Going Postal

Page 50

'Oh, yes, your lordship.'

'Is it true? 'Well, er . . .' Pony looked around, a hunted man. He'd got his pink flimsies, and they would show everyone that he was nothing more than a man who'd tried to make things work, but right now all he could find on his side was the truth. He took refuge in it. 'I can't see how, but, well . . . sometimes, when you're up a tower of a night, and the shutters are rattlin' and the wind's singing in the rigging, well, you might think it's true.'

'I believe there is a tradition called “Sending Home”?' said Lord Vetinari. The engineer looked surprised. 'Why, yes, sir, but . . .' Pony felt he ought to wave a little flag for a rational world in which, at the moment, he didn't have a lot of faith, 'the Trunk was dark before we ran the message, so I don't see how the message could have got on—'

'Unless, of course, the dead put it there?' said Lord Vetinari. 'Mr Pony, for the good of your soul and, not least, your body, you will go now to the Tump Tower, escorted by one of Commander Vimes's men, and send a brief message to all the towers. You will obtain the paper tapes, which I believe are known as drum rolls, from all the towers on the Grand Trunk. I understand that they show a record of all messages originating at that tower, which cannot be readily altered?'

'That will take weeks to do, sir!' Pony protested. 'An early start in the morning would seem in order, then,' said Lord Vetinari. Mr Pony, who had suddenly spotted that a spell a long way from Ankh-Morpork might be a very healthy option just now, nodded and said, 'Right you are, my lord.'

'The Grand Trunk will remain closed in the interim,' said Lord Vetinari. 'It's private property!' Greenyham burst out. 'Tyrant, remember,' said Vetinari, almost cheerfully. 'But I'm sure that the audit will serve to sort out at least some aspects of this mystery. One of them, of course, is that Mr Readier Gilt does not seem to be in this room.' Every head turned. 'Perhaps he remembered another engagement?' said Lord Vetinari. 'I think he slipped out some time ago.' It dawned on the directors of the Grand Trunk that their chairman was absent and, which was worse, they weren't. They drew together. 'I wonder if, uh, at this point at least we could discuss the matter with you privately, your lordship?' said Greenyham. 'Readier was not an easy man to deal with, I'm afraid.'

'Not a team player,' gasped Nutmeg. 'Who?' said Stowley. 'What is this place? Who are all these people?'

'Left us totally in the dark most of the time—' said Greenyham. 'I can't remember a thing—' said Stowley. 'I'm not fit to testify, any doctor will tell you . . .'

'I think I can say on behalf of all of us that we were suspicious of him all along—'

'Mind's a total blank. Not a blessed thing . . . what's this thing with fingers on . . . who am I . . .' Lord Vetinari stared at the Board for five seconds longer than was comfortable, while tapping his chin gently with the knob of his cane. He smiled faintly.

'Quite,' he said. 'Commander Vimes, I think it would be iniquitous to detain these gentlemen here any longer.' As the faces in front of him relaxed into smiles full of hope, that greatest of all gifts, he added: 'To the cells with them, Commander. Separate cells, if you please. I shall see them in the morning. And if Mr Slant comes to see you on their behalf, do tell him I'd like a little chat, will you?' That sounded . . . good. Moist strolled towards the door, while the hubbub rose, and had almost made it when Lord Vetinari's voice came out of the throng like a knife. 'Leaving so soon, Mr Lipwig? Do wait a moment. I shall give you a lift back to your famous Post Office.' For a moment, just a slice of a second, Moist contemplated running. He did not do so. What would be the point? The crowd parted hurriedly as Lord Vetinari headed towards the door; behind him, the Watch closed in. Ultimately, there is the freedom to take the consequences. The Patrician leaned back in the leather upholstery as the coach drew away. 'What a strange evening, Mr Lipwig,' he said. 'Yes, indeed.' Moist, like the suddenly bewildered Mr Stowley, considered that his future happiness lay in saying as little as possible. 'Yes, sir,' he said. 'I wonder if that engineer will find any evidence that the strange message was put on the clacks by human hands?' he wondered aloud. 'I don't know, my lord.'

'You don't?'

'No, sir.'

'Ah,' said Vetinari. 'Well, the dead are known to speak, sometimes. Ouija boards and seances, and so on. Who can say they wouldn't use the medium of the clacks?'

'Not me, sir.'

'And you are clearly enjoying your new career, Mr Lipwig.'

'Yes, sir.'

'Good. On Monday your duties will include the administration of the Grand Trunk. It is being taken over by the city.' Oh well, so much for future happiness . . . 'No, my lord,' said Moist. Vetinari raised an eyebrow. 'There is an alternative, Mr Lipwig?'

'It really is private property, sir. It belongs to the Dearhearts and the other people who built it.'

'My, my, how the worm turns,' said Vetinari. 'But the trouble is, you see, they weren't good at business, only at mechanisms. Otherwise they would have seen through Gilt. The freedom to succeed goes hand in hand with the freedom to fail.'

'It was robbery by numbers,' said Moist. 'It was Find The Lady done with ledgers. They didn't stand a chance.' Vetinari sighed. 'You drive a hard bargain, Mr Lipwig.' Moist, who wasn't aware he had tried to drive a bargain at all, said nothing. 'Oh, very well. The question of ownership will remain in abeyance for now, until we have plumbed the sordid depths of this affair. But what I truly meant was that a great many people depend on the Trunk for their living. Out of sheer humanitarian considerations, we must do something. Sort things out, Postmaster.'

'But I'm going to have my hands more than full with the Post Office!' Moist protested.

'I hope you are. But in my experience, the best way to get something done is to give it to someone who is busy,' said Vetinari. 'In that case, I'm going to keep the Grand Trunk running,' said Moist. 'In honour of the dead, perhaps,' said Vetinari. 'Yes. As you wish. Ah, here is your stop.' As the coachman opened the door Lord Vetinari leaned towards Moist. 'Oh, and before dawn I do suggest you go and check that everyone's left the old wizarding tower,' he said. 'What do you mean, sir?' said Moist. He knew his face betrayed nothing. Vetinari sat back. “Well done, Mr Lipwig.' There was a crowd outside the Post Office, and a cheer went up as Moist made his way to the doors. It was raining now, a grey, sooty drizzle that was little more than fog with a slight weight problem. Some of the staff were waiting inside. He realized the news hadn't got around. Even Ankh- Morpork's permanent rumour-mill hadn't been able to beat him back from the University. 'What's happened, Postmaster?' said Groat, his hands twisting together. 'Have they won?'

'No,' said Moist, but they picked up the edge in his voice. 'Have we won?'

'The Archchancellor will have to decide that,' said Moist. 'I suppose we won't know for weeks. The clacks has been shut down, though. I'm sorry, it's all complicated . . .' He left them standing and staring as he trudged up to his office, where Mr Pump was standing in the corner. 'Good Evening, Mr Lipvig,' the golem boomed. Moist sat down and put his head in his hands. This was victory, but it didn't feel like it. It felt like a mess. The bets? Well, if Leadpipe got to Genua you could make a case under the rules that he'd won, but Moist had a feeling that all bets were off now. That meant people would get their money back, at least. He'd have to keep the Trunk going, gods knew how. He'd sort of promised the Gnu, hadn't he? And it was amazing how people had come to rely on the clacks. He wouldn't know how Leadpipe had fared for weeks, and even Moist had got used to daily news from Genua. It was like having a finger cut off. But the clacks was a big, cumbersome monster of a thing, too many towers, too many people, too much effort. There had to be a way of making it better and sleeker and cheaper . . . or maybe it was something so big that no one could run it at a profit. Maybe it was like the Post Office, maybe the profit turned up spread around the whole of society. Tomorrow he'd have to take it all seriously. Proper mail runs. Many more staff. Hundreds of things to do, and hundreds of other things to do before you could do those things. It wasn't going to be fun any more, cocking a snook, whatever a snook was, at the big slow giant. He'd won, so he'd have to pick up the pieces and make everything work. And come in here the next day and do it all again. This wasn't how it was supposed to end. You won, and you pocketed the cash and walked away. That was how the game was supposed to go, wasn't it? His eye fell on Anghammarad's message box, on its twisted, corroded strap, and he wished he was at the bottom of the sea. 'Mr Lipwig?' He looked up. Drumknott the clerk was standing in the doorway, with another clerk behind him. 'Yes?'

'Sorry to disturb you, sir,' said the clerk. 'We're here to see Mr Pump. Just a minor adjustment,

if you don't mind?'

'What? Oh. Fine. Whatever. Go ahead.' Moist waved a hand vaguely. The two men walked over to the golem. There was some muted conversation, and then it knelt down and they unscrewed the top of its head. Moist stared in horror. He knew it was done, of course, but it was shocking to see it happening. There was some rummaging around that he couldn't make out, and then the cranium was replaced, with a little pottery noise. 'Sorry to have disturbed you, sir,' said Drumknott, and the clerks left. Mr Pump stayed on his knees for a moment, and then rose slowly. The red eyes focused on Moist, and the golem stuck out his hand. 'I Do Not Know What A Pleasure Is, But I Am Sure That If I Did, Then Working With You Would Have Been One,' he said. 'Now I Must Leave You. I Have Another Task.'

'You're not my, er, parole officer any more?' said Moist, taken aback. 'Correct.'

'Hold on,' said Moist, as light dawned, 'is Vetinari sending you after Gilt?'

'I Am Not At Liberty To Say.'

'He is, isn't he? You're not following me any more?'

'I Am Not Following You Any More.'

'So I'm free to go?'

'I Am Not At Liberty To Say. Good Night, Mr Lipvig.' Mr Pump paused at the door. 'I Am Not Certain What Happiness Is, Either, Mr Lipvig, But I Think - Yes, I Think I Am Happy To Have Met You.' And, ducking to get through the doorway, the golem left. That only leaves the werewolf, thought part of Moist's mind, faster than light. And they're not much good at boats and completely lost when it comes to oceans! It's the middle of the night, the Watch are running around like madmen, everyone's busy, I've got a bit of cash and I've still got the diamond ring and a deck of cards . . . who'd notice? Who'd care? Who'd worry? He could go anywhere. But that wasn't really him thinking that, was it . . . it was just a few old brain cells, running on automatic. There wasn't anywhere to go, not any more. He walked over to the big hole in the wall and looked down into the hall. Did anyone go home here? But now the news had got around, and if you wanted any hope of anything delivered anywhere tomorrow, you came to the Post Office. It was quite busy, even now. 'Cup of tea, Mr Lipwig?' said the voice of Stanley, behind him. 'Thank you, Stanley,' said Moist, without looking round. Down below, Miss Maccalariat was standing on a chair and nailing something to the wall. 'Everyone says we've won, sir, 'cos the clacks has been shut down 'cos the directors are in prison, sir. They say all Mr Upwright has to do is get there! But Mr Groat says the bookies probably won't pay up, sir. And the king of Lancre wants some stamps printed, but it'll come a bit pricey, sir, since they only write about ten letters a year up there. Still, we've showed them, eh, sir? The Post Office is back!'

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