Soul music, p.32
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       Soul Music, p.32

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 32


  Its certainly tempting- The senior Assassin pressed himself against the wall as Buddys footsteps grew louder. He gripped his knife at waist height. No-one who knew anything about knives ever used the famous over-arm stabbing motion so beloved of illustrators. It was amateurish and inefficient. A professional would strike upwards; the way to a mans heart was through his stomach. He drew his hand back and tensed An hourglass, glowing faintly blue, was suddenly thrust in front of his eyes. LORD ROBERT SELACHII? Said a voice by his ear. THIS IS YOUR LIFE. He squinted. There was no mistaking the name engraved on the glass. He could see every little grain of sand, pouring into the past . . . He turned, took one look at the hooded figure, and ran for it. His apprentice was already a hundred yards away, and still accelerating. Sorry? Whos that?

  Susan tucked the hourglass back into her robe and shook out her hair. Buddy appeared. You?

  Yes. Me, said Susan. Buddy took a step nearer. Are you going to fade away again? he said. No. I have actually just saved your life, as a matter of fact. Buddy looked around at the otherwise empty night. From what? Susan bent down and picked up a blackened knife. This? she said. I know weve had this conversation before, but who are you? Not my fairy godmother, are you?

  I think you have to be a lot older, said Susan. She backed away. And probably a lot nicer, too. Look, I cant tell you any more. Youre not even supposed to see me. Im not supposed to be here. Neither are you-, Youre not going to tell me to stop playing again, are you? said Buddy angrily. Because I wont! Im a musician! If I dont play, what am I then? I might as well be dead! Do you understand? Music is my life! He took a few steps nearer. Whyre you following me around? Asphalt said thered be girls like you!

  What on Disc do you mean, “girls like me”? Buddy subsided a bit, but only a little. They follow actors and musicians around, he said, because of, you know, the glamour and everything-

  Glamour? Some smelly cart and a tavern that smells of cabbages? Buddy held up his hands. Listen, he said urgently. Im doing all right. Im working, people are listening to me . . . I dont need any more help, all right? Ive got enough to worry about, so please keep out of my life- There was the sound of running feet and Asphalt appeared, with the other members of the band behind him. The guitar was screaming, said Asphalt. Are you all right?

  Youd better ask her, muttered Buddy. All three of them looked directly at Susan. Who? said Cliff. Shes right in front of you. Glod waved a stubby hand in the air, missing Susan by inches. It was probably dat cabbage, said Cliff to Asphalt. Susan stepped backwards quietly. Shes right there! But shes going away now, cant you see?

  Thats right, thats right, said Glod, taking Buddys arm. Shes going away now, and good riddance, so just you come on back-

  Now shes getting on that horse!

  Yes, yes, a big black horse-

  Its white, you idiot! Hoofprints burned red on the ground for a moment and then faded. And its gone now! The Band With Rocks In stared into the night. Yes, I can see dat, now you mention it, said Cliff. Days a horse dat isnt dere, sure enough.

  Yes, thats certainly what a horse thats gone looks like, said Asphalt carefully. None of you saw her? said Buddy, as they manoeuvred him gently back through the pre- dawn greyness. I heard where musicians, really good musicians, got followed around by these half-naked young women called Muses, said Glod. Like Cantaloupe, said Cliff. We dont call em Muses, said Asphalt, grinning. I told you, when I worked for Bertie the Balladeer and His Troubadour Rascals, we used to get any amount of young women hanging arou-

  Amazing how legends get started, when you come to think about it, said Glod. Just you come along now, my lad.

  She was there, Buddy protested. She was there.

  Cantaloupe? said Asphalt. You sure, Cliff?

  Read it in a book once, said the troll. Cantaloupe. Im pretty sure. Something like that.

  She was there, said Buddy. The raven snored gently on top of his skull, counting dead sheep. The Death of Rats came through the window in an arc, bounced off a dribbly candle, and landed on all fours on the table. The raven opened one eye. Oh, its you- Then a claw was round its leg, and the Death of Rats jumped off the skull and into infinite space. There were more cabbage fields next day, although the landscape did begin to change a bit. Hey, thats interesting, said Glod. What is? said Cliff. Theres a field of beans over there. They watched it until it was out of sight. Nice of the people to give us all this food, though, said Asphalt. We shant be wanting for cabbages, eh?

  Oh, shut up, said Glod. He turned to Buddy, who was sitting with his chin resting on his arms. Cheer up, well be in Pseudopolis in a couple of hours, he said. Good, said Buddy, distantly. Glod climbed back into the front of the cart and pulled Cliff towards him. Notice the way he goes all quiet? he whispered. Yup. Do you think itll be . . . you know . . . done by the time we get back?

  You can get anything done in Ankh-Morpork, said Glod firmly. I must have knocked on every damn door in the Street of Cunning Artificers. Twenty-five dollars!

  Youre complaining? It aint your tooth dats paying for it. They both turned to look at their guitarist. He was staring out across the endless fields. She was there, he muttered. Feathers spiralled towards the ground. You didnt have to go and do that, said the raven, fluttering upright. You could simply ask. SQUEAK. All right, but before would have been better. The raven ruffled its feathers and looked around at the bright landscape under the dark sky. This is the place then, is it? it said. Youre sure youre not the Death of Ravens too? SQUEAK.

  Shape doesnt mean much. Anyway, youve got a pointy snout. What was it you were wanting? The Death of Rats grabbed a wing and pulled. All right, all right! The raven glanced at a garden gnome. It was fishing in an ornamental pond. The fish were skeletal, but this didnt seem to interfere with their enjoyment of life, or whatever it was they were enjoying. It fluttered and hopped along after the rat. Cut-My-Own-Throat Dibbler stood back. Jimbo, Crash, Noddy and Scum looked at him expectantly. Whatre all the boxes for, Mr Dibbler? said Crash. Yeah, said Scum. Dibbler carefully positioned the tenth box on its tripod. You boys seen an iconograph? he said. Oh, yes . . . I mean, yeah, said Jimbo. Theyve got a little demon inside them that paints pictures of things you point it at.

  This is like that, only for sound, said Dibbler. Jimbo squinted past the open lid. Cant see any . . . I mean, cant see no demon, he said. Thats because there isnt one, said Dibbler. It was worrying him, too. Hed have been a little bit happier if thered been a demon or some sort of magic. Something simple and understandable. He didnt like the idea of meddling in science. Now then . . . Suck- he began. The Surreptitious Fabric, said Jimbo. What?

  The Surreptitious Fabric, Jimbo repeated helpfully. Its our new name.

  Why have you changed it? You havent been Suck for twentyfour hours.

  Yeah, but we thought the name was holding us back.

  How could it be holding you back? You arent moving. Dibbler glared at them and shrugged. Anyway, whatever you call yourselves . . . I want you to sing your best song, what am I saying, in front of these boxes. Not yet . . . not yet . . . wait a moment . . . Dibbler retired to the furthest corner of the room and pulled his hat down over his ears. All right, you can start, he said. He stared in blissful deafness at the group for several minutes until a general cessation of movement suggested that whatever they had been perpetrating had been committed. Then he inspected the boxes. The wires were vibrating gently, but there was barely any sound. The Surreptitious Fabric clustered around. Is it working, Mr Dibbler? said Jimbo. Dibbler shook his head. You boys dont have what it takes, he said. What does it take, Mr Dibbler?

  Youve got me there. Youve got something, he said, at the sight of their dejected faces, but not a lot of it, whatever it is.

  Er . . . this doesnt mean were not allowed to play at the Free Festival, does it, Mr Dibbler? said Crash. Maybe, said Dibbler, smiling benevolently. Thanks a lot, Mr Dibbler! The Surreptitious Fabric wandered out into the street. We need to get it together i
f were going to wow them at the Festival, said Crash.

  What, you mean . . . like . . . learn to play? said Jimbo. No! Music With Rocks In just happens. If you go around learning youll never get anywhere, said Crash. No, I mean . . . He looked around. Better clothes, for one thing. Did you see about them leather coats, Noddy?

  Sort of, said Noddy. What do you mean, sort of?

  Sort of leather. I went down the tannery in Phedre Road and they had some leather all right, but its a bit . . . whiffy . . . All right, we can get started on them tonight. And how about those leopardskin trousers, Scum? You know we said leopardskin trousersd be a great idea. A look of transcendental worry crossed Scums face. I kind of got some, he said. You either got them or you aint, said Crash. Yeah, but theyre kind of . . . said Scum. Look, I couldnt find a shop thatd heard of anything like that but, er, you know that circus that was here last week? Only I had a word with the guy in the top hat and, well, it was a kind of a bargain and-

  Scum, said Crash quietly, what have you bought?

  Look at it this way, said Scum with sweating brightness, its sort of leopardskin trousers and a leopardskin shirt and a leopardskin hat.

  Scum, said Crash, his voice low with resigned menace, youve bought a leopard, havent you?

  Sort of leopardy, yes.

  Oh, good grief-

  But sort of a real steal for twenty dollars, said Scum. Nothing important wrong with it, the man said.

  Whyd he get rid of it, then? Crash demanded. Its sort of deaf. Cant hear the lion-tamer, he said.

  Well, thats no good to us!

  Dont see why. Your trousers dont have to listen. SPARE A COPPER, YOUNG SIR? Push off, grandad, said Crash easily. GOOD LUCK TO YOU. Too many beggars around these days, my father says, said Crash, as they pushed past. He says the Beggars Guild ought to do something about it.

  But the beggars all belong to the Guild, said Jimbo. Well, they shouldnt allow so many people to join.

  Yes, but its better than being on the streets. Scum, who out of the whole group had the least amount of cerebral activity to get between him and true observation of the world, was trailing behind. He had an uneasy feeling that hed just walked over someones grave. That one looked a bit sort of thin, he muttered. The others werent paying any attention. They were back to the usual argument. `Im fed up with being Surreptitious Fabric, said Jimbo. Its a silly name.

  Really, really thin, said Scum. He felt in his pocket. Yeah, I liked it best when we were The Whom, said Noddy. But we were only The Whom for half an hour! said Crash. [25] Yesterday. In between bein The Blots and Lead Balloon, remember? Scum located a tenpenny piece and turned back. Theres bound to be some good name, said Jimbo. I just bet well know its right just as soon as we see it.

  Oh, yeah. Well, weve got to come up with some name we dont start arguing about after five minutes, said Crash. Its not doing our career any good if people dont know who we are.

  Mr Dibbler says it definitely is, said Noddy. Yes, but a rolling stone gathers no moss, my father says, said Crash. There you go, old man, said Scum, back down the street. THANK YOU, said the grateful Death. Scum hurried to catch up with the others, who were back on the subject of leopards with hearing difficulties. Where did you put it, Scum? said Crash. Well, you know your sort of bedroom-

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