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'I see,' said Silverfish gloomily. 'Can't sing. Can't dance. Can handle a sword a little.'
'But I have saved your life twice,' said Victor.
'Twice?' snapped Silverfish.
'Yes,' said Victor. He took a deep breath. This was going to be risky. 'Then,' he said, 'and now.'
There was a long pause.
Then Silverfish said, 'I really don't think there's any call for that.'
'I'm sorry, Mr Silverfish,' Victor pleaded. 'I'm really not that kind of person but you did say and I've walked all this way and I haven't got any money and I'm hungry and I'll do anything you've got. Anything at all. Please.'
Silverfish looked at him doubtfully.
'Even acting?' he said.
'Moving about and pretending to do things,' said Silverfish helpfully.
'Seems a shame, a bright, well-educated lad like you,' said Silverfish. 'What do you do?'
'I'm studying to be a w-,' Victor began. He remembered Silverfish's antipathy towards wizardry, and corrected himself, 'a clerk.'
'A waclerk?' said Silverfish.
'I don't know if I'd be any good at acting, though,' Victor confessed.
Silverfish looked surprised. 'Oh, you'll be OK,' he said. 'It's very hard to be bad at acting in moving pictures.'
He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a dollar coin.
'Here,' he said, 'go and get something to eat.'
He looked Victor up and down.
'Are you waiting for something?' he said.
'Well,' said Victor, 'I was hoping you could tell me what's going on.'
'How do you mean?'
'A couple of nights ago I watched your, your click,' he felt slightly proud of remembering the term, 'back in the city and suddenly I wanted to be here more than anything else. I've never really wanted anything in my life before!'
Silverfish's face broke into a relieved grin.
'Oh, that,' he said. 'That's just the magic of Holy Wood. Not wizard's magic,' he added hastily, 'which is all superstition and mumbo-jumbo. No. This is magic for ordinary people. Your mind is fizzing with all the possibilities. I know mine was,' he added. . 'Yes,' said Victor uncertainly. 'But how does it work?'
Silverfish's face lit up.
'You want to know?' he said. 'You want to know how things work?'
'You see, most people are so disappointing,' Silverfish said. 'You show them something really wonderful like the picture box, and they just go “oh”. They never ask how it works. Mr Bird!'
The last word was a shout. After a while a door opened on the far side of the shack and a man appeared.
He had a picture box on a strap round his neck. Assorted tools hung from his belt. His hands were stained with chemicals and he had no eyebrows, which Victor was later to learn was a sure sign of someone who had been around octo-cellulose for any length of time. He also had his cap on back to front.
'This is Gaffer Bird,' beamed Silverfish. 'Our head handleman. Gaffer, this is Victor. He's going to act for us.'
'Oh,' said Gaffer, looking at Victor in the same way that a butcher might look at a carcass. 'Is he?'
'And he wants to know how things work!' said Silverfish.
Gaffer gave Victor another jaundiced look.
'String,' he said gloomily. 'It all works by string. You'd be amazed how things'd fall to bits around here,' he said, 'if it weren't for me and my ball of string.'
There was a sudden commotion from the box round his neck. He thumped it with the flat of his hand.
'You lot can cut that out,' he said. He nodded at Victor.
'They gets fractious if their routine is upset,' he said.
'What's in the box?' said Victor.
Gaffer winked at Silverfish. 'I bet you'd like to know,' he said.
Victor remembered the caged things he'd seen in the shed.
'They sound like common demons,' he said cautiously.
Gaffer gave him an approving look, such as might be given to a stupid dog who had just done a rather clever trick.
'Yeah, that's right,' he conceded.
'But how do you stop them escaping?' said Victor.
Gaffer leered. 'Amazin' stuff, string,' he said.
Cut-me-own-Throat Dibbler was one of those rare people with the ability to think in straight lines.
Most people think in curves and zig-zags. For example, they start from a thought like: I wonder how I can become very rich, and then proceed along an uncertain course which includes thoughts like: I wonder what's for supper, and: I wonder who I know who can lend me five dollars?
Whereas Throat was one of those people who could identify the thought at the other end of the process, in this case I am now very rich, draw a line between the two, and then think his way along it, slowly and patiently, until he got to the other end.
Not that it worked. There was always, he found, some small but vital flaw in the process. It generally involved a strange reluctance on the part of people to buy what he had to sell.
But his life savings were now resting in a leather bag inside his jerkin. He'd been in Holy Wood for a day. He'd looked at its ramshackle organization, such as it was, with the eye of a lifelong salesman. There seemed nowhere in it for him, but this wasn't a problem. There was always room at the top.
A day's enquiries and careful observation had led him to Interesting and Instructive Kinematography. Now he stood on the far side of the street, watching carefully.
He watched the queue. He watched the man on the gate. He reached a decision.
He strolled along the queue. He had brains. He knew he had brains. What he needed now was muscle. Somewhere here there was bound to-
'Aft'noon, Mister Dibbler.'
That flat head, those rangy arms, that curling lower lip, that croaking voice that bespoke an IQ the size of a walnut. It added up to-
'It's me. Detritus,' said Detritus. 'Fancy seein' you here, eh?'
He gave Dibbler a grin like a crack appearing in a vital bridge support.
'Hallo, Detritus. You working in films?' said Dibbler.
'Not exactly working,' said Detritus, bashfully.
Dibbler looked quietly at the troll, whose chipped fists were generally the final word in any street fight.
'I call that disgusting,' he said. He pulled out his money bag and counted out five dollars. 'How would you like to work for me, Detritus?'
Detritus touched his jutting brow respectfully.
'Right you are, Mr Dibbler,' he said.
'Just step this way.'
Dibbler strolled back up to the head of the queue. The man at the door thrust out an arm to bar his way.
'Where d'you think you're going, pal?' he said.
'I have an appointment with Mr Silverfish,' said Dibbler.
'And he knows about this, does he?' said the guard, in tones that suggested that he personally would not believe it even if he saw it written on the sky.
'Not yet,' said Dibbler.
'Well, my friend, in that case you can just get yourself to-'
'Yes, Mr Dibbler?'
'Hit this man.'
'Right you are, Mr Dibbler.'
Detritus's arm whirled round in a 180 degree arc with oblivion on the end of it. The guard was lifted off his feet and smashed through the door, coming to a stop in its wreckage twenty feet away. There was a cheer from the queue.
Dibbler looked approvingly at the troll. Detritus was wearing nothing except a ragged loincloth which covered whatever it was that trolls felt it necessary to conceal.
'Very good, Detritus.'
'Right you are, Mr Dibbler.'
'But we shall have to see about getting you a suit,' said Dibbler. 'Now, please guard the gate. Don't let anyone in.'
'Right you are, Mr Dibbler.'
Two minutes later a small grey dog trotted through the troll's short and bandy legs and hopped over the remains of the gate, but Detritus didn't do anything about this because everyone knew dogs weren't anyone.
'Mr Silverfish?' said Dibbler.
Silverfish, who had been cautiously crossing the studio with a box of fresh film stock, hesitated at the sight of a skinny figure bearing down on him like a long-lost weasel. Dibbler's expression was the expression worn by something long and sleek and white as it swims over the reef and into the warm shallow waters of the kiddies' paddling area.
'Yes?' said Silverfish. 'Who're you? How did you get-'
'Dibbler's the name,' said Dibbler. 'But I'd like you to call me Throat.'
He clasped Silverfish's unresisting hand and then placed his other hand on the man's shoulder and stepped forward, pumping the first hand vigorously. The effect was of acute affability, and it meant that if Silverfish backed away he would dislocate his own elbow.
'And I'd just like you to know', Dibbler went on, 'that we're all incredibly impressed at what you boys are doing here.'
Silverfish watched his own hand being strenuously made friends with, and grinned uncertainly.
'You are?' he ventured.
'All this-', Dibbler released Silverfish's shoulder just long enough to expansively indicate the energetic chaos around them. 'Fantastic!' he said. 'Marvellous! And that last thing of yours, what was it called now-?'
'High Jinks at the Store,' said Silverfish. 'That's the one where the thief steals the sausages and the shop-keeper chases him?'
'Yeah,' said Dibbler, his fixed smile glazing for only a second . or two before becoming truly sincere again. 'Yeah. That was. it. Amazing! True genius! A beautifully sustained metaphor!'
'That cost us nearly twenty dollars, you know,' said Silverfish, with shy pride. 'And another forty pence for the sausages, of course.'
'Amazing!' said Dibbler. 'And it must have been seen by hundreds of people, yes?'
'Thousands,' said Silverfish.
There was no analogy for Dibbler's grin now. If it had managed to be any wider, the top of his head would have fallen off.
'Thousands?' he said. 'Really? That many? And of course they all pay you, oh, how much-?'
'Oh, we just take up a collection at the moment,' said Silverfish. 'Just to cover costs while we're still in the experimental stage, you understand.' He looked down. 'I wonder,' he added, 'could you stop shaking my hand now?'
Dibbler followed his gaze. 'Of course!' he said, and let go. Silverfish's hand carried on going up and down for a while of its own accord, out of sheer muscular spasm.
Dibbler was silent for a moment, his expression that of a man in deep communion with some inner god. Then he said, 'You know, Thomas - may I call you Thomas? when I saw that masterpiece I thought, Dibbler, behind all this is a creative artist-'
'-how did you know my name was-'
'-a creative artist, I thought, who should be free to pursue his muse instead of being- burdened with all the fussy details of management, am I right?'
'Well . . . it's true that all this paperwork is a bit-'
'My thoughts exactly,' said Dibbler, 'and I said, Dibbler, you should go there right now and offer him your services. You know. Administrate. Take the load off his shoulders. Let him get on with what he does best, am I right? Tom?'
'I, I, I, yes, of course, it's true that my forte is really more in-'
'Right! Right!' said Dibbler. 'Tom, I accept!'
Silverfish's eyes were glassy.
'Er,' he said.
Dibbler punched him playfully on the shoulder. 'Just you show me the paperwork,' he said, 'and then you can get right out there and do whatever it is you do so well.'
'Er. Yes,' said Silverfish.
Dibbler grasped him by both arms and gave him a thousand watts of integrity.
'This is a proud moment for me,' he said hoarsely. 'I can't tell you how much this means to me. I can honestly say this is the happiest day of my life. I want you to know that. Tommy. Sincerely.'
The reverential silence was broken by a faint sniggering.
Dibbler looked around slowly. There was no-one behind them apart from a small grey mongrel dog sitting in the shade of a heap of lumber. It noticed his expression and put its head on one side.