'I don't want paying, Mr Dibbler.'
'You don't want paying?'
'No, Mr Dibbler.'
'But you want a job when you get back, I suppose?' said Dibbler sarcastically.
Gaspode tensed. Victor had taken a lot of coaching.
'Well, I hope so, Mr Dibbler. But I was thinking of going to see what Untied Alchemists had to offer.'
There was a sound exactly like the sound of a chairback striking the wall. Gaspode grinned evilly.
Another bag of money was dropped in front of Soll.
'They really look as if they're making progress with soundies, Mr Dibbler,' said Victor meekly.
'But they're amateurs! And crooks!'
Gaspode frowned. He hadn't been able to coach Victor past this stage.
'Well, that's a relief, Mr Dibbler.'
'Well, it'd be dreadful if they were crooks and professional.'
Gaspode nodded. Nice one. Nice one.
There was the sound of footsteps hurrying around a desk. When Dibbler spoke next, you could have sunk a well in his voice and sold it at ten dollars a barrel.
'Victor! Vic! Haven't I been like an uncle to you?'
Well, yes, thought Gaspode. He's like an uncle to most people here. That's because they're his nephews.
He stopped listening, partly because Victor was going to get his day off and was very likely going to get paid for it as well, but mainly because another dog had been led into the room.
It was huge and glossy. Its coat shone like honey.
Gaspode recognized it as pure-bred Ramtop hunting dog. When it sat down beside him, it was as if a beautifully sleek racing yacht had slipped into a berth alongside a coal barge.
He heard Soll say, 'So that is Uncle's latest idea, is it? What's it called?'
'Laddie,' said the handler.
'How much was it?'
'For a dog? We're in the wrong business.'
'It can do all kinds of tricks, the breeder said. Bright as a button, he said. Just what Mr Dibbler is looking for.'
'Well, tie it up there. And if that other mutt starts a fight, kick it out.'
Gaspode gave Soll a long, thoughtful scrutiny. Then, when the attention was no longer on them, he sidled closer to the newcomer, looked it up and down, and spoke quietly out of the corner of his mouth.
'What you here for?' he said.
The dog gave him a look of handsome incomprehension.
'I mean, do you b'long to someone or what?' said Gaspode.
The dog whined softly.
Gaspode tried Basic Canine, which is a combination of whines and sniffs.
'Hallo?' he ventured. 'Anyone in there?'
The dog's tail thumped uncertainly.
'The grub here's ruddy awful,' said Gaspode.
The dog raised its highly-bred muzzle.
'What dis place?' it said.
'This is Holy Wood,' said Gaspode conversationally. 'I'm Gaspode. Named after the famous Gaspode, you know. Anythin' you want to know, you just-'
'All dese two-legs here. Dur . . . What dis place?'
At that moment Dibbler's door opened. Victor emerged, coughing, at one end of a cigar.
'Great, great,' said Dibbler, following him out. 'Knew we could sort it out. Don't waste it, boy, don't waste it. They cost a dollar a box. Oh, I see you brought your little doggie.'
'Woof,' said Gaspode, irritably.
The other dog gave a short sharp bark and sat up with obedient alertness radiating from every hair.
'Ah,' said Dibbler, 'and I see we've got our wonder dog.'
Gaspode's apology for a tail twitched once or twice.
Then the truth dawned.
He glared at the larger dog, opened his mouth to speak, caught himself just in time, and managed to turn it into a 'Bark?'
'I got the idea the other night, when I saw your dog,' said Dibbler. 'I thought, people like animals. Me, I like dogs. Good image, the dog. Saving lives, Man's best friend, that kind of stuff.'
Victor looked at Gaspode's furious expression.
'Gaspode's quite bright,' he said.
'Oh, I expect you think he is,' said Dibbler. 'But you've just got to look at the two of them. On the one hand there's this bright, alert, handsome animal, and on the other there's this dust ball with a hangover. I mean, no contest, am I right?'
The wonder dog gave a brisk yap.
'What dis place? Good boy Laddie!'
Gaspode rolled his eyes.
'See what I mean?' said Dibbler. 'Give him the right name, a bit, a training, and a star is born.' He slapped Victor on the back again. 'Nice to see you, nice to see you, drop in again any time, only not too frequently, let's have lunch sometime, now get out, Soll!'
Victor was suddenly alone, apart from the dogs and the room full of people. He took the cigar out of his mouth, spat on the glowing end, and carefully hid it behind a potted plant.
'A star is whelped,' said a small, withering voice from below.
'What he say? Where dis place?'
'Don't look at me,' said Victor. 'Nothing to do with me.'
'Will you just look at it? I mean, are we talking Thicko City here or what?' sneered Gaspode.
'Good boy Laddie!'
'Come on,' said Victor. 'I'm supposed to be on set in five minutes.'
Gaspode trailed after him, muttering under his horrible breath. Victor caught the occasional 'old rug' and 'Man's best friend' and 'bloody wonder bloody dog'. Finally, he couldn't stand it any longer.
'You're just jealous,' he said.
'What, of an overgrown puppy with a single-figure IQ?' sneered Gaspode.
'And a glossy coat, cold nose and probably a pedigree as long as your ar - as my arm,' said Victor.
'Pedigree? Pedigree? What's a pedigree? It's just breedin'. I had a father too, you know. And two grandads. And four great grandads. And many of 'em were the same dog, even. So don't you tell me from no pedigree,' said Gaspode.
He paused to cock a leg against one of the supports of the new 'Home of Century of the Fruitbat Moving Pictures' sign.
That was something else that had puzzled Thomas Silverfish. He'd come in this morning, and the handpainted sign saying 'Interesting and Instructive Films' had gone and had been replaced by this huge billboard. He was sitting back in the office with his head in his hands, trying to convince himself that it had been his idea.
'I'm the one Holy Wood called,' Gaspode muttered, in a self-pitying voice. 'I came all the way here, and then they chose that great hairy thing. Probably it'll work for a plate of meat a day, too.'
'Well, look, maybe you weren't called to Holy Wood to be a wonder dog,' said Victor. 'Maybe it's got something else in mind for you.'
This is ridiculous, he thought. Why are we talking about it like this? A place hasn't got a mind. It can't call people to it . . . well, unless you count things like homesickness. But you can't be homesick for a place you've never been to before, it stands to reason. The last time people were here must have been thousands of years ago.
Gaspode sniffed at a wall.
'Did you tell Dibbler everything I told you?' he said.
'Yes. He was very upset when I mentioned about going to Untied Alchemists.'
'An' you told him what I said about a verbal contract not being worth the paper it's printed on?'
'Yes. He said he didn't understand what I meant. But he gave me a cigar. And he said he'd pay for me and Ginger to go to AnkhMorpork soon. He said he's got a really big picture planned.'
'What is it?' said Gaspode suspiciously.
'He didn't say.'
'Listen, lad,' said Gaspode, 'Dibbler's making a fortune. I counted it. There were five thousand, two hundred and seventy-three dollars and fifty-two pence on Son's desk. And you earned it. Well, you and Ginger did.'
'Now, there's some new words I want you to learn,' said Gaspode. 'Think you can?'
'I hope so.'
' “Per-cent-age of the gross” ', said Gaspode. 'There. Think you can remember it?'
' “Per-cent-age of the gross”,' said Victor.
'What does it mean?'
'Don't you worry about that,' said Gaspode. 'You just have to say it's what you want, OK. When the time's right.'
'When will the time be right, then?' said Victor.
Gaspode grinned nastily. 'Oh, I reckon when Dibbler's just got a mouthful of food'd be favourite.'
Holy Wood Hill bustled like an ant heap. On the seaward side Fir Wood Studios were making The Third Gnome. Microlithic Pictures, which was run almost entirely by the dwarfs, was hard at work on Golde Diggers of 1457, which was going to be followed by The Golde Rushe. Floating Bladder Pictures was hard at work with Turkey Legs. And Borgle's was packed out.
'I don't know what it's called, but we're doing one about going to see a wizard. Something about following a yellow sick toad,' a man in one half of a lion suit explained to a companion in the queue.
'No wizards in Holy Wood, I thought.'
'Oh, this one's all right. He's not very good at the wizarding.'
'So what's new?'
Sound! That was the problem. Alchemists toiled in sheds all over Holy Wood, screaming at parrots, pleading with mynah birds, constructing intricate bottles to trap sound and bounce it around harmlessly until it was time for it to be let out. To the sporadic boom of octo-cellulose exploding was added the occasional sob of exhaustion or scream of agony as an enraged parrot mistook a careless thumb for a nut.
The parrots weren't the success they'd hoped for. It was true that they could remember what they heard and repeat it after a fashion, but there was no way to turn them off and they were in the habit of ad-libbing other sounds they'd heard or, Dibbler suspected, had been taught by mischievous handlemen. Thus, brief snatches of romantic dialogue would be punctuated with cries of 'Waaaarrrk! Showusyerknickers!' and Dibbler said he had no intention of making that kind of picture, at least at the moment.
Sound! Whoever got sound first would rule Holy Wood, they said. People were flocking to the clicks now, but people were fickle. Colour was different. Colour was just a matter of breeding demons who could paint fast enough. It was sound that meant something new.
In the meantime, there were stop-gap measures. The dwarfs' studio had shunned the general practice of putting the dialogue on cards between scenes and had invented sub-titles, which worked fine provided the performers remembered not to step too far forward and knock over the letters.
But if sound was missing, then the screen had to be filled from side to side with a feast for the eyes. The sound of hammering was always Holy Wood's background noise, but it redoubled now . . .
The cities of the world were being built in Holy Wood.
Untied Alchemists started it, with a one-tenth-size wood and canvas replica of the Great Pyramid of Tsort. Soon the backlots sprouted whole streets in Ankh-Morpork, palaces from Pseudopolis, castles from the Hublands. In some cases, the streets were painted on the back of the palaces, so that princes and peasants were separated by one thickness of painted sacking.
Victor spent the rest of the morning working on a one-reeler. Ginger hardly said a word to him, even after the obligatory kiss when he rescued her from whatever it was Morry was supposed to be today. Whatever magic Holy Wood worked on them it wasn't doing it today. He was glad to get away.
Afterwards he wandered across the backlot to watch them putting Laddie the Wonder Dog through his paces.
There was no doubt, as the graceful shape streaked like an arrow over obstacles and grabbed a trainer by a well-padded arm, that here was a dog almost designed by Nature for moving pictures. He even barked photogenically.
'An' do you know what he's sayin'?' said a disgruntled voice beside Victor. It was Gaspode, a picture of bowlegged misery.