Going Postal

Page 41


'“Murdering conniving bastard of a weasel” was acceptable, however.'

'I shall remember that, Miss Maccalariat.'

'Very good, Postmaster.' Miss Maccalariat turned on her heel and went back to haranguing someone for not using blotting paper. Moist handed the paper to Miss Dearheart. 'He's going to walk away with it,' he said. 'He's just throwing words around. The Trunk's too big to fail. Too many investors. He'll get more money, keep the system going just this side of disaster, then let it collapse. Buy it up then via another company, maybe, at a knock-down price.'

'I'd suspect him of anything,' said Miss Dearheart. 'But you sound very certain.'

'That's what I'd do,' said Moist, 'er . . . if I was that kind of person. It's the oldest trick in the book. You get the punt— you get others so deeply involved that they don't dare fold. It's the dream, you see? They think if they stay in it'll all work out. They daren't think it's all a dream. You use big words to tell them it's going to be jam tomorrow and they hope. But they'll never win. Part of them knows that, but the rest of them never listens to it. The house always wins.'

'Why do people like Gilt get away with it?'

'I just told you. It's because people hope. They'll believe that someone will sell them a real diamond for a dollar. Sorry.'

'Do you know how I came to work for the Trust?' said Miss Dearheart. Because clay people are easier to deal with? Moist thought. They don't cough when you talk to them? 'No,' he said. 'I used to work in a bank in Sto Lat. The Cabbage Growers' Co-operative—'

'Oh, the one on the town square? With the carved cabbage over the door?' said Moist, before he could stop himself. 'You know it?' she said. 'Well, yes. I went past it, once . . .' Oh no, he thought, as his mind ran ahead of the conversation, oh, please, no . . . 'It wasn't a bad job,' said Miss Dearheart. 'In our office we had to inspect drafts and cheques. Looking for forgeries, you know? And one day I let four through. Four fakes! It cost the bank two thousand dollars. They were cash drafts, and the signatures were perfect. I got sacked for that. They said they had to do something, otherwise the customers would lose confidence. It's not fun, having people think you might be a crook. And that's what happens to people like us. People like Gilt always get away with it. Are you all right?'

'Hmm?' said Moist. 'You look a bit . . . off colour.' That had been a good day, Moist thought. At least, up until now it had been a good day. He'd been quite pleased with it at the time. You weren't supposed ever to meet the people afterwards. Gods damn Mr Pump and his actuarial concept of murder! He sighed. Oh well, it had come to this. He'd known it would. Him and Gilt, arm-wrestling to see who was the biggest bastard. 'This is the country edition of the Times,' he said. 'They don't go to press with the city edition for another ninety minutes, in case of late-breaking news. I think I can wipe the smile off his face, at least.'

'What are you going to do?' said Miss Dearheart. Moist adjusted the winged hat. 'Attempt the impossible,' he said.

Chapter Twelve

The Woodpecker The Challenge — Moving Mountains - The Many Uses of Cabbage — The Board Debates - Mr Lipwig on his Knees - The Smoking Gnu - The Way of the Woodpecker It was the next morning. Something prodded Moist. He opened his eyes, and stared along the length of a shiny black cane, past the hand holding the silver Death's head knob and into the face of Lord Vetinari. Behind him, the golem smouldered in the corner. 'Pray, don't get up,' said the Patrician. 'I expect you have had a busy night?'

'Sorry, sir,' said Moist, forcing himself upright. He'd fallen asleep at his desk again; his mouth tasted as though Tiddles had slept in it. Behind Vetinari's head he could see Mr Groat and Stanley, peering anxiously round the door. Lord Vetinari sat down opposite him, after dusting some ash off a chair. 'You have read this morning's Times,' he said. 'I was there when it was printed, sir.' Moist's neck seemed to have developed extra bones. He tried to twist his head straight. 'Ah, yes. Ankh-Morpork to Genua is about two thousand miles, Mr Lipwig. And you say you can get a message there faster than the clacks. You have issued that as a challenge. Most intriguing! 'Yes, sir.'

'Even the fastest coach takes almost two months, Mr Lipwig, and I'm given to understand that if you travelled non-stop your kidneys would be jolted out of your ears.'

'Yes, sir. I know that,' said Moist, yawning. 'It would be cheating, you know, to use magic' Moist yawned again. 'I know that too, sir.'

'Did you ask the Archchancellor of Unseen University before you suggested that he should devise the message for this curious race?' Lord Vetinari demanded, unfolding the newspaper. Moist caught sight of the headlines: THE RACE IS ON! 'Flying Postman' vs. Grand Trunk 'No, my lord. I said the message should be prepared by a well-respected citizen of great probity, such as the Archchancellor, sir.'

'Well, he's hardly likely to say no now, is he?' said Vetinari. 'I'd like to think so, sir. Gilt won't be able to bribe him, at least.'

'Hmm.' Vetinari tapped the floor once or twice with his cane. 'Would it surprise you to know that the feeling in the city this morning is that you'll win? The Trunk has never been out of commission for longer than a week, a clacks message can get to Genua in a few hours and yet, Mr

Lipwig, people think you can do this. Don't you find that amazing?'

'Er . . .'

'But, of course, you are the man of the moment, Mr Lipwig,' said Vetinari, suddenly jovial. 'You are the golden messenger!' His smile was reptilian. 'I do hope you know what you are doing. You do know what you are doing, don't you, Mr Lipwig?'

'Faith moves mountains, my lord,' said Moist. 'There are a lot of them between here and Genua, indeed,' said Lord Vetinari. 'You say in the paper that you'll leave tomorrow night?'

'That's right. The weekly coach. But on this run we won't take paying passengers, to save weight.' Moist looked into Vetinari's eyes. 'You wouldn't like to give me some little clue?' said the Patrician. 'Best all round if I don't, sir,' said Moist. 'I suppose the gods haven't left an extremely fast magical horse buried somewhere nearby, have they?'

'Not that I'm aware, sir,' said Moist earnestly. 'Of course, you never know until you pray.'

'No-o,' said Vetinari. He's trying the penetrating gaze, Moist thought. But we know how to deal with that, don't we? We let it pass right through. 'Gilt will have to accept the challenge, of course,' said Vetinari. 'But he is a man of . . . ingenious resource.' That seemed to Moist to be a very careful way of saying 'murderous bastard'. Once away, he let it pass. His lordship stood up. 'Until tomorrow night, then,' he said. 'No doubt there will be some little ceremony for the newspapers?'

'I haven't actually planned that, sir,' said Moist. 'No, of course you haven't,' said Lord Vetinari, and gave him what could only be called . . . a look. Moist got very much the same look from Jim Upwright, before the man said: 'Well, we can put out the word and call in some favours and we'll get good horses at the post houses, Mr Lipwig, but we only go as far as Bonk, you know? Then you'll have to change. The Genua Express is pretty good, though. We know the lads.'

'You sure you want to hire the whole coach?' said Harry, as he rubbed down a horse. 'It'll be expensive, 'cos we'll have to put on another for the passengers. It's a popular run, that one.'

'Just the mail in that coach,' said Moist. 'And some guards.'

'Ah, you think you'll be attacked?' said Harry, squeezing the towel bone dry with barely an effort. 'What do you think?' said Moist. The brothers looked at one another. 'I'll drive it, then,' said Jim. 'They don't call me Leadpipe for nothing.'

'Besides, I heard there were bandits up in the mountains,' said Moist. 'Used to be,' said Jim. 'Not as many now.'

'That's something less to worry about, then,' said Moist. 'Dunno,' said Jim. 'We never found out what wiped them out.' Always remember that the crowd which applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading. People like a show.

People like a show . . . . . . and so mail was coming in for Genua, at a dollar a time. A lot of mail. It was Stanley who explained. He explained several times, because Moist had a bit of a blind spot on this one. 'People are sending envelopes with stamps inside envelopes to the coach office in Genua so that the first envelope can be sent back in the second envelope,' was the shape of explanation that finally blew on some sparks in Moist's brain. 'They want the envelopes back?' he said. 'Why?'

'Because they've been used, sir.'

'That makes them valuable?'

'I'm not sure how, sir. It's like I told you, sir. I think some people think that they're not real stamps until they've done the job they were invented to do, sir. Remember the first printing of the one penny stamps that we had to cut out with scissors? An envelope with one of those on is worth two dollars to a collector.'

'Two hundred times more than the stamp?'

'That's how it's going sir,' said Stanley, his eyes sparkling. 'People post letters to themselves just to get the stamp, er, stamped, sir. So they've been used.'

'Er . . . I've got a couple of rather crusty handkerchiefs in my pocket,' said Moist, mystified. 'Do you think people might want to buy them at two hundred times what they cost?'

'No, sir!' said Stanley. 'Then why should—'

'There's a lot of interest, sir. I thought we could do a whole set of stamps for the big guilds, sir. All the collectors would want them. What do you think?'

'That's a very clever idea, Stanley,' said Moist. 'We'll do that. The one for the Seamstresses' Guild might have to go inside a plain brown envelope, eh? Haha!' This time it was Stanley who looked perplexed. 'Sorry, sir?' Moist coughed. 'Oh, nothing. Well, I can see you're learning fast, Stanley.' Some things, anyway. 'Er . . . yes, sir. Er . . . I don't want to push myself forward, sir—'

'Push away, Stanley, push away,' said Moist cheerfully. Stanley pulled a small paper folder out of his pocket, opened it, and laid it reverentially in front of Moist. 'Mr Spools helped me with some of it,' he said. 'But I did a lot.' It was a stamp. It was a yellowy-green colour. It showed - Moist peered - a field of cabbages, with some buildings on the horizon. He sniffed. It smelled of cabbages. Oh, yes. 'Printed with cabbage ink and using gum made from broccoli, sir,' said Stanley, full of pride. 'A Salute to the Cabbage Industry of the Sto Plains, sir. I think it might do very well. Cabbages are so popular, sir. You can make so many things out of them!'

'Well, I can see that—'

'There's cabbage soup, cabbage beer, cabbage fudge, cabbage cake, cream of cabbage—'

'Yes, Stanley, I think you—'

'—pickled cabbage, cabbage jelly, cabbage salad, boiled cabbage, deep-fried cabbage—'

'Yes, but now can—'

'—fricassee of cabbage, cabbage chutney, Cabbage Surprise, sausages—'

'Sausages?'

'Filled with cabbage, sir. You can make practically anything with cabbage, sir. Then there's—'

'Cabbage stamps,' said Moist, terminally. 'At fifty pence, I note. You have hidden depths, Stanley.'

'I owe it all to you, Mr Lipwig!' Stanley burst out. 'I have put the childish playground of pins right behind me, sir! The world of stamps, which can teach a young man much about history and geography as well as being a healthy, enjoyable, engrossing and thoroughly worthwhile hobby that will give him an interest that will last a lifetime, has opened up before me and—'

'Yes, yes, thank you!' said Moist. '—and I'm putting thirty dollars into the pot, sir. All my savings. Just to show we support you.' Moist heard all the words, but had to wait for them to make sense. 'Pot?' he said at last. 'You mean like a bet?'

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