No help from on high - Drumknott reports - A possible jape - Mr Fusspot takes the stage - Strange things in the air - The return of Mr Bent - 'Look out, he's got a daisy!' - Pucci's big moment - Cosmo needs a hand
THERE WAS CLEAN STRAW in Moist's cell and he was pretty certain no one had gobbed in the stirabout, which contained what, if you were forced to name it, you would have to concede was meat. News had somehow got around that Moist was the reason that Bellyster was no longer on the staff. Even his fellow screws had hated the bullying bastard, so Moist also got a second helping without asking, his shoes cleaned and a complimentary copy of the Times in the morning.
The marching golems had forced the bank's troubles on to page 5. The golems were all over the front page, and a lot of the inner pages were full of Vox Pops - which meant people in the street who didn't know anything told other people what they knew - and lengthy articles by people who also didn't know anything but could say it very elegantly in 250 words.
He was just staring at the crossword puzzle when someone knocked very politely on the cell door. It was the warden, who hoped Mr Lipwig had enjoyed his brief stay with them, would like to show him to his carriage, and looked forward to the pleasure of his custom again should there be any further temporary doubts about his honesty. In the meantime, he would be grateful if Mr Lipwig would be kind enough to wear these lightweight manacles, for the look of the thing, and when they were taken off him, as they surely would be when his character was proved to be spotless, would he please remind the officer in charge that they were prison property, thank you very much.
There was a crowd outside the prison, though they were standing back from the large golem which, down on one knee and with a fist thrust into the air, was waiting outside the gate. It had turned up last night and if Mr Lipwig could see his way clear to getting it to move, said the warden, everyone would be most appreciative. Moist tried to look as though he'd expected it. He had told Black Moustache to await further orders. He hadn't expected this.
In fact it stamped after the coach all the way to the palace. There were a lot of watchmen lining the route and there seemed to be a black-clad figure on every rooftop. It looked as though Vetinari was not taking any chances on him escaping. There were more guards waiting in the back courtyard - more than was efficient, Moist could tell, since it can be easier for a swift-thinking man to get away from twenty men than from five. But somebody was Making a Statement. It didn't matter what it was, so long as it looked impressive.
He was led by dark passages into the sudden light of the Great Hall, which was packed. There was a smattering of applause, one or two cheers, and a ringing series of boos from Pucci, who was sitting next to her brother in the front row of the big block of seats. Moist was led to a small podium which was going to do duty as a dock, where he could look around at the guild leaders, senior wizards, important priests and members of the Great and the Good, or at least the Big and the Noisy. There was Harry King, grinning at him, and the cloud of smoke that indicated the presence of Adora Belle and - oh yes, the new High Priestess of Anoia, her crown of bent spoons all shiny, her ceremonial ladle held stiffly, her face rigid with nerves and importance. You owe me, girl, Moist thought, 'cos a year ago you had to work in a bar in the evenings to make a living and Anoia was just one of half a dozen semi-goddesses who shared an altar which, let's face it, was your kitchen table with a cloth on it. What's one little miracle compared to that?
There was a whisking of cloth and suddenly Lord Vetinari was in his seat, with Drumknott by his side. The buzz of conversation ceased, as the Patrician looked around the hall.
'Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen,' he said. 'Let us get on, shall we? This is not a court of law, as such. It is a court of inquiry, which I have convened to look into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of ten tons of gold bullion from the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork. The good name of the bank has been called into question, and so we will consider all matters apparently pertaining to it – '
'No matter where they lead?'
'Indeed, Mr Cosmo Lavish. No matter where they lead.'
'We have your assurance on this?' Cosmo insisted.
'I believe I have already given it, Mr Lavish. Can we proceed? I have appointed the learned Mr Slant, of Morecombe, Slant and Honeyplace, as Counsel to the Inquiry. He will examine and cross-examine as he sees fit. I think it is known to all that Mr Slant commands the total respect of Ankh-Morpork's legal profession.'
Mr Slant bowed to Vetinari and let his steady gaze take in the rest of the room. It lingered a long time on the ranks of the Lavishes.
'First, the matter of the gold,' said Vetinari. 'I present Drumknott, my secretary and chief clerk, who overnight took a team of my senior clerks into the bank – '
'Am I in the dock here?' said Moist.
Vetinari glanced at him and looked down at his paperwork. 'I have here your signature on a receipt for some ten tons of gold,' he said. 'Do you dispute its authenticity?'
'No, but I thought that was just a formality!'
'Ten tons of gold is a formality, is it? And did you later break into the vault?'
'Well, yes, technically. I couldn't unlock it because Mr Bent had fainted inside and left the key in the lock.'
'Ah, yes, Mr Bent, the chief cashier. Is he with us today?'
A quick survey found the room Bentless.
'I understood that he was in a somewhat distressed state but not seriously harmed,' said Lord Vetinari. 'Commander Vimes, please be so good as to send some men along to his lodgings, will you? I would like him to join us.'
He turned back to Moist. 'No, Mr Lipwig, you are not on trial, as yet. Generally speaking, before someone is put on trial it helps to have some clear reason for doing so. It is considered neater. I must point out, though, that you took formal responsibility for the gold which we must assume was clearly gold and clearly in the vault at that time. In order to have a thorough understanding of the bank's disposition at this time I asked my secretary to audit the bank's affairs, which he and his team did last nigh – '
'If I'm not actually on trial at this moment can I get rid of these shackles? They do rather bias the case against me,' said Moist.
'Yes, very well. Guards, see to it. Now, Mr Drumknott, if you please?'
I'm going to be hung out to dry, thought Moist, as Drumknott started speaking. What is Vetinari playing at?
He stared at the crowds as Drumknott went through the tedious litany of accountancy. Right in front, in a great black mass, was the Lavish family. From here they looked like vultures. This was going to take a long time, by the sound of Drumknott's earnest drone. They were going to set him up, and Vetinari wa - Ah, yes, and then it would be, in some quiet room: 'Mr Lipwig, if you could see your way clear to telling me how you controlled those golems…'
A commotion near the door came as welcome relief, and now Sergeant Fred Colon, trailed by his inseparable associate Nobby Nobbs, was practically swimming through the crowd. Vimes pushed his way towards them, with Sacharissa drifting in his wake. There was a hurried conversation, and a ripple of horrified excitement rolled through the crowd.
Moist caught the word 'Murdered!'
Vetinari stood up and brought his stick down flat on the table, ending the noise like the punctuation of the gods. 'What has happened, Commander?' he said.
'Bodies, sir. In Mr Bent's lodgings!'
'He's been murdered?'
'Nosir!' Vimes conferred briefly and urgently with his sergeant. 'Body provisionally identified as Professor Cranberry, sir, not a real professor, he's a nasty hired killer. We thought he'd left the city. Sounds like the other one is Ribcage Jack, who was kicked to death' - there was another whispered briefing, but Commander Vimes tended to raise his voice when he was angry - 'by a what? On the second floor? Don't be daft! So what got Cranberry? Eh? Did you just mean what I thought you said?'
He straightened up. 'Sorry, sir, I'm going to have to go and see this for myself. I think someone is having a jape.'
'And poor Bent?' said Vetinari.
'No sign of him, sir.'
'Thank you, commander.' Vetinari waved a hand. 'Do hurry back when you know more. We cannot have japes. Thank you, Drumknott. I gather you found nothing untoward apart from the lack of gold. I'm sure that comes as a relief to us all. The floor is yours, Mr Slant.'
The lawyer rose with an air of dignity and mothballs. 'Tell me, Mr Lipwig, what was your job before you came to Ankh-Morpork?' he said.
O-kay, thought Moist, looking at Vetinari, I've worked it out. If I'm good and say the right things, I might live. At a price. Well, no thanks. All I wanted to do was make some money.
'Your job, Mr Lipwig?' Slant repeated.
Moist looked along the rows of watchers, and saw the face of Cribbins. The man winked.
'Hmm?' he said.
'I asked you what your job was before you arrived in this city!'
It was at this point that Moist became aware of a regrettably familiar whirring sound, and from his raised position he was the first to see the chairman of the Royal Bank appear from behind the curtains at the far end of the hall with his wonderful new toy clamped firmly in his mouth. Some trick of the vibrations was propelling Mr Fusspot backwards across the shiny marble.
People in the audience craned their necks as, with tail wagging, the little dog passed behind Vetinari's chair and disappeared behind the curtains on the opposite side.
I'm in a world where that just happened, Moist thought. Nothing matters. It was an insight of incredible liberation.
'Mr Lipwig, I asked you a question,' Slant growled.
'Oh, sorry. I was a crook'… and he flew! This was it! This was better than hanging off some old building! Look at the expression on Cosmo's face! Look at Cribbins! They had it all planned out, and now it had got away from them. He had them all in his hand, and he was flying!
Slant hesitated. 'By crook you mean – '
'Confidence trickster. Occasional forgery. I'd like to think I was more of a scallywag, to be frank.'
Moist saw the looks that passed between Cosmo and Cribbins, and exulted within. No, this wasn't supposed to happen, was it? And now you're going to have to run to keep up…
Mr Slant was certainly having trouble in that area. 'Can I be clear here? You broke the law for a living?'
'Mostly I took advantage of other people's greed, Mr Slant. I think there was an element of education, too.'
Mr Slant shook his head in amazement, causing an earwig to fall, with a keen sense of the appropriate, out of his ear.
'Education?' he said.
'Yes. A lot of people learned that no one sells a real diamond ring for one tenth of its value.'
'And then you stepped into one of the highest public offices in the city?' said Mr Slant, above the laughter. It was a release. People had been holding their breath for too long.
'I had to. It was that or be hanged,' said Moist, and added: 'again.'
Mr Slant looked flustered, and turned his eyes to Vetinari.
'Are you sure you wish me to continue, my lord?'
'Oh yes,' said Vetinari. 'To the death, Mr Slant.'
'Er… you have been hanged before?' Slant said to Moist.
'Oh, yes. I did not wish it to become a habit.'
That got another laugh.
Mr Slant turned again to Vetinari, who was smiling faintly. 'Is this true, my lord?'
'Indeed,' said Vetinari calmly. 'Mr Lipwig was hanged last year under the name of Albert Spangler, but it turned out that he had a very tough neck, as was found when he was being placed in his coffin. You may be aware, Mr Slant, of the ancient principle Quia Ego Sic Dico? A man who survives being hanged may have been selected by the gods for a different destiny, as yet unfulfilled? And since fortune had favoured him, I resolved, therefore, to put him on parole and charge him with resurrecting the Post Office, a task which had already taken the lives of four of my clerks. If he succeeded, well and good. If he failed, the city would have been spared the cost of another hanging. It was a cruel joke which, I am happy to say, rebounded to the general good. I don't think that anyone here would argue that the Post Office is now a veritable jewel of the city? Indeed, the leopard can change his shorts!'
Mr Slant nodded automatically, remembered himself, sat down and fumbled with his notes. He had lost his place. 'And now we come to, er, the matter of the bank – '
'Mrs Lavish, a lady many of us were privileged to know, recently confided in me that she was dying,' said Lord Vetinari briskly. 'She asked me for advice on the future of the bank, given that her obvious heirs were, in her words, "as nasty a bunch of weasels as you could hope not to meet" – '
All thirty-one of the Lavish lawyers stood up and spoke at once, incurring a total cost to their clients of AM$119.28.
Mr Slant glared up at them.
Mr Slant did not, despite what had been said, have the respect of Ankh-Morpork's legal profession. He commanded its fear. Death had not diminished his encyclopedic memory, his guile, his talent for corkscrew reasoning and the vitriol of his stare. Do not cross me this day, it advised the lawyers. Do not cross me, lor if you do I will have the flesh from your very bones and the marrow therein. You know those leather-bound tomes you have on the wall behind your desk to impress your clients? I have read them all, and I wrote half of them. Do not try me. I am not in a good mood.
One by one, they sat down.
'If I may continue?' said Vetinari. 'I understand that Mrs Lavish subsequently interviewed Mr Lipwig and considered that he would be a superb manager in the very best traditions of the Lavish family and the ideal guardian for the dog Mr Fusspot, who is, by the custom of the bank, its chairman.'
Cosmo rose slowly to his feet and stepped out into the centre of the floor. 'I object most strongly to the suggestion that this scoundrel is in the best tradition of my – ' he began.
Mr Slant was on his feet as though propelled by a spring. Quick as he was, Moist was faster.
'I object!' he said.
'How do you dare object,' Cosmo spat, 'when you have admitted to being an arrogant scofflaw?'
'I object to Lord Vetinari's allegation that I have anything to do with the fine traditions of the Lavish family,' said Moist, staring into eyes that now seemed to be weeping green tears. 'For example, I have never been a pirate or traded in slaves – '
There was a great rising of lawyers.
Mr Slant glared. There was a great seating.
'They admit it,' said Moist. 'It's in the bank's own official history!'
'That is correct, Mr Slant,' said Vetinari. 'I have read it. Volenti non fit injuria clearly applies.'
The whirring started again. Mr Fusspot was coming back the other way. Moist forced himself not to look.
'Oh, this is low indeed!' snarled Cosmo. 'Whose history could withstand this type of malice?'
Moist raised a hand. 'Ooo, ooo, I know this one!' he said. 'Mine can. The worst I ever did was rob people who thought they were robbing me, but I never used violence and I gave it all back. Okay, I robbed a couple of banks, well, defrauded, really, but only because they made it so easy – '
'Gave it back?' said Slant, looking for some kind of response from Vetinari. But the Patrician was staring over the heads of the crowd, who were almost all engrossed in the transit of Mr Fusspot, and merely raised a finger in acknowledgement or dismissal.
'Yes, you may recall that I saw the error of my ways last year when the gods – ' Moist began.
'Robbed a couple of banks?' said Cosmo. 'Vetinari, are we to believe that you knowingly put the most important bank in the city into the charge of a known bank robber?'
The massed ranks of the Lavishes rose, united in defence of the money. Vetinari still stared at the ceiling.
Moist looked up. A disc, something white, was skimming through the air near the ceiling; it descended as it circled, and hit Cosmo between the eyes. A second one swooped on over Moist's hand and landed in the bosoms of the Lavishes.
'Should he have left it in the hands of unknown bank robbers?' a voice shouted, as collateral custard landed on every smart black suit. 'Here we are again!'
A second wave of pies was already in the air, circling the room in trajectories that dropped them into the struggling Lavishes. And then a figure fought its way out of the crowd, to the groans and screams of those who'd temporarily been in its way; this was because those who managed to escape having their feet trodden on by the big shoes jumped back in time to be scythed down by the ladder the newcomer was carrying. It innocently turned to see what mayhem it had caused, and the swinging ladder would fell anyone too slow to get away. There was a method to it, though: as Moist watched, the clown stepped away from the ladder, leaving four people trapped among the rungs in such a way that any attempt to get out would cause huge pain to the other three and, in the case of one of the watchmen, a serious impairment of marriage prospects.
Red-nosed and raggedy-hatted, it bounced into the arena in great leaping strides, its enormous boots flapping on the floor with every familiar step.
'Mr Bent?' said Moist. 'Is that you?'
'My jolly good pal Mr Lipwig!' shouted the clown. 'You think the ringmaster runs the circus, do you? Only by the consent of the clowns, Mr Lipwig! Only by the consent of the clowns!'
Bent drew back his arm and hurled a pie at Lord Vetinari.
But Moist was already in full leap before the pie started its journey. His brain came a poor third, and delivered its thoughts all in one go, telling him what his legs had apparently worked out for themselves: that the dignity of the great could rarely survive a face full of custard, that a picture of an encustarded Patrician on the front page of the Times would rock the power-politics of the city, and most of all that in a post-Vetinari world he, Moist, would not see tomorrow, which was one of his lifelong ambitions.
As in a silent dream he sailed towards the oncoming nemesis, reaching out with snail-pace fingers while the pie spun on to its date with history.
It hit him in the face.
Vetinari had not moved. Custard flew up and four hundred fascinated eyes watched as a glob of the stuff headed on towards the Patrician, who caught it in an upraised hand. The little smack as it landed on his palm was the only sound in the room.
Vetinari inspected the captured custard. He dipped a finger into it and tasted the blob thereon. He cast his eyes upwards, thoughtfully, while the room held its communal breath, and then said, pensively: 'I do believe it is pineapple.'
There was a thunder of applause. There had to be; even if you hated Vetinari, you had to admire the timing.
And now he was coming down the steps, advancing on a frozen and fearful clown.
'The clowns do not run my circus, sir,' he said, grabbing the man by his big red nose and pulling it to the full extent of the elastic. 'Is that understood?'
The clown produced a bulbous horn and gave a mournful honk.
'Good. I'm glad you agree. And now I want to talk to Mr Bent, please.'
There were two honks this time.
'Oh yes he is,' said Vetinari. 'Shall we get him out for the boys and girls? What is 15.3 per cent of 59.66?
'You leave him alone! Just you leave him alone!'
The battered crowd parted yet again, this time for a dishevelled Miss Drapes, as outraged and indignant as a mother hen. She was clasping something heavy to her sparse bosom, and Moist realized that it was a stack of ledgers.
'This is what it's all about!' she announced triumphantly, flinging her arms wide. 'It's not his fault! They took advantage of him!'
She pointed an accusatory finger at the dripping ranks of the Lavishes. If a battle goddess were allowed to have a respectable blouse and hair escaping rapidly from a tight bun, then Miss Drapes could have been deified. 'It was them! They sold the gold years ago!' This caused a general and enthusiastic uproar on all sides not containing a Lavish.
'There will be silence!' shouted Vetinari.
The lawyers rose. Mr Slant glared. The lawyers sank.
And Moist wiped pineapple custard from his eyes just in time.
'Look out! He's got a daisy!' he shouted, and then thought: I just shouted 'Look out! He's got a daisy!', and I think I'm going to remember, for ever, just how embarrassing this is.
Lord Vetinari looked down at the improbably large flower in the clown's buttonhole. A tiny drop of water glistened in the almost well-concealed nozzle.
'Yes,' he said, 'I know. Now, sir, I do indeed believe you are Mr Bent. I recognize the walk, you see. If you are not, then all you have to do is squeeze. And all I have to do is let go. I repeat: I'd like to hear from Mr Bent.'
Sometimes the gods don't have the right sense of occasion, Moist thought. There should be thunder, a plangent tone, a chord of tension, some kind of celestial acknowledgement that here was the moment of tru –
'9.12798,' said the clown.
Vetinari smiled and patted him on the shoulder. 'Welcome back,' he said, and looked around until he found Dr Whiteface of the Fools' Guild.
'Doctor, would you take care of Mr Bent, please? I think he needs to be among his own.'
'It would be an honour, my lord. Seven pies in the air at once and a four-man ladder tie? Exemplary! Whoever you are, brother, I offer you the joke handshake of welcome…'
'He's not going anywhere without me,' said Miss Drapes grimly, as the white-faced clown stepped forward.
'Indeed, who could imagine how he would,' said Vetinari. 'And please extend the courtesy of your guild to Mr Bent's young lady, doctor,' he added, to the surprise and delight of Miss Drapes, who clung on daily to the 'lady' but had reluctantly said goodbye to the 'young' years ago.
'And will somebody please release those people from that ladder? I think a saw will be required,' Vetinari went on. 'Drumknott, collect up these intriguing new ledgers that Mr Bent's young lady has so kindly supplied. And I think Mr Lavish needs medical attention – '
'I… do… not!' Cosmo, dripping custard, was trying to remain upright. It was painful to watch. He managed to point a furious but wavering finger at the tumbled books. 'Those,' he declared, 'are the property of the bank!'
'Mr Lavish, it is clear to us all that you are ill – ' Vetinari began.
'Yes, you'd like everyone to believe that, wouldn't you - impostor!' Cosmo said, visibly swaying. In his head the crowd cheered.
'The Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork,' said Vetinari, without taking his eyes off Cosmo, 'prides itself on its red-leather ledgers, which without fail are embossed with the seal of the city in gold leaf. Drumknott?'
'These are cheap card-bound ones, sir. You can buy them anywhere. The writing within, however, is the unmistakable fine copperplate hand of Mr Bent.'
'You are sure?'
'Oh, yes. He does a wonderful cursive script.'
'Fake,' said Cosmo, as if his tongue was an inch thick, 'all fake. Stolen!'
Moist looked at the watching people, and saw the shared expression. Whatever you thought of him, it was not good to see a man fall to bits where he stood. A couple of watchmen were sidling carefully towards him.
'I never stole a thing in my life!' said Miss Drapes, bridling enough for a gymkhana. 'They were in his wardrobe – ' She hesitated, and decided she'd rather be scarlet than grey. 'I don't care what Lady Deirdre Waggon thinks! And I've taken a look inside them, too! Your father took the gold and sold it and forced him to hide it in the numbers! And that's not the half of it!'
'… Beautiful but'fly,' Cosmo slurred, blinking at Vetinari. 'You not me any mo'. Walked mile in y'shoes!'
Moist also edged in his direction. Cosmo had the look of someone who might explode at any moment, or collapse, or just possibly fall on Moist's neck mumbling things like: 'You're m'bestest pal, you are, it's you'n'me 'gainst the worl', pal.'
Greenish sweat was pouring down the man's face.
'I think you need a lie-down, Mr Lavish,' said Moist cheerfully. Cosmo tried to focus on him.
''s a good pain,' the dripping man confided. 'Got li'l hat, got sword o' t'ousand men's – ' and with a whisper of steel a grey blade, with an evil red glitter to it, was pointing between Moist's eyes. It didn't waver. Behind it, Cosmo was trembling and twitching, but the sword stayed rigid and unmoving.
The advancing watchmen slowed down a little. Their job had a pension.
'Will no one at all make any move, please? I think I can deal with this,' said Moist, squinting along the blade. This was a time for delicacy…
'Oh, this is so silly,' said Pucci, strutting forward with a clatter of heels. 'We've got nothing to be ashamed of. It's our gold, isn't it? Who cares what he wrote down in his books?'
The phalanx of Lavish lawyers rose very cautiously to their feet, while the two employed by Pucci began to whisper urgently to her. She ignored them. Everyone was staring at her now, not her brother. Everyone was paying attention to her.
'Could you please be quiet, Miss Lavish?' said Moist. The stillness of the blade worried him. Some part of Cosmo was functioning very well indeed.
'Oh yes, I expect you just would like me to shut up, and I'm not going to!' said Pucci gleefully. Like Moist confronted by an open notebook, she triumphantly plunged on without a care: 'We can't steal what already belongs to us, can we? So what if Father put the wretched gold to better use? It was just sitting there! Honestly, why are you all so dense? Everybody does it. It's not stealing. I mean, the gold still exists, yes? In rings and things. It's not as though anyone's going to throw it away. Who cares where it is?'
Moist resisted the impulse to look at the other bankers in the room. Everyone does it, eh? Pucci was not going to get many Hogswatch cards this year. And her brother was staring at her in horror. The rest of the clan, those who weren't still engrossed in decustarding themselves, were contriving to give the impression that they had never seen Pucci before. Who is this mad woman? said their faces. Who let her in? What is she talking about?
'I think your brother is very ill, miss,' Moist said.
Pucci tossed her admittedly fine locks dismissively. 'Don't worry about him, he's just being silly,' she said. 'He's only doing it to attract attention. Silly boyish stuff about wanting to be Vetinari, as if anyone in their right mind would – '
'He's dribbling green,' said Moist, but nothing cut through the barrage of chatter. He stared at Cosmo's ravaged face, and everything made sense. Beard. Cap. Swordstick, yes, with someone's tacky idea of what a blade made from the iron in the blood of a thousand men should look like. And what about the murder of a man who made rings? What was in that stinking glove…
This is my world. I know how to do this.
'I beg your pardon! You are Lord Vetinari, aren't you?' he said.
For a moment Cosmo drew himself up and a spark of imperiousness shone through. 'Indeed! Yes indeed,' he said, raising one eyebrow. Then it sagged, and his puffy face sagged with it.
'Got ring. Vetin'ri ring,' he mumbled. ''s mine really. Good pain…'
The sword dropped, too.
Moist grabbed the man's left hand and tore the glove off. It came away with a sucking sound and a smell that was unimaginably, nose-cakingly bad. The nearest guard threw up. So many colours, thought Moist. So many… wiggling things…
And there, still visible in the suppurating mass, the unmistakable sullen gleam of stygium.
Moist grabbed Cosmo's other hand.
'I think you ought to come outside, my lord, now you are the Patrician,' he said loudly. 'You must meet the people…'
Once again some inner Cosmo got a slippery grip, enough to cause the dribbling mouth to utter: 'Yes, this is very important…' before reverting to: 'Feel ill. Finger looks funny…'
'The sunshine will do it good,' said Moist, taking him gently in tow. 'Trust me.'READ MORE >>