Going Postal

Page 13

'Yes,' said Moist. 'Perhaps I should come up and speak to you directly . . .' Ten minutes later Moist crossed the road with care and smiled at his staff. 'Mr Pump, if you would be so good as to step over there and pry out our letters, please?' he said. 'Try not to damage anything. Mr Hugo has been very co-operative. And Tolliver, you've lived here a long time, haven't you? You'll know where to hire men with ropes, steeplejacks, that sort of thing? I want those letters back on our building by midday, okay?'

'That'll cost a lot of money, Mr Lipwig,' said Groat, staring at him in amazement. Moist pulled a bag out of his pocket, and jingled it. 'One hundred dollars should more than cover it?' he said. 'Mr Hugo was very apologetic and very, very inclined to be helpful. Says he bought them years ago off a man in a pub and is only too happy to pay for them to be returned. It's amazing how nice people can be, if approached in the right way.' There was a clang from the other side of the street. Mr Pump had already removed the H, without any apparent effort. Speak softly and employ a huge man with a crowbar, thought Moist. This might be bearable after all. The weak sunlight glinted on the S as it was swung into position. There was quite a crowd. People in Ankh-Morpork always paid attention to people on rooftops, in case there was a chance of an interesting suicide. There was a cheer, just on general principles, when the last letter was hammered back into place. Four dead men, Moist thought, looking up at the roof. I wonder if the Watch would talk to me? Do they know about me? Do they think I'm dead? Do I want to speak to policemen? No! Damn! The only way I can get out of this is by running forward, not going back. Bloody, bloody Vetinari. But there's a way to win. He could make money! He was part of the government, wasn't he? Governments took money off people. That's what they were for. He had people skills, hadn't he? He could persuade people that brass was gold that had got a bit tarnished, that glass was diamond, that tomorrow there was going to be free beer. He'd outfox them all! He wouldn't try to escape, not yet! If a golem could buy its freedom, then so could he! He'd buckle down and bustle and look busy and he'd send all the bills to Vetinari, because this was government work! How could the man object? And if Moist von Lipwig couldn't cream a little somethi— a big something off the top, and the bottom, and maybe a little off the sides, then he didn't deserve to! And then, when it was all going well and the cash was rolling in . . . well, then there'd be time to make plans for the big one. Enough money bought a lot of men with sledgehammers. The workmen pulled themselves back on to the flat roof. There was another ragged cheer from a

crowd that reckoned it hadn't been bad entertainment even if no one had fallen off. 'What do you think, Mr Groat?' he said. 'Looks nice, sir, looks nice,' said Groat, as the crowd dispersed and they walked back to the Post Office building. 'Not disturbing anything, then?' said Moist. Groat patted the surprised Moist on the arm. 'I don't know why his lordship sent you, sir, really I don't,' he whispered. 'You mean well, I can see. But take my advice, sir, and get out of here.' Moist glanced towards the building's doors. Mr Pump was standing beside them. Just standing, with his arms hanging down. The fire in his eyes was a banked glow. 'I can't do that,' he said. 'Nice of you to say so, sir, but this place isn't for a young man with a future,' said Groat. 'Now, Stanley, he's all right if he's got his pins, but you, sir, you could go far.'

'No-o, I don't think I can,' said Moist. 'Honestly. My place, Mr Groat, is here.'

'Gods bless you for saying that, sir, gods bless you,' said Groat. Tears were beginning to roll down his face. 'We used to be heroes,' he said. 'People wanted us. Everyone watched out for us. Everyone knew us. This was a great place, once. Once, we were postmen! 'Mister!' Moist turned. Three people were hurrying towards him, and he had to quell an automatic urge to turn and run, especially when one of them shouted, 'Yes, that's him!' He recognized the greengrocer from this morning. An elderly couple were trailing behind him. The older man, who had the determined face and upright bearing of a man who subdued cabbages daily, stopped an inch in front of Moist and bellowed: 'Are you the po'stman, young man?'

'Yes, sir, I suppose I am,' said Moist. 'How can I—'

'You delivered me this letter from Aggie here! I'm Tim Parker!' the man roared. 'Now, there's s'ome people'd say it wa's a little bit on the late side!'

'Oh,' said Moist. 'Well, I—'

'That took a bit of nerve, young man!'

'I'm very sorry that—' Moist began. People skills weren't much good in the face of Mr Parker. He was one of the impervious people, whose grasp of volume control was about as good as his understanding of personal space. 'S'orry?' Parker shouted. 'What've you got to be s'orry about? Not your fault, lad. You weren't even born! More fool me for thinking she didn't care, eh? Hah, I wa's so downhearted, lad, I went right out and joined the . . .' His red face wrinkled. 'You know . . . camel's, funny hat's, sand, where you go to forget . . .'

'The Klatchian Foreign Legion?' said Moist. 'That wa's it! And when I came back I met Sadie, and Aggie had met her Frederick, and we both got s'ettled and forgot the other one was alive and then blow me down if this letter didn't arrive from Aggie! Me and my lad have s'pent half the morning tracking her down! And to cut a long s'tory short, lad, we're getting married Sat'day! 'co's of you, boy!' Mr Parker was one of those men who turn into teak with age. When he slapped Moist on the back it was like being hit with a chair. 'Won't Frederick and Aggie object—' Moist wheezed. 'I doubt it! Frederick pas'sed away ten years ago and Sadie's been buried up in S'mall God's for the last five!' Mr Barker bellowed cheerfully. 'And we were s'orry to see them go but, as Aggie say's, it was all meant to be and you wa's sent by a higher power. And I say it took a man with real backbone to come and deliver that letter after all this time. There's many that would have tos'sed it aside like it was of no account! You'd do me and the future second Mrs Parker a great favour if you

wa's to be a guest of honour at our wedding, and I for one won't take no for an ans'wer! I'm Grand Ma'ster of the Guild of Merchant's this year, too! We might not be posh like the Assassins or the Alchemists but there's a lot of us and I shall put in a word on your behalf, you can depend on that! My lad George here will be down later on with the invitation's for you to deliver, now you're back in busines's! It will be a great honour for me, my boy, if you would shake me by the hand . . .' He thrust out a huge hand. Moist took it, and old habits died hard. Firm grip, steady gaze . . . 'Ah, you're an honest man, all right,' said Parker. 'I'm never mis'taken!' He clapped his hand on Moist's shoulder, causing a knee joint to crunch. 'What's your name, lad?'

'Lipwig, sir. Moist von Lipwig,' Moist said. He was afraid he'd gone deaf in one ear. 'A von, eh,' said Parker. 'Well, you're doing damn well for a foreigner, and I don't care who know's it! Got to be going now. Aggie want's to buy fripperie's!' The woman came up to Moist, stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek. 'And I know a good man when I see one,' she said. 'Do you have a young lady?'

'What? No! Not at all! Er . . . no!' said Moist. 'I'm sure you shall,' she said, smiling sweetly. 'And while we're very grateful to you, I would advise you to propose in person. We do so much look forward to seeing you on Saturday!' Moist watched her scurry away after her long-lost swain. 'You delivered a letter?' said Groat, horrified. 'Yes, Mr Groat. I didn't mean to, but I just happened to be—'

'You took one of the old letters and you delivered it?' said Groat, as if the concept was something he could not fit into his head— His head was all over the wall . . . Moist blinked. 'We are supposed to deliver the mail, man! That's our job! Remember?'

'You delivered a letter . . .' breathed Groat. 'What was the date on it?'

'I can't remember! More than forty years ago?'

'What was it like? Was it in good condition?' Groat insisted. Moist glared at the little postman. A small crowd was forming around them, as was the Ankh- Morpork way. 'It was a forty-year-old letter in a cheap envelope!' he snarled. 'And that's what it looked like! It never got delivered and it upset the lives of two people. I delivered it and it's made two people very happy. What is the problem, Mr Groat— Yes, what is it?' This was to a woman who was tugging at his sleeve. 'I said is it true you're opening the old place again?' she repeated. 'My grandad used to work there!'

'Well done him,' said Moist. 'He said there was a curse!' said the woman, as if the idea was rather pleasing. 'Really?' said Moist. 'Well, I could do with a good curse right now, as a matter of fact.'

'It lives under the floor and drives you maaad!' she went on, enjoying the syllable so much that she seemed loath to let it go. 'Maaad!'

'Really,' said Moist. 'Well, we do not believe in going crazy in the postal service, do we, Mr Gro—' He stopped. Mr Groat had the expression of one who did believe in going crazy. 'You daft old woman!' Groat yelled. 'What did you have to tell him that for?'

'Mr Groat!' snapped Moist. 'I wish to speak to you inside!' He grabbed the old man by the shoulder and very nearly carried him through the amused crowd, dragged him into the building and slammed the door.



'I've had enough of this!' he said. 'Enough of dark comments and mutterings, do you understand? No more secrets. What's going on here? What went on here? You tell me right now or—' The little man's eyes were full of fear. This is not me, Moist thought. This is not the way. People skills, eh? 'You tell me right now, Senior Postman Groat!' he snapped. The old man's eyes widened. 'Senior Postman?'

'I am the postmaster in this vicinity, yes?' said Moist. 'That means I can promote, yes? Senior Postman, indeed. On probation, of course. Now, will you tell me what—'

'Don't you hurt Mr Groat, sir!' said a ringing voice behind Moist. Groat looked past Moist into the gloom and said: 'It's all right, Stanley, there's no need for that, we don't want a Little Moment.' To Moist he whispered: 'Best you put me down gently, sir . . .' Moist did so, with exaggerated care, and turned round. The boy was standing behind him with a glazed look on his face and the big kettle raised. It was a heavy kettle. 'You mustn't hurt Mr Groat, sir,' he said hoarsely. Moist pulled a pin out of his lapel. 'Of course not, Stanley. By the way, is this a genuine Clayfeather Medium Sharp?' Stanley dropped the kettle, suddenly oblivious of everything but the inch of silvery steel between Moist's fingers. One hand was already pulling out his magnifying glass. 'Let me see, let me see,' he said, in a level, thoughtful voice. 'Oh, yes. Ha. No, sorry. It's an easy mistake to make. Look at the marks on the shoulder, here. See? And the head was never coiled. This is machine-made. Probably by one of the Happily brothers. Short run, I imagine. Hasn't got their sigil, though. Could have been done by a creative apprentice. Not worth much, I'm afraid, unless you find someone who specializes in the minutiae of the Happily pinnery.'

'I'll, er, just make a cup of tea, shall I?' said Groat, picking up the kettle as it rolled backwards and forwards on the floor. 'Well done again, Mr Lipwig. Er . . . Senior Postman Groat, right?'

'Off you go with, yes, probationary Senior Postman Groat, Stanley,' said Moist, as kindly as he could manage. He looked up and added sharply: 'I just want to talk to Mr Pump here.' Stanley looked round at the golem, who was right behind him. It was astonishing how quietly a golem could move; he'd crossed the floor like a shadow and now stood with one still fist raised like the wrath of gods. 'Oh, I didn't see you standing there, Mr Pump,' said Stanley cheerfully. “Why is your hand up?' The holes in the golem's face bathed the boy in red light. 'I . . . Wanted To Ask The Postmaster A Question?' said the golem slowly. 'Oh. All right,' said Stanley, as if he hadn't been about to brain Moist a moment before. 'Do you want your pin back, Mr Lipwig?' he added, and when Moist waved him away he went on, 'All right, I'll put it in next month's charity pin auction.' When the door had shut behind him, Moist looked up at the golem's impassive face. 'You lied to him. Are you allowed to lie, Mr Pump?' he said. 'And you can lower that arm, by the way.'

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