'No. What?' said Victor.
“'Me Laddie. Me good boy. Good boy Laddie,”' said Gaspode. 'Makes you want to throw up, doesn't it?'
'Yes, but could you leap a six-foot hurdle?' said Victor.
'That's intelligent, is it?' said Gaspode. 'I always walk around - what's that they're doing now?'
'Giving him his lunch, I think.'
'They call that lunch, do they?'
Victor watched Gaspode stroll over and peer into the dog's bowl. Laddie gave him a sideways look. Gaspode barked quietly. Laddie whined. Gaspode barked again.
There was a lengthy exchange of yaps.
Then Gaspode strolled back, and sat down beside Victor.
'Watch this,' he said.
Laddie took the food bowl in his mouth, and turned it upside down.
'Disgustin' stuff,' said Gaspode. 'All tubes and innards. I wouldn't give it to a dog, and I am one.'
'You made him tip out his own dinner?' said Victor, horrified.
'Very obedient lad, I thought,' said Gaspode smugly.
'What a nasty thing to do!'
'Oh, no. I give 'im some advice, too.'
Laddie barked peremptorily at the people clustering around him. Victor heard them muttering.
'Dog don't eat his dinner,' came Detritus' voice, 'dog go hungry.'
'Don't be daft. Mr Dibbler says he's worth more than we are!'
'Perhaps it's not what he's used to. I mean, a posh dog like him an' all. It's a bit yukky, isn't it?'
'It dog food! That what dogs are supposed to eat!'
'Yeah, but is it wonder dog food? What're wonder dogs fed on?'
'Mr Dibbler'll feed you to him if there's any trouble.'
'All right, all right. Detritus, go around to Borgle's. See what he's got. Not the stuff he gives to the usual customers, mind.'
'That IS the stuff he give to usual customers.'
'That's what I mean.'
Five minutes later Detritus trailed back carrying about nine pounds of raw steak. It was dumped in the dog bowl. The trainers looked at Laddie.
Laddie cocked an eye towards Gaspode, who nodded almost imperceptibly.
The big dog put one foot on one end of the steak, took the other end in his mouth, and tore off a lump. Then he padded over the compound and dropped it respectfully in front of Gaspode, who gave it a long, calculating stare.
'Well, I dunno,' he said at last. 'Does that look like ten per cent to you, Victor?'
'You negotiated his dinner?'
Gaspode's voice was muffled by meat. 'I reckon ten per cent is ver' fair. Very fair, in the circumstances.'
'You know, you really are a son of a bitch,' said Victor.
'Proud of it,' said Gaspode, indistinctly. He bolted the last of the steak. 'What shall we do now?'
'I'm supposed to get an early night. We're starting for Ankh very early tomorrow,' said Victor doubtfully.
'Still not made any progress with the book?'
'Let me have a look, then.'
'Can you read?'
'Dunno. Never tried.'
Victor looked around them. No-one was paying him any attention. They never did. Once the handles stopped turning, no-one bothered about performers; it was like being temporarily invisible.
He sat down on a pile of lumber, opened the book randomly at an early page, and held it out in front of Gaspode's critical stare.
Eventually the dog said, 'It's got all marks on it.'
Victor sighed. 'That's writing,' he said.
Gaspode squinted. 'What, all them little pictures?'
'Early writing was like that. People drew little pictures to represent ideas.'
'So . . . if there's a lot of one picture, it means it's an important idea?'
'What? Well, yes. I suppose so.'
'Like the dead man.'
Victor was lost.
'The dead man on the beach?'
'No. The dead man on the pages. See? Everywhere, there's the dead man.'
Victor gave him an odd look, and then turned the book around and peered at it.
'Where? I don't see any dead men.'
'Look, all over the page,' he said. 'He looks just like those tombs you get in old temples and stuff. You know? Where they do this statchoo of the stiff lyin' on top of the tomb, with his arms crossed an' holdin' his sword. Dead noble.'
'Good grief! You're right! It does look sort of . . . dead . . . '
'Prob'ly all the writing's goin' on about what a great guy he was when he was alive,' said Gaspode knowledgeably. 'You know, “Slayer of thousands” stuff. Prob'ly he left a lot of money for priests to say prayers and light candles and sacrifice goats and stuff. There used to be a lot of that sort of thing. You know, you'd get dese guys whorin' and drinkin' and carryin' on regardless their whole life, and then when the old Grim Reaper starts sharpenin' his scythe they suddenly becomes all pious and pays a lot of priests to give their soul a quick wash-and-brush-up and gen'rally keep on tellin' the gods what a decent chap they was.'
'Gaspode?' said Victor levelly.
'You were a performing dog. How come you know all this stuff?'
'I ain't just a pretty face.'
'You aren't even a pretty face, Gaspode.'
The little dog shrugged. 'I've always had eyes and ears,' he said. 'You'd be amazed, the stuff you see and hear when you're a dog. I dint know what any of it meant at the time, of course. Now I do.'
Victor stared at the pages again. There certainly was a figure which, if you half-closed your eyes, looked very much like a statue of a knight with his hands resting on his sword.
'It might not mean a man,' he said. 'Pictographic writing doesn't work like that. It's all down to context, you see.' He racked his brains to think of some of the books he'd seen. 'For example, in the Agatean language the signs for “woman” and “slave” written down together actually mean “wife”.'
He looked closely at the page. The dead man - or the sleeping man, or the standing man resting his hands on his sword, the figure was so stylized it was hard to be sure seemed to appear beside another common picture. He ran his finger along the line of pictograms.
'See,' he said, 'it could be the man figure is only part of a word. See? It's always to the right of this other picture, which looks a bit like - a bit like a doorway, or something. So it might really mean-'he hesitated.' “Doorway/man”,' he hazarded.
He turned the book slightly.
'Could be some old king,' said Gaspode. 'Could mean something like The Man with the Sword is Imprisoned, or something. Or maybe it means Watch Out, There's a Man with a Sword behind the Door. Could mean anything, really.'
Victor squinted at the book again. 'It's funny,' he said. 'It doesn't look dead. Just . . . not alive. Waiting to be alive? A waiting man with a sword?'
Victor peered at the little man-figure. It had hardly any features, but still managed to look vaguely familiar.
'You know,' he said, 'it looks just like my Uncle Osric . . .'
The film spun to a standstill. There was a thunder of applause, a stamping of feet and a barrage of empty banged grain bags.
In the very front row of the Odium the Librarian stared up at the now-empty screen. It was the fourth time that afternoon he'd watched Shadow of the Dessert, because there's something about a 300lb orangutan that doesn't encourage people to order it out of the pit between houses. A drift of peanut shells and screwed up paper bags lay around his feet.
The Librarian loved the clicks. They spoke to something in his soul. He'd even started writing a story which he thought would make a very good moving picture. Everyone he showed it to said it was jolly good, often even before they'd read it.
But something about this click was worrying him. He'd sat through it four times, and he was still worried.
He eased himself out of the three seats he was occupying and knuckled his way up the aisle and into the little room where Bezam was rewinding the film.
Bezam looked up as the door opened.
'Get out-' he began, and then grinned desperately and said, 'Hallo, sir. Pretty good click, eh? We'll be showing it again any minute now and - what the hell are you doing? You can't do that!'
The Librarian ripped the huge roll of film off the projector and pulled it through his leathery fingers, holding it up to the light. Bezam tried to snatch it back and got a palm in his chest that sat him firmly on the floor, where great coils of film piled up on top of him.
He watched in horror as the great ape grunted, grasped a piece of the film in both hands and, with two bites, edited it. Then the Librarian picked him up, dusted him off, patted him on the head, thrust the great pile of unwound click into his helpless arms, and ambled swiftly out of the room with a few frames of film dangling from one paw.
Bezam stared helplessly after him.
'You're banned!' he shouted, when he judged the ape to be safely out of earshot.
Then he looked down at the two severed ends.
Breaks in films weren't unusual. Bezam had spent many a flustered few minutes feverishly cutting and pasting while the audience cheerfully stamped its feet and high-spiritedly threw peanuts, knives and double-headed axes at the screen.
He let the coils fall around him and reached for the scissors and glue. At least - he found, after holding the two ends up to the lantern - the Librarian hadn't taken a very interesting bit. Odd, that. Bezam wouldn't have put it past the ape to have taken a bit where the girl was definitely showing too much chest, or one of the fight scenes. But all he'd wanted was a piece that showed the Sons galloping down from their mountain fastness, in single file, on identical camels.
'Dunno what he wanted that for,' he muttered, taking the lid off the glue pot. 'It just shows a lot of rocks.'
Victor and Gaspode stood among the sand dunes near the beach.
'That's where the driftwood but is,' said Victor, pointing, 'and then if you look hard you can see there's a sort of road pointing straight towards the hill. But there's nothing on the hill but the old trees.'
Gaspode looked back at Holy Wood Bay.
'Funny it bein' circular,' he said.
'I thought so,' said Victor.
'I heard once where there was this city that was so wicked that the gods turned it into a puddle of molten glass,' said Gaspode, apropos of nothing. 'And the only person who saw it happen was turned into a pillar of salt by day and a cheese shaker by night.'
'Gosh. What had the people been doing?'
'Dunno. Prob'ly not much. It doesn't take much to annoy gods.'
'Me good boy! Good boy Laddie!'
The dog came streaking over the dunes, a comet of gold and orange hair. It skidded to a halt in front of Gaspode, and then began to dance around excitedly, yapping.
'He's escaped and he wants me to play with him,' said Gaspode despondently. 'Ridiculous, ain't it? Laddie drop dead.'
Laddie rolled over obediently, all four legs in the air.
'See? He understands every word I say,' muttered Gaspode.
'He likes you,' said Victor.
'Huh,' sniffed Gaspode. 'How're dogs ever goin' to amount to anything if they bounce around worshipping people just 'cos they've been given a meal? What's he want me to do with this??'
Laddie had dropped a stick in front of Gaspode and was looking at him expectantly.
'He wants you to throw it,' said Victor.
'So he can bring it back.'
'What I don't understand,' said Gaspode, as Victor picked up the stick and hurled it away, Laddie racing along underneath it, 'is how come we're descended from wolves. I mean, your average wolf, he's a bright bugger, know what I mean? Chock full of cunnin' an' like that. We're talking grey paws racing over the trackless tundra, is what I'm getting at.'
Gaspode looked wistfully at the distant mountains. 'And suddenly a handful of generations later we've got Percy the Pup here with a cold nose, bright eyes, glossy coat and the brains of a stunned herring.'