Going Postal

Page 31

The Hour of the Dead was different. That was one hour for repairs, replacements, maybe even some paperwork. It was mostly replacements. It was fiddly to repair a shutter high up on the tower with the wind making it tremble and freezing the blood in your fingers, and always better to swing it out and down to the ground and slot another one in place. But when you were running out of time, it was tempting to brave the wind and try to free the bloody shutters by hand. Sometimes the wind won. The Hour of the Dead was when men died. And when a man died, they sent him home by clacks. Moist's mouth dropped open. 'Huh?'

'That's what they call it,' said Harry. 'Not lit'rally, o' course. But they send his name from one end of the Trunk to the other, ending up at the tower nearest his home.'

'Yeah, but they say sometimes the person stays on in the towers, somehow,' said Jim.' “Living in the Overhead”, they call it.'

'But they're mostly pissed when they say that,' said Harry. 'Oh, yes, mostly pissed, I'll grant you,' said his brother. 'They get worked too hard. There's no Hour of the Dead now; they only get twenty minutes. They cut the staff, too. They used to run a slow service on Octedays; now it's high speed all the time, except towers keep breaking down. We seen lads come down from them towers with their eyes spinning and their hands shaking and no idea if it's bum or breakfast time. It drives 'em mad. Eh? Damn right!'

'Except that they're already mad,' said Harry. 'You'd have to be mad to work up in them things.'

'They get so mad even ordinary mad people think they're mad.'

'That's right. But they still go back up there. The clacks drives them back. The clacks owns them, gets into their souls,' said Harry. 'They get paid practically nothing but I'll swear they'd go up those towers for free.'

'The Grand Trunk runs on blood now, since the new gang took over. It's killin' men for money,' said Jim. Harry drained his mug. 'We won't have none of it,' he said. 'We'll run your mail for you, Mr Lipwig, for all that you wear a damn silly hat.'

'Tell me,' said Moist, 'have you ever heard of something called the Smoking Gnu?'

'Dunno much,' said Jim. 'A couple of the boys mentioned them once. Some kind of outlaw signallers, or something. Something to do with the Overhead.'

'What is the Overhead? Er . . . dead people live in it?'

'Look, Mr Lipwig, we just listen, okay,' said Jim. 'We chat to 'em nice and easy, 'cos when they come down from the towers they're so dozy they'll walk under your coach wheels—'

'It's the rocking in the wind,' said Harry. 'They walk like sailors.'

'Right. The Overhead? Well, they say a lot of the messages the clacks carries is about the clacks, okay? Orders from the company, housekeeping messages, messages about messages—'

'—dead men's names—' said Moist. 'Yeah, them too. Well, the Smoking Gnu is in there somewhere,' Jim went on. 'That's all I know. I drive coaches, Mr Lipwig. I ain't a clever man like them up on the towers. Hah, I'm stupid enough to keep my feet on the ground!'

'Tell Mr Lipwig about Tower 93, Jim,' said Harry. 'Make 'is flesh creep!'

'Yeah, heard about that one?' said Jim, looking slyly at Moist. 'No. What happened?'

'Only two lads were up there, where there should've been three. One of them went out in a gale to budge a stuck shutter, which he shouldn't've done, and fell off and got his safety rope tangled

round his neck. So the other bloke rushed out to get him, without his safety rope - which he shouldn't've done - and they reckon he got blown right off the tower.'

'That's horrible,' said Moist. 'Not creepy, though. As such.'

'Oh, you want the creepy bit? Ten minutes after they was both dead the tower sent a message for help. Sent by a dead man's hand.' Jim stood up and put his tricorn hat on. 'Got to take a coach out in twenty minutes. Nice to meet you, Mr Lipwig.' He pulled open a drawer in the battered desk and pulled out a length of lead pipe. 'That's for highwaymen,' he said, and then took out a big silver brandy flask. 'And this is for me,' he added with rather more satisfaction. 'Eh? Damn right!' And I thought the Post Office was full of crazy people, Moist thought. 'Thank you,' he said, standing. Then he remembered the strange letter in his pocket, for whatever use it was, and added: 'Have you got a coach stopping at Pseudopolis tomorrow?'

'Yeah, at ten o'clock,' said Harry. 'We'll have a bag for it,' said Moist. 'Is is worth it?' said Jim. 'It's more'n fifty miles, and I heard they've got the Trunk repaired. It's a stoppin' coach, won't get there 'til nearly dark.'

'Got to make the effort, Jim,' said Moist. The coachman gave him a look with a little glint that indicated he thought Moist was up to something, but said: 'Well, you're game, I'll say that for you. We'll wait for your bag, Mr Lipwig, and the best of luck to you. Must rush, sir.'

'What coach are you taking out?' said Moist. Til take the first two stages of the overnight flyer to Quirm, leaving at seven,' said Jim. 'If it's still got all its wheels.'

'It's nearly seven?'

'Twenty to, sir.'

'I'll be late!' The coachmen watched him run back across the yard, with Mr Pump and Gladys trailing slowly behind. Jim pulled on his thick leather gauntlets, thoughtfully, and then said to his brother: 'You know how you get them funny feelings?'

'I reckon I do, Jim.'

'And would you reckon there'll be a clacks failure between here and Pseudopolis tomorrow?'

'Funny you should mention that. Mind you, it'd be a two to one bet anyway, the way things have been going. Maybe he's just a betting man, Jim.'

'Yeah,' said Jim. 'Yeah. Eh? Damn right!' Moist struggled out of the golden suit. It was good advertising, no doubt about it, and when he wore it he felt he had style coming out of his ears, but wearing something like that to the Mended Drum meant that he wanted to be hit over the head with a stool and what would come out of his ears wouldn't bear thinking about. He threw the winged hat on the bed and struggled into his second golem-made suit. Sombre, he'd said. You had to hand it to golem tailoring. The suit was so black that if it had been sprinkled with stars the owls would have collided with it. He needed more time but Adora Belle Dearheart was not someone you felt you should keep waiting. 'You look fine, sir,' said Groat. 'Thanks, thanks,' said Moist, struggling with his tie. 'You're in charge, Mr Groat. Should all be quiet this evening. Remember, first thing tomorrow, all mail for Pseudopolis ten pence a go, okay?'

'Right you are, sir. Can I wear the hat now?' Groat pleaded.

'What? What?' said Moist, staring into the mirror. 'Look, have I got spinach between my teeth?'

'Have You Eaten Spinach Today, Sir?' said Mr Pump. 'I haven't eaten spinach since I was old enough to spit,' said Moist. 'But people always worry about that at a time like this, don't they? I thought it just turned up somehow. You know . . . like moss? What was it you asked me, Tolliver?'

'Can I wear the hat, sir?' said Groat patiently. 'Bein' as I'm your deputy and you're going out, sir.'

'But we're closed, Groat.'

'Yes, but . . . it's . . . I'd just like to wear the hat. For a while, sir. Just for a while, sir. If it's all right with you.' Groat shifted from one foot to the other. 'I mean, I will be in charge.' Moist sighed. 'Yes, of course, Mr Groat. You may wear the hat. Mr Pump?'

'Yes, Sir?'

'Mr Groat is in charge for the evening. You will not follow me, please.'

'No, I Will Not. My Day Off Begins Now. For All Of Us. We Will Return At Sunset Tomorrow,' said the golem. 'Oh . . . yes.' One day off every week, Miss Dearheart said. It was part of what distinguished golems from hammers. 'I wish you'd given me more warning, you know? We're going to be a bit short-staffed.'

'You Were Told, Mr Lipvig.'

'Yes, yes. It is a rule. It's just that tomorrow is going to be—'

'Don't you worry about a thing, sir,' said Groat. 'Some of the lads I hired today, sir, they're postmen's sons, sir, and grandsons. No problem, sir. They'll be out delivering tomorrow.'

'Oh. Good. That's fine, then.' Moist adjusted the tie again. A black tie on a black shirt under a black jacket isn't easy even to find. 'All right, Mr Pump? Still no attack of spinach? I'm going to see a lady.'

'Yes, Mr Lipvig. Miss Dearheart,' said the golem calmly. 'How did you know that?' said Moist. 'You Shouted It Out In Front Of Approximately A Hundred People, Mr Lipvig,' said Mr Pump. 'We - That Is To Say, Mr Lipvig, All The Golems - We Wish Miss Dearheart Was A Happier Lady. She Has Had Much Trouble. She Is Looking For Someone With—'

'—a cigarette lighter?' said Moist quickly. 'Stop right there, Mr Pump, please! Cupids are these . . . little overweight kids in nappies, all right? Not big clay people.'

'Anghammarad Said She Reminded Him Of Lela The Volcano Goddess, Who Smokes All The Time Because The God Of Rain Has Rained On Her Lava,' the golem went on. 'Yes, but women always complain about that sort of thing,' said Moist. 'I look all right, Mr Groat, do I?'

'Oh, sir,' said Groat, 'I shouldn't think Mr Moist von Lipwig ever has to worry when he's off to meet a young lady, eh?' Come to think of it, Moist came to think as he hurried through the crowded streets, he never has been off to meet a young lady. Not in all these years. Oh, Albert and all the rest of them had met hundreds, and had all kinds of fun, including once getting his jaw dislocated which was only fun in a no-fun-at-all kind of way. But Moist, never. He'd always been behind the false moustache or glasses or, really, just the false person. He had that naked feeling again, and began to wish he hadn't left his golden suit behind. When he reached the Mended Drum he remembered why he had. People kept telling him that Ankh-Morpork was a lot more civilized these days, that between them the Watch and the Guilds had settled things down enough to ensure that actually being

attacked while going about your lawful business in Ankh-Morpork was now merely a possibility instead of, as it once was, a matter of course. And the streets were so clean now that you could sometimes even see the street. But the Mended Drum could be depended upon. If someone didn't come out of the door backwards and fall down in the street just as you passed, then there was something wrong with the world. And there was a fight going on. More or less. But in some ways at least time had moved on. You couldn't just haul off and belt someone with an axe these days. People expected things of a bar brawl. As he went in Moist passed a large group of men of the broken-nosed, one-eared persuasion, bent in anxious conclave. 'Look, Bob, what part of this don't you understand, eh? It's a matter of style, okay? A proper brawl doesn't just happen. You don't just pile in, not any more. Now, Oyster Dave here - put your helmet back on, Dave - will be the enemy in front and Basalt who, as we know, don't need a helmet, he'll be the enemy coming up behind you. Okay, it's well past knuckles time, let's say Gravy there has done his thing with the Bench Swipe, there's a bit of knifeplay, we've done the whole Chandelier Swing number, blah blah blah, then Second Chair - that's you, Bob - you step smartly between their Number Five man and a Bottler, swing the chair back over your head like this - sorry, Pointy -and then swing it right back on to Number Five, bang, crash, and there's a cushy six points in your pocket. If they're playing a dwarf at Number Five then a chair won't even slow him down but don't fret, hang on to the bits that stay in your hand, pause one moment as he comes at you and then belt him across both ears. They hate that, as Stronginthearm here will tell you. Another three points. It's probably going to be freestyle after that but I want all of you, including Mucky Mick and Crispo, to try for a Double Andrew when it gets down to the fist-fighting again. Remember? You back into each other, turn round to give the other guy a thumping, cue moment of humorous recognition, then link left arms, swing round and see to the other fellow's attacker, foot or fist, it's your choice. Fifteen points right there if you get it to flow just right. Oh, and remember we'll have an Igor standing by, so if your arm gets taken off do pick it up and hit the other bugger with it - it gets a laugh and twenty points. On that subject, do remember what I said about getting everything tattooed with your name, all right? Igors do their best, but you'll be on your feet much quicker if you make life easier for him and, what's more, it's your feet you'll be on. Okay, positions everyone, let's run through it again . . .' Moist sidled past the group and scanned the huge room. The important thing was not to slow down. Slowing down attracted people. He saw a thin plume of blue smoke rise above the crowd, and forced his way through. Miss Dearheart was sitting alone at a very small table with a very small drink in front of her. She couldn't have been there long; the only other stool was unoccupied. 'Do you come in here often?' said Moist, slipping on to it quickly. Miss Dearheart raised her eyebrows at him. 'Yes. Why not?'

Tip: You can use left and right keyboard keys to browse between pages.