Soul music, p.31
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       Soul Music, p.31
 

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 31

  I dont remember you talking like this when you jumped up and down on that street violinists

  fingers last month, said Mr Clete. Yeah, well, that wasnt, like, assassination, said Satchelmouth. I mean, he was able to walk away. Well, crawl away. And he could still earn a living; he added. Not one that required the use of his hands, sure, but-

  And that penny whistle lad? That one who plays a chord now every time he hiccups? Hat. Hat. Hat.

  Yeah, but thats not the sa-

  Do you know Wheedown the guitar-maker? said Mr Clete. Satchelmouth was unbalanced by the change in direction. Im told hes been selling guitars like there was no next Wednesday; said Mr Clete. But I dont see any increase in membership, do you?

  Well-

  Once people get the idea that they can listen to music for nothing, where will it end? He glared at the other two. Dunno, Mr Clete, said Shuffle obediently. Very well. And the Patrician has been ironical at me, said Mr Clete. Im not having that again. Its the Assassins this time.

  I dont think we should actually have people killed, said Satchelmouth doggedly. I dont want to hear any more from you, said Mr Clete. This is guild business.

  Yes, but its our guild-

  Exactly! So shut up! Hat! Hat! Hat! The cart rattled between the endless cabbage fields that led to Pseudopolis. Ive been on tour before, you know, said Glod. When I was with Snori Snoriscousin And His Brass Idiots. Every night a different bed. You forget what day of the week it is after a while.

  What day of the week is it now? said Cliff. See? And weve only been on the road . . . what . . . three hours? said Glod. Wherere we stopping tonight? said Cliff. Scrote, said Asphalt. Sounds a really interesting place, said Cliff. Been there before, with the circus, said Asphalt. Its a onehorse town. Buddy looked over the side of the cart, but it wasnt worth the effort. The rich silty Sto Plains were the grocery of the continent, but not an awe-inspiring panorama unless you were the kind of person who gets excited about fifty-three types of cabbage and eighty-one types of bean. Spaced every mile or so on the chequerboard of fields was a village, and spaced rather further apart were the towns. They were called towns because they were bigger than the villages. The cart passed through a couple of them. They had two streets in the form of a cross, one tavern, one seed store, one forge, one livery stable with a name like JOES LIVERY STABLE, a couple of barns, three old men sitting outside the tavern, and three young men lounging outside JOES swearing that one day really soon now they were going to leave town and make it big in the world outside. Real soon. Any day now. Reminds you of home, eh? said Cliff, nudging Buddy. What? No! Llamedos is all mountains and valleys. And rain. And mist. And evergreens. Buddy sighed. You had a great house there, I expect? said the troll. Just a shack, said Buddy. Made of earth and wood. Well, mud and wood really. He sighed again. Its like this on the road, said Asphalt. Melancholy. No-one to talk to but each other, Ive known people go totally ins-

  How long has it been now? said Cliff. Three hours and ten minutes, said Glod. Buddy sighed. They were invisible people, Death realized. He was used to invisibility. It went with the job. Humans didnt see him until they had no choice. On the other hand, he was an anthropomorphic personification. Whereas Foul Ole Ron was human, at least technically. Foul Ole Ron made a small living by following people until they gave him money not to. Hed also got a dog, which added something to Foul Ole Rons smell. It was a greyish-brown terrier with a torn ear and nasty patches of bare skin; it begged with an old hat in its remaining teeth, and since people will generally give to animals that which theyd withhold from humans it added considerably to the earning power of the group. Coffin Henry, on the other hand, earned his money by not going anywhere. People organizing important social occasions sent him anti-invitations and little presents of money to ensure he wouldnt turn up. This was because, if they didnt, Henry had a habit of sidling ingratiatingly into the wedding party and inviting people to look at his remarkable collection of skin diseases. He also had a cough which sounded almost solid. He had a sign on which was chalked For sum muny I wunt follo you home. Coff Coff. Arnold Sideways had no legs. It was a lack that didnt seem to figure largely among his concerns. He would grab people by their knees and say, Have you got change for a penny?, invariably profiting by the ensuing cerebral confusion. And the one they called the Duck Man had a duck on his head. No-one mentioned it. No-one drew attention to it. It seemed to be a minor feature of no consequence, like Arnolds leglessness and Foul Ole Rons independent smell or Henrys volcanic spitting. But it kept nagging at Deaths otherwise peaceful mind. He wondered how to broach the subject. AFTER ALL, he thought, HE MUST KNOW, MUSTNT HE? ITS NOT LIKE LINT ON YOUR JACKET OR SOMETHING . . . By common agreement theyd called Death Mr Scrub. He didnt know why. On the other hand, he was among people who could hold a lengthy discussion with a door. There may have been a logical reason. The beggars spent their day wandering invisibly around the streets where people who didnt see them carefully circled out of their way and threw them the occasional coin. Mr Scrub fitted in very well. When he asked for money, people found it hard to say no. Scrote didnt even have a river. It existed simply because theres only so much land you can have before you have to have something else. . It had two streets in the form of a cross, one tavern, one seed store, one forge, a couple of barns and, in a gesture of originality, one livery stable called SETHS LIVERY STABLE. Nothing moved. Even the flies were asleep. Long shadows were the only occupants of the streets. I thought you said dis was a one-horse town, said Cliff, as they pulled up in the rutted, puddled area that was probably glorified by the name of Town Square. It must have died, said Asphalt. Glod stood up in the cart and spread his arms wide. He yelled: Hello, Scrote! The name-board over the livery stable parted from its last nail and landed in the dust. What I like about this life on the road, said Glod, is the fascinating people and interesting places.

  I expect it comes alive at night, said Asphalt. Yes, said Cliff. Yes, I can believe dat. Yes. Dis looks like the kind of town dat comes alive

  at night. Dis looks like the whole town should be buried at the crossroads with a stake through it.

  Talking of steak . . . said Glod. They looked at the tavern. The cracked and peeling sign just managed to convey the words The Jolly Cabbage. I doubt it, said Asphalt. There were people in the dimly lit tavern, sitting in sullen silence. The travellers were served by the innkeeper, whose manner suggested that he hoped they died horribly just as soon as they left the premises. The beer tasted as if it was happy to connive at this state of affairs. They huddled at one table, aware of the eyes on them. Ive heard about places like this, whispered Glod. You go into this little town with a name like Friendly or Amity, and next day youre spare ribs.

  Not me, said Cliff. Im too stony.

  Well, youre in the rockery, then, said the dwarf. He looked around at a row of furrowed faces and raised his mug theatrically. Cabbages doing well? he said. I see in the fields theyre nice and yellow. Ripe, eh? Thats good, eh?

  Thats Root Fly, that is, said someone in the shadows. Good, good, said Glod. He was a dwarf. Dwarfs didnt farm. We dont like circuses in Scrote, said another voice. It was a slow, deep voice. Were not a circus, said Glod brightly. Were musicians.

  We dont like musicians in Scrote, said another voice. There seemed to be more and more figures in the gloom. Er . . . what do you like in Scrote? said Asphalt. Well, said the barman, now a mere outline in the gathering darkness, round about this time of year we generally have a barbecue down by the rockery. Buddy sighed. It was the first time hed made a sound since theyd arrived in the town. I guess wed better show them what we play, he said. There was a twang in his voice. It was some time later. Glod looked at the door handle. It was a door handle. You got hold of it with your hand. But what was supposed to happen next? Door handle, he said, in case that would help. Yr sposed do sning wvit, said Cliff, from somewhere near the floor. Buddy leaned past the dwarf and turned the handle. Amzing, said Glod, and stumbled forward. He levered himse
lf off the floor and looked around. Whs the?

  The tavern keeper said we could stay here for free, said Buddy. Smess, said Glod. Somene fetch me a brm and a scrbing brsh this mint. Asphalt wobbled in, carrying the luggage and with Cliffs sack of rocks in his teeth. He dropped the lot on the floor. Well, that was astonishing, sir, he said. The way you just went into that barn and said, and said . . . what was it you said?

  Lets do the show right here, said Buddy, lying down on a straw mattress. Amazing! They must have been coming in from miles around! Buddy stared at the ceiling and played a few chords. And that barbecue! said Asphalt, still radiating enthusiasm. The sauce!

  The bef! said Glod. The charcoal, murmured Cliff happily. There was a wide black ring around his mouth.

  And whodavthought, said Glod, that you could brew a beer lke that outa cauliflowers?

  Had a great head on it, said Cliff. I thought we were going to be in a bit of trouble there, before you played, said Asphalt, shaking the beetles out of another mattress. I dont know how you got them dancing like that.

  Yes, said Buddy. And we dint even get paid, murmured Glod. He slumped back. Shortly there were snores, given a slightly metallic edge by the reverberation in his helmet. When the others were asleep Buddy put the guitar down on the bed, quietly opened the door and crept downstairs and into the night. It would have been nice if there had been a full moon. Or even a crescent. A full moon would have been better. But there was just a half-moon, which never appears in romantic or occult paintings despite the fact that it is indeed the most magical phase. There was a smell of stale beer, dying cabbages, barbecue embers and insufficient sanitation. He leaned against Seths livery stable. It shifted slightly. It was fine when he was on stage or, as it had been tonight, on an old barn door set on a few bricks. Everything was in bright colours. He could feel white-hot images arcing across his mind. His body felt as though it were on fire but also, and this was the important bit, as if it was meant to be on fire. He felt alive. And then, afterwards, he felt dead. There was still colour in the world. He could recognize it as colour, but it seemed to be wearing Cliffs smoked glasses. Sounds came as if through cotton wool. Apparently the barbecue had been good, he had Glods word for that; but to Buddy it had been texture and not much else. A shadow moved across the space between two buildings . . . On the other hand, he was the best. He knew it, not as some matter of pride or arrogance, but simply as a matter of fact. He could feel the music flowing out of him and into the audience . . . This one, sir? whispered a shadow beside the livery stable, as Buddy wandered along the moonlit street. Yes. This one first and then into the tavern for the other two. Even the big troll. Theres a spot on the back of the neck.

  But not Dibbler, Sir?

  Strangely, no. Hes not here.

  Shame. I bought a meat pie off him once.

  Its an attractive suggestion, but no-ones paying us for Dibbler. The Assassins drew their knives, the blades blackened to avoid the tell-tale shine. I could give you twopence, sir, if thatd help.

 
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