Doing it in style - 'The chairman goes woof - Harry King puts something by - The screaming starts - One kiss, no tongue - Council of wars - Moist takes charge - A little magic, with stamps - Arousing the professor's interest - A vision of Paradise
WING IT! THERE'S NOTHING LEFT. Remember the gold-ish chain? This is the other end of the rainbow. Talk yourself out of a situation you can't talk your way out of. Make your own luck. Put on a show. If you fall, let them remember how you turned it into a dive. Sometimes the finest hour is the last one.
He went to the wardrobe and took out the best golden suit, the one he wore on special occasions. Then he went and found Gladys, who was staring out of the window.
He had to speak her name quite loudly before she turned to face him, very slowly.
'They Are Coming,' she said.
'Yes, they are,' said Moist, 'and I'd better look my best. Could you press these trousers, please?'
Wordlessly, Gladys took the trousers from him, held them against the wall, and ran a huge palm down them before handing them back. Moist could have shaved with the crease. Then she turned back to the window.
Moist joined her. There was already a crowd in front of the bank, and coaches were pulling up as he watched. There were a fair number of guards around, too. A brief flash indicated that Otto Chriek of the Times was already taking pictures. Ah, yes, a deputation was now forming. People wanted to be in at the death. Sooner or later, someone would hammer at the door. Blow that. He couldn't let that happen.
Wash, shave, trim errant nose hairs, clean teeth. Comb hair, shine boots. Don hat, walk down stairs, unlock door very slowly so that the click is unlikely to be heard outside, wait until you hear a tread getting louder –
Moist opened the door, sharply.
Cosmo Lavish wobbled as the knock failed to connect, but recovered and thrust a sheet of paper at him.
'Emergency audit,' he said. 'These gentlemen' - and here he indicated a number of worthy-looking men behind him - 'are representatives of the major guilds and some of the other banks. This is standard procedure and you can't stand in their way. You will note that we have brought Commander Vimes of the Watch. When we have established that there is indeed no gold in the vault, I shall instruct him to arrest you on suspicion of theft.'
Moist glanced at the commander. He did not like the man much, and was certain that Vimes did not like him at all. He was even more certain, though, that Vimes did not readily take orders from the likes of Cosmo Lavish.
'I'm sure that the commander will do as he sees fit,' said Moist meekly. 'You know the way to the vault. I am sorry it's a bit of a mess at the moment.'
Cosmo half-turned to make certain the crowd heard everything he said. 'You are a thief, Mr Lipwig. A cheat and a liar, an embezzler and you have no dress sense whatsoever.'
'I say, that's a bit on the harsh side,' said Moist as the men swept through. 'I happen to think I dress rather snappily!'
Now he was alone on the steps, facing the crowd. They weren't a mob yet, but it could only be a matter of time.
'Can I help anyone else?' he said.
'What about our money?' someone said.
'What about it?' said Moist.
'Says in the paper you've got no gold,' said the enquirer.
He pushed a damp copy of the Times towards Moist. The newspaper had, on the whole, been quite restrained. He had expected bad headlines, but the story was a single column on the front page and it was full of 'we understand that' and 'we believe that' and 'the Times has been informed that' and all the phrases that journalists use when they are dealing with facts about large sums of money they don't fully understand and are not quite certain that what they have been told is true.
He looked up into the face of Sacharissa Cripslock.
'Sorry,' she said, 'but there were watchmen and guards all round the place last night and we didn't have much time. And frankly, Mr Bent's… attack was enough of a story in its own right. Everyone knows he runs the bank.'
'The chairman runs the bank,' said Moist stiffly.
'No, Moist, the chairman goes woof,' said Sacharissa. 'Look, didn't you sign anything when you took over the job? A receipt or something?'
'Well, maybe. There was a mass of paperwork. I just signed where I was told. So did Mr Fusspot.'
'Ye gods, the lawyers would have fun with that,' said Sacharissa, her notebook magically appearing in her hand. 'And it's no joke, either. He could end up in debtor's prison!'
'Kennel,' said Moist. 'He goes woof, remember? And that's not going to happen.'
Sacharissa bent down to pat Mr Fusspot on his little head, and froze in mid-bend. 'What has he got in his – ?' she began.
'Sacharissa, can we go into this later? I really have not got time for it right now. I swear by any three gods you believe in, even though you are a journalist, that when this is over I will give you a story that will tax even the Times's ability to avoid inelegant and suggestive subjects. Trust me.'
'Yes, but it looks like a – ' she began.
'Ah, so you do know what it is and I don't need to explain,' said Moist briskly.
He handed the newspaper back to its worried owner. 'You are Mr Cusper, aren't you?' he said. 'You have a balance of AM$7 with us, I believe?' For a moment the man looked impressed. Moist was really good at faces. 'I told you we aren't bothered about gold here,' said Moist.
'Yeah, but…' the man began. 'Well, it's not much of a bank if people can take the gold out of it, is it?' he said.
'But it doesn't make any difference,' said Moist. 'I did tell you all.'
They looked uncertain. In theory, they should be stampeding up the steps. Moist knew what was holding them back. It was hope. It was the little voice inside that said: this isn't really happening. It was the voice that drove people to turn out the same pocket three times in a fruitless search for lost keys. It was the mad belief that the world is bound to start working properly again if I truly believe, and there will be keys. It was the voice that said 'This can't be happening' very loudly, in order to drown out the creeping dread that it was.
He had about thirty seconds, while hope lasted.
And then the crowd parted. Pucci Lavish did not know how to make an entrance. Harry King, on the other hand, did. The milling, uncertain throng opened up like the sea in front of a hydrophobic prophet, leaving a channel that was suddenly lined on either side by large, weathered-looking men with broken noses and a useful cross-section of scars. Along this recent avenue strode Harry King trailing cigar smoke. Moist managed to stand his ground until Mr King was a foot away, and made sure to look him in the eye.
'How much money did I put in your bank, Mr Lipwig?' asked Harry.
'Er, I believe it was fifty thousand dollars, Mr King,' said Moist.
'Yes, I believe it was something like that,' said Mr King. 'Can yer guess what I am going to do now, Mr Lipwig?'
Moist did not guess. The Splot was still circulating in his system and in his brain the answer clanged like a funeral bell. 'You're going to put some more in, aren't you, Mr King?'
Harry King beamed, as if Moist was a dog that had just done a new trick. 'That's right, Mr Lipwig! I thought to myself: Harry, I thought.
Fifty thousand dollars seems a bit on the lonely side, so I've come along to round it up to sixty thousand.'
On signal, some more of Harry King's men came up behind him, carrying large chests between them. 'Most of it's gold and silver, Mr Lipwig,' said Harry. 'But I know you got lots of bright young men who can count it all up for you.'
'This is very kind of you, Mr King,' said Moist, 'but at any minute the auditors are going to come back and the bank is going to be in big, big trouble. Please! I can't accept your money.'
Harry leaned closer to Moist, enveloping him in cigar smoke and a hint of decayed cabbage. 'I know you're up to something,' he whispered, tapping the side of his nose. 'The bastards are out to get you, I can see that! I know a winner when I sees one, and I know you've got something up your sleeves, eh?'
'Just my arms, Mr King, just my arms,' said Moist.
'And long may you keep them,' said Harry, slapping him on the back.
The men filed past Moist and deposited their cases on the floor.
'I don't need a receipt,' said Harry. 'You know me, Mr Lipwig. You know you can trust me, just like I know I can trust you.'
Moist shut his eyes, just for a moment. To think that he had worried about ending the day hanging.
'Your money is safe with me, Mr King,' he said.
'I know,' said Harry King. 'And when you've won the day, I'll send young Wallace along and he'll have a little chat with your monkey about how much interest I'm gonna get paid on this little lot, all right? Fair's fair?'
'It certainly is, Mr King.'
'Right,' said Harry. 'Now I'm off to buy some land.'
There was some uncertain murmuring from the crowd, as he departed. The new deposit had thrown them. It had thrown Moist, too. People were wondering what Harry King knew. So did Moist. It was a terrible thing to have someone like Harry believing in you.
Now the crowd had evolved a spokesman, who said: 'Look, what's going on? Has the gold gone or not?'
'I don't know,' said Moist. 'I haven't had a look today.'
'You say that as if it doesn't matter,' said Sacharissa.
'Well, as I have explained,' Moist said, 'the city is still here. The bank is still here. I am still here.' He cast a glance towards Harry King's broad, retreating back. 'For the moment. So it doesn't look as if we need the gold cluttering up the place, do we?'
Cosmo Lavish appeared in the doorway behind Moist. 'So, Mr Lipwig, it would appear that you are a trickster to the end.'
'I beg your pardon?' said Moist.
Other members of the ad hoc audit committee were pushing their way out, looking satisfied. They had, after all, been woken up very early in the morning and those who are awakened very early in the morning expect to kill before breakfast.
'Have you finished already?' said Moist.
'Surely you must know why we were brought here,' said one of the bankers. 'You know very well that last night the City Watch found no gold in your vaults. We can confirm this unhappy state of affairs.'
'Oh well, you know how it is with money,' said Moist. 'You think you are broke and there it was all the time in your other trousers.'
'No, Mr Lipwig, the joke is on you,' said Cosmo. 'The bank is a sham.' He raised his voice. 'I would advise all the investors you have misled to take their money back while they can!'
'No! Squad, to me!' Commander Vimes pushed his way through the bewildered bankers at the same time as half a dozen troll officers pounded up the steps and ended up shoulder to shoulder in front of the double doors.
'Are you a bloody fool, sir?' said Vimes, nose to nose with Cosmo. 'That sounded to me like incitement to riot! This bank is closed until further notice!'
'I am a director of the bank, commander,' said Cosmo. 'You cannot keep me out.'
'Watch me,' said Vimes. 'I suggest you direct your complaint to his lordship. Sergeant Detritus!'
'Nobody goes in there without a chitty signed by me. And Mr Lipwig, you will not leave the city, understood?'
'Yes, commander.' Moist turned to Cosmo. 'You know, you're not looking well,' he said. 'That's not a good complexion you have there.'
'No more words, Lipwig.' Cosmo leaned down. Close to, his face looked even worse, like the face of a wax doll, if a wax doll could sweat. 'We'll meet in court. It's the end of the road, Mr Lipwig. Or should I say… Mr Spangler?'
Oh, gods, I should have done something about Cribbins, thought Moist. I was too busy trying to make money…
And there was Adora Belle, being ushered through the crowd by a couple of watchmen who were also acting as crutches. Vimes hurried down the steps as if he'd been expecting her.
Moist became aware that the background noise of the city was getting louder. The crowd had noticed it too. Somewhere, something big was happening, and this little confrontation was just a sideshow.
'You think you are clever, Mr Lipwig?' said Cosmo.
'No, I know I am clever. I think I'm unlucky,' said Moist. But he thought: I didn't have that many customers, surely? I can hear screams!
With Cosmo shouting triumphantly behind him he pushed his way down to Adora Belle and the cluster of coppers.
'Your golems, right?' he said.
'Every golem in the city just stopped moving,' said Adora Belle. Their gazes met.
'They're coming?' said Moist.
'Yes, I think they are.'
'Who are?' said Vimes suspiciously.
'Er, them?' said Moist, pointing.
A few people came running around the corner from the Maul and sprinted, grey-faced, past the crowd outside the bank. But they were only the flecks of foam driven before the tidal wave of people fleeing from the river area, and the wave of people broke on the bank as if it was a rock in the way of the flood.
But floating on the sea of heads, as it were, was a circular canvas about ten feet across of the sort that gets used to catch people who who very wisely jump from burning buildings. The five people carrying it were Dr Hicks and four other wizards and it was at this point you would notice the chalked circle and the magic symbols. In the middle of the portable magic circle sat Professor Flead, belabouring the wizards unsuccessfully with his ethereal staff. They fetched up alongside the steps as the crowd ran onwards.
'I am sorry about this,' panted Hicks. 'It's the only way we could get him here and he insisted, oh how he insisted…'
'Where's the young lady?' Flead shouted. His voice was barely audible in the living daylight. Adora Belle pushed her way through the policemen.
'Yes, Professor Flead?' she said.
'I have found your answer! I have spoken with several Umnians!'
'I thought they all died thousands of years ago!'
'Well, it is a department of necromancy,' Flead said. 'But I must admit they were a wee bit indistinct, even for me. Can I have a kiss? One kiss, one answer?'
Adora Belle looked at Moist. He shrugged. The day was totally beyond him. He wasn't flying any more; he was simply being blown along by the gale.
All right,' she said. 'But no tongues.'
'Tongues?' said Flead sadly. 'I wish.'
There was the briefest of pecks, but the ghostly necromancer beamed. 'Wonderful,' he said. 'I feel at least a hundred years younger.'
'You have done the translations?' said Adora Belle. And at that moment Moist felt a vibration underfoot.
'What? Oh that,' said Flead. 'It was those golden golems you were talking about – '
- and another vibration, enough to cause a sense of unease in the bowels -
' – although it turns out that the word in context doesn't mean golden at all. There are more than one hundred and twenty things it can mean, but in this case taken in conjunction with the rest of the paragraph it means a thousand.'
The street shook again.
'Four thousand golems, I think you'll find,' said Flead cheerfully. 'Oh, and here they are now!'
They came along the streets six abreast, wall to wall and ten feet high. Water and mud cascaded off them. The city echoed to their tread.
They did not trample people, but mere market stalls and coaches splintered under their massive feet. They spread out as they moved, fanning out across the city, thundering down side streets, heading for the gates which in Ankh-Morpork were always open, because there was no point in discouraging customers.
And there were the horses, perhaps no more than a score in all the hurrying throng, saddles built into the clay of their backs, overtaking the two-legged golems, and not a man watched but thought: where can I get one of those?
One man-shaped golem alone stopped in the middle of Sator Square, raised a fist as if in salute, dropped on one knee, and went still. The horses halted beside it, as if awaiting riders.
The rest of the golems marched on with the sound of thunder, heading out of the city. And when the many-walled city of Ankh-Morpork had one more wall, out beyond the gates, they stopped. As one, they raised their right hands in a fist. Shoulder to shoulder, ringing the city, the golems… guarded. Silence fell.
In Sator Square, Commander Vimes looked up at the poised fist and then at Moist.
'Am I under arrest?' said Moist meekly.
Vimes sighed. 'Mr Lipwig,' he said, 'there's no word for what you are.'
The palace's big ground-floor council chamber was packed. Most people had to stand. Every guild, every interest group and everyone who just wanted to say they had been there… was there. The crowd overflowed into the palace grounds and out on to the streets. Children were climbing on the golem in the square, despite the efforts of the watchmen who were guarding it.
There was a large axe buried in the big table, Moist noticed; the force of it had split the wood. It had clearly been there for some time. Perhaps it was some kind of warning, or some kind of symbol. This was a council of war, after all, but without the war.
'However, we are already getting some very threatening notes from the other cities,' said Lord Vetinari, 'so it is only a matter of time.'
'Why?' said Archchancellor Ridcully of Unseen University, who had managed to get a seat by dint of elevating its protesting occupant out of it. 'All the things are doin' is standin' around outside the walls, yes?'
'Quite so,' said Vetinari. 'And it's called aggressive defence. That is practically a declaration of war.' He gave a sad little sigh, the sign of a brain shifting down a gear. 'May I remind you of the famous dictum of General Tacticus: "Those who desire war, prepare for war"? Our city is surrounded by a wall of creatures each one of which, I gather, could only be stopped by a siege weapon. Miss Dearheart' - he paused to give Adora Belle a sharp little smile - 'has been kind enough to bring Ankh-Morpork an army capable of conquering the world, although I'm happy to accept her assurance that she didn't actually mean to.'
'Then why don't we?' said Lord Downey, head of the Assassins' Guild.
'Ah, Lord Downey. Yes, I thought someone would say that,' said Vetinari. 'Miss Dearheart? You have studied these golems.'
'I've had half an hour!' Adora Belle protested. 'Hopping on one foot, I might add!'
'Nevertheless, you are our expert. And you have had the assistance of the famously deceased Professor Flead.'
'He kept trying to see up my dress!'
'They have no chem that I can get at,' said Adora Belle. 'There's no way of opening their heads. As far as we can tell they have one overriding imperative, which is to defend the city. And that's all. It's actually carved into their clay.'
'Nevertheless, there is such a thing as pre-emptive defence. That might be considered as "guarding". In your opinion, would they attack another city?'
'I don't think so. Which city would you like me to test them on, my lord?' Moist shuddered. Sometimes Adora Belle just didn't care.
'None,' said Vetinari. 'We are not going to have another wretched empire while I am Patrician. We've only just got over the last one. Professor Flead, have you been able to give them any instructions at all?'
All heads turned to Flead and his portable circle, which had remained near the door out of the sheer impossibility of struggling further into the room.
'What? No! I am certain I have the gist of Umnian, but I cannot make it move a step! I have tried every likely command, to no avail. It is most vexing!' He waved his staff at Dr Hicks. 'Come on, make yourself useful, you fellows. One more try!'
'I think I might be able to communicate with them,' said Moist, staring at the axe, but his voice was lost in the disturbance as the grumbling students tried to manhandle the portable magic circle back through the crowded doorway.
Let me just work out why, he thought. Yep… yep. It's actually… simple. Far too simple for a committee.
'As' chairman of the, Merchant's' Guild gentlemen may, I point out that these thing's represent a valuable labour force in this' city – ' said Mr Robert Parker.
'No slaves in Ankh-Morpork!' said Adora Belle, pointing a finger at Vetinari. 'You've always said that!'
Vetinari lifted an eyebrow at her. Then he held the eyebrow and raised her a further eyebrow. But Adora Belle was unabashable.
'Miss Dearheart, you have yourself explained that they have no chem. You cannot free them. I am ruling that they are tools, and since they regard themselves as servants of the city I will treat them as such.' He raised both hands at the general uproar, and went on: 'They will not be sold and will be treated with care, as tools should be. They will work for the good of the city and – '
'No, that would be a terribly bad idea!' A white coat was struggling to get to the front of the crowd. It was topped by a yellow rain hat.
'And you are… ?' said Vetinari.
The figure removed its yellow hat, looked around and went rigid. A groan managed to escape from its mouth.
'Aren't you Hubert Turvy?' said Vetinari. Hubert's face remained locked in a mask of terror, so Vetinari, in a kinder tone, added: 'Do you want some time to think about that last question?'
'I… only… just heard… about…' Hubert began. He looked around at the hundreds of faces, and blinked.
'Mr Turvy, the alchemist of money?' Vetinari prompted. 'It may be written down on your clothes somewhere?'
'I think I can assist here,' said Moist, and elbowed his way to the tongue-tied economist.
'Hubert,' he said, putting a hand on the man's shoulder, 'all the people are here because they want to hear your amazing theory that demonstrates the inadvisability of putting these new golems to work. You don't want to disappoint them, do you? I know you don't meet many people, but everyone's heard of your wonderful work. Can you help them understand what you just shouted?'
'We are agog,' said Lord Vetinari.
In Hubert's head the rising terror of crowds was overturned by the urge to impart knowledge to the ignorant, which meant everyone except him. His hands grasped the lapels of his jacket. He cleared his throat.
'Well, the problem is that, considered as a labour force, the golems are capable of doing the work per day of one hundred and twenty thousand men.'
'Think of what they could do for the city!' said Mr Cowslick of the Artificers' Guild.
'Well, yes. To begin with, they would put one hundred and twenty thousand men out of work,' said Hubert, 'but that would only be the start. They do not require food, clothing or shelter. Most people spend their money on food, shelter, clothing, entertainment and, not least, taxes. What would these golems spend it on? The demand for many things would drop and further unemployment would result. You see, circulation is everything. The money goes around, creating wealth as it does so.'
'You seem to be saying that these things could beggar us!' said Vetinari.
'There would be… difficult times,' said Hubert.
'Then what course of action do you propose, Mr Turvy?'
Hubert looked puzzled. 'I don't know, sir. I didn't know I had to find solutions as well'
'Any of the other cities would attack us if they had these golems,' said Lord Downey, 'and surely we don't have to think of their jobs, do we? Surely a little bit of conquest would be in order?'
'An empirette, perhaps?' said Vetinari sourly. 'We use our slaves to create more slaves? But do we want to face the whole world in arms? For that is what we would do, at the finish. The best that we could hope for is that some of us would survive. The worst is that we would triumph. Triumph and rot. That is the lesson of history, Lord Downey. Are we not rich enough?'
That started another clamour.
Moist, unnoticed, pushed his way through the heaving crowd until he reached Dr Hicks and his crew, who were fighting their way back to the big golem.
'Can I come with you, please?' he said. 'I want to try something.'
Hicks nodded, but while the portable circle was being dragged out into the street he said: 'I think Miss Dearheart tried everything. The professor was very impressed.'
'There's something she didn't try. Trust me. Talking of trust, who are these lads holding the blanket?'
'My students,' said Hicks, trying to keep the circle steady.
'They want to study necro - er, post-mortem communications? Why?'
'Apparently it's good for getting girls,' sighed Hicks. There were sniggers.
'In a necromancy department? What kind of girls do they get?'
'No, it's because when they graduate they get to wear the hooded black robe and the skull ring. I think the term one of them used was "babe magnet".'
'But I thought wizards aren't allowed to marry?'
'Marriage?' said Hicks. 'Oh, I don't think they think about that!
'We never did in my day!' shouted Flead, who was being shaken back and forth as the circle was dragged through the crowds. 'Can't you blast some of these people with Black Fire, Hicks? You're a necromancer, for the sake of the seven hells! You are not supposed to be nice! Now I can see what's going on I think I shall have to spend a lot more time in the department!'
'Could I have a quiet word?' whispered Moist to Hicks. 'The lads can manage by themselves, can't they? Tell them to catch us up at the big golem.'
He hurried on, and was not at all surprised to find Hicks hurrying to catch him up. He pulled the not-really-a-necromancer into the shelter of a doorway and said: 'Do you trust your students?'
'Are you mad?'
'It's just that I have a little plan to save the day, the downside of which is that Professor Flead will no longer, alas, be available to you in your department.'
'By unavailable you mean… ?'
'Alas, you would never see him again,' said Moist. 'I can tell that would be a blow.'
Hicks coughed. 'Oh dear. He wouldn't be able to come back at all?'
'I think not.'
'Are you sure?' said Hicks carefully. 'No possibility?'
'I'm pretty sure.'
'Hm. Well, of course it would indeed be a blow.'
'A big blow. A big blow,' Moist agreed.
'I wouldn't want him… hurt, of course.'
'Anything but. Anything but,' said Moist, trying not to laugh. We humans are good at this curly thinking, aren't we, he thought.
'And he has had a good innings, when all's said and done.'
'Two of them,' said Moist, 'when you come to think about it.'
'What do you want us to do?' said Hicks, against the distant shouts of the ghostly professor berating the students.
'There's such a thing, I believe, as… an insorcism?'
'Those? We're not allowed to do those! They're totally against university rules!'
'Well, wearing the black robe and the skull ring has got to count for something, hasn't it? I mean, your predecessors would turn in their dark coffins if they thought you wouldn't agree to the minor naughtiness I have in mind…' And Moist explained, in one simple sentence.
Louder shouts and curses indicated that the portable circle was almost upon them.
'Well, doctor?' said Moist.
A complex spectrum of expressions chased one another across Dr Hicks's face. 'Well, I suppose…'
'Well, it'd be like sending him to Heaven, right?'
'Exactly! I couldn't have put it better myself!'
'Anyone could put it better than this shower!' snapped Flead, right behind him. 'The department has really been allowed to go uphill since my day! Well, we shall see what we can do about that!'
'Before you do, professor, I must speak to the golem,' said Moist. 'Can you translate for me?'
'Can but won't,' snapped Flead.
'You tried to help Miss Dearheart earlier on.'
'She is attractive. Why should I bequeath to you knowledge it took me a century to acquire?'
'Because there're fools back there who want to use these golems to start a war?'
'Then that will reduce the number of fools.'
In front of them now was the lone golem. Even kneeling, this one's face was level with Moist's eyes. The head turned to look blankly at him. The guards around the golem, on the other hand, looked at Moist with deep suspicion.
'We are going to perform a little magic, officers,' Moist told them.
The corporal in charge looked as if this did not meet with his approval. 'We've got to guard it,' he pointed out, eyeing the black robes and the shimmering Professor Flead.
'That's fine, we can work around you,' said Moist. 'Do please stay. I'm sure there's not much risk.'
'Risk?' said the corporal.
'Although perhaps it might be better if you fanned out to keep the public away,' Moist went on. 'We would not want anything to happen to members of the public. If, perhaps, you could push them back a hundred yards or so?'
'Told to stay here,' said the corporal, looking Moist up and down. He lowered his voice. 'Er, aren't you the Postmaster General?'
Moist recognized the look and the tone. Here we go… 'Yes, indeed,' he said.
The watchman lowered his voice still further. 'So, er, do you by any chance have any of the Blue – '
'Can't help you there,' said Moist quickly, reaching into his pocket, 'but I do just happen to have here a very rare 20p Cabbage Green stamp with the highly amusing "misprint" that caused a bit of a stir last year, you may remember. This is the only one left. Very collectable.'
A small envelope appeared in his hand. Just as quickly, it vanished into the corporal's pocket.
'We can't let anything happen to members of the public,' he said, 'so I suggest we'd better keep them back a hundred yards or so.'
'Good thinking,' said Moist.
A few minutes later Moist had the square to himself, the watchmen having worked out quite quickly that the further back from danger they pushed the public the further from said danger they too would be.
And now, Moist thought, for the Moment of Truth. If possible, though, it would become the Moment of Plausible Lies, since most people were happier with them.
The Umnian golems were bigger and heavier than the ones commonly seen around the city, but they were beautiful. Of course they were - they had probably been made by golems. And their builders had given them what looked like muscles, and calm, sad faces. In the last hour or so, in defiance of the watchmen, the lovable kids of the city had managed to scrawl a black moustache on this one.
O-kay. Now for the professor…
'Tell me, professor, do you enjoy being dead?' he said.
'Enjoy? How can anyone enjoy it, you fool?' said Flead.
'Not much fun?'
'Young man, the word "fun" is not applicable to existence beyond the grave,' said Flead.
'And is that why you hang around the department?'
'Yes! It maybe run by amateurs these days, but there's always something going on.'
'Certainly,' said Moist. 'However, I'm wondering if someone of your… interests would not find them better served somewhere where there is always something coming off.'
'I do not understand your meaning.'
'Tell me, professor, have you heard of the Pink PussyCat Club?'
'No, I have not. Cats are not normally pink in these times, are they?'
'Really? Well, let me tell you about the Pink PussyCat Club,' said Moist. 'Excuse us, Dr Hicks.' He waved away Hicks, who winked and led his students back to the crowd. Moist put his arm around the ghostly shoulders. It was uncomfortable to hold it there with no actual shoulder to take the weight, but style was everything in these matters.
Some urgent whispering passed to and fro, and then Flead said: 'You mean it's… smutty?'
Smut, thought Moist. He really is old.
'Oh, yes. Even, I might go so far as to say, suggestive.'
'Do they show their… ankles?' said Flead, his eyes gleaming.
'Ankles,' said Moist. 'Yes, yes, I rather think they do.' Ye gods, he wondered, is he that old?
'All the time?'
'Twenty-four hours a day. They never clothe,' said Moist. 'And sometimes they spin around a pole upside down. Take it from me, professor, for you, eternity might not be long enough.'
'And you just want a few words translated?'
'A small glossary of instructions.'
'And then I can go?'
'I have your word?'
'Trust me. I'll just explain this to Dr Hicks. He may take some persuading.'
Moist strolled over to the huddle of people who weren't necromancers at all. The post-mortem communicator's response was other than he expected. Second thoughts were arising.
'I wonder if we'd be doing the right thing, setting him loose in a pole-dancing establishment?' said Hicks doubtfully.
'No one will see him. And he can't touch. They're very big on not touching in that place, I'm told.'
'Yes, I suppose all he can do is ogle the young ladies.' There was some sniggering from the students.
'So? They're paid to be ogled at,' said Moist. 'They are professional oglees. It's an ogling establishment. For oglers. And you heard what's going on in the palace. We could be at war in a day. Do you trust them? Trust me.'
'You use that phrase an awful lot, Mr Lipwig,' said Hicks. 'Well, I'm very trustworthy. Ready, then? Hold back until I summon you, and then you can take him to his last resting place.'
There were people in the crowd with sledgehammers. You'd have a job to crack a golem if it didn't want you to, but he ought to get them out of here as soon as possible.
This probably wouldn't work. It was too simple. But Adora Belle had missed it, and so had Flead. The corporal now so bravely holding back the crowds wouldn't have, because it was all about orders, but nobody had asked him. You just had to think a little.
'Come on, young man,' said Flead, still where his bearers had left him. 'Let's get on with it, shall we?'
Moist took a deep breath. 'Tell me how to say: "Trust me, and only me. Form ranks of four and march ten miles hubwards of the city. Walk slowly,"' he said.
'Hee, hee. You are a sharp one, Mr Lipstick!' said Flead, his mind full of ankles. 'But it won't work, you know. We tried things like that.'
'I can be very persuasive.'
'It won't work, I tell you. I have found not one single word that they will react to.'
'Well, professor, it's not what you say, it's the way that you say it, isn't it? Sooner or later it's all about style.'
'Ha! You are a fool, man.'
'I thought we had a deal, professor? And I shall want a number of other phrases.' He looked around at the golem horses, as still as statues. 'And one phrase I shall need is the equivalent of "Giddyup", and while I think of it I shall need "Whoa", too. Or do you want to go back to the place where they've never heard of pole-dancing?'READ MORE >>