'Bark, bark,' said Gaspode. Ginger stared at him. Victor could almost read her thoughts: he said Bark, bark. And he's a dog, and that's the kind of noise dogs make, isn't it?
'I'm a cat person, myself,' she said, vaguely.
A low-level voice said: 'Yeah? Yeah? Wash in your own spit, do you?'
'What was that?'
Victor backed away, waving his hands frantically. 'Don't look at me!' he said. 'I didn't say it!'
'Oh? I suppose it was the dog, was it?' she demanded.
'Who, me?' said Gaspode.
Ginger froze. Her eyes swivelled around and down, to where Gaspode was icily scratching an ear.
'Woof?' he said.
'That dog spoke-' Ginger began, pointing a shaking finger at him.
'I know,' said Victor. 'That means he likes you.' He looked past her. Another light was coming up the hill.
'Did you bring someone with you?' he said.
'Me?' Ginger turned round.
Now the light was accompanied by the cracking of dry twigs, and Dibbler stepped out of the dusk with Detritus trailing behind like a particularly scary shadow.
'Ah-ha!' he said. 'The lovebirds surprised, eh?'
Victor gaped at him. 'The what?' he said.
'The what?' said Ginger.
'Been looking all over for you two,' said Dibbler. 'Someone said he'd seen you come up here. Very romantic. Could do something with that. Look good on the posters. Right.' He draped his arms around them. 'Come on,' he said.
'What for?' said Victor.
'We're shooting first thing in the morning,' said Dibbler.
'But Mr Silverfish said I wasn't going to work in this town again-' Victor began.
Dibbler opened his mouth, and hesitated just for a moment. 'Ah. Yes. But I'm going to give you another chance,' he said, speaking quite slowly for once. 'Yeah. A chance. Like, you're young people. Headstrong. Young once myself. Dibbler, I thought, even if it means cutting your own throat, give 'em a chance. Lower wages, of course. A dollar a day, how about that?'
Victor saw the look of sudden hope on Ginger's face.
He opened his mouth.
'Fifteen dollars,' said a voice. It wasn't his.
He shut his mouth.
'What?' said Dibbler.
Victor opened his mouth.
'Fifteen dollars. Renegot'ble after a week. Fifteen dollars or nuffin'.'
Victor shut his mouth, his eyes rolling.
Dibbler waved a finger under his nose, and then hesitated.
'I like it!' he said eventually. 'Tough bargainer! OK. Three dollars.'
'Five's my last offer, kid. There's thousands of people down there who'd jump at it, right?'
'Name two, Mr Dibbler.'
Dibbler glanced at Detritus, who was lost in a reverie concerning Ruby, and then stared at Ginger.
'OK,' he said. 'Ten. Because I like you. But it's cutting my own throat.'
Throat held out a hand. Victor stared at his own as if he was seeing it for the first time, and then shook.
'And now let's get back down,' said Dibbler. 'Lot to organize.'
He strode off through the trees. Victor and Ginger followed meekly behind him, in a state of shock.
'Are you crazy?' Ginger hissed. 'Holding out like that! We could have lost our chance!'
'I didn't say anything! I thought it was you!' said Victor.
'It was you!' said Ginger.
Their eyes met.
They looked down.
'Bark, bark,' said Gaspode the Wonder Dog.
Dibbler turned round.
'What's that noise?' he said.
'Oh, it's - it's just this dog we found,' said Victor hurriedly. 'He's called Gaspode. After the famous Gaspode, you know.'
'He does tricks,' said Ginger, malevolently.
'A performing dog?' Dibbler reached down and patted Gaspode's bullet head.
'You'd be amazed, the things he can do,' said Victor.
'Amazed,' echoed Ginger.
'Ugly devil, though,' said Dibbler. He gave Gaspode a long, slow stare, which was like challenging a centipede to an arse-kicking contest. Gaspode could outstare a mirror.
Dibbler seemed to be turning an idea over in his mind. 'Mind you . . . bring him along in the morning. People like a good laugh,' said Dibbler.
'Oh, he's a laugh all right,' said Victor. 'A scream.'
As they walked off Victor heard a quiet voice behind him say, 'I'll get you for that. Anyway, you owe me a dollar.'
'Agent's fee,' said Gaspode the Wonder Dog.
Over Holy Wood, the stars were out. They were huge balls of hydrogen heated to millions of degrees, so hot they could not even burn. Many of them would swell enormously before they died, and then shrink to tiny, resentful dwarfs remembered only by sentimental astronomers. In the meantime, they glowed because of metamorphoses beyond the reach of alchemists, and turned mere boring elements into pure light.
Over Ankh-Morpork, it just rained.
The senior wizards crowded around the elephant vase. It had been put back in the corridor on Ridcully's strict orders.
'I remember Riktor,' said the Dean. 'Skinny man. Bit of a one-track mind. But clever.'
'Heh, heh. I remember his mouse counter,' said Windle Poons, from his ancient wheelchair. 'Used to count mice.'
'The pot itself is quite-' the Bursar began, and then said, 'What d'you mean, count mice? They were fed into it on a little belt or something?'
'Oh, no. You just wound it up, y'see, and it sat there whirring away, counting all the mice in the building, mm, and these little wheels with numbers on them came up.' 'Why?'
'Mm? I s'pose he just wanted to count mice.'
The Bursar shrugged. 'This pot', he said, peering closely, 'is actually quite an old Ming vase.'
He waited expectantly.
'Why's it called Ming?' said the Archchancellor, on cue.
The Bursar tapped the pot. It went ming.
'And they spit lead balls at people, do they?' said Ridcully.
'No, Master. He just used it to put the . . . the machinery in. Whatever it is. Whatever it's doing.'
. . .whumm . . .
'Hold on. It wobbled,' said the Dean .
. . .whumm . . . whumm . . .
The wizards stared at one another in sudden panic . . .
'What's happening? What's happening?' said Windle Poons. 'Why won't anyone, mm, tell me what's happening?'
. . . whumm . . . whumm . . .
'Run!' suggested the Dean.
'Which way?' quavered the Bursar.
. . . whummWHUMM . . .
'I'm an old man and I demand someone tell me what's-'
'Duck!' shouted the Archchancellor.
A splinter of stone was knocked off the pillar behind him.
He raised his head. 'Bigods, that was a damn lucky es-'
The second pellet knocked the tip off his hat.
The wizards lay trembling on the flagstones for several minutes. After a while the Dean's muffled voice, 'Was that all, do you think?'
The Archchancellor raised his head. His face, always red, was now incandescent.
'That's what I call shootin'!'
Victor turned over.
'Wzstf,' he said.
'It's six aye-emm, rise and shine, Mr Dibbler says,' said Detritus, grasping the bedclothes in one hand and dragging them on to the floor.
'Six o'clock? That's night-time!' groaned Victor.
'It's going to be a long day, Mr Dibbler says,' said the troll. 'Mr Dibbler says you got to be on set by half past six. This is goin' to happen.'
Victor pulled on his trousers.
'I suppose I get to eat breakfast?' he said sarcastically. 'Mr Dibbler is havin' food laid on, Mr Dibbler says,' said Detritus. There was a wheezing noise from under the bed. Gaspode emerged, in a cloud of old-rugness, and had an early morning scratch.
'Wha-' he began, and then saw the troll. 'Bark, bark,' he corrected himself.
'Oh. A little dog. I like little dogs,' said Detritus.
'Raw,' the troll added. But he couldn't get the right amount of statutory nastiness into his voice. Visions of Ruby in her feather boa and three acres of red velvet kept undulating across his mind.
Gaspode scratched his ear vigorously.
'Woof,' he said quietly. 'In tones of low menace,' he added, after Detritus had gone.
The slope of the hill was already alive with people when Victor arrived. A couple of tents had been erected. Someone was holding a camel. Several cages of demons gibbered in the shade of a thorn tree.
In the middle of all this were Dibbler and Silverfish, arguing. Dibbler had his arm around Silverfish's shoulder.
'A dead giveaway, is that,' said a voice from the level of Victor's knees. 'It means some poor bugger is about to be taken to the cleaners.'
'It'll be a step up for you, Tom!' Dibbler was saying. 'I mean, how many people in Holy Wood can call themselves Vice-President in Charge of Executive Affairs?'
'Yes, but it's my company!' Silverfish wailed.
'Right! Right!' said Dibbler. 'That's what a name like Vice-President of Executive Affairs means.'
'Have I ever lied to you?'
Silverfish's brow furrowed. 'Well,' he said, 'yesterday you said-'
'I mean metaphorically,' said Dibbler quickly.
'Oh. Well. Metaphorically? I suppose not-'
'There you are, then. Now, where's that artist?' Dibbler spun around, giving the impression that Silverfish had just been switched off.
A man scurried up with a folder under his arm.
'Yessir, Mr Dibbler?'
Throat pulled a scrap of paper out of his pocket.
'I want the posters ready by tonight, understand?' he warned. 'Here. This is the name of the click.'
'Shadowe of the Dessert,' the artist read. His brow furrowed. He had been educated beyond the needs of Holy Wood. 'It's about food?' he said.
But Dibbler wasn't listening. He was advancing on Victor.
'Victor!' he said. 'Baby!'
'It's got him,' said Gaspode quietly. 'Got him worse than anyone, I reckon.'
'What has? How can you tell?' Victor hissed.
'Partly a'cos of subtle signs what you don't seem to be abler recognize,' said Gaspode, 'and partly because he's actin' like a complete twerp, really.'
'Great to see you!' Dibbler enthused, his eyes glowing manically.
He put his arm round Victor's shoulder and half walked, half dragged him towards the tents.
'This is going to be a great picture!' he said.
'Oh, good,' said Victor weakly.
'You play this bandit chieftain,' said Dibbler, 'only a nice guy, too, kind to women and so forth, and you raid this village and you carry off this slave girl only when you look into her eyes, see, you fall for her, and then there's this raid and hundreds of men on elephants come charging-'
'Camels,' said a skinny youth behind Dibbler. 'It's camels.'
'I ordered elephants!'
'You got camels.'
'Camels, elephants,' said Dibbler dismissively. 'We're talking exotic here, OK? And-'
'And we've only got one,' said the youth.
'Camel. We could only find one camel,' said the youth.
'But I've got dozens of guys with bedsheets on their heads waiting for camels!' shouted Dibbler, waving his hands in the air. 'Lots of camels, right?'
'We only got one camel 'cos there's only one camel in Holy Wood and that's only 'cos a guy from Klatch rode all the way here on it,' said the youth.
'You should have sent away for more!' snapped Dibbler.
'Mr Silverfish said I wasn't to.'
'Maybe if it moves around a lot it'll look like more than one camel,' said the youth optimistically.
'Why not ride the camel past the picture box, and then get the handleman to stop the demons, and lead it back and put a different rider on it, then start up the box again and ride it past again?' said Victor. 'Would that work?'
Dibbler looked at him open-mouthed.
'What did I tell you?' he said, to the sky in general. 'The lad is a genius! That way we can get a hundred camels for the price of one, right?'