Going Postal

Page 23

'Actually, I was planning to slip along to Teemer and Spools while the lads are out now and discuss the engraving,' said Moist. 'Good. They're a decent firm,' she said. 'Sluice 23 is turning the machinery for them. They keep him clean and don't stick notices on him. I go and check on all the hired golems every week. The frees are very insistent on that.'

'To make sure they're not mistreated?' said Moist. 'To make sure they're not forgotten. You'd be amazed at how many businesses in the city have a golem working somewhere on the premises. Not the Grand Trunk, though,' she added. 'I won't let them work there.' There was an edge to that statement. 'Er . . . why not?' said Moist. 'There's some shit not even a golem should work in,' said Miss Dearheart, in the same steel tone. 'They are moral creatures.' O-kay, thought Moist, bit of a sore point there, then? His mouth said: 'Would you like to have dinner tonight?' For just the skin of a second, Miss Dearheart was surprised, but not half as surprised as Moist. Then her natural cynicism reinflated. 'I like to have dinner every night. With you? No. I have things to do. Thank you for asking.'

'No problem,' said Moist, slightly relieved. The woman looked around the echoing hall. 'Doesn't this place give you the creeps? You could perhaps do something with some floral wallpaper and a fire-bomb.'

'It's all going to be sorted out,' said Moist quickly. 'But it's best to get things moving as soon as possible. To show we're in business.' They watched Stanley and Groat, who were patiently sorting at the edge of a pile, prospectors in the foothills of the postal mountain. They were dwarfed by the white hillocks. 'It will take you for ever to deliver them, you know,' said Miss Dearheart, turning to go. 'Yes, I know,' said Moist. 'But that's the thing about golems,' added Miss Dearheart, standing in the doorway. The light caught her face oddly. 'They're not frightened of “for ever”. They're not frightened of anything.'

Chapter Seven

Tomb of Words The Invention of the Hole - Mr Lipwig Speaks Out — The Wizard in a Jar - A discussion of Lord Vetinari's back side — A Promise to Deliver — Mr Hobson's Boris Mr Spools, in his ancient office smelling of oil and ink, was impressed by this strange young man in the golden suit and winged hat. 'You certainly know your papers, Mr Lipwig,' he said, as Moist thumbed through the samples. 'It's a pleasure to meet a customer who does. Always use the right paper for the job, that's what I say.'

'The important thing is to make stamps hard to forge,' said Moist, leafing through the samples. 'On the other hand, it mustn't cost us anything like a penny to produce a penny stamp!'

'Watermarks are your friend there, Mr Lipwig,' said Mr Spools. 'Not impossible to fake, though,' said Moist, and then added, 'so I've been told.'

'Oh, we know all the tricks, Mr Lipwig, don't you worry about that!' said Mr Spools. 'We're up to scratch, oh yes! Chemical voids, thaumic shadows, timed inks, everything. We do paper and engraving and even printing for some of the leading figures in the city, although of course I am not at liberty to tell you who they are.' He sat back in his worn leather chair and scribbled in a notebook for a moment. 'Well, we could do you twenty thousand of the penny stamps, uncoated stock, gummed, at two dollars a thousand plus setup,' said Mr Spools. 'Ten pence less for ungummed. You'll have to find someone to cut them out, of course.'

'Can't you do that with some kind of machine?' said Moist. 'No. Wouldn't work, not with things as small as this. Sorry, Mr Lipwig.' Moist pulled a scrap of brown paper out of his pocket and held it up. 'Do you recognize this, Mr Spools?'

'What, is that a pin paper?' Mr Spools beamed. 'Hah, that takes me back! Still got my old collection in the attic. I've always thought it must be worth a bob or two if only—'

'Watch this, Mr Spools,' said Moist, gripping the paper carefully. Stanley was almost painfully precise in placing his pins; a man with a micrometer couldn't have done it better. Gently, the paper tore down the line of holes. Moist looked at Mr Spools and raised his eyebrows. 'It's all about holes,' he said. 'It ain't nothing if it ain't got a hole . . .' Three hours went past. Foremen were sent for. Serious men in overalls turned things on lathes, other men soldered things together, tried them out, changed this, reamed that, then dismantled a small hand press and built it in a different way. Moist loitered on the periphery of all this, clearly bored, while the serious men fiddled, measured things, rebuilt things, tinkered, lowered things, raised things and, eventually, watched by Moist and Mr Spools, tried out the converted press officially— Chonk . . . It felt to Moist that everyone was holding their breath so hard that the windows were bending inwards. He reached down, eased the sheet of little perforated squares off the board, and lifted it up.

He tore off one stamp. The windows snapped outwards. People breathed again. There wasn't a cheer. These weren't men to cheer and whoop at a job well done. Instead, they lit their pipes and nodded to one another. Mr Spools and Moist von Lipwig shook hands over the perforated paper. 'The patent is yours, Mr Spools,' said Moist. 'You're very kind, Mr Lipwig. Very kind indeed. Oh, here's a little souvenir . . .' An apprentice had bustled up with a sheet of paper. To Moist's astonishment, it was already covered with stamps - ungummed, unperforated, but perfect miniature copies of his drawing for the one penny stamp. 'Iconodiabolic engraving, Mr Lipwig!' said Spools, seeing his face. 'No one can say we're behind the times! Of course there'll be a few little flaws this time round, but by early next week we'll—'

'I want penny and twopenny ones tomorrow, Mr Spools, please,' said Moist firmly. 'I don't need perfect, I want quick.'

'My word, you're hot off the mark, Mr Lipwig!'

'Always move fast, Mr Spools. You never know who's catching up!'

'Hah! Yes! Er . . . good motto, Mr Lipwig. Nice one,' said Mr Spools, grinning uncertainly. 'And I want the fivepennies and one dollars the day after, please.'

'You'll scorch your boots, Mr Lipwig!' said Spools. 'Got to move, Mr Spools, got to fly!' Moist hurried back to the Post Office as fast as decently possible, feeling slightly ashamed. He liked Teemer and Spools. He liked the kind of business where you could actually speak to the man whose name was over the door; it meant it probably wasn't run by crooks. And he liked the big, solid, unflappable workmen, recognizing in them all the things he knew he lacked, like steadfastness, solidarity and honesty. You couldn't lie to a lathe or fool a hammer. They were good people, and quite unlike him . . . One way in which they were quite unlike him was that none of them, right now, probably had wads of stolen paper stuffed into their jacket. He really shouldn't have done it, he really shouldn't. It was just that Mr Spools was a kind and enthusiastic man and the desk had been covered with examples of his wonderful work, and when the perforation press was being made people had been bustling around and not really paying Moist much attention and he'd . . . tidied up. He couldn't help himself. He was a crook. What did Vetinari expect? The postmen were arriving back as he walked into the building. Mr Groat was waiting for him with a worried smile on his face. 'How's it going, Postal Inspector?' said Moist cheerfully. 'Pretty well, sir, pretty well. There's good news, sir. People have been giving us letters to post, sir. Not many yet and some of them are a bit, er, jokey, but we got a penny off'f them every time. That's seven pence, sir,' he added proudly, proffering the coins. 'Oh boy, we eat tonight!” said Moist, taking the coins and pocketing the letters. 'Sorry, sir?'

'Oh, nothing, Mr Groat. Well done. Er . . . you said there was good news. Is there any of the other sort, perhaps . . . ?'

'Um . . . some people didn't like getting their mail, sir.'

'Things got posted through the wrong doors?' said Moist. 'Oh, no, sir. But old letters ain't always welcome. Not when they're, as it might be, a will. A will. As in Last Will and Testament, sir,' the old man added meaningfully. 'As in, it turns out the

wrong daughter got mum's jewellery twenty years ago. As it were.'

'Oh, dear,' said Moist. 'The Watch had to be called in, sir. There was what they call in the papers a “rumpus” in Weaver Street, sir. There's a lady waiting for you in your office, sir.'

'Oh gods, not one of the daughters?'

'No, sir. She's a writing lady from the Times. You can't trust 'em, sir, although they do a very reasonable crossword,' Groat added conspiratorially. 'What does she want me for?'

'Couldn't say, sir. I expect it's 'cos you're postmaster?'

'Go and . . . make her some tea or something, will you?' said Moist, patting his jacket. 'I'll just go and . . . pull myself together . . .' Two minutes later, with the stolen paper tucked safely away, Moist strode into his office. Mr Pump was standing by the door, fiery eyes banked, in the stance of a golem with no current task other than to exist, and a woman was sitting in the chair by Moist's desk. Moist weighed her up. Attractive, certainly, but dressing apparently to play down the fact while artfully enhancing it. Bustles were back in fashion in the city for some inexplicable reason, but her only concession there was a bum-roll, which achieved a certain perkiness in the rear without the need to wear twenty-seven pounds of dangerously spring-loaded underwear. She was blonde but wore her hair in a bag net, another careful touch, while a small and quietly fashionable hat perched on top of her head to no particular purpose. A large shoulder bag was by her chair, a notebook was on her knee, and she wore a wedding ring. 'Mr Lipwig?' she said brightly. 'I am Miss Cripslock. From the Times! Okay, wedding ring but nevertheless 'Miss', thought Moist. Handle with care. Probably has Views. Do not attempt to kiss hand. 'And how can I assist the Times?' he said, sitting down and giving her a non-condescending smile. 'Do you intend to deliver all the backlog of mail, Mr Lipwig?'

'If at all possible, yes,' said Moist. 'Why?'

'It's my job. Rain, snow, gloom of night, just as it says over the door.'

'Have you heard about the fracas in Weaver Street?'

'I heard it was a rumpus.'

'I'm afraid it's got worse. There was a house on fire when I left. Doesn't that worry you?' Miss Cripslock's pencil was suddenly poised. Moist's face remained expressionless as he thought furiously. 'Yes, it does, of course,' he said. 'People shouldn't set fire to houses. But I also know that Mr Parker of the Merchants' Guild is marrying his boyhood sweetheart on Saturday. Did you know that?' Miss Cripslock hadn't, but she scribbled industriously as Moist told her about the greengrocer's letter. 'That's very interesting,' she said. 'I will go and see him immediately. So you're saying that delivering the old mail is a good thing?'

'Delivering the mail is the only thing,' said Moist, and hesitated again. Just on the edge of hearing was a whispering. 'Is there a problem?' said Miss Cripslock. 'What? No! What was I— Yes, it's the right thing. History is not to be denied, Miss Cripslock. And we are a communicating species, Miss Cripslock!' Moist raised his voice to drown out the whispering. 'The mail must get through! It must be delivered!'

'Er . . . you needn't shout, Mr Lipwig,' said the reporter, leaning backwards. Moist tried to get a grip, and the whispering died down a little. 'I'm sorry,' he said, and cleared his throat. 'Yes, I intend to deliver all the mail. If people have moved, we will try to find them. If they have died, we'll try to deliver to their descendants. The post will be delivered. We are tasked to deliver it, and deliver it we will. What else should we do with it? Burn it? Throw it in the river? Open it to decide if it's important? No, the letters were entrusted to our care. Delivery is the only way.' The whispering had almost died away now, so he went on: 'Besides, we need the space. The Post Office is being reborn!' He pulled out the sheet of stamps. 'With these!' She peered at them, puzzled. 'Little pictures of Lord Vetinari?' she said. 'Stamps, Miss Cripslock. One of those stuck on a letter will ensure delivery anywhere within the city. These are early sheets, but tomorrow we will be selling them gummed and perforated for ease of use. I intend to make it easy to use the post. Obviously we are still finding our feet, but soon I intend that we should be capable of delivering a letter to anyone, anywhere in the world.' It was a stupid thing to say, but his tongue had taken over. 'Aren't you being rather ambitious, Mr Lipwig?' she said. 'I'm sorry, I don't know any other way to be,' said Moist. 'I was thinking that we do have the clacks now.'

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