, dark sweater, but his movements are awkward and angular. Nervous. Interesting. The binoculars wait and consider, consider and judge.

  The man is clearly a rank amateur.

  Look at his fumbling. Look at his ineptitude. His feet slip on the drainpipe, his hands can't reach the ledge. He nearly falls. He waits to catch his breath. For a moment he starts to climb back down again, but seems to find that even tougher going.

  He lunges again for the ledge and this time catches it. His foot shoots out to steady himself and nearly misses the pipe. Could have been very nasty, very nasty indeed.

  But now the way is easier and progress is better. He crosses to another pipe, reaches a third-floor window ledge, flirts briefly with death as he crawls painfully on to it, and makes the cardinal error and looks down. He sways briefly and sits back heavily. He shades his eyes and peers inside to check that the room is dark, and sets about getting the window open.

  One of the things that distinguish the amateur from the professional is that this is the point when the amateur thinks it would have been a good idea to bring along something to prise the window open with.

  Luckily for this amateur the householder is an amateur too, and the sash window slides grudgingly up. The climber crawls, with some relief, inside.

  He should be locked up for his own protection, think the binoculars. A hand starts to reach for the phone. At the window a face looks back out and for a moment is caught in the moonlight, then it ducks back inside to carry on with its business.

  The hand stays hovering over the phone for a moment or two, while the binoculars wait and consider, consider and judge. The hand reaches instead for the A-Z street map of London.

  There is a long studious pause, a little more intent binocular work, and then the hand reaches for the phone again, lifts it and dials.


  Susan's flat was small but spacious, which was a trick, reflected Richard tensely as he turned on the light, that only women seemed able to pull off.

  It wasn't that observation which made him tense, of course — he'd thought it before, many times. Every time he'd been in her flat, in fact. It always struck him, usually because he had just come from his own flat, which was four times the size and cramped. He'd just come from his own flat this time, only via a rather eccentric route, and it was this that made his usual observation unusually tense.

  Despite the chill of the night he was sweating.

  He looked back out of the window, turned and tiptoed across the room towards where the telephone and the answering machine stood on their own small table.

  There was no point, he told himself, in tiptoeing. Susan wasn't in. He would be extremely interested to know where she was, in fact — just as she, he told himself, had probably been extremely interested in knowing where he had been at the beginning of the evening.

  He realised he was still tiptoeing. He hit his leg to make himself stop doing it, but carried on doing it none the less.

  Climbing up the outside wall had been terrifying.

  He wiped his forehead with the arm of his oldest and greasiest sweater. There had been a nasty moment when his life had flashed before his