Going Postal

Page 37


'It's Iodine, Mr Lipwig,' said Miss Maccalariat, snuffling into a handkerchief. 'My father liked the sound.'

'Well . . . Iodine, I firmly believe that I will have the money to rebuild by the end of the day,' said Moist. She's blown her nose on it and, yes, yes, aargh, she's going to put it back up the sleeve of her cardigan, oh, gods . . . 'Yes, Mr Aggy said that, and there's talk, sir. They say you sent the gods letters asking for money! Oh, sir! It's not my place to say so, sir, but gods don't send you money!'

'I have faith, Miss Maccalariat,' said Moist, drawing himself up. 'My family have been Anoians for five generations, sir,' said Miss Maccalariat. 'We rattle the drawers every day, and we've never got anything solid, as you might say, excepting my granny who got an egg beater she didn't remember putting there and we're sure that was an accident—'

'Mr Lipwig! Mr Lipwig!' someone yelled. 'They say the clacks— Oh, I'm so sorry . . .' The sentence ended in syrup. Moist sighed, and turned to the grinning newcomer in the charcoal-rimmed doorway. 'Yes, Mr Aggy?'

'We've heard the clacks has gone down again, sir! To Pseudopolis!' said Aggy. 'How unfortunate,' said Moist. 'Come, Miss Maccalariat, come, Mr Aggy - let's move the mail!' There was a crowd in what remained of the hall. As Moist had remarked, the citizens had an enthusiasm for new things. The post was an old thing, of course, but it was so old that it had magically become new again. A cheer greeted Moist when he came down the steps. Give them a show, always give them a show. Ankh-Morpork would applaud a show. Moist commandeered a chair, stood on it and cupped his hands. 'Special today, ladies and gentlemen!' he shouted above the din. 'Mail to Pseudopolis, reduced to three pence only. Three pence! Coach goes at ten! And if anyone has clacks messages lodged with our unfortunate colleagues in the Grand Trunk Company, and would care to get them back, we will deliver them for free!' This caused an additional stir, and a number of people peeled away from the crowd and hurried off. 'The Post Office, ladies and gentlemen!' yelled Moist. 'We deliver!' There was a cheer. 'Do you want to know something really interesting, Mr Lipwig?' said Stanley, hurrying up. 'And what's that, Stanley?' said Moist, climbing down off the chair. 'We're selling lots of the new one-dollar stamps this morning! And do you know what? People are sending letters to themselves!'

'What?' said Moist, mystified. 'Just so the stamps have been through the post, sir. That makes them real, you see! It proves they've been used. They're collecting, them, sir! And it gets better, sir!'

'How could it get better than that, Stanley?' said Moist. He looked down. Yes, the boy had a new shirt, showing a picture of the penny stamp and bearing the legend: Ask Me About Stamps. 'Sto Lat want Teemer and Spools to do them their own set! And the other cities are asking about it, too!' Moist made a mental note: we'll change the stamps often. And offer stamp designs to every city and country we can think of. Everyone will want to have their own stamps rather than 'lick Vetinari's back side' and we'll honour them, too, if they'll deliver our mail, and Mr Spools will express his gratitude to us in very definite ways, I'll see to it. 'Sorry about your pins, Stanley.'

'Pins?' said the boy. 'Oh, pins. Pins are just pointy metal things, sir. Pins are dead! And so we progress, thought Moist. Aways keep moving. There may be something behind you. All we need now is for the gods to smile on us. Hmm. I think they'll smile a little broader outside. Moist stepped out into the daylight. The difference between the inside and the outside of the Post Office was less marked than formerly, but there were still a lot of people. There were a couple of watchmen, too. They'd be useful. They were already watching him suspiciously. Well, this was it. It was going to be a miracle. Actually, it bloody well was going to be a miracle!

Moist stared up into the sky, and listened to the voices of the gods.

Chapter Eleven

Mission Statement In which Lord Vetinari Gives Advice - Mr Lipwig's Bad Memory - Evil Criminal Geniuses' difficulty with finding property — Mr Groat's Fear of Bathing, and a Discussion on Explosive Underwear — Mr Pony and his flimsies - The Board debates, Gilt decides - Moist von Lipwig Attempts the Impossible The clocks were chiming seven o'clock. 'Ah, Mr Lipwig,' said Lord Vetinari, looking up. 'Thank you so much for dropping in. It has been such a busy day, has it not? Drumknott, do help Mr Lipwig to a chair. Prophecy can be very exhausting, I believe.' Moist waved the clerk away and eased his aching body into a seat. 'I didn't exactly decide to drop in,' he said. 'A large troll watchman walked in and grabbed me by the arm.'

'Ah, to steady you, I have no doubt,' said Lord Vetinari, who was poring over the battle between the stone trolls and the stone dwarfs. 'You accompanied him of your own free will, did you not?'

'I'm very attached to my arm,' said Moist. 'I thought I'd better follow it. What can I do for you, my lord?' Vetinari got up and went and sat in the chair behind his desk, where he regarded Moist with what almost looked like amusement. 'Commander Vimes has given me some succinct reports of today's events,' he said, putting down the troll figure he was holding and turning over a few sheets of paper. 'Beginning with the riot at the Grand Trunk offices this morning which, he says, you instigated . . . ?'

'All I did was volunteer to deliver such clacks messages as had been held up by the unfortunate breakdown,' said Moist. 'I didn't expect the idiots in their office to refuse to hand the messages back to their customers! People had paid in advance, after all. I was just helping everyone in a difficult time. And I certainly didn't “instigate” anyone to hit a clerk with a chair!'

'Of course not, of course not,' said Lord Vetinari. 'I am sure you acted quite innocently and from the best of intentions. But I am agog to hear about the gold, Mr Lipwig. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars, I believe.'

'Some of it I can't quite remember,' said Moist. 'It's all a bit unclear.'

'Yes, yes, I imagine it was. Perhaps I can clarify a few details?' said Lord Vetinari. 'Around mid-morning, Mr Lipwig, you were chatting to people outside your regrettably distressed building when' - here the Patrician glanced at his notes - 'you suddenly looked up, shielded your eyes, dropped to your knees and screamed, “Yes, yes, thank you, I am not worthy, glory be, may your teeth be picked clean by birds, halleluiah, rattle your drawers” and similar phrases, to the general concern of people nearby, and you then stood up with your hands outstretched and shouted “One hundred and fifty thousand dollars, buried in a field! Thank you, thank you, I shall fetch it immediately!” Whereupon you wrested a shovel from one of the men helping to clear the debris of the building and began to walk with some purpose out of the city.'

'Really?' said Moist. 'It's all a bit of a blank.'

'I'm sure it is,' said Vetinari happily. 'You will probably be quite surprised to know that a number of people followed you, Mr Lipwig? Including Mr Pump and two members of the City

Watch?'

'Good heavens, did they?'

'Quite. For several hours. You stopped to pray on a number of occasions. We must assume it was for the guidance which led your footsteps, at last, to a small wood among the cabbage fields.'

'It did? I'm afraid it's all rather a blur,' said Moist. 'I understand you dug like a demon, according to the Watch. And I note that a number of reputable witnesses were there when your shovel struck the lid of the chest. I understand the Times will be carrying a picture in the next edition.' Moist said nothing. It was the only way to be sure. 'Any comments, Mr Lipwig?'

'No, my lord, not really.'

'Hmm. About three hours ago I had the senior priests of three of the major religions in this office, along with a rather bewildered freelance priestess who I gather handles the worldly affairs of Anoia on an agency basis. They all claim that it was their god or goddess who told you where the gold was. You don't happen to remember which one it was, do you?'

'I sort of felt the voice rather than heard it,' said Moist carefully. 'Quite so,' said Vetinari. 'Incidentally, they all felt that their temples should get a tithe of the money,' he added. 'Each.'

'Sixty thousand dollars?' said Moist, sitting up. 'That's not right!'

'I commend the speed of your mental arithmetic in your shaken state. No lack of clarity there, I'm glad to see,' said Vetinari. 'I would advise you to donate fifty thousand, split four ways. It is, after all, in a very public and very definite and incontrovertible way, a gift from the gods. Is this not a time for reverential gratitude?' There was a lengthy pause, and then Moist raised a finger and managed, against all the odds, a cheerful smile. 'Sound advice, my lord. Besides, a man never knows when he might need a prayer.'

'Exactly,' said Lord Vetinari. 'It is less than they demanded but more than they expect, and I did point out to them that the remainder of the money was all going to be used for the civic good. It is going to be used for the civic good, isn't it, Mr Lipwig?'

'Oh, yes. Indeed!'

'That is just as well, since currently it's sitting in Commander Vimes's cells.' Vetinari looked down at Moist's trousers. 'I see you still have mud all over your lovely golden suit, Postmaster. Fancy all that money being buried in a field. And you can still remember nothing about how you got there?' Vetinari's expression was getting on Moist's nerves. You know, he thought. I know you know. You know I know you know. But I know you can't be certain, not certain. 'Well . . . there was an angel,' he said. 'Indeed? Any particular kind?'

'The kind you only get one of, I think,' said Moist. 'Ah, good. Well, then it all seems very clear to me,' said Vetinari, sitting back. 'It is not often a mortal man achieves such a moment of glorious epiphany, but I am assured by the priests that such a thing could happen, and who should know better than they? Anyone even suggesting that the money was in some way . . . obtained in some wrong fashion will have to argue with some very turbulent priests and also, I assume, find their kitchen drawers quite impossible to shut. Besides, you are donating money to the city—' he held up his hand when Moist opened his mouth, and went on, 'that is, the Post Office, so the notion of private gain does not arise. There appears to be no owner for the money, although so far, of course, nine hundred and thirty-eight people would like me to believe it belongs to them. Such is life in Ankh-Morpork. So, Mr Lipwig, you are instructed to rebuild the Post Office as soon as possible. The bills will be met and, since the money is effectively

a gift from the gods, there will be no drain on our taxes. Well done, Mr Lipwig. Very well done. Don't let me detain you.' Moist actually had his hand on the door handle when the voice behind him said: 'Just one minor thing, Mr Lipwig.' He stopped. 'Yes, sir?'

'It occurs to me that the sum which the gods so generously have seen fit to bestow upon us does, by pure happenstance, approximate to the estimated haul of a notorious criminal, which as far as I know has never been recovered.' Moist stared at the woodwork in front of him. Why is this man ruling just one city? he thought. Why isn't he ruling the world? Is this how he treats other people? It's like being a puppet. The difference is, he arranges for you to pull your own strings. He turned, face carefully deadpan. Lord Vetinari had walked over to his game. 'Really, sir? Who was that, then?' he said. 'One Albert Spangler, Mr Lipwig.'

'He's dead, sir,' said Moist. 'Are you sure?'

'Yes, sir. I was there when they hanged him.'

'Well remembered, Mr Lipwig,' said Vetinari, moving a dwarf all the way across the board. Damn, damn, damn! Moist shouted, but only for internal consumption. He'd worked hard for that mon— well, the banks and merchants had worked har— well, somewhere down the line someone had worked hard for that money, and now a third of it had been . . . well, stolen, that was the only word for it. Moist experienced a certain amount of unrighteous indignation about this. Of course he would have given most of it to the Post Office, that was the whole point, but you could construct a damn good building for a lot less than a hundred thousand dollars and Moist had been hoping for a little something for himself. Still, he felt good. Perhaps this was that 'wonderful warm feeling' people talked about. And what would he have done with the money? He never had time to spend it in any case. After all, what could a master criminal buy? There was a shortage of seaside properties with real lava flows near a reliable source of piranhas, and the world sure as hell didn't need another Dark Lord, not with Gilt doing so well. Gilt didn't need a tower with ten thousand trolls camped outside. He just needed a ledger and a sharp mind. It worked better, was cheaper and he could go out and party at night. Handing all that gold over to a copper had been a difficult thing to do, but there really was no choice. He'd got them by the short and curlies, anyway. No one was going to stand up and say the gods didn't do this sort of thing. True, they'd never done it so far, but you could never tell, with gods. Certainly there were queues outside the three temples, once the Times had put out its afternoon edition. This had presented a philosophical problem to the priesthoods. They were officially against people laying up treasures on earth but, they had to admit, it was always good to get bums on pews, feet in sacred groves, hands rattling drawers and fingers being trailed in the baby crocodile pool. They settled therefore for a kind of twinkle-eyed denial that it could happen again, while hinting that, well, you never know, ineffable are the ways of gods, eh? Besides, petitioners standing in line with their letter asking for a big bag of cash were open to the suggestion that those most likely to receiveth were the ones who had already givethed, and got the message once you'd tapped them on the head with the collecting plate a few times. Even Miss Extremelia Mume, whose small multi-purpose temple over a bookmakers' office in Cable Street handled the everyday affairs of several dozen minor gods, was doing good business

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