Soul Music Page 32

'It's certainly tempting-' The senior Assassin pressed himself against the wall as Buddy's 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 man's 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? Who's 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 we've 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 can't tell you any more. You're not even supposed to see me. I'm not supposed to be here. Neither are you-, 'You're not going to tell me to stop playing again, are you?' said Buddy angrily. 'Because I won't! I'm a musician! If I don't play, what am I then? I might as well be dead! Do you understand? Music is my life!' He took a few steps nearer. 'Why're you following me around? Asphalt said there'd 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. 'I'm doing all right. I'm working, people are listening to me . . . I don't need any more help, all right? I've 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?'

'You'd better ask her,' muttered Buddy. All three of them looked directly at Susan. 'Who?' said Cliff. 'She's 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. 'She's right there! But she's going away now, can't you see?'

'That's right, that's right,' said Glod, taking Buddy's arm. 'She's going away now, and good riddance, so just you come on back-'

'Now she's getting on that horse!'

'Yes, yes, a big black horse-'

'It's white, you idiot!' Hoofprints burned red on the ground for a moment and then faded. 'And it's 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 isn't dere, sure enough.'

'Yes, that's certainly what a horse that's 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 don't 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. I'm 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, it's 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, that's interesting,' said Glod. 'What is?' said Cliff. 'There's 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 shan't 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, we'll 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 it'll 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!'

'You're complaining? It ain't your tooth dat's 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 didn't 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. 'You're sure you're not the Death of Ravens too?' SQUEAK.

'Shape doesn't mean much. Anyway, you've 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 didn't 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. 'What're 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. 'They've 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. 'Can't see any . . . I mean, can't see no demon,' he said. 'That's because there isn't one,' said Dibbler. It was worrying him, too. He'd have been a little bit happier if there'd been a demon or some sort of magic. Something simple and understandable. He didn't like the idea of meddling in science. 'Now then . . . Suck-' he began. 'The Surreptitious Fabric,' said Jimbo. 'What?'

'The Surreptitious Fabric,' Jimbo repeated helpfully. 'It's our new name.'

'Why have you changed it? You haven't been Suck for twentyfour hours.'

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

'How could it be holding you back? You aren't 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 don't have what it takes,' he said. 'What does it take, Mr Dibbler?'

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

'Er . . . this doesn't mean we're 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 if we're 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 you'll 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 it's a bit . . . whiffy . . . 'All right, we can get started on them tonight. And how about those leopardskin trousers, Scum? You know we said leopardskin trousers'd be a great idea.' A look of transcendental worry crossed Scum's face. 'I kind of got some,' he said. 'You either got them or you ain't,' said Crash. 'Yeah, but they're kind of . . .' said Scum. 'Look, I couldn't find a shop that'd 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, 'it's sort of leopardskin trousers and a leopardskin shirt and a leopardskin hat.'

'Scum,' said Crash, his voice low with resigned menace, 'you've bought a leopard, haven't 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.'

'Why'd he get rid of it, then?' Crash demanded. 'It's sort of deaf. Can't hear the lion-tamer, he said.'

'Well, that's no good to us!'

'Don't see why. Your trousers don't 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 shouldn't allow so many people to join.'

'Yes, but it's 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 he'd just walked over someone's grave. 'That one looked a bit sort of thin,' he muttered. The others weren't paying any attention. They were back to the usual argument. `I'm fed up with being Surreptitious Fabric,' said Jimbo. 'It's 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. 'There's bound to be some good name,' said Jimbo. 'I just bet we'll know it's right just as soon as we see it.'

'Oh, yeah. Well, we've got to come up with some name we don't start arguing about after five minutes,' said Crash. 'It's not doing our career any good if people don't 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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