Soul music, p.35
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       Soul Music, p.35

         Part #16 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Page 35


  Im sure the men with the pointy blades will understand that.

  Maybe dey dont want der hotels redecorated. I said it was a mistake, orange curtains with yellow wallpaper. The cart came to a halt. A rotund man with a tricorn hat and a fur-trimmed cloak scowled uncomfortably at the band. Are you the musicians known as The Band With Rocks In? he said. What seems to be the problem, officer? said Asphalt. I am the mayor of Quirm. According to the laws of Quirm, Music With Rocks In cannot be played in the city. Look, it says so right here . . . He flourished a scroll. Glod caught it. `That ink looks wet to me, he said. Music With Rocks In represents a public nuisance, is proven to be injurious to health and morals and to cause unnatural gyrations of the body; said the man, pulling the scroll back. You mean we cant come into Quirm? said Glod. You can come in if you must, said the mayor. But youre not to play. Buddy stood up on the cart. But weve got to play, he said. The guitar swung around on its strap. He gripped the neck and raised his strumming hand threateningly.

  Glod looked around in desperation. Cliff and Asphalt had put their hands over their ears. Ah! he said. I think what we have here is an occasion for negotiation, yes? He got down from the cart. I expect what your worship hasnt heard of, he said, is the music tax.

  What music tax? said Asphalt and the mayor together. Oh, its the latest thing, said Glod. On account of the popularity of Music With Rocks In. Music tax, fifty pence a ticket. Must have amounted to, oh, two hundred and fifty dollars in Sto Lat, I reckon. More than twice that in AnkhMorpork, of course. Patrician thought it up.

  Really? Sounds like Vetinari right enough, said the mayor. He rubbed his chin. Did you say two hundred and fifty dollars in Sto Lat? Really? And that place is hardly any size. A watchman with a feather in his helmet saluted nervously. Excuse me, your worship, but the note from Sto Lat did say-

  Just a minute, said the mayor testily. Im thinking . . . Cliff leaned down. Dis is bribery, is it? he whispered. This is taxation, said Glod. The watchman saluted again. But really, sir, the guards at-

  Captain, snapped the mayor, still staring thoughtfully at Glod, this is politics! Please!

  As well? said Cliff. And to show goodwill, said Glod, itd be a good idea if we paid the tax before the peformance, dont you think? The mayor looked at them in astonishment, a man not certain he could get his mind around the idea of musicians with money. Your worship, the message said-

  Two hundred and fifty dollars, said Glod. Your worship-

  Now, captain, said the mayor, apparently reaching a decision, we know that folk are a bit odd in Sto Lat. Its only music, after all. I said I thought it was an odd note. I cant see the harm in music. And these young me- people are clearly very successful, he added. This obviously carried a lot of weight with the mayor, as it does with many people. No-one likes a poor thief. Yes, he went on, itd be just like the Lats to try that on us. They think were simple just because we live out here.

  Yes, but the Pseudopo

  Oh, them. Stuck-up bunch. Nothing wrong with a bit of music, is there? Especially, the mayor eyed Glod, when its for the civic good. Let em in, captain. Susan saddled up. She knew the place. Shed even seen it once. Theyd put a new fence along the road now, but it was still dangerous. She knew the time, too. Just before they called it Dead Mans Curve. Hello, Quirm! Buddy struck a chord. And a pose. A faint white glow, like the glitter of cheap sequins, outlined him. Uh-huh-huh! The cheering became the familiar wall of sound. I thought we were going to get killed by people who didnt like us, Glod thought. Now I think its possible to be killed by people who love us . . . He looked around carefully. There were guards around the walls; the captain had been no

  fool. I just hope Asphalt put the horse and cart outside like I asked him . . . He glanced at Buddy, sparkling in the limelight. A couple of encores and then down the back stairs and away, Glod thought. The big leather satchel had been chained to Cliffs leg. Anyone snatching it would find themselves towing one ton of drummer. I dont even know what were going to play, thought Glod. I never do, I just blow and . . . there it is. You cant tell me thats right. Buddy whirled his arm like a discus thrower and a chord sprang away and into the ears of the audience. Glod raised the horn to his lips. The sound that emerged was like burning black velvet in a windowless room. Before the Music With Rocks In spell filled his soul, he thought: Im going to die. Thats part of the music. Im going to die really soon. I can feel it. Every day. Its getting closer . . . He glanced at Buddy again. The boy was scanning the audience, as if he was looking for someone in the screaming throng. They played Theres A Great Deal Of Shaking Happening. They played Give Me That Music With Rocks In. They played Pathway To Paradise (and a hundred people in the audience swore to buy a guitar in the morning). They played with heart and especially with soul. They got out after the ninth encore. The crowd was still stamping its feet for more as they climbed through the privy window and dropped into the alley. Asphalt emptied a sack into the leather satchel. Another seven hundred dollars! he said, helping them onto the cart. Right, and we get ten dollars each, said Glod. You tell Mr Dibbler, said Asphalt, as the horses hoofs clattered towards the gates. I will.

  It doesnt matter, said Buddy. Sometimes you do it for the money, but sometimes you do it for the show.

  Hah! Thatll be the day. Glod fumbled under the seat. Asphalt had stashed two crates of beer there. Theres the Festival tomorrow, lads, rumbled Cliff. The gate arch passed above them. They could still hear the stamping from here. After that well have a new contract, said the dwarf. With lots of zeroes in it.

  We got zeroes now, said Cliff. Yeah, but they aint got many numbers in front of them. Eh, Buddy? They looked around. Buddy was asleep, the guitar clutched to his chest. Out like a candle, said Glod. He turned back again. The road stretched ahead of them, pale in the starlight. You said you just wanted to work, said Cliff. You said you didnt want to be famous. Howd you like it, having to worry about all that gold, and having girls throw their chain mail at you?

  Id just have to put up with it.

  Id like a quarry, said the troll. Yeah?

  Yeah. Heart-shaped. A dark, stormy night. A coach, horses gone, plunged through the rickety, useless fence and dropped, tumbling, into the gorge below. It didnt even strike an outcrop of rock before it hit the dried river-bed far below and erupted into fragments. Then the oil from the coach-lamps ignited and there was a second explosion, out of which rolled - because there are certain conventions, even in tragedy - a burning wheel.

  What was strange to Susan was that she felt nothing. She could think sad thoughts, because in the circumstances they had to be sad. She knew who was in the coach. But it had already happened. There was nothing she could do to stop it, because if shed stopped it, it wouldnt have happened. And she was here watching it happen. So she hadnt. So it had. She felt the logic of the situation dropping into place like a series of huge leaden slabs. Perhaps there was somewhere where it hadnt happened. Perhaps the coach had skidded the other way, perhaps there had been a convenient rock, perhaps it hadnt come this way at all, perhaps the coachman had remembered about the sudden curve. But those possibilities could only exist if there was this one. This wasnt her knowledge. It flowed in from a mind far, far older. Sometimes the only thing you could do for people was to be there. She rode Binky into the shadows by the cliff road, and waited. After a minute or two there was a clattering of stones and a horse and rider came up an almost vertical path from the river-bed. Binkys nostrils flared. Parapsychology has no word for the uneasy feeling you have when youre in the presence of yourself. [27] Susan watched Death dismount and stand looking down at the river-bed, leaning on his scythe. She thought: but he could have done something. Couldnt he? The figure straightened, but did not turn around. YES. I COULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING. How . . . how did you know I was here . . . ? Death waved a hand irritably. I REMEMBER YOU. AND NOW UNDERSTAND THIS: YOUR PARENTS KNEW THINGS MUST HAPPEN. EVERYTHING MUST HAPPEN SOMEWHERE. DO YOU NOT THINK I SPOKE TO THEM OF THIS? BUT
I CANNOT GIVE LIFE. I CAN ONLY GRANT . . . EXTENSION. CHANGELESSNESS. ONLY HUMANS CAN GIVE LIFE. AND THEY WANTED TO BE HUMAN, NOT IMMORTAL. IF IT HELPS YOU, THEY DIED INSTANTLY. INSTANTLY. Ive got to ask, Susan thought. Ive got to say it. Or Im not human. I could go back and save them . . . ? Only the faintest tremor suggested that the statement was a question. SAVE? FOR WHAT? A LIFE THAT HAS RUN OUT? SOME THINGS END. I KNOW THIS. SOMETIMES I HAVE THOUGHT OTHERWISE. BUT . . . WITHOUT DUTY, WHAT AM I? THERE HAS TO BE A LAW. He climbed into the saddle and, still without turning to face her, spurred Binky out and over the gorge. There was a haystack behind a livery stable in Phedre Road. It bulged for a moment, and there was a muffled swearing. A fraction of a second later there was a bout of coughing and another, much better, swear- word inside a grain silo down near the cattle market. Very shortly after that some rotten floorboards in an old feed store in Short Street exploded upwards, followed by a swear-word that bounced off a flour sack. Idiot rodent! bellowed Albert, fingering grain out of his ear. SQUEAK. I should think so! What size do you think I am? Albert brushed hay and flour off his coat and walked over to the window. Ah, he said, let us repair to the Mended Drum, then. In Alberts pocket, sand resumed its interrupted journey from future to past.

  Hibiscus Dunelm had decided to close up for an hour. It was a simple process. First he and his staff collected any unbroken mugs and glasses. This didnt take long. Then there was a desultory search for any weapons with a high resale value, and a quick search of any pockets whose owners were unable to object on account of being drunk, dead or both. Then the furniture was moved aside and everything else was swept out of the back door and into the broad brown bosom of the river Ankh, where it piled up and, by degrees, sank. Finally, Hibiscus locked and bolted the big front door . . . It wouldnt shut. He looked down. A boot was wedged in it. Were shut, he said. No, you aint. The door ground back, and Albert was inside. Have you seen this person? he demanded, thrusting a pasteboard oblong in front of Dunelms eyes. This was a gross breach of etiquette. Dunelm wasnt in the kind of job where you survived if you told people youd seen people. Dunelm could serve drinks all night without seeing anyone. Never seen him before in my life, he said, automatically, without even looking at the card. Youve got to help me, said Albert, otherwise something dreadful will happen.

  Push off! Albert kicked the door shut behind him. Just dont say I didnt warn you, he said. On his shoulder the Death of Rats sniffed the air suspiciously. A moment later Hibiscus was having his chin pressed firmly into the boards of one of his tables. Now, I know hed come in here, said Albert, who wasnt even breathing heavily, because everyone does, sooner or later. Have another look.

  Thats a Caroc card, said Hibiscus indistinctly. Thats Death!

  Thats right. Hes the one on the white horse. You cant miss him. Only he wouldnt look like that in here, I expect.

  Let me get this straight, said the landlord, trying desperately to wriggle out of the iron grip. You want me to tell you if Ive seen someone who doesnt look like that?

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