Soul music, p.33
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       Soul Music, p.33

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 33

 

  How do you kill a leopard? said Noddy. Hey, heres an idea, said Crash, gloomily. We let it choke to death on Scum. The raven inspected the hallway clock with the practised eye of one who knows the value of good props. As Susan had noted, it was not so much small as dimensionally displaced; it looked small, but in the same way that something very big a long way away looks small - that is to say, the mind keeps reminding the eyes that they are wrong. But this was up close as well. It was made of some dark, age-blackened wood. There was a pendulum, which oscillated slowly. The clock had no hands. Impressive, said the raven. That scythe blade on the pendulum. Nice touch. Very Gothic. No-one could look at that clock and not think- SQUEAK! All right, all right, Im coming. The raven fluttered across to an ornamental door-frame. There was a skull-and-bones motif on it. Excellent taste, it said. SQUEAK. SQUEAK. Well, anyone can do plumbing, I expect, said the raven. Interesting fact. Did you know the lavatory was actually named after Sir Charles Lavatory? Not many people- SQUEAK. The Death of Rats pushed at the big door leading to the kitchen. It swung open with a creak but, here again, there was something not quite right. A listener had the sense that the creak had been added by someone who, feeling that a door like that with a door surround like that ought to creak, had inserted one. Albert was washing up at the stone sink and staring at nothing. Oh, he said, turning, its you. Whats this thing?

  Im a raven, said the raven, nervously. Incidentally, one of the most intelligent birds. Most people would say its the mynah bird, but- SQUEAK! The raven ruffled its feathers. Im here as an interpreter, it said. Has he found him? said Albert. The Death of Rats squeaked at length. Looked everywhere. No sign, said the raven. Then he dont want to be found, said Albert. He smeared the grease off a plate with a skull pattern on it. I dont like that. SQUEAK. The rat says thats not the worst thing, said the raven. The rat says you ought to know what the granddaughter has been doing . . . The rat squeaked. The raven talked. The plate shattered on the sink.

  I knew it! Albert shouted. Saving him! She hasnt got the faintest idea! Right! Im going to sort this out. The Master thinks he can slope off, eh? Not from old Albert! You two wait here! There were already posters up in Pseudopolis. News travels fast, especially when C. M. O. T. Dibbler is paying for the horses . . . Hello, Pseudopolis! They had to call out the city Watch. They had to organize a bucket chain from the river. Asphalt had to stand outside Buddys dressing room with a club. With a nail in it. Albert, in front of a scrap of mirror in his bedroom, brushed his hair furiously. It was white. At least, long ago it was white. Now it was the colour of a tobacco addicts index finger. Its my duty, thats what it is, he muttered. Dont know where hed be without me. Maybe he does remember the future, but he always gets it wrong! Oh, he can go on worrying about the eternal verities, but who has to sort it out when alls said and done . . . Muggins, thats who. He glared at himself in the mirror. Right! he said. There was a battered shoe-box under the bed. Albert pulled it out very, very carefully and took the top off. It was half full of cotton wool; nestling in the wool, like a rare egg, was a lifetimer. Engraved on it was the name: Alberto Malich. The sand inside was frozen, immobile, in mid-pour. There wasnt much left in the top bulb. No time passed, here. It was part of the Arrangement. He worked for Death, and time didnt pass, except when he went into the World. There was a scrap of paper by the glass. The figures 91 had been written at the top, but lower numbers trailed down the page after it. 73 . . . 68 . . . 37 Nineteen! He must have been daft. Hed let his life leak away by hours and minutes, and there had been a lot more of them lately. Thered been all that business with the plumber, of course. And shopping. The Master didnt like to go shopping. It was hard to get served. And Albert had taken a few holidays, because it was nice to see the sun, any sun, and feel wind and rain; the Master did his best, but he could never get them right. And decent vegetables, he couldnt do them properly either. They never tasted grown. Nineteen days left in the world. But more than enough. Albert slipped the lifetimer into his pocket, put on an overcoat, and stamped back down the stairs. You, he said, pointing to the Death of Rats, you cant sense a trace of him? There must be something. Concentrate. SQUEAK. What did he say?

  He said all he can remember is something about sand. `Sand, said Albert. All right. Good start. We search all the sand. SQUEAK? Wherever the Master is, hell make an impression. Cliff awoke to a swish-swish sound. The shape of Glod was outlined in the light of dawn, wielding a brush. Whatre you doing, dwarf?

  I got Asphalt to get some paint, said Glod. These rooms are a disgrace. Cliff raised himself on his elbows and looked around. What do you call the colour on the door?

  Eau-de-Nil.

  Nice.

  Thank you, said Glod. The curtains are good, too. The door creaked open. Asphalt came in, with a tray, and kicked the door shut behind him. Oh, sorry, he said. Ill paint over the mark, said Glod. Asphalt put the tray down, trembling with excitement. `Everyones talking about you guys! he said. And theyre saying it was about time they built a new theatre anyway. Ive got you eggs and bacon, eggs and rat, eggs and coke, and . . . and . . . what was it . . . oh, yes. The Captain of the Watch says if youre still in the city at sunrise he will personally have you buried alive. Ive got the cart all ready by the back door. Young women have been writing things on it in lipstick. Nice curtains, by the way. All three of them looked at Buddy. He hasnt moved, said Glod. Flopped down right after the show and out like a light.

  He was certainly leaping around last night, said Cliff. Buddy continued to snore gently. When we get back, said Glod, we ought to have a nice holiday somewhere.

  Days right, said Cliff. If we get out of dis alive, Im going to put my rock kit on my back and take a long walk, and the first time someone says to me, “What are dem things on your back?” days where Im gonna settle down. Asphalt peered down into the street. Can you all eat fast? he said. Only theres some men in uniform out there. With shovels. Back in Ankh-Morpork, Mr Clete was astonished. But we hired you! he said. The term is “retained”, not “hired”, said Lord Downey, head of the Assassins Guild. He looked at Clete with an expression of unconcealed distaste. Unfortunately, however, we can no longer entertain your contract.

  Theyre musicians, said Mr Clete. How hard can they be to kill?

  My associates are somewhat reluctant to talk about it, said Lord Downey. They seem to feel that the clients are protected in some way. Obviously, we will return the balance of your fee.

  Protected, muttered Clete, as they stepped thankfully through the archway of the Assassins Guild. Well, I told you what it was like in the Drum when- Satchelmouth began. Thats just superstition, snapped Clete. He glanced up at a wall, where three Festival posters flaunted their primary colours. It was stupid of you to think Assassins would be any good outside the city, muttered Clete. Me? I never-

  Get them more than five miles from a decent tailor and a mirror, and they go all to pieces, Clete added. He stared at the poster. Free, he muttered. Did you put it about that anyone who plays at this Festival is right out of the Guild?

  Yes, sir. I dont think theyre worrying, sir. I mean, some of em have been getting together, sir. See, they say since theres a lot more people want to be musicians than well allow in the Guild then we should-

  Its mob rule! said Clete. Banding together to force unacceptable rules on a defenceless city!

  Trouble is, sir, said Satchelmouth, if theres a lot of them . . . if they think of talking to the palace . . . well, you know the Patrician, sir . . . Clete nodded glumly. Any Guild was powerful just so long as it self-evidently spoke for its constituency. He thought of hundreds of musicians flocking to the palace. Hundreds of

  nonGuild musicians . . . The Patrician was a pragmatist. He never tried to fix things that worked. Things that didnt work, however, got broken. The only glimmer of hope was that theyd all be too busy messing around with music to think about the bigger picture. It had certainly worked for Clete. Then he remembered that the blasted Dibbler man was involved.
Expecting Dibbler not to think about anything concerning money was like expecting rocks not to think about gravity. Hello? Albert? Susan pushed open the kitchen door. The huge room was empty. Albert? She tried upstairs. There was her own room, and there was a corridor of doors that didnt open and possibly never could - the doors and frames had an all-in-one, moulded-together look. Presumably Death had a bedroom, although proverbially Death never slept. Perhaps he just lay in bed reading. She tried the handles until she found one that turned. Death did have a bedroom. Hed got many of the details right. Of course. After all, he saw quite a lot of bedrooms. In the middle of the acres of floor was a large four-poster bed, although when Susan gave it an experimental prod it turned out that the sheets were as solid as rock. There was a full-length mirror, and a wardrobe. She had a look inside, just in case there was a selection of robes, but there was nothing in there except a few old shoes in the bottom. [26] A dressing table held a jug-and-basin set with a motif of skulls and omegas, and a variety of bottles and other items. She picked them up, one by one. After-shave lotion. Pomade. Breath freshener. A pair of silver-backed hairbrushes. It was all rather sad. Death clearly had picked up an idea of what a gentleman should have on his dressing table, without confronting one or two fundamental questions. Eventually she found a smaller, narrower staircase. Albert? There was a door at the top. Albert? Anyone? Its not actually barging in if I call out first, she told herself. She pushed open the door. It was a very small room. Really small. It contained a few sticks of bedroom furniture and a small narrow bed. A small bookcase contained a handful of small uninteresting-looking books. There was a piece of ancient paper on the floor which, when Susan picked it up, turned out to be covered with numbers, all crossed out except the last one, which was: 19. One of the books was Gardening In Difficult Conditions. She went back down to the study. Shed known that there was no-one in the house. There was a dead feeling in the air. There was the same feeling in the gardens. Death could create most things, except for plumbing. But he couldnt create life itself. That had to be added, like yeast in bread. Without it, everything was beautifully neat and tidy and boring, boring, boring. This is what it must have been like, she thought. And then, one day, he adopted my mother. He was curious. She took the path through to the orchard again. And when I was born Mum and Dad were so afraid that I felt at home here they brought me up to be . . . welt . . . a Susan. What kind of name is that for Deaths granddaughter? A girl like that should have better cheekbones, straight hair and a name with Vs and Xs in it. And there, once again, was the thing hed made for her. All by himself. Working it all out

  from first principles . . . A swing. A simple swing. It was already burning hot in the desert between Klatch and Hersheba. The air shimmied, and then there was a pop. Albert appeared on a sand-dune. There was a clay-brick fort on the horizon. The Klatchian Foreign Legion, he muttered, as sand began its inexorable progress into his boots. Albert trudged towards it with the Death of Rats sitting on his shoulder. He knocked on the door, which had a number of arrows in it. After a while a small hatch slid back. What do you want, offendi? said a voice from somewhere behind it. Albert held up a card. Have you seen someone who didnt look like this? he demanded. There was silence. Then lets say: have you seen some mysterious stranger who didnt talk about his past? said Albert. This is the Klatchian Foreign Legion, offendi. People dont talk about their past. They join up to . . . to. . . It dawned on Albert as the pause lengthened that it was up to him to get the conversation going again. Forget?

 
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