He shook his head. He was just in some room in some cheap building in some town that was about as real as, as, as, well, as the thickness of a click. It wasn't the place to have thoughts like this.
The important thing was to remember that Holy Wood wasn't a real place at all.
He stared at the posters again. You just get one chance, she said. You live for maybe seventy years, and if you're lucky you get one chance. Think of all the natural skiers who are born in deserts. Think of all the genius blacksmiths who were born hundreds of years before anyone invented the horse. All the skills that are never used. All the wasted chances.
How lucky for me, he thought gloomily, that I happen to be alive at this time.
Ginger turned over in her sleep. At least her breathing was more regular now.
'Come on,' said Gaspode. 'It's not right, you being alone in a lady's boodwah.'
'I'm not alone,' Victor said. 'She's with me.'
'That's the point,' said Gaspode.
'Woof,' Laddie added, loyally.
'You know,' said Victor, following the dogs down the stairs, 'I'm beginning to feel there's something wrong here. There's something going on and I don't know what it is. Why was she trying to get into the hill?'
'Prob'ly in league with dread Powers,' said Gaspode.
'The city and the hill and the old book and everything,' said Victor, ignoring this. 'It all makes sense if only I knew what was connecting it.'
He stepped out into the early evening, into the lights and noise of Holy Wood.
'Tomorrow we'll go up there in the daylight and sort this out once and for all,' he said.
'No, we won't,' said Gaspode. 'The reason being, tomorrow we're goin' to Ankh-Morpork, remember?'
'We?' said Victor. 'Ginger and I are going. I didn't know about you.'
'Laddie goin', too,' said Gaspode. 'I-'
'Good boy Laddie!'
'Yeah, yeah. I heard the trainers say. So I've got to go with him to see he don't get into any trouble, style of fing.'
Victor yawned. 'Well, I'm going to go to bed. We'll probably have to start early.'
Gaspode looked innocently up and down the alley. Somewhere a door opened and there was the sound of drunken laughter.
'I fought I might have a bit of a stroll before turnin' in,' he said. 'Show Laddie-'
'Laddie good boy!'
'-the sights and that.'
Victor looked doubtful.
'Don't keep him out too late,' he said. 'People will worry.9
'Yeah, right,' said Gaspode. 'G'night.'
He sat and watched Victor wander off.
'Huh,' he said, under his dreadful breath. 'Catch anyone worryin' about me.' He glared up at Laddie, who sprang to obedient attention.
'Right, young fells-me-pup,' he said. ' 'S time you got educated. Lesson One, Glomming Free Drinks in Bars. It's lucky for you', he added, 'that you met me.'
Two canine shapes staggered uncertainly up the midnight street.
'We're poor li'l lambs', Gaspode howled, 'wot have loorst our way . . . ' 'Woof! Woof! Woof!'
'We're li'l loorst sheeps wot have - wot have . . . ' Gaspode sagged down, and scratched an ear, or at least where he vaguely thought an ear might be. His leg waved uncertainly in the air. Laddie gave him a sympathetic look.
It had been an amazingly successful evening. Gaspode had always got his free drinks by simply sitting and staring intently at people until they got uncomfortable and poured him some beer in a saucer in the hope that he would drink it and go away. It was slow and tedious, but as a technique it had served him well. Whereas Laddie . . .
Laddie did tricks. Laddie could drink out of bottles. Laddie could bark the number of fingers people held up; so could Gaspode, of course, but it had never occurred to him that such an activity could be rewarded.
Laddie could home in on young women who were being taken out for the evening by a hopeful swain and lay his head on their lap and give them such a soulful look that the swain would buy him a saucer of beer and a bag of goldfish-shaped biscuits just in order to impress the prospective loved-one. Gaspode had never been able to do that, because he was too short for laps and, anyway, got nothing but disgusted screams if he tried it.
He'd sat under the table in perplexed disapproval to begin with, and then in alcoholic perplexed disapproval, because Laddie was generosity itself when it came to sharing saucers of beer.
Now, after they'd both been thrown out, Gaspode decided it was time for a lecture in true dogness.
'You don't want to go himblong. Umlong. Humbling yourself to 'umans,' he said. 'It's letting everyone down. We'll never frow off the shackles of dependency on mankind if dogs like you go aroun' bein' glad to see people the whole time. I was person'ly disgusted when you did that Lyin'-on-your-back-and-playin'-dead routine, let me tell you.'
'You're just a running dog of the human imperialists,' said Gaspode severely.
Laddie put his paws over his nose.
Gaspode tried to stand up, tripped over his legs, and sat down heavily. After a while a couple of huge tears coursed down his fur.
'Concourse,' he said, 'I never had a chance, you know.' He managed to get back on all four feet. 'I mean, look at the start I had in life. Frone inna river inna sack. An actual sack, Dear little puppy dog opens his eyes, look out in wonder at the world, style offing, he's in this sack.' The tears dripped off his nose. 'For two weeks I thought the brick was my mother.'
'Woof,' said Laddie, with uncomprehending sympathy.
'Just my luck they threw me in the Ankh,' Gaspode went on. 'Any other river, I'd have drowned and gone to doggy heaven. I heard where this big black ghostly dog comes up to you when you die an' says, your time has gome. Cone. Come.'
Gaspode stared at nothing much. 'Can't sink in the Ankh, though,' he said thoughtfully. 'Ver' tough river, the Ankh.'
'It shouldn't happen to a dog,' said Gaspode. 'Metaphorically.'
Gaspode peered blearily at Laddie's bright, alert and irrevocably stupid face.
'You don't understand a bloody word I've been saying, do you?' he muttered.
'Woof.' said Laddie, begging.
'Lucky bugger,' sighed Gaspode.
There was a commotion at the other end of the alley. He heard a voice say, 'There he is! Here, Laddie! Here, boy!' The words dripped relief.
'It's the Man,' growled Gaspode. 'You don't have to go.)
'Good boy Laddie! Laddie good boy!' barked Laddie, trotting forward obediently, if a little unsteadily.
'We've been looking for you everywhere!' muttered one of the trainers, raising a stick.
'Don't hit it!' said the other trainer. 'You'll ruin everything.' He peered into the alley, and met Gaspode's stare coming the other way.
'That's the fleabag that's been hanging around,' he said. 'It gives me the creeps.'
'Heave something at it,' suggested the other man.
The trainer reached down and picked up a stone. When he stood up again the alley was empty. Drunk or sober, Gaspode had perfect reflexes in certain circumstances.
'See?' the trainer said, glaring at the shadows. 'It's like it's some kind of mind reader.'
'It's just a mutt,' said his companion. 'Don't worry about it. Come on, get the leash on this one and let's get him back before Mr Dibbler finds out.'
Laddie followed them obediently back to Century of the Fruitbat, and allowed himself to be chained up to his kennel. Possibly he didn't like the idea, but it was hard to be sure in the network of duties, obligations and vague emotional shadows that made up what, for want of a better word, had to be called his mind.
He pulled experimentally on the chain once or twice, and then lay down, awaiting developments.
After a while a small hoarse voice on the other side of the fence said, 'I could send you a bone with a file in it, only you'd eat it.'
Laddie perked up.
'Good boy Laddie! Good boy Gaspode!'
'Ssh! Ssh! At least they ort to let you speak to a lawyer,' said Gaspode. 'Chaining someone up's against human rights.'
'Anyway, I paid 'em back. I followed the 'orrible one back to his house an' piddled all down his front door.'
Gaspode sighed, and waddled away. Sometimes, in his heart of hearts, he wondered whether it wouldn't after all be nice to belong to someone. Not just be owned by them or chained up by them, but actually belong, so that you were glad to see them and carried their slippers in your mouth and pined away when they died, etc.
Laddie actually liked that kind of stuff, if you could call it 'liked'; it was more like something built into his bones. Gaspode wondered darkly if this was true dogness, and growled deep in his throat. It wasn't, if he had anything to do with it. Because true dogness wasn't about slippers and walkies and pining for people, Gaspode was sure. Dogness was about being tough and independent and mean.
Gaspode had heard that all canines could interbreed, even back to the original wolves, so that must mean that, deep down inside, every dog was a wolf. You could make a dog out of a wolf, but you couldn't take the wolf out of a dog. When the hardpad was acting up and the fleas were feisty and acting full of plumptiousness, it was a comforting thought.
Gaspode wondered how you went about mating with a wolf, and what happened to you when you stopped.
Well, that didn't matter. What mattered was that true dogs didn't go around going mad with pleasure just because a human said something to them.
He growled at a pile of trash and dared it to disagree.
Part of the pile moved, and a feline face with a defunct fish in its mouth peered out at him. He was just about to bark half-heartedly at it, for tradition's sake, when it spat the fish out and spoke to him.
Gaspode relaxed. 'Oh. Hallo, cat. No offence meant. Didn't know it was you.'
'I hateth fisth,' said the cat, 'but at leasth they don't talk back.'
Another part of the trash moved and Squeak the mouse emerged.
'What're you two doin' down here?' said Gaspode. 'I thought you said it was safer on the hill.'
'Not any more,' said the cat. 'It'sh getting too shpooky.'
Gaspode frowned. 'You're a cat,' he said disapprovingly. 'You ort to be right alongside the idea of spooky.'
'Yeah, but that doesh'nt exhtend to having golden sparks crackling off your fur and the ground shaking the whole time. And weird voices that you think must be happening in your own head,' said cat. 'It's becoming eldritch up there.'
'So we all came down,' said Squeak. 'Mr Thumpy and the duck are hiding out in the dunes-'
Another cat dropped off the fence beside them. It was large and ginger and not blessed with Holy Wood intelligence. It stared at the sight of a mouse looking relaxed in the presence of a cat.
Squeak nudged cat on the paw. 'Get rid of it,' he said.
Cat glared at the newcomer. 'Sod off,' he said. 'Go on, beat it. Gods; thish ish so humiliating.'
'Not just for you,' said Gaspode, as the new cat trotted away shaking its head. 'If some of the dogs in this town see me chatting to a cat, my street cred is going to go way down.'
'We were reckoning', said the cat, with the occasional nervous glance towards Squeak, 'that maybe we ought to give in and see if, see if, see if-'
'He's trying to say there might be a place for us in moving pictures,' said Squeak. 'What do you think?'
'As a double act?' said Gaspode. They nodded.
'Not a chance,' he said. 'Who's going to pay good money to see cats and mice chasing one another? They're only interested even in dogs if they jus' pander to humans the whole time, so they certainly ain't going to watch a cat chase a mouse. Take it from me. I know about movin' pictures.'
'Then it's about time your humans got it sorted out so we can go home,' snapped the mouse. 'The boy isn't doing anything.'