Going Postal

Page 9

'The window?' said Moist. 'It happens about once a month. I was just sweeping it up.' There was the scratch of a match, and a lamp was lit. 'They don't generally attack the golems themselves, not now there's free ones around. But glass doesn't fight back.' The lamp was turned up, revealing a tall young woman in a tight grey woollen dress, with coal- black hair plastered down so that she looked like a peg doll and forced into a tight bun at the back. There was a slight redness to her eyes that suggested she had been crying. 'You're lucky to have caught me,' she said. 'I'd only come in to make sure nothing's been taken. Are you here to sell or to hire? You can put your hands down now,' she added, placing the crossbow under the counter. 'Sell or hire?' said Moist, lowering his hands with care. 'A golem,' she said, in a talking-to-the-hard-of-thinking voice. 'We are the Go-lem Trust. We buy or hire go-lems. Do you want to sell a go-lem or hire a go-lem?'

'Nei-ther,' said Moist. 'I've got a go-lem. I mean, one is work-ing for me.'

'Really? Where?' said the woman. 'And we can probably speed up a little, I think.'

'At the Post Office.'

'Oh, Pump 19,' said the woman. 'He said it was government service.'

'We call him Mister Pump,' said Moist primly. 'Really? And do you get a wonderful warm charitable feeling when you do?'

'Pardon? What?' said Moist, bewildered. He wasn't sure if she was managing the trick of laughing at him behind her frown. The woman sighed. 'Sorry, I'm a bit snappish this morning. A brick landing on your desk does that to you. Let's just say they don't see the world in the same way as we do, okay? They've got feelings, in their own way, but they're not like ours. Anyway . . . how can I help you, Mr . . . ?'

'Von Lipwig,' said Moist, and added: 'Moist von Lipwig,' to get the worst over with. But the woman didn't even smile. 'Lipwig, small town in Near Uberwald,' she said, picking up a brick from the broken glass and debris on her desk, regarding it critically, and then turning to the ancient filing cabinet behind her and filing it under B. 'Chief export: its famous dogs, of course, second most important export its beer, except during the two weeks of Sektober-fest, when it exports . . . second-hand beer, probably?'

'I don't know. We left when I was a kid,' said Moist. 'As far as I'm concerned, it's just a funny name.'

'Try Adora Belle Dearheart some time,' said the woman. 'Ah. That's not a funny name,' said Moist. 'Quite,' said Adora Belle Dearheart. 'I now have no sense of humour whatsoever. Well, now that we've been appropriately human towards one another, what exactly was it you wanted?'

'Look, Vetinari has sort of lumbered me with Mr— with Pump 19 as an . . . an assistant, but I don't know how to treat . . .' Moist sought in the woman's eyes for some clue as to the politically correct term, and plumped for 'him.'

'Huh? Just treat him normally.'

'You mean normally for a human being, or normally for a pottery man filled with fire?' To Moist's astonishment Adora Belle Dearheart took a packet of cigarettes out of a desk drawer and lit one. She mistook his expression, and proffered the pack. 'No, thanks,' he said, waving it away. Apart from the occasional old lady with a pipe, he'd never seen a woman smoke before. It was . . . strangely attractive, especially since, as it turned out, she smoked a cigarette as if she had a grudge against it, sucking the smoke down and blowing it out almost immediately. 'You're getting hung up about it all, right?' she said. When Ms Dearheart wasn't smoking she held the cigarette at shoulder height, the elbow of her left arm cupped in her right hand. There was a definite feel about Adora Belle Dearheart that a lid was only barely holding down an entire womanful of anger. 'Yes! I mean—' Moist began. 'Hah! It's just like the Campaign for Equal Heights and all that patronizing stuff they spout about dwarfs and why we shouldn't use terms like “small talk” and “feeling small”. Golems don't have any of our baggage about “who am I, why am I here”, okay? Because they know. They were made to be tools, to be property, to work. Work is what they do. In a way, it's what they are. End of existential angst.' Ms Dearheart inhaled and then blew out the smoke in one nervous movement. 'And then stupid people go around calling them “persons of clay” and “Mr Spanner” and so on, which they find rather strange. They understand about free will. They also understand that they don't have it. Mind you, once a golem owns himself, it's a different matter.'

'Own? How does property own itself?' said Moist. 'You said they were—'

'They save up and buy themselves, of course! Freehold is the only path to freedom they'll accept. Actually, what happens is that the free golems support the Trust, the Trust buys golems whenever it can, and the new golems then buy themselves from the Trust at cost. It's working well. The free golems earn twenty-four/eight and there's more and more of them. They don't eat, sleep, wear clothes or understand the concept of leisure. The occasional tube of ceramic cement doesn't cost much. They're buying more golems every month now, and paying my wages, and the iniquitous rent the landlord of this dump is charging because he knows he's renting to golems. They never complain, you know. They pay whatever's asked. They're so patient it could drive you nuts.' Tube of ceramic cement, thought Moist. He tried to fix that thought in case it came in useful, but some mental processes were fully occupied with the growing realization of how well some women could look in a severely plain dress. 'Surely they can't be damaged, can they?' he managed. 'Certainly they can! A sledgehammer on the right spot would really mess one up. Owned golems will just stand there and take it. But the Trust golems are allowed to defend themselves, and when someone weighing a ton snatches a hammer out of your hand you have to let go really quickly.'

'I think Mr Pump is allowed to hit people,' said Moist. 'Quite possibly. A lot of the frees are against that, but others say a tool can't be blamed for the use to which it's put,' said Ms Dearheart. 'They debate it a lot. For days and days.' No rings on her fingers, Moist noted. What kind of attractive girl works for a bunch of clay men? 'This is all fascinating? he said. 'Where can I find out more?'

'We do a pamphlet,' said almost-certainly-Miss Dearheart, pulling open a drawer and flipping a thin booklet on to the desk. 'It's five pence.' The title on the cover was Common Clay. Moist put down a dollar. 'Keep the change,' he said. 'No!' said Miss Dearheart, fumbling for coins in the drawer. 'Didn't you read what it said over the door?'

'Yes. It said “SmasH The Barstuds”,' said Moist. Miss Dearheart put a hand to her forehead wearily. 'Oh, yes. The painter hasn't been yet. But underneath that . . . look, it's on the back of the pamphlet . . .' , Moist read, or at least looked at. 'It's one of their own languages,' she said. 'It's all a bit . . . mystic. Said to be spoken by angels. It translates as “By Our Own Hand, Or None”. They're fiercely independent. You've no idea.' She admires them, Moist thought. Whoo-ee. And . . . angels? 'Well, thank you,' he said. 'I'd better be going. I'll definitely . . . well, thank you, anyway.'

'What are you doing at the Post Office, Mr von Lipwig?' said the woman, as he opened the door. 'Call me Moist,' said Moist, and a bit of his inner self shuddered. 'I'm the new postmaster.'

'No kidding?' said Miss Dearheart. 'Then I'm glad you've got Pump 19 with you. The last few postmasters didn't last long, I gather.'

'I think I heard something about that,' said Moist cheerfully. 'It sounds as though things were pretty bad in the olden days.' Miss Dearheart's brow wrinkled. 'Olden days?' she said. 'Last month was olden days?' Lord Vetinari stood looking out of his window. His office had once had a wonderful view of the city and, technically, it still did, although now the roofline was a forest of clacks towers, winking and twinkling in the sunlight. On the Tump, the old castle mound across the river, the big tower,

one end of the Grand Trunk that wound more than two thousand miles across the continent to Genua, glittered with semaphore. It was good to see the lifeblood of trade and commerce and diplomacy pumping so steadily, especially when you employed clerks who were exceptionally good at decryption. White and black by day, light and dark by night, the shutters stopped only for fog and snow. At least, until the last few months. He sighed, and went back to his desk. There was a file open. It contained a report from Commander Vimes of the City Watch, with a lot of exclamation marks. It also contained a more measured report from clerk Alfred, and Lord Vetinari had circled the section headed 'The Smoking Gnu'. There was a gentle knock at the door and the clerk Drumknott came in like a ghost. 'The gentlemen from the Grand Trunk semaphore company are all here now, sir,' he said. He laid down several sheets of paper covered in tiny, intricate lines. Vetinari gave the shorthand a cursory glance. 'Idle chitchat?' he said. 'Yes, my lord. One might say excessively so. But I am certain that the mouth of the speaking tube is quite invisible in the plasterwork, my lord. It's hidden in a gilt cherub most cunningly, sir. Clerk Brian has built it into its cornucopia, which apparently collects more sounds and can be swivelled to face whoever—'

'One does not have to see something to know that it is there, Drumknott.' Vetinari tapped the paper. 'These are not stupid men. Well, some of them, at least. You have the files?' Drumknott's pale face bore for a moment the pained expression of a man forced to betray the high principles of filing. 'In a manner of speaking, my lord. We actually have nothing substantial about any of the allegations, we really haven't. We're running a Concludium in the Long Gallery, but it's all hearsay, sir, I'm afraid. There's . . . hints, here and there, but really we need something more solid . . .'

'There will be an opportunity,' said Vetinari. Being an absolute ruler today was not as simple as people thought. At least, it was not simple if your ambitions included being an absolute ruler tomorrow. There were subtleties. Oh, you could order men to smash down doors and drag people off to dungeons without trial, but too much of that sort of thing lacked style and anyway was bad for business, habit-forming and very, very dangerous for your health. A thinking tyrant, it seemed to Vetinari, had a much harder job than a ruler raised to power by some idiot vote-yourself-rich system like democracy. At least they could tell the people he was their fault. '. . . we would not normally have started individual folders at this time,' Drumknott was agonizing. 'You see, I'd merely have referenced them on the daily—'

'Your concern is, as ever, exemplary,' said Vetinari. 'I see, however, that you have prepared some folders.'

'Yes, my lord. I have bulked some of them out with copies of clerk Harold's analysis of pig production in Genua, sir.' Drumknott looked unhappy as he handed over the card folders. Deliberate misfiling ran fingernails down the blackboard of his very soul. 'Very good,' said Vetinari. He put them on his desk, pulled another folder out of a desk drawer to place on top of them, and moved some other papers to cover the small pile. 'Now please show our visitors in.'

'Mr Slant is with them, my lord,' said the clerk. Vetinari smiled his mirthless smile. 'How surprising.'

'And Mr Reacher Gilt,' Drumknott added, watching his master carefully. 'Of course,' said Vetinari.

When the financiers filed in a few minutes later the conference table at one end of the room was clear and gleaming, except for a paper pad and the pile of files. Vetinari himself was standing at the window again. 'Ah, gentlemen. So kind of you to come for this little chat,' he said. 'I was enjoying the view.' He turned round sharply, and confronted a row of puzzled faces, except for two. One was grey and belonged to Mr Slant, who was the most renowned, expensive and certainly the oldest lawyer in the city. He had been a zombie for many years, although apparently the change in habits between life and death had not been marked. The other face belonged to a man with one eye and one black eye-patch, and it smiled like a tiger. 'It's particularly refreshing to see the Grand Trunk back in operation,' said Vetinari, ignoring that face. T believe it was shut down all day yesterday. I was only thinking to myself that it was such a shame, the Grand Trunk being so vital to us all, and so regrettable that there's only one of it. Sadly, I understand the backers of the New Trunk are now in disarray, which, of course, leaves the Grand Trunk operating in solitary splendour and your company, gentlemen, unchallenged. Oh, what am I thinking of? Do be seated, gentlemen.' He gave Mr Slant another friendly smile as he took his seat. 'I don't believe I know all these gentlemen,' he said. Mr Slant sighed. 'My lord, let me present Mr Greenyham of Ankh-Sto Associates, who is the Grand Trunk Company's treasurer, Mr Nutmeg of Sto Plains Holdings, Mr Horsefry of the Ankh- Morpork Mercantile Credit Bank, Mr Stowley of Ankh Futures (Financial Advisers) and Mr Gilt—'

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