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Chapter Sixteen

At the bar, Zaphod was rapidly becoming as tired as a newt. His heads knocked together and his smiles were coming out of synch. He was miserably happy.

``Zaphod,'' said Ford, ``whilst you're still capable of speech, would you care to tell me what the photon happened? Where have you been? Where have we been? Small matter, but I'd like it cleared up.''

Zaphod's left head sobered up, leaving his right to sink further into the obscurity of drink.

``Yeah,'' he said, ``I've been around. They want me to find the man who rules the Universe, but I don't care to meet him. I believe the man can't cook.''

His left head watched his right head saying this and then nodded.

``True,'' it said, ``have another drink.''

Ford had another Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, the drink which has been described as the alcoholic equivalent of a mugging --- expensive and bad for the head. Whatever had happened, Ford decided, he didn't really care too much.

``Listen Ford,'' said Zaphod, ``everything's cool and froody.''

``You mean everything's under control.''

``No,'' said Zaphod, ``I do not mean everything's under control. That would not be cool and froody. If you want to know what happened let's just say I had the whole situation in my pocket. OK?''

Ford shrugged.

Zaphod giggled into his drink. It frothed up over the side of the glass and started to eat its way into the marble bar top.

A wild-skinned sky-gypsy approached them and played electric violin at them until Zaphod gave him a lot of money and he agreed to go away again.

The gypsy approached Arthur and Trillian sitting in another part of the bar.

``I don't know what this place is,'' said Arthur, ``but I think it gives me the creeps.''

``Have another drink,'' said Trillian, ``Enjoy yourself.''

``Which?'' said Arthur, ``the two are mutually exclusive.''

``Poor Arthur, you're not really cut out for this life are you?''

``You call this life?''

``You're beginning to sound like Marvin.''

``Marvin's the clearest thinker I know. How do you think we make this violinist go away?''

The waiter approached.

``Your table is ready,'' he said.

Seen from the outside, which it never is, the Restaurant resembles a giant glittering starfish beached on a forgotten rock. Each of its arms houses the bars, the kitchens, the forcefield generators which protect the entire structure and the decayed planet on which it sits, and the Time Turbines which slowly rock the whole affair backwards and forwards across the crucial moment.

In the centre sits the gigantic golden dome, almost a complete globe, and it was into this area that Zaphod, Ford, Arthur and Trillian now passed.

At least five tons of glitter alone had gone into it before them, and covered every available surface. The other surfaces were not available because they were already encrusted with jewels, precious sea shells from Santraginus, gold leaf, mosaic tiles, lizard skins and a million unidentifiable embellishments and decorations. Glass glittered, silver shone, gold gleamed, Arthur Dent goggled.

``Wowee,'' said Zaphod, ``Zappo.''

``Incredible!'' breathed Arthur, ``the people ... ! The things ... !''

``The things,'' said Ford Prefect quietly, ``are also people.''

``The people ...'' resumed Arthur, ``the ... other people ...''

``The lights ... !'' said Trillian.

``The tables ...'' said Arthur.

``The clothes ... !'' said Trillian.

The waiter thought they sounded like a couple of bailiffs.

``The End of the Universe is very popular,'' said Zaphod threading his way unsteadily through the throng of tables, some made of marble, some of rich ultra-mahagony, some even of platinum, and at each a party of exotic creatures chatting amongst themselves and studying menus.

``People like to dress up for it,'' continued Zaphod, ``Gives it a sense of occasion.''

The tables were fanned out in a large circle around a central stage area where a small band were playing light music, at least a thousand tables was Arthur's guess, and interspersed amongst them were swaying palms, hissing fountains, grotesque statuary, in short all the paraphernalia common to all Restaurants where little expense has been spared to give the impression that no expense has been spared. Arthur glanced around, half expecting to see someone making an American Express commercial.

Zaphod lurched into Ford, who lurched back into Zaphod.

``Wowee,'' said Zaphod.

``Zappo,'' said Ford.

``My great granddaddy must have really screwed up the computer's works, you know,'' said Zaphod, ``I told it to take us to the nearest place to eat and it sends us to the End of the Universe. Remind me to be nice to it one day.''

He paused.

``Hey, everybody's here you know. Everybody who was anybody.''

``Was?'' said Arthur.

``At the End of the Universe you have to use the past tense a lot,'' said Zaphod, ``'cos everything's been done you know. Hi, guys,`` he called out to a nearby party of giant iguana lifeforms, ''How did you do?``

``Is that Zaphod Beeblebrox?'' asked one iguana of another iguana.

``I think so,'' replied the second iguana.

``Well doesn't that just take the biscuit,'' said the first iguana.

``Funny old thing, life,'' said the second iguana.

``It's what you make of it,'' said the first and they lapsed back into silence. They were waiting for the greatest show in the Universe.

``Hey, Zaphod,'' said Ford, grabbing for his arm and, on account of the third Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, missing. He pointed a swaying finger.

``There's an old mate of mine,'' he said, ``Hotblack Desiato! See the man at the platinum table with the platinum suit on?''

Zaphod tried to follow Ford's finger with his eyes but it made him feel dizzy. Finally he saw.

``Oh yeah,'' he said, then recognition came a moment later. ``Hey,'' he said, ``did that guy ever make it megabig! Wow, bigger than the biggest thing ever. Other than me.''

``Who's he supposed to be?'' asked Trillian.

``Hotblack Desiato?'' said Zaphod in astonishment, ``you don't know? You never heard of Disaster Area?''

``No,'' said Trillian, who hadn't.

``The biggest,'' said Ford, ``loudest ...''

``Richest ...'' suggested Zaphod.

``... rock band in the history of ...'' he searched for the word.

``... history itself,'' said Zaphod.

``No,'' said Trillian.

``Zowee,'' said Zaphod, ``here we are at the End of the Universe and you haven't even lived yet. Did you miss out.''

He led her off to where the waiter had been waiting all this time at the table. Arthur followed them feeling very lost and alone.

Ford waded off through the throng to renew an old acquaintance.

``Hey, er, Hotblack,'' he called out, ``how you doing? Great to see you big boy, how's the noise? You're looking great, really very, very fat and unwell. Amazing.'' He slapped the man on the back and was mildly surprised that it seemed to elict no response. The Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters swirling round inside him told him to plunge on regardless.

``Remember the old days?'' he said, ``We used to hang out, right? The Bistro Illegal, remember? Slim's Throat Emporium? The Evildrome Boozarama, great days eh?''

Hotblack Desiato offered no opinion as to whether they were great days or not. Ford was not perturbed.

``And when we were hungry we'd pose as public health inspectors, you remember that? And go around confiscating meals and drinks right? Till we got food poisoning. Oh, and then there were the long nights of talking and drinking in those smelly rooms above the Cafe Lou in Gretchen Town, New Betel, and you were always in the next room trying to write songs on your ajuitar and we all hated them. And you said you didn't care, and we said we did because we hated them so much.'' Ford's eyes were beginning to mist over.

``And you said you didn't want to be a star,'' he continued, wallowing in nostalgia, ``because you despised the star system. And we said, Hadra and Sulijoo and me, that we didn't think you had the option. And what do you do now? You buy star systems!''

He turned and solicited the attention of those at nearby tables.

``Here,'' he said, ``is a man who buys star systems!''

Hotblack Desiato made no attempt either to confirm or deny this fact, and the attention of the temporary audience waned rapidly.

``I think someone's drunk,'' muttered a purple bush-like being into his wine glass.

Ford staggered slightly, and sat down heavily on the chair facing Hotblack Desiato.

``What's that number you do?'' he said, unwisely grabbing at a bottle for support and tipping it over --- into a nearby glass as it happened. Not to waste a happy accident, he drained the glass.

``That really huge number,'' he continued, ``how does it go? `Bwarm! Bwarm! Baderr!!' something, and in the stage act you do it ends up with this ship crashing right into the sun, and you actually do it!''

Ford crashed his fist into his other hand to illustrate this feat graphically. He knocked the bottle over again.

``Ship! Sun! Wham bang!'' he cried. ``I mean forget lasers and stuff, you guys are into solar flares and real sunburn! Oh, and terrible songs.''

His eyes followed the stream of liquid glugging out of the bottle on to the table. Something ought to be done about it, he thought.

``Hey, you want a drink?'' he said. It began to sink into his squelching mind that something was missing from this reunion, and that the missing something was in some way connected with the fact that the fat man sitting opposite him in the platinum suit and the silvery trilby had not yet said ``Hi, Ford'' or ``Great to see you after all this time,'' or in fact anything at all. More to the point he had not yet even moved.

``Hotblack?'' said Ford.

A large meaty hand landed on his shoulder from behind and pushed him aside. He slid gracelessly off his seat and peered upwards to see if he could spot the owner of this discourteous hand. The owner was not hard to spot, on account of his being something of the order of seven feet tall and not slightly built with it. In fact he was built the way one builds leather sofas, shiny, lumpy and with lots of solid stuffing. The suit into which the man's body had been stuffed looked as if it's only purpose in life was to demonstrate how difficult it was to get this sort of body into a suit. The face had the texture of an orange and the colour of an apple, but there the resemblance to anything sweet ended.

``Kid ...'' said a voice which emerged from the man's mouth as if it had been having a really rough time down in his chest.

``Er, yeah?'' said Ford conversationally. He staggered back to his feet again and was disappointed that the top of his head didn't come further up the man's body.

``Beat it,'' said the man.

``Oh yeah?'' said Ford, wondering how wise he was being, ``and who are you?''

The man considered this for a moment. He wasn't used to being asked this sort of question. Nevertheless, after a while he came up with an answer.

``I'm the guy who's telling you to beat it,'' he said, ``before you get it beaten for you.''

``Now listen,'' said Ford nervously --- he wished his head would stop spinning, settle down and get to grips with the situation --- ``Now listen,'' he continued, ``I am one of Hotblack's oldest friends and ...''

He glanced at Hotblack Desiato, who still hadn't moved so much as an eyelash.

``... and ...'' said Ford again, wondering what would be a good word to say after ``and''.

The large man came up with a whole sentence to go after ``and''. He said it.

``And I am Mr Desiato's bodyguard,'' it went, ``and I am responsible for his body, and I am not responsible for yours, so take it away before it gets damaged.''

``Now wait a minute,'' said Ford.

``No minutes!'' boomed the bodyguard, ``no waiting! Mr Desiato speaks to no one!''

``Well perhaps you'd let him say what he thinks about the matter himself,'' said Ford.

``He speaks to no one!'' bellowed the bodyguard.

Ford glanced anxiously at Hotblack again and was forced to admit to himself that the bodyguard seemed to have the facts on his side. There was still not the slightest sign of movement, let alone keen interest in Ford's welfare.

``Why?'' said Ford, ``What's the matter with him?''

The bodyguard told him.


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