Going Postal

Page 7

'Is there no way you can shut your eyes? I can't sleep with two red glowing eyes watching me. It's a . . . well, it's a childhood thing.'

'Sorry, Mr Lipvig. I Could Turn My Back.'

'That won't work. I'd still know they're there. Anyway, the glow reflects off the wall. Look, where would I run to?' The golem gave this some thought. 'I Will Go And Stand In The Corridor, Mr Lipvig,' he decided, and began to wade towards the door. 'You do that,' said Moist. 'And in the morning I want you to find my bedroom, okay? Some of the offices still have space near the ceiling; you can move the letters into there.'

'Mr Groat Does Not Like The Mail To Be Moved, Mr Lipvig,' the golem rumbled. 'Mr Groat is not the postmaster, Mr Pump. I am.' Good gods, the madness is catching, Moist thought, as the golem's glow disappeared into the darkness outside. I am not the postmaster, I'm some poor bastard who's the victim of some stupid . . . experiment. What a place! What a situation! What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter. He tried to find the angle, the way out . . . but all the time a conversation kept bouncing off the insides of his brain. Imagine a hole, a hundred feet deep and full of water. Imagine the darkness. Imagine, at the bottom of the hole, a figure roughly of human shape, turning in that swirling darkness a massive handle once every eight seconds. Pump . . . Pump . . . Pump . . . For two hundred and forty years. 'You didn't mind?' Moist had asked. 'You Mean Did I Harbour Resentment, Mr Lipvig? But I Was Doing Useful And Necessary Work! Besides, There Was Much For Me To Think About.'

'At the bottom of a hundred feet of dirty water? What the hell did you find to think about?'

'Pumping, Mr Lipvig.' And then, the golem said, had come cessation, and dim light, a lowering of levels, a locking of chains, movement upwards, emergence into a world of light and colour . . . and other golems. Moist knew something about golems. They used to be baked out of clay, thousands of years ago,

and brought to life by some kind of scroll put inside their heads, and they never wore out and they worked, all the time. You saw them pushing brooms, or doing heavy work in timber yards and foundries. Most of them you never saw at all. They made the hidden wheels go round, down in the dark. And that was more or less the limit of his interest in them. They were, almost by definition, honest. But now the golems were freeing themselves. It was the quietest, most socially responsible revolution in history. They were property, and so they saved up and bought themselves. Mr Pump was buying his freedom by seriously limiting the freedom of Moist. A man could get quite upset about that. Surely that wasn't how freedom was supposed to work? Ye gods, thought Moist, back in the here-and-now, no wonder Groat sucked cough sweets all the time, the dust in this place could choke you! He rummaged in his pocket and pulled out the diamond-shaped cough lozenge the old man had given him. It looked harmless enough. One minute later, after Mr Pump had lurched into the room and slapped him heavily on the back, the steaming lozenge was stuck to the wall on the far side of the room where, by morning, it had dissolved quite a lot of the plaster. Mr Groat took a measured spoonful of tincture of rhubarb and cayenne pepper, to keep the tubes open, and checked that he still had the dead mole round his neck, to ward off any sudden attack of doctors. Everyone knew doctors made you ill, it stood to reason. Nature's remedies were the trick every time, not some hellish potion made of gods knew what. He smacked his lips appreciatively. He'd put fresh sulphur in his socks tonight, too, and he could feel it doing him good. Two candle lanterns glowed in the velvet, papery darkness of the main sorting office. The light was shining through the outer glass, filled with water so that the candle would go out if it was dropped; it made the lanterns look like the lights of some abyssal fish from the squiddy, iron-hard depths. There was a little glugging noise in the dark. Groat corked his bottle of elixir and got on with business. 'Be the inkwells filled, Apprentice Postman Stanley?' he intoned. 'Aye, Junior Postman Groat, full to a depth of one-third of one inch from the top as per Post Office Counter Regulations, Daily Observances, Rule C18,' said Stanley. There was a rustle as Groat turned the pages of a huge book on the lectern in front of him. 'Can I see the picture, Mr Groat?' said Stanley eagerly. Groat smiled. It had become part of the ceremony, and he gave the reply he gave every time. 'Very well, but this is the last time. It's not good to look too often on the face of a god,' he said. 'Or any other part.'

'But you said there used to be a gold statue of him in the big hall, Mr Groat. People must've looked on it all the time.' Groat hesitated. But Stanley was a growing lad. He'd have to know sooner or later. 'Mind you, I don't reckon people used to look on the face much,' he said. 'They looked more on the . . . wings.'

'On his hat and his ankles,' said Stanley. 'So he could fly the messages at the speed of . . . messages.' A little bead of sweat dripped off Groat's forehead. 'Mostly on his hat and ankles, yes,' he said. 'Er . . . but not only there.' Stanley peered at the picture. 'Oh, yes. I never noticed them before. He's got wings on—'

'The fig leaf,' said Groat quickly. 'That's what we call it.'

'Why's he got a leaf there?' said Stanley. cOh, they all had 'em in the olden days, 'cos of being Classical,' said Groat, relieved to be shifting away from the heart of the matter. 'It's a fig leaf. Off a fig tree.'

'Haha, the joke's on them, there's no fig trees round here!' said Stanley, in the manner of one exposing the flaw in a long-held dogma. 'Yes, lad, very good, but it was a tin one anyway,' said Groat, with patience. 'And the wings?' said the boy. 'We-ell, I s'pose they thought that the more wings, the better,' said Groat. 'Yes, but s'posing his hat wings and his ankle wings stopped working, he'd be held up by—'

'Stanley! It's just a statue! Don't get excited! Calm down! You don't want to upset . . . them'. Stanley hung his head. 'They've been . . . whispering to me again, Mr Groat,' he confided in a low voice. 'Yes, Stanley. They whisper to me, too.'

'I remember 'em last time, talking in the night, Mr Groat,' said Stanley, his voice trembling. 'I shut my eyes and I keep seeing the writin' . . .'

'Yes, Stanley. Don't worry about it. Try not to think about it. It's Mr Lipstick's fault, stirring them up. Leave well alone, I say. They never listen, and then what happens? They find out the hard way'

'It seems like only yesterday, those watchmen drawing that chalk outline round Mr Mutable,' said Stanley, beginning to tremble. 'He found out the hard way!'

'Calm down, now, calm down,' said Groat, patting him gently on the shoulder. 'You'll set 'em off. Think about pins.'

'But it's a cruel shame, Mr Groat, them never being alive long enough to make you Senior Postman!' Groat sniffed. 'Oh, that's enough of that. That's not important, Stanley,' he said, his face like thunder. 'Yes, Mr Groat, but you're an old, old man and you're still only a Junior Postm—' Stanley persisted. 'I said that's enough, Stanley! Now, just raise that lamp again, will you? Good. That's better. I'll read a page of the Regulations, that always quietens them down.' Groat cleared his throat. 'I shall now read from the Book of Regulations, Delivery Times (Metropolitan) (Sundays and Octedays excepted),' he announced to the air. 'As follows: “The hours by which letters should be put into the receiving houses in town for each delivery within the city walls of Ankh-Morpork are as the following: overnight by eight o'clock in the evening, for the first delivery. Morning by eight o'clock, for the second delivery. Morning by ten o'clock, for the third delivery. Morning by twelve o'clock, for the fourth delivery. Afternoon by two o'clock, for the fifth delivery. Afternoon by four o'clock, for the sixth delivery. Afternoon by six o'clock, for the seventh delivery.” These are the hours, and I have read them.' Groat hung his head for a moment, and then he closed the book with a snap. 'Why are we doing this, Mr Groat?' said Stanley meekly. '

'Cos of hub-riss,' said Mr Groat. 'That's what it was. Hub-riss killed the Post Office. Hub-riss and greed and Bloody Stupid Johnson and the New Pie.'

'A pie, Mr Groat? How could a pie—'

'Don't ask, Stanley. It gets complicated and there's nothing in it about pins.' They put out the candles, and left. When they had gone, a faint whispering started.

Chapter Three

Our Own Hand, Or None In which our hero discovers the world of pins - The Greengrocer's Apostrophe - S.W.A.L.K. - The path of Fate - The Golem Lady - The Business of Business and the Nature of Freedom Once Again Discussed - Clerk Brian shows enthusiasm Rise And Shine, Mr Lipvig. Your Second Day As Postmaster!' Moist opened one crusted eye and glared at the golem. 'Oh, so you're an alarm clock too?' he said. 'Aargh. My tongue. It feels like it was caught in a mousetrap.' He half crawled, half rolled across the bed of letters and managed to stand up just outside the door. 'I need new clothes,' he said. 'And food. And a toothbrush. I'm going out, Mr Pump. You are to stay here. Do something. Tidy the place up. Get rid of the graffiti on the walls, will you? At least we can make the place look clean!'

'Anything You Say, Mr Lipvig.'

'Right!' said Moist, and strode off, for one stride, and then yelped. 'Be Careful Of Your Ankle, Mr Lipvig,' said Mr Pump. 'And another thing!' said Moist, hopping on one leg. 'How can you follow me? How can you possibly know where I am?'

'Karmic Signature, Mr Lipvig,' said the golem. 'And that means what, exactly?' Moist demanded. 'It Means I Know Exactly Where You Are, Mr Lipvig.' The pottery face was impassive. Moist gave up. He limped out into what, for this city, was a fresh new morning. There had been a touch of frost overnight, just enough to put some zest into the air and give him an appetite. The leg still hurt, but at least he didn't need the crutch today. Here was Moist von Lipwig walking through the city. He'd never done that before. The late Albert Spangler had, and so had Mundo Smith and Edwin Streep and half a dozen other personas that he'd donned and discarded. Oh, he'd been Moist inside (what a name, yes, he'd heard every possible joke), but they had been on the outside, between him and the world. Edwin Streep had been a work of art. He'd been a lack-of-confidence trickster, and needed to be noticed. He was so patently, obviously bad at running a bent Find The Lady game and other street scams that people positively queued up to trick the dumb trickster and walked away grinning . . . right up to the point when they tried to spend the coins they'd scooped up so quickly. There's a secret art to forgery, and Moist had discovered it: in a hurry, or when excited, people will complete the forgery by their own cupidity. They'll be so keen to snatch the money from the obvious idiot that their own eyes fill in all the little details that aren't quite there on the coins they so quickly pocket. All you needed to do was hint at them. But that was just for starters. Some customers never even discovered that they'd put fake coins in their purse, thus revealing to the incompetent Streep in which pocket they kept it. Later on they

learned that Streep might be rubbish with a deck of cards but also that this lack was more than made up for by his exceptional skill as a pickpocket. Now Moist felt like a peeled prawn. He felt as though he'd stepped out naked. And yet, still, no one was taking any notice. There were no cries of'Hey, you', no shouts of'That's him!' He was just another face in the crowd. It was a strange new feeling. He'd never really had to be himself before. He celebrated by buying a street directory from the Guild of Merchants, and had a coffee and a bacon sandwich while he thumbed, greasily, through it for the list of bars. He didn't find what he was looking for there but he did find it in the list of hairdressers, and grinned when he did so. It was nice to be right. He also found a mention of Dave's Pin Exchange, up in Dolly Sisters, in an alley between a house of negotiable affection and a massage parlour. It bought and sold pins to pin fanciers. Moist finished his coffee with a look on his face which those who knew him well, a group consisting in fact of absolutely nobody, would have recognized as the formation of a plan. Ultimately, everything was all about people. If he was going to be staying here for a while, he'd make himself comfortable. He went for a walk to the self-styled 'Home of Acuphilia!!!' It was like lifting an unregarded stone and finding a whole new world. Dave's Pin Exchange was the kind of small shop where the owner knows every single one of his customers by name. It was a wonderful world, the world of pins. It was a hobby that could last you a lifetime. Moist knew this because he expended one dollar on Pins by J. Lanugo Owlsbury, apparently the last word on the subject. Everyone had their funny little ways, Moist conceded, but he wasn't entirely at home among people who, if they saw a pin-up, would pay attention to the pins. Some of the customers browsing the book racks {Mis-draws, Double Pointers and Flaws, Pins of Uberwald and Genua, First Steps in Pins, Adventures in Acuphilia . . . ) and staring covetously at the rack of pins laid out under glass had an intensity of expression that frightened him. They looked a bit like Stanley. They were all male. Clearly, women weren't natural 'pinheads'. He found Total Pins on the bottom rack. It had a smudgy, home-produced look, and the print was small and dense and lacked such subtleties as paragraphs and, in many cases, punctuation. The common comma had looked at Stanley's expression and decided not to disturb him. When Moist put the little magazine on the counter the shop's owner, a huge bearded man with dreadlocks, a pin through his nose, a beer belly belonging to three other people and the words 'Death or Pins' tattooed on a bicep, picked it up and tossed it back down dismissively. 'Sure about that, sir?' he said. 'We've got Pins Monthly, New Pins, Practical Pins, Modern Pins, Pins Extra, Pins International, Talking Pins, Pins World, World Pins, World of Pins, Pins and Pinneries . . .' Moist's attention wandered off for a while but came back in time to catch '. . . the Acuphile Digest, Extreme Pins, $itfte! - that's from Uberwald, very good if you collect foreign pins - Beginning Pins -that's a part-work, sir, with a new pin every week - Pin Times and' - here the big man winked - 'Back Alley Pins'

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