Going Postal

Page 3

'One must always consider the psychology of the individual,' said Vetinari, correcting the spelling on an official report. 'That is what I do all the time and lamentably, Drumknott, you do not always do. That is why he has walked off with your pencil.' Always move fast. You never know what's catching you up. Ten minutes later Moist von Lipwig was well outside the city. He'd bought a horse, which was a bit embarrassing, but speed had been of the essence and he'd only had time to grab one of his emergency stashes from its secret hiding place and pick up a skinny old screw from the Bargain Box in Hobson's Livery Stable. At least it'd mean no irate citizen going to the Watch. No one had bothered him. No one had looked at him twice; no one ever did. The city gates had indeed been wide open. The plains lay ahead of him, full of opportunity. And he was good at parlaying nothing into something. For example, at the first little town he came to he'd go to work on this old nag with a few simple techniques and ingredients that'd make it worth twice the price he'd paid for it, at least for about twenty minutes or until it rained. Twenty minutes would be enough time to sell it and, with any luck, pick up a better horse worth slightly more than the asking price. He'd do it again at the next town and in three days, maybe four, he'd have a horse worth owning. But that would be just a sideshow, something to keep his hand in. He'd got three very nearly diamond rings sewn into the lining of his coat, a real one in a secret pocket in the sleeve, and a very nearly gold dollar stitched cunningly into the collar. These were, to him, what his saw and hammer are to a carpenter. They were primitive tools, but they'd put him back in the game. There is a saying 'You can't fool an honest man' which is much quoted by people who make a profitable living by fooling honest men. Moist never knowingly tried it, anyway. If you did fool an honest man, he tended to complain to the local Watch, and these days they were harder to buy off. Fooling dishonest men was a lot safer and, somehow, more sporting. And, of course, there were so many more of them. You hardly had to aim. Half an hour after arriving in the town of Hapley, where the big city was a tower of smoke on the horizon, he was sitting outside an inn, downcast, with nothing in the world but a genuine diamond ring worth a hundred dollars and a pressing need to get home to Genua, where his poor aged mother was dying of Gnats. Eleven minutes later he was standing patiently outside a jeweller's shop, inside which the jeweller was telling a sympathetic citizen that the ring the stranger was prepared to sell for twenty dollars was worth seventy-five (even jewellers have to make a living). And thirty-five minutes after that he was riding out on a better horse, with five dollars in his pocket, leaving behind a gloating sympathetic citizen who, despite having been bright enough to watch Moist's hands carefully, was about to go back to the jeweller to try to sell for seventy-five dollars a shiny brass ring with a glass stone that was worth fifty pence of anybody's money. The world was blessedly free of honest men, and wonderfully full of people who believed they could tell the difference between an honest man and a crook. He tapped his jacket pocket. The jailers had taken the map off him, of course, probably while he was busy being a dead man. It was a good map, and in studying it Mr Wilkinson and his chums would learn a lot about decryption, geography and devious cartography. They wouldn't find in it the whereabouts of AM$ 150,000 in mixed currencies, though, because the map was a complete and complex fiction. However, Moist entertained a wonderful warm feeling inside to think that they would, for some time, possess that greatest of all treasures, which is Hope. Anyone who couldn't simply remember where he'd stashed a great big fortune deserved to lose it, in Moist's opinion. But, for now, he'd have to keep away from it, while having it to look forward to . . . Moist didn't even bother to note the name of the next town. It had an inn, and that was enough. He took a room with a view over a disused alley, checked that the window opened easily, ate an adequate meal, and had an early night. Not bad at all, he thought. This morning he'd been on the scaffold with the actual noose round his actual neck, tonight he was back in business. All he need do now was grow a beard again, and keep away from Ankh-Morpork for six months. Or perhaps only three. Moist had a talent. He'd also acquired a lot of skills so completely that they were second nature. He'd learned to be personable, but something in his genetics made him unmemorable. He had the talent of not being noticed, for being a face in the crowd. People had difficulty describing him. He was . . . he was 'about'. He was about twenty, or about thirty. On Watch reports across the continent he was anywhere between, oh, about six feet two inches and five feet nine inches tall, hair all shades from mid-brown to blond, and his lack of distinguishing features included his entire face. He was about . . . average. What people remembered was the furniture, things like spectacles and moustaches, so he always carried a selection of both. They remembered names and mannerisms, too. He had hundreds of those. Oh, and they remembered that they'd been richer before they met him. At three in the morning, the door burst open. It was a real burst; bits of wood clattered off the wall. But Moist was already out of bed and diving for the window before the first of them hit the floor. It was an automatic reaction that owed nothing to thought. Besides, he'd checked before lying down, and there was a large water butt outside that would break his fall. It wasn't there now. Whoever had stolen it had not stolen the ground it stood on, however, and it broke Moist's fall by twisting his ankle. He pulled himself up, keening softly in agony, and hopped along the alley, using the wall for support. The inn's stables were round the back; all he had to do was pull himself up on to a horse, any horse— 'Mr Lipwig?' a big voice bellowed. Oh, gods, it was a troll, it sounded like a troll, a big one too, he didn't know you got any down here outside the cities— 'You Can't Run And You Can't Hide, Mr Lipwig!' Hold on, hold on, he hadn't given his real name to anyone in this place, had he? But all this was background thinking. Someone was after him, therefore he would run. Or hop. He risked a look behind him when he reached the back gate to the stables. There was a red glow in his room. Surely they weren't torching the place over a matter of a few dollars? How stupid! Everyone knew that if you got lumbered with a good fake you palmed it off on to some other sucker as soon as possible, didn't they? There was no helping some people. His horse was alone in the stable, and seemed unimpressed to see him. He got the bridle on, while hopping on one foot. There was no point in bothering with a saddle. He knew how to ride without a saddle. Hell, once he'd ridden without pants, too, but luckily all the tar and feathers helped him stick to the horse. He was the world champion at leaving town in a hurry. He went to lead the horse out of the stall, and heard the clink. He looked down, and kicked some straw away. There was a bright yellow bar, joining two short lengths of chain with a yellow shackle attached, one for each foreleg. The only way this horse would go anywhere was by hopping, just like him.

They'd clamped it. They'd bloody clamped it . . . 'Oh, Mr Lipppppwig!' The voice boomed out across the stable yard. 'Do You Want To Know The Rules, Mr Lipwig?' He looked around in desperation. There was nothing in here to use as a weapon and in any case weapons made him nervous, which was why he'd never carried one. Weapons raised the ante far too high. It was much better to rely on a gift for talking his way out of things, confusing the issue and, if that failed, some well-soled shoes and a cry of 'Look, what's that over there?' But he had a definite feeling that while he could talk as much as he liked, out here no one was going to listen. As for speeding away, he'd just have to rely on hop. There was a yard broom and a wooden feed bucket in the corner. He stuck the head of the broom under his armpit to make a crutch and grabbed the bucket handle as heavy footsteps thudded towards the stable door. When the door was pushed open he swung the bucket as hard as he could, and felt it shatter. Splinters filled the air. A moment later there was the thump of a heavy body hitting the ground. Moist hopped over it and plunged unsteadily into the dark. Something as tough and hard as a shackle snapped round his good ankle. He hung from the broom handle for a second, and then collapsed. 'I Have Nothing But Good Feelings Towards You, Mr Lipwig!' boomed the voice cheerfully. Moist groaned. The broom must have been kept as an ornament, because it certainly hadn't been used much on the accumulations in the stable yard. On the positive side, this meant he had fallen into something soft. On the negative side, it meant that he had fallen into something soft. Someone grabbed a handful of his coat and lifted him bodily out of the muck. 'Up We Get, Mr Lipwig!'

'It's pronounced Lipvig, you moron,' he moaned. 'A v, not a w!'

'Up Ve Get, Mr Lipvig!' said the booming voice, as his broom/ crutch was pushed under his arm. 'What the hell are you?' Lipwig managed. 'I Am Your Parole Officer, Mr Lipvig!' Moist managed to turn round, and looked up, and then up again, into a gingerbread man's face with two glowing red eyes in it. When it spoke, its mouth was a glimpse into an inferno. 'A golem? You're a damn golem?' The thing picked him up in one hand and slung him over its shoulder. It ducked into the stables and Moist, upside down with his nose pressed against the terracotta of the creature's body, realized that it was picking up his horse in its other hand. There was a brief whinny. 'Ve Must Make Haste, Mr Lipvig! You Are Due In Front Of Lord Vetinari At Eight O'clock! And At Vork By Nine!' Moist groaned. 'Ah, Mr Lipwig. Regrettably, we meet again,' said Lord Vetinari. It was eight o'clock in the morning. Moist was swaying. His ankle felt better, but it was the only part of him that did. 'It walked all night!' he said. 'All damn night! Carrying a horse as well!'

'Do sit down, Mr Lipwig,' said Vetinari, looking up from the table and gesturing wearily to the chair. 'By the way, “it” is a “he”. An honorific in this case, clearly, but I have great hopes of Mr Pump.' Moist saw the glow on the walls as, behind him, the golem smiled.

Vetinari looked down at the table again, and seemed to lose interest in Moist for a moment. A slab of stone occupied most of the table. Little carved figurines of dwarfs and trolls covered it. It looked like some kind of game. 'Mr Pump?' said Moist. 'Hmm?' said Vetinari, moving his head to look at the board from a slightly different viewpoint. Moist leaned towards the Patrician, and jerked a thumb in the direction of the golem. 'That', he said, 'is Mr Pump?'

'No,' said Lord Vetinari, leaning forward likewise and suddenly, completely and disconcertingly focusing on Moist. 'He . . . is Mr Pump. Mr Pump is a government official. Mr Pump does not sleep. Mr Pump does not eat. And Mr Pump, Postmaster General, does not stop.'

'And that means what, exactly?'

'It means that if you are thinking of, say, finding a ship headed for Fourecks, on the basis that Mr Pump is big and heavy and travels only at walking pace, Mr Pump will follow you. You have to sleep. Mr Pump does not. Mr Pump does not breathe. The deep abyssal plains of the oceans present no barrier to Mr Pump. Four miles an hour is six hundred and seventy-two miles in a week. It all adds up. And when Mr Pump catches you—'

'Ah, now,' said Moist, holding up a finger. 'Let me stop you there. I know golems are not allowed to hurt people!' Lord Vetinari raised his eyebrows. 'Good heavens, wherever did you hear that?'

'It's written on . . . something inside their heads! A scroll, or something. Isn't it?' said Moist, uncertainty rising. 'Oh, dear.' The Patrician sighed. 'Mr Pump, just break one of Mr Lipwig's fingers, will you? Neatly, if you please.'

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