Going Postal

Page 46


'Well, what do you want, Mr Clever?'

'If you help me, I can take Gilt for everything he's got,' said Moist. 'Help me. Please? On my honour as a totally untrustworthy man?' That at least got a brief smile, to be replaced almost immediately by the default expression of deep suspicion. Then some inner struggle resolved itself. 'You'd better come into the parlour,' she said, opening the door all the way. That room was small, dark and crowded with respectability. Moist sat on the edge of a chair, trying not to disturb anything, while he strained to hear women's voices along the hallway. Then Miss Dearheart slipped in and shut the door behind her. 'I hope this is all right with your family,' said Moist. 'I—'

'I told them we were courting,' said Miss Dearheart. 'That's what parlours are for. The tears of joy and hope in my mother's eyes were a sight to see. Now, what do you want?'

'Tell me about your father,' said Moist. 'I've got to know how the Grand Trunk was taken over. Have you still got any paperwork?'

'It won't do any good. A lawyer looked at it and said it would be very hard to make a case—'

'I intend to appeal to a higher court,' said Moist. 'I mean, we can't prove a lot of things, not actually prove—' Miss Dearheart protested. 'I don't have to,' said Moist. 'The lawyer said it would take months and months of work to—' she went on, determined to find a snag. 'I'll make someone else pay for it,' said Moist. 'Have you got books? Ledgers? Anything like that?'

'What are you intending to do?' Miss Dearheart demanded. 'It's better if you don't know. It really is. I know what I'm doing, Spike. But you shouldn't.'

'Well, there's a big box of papers,' said Miss Dearheart uncertainly. 'I suppose I could just sort of . . . leave it in here while I'm tidying up . . .'

'Good.'

'But can I trust you?'

'On this? My gods, no! Your father trusted Gilt, and look what happened! I wouldn't trust me if I was you. But I would if I was me.'

'The funny thing is, Mr Lipwig, that I find myself trusting you all the more when you tell me how untrustworthy you are,' said Miss Dearheart. Moist sighed. 'Yes, I know, Spike. Wretched, isn't it? It's a people thing. Could you fetch the box, please?' She did so, with a puzzled frown. It took all afternoon and even then Moist wasn't sure, but he'd filled a small notebook with scribbles. It was like looking for piranhas in a river choked with weeds. There were a lot of bones on the bottom. But, although sometimes you thought you'd glimpsed a flash of silver, you could

never be sure you'd seen a fish. The only way to be certain was to jump in. By half past four Sator Square was packed. The wonderful thing about the golden suit and the hat with wings was that, if Moist took them off, he wasn't him any more. He was just a nondescript person with unmemorable clothes and a face you might vaguely think you'd seen before. He wandered through the crowd, heading towards the Post Office. No one gave him a second glance. Most didn't bother with a first glance. In a way he'd never realized until now, he was alone. He'd always been alone. It was the only way to be safe. The trouble was, he missed the golden suit. Everything was an act, really. But the Man in the Golden Suit was a good act. He didn't want to be a person you forgot, someone who was one step above a shadow. Underneath the winged hat, he could do miracles or, at least, make it appear that miracles had been done, which is nearly as good. He'd have to do one in an hour or two, that was certain. Oh well . . . He went round the back of the Post Office, and was about to slip inside when a figure in the shadow said, 'Pissed!'

'I suspect you mean Psst?' said Moist. Sane Alex stepped out of the shadows; he was wearing his old Grand Trunk donkey jacket and a huge helmet with horns on. 'We're running slow with the canvas—' he began. 'Why the helmet?' said Moist. 'It's a disguise,' said Alex. 'A big horned helmet?'

'Yes. It makes me so noticeable that no one will suspect I'm trying not to be noticed, so they won't bother to notice me.'

'Only a very intelligent man would think of something like that,' said Moist carefully. 'What's happening?'

'We need more time,' said Alex. 'What? The race starts at six!'

'It won't be dark enough. We won't be able to get the sail up until half past at least. We'll be spotted if we poke our heads over the parapet before then.'

'Oh, come on! The other towers are far too far away!'

'People on the road aren't,' said Alex. 'Blast!' Moist had forgotten about the road. All it would take later was someone saying he'd seen people on the old wizarding tower . . . 'Listen, we've got it all ready to raise,' said Alex, watching his face. 'We can work fast when we're up there. We just need half an hour of darkness, maybe a few minutes more.' Moist bit his lip. 'Okay. I can do that, I think. Now get back there and help them. But don't start until I get there, understand? Trust me!' I'm saying that a lot, he thought after the man had hurried away. I just hope they will. He went up to his office. The golden suit was on its hanger. He put it on. There was work to do. It was dull, but it had to be done. So he did it. At half past five the floorboards creaked as Mr Pump walked into the room, dragging a broomstick behind him. 'Soon It Will Be Time For The Race, Mr Lipvig,' he said. 'I must finish a few things,' said Moist. 'There's letters here from builders and architects, oh, and someone wants me to cure their warts . . . I really have to deal with the paperwork, Mr Pump.'

In the privacy of Reacher Gilt's kitchen, Igor very carefully wrote a note. There were niceties to be observed, after all. You didn't just leg it like a thief in the night. You tidied up, made sure the larder was stocked, washed the dishes and took exactly what you were owed from the petty cash box. Shame, really. It had been a pretty good job. Gilt hadn't expected him to do much, and Igor had enjoyed terrorizing the other servants. Most of them, anyway. 'It's so sad you're going, Mr Igor,' said Mrs Glowbury, the cook. She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. 'You've been a real breath of fresh air.'

'Can't be helped, Mrthth Glowbury,' said Igor. 'I thall mith your thteak and kidney pie, and no mithtake. It doth my heart good to thee a woman who can really make thomething out of leftoverth.'

'I've knitted you this, Mr Igor,' said the cook, hesitantly proffering a small soft package. Igor opened it with care, and unfolded a red and white striped balaclava. 'I thought it would help keep your bolt warm,' said Mrs Glowbury, blushing. Igor agonized for a moment. He liked and respected the cook. He'd never seen a woman handle sharp knives so skilfully. Sometimes, you had to forget the Code of the Igors. 'Mrthth Glowbury, you did thay you had a thithter in Quirm?' he said. 'That's right, Mr Igor.'

'Now would be a very good time for you to go and vithit her,' said Igor firmly. 'Do not athk me why. Goodbye, dear Mrthth Glowbury. I thall remember your liver with fondneth.' Now it was ten minutes to six. 'If You Leave Now, Mr Lipvig, You Will Be Just In Time For The Race,' the golem rumbled, from the corner. 'This is work of civic importance, Mr Pump,' said Moist severely, reading another letter. 'I am showing rectitude and attention to duty.'

'Yes, Mr Lipvig.' He let it go on until ten minutes past the hour, because it'd take five minutes to get to the square, at a nonchalant saunter. With the golem lumbering beside him, in something approaching the antithesis of both nonchalance and sauntering, he left the Post Office behind. The crowd in the square parted at his approach, and there were cheers and some laughter when people saw the broomstick over his shoulder. It had stars painted on it, therefore it must be a magic broomstick. Of such beliefs are fortunes made. Find The Lady, Find The Lady . . . there was a science to it, in a way. Of course, it helped if you found out how to hold three cards in a loose stack; that was really the key. Moist had learned to be good at that, but he had found mere mechanical tricks a bit dull, a bit beneath him. There were other ways, ways to mislead, to distract, to anger. Anger was always good. Angry people made mistakes. There was a space in the centre of the square, round the stagecoach on which Leadpipe Jim sat proudly. The horses gleamed, the coach-work sparkled in the torchlight. But the group standing around the coach sparkled rather less. There were a couple of people from the Trunk, several wizards and, of course, Otto Chriek the iconographer. They turned and welcomed Moist with expressions ranging from relief to deep suspicion. 'We were considering disqualification, Mr Lipwig,' said Ridcully, looking severe. Moist handed the broom to Mr Pump. 'I do apologize, Arch-chancellor,' he said. 'I was checking some stamp designs and completely lost track of time. Oh, good evening, Professor Pelc'

The Professor of Morbid Bibliomancy gave him a big grin and held up a jar. 'And Professor Goitre,' he said. 'The old chap thought he'd like to see what all the fuss is about.'

'And this is Mr Pony of the Grand Trunk,' said Ridcully. Moist shook hands with the engineer. 'Mr Gilt not with you?' he said, winking. 'He's, er, watching from his coach,' said the engineer, looking nervously at Moist. 'Well, since you are both here, Mr Stibbons will hand you each a copy of the message,' said the Archchancellor. 'Mr Stibbons?' Two packages were handed over. Moist undid his, and burst out laughing. 'But it's a book!' said Mr Pony. 'It'll take all night to code. And there's diagrams!' Okay, let's begin, thought Moist, and moved like a cobra. He snatched the book from the startled Pony, thumbed through it quickly, grabbed a handful of pages and ripped them out, to a gasp from the crowd. 'There you are, sir,' he said, handing the pages back. 'There is your message! Pages 79 to 128. We'll deliver the rest of the book and the recipient can put your pages in later, if they arrive!' He was aware of Professor Pelc glaring at him, and added: 'And I'm sure it can be repaired very neatly!' It was a stupid gesture but it was big and loud and funny and cruel and if Moist didn't know how to get the attention of a crowd he didn't know anything. Mr Pony backed away, clutching the stricken chapter. 'I didn't mean—' he tried, but Moist interrupted with: 'After all, we've got a big coach for such a small book.'

'It's just that pictures take time to code—' Mr Pony protested. He wasn't used to this sort of thing. Machinery didn't answer back. Moist allowed a look of genuine concern to cross his face. 'Yes, that does seem unfair,' he said. He turned to Ponder Stibbons. 'Don't you think that's unfair, Mr Stibbons?' The wizard looked puzzled. 'But once they've coded it it'll only take them a couple of hours to get it to Genua!' he said. 'Nevertheless, I must insist,' said Moist. 'We don't want an unfair advantage. Stand down, Jim,' he called up to the coachman. 'We're going to give the clacks a head start.' He turned to Ponder and Mr Pony with an expression of innocent helpfulness. 'Would an hour be all right, gentlemen?' The crowd exploded. Gods, I'm good at this, Moist thought. I want this moment to go on for ever . . . 'Mr Lipwig!' a voice called out. Moist scanned the faces, and spotted the caller. 'Ah, Miss Sacharissa. Pencil at the ready?'

'Are you seriously telling us you'll wait while the Grand Trunk prepares their message?' she said. She was laughing. 'Indeed,' said Moist, grasping the lapels of his gleaming jacket. 'We in the Post Office are fair- minded people. May I take this opportunity to tell you about our new Green Cabbage stamp, by the way?'

'Surely you're going too far, Mr Lipwig?'

'All the way to Genua, dear lady! Did I mention the gum is cabbage-flavoured?' Moist couldn't have stopped himself now for hard money. This was where his soul lived: dancing on an avalanche, making the world up as he went along, reaching into people's ears and changing their minds. For this he offered glass as diamonds, let the Find The Lady cards fly under his fingers, stood smiling in front of clerks examining fake bills. This was the feeling he craved, the raw naked excitement of pushing the envelope—

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