Gladys Does It For Herself - To the House of Mirth - The history of Mr Bent - Usefulness of clowns as nurses is questioned - Owlswick gets an angel - The golden secret (not exactly dragon magic) - The return of the teeth - Vetinari looks ahead - The Bank Triumphant - The Glooper's little gift - How to spoil a perfect day
ON THE FIRST DAY of the rest of his life Moist von Lipwig woke up, which was nice given that on any particular day a number of people do not, but woke up alone, which was less pleasing.
It was 6 a.m., and the fog seemed glued to the windows, so thick that it should have contained croutons. But he liked these moments, before the fragments of yesterday reassembled themselves.
Hold on, this wasn't the suite, was it? This was his room in the Post Office, which had all the luxury and comfort that you would normally associate with the term 'civil service issue'.
A piece of yesterday fell into place. Oh yes, Vetinari had ordered the bank shut while his clerks looked at everything this time. Moist wished them luck with the late Sir Joshua's special cupboard…
There was no Mr Fusspot, which was a shame. You don't appreciate an early-morning slobber until it's gone. And there was no Gladys, either, which was worrying.
She didn't turn up while he was getting dressed, either, and there was no copy of the Times on his desk. His suit needed pressing, too.
He eventually found her pushing a trolley of mail in the sorting room. The blue dress had gone, to be replaced by a grey one which, by the nascent standard of golem dressmaking, looked quite smart.
'Good morning, Gladys,' Moist ventured. 'Any chance of some pressed trouser?'
'There Is Always A Warm Iron In The Postmen's Locker Room, Mr Lipwig.'
'Oh? Ah. Right. And, er… the Times?
'Four Copies Are Delivered To Mr Groat's Office Every Morning, Mr Lipwig,' said Gladys reproachfully.
'I suppose a sandwich is totally out of – '
'I Really Must Get On With My Duties, Mr Lipwig,' said the golem reproachfully.
'You know, Gladys, I can't help thinking that there's something different about you,' said Moist.
'Yes! I Am Doing It For Myself,' said Gladys, her eyes glowing.
'Doing what, exactly?'
'I Have Not Ascertained This Yet, But I Am Only Ten Pages Into The Book.'
'Ah. You've been reading a new book? But not one by Lady Deirdre Waggon, I'll wager.'
'No, Because She Is Out Of Touch With Modern Thought. I Laugh With Scorn.'
'Yes, I imagine she would be,' said Moist thoughtfully. 'And I expect Miss Dearheart gave you said book?'
'Yes. It Is Entitled Why Men Get Under Your Feet By Releventia Flout,' said Gladys earnestly.
And we start out with the best of intentions, thought Moist: find 'em out, dig 'em up, make 'em free. But we don't know what we're doing, or what we're doing it to.
'Gladys, the thing about books… well, the thing… I mean, just because it's written down, you don't have to… that is to say, it doesn't mean it's… what I'm getting at is that every book is – '
He stopped. They believe in words. Words give them life. I can't tell her that we just throw them around like jugglers, we change their meaning to suit ourselves…
He patted Gladys on the shoulder. 'Well, read them all and make up your own mind, eh?'
'That Was Very Nearly Inappropriate Touching, Mr Lipwig.'
Moist started to laugh, and stopped at the sight of her grave expression.
'Er, only for Ms Flout, I expect,' he said, and went to grab a Times before they were all stolen.
It must have been another bittersweet day for the editor. After all, there can only be one front page. In the end he'd stuffed in everything: the 'I do believe it is pineapple' line, plus picture, with the dripping Lavishes in the background, and, oh yes, here was Pucci's speech, in detail. It was wonderful. And she'd gone on and on. It was all perfectly clear from her point of view: she was right and everyone was silly. She was so in love with her own voice that the watchmen had to write down their official caution on a piece of paper and hold it up in front of her before they towed her away, still talking…
And someone had got a picture of Cosmo's ring catching the sunlight. It was near perfect surgery, they said down at the hospital, and had probably saved his life, they said, and how had Moist known what to do, they said, when the entirety of Moist's relevant medical knowledge was that a finger shouldn't have green mushrooms growing on it –
The paper was twitched out of his hands.
'What have you done with Professor Flead?' Adora Belle demanded. 'I know you've done something! Don't lie.'
'I haven't done anything!' Moist protested, and checked the wording. Yes, technically true.
'I've been to the Department of Post-Mortem Communications, you know!'
'And what did they say?'
'I don't know! There was a squid blocking the door! But you've done something, I know it! He told you the secret of getting through to the golems, didn't he?'
'No.' Absolutely true. Adora Belle hesitated.
'No. I got some extra vocabulary, but that's no secret.'
'Will it work for me?'
'No.' Currently true.
'They'd only take orders from a man? I bet that's it!'
'I don't think so.' True enough.
'So there is a secret?'
'It's not really a secret. Flead told us. He just didn't know it was a secret.' True.
'It's a word?'
'Look, why won't you tell me? You know you can trust me!'
'Well, yes. Of course. But can I trust you if someone holds a knife to your throat?'
'Why should they do that?'
Moist sighed. 'Because you'll know how to command the biggest army there has ever been! Did you look around outside? Didn't you see all the coppers? They turned up right after the hearing!'
'Those trolls re-laying the cobbles? How often do you see that happening? The line of cabs that aren't interested in passengers? The battalion of beggars? And the coach yard around the back is full of hangers-on, lounging about and watching the windows. Those coppers. It's called a stake-out, and I'm the meat – '
There was a knock at the door. Moist recognized it; it sought to alert without disturbing.
'Come in, Stanley,' he said. The door opened.
'It's me, sir,' said Stanley, who went through life with the care of a man reading a manual translated from a foreign language.
'Head of Stamps, sir,' said Stanley.
'Lord Vetinari is in the coach yard, sir, inspecting the new automatic pick-up mechanism. He says there is no rush, sir.'
'He says there is no rush,' said Moist to Adora Belle.
'We'd better hurry, then?'
'Remarkably like a gibbet,' said Lord Vetinari, while behind him coaches rumbled in and out.
'It will allow a fast coach to pick up mailbags without slowing,' said Moist. 'That means letters going from small country offices can travel express without slowing the coach. It could save a few minutes on a long run.'
'And of course if I let you have some of the golem horses the coaches might travel at a hundred miles an hour, I'm told, and I wonder if those glowing eyes could see even through this murk.'
'Possibly, sir. But in fact I already have all the golem horses,' said Moist.
Vetinari gave him a cool look, and then said: 'Hah! And you also have all your ears. What exchange rate are we discussing?'
'Look, it's not that I want to be Lord of the Golems – ' Moist began.
'On the way, please. Do join me in my coach,' said Vetinari.
'Where are we going?'
'Hardly any distance. We're going to see Mr Bent.'
The clown who opened the little sliding door in the Fools' Guild's forbidding gates looked from Vetinari to Moist to Adora Belle, and wasn't very happy about any of them.
'We are here to see Dr Whiteface,' said Vetinari. 'I require you to let us in with the minimum of mirth.'
The door snapped back. There was some hurried whispering and a clanking noise, and one half of the double doors opened a little way, just enough for people to walk through in single file. Moist stepped forward, but Vetinari put a restraining hand on his shoulder and pointed up with his stick.
'This is the Fools' Guild,' he said. 'Expect… fun.'
There was a bucket balanced on the door. He sighed and gave it a push with his stick. There was a thud and a splash from the other side.
'I don't know why they persist in this, I really don't,' he said, sweeping through. 'It's not funny and it could hurt someone. Mind the custard.' There was a groan from the dark behind the door.
'Mr Bent was born Charlie Benito, according to Dr Whiteface,' said Vetinari, pushing his way through the tent that occupied the guild's quadrangle. 'And he was born a clown.'
Dozens of clowns paused in their daily training to watch them pass. Pies remained unflung, trousers did not fill with whitewash, invisible dogs paused in mid-widdle.
'Born a clown?' said Moist.
'Indeed, Mr Lipwig. A great clown, from a family of clowns. You saw him yesterday. The Charlie Benito make-up has been passed down for centuries.'
'I thought he'd gone mad!'
'Dr Whiteface, on the other hand, thinks he has come to his senses. Young Bent had a terrible childhood, I gather. No one told him he was a clown until he was thirteen. And his mother, for reasons of her own, discouraged all clownishness in him.'
'She must have liked clowns once,' said Adora Belle. She looked around her. All the clowns hurriedly looked away.
'She loved clowns,' said Vetinari. 'Or should I say, one clown. And for one night.'
'Oh. I see,' said Moist. 'And then the circus moved on?'
'As circuses do, alas. After which I suspect she rather went off men with red noses.'
'How do you know all this?' said Moist.
'Some of it is informed conjecture, but Miss Drapes has got a lot out of him in the last couple of days. She is a lady of some depth and determination.'
On the far side of the big tent there was another doorway, where the head of the guild was waiting for them.
He was white all over - white hat, white boots, white costume and white face - and on that face, delineated in thin lines of red greasepaint, a smile belying the real face, which was as cold and proud as that of a prince of Hell.
Dr Whiteface nodded at Vetinari. 'My lord…'
'Dr Whiteface,' said the Patrician. 'And how is the patient?'
'Oh, if only he had come to us when he was young,' said Whiteface, 'what a clown he would have been! What timing! Oh, by the way, we do not normally allow women visitors into the guild building, but in these special circumstances we are waiving this rule.'
'Oh, I'm so glad,' said Adora Belle, acid etching every syllable.
'It is simply that, whatever the Jokes For Women group says, women are just not funny.'
'It is a terrible affliction,' Adora Belle agreed.
'An interesting dichotomy, in fact, since neither are clowns,' said Vetinari.
'I've always thought so,' said Adora Belle.
'They are tragic,' said Vetinari, 'and we laugh at their tragedy as we laugh at our own. The painted grin leers out at us from the darkness, mocking our insane belief in order, logic, status, the reality of reality. The mask knows that we are born on the banana skin that leads only to the open manhole cover of doom, and all we can hope for are the cheers of the crowd.'
'Where do the squeaky balloon animals fit in?' said Moist.
'I have no idea. But I understand that when the would-be murderers broke in Mr Bent strangled one with quite a lifelike humorous pink elephant made out of balloons.'
'Just imagine the noise,' said Adora Belle cheerfully.
'Yes! What a turn! And without any training! And the business with the ladder? Pure battle-clowning! Superb!' said Whiteface. 'We know it all now, Havelock. After his mother died, his father came back and of course took him off to the circus. Any clown could see the boy had funny bones. Those feet! They should have sent him to us! A boy of that age, it can be very tricky! But no, he was bundled into his grandfather's old gear and shoved out into the ring in some tiny little town, and, well, that's where clowning lost a king.'
'Why? What happened?' said Moist.
'Why do you think? They laughed at him.'
It was raining, and wet branches lashed at him as he bounded through the woods, whitewash still dribbling from his baggy trousers. The pants themselves bounced up and down on their elastic braces, occasionally hitting him under the chin.
The boots were good, though. They were amazing boots. They were the only ones he'd ever had that fitted.
But his mother had brought him up properly. Clothes should be a respectable grey, mirth was indecent, and make-up was a sin.
Well, punishment had come fast enough!
At dawn he found a barn. He scraped off the dried custard and caked greasepaint and washed himself in a puddle. Oh, that face! The fat nose, the huge mouth, the white tear painted on - he would remember it in nightmares, he knew it.
At least he still had his own shirt and drawers, which covered all the important bits. He was about to throw everything else away when an inner voice stopped him. His mother was dead and he hadn't been able to stop the bailiffs taking everything, even the brass ring Mother polished every day. He'd never see his father again… he had to keep something, there had to be something, something so that he might remember who and why he was and where he'd come from and even why he'd left. The barn yielded a sack full of holes; that was good enough. The hated suit was stuffed inside.
Later that day he'd come across some caravans parked under the trees, but they were not the garish wagons of the circus. Probably they were religious, he thought, and Mother had approved of the quieter religions, provided the gods weren't foreign.
They gave him rabbit stew. And when he looked over the shoulder of a man sitting quietly at a small folding table, he saw a book full of numbers, all written down. He liked numbers. They'd always made sense in a world that didn't. And then he'd asked the man, very politely, what the number at the bottom was, and the answer had been: 'It's what we call the total', and he'd replied: 'No, that's not the total, that's three farthings short of the total.' 'How do you know?'
said the man, and he'd said: 'I can see it is', and the man had said: 'But you only just glanced at it!' And he'd said: 'Well, yes, isn't that how?'
And then more books were opened and the people gathered round and gave him sums to do, and they were all so, so easy…
It was all the fun the circus couldn't be, and involved no custard, ever.
He opened his eyes, and made out the indistinct figures.
'Am I going to be arrested?'
Moist glanced at Vetinari, who waved a hand vaguely.
'Not necessarily,' said Moist carefully. 'We know about the gold.'
'Sir Joshua said he would let it be known about my… family.'
'Yes, we know.'
'People would laugh. I couldn't stand that. And then I think I… you know, I think I convinced myself that the gold was all a dream? That provided I never looked for it, it would still be there.' He paused, as if random thoughts were queueing for the use of the mouth. 'Dr Whiteface has been kind enough to show me the history of the Charlie Benito face…' Another pause. 'I hear I threw custard pies with considerable accuracy. Perhaps my ancestors will be proud.'
'How do you feel now?' said Moist.
'Oh, quite well in myself,' said Bent. 'Whoever that is.'
'Good. Then I want to see you at work tomorrow, Mr Bent.'
'You can't ask him to go back so soon!' Miss Drapes protested.
Moist turned to Whiteface and Vetinari. 'Could you please leave us, gentlemen?'
There was an affronted look on the chief clown's face, which was made worse by the permanent happy smile, but the door shut behind them.
'Listen, Mr Bent,' said Moist urgently. 'We're in a mess – '
'I believed in the gold, you know,' said Bent. 'Didn't know where it was, but I believed.'
'Good. And it probably still exists in Pucci's jewellery box,' said Moist. 'But I want to open the bank again tomorrow, and Vetinari's people have been through every piece of paper in the place, and you can guess what kind of mess they leave. And I want to launch the notes tomorrow, you know? The money that doesn't need gold? And the bank doesn't need gold. We know this. It worked for years with a vault full of junk! But the bank needs you, Mr Bent. The Lavishes are in real trouble, Cosmo's locked up somewhere, the staff are all over the place and tomorrow, Mr Bent, the bank opens and you must be there. Please? Oh, and the chairman has graciously barked assent to putting you on a salary of sixty-five dollars a month. I know you are not a man to be influenced by money, but the rise might be worth considering by a man contemplating a, ah, change in his domestic arrangements?'
It wasn't a shot in the dark. It was a shot in the light, clear blazing light. Miss Drapes was definitely a woman with a plan, and it had to be a better one than the rest of a life spent in a narrow room in Elm Street.
'It's your choice, of course,' he said, standing up. 'Are they treating him all right, Miss Drapes?'
'Only because I'm here,' she said smartly. 'This morning three clowns came in with a big rope and a small elephant and wanted to pull one of his poor teeth! And then I'd hardly got them out when two more came in and started to whitewash the room, very inefficiently in my opinion! I got them out of here in very short order, I can tell you!'
'Well done, Miss Drapes!'
Vetinari was waiting outside the building with the coach door open.
'You will get in,' he said.
'Actually it's a very short walk to – '
'Get in, Mr Lipwig. We will go the pretty way.
'I believe you think our relationship is a game,' said Vetinari, as the coach pulled away. 'You believe that all sins will be forgiven. So let me give you this.'
He took up a black walking stick, topped with a silver skull, and tugged at the handle.
'This curious thing was in the possession of Cosmo Lavish,' he said, as the blade slid out.
'I know. Isn't it a replica of yours?' said Moist.
'Oh really!' said Vetinari. 'Am I a "sword made of the blood of a thousand men" kind of ruler? It'll be a crown of skulls next, I suppose. I believe Cosmo had it made.'
'So it's a replica of a rumour?' Outside the coach, some gates were swung open.
'Indeed,' said Vetinari. 'A copy of something that does not exist. One can only hope that it is not authentic in every respect.'
The coach door was opened, and Moist stepped down into the palace gardens. They had the usual look of such places - neat, tidy, lots of gravel and pointy trees and no vegetables.
'Why are we here?' said Adora Belle. 'It's about the golems, isn't it?'
'Miss Dearheart, what do our local golems think about this new army?'
'They don't like them. They think they will be the cause of trouble. They have no chem that can be changed. They're worse than zombies.'
'Thank you. A further question: will they kill?'
'Historically, golem-makers have learned not to make golems that kill – '
'Is that a no?'
'I don't know!'
'We make progress. Is it possible to give them an order which cannot be countermanded by another person?'
'Well, er… Yes. If no one else knows the secret.'
'Which is?' Vetinari turned back to Moist, and drew the sword.
'It must be the way I give the orders, sir,' said Moist, squinting downwards at the blade for the second time. It really did glint.
He was braced for what happened, except that it happened in entirely the wrong way.
Vetinari handed him the sword and said: 'Miss Dearheart, I really wish you would not leave the city for long periods. It makes this man seek danger. Tell us the secret, Mr Lipwig.'
'I think it could be too dangerous, sir.'
'Mr Lipwig, do I need a badge that says tyrant?'
'Can I make a bargain?'
'Of course. I am a reasonable man.'
'Will you keep to it?'
'No. But I will make a different bargain. The Post Office can have six golem horses. The other golem warriors will be considered wards of the Golem Trust, but the use of four hundred of them to improve the operation of the clacks system will, I am sure, meet with international approval. We will replace gold with golems as a basis for our currency, as you have so eloquently pleaded. The two of you have made the international situation very… interesting – '
'Sorry, why is it me that's holding this sword?' said Moist.
' – and you tell us the secret and, best of all, you live,' Vetinari finished, 'and who is going to give you a better offer?'
'Oh, all right,' said Moist, 'I knew this would have to happen. The golems obey me be – '
' – because you wear a golden suit and therefore in their eyes must be an Umnian priest,' said Vetinari. 'Because for an order to be fully realized the right person must say the right words to the right recipient. And I used to be quite a scholar. It's a matter of reasoning. Do not continue to stand there with your mouth open.'
'You already knew?'
'It wasn't exactly dragon magic'
'And why did you give me this horrible sword?'
'It is tasteless, isn't it,' said Vetinari, taking it from him. 'One might imagine it belonging to someone with a name like Krax the Mighty. I was just interested to see that you were more fearful when you were holding it. You really are not a violent man, are you…'
'That wasn't necessary!' said Moist. Adora Belle was grinning.
'Mr Lipwig, Mr Lipwig, Mr Lipwig, will you never learn?' said Vetinari, sheathing the sword. 'One of my predecessors used to have people torn apart by wild tortoises. It was not a quick death. He thought it was a hoot. Forgive me if my pleasures are a little more cerebal, will you? Let me see, now, what was the other thing? Oh yes, I regret to tell you that a man called Owlswick Clamp has died.'
There was something about the way he said it…
'Did an angel call him?'
'Very likely, Mr Lipwig. But should you find yourself in need of more designs, I'm sure I can find someone in the palace to assist.'
'It was meant to be, I'm sure,' said Moist. 'I'm glad he's gone to a better place.'
'Less damp, certainly. Go now. My coach is at your disposal. You have a bank to open! The world spins on, and this morning it is spinning on my desk. Come, Mr Fusspot.'
'Can I make a suggestion that might help?' said Moist, as Vetinari turned away.
'What is it?'
'Well, why don't you tell all the other Plains governments about the golden secret? That would mean no one could use them as soldiers. That would take the pressure off.'
'Hmm, interesting. And would you agree with that, Miss Dearheart?'
'Yes! We don't want golem armies! It's a very good idea!'
Vetinari reached down and gave Mr Fusspot a dog biscuit. When he straightened up there was an almost imperceptible change in his expression.
'Last night,' he said, 'some traitor sent the golden secret to the rulers of every major city in the Plains via a clacks message, the origin of which appears to be untraceable. It wasn't you, was it, Mr Lipwig?'
'But you just suggested it, did you not? Some would call it treason, incidentally.'
'I only just mentioned it,' said Moist. 'You can't pin it on me! Anyway it was a good idea,' he added, trying not to catch Adora Belle's eye. 'If you don't think of not using fifty-foot-high killer golems first, someone else will!
He heard her giggle, for the first time ever.
'You have found forty-foot killer golems now, Miss Dearheart?' said Vetinari, looking stern, as though he might add, 'Well, I hope you brought enough for everybody!'
'No, sir. There aren't any,' said Adora Belle, trying to look serious and not succeeding.
'Well, never mind. I'm sure some ingenious person will devise one for you eventually. When they do, don't hesitate to refrain from bringing it home. In the meantime, we have this wretched fait accompli.' Vetinari shook his head in what Moist was sure was genuinely contrived annoyance and went on: 'An army that will obey anyone with a shiny jacket, a megaphone and the Umnian words for "Dig a hole and bury yourselves" would turn war into nothing but a rather entertaining farce. You may be assured, I'm putting together a committee of inquiry. It will not rest, apart from statutory tea and biscuit breaks, until it has found the culprit. I shall take a personal interest, of course.'
Of course you will, Moist thought. And I know that lots of people heard me shout Umnian commands, but I'm betting on a man who thinks war is a wicked waste of customers. A man who's a better con artist than I'll ever be, who thinks committees are a kind of wastepaper basket, who can turn sizzle into sausage every day…
Moist and Adora Belle looked at one another. Their glances agreed: it's him. Of course it's him. Downey and all the rest of them will know it's him. Things that live on damp walls will know it's him. And no one will ever prove it.
'You can trust us,' said Moist.
'Yes. I know,' said Vetinari. 'Come, Mr Fusspot. There maybe cake.'
Moist didn't fancy another ride in the coach. Coaches carried some unpleasant associations right now.
'He's won, hasn't he?' said Adora Belle, as the fog billowed around them.
'Well, he's got the chairman eating out of his hand.'
'Is he allowed to do that?'
'I think that comes under the rule of Quia Ego Sic Dico.'
'Yes, what does that mean?'
' "Because I say so", I think.'
'That doesn't sound like much of a rule!'
'Actually, it's the only one he needs. All in all he could be – '
'You owe me five grand, Mishter Spangler!'
The figure was out of the gloom and behind Adora Belle in one movement.
'No tricks, mish, on account o' this knife,' said Cribbins, and Moist heard Adora Belle's sharp intake of breath. 'Your chum promised it to me for peaching you, and since you peached yourshelf and shent him to the loony house I reckon you owe me, right?'
Moist's slowly moving hand found his pocket, but it was bereft of aid. His little helpers had been confiscated; the Tanty didn't like you to bring blackjacks and lockpicks in with you and expected you to buy such things from the warders, like everyone else.
'Put the knife away and we can talk,' he said.
'Oh yeah, talk! You like talkin', you do! You got a magic tongue, you have! I sheen you! You flap it about and you're the golden boy! You tell 'em you're goin' to rob them and they laugh! How d'you get away with that, eh?'
Cribbins was champing and spitting with rage. Angry people make mistakes, but that's no comfort when they're holding a knife a few inches from your girlfriend's kidneys. She'd gone pale, and Moist had to hope that she'd worked out that this was no time to stamp her foot. Above all, he had to stop himself from looking over Cribbins's shoulder, because in the edge of his vision he was sure someone was creeping up.
'This is no time for rash moves,' he said loudly. The shadow in the fog appeared to halt.
'Cribbins, this is why you never made it,' Moist went on. 'I mean, do you expect me to have that money on me?'
'Plenty of places round here for ush to be coshy while we wait, eh?'
Dumb, thought Moist. Dumb but dangerous. And a thought said: it's brain against brain. And a weapon he doesn't know how to use belongs to you. Push him.
'Just back away and we'll forget we saw you,' he said. 'That's the best offer you're going to get.'
'You're going to try to talk your way out of this, you shmarmy bashtard? I'm goin' to – '
There was a loud twang, and Cribbins made a noise. It was the sound of someone trying to scream, except that even screaming was too painful. Moist grabbed Adora Belle as the man bent double, clutching at his mouth. There was a ping, and blood appeared on Cribbins's cheek, causing him to whimper and roll up into a ball. Even then, there were more twangs as a dead man's dentures, mistreated and ill-used over the years, finally gave up the ghost who made a determined effort to take the hated Cribbins with him. Later on, the doctor said one spring even made it into his sinuses.
Captain Carrot and Nobby Nobbs ran out of the fog and stared down at the man who twitched now and again with a ping.
'Sorry, sir, we lost you in the murk,' said Carrot. 'What happened to him?'
Moist held Adora Belle tightly. 'His dentures exploded,' he said.
'How could that happen, sir?'
'I have no idea, captain. Why not do a good deed and get him to the hospital?'
'Will you want to prefer charges, Mr Lipwig?' said Carrot, lifting the whimpering Cribbins with some care.
'I'd prefer a brandy,' said Moist. He thought perhaps Anoia was just awaiting her moment. I'd better go to her temple and hang up a big, big ladle. It may not be a good idea to be ungrateful…
Secretary Drumknott tiptoed into Lord Vetinari's office on velvet-shod feet.
'Good morning,' said his lordship, turning away from the window. 'The fog has a very pleasing tint of yellow this morning. Any news about Heretofore?'
'The Watch in Quirm are searching for him, sir,' said Drumknott, putting the city edition of the Times in front of him.
'He bought a ticket for Quirm.'
'But he will have bought another one from the coachman for Genua. He will run as far as he can. Send a short clacks to our man there, will you?'
'I hope you are right, sir.'
'Do you? I hope I am wrong. It will be good for me. Ah. Ahaha.'
'I see the Times has put colour on the front page again. The front and back of the one-dollar note.'
'Yes, sir. Very nice.'
'Actual size, too,' said Vetinari, still smiling. 'I see here that this is to familiarize people with the look of the thing. Even now, Drumknott, even now, honest citizens are carefully cutting out both sides of this note and gluing them together.'
'Shall I have a word with the editor, sir?'
'Don't. It will be more entertaining to let things take their course.'
Vetinari leaned back in his chair and shut his eyes with a sigh. 'Very well, Drumknott, I feel strong enough now to hear what the political cartoon looks like.'
There was a crackle of paper as Drumknott found the right page.
'Well, there is a very good likeness of Mr Fusspot.' Under Vetinari's chair the dog opened his eyes at the sound of his name. So did his new master, with more urgency.
'Surely he has nothing in his mouth?'
'No, sir,' said Drumknott calmly. 'This is the Times of Ankh-Morpork, sir.'
Vetinari relaxed again. 'Continue.'
'He is on a leash, sir, and looking unaccustomedly ferocious. You are holding the leash, sir. In front of him, and backing nervously into a corner, are a group of very fat cats. They are wearing top hats, sir.'
'As cats do, yes.'
'And they have the words "The Banks" on them,' Drumknott added.
'Whilst you, sir, are waving a handful of paper money at them and the speech bubble says – '
'Don't tell me. "THIS does NOT taste of pineapple"?'
'Well done, sir. Incidentally, it does so happen that the chairmen of the rest of the city banks wish to see you, at your convenience.'
'Good. This afternoon, then.'
Vetinari got up and walked over to the window. The fog was thinning, but its drifting cloud still obscured the city.
'Mr Lipwig is a very… popular young man, is he not, Drumknott?' said Vetinari, staring into the gloom.
'Oh yes, sir,' said the secretary, folding up the newspaper. 'Extremely so.'
'And very confident in himself, I think.'
'I would say so.'
'He took a pie for you, sir.'
A tactical thinker at speed, then.'
'Bearing in mind his own future was riding on the pie as well.'
'He is certainly sensitive to political currents, no doubt about it,' said Drumknott, picking up his bundle of files.
And, as you say, popular,' said Vetinari, still a gaunt outline against the fog.
Drumknott waited. Moist was not the only one sensitive to political currents.
An asset to the city, indeed,' said Vetinari, after a while. And we should not waste him. Obviously, though, he should be at the Royal Bank long enough to bend it to his satisfaction,' he mused.
Drumknott said nothing, but arranged some of the files into a more pleasing order. A name struck him, and he shifted a file to the top.
'Of course, then he will get restless again and a danger to others as well as himself…'
Drumknott smiled at his files. His hand hovered…
'Apropos of nothing, how old is Mr Creaser?'
'The Taxmaster? In his seventies, sir,' said Drumknott, opening the file he had just selected. 'Yes, seventy-four, it says here.'
'We have recently pondered his methods, have we not?'
'Indeed we have, sir. Last week.'
'Not a man with a flexible cast of mind, I feel. A little at sea in the modern world. Holding someone upside down over a bucket and giving them a good shaking is not the way forward. I won't blame him when he decides to take an honourable and well-earned retirement.'
'Yes, sir. When would you like him to decide that, sir?' said Drumknott.
'No rush,' said Vetinari. 'No rush.'
'Have you given any thought to his successor? It's not a job that creates friends,' said Drumknott. 'It would need a special sort of person.'
'I shall ponder it,' said Vetinari. 'No doubt a name will present itself.'
The bank staff were at work early, pushing through the crowds who were filling the street because a) this was another act in the wonderful street theatre that was Ankh-Morpork and b) there was going to be big trouble if their money had gone missing. There was, however, no sign of Mr Bent or Miss Drapes.
Moist was in the Mint. Mr Spools's men had, well, they'd done their best. It's an apologetic phrase, commonly used to mean that the result is just one step above mediocre, but their best was one leap above superb.
'I'm sure we can improve them,' said Mr Spools, as Moist gloated.
'They arc perfect, Mr Spools!'
'Anything but. But it's kind of you to say so. We've done seventy thousand so far.'
'Nothing like enough!'
'With respect, we are not printing a newspaper here. But we're getting better. You have talked about other denominations… ?'
'Oh, yes. Two, five and ten dollars to start with. And the fives and tens will talk.'
Nothing like enough, he thought, as the colours of money flowed through his fingers. People will queue up for this. They won't want the grubby, heavy coins, not when they see this! Backed by golems! What is a coin compared to the hand that holds it? That's worth! That's value! Hm, yes, that'd look good on the two-dollar note, too, I'd better remember that.
'The money… will talk?' said Mr Spools carefully.
'Imps,' said Moist. 'They're only a sort of intelligent spell. They don't even have to have a shape. We'll print them on the higher denominations.'
'Do you think the university will agree to that?' said Spools.
'Yes, because I'm going to put Ridcully's head on the five-dollar note. I'll go and talk to Ponder Stibbons. This looks like a job for inadvisably applied magic if ever I saw one.'
'And what would the money say?'
'Anything we want it to. "Is your purchase really necessary?" perhaps, or "Why not save me for a rainy day?" The possibilities are endless!'
'It usually says goodbye to me,' said a printer, to ritual amusement.
'Well, maybe we can make it blow you a kiss as well,' said Moist. He turned to the Men of the Sheds, who were beaming and gleaming with new-found importance. 'Now, if some of you gentlemen will help me carry this lot into the bank…'
The hands of the clock were chasing one another to the top of the hour when Moist arrived, and there was still no sign of Mr Bent.
'Is that clock right?' said Moist, as the hands began the relaxing stroll to the half-hour.
'Oh yes, sir,' said a counter clerk. 'Mr Bent sets it twice a day.'
'Maybe, but he hasn't been here for more than – '
The doors swung open, and there he was. Moist had for some reason expected the clown outfit, but this was the smooth and shiny, ironed-in-his-clothes Bent with the smart jacket and pinstripe trousers and-
-the red nose. And he was arm in arm with Miss Drapes.
The staff stared at it all, too shocked for a reaction.
'Ladies and gentlemen,' said Bent, his voice echoing in the sudden silence, 'I owe so many apologies. I have made many mistakes. Indeed, my whole life has been a mistake. I believed that true worth lodged in lumps of metal. Much of what I believed is worthless, in fact, but Mr Lipwig believed in me and so I am here today. Let us make money based not on a trick of geology but on the ingenuity of hand and brain. And now – ' He paused, because Miss Drapes had squeezed his arm.
'Oh, yes, how could I forget?' Bent went on. 'What I do now believe with all my heart is that Miss Drapes will marry me in the Chapel of Fun in the Fools' Guild on Saturday, the ceremony to be conducted by the Reverend Brother "Whacko" Whopply. You are all of course invited – '
' – but be careful what you wear because it's a whitewash wedding,' said Miss Drapes coyly, or what she probably thought was coyly.
'And with that it only remains for me to – ' Bent tried to continue, but the staff had realized what their ears had heard, and closed in on the couple, the women drawn to the soon-not-to-be-Miss Drapes by the legendarily high gravity of an engagement ring, while the men went from slapping Mr Bent on the back to the unthinkable, which involved picking him up and carrying him around the room on their shoulders.
Eventually it was Moist who had to cup his hands and shout: 'Look at the time, ladies and gentlemen! Our customers are waiting, ladies and gentlemen! Let us not stand in the way of making money! We mustn't be a dam in the economic flow!'
… and he wondered what Hubert was doing now…
With his tongue out in concentration, Igor removed a slim tube from the gurgling bowels of the Glooper.
A few bubbles zigzagged to the top of the central hydro unit and burst on the surface with a gloop.
Hubert breathed a deep sigh of relief.
'Well done, Igor, only one more to… Igor?'
'Right here, thur,' said Igor, stepping out from behind him.
'It looks as though it's working, Igor. Good old hyphenated silicon! But you're sure it'll still work as an economic modeller afterwards?'
'Yeth, thur. I am confident in the new valve array. The thity will affect the Glooper, if you withth, but not the other way around.'
'Even so, it would be dreadful if it fell into the wrong hands, Igor. I wonder if I should present the Glooper to the government. What do you think?'
Igor gave this some thought. In his experience a prime definition of 'the wrong hands' was 'the government'.
'I think you ought to take the opportunity to get out a bit more, thur,' he said kindly.
'Yes, I suppose I have been overdoing it,' said Hubert. 'Um… about Mr Lipwig…'
Hubert looked like a man who had been wrestling with his conscience and got a knee in his eye. 'I want to put the gold back in the vault. That'll stop all this trouble.'
'But it wath thtolen away yearth ago, thur,' Igor explained patiently. 'It wathn't your fault.'
'No, but they were blaming Mr Lipwig, who's always been very kind to us.'
'I think he got off on that one, thur.'
'But we could put it back,' Hubert insisted. 'It would come back from wherever it was taken to, wouldn't it?'
Igor scratched his head, causing a faint metallic noise. He had been following events with more care than Hubert employed and as far as he could see the missing gold had been spent by the Lavishes years ago. Mr Lipwig had been in trouble, but it seemed to Igor that trouble hit Mr Lipwig like a big wave hitting a flotilla of ducks. Afterwards there was no wave but there was still a lot of duck.
'It might,' he conceded.
'So that would be a good thing, yes?' Hubert insisted. 'And he's been very kind to us. We owe him that little favour.'
'I don't think – '
'That is an order, Igor!'
Igor beamed. At last! All this politeness had been getting on his nerves. What an Igor expected was insane orders. That was what an Igor was born (and to some extent, made) for. A shouted order to do something of dubious morality with an unpredictable outcome? Thweet!
Of course, thunder and lightning would have been more appropriate. Instead there was nothing more than the bubbling of the Glooper and gentle glassy noises that always made Igor think he was in a wind-chime factory. But sometimes you just had to improvise.
He topped up the little Gold Reserve flask to the ten tons marker, fiddled with the shiny valve array for a minute or two, and then stood back.
'When I turn thith wheel, marthter, the Glooper will depothit an analogue of the gold in the vault and then clothe the connection.'
'Very good, Igor.'
'Er, you wouldn't like to thout thomething, would you,' he hinted.
'Oh, I don't know… perhapth: "They said… sorry, thaid… thorry… I wath mad but thith will thow them!!"'
'That's not really me.'
'No?' said Igor. 'Perhapth a laugh, then?'
'Would that help?'
'Yeth, thur,' said Igor. 'It will help me.'
'Oh, very well, if you think it will help,' said Hubert. He took a sip from the jug Igor had just used, and cleared his throat.
'Hah,' he said. 'Er, hahahh hah HA HA HA HA HA HA…'
What a waste of a wonderful gift, thought Igor, and turned the handle.
Even from down here in the vaults you could hear the buzz of activity in the banking hall.
Moist walked under the weight of a crate of banknotes, to Adora Belle's annoyance.
'Why can't you put them in a safe?'
'Because those're full of coins. Anyway, we'll have to keep them in here for now, until we get sorted out.'
'It's really just a victory thing, isn't it? Your triumph over gold.'
'A bit, yes.'
'You got away with it again.'
'I wouldn't exactly put it like that. Gladys has applied to be my secretary'
'Here's a tip: don't let her sit on your lap.'
'I'm being serious here! She's ferocious! She probably wants my job now! She believes everything she reads!'
'There's your answer, then. Good grief, she's the least of your problems!'
'Every problem is an opportunity,' said Moist primly.
'Well, if you upset Vetinari again you will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to never have to buy another hat.'
'No, I think he likes a little opposition.'
'And are you any good at knowing how much?'
'No. It's what I enjoy. You get a wonderful view from the point of no return.'
Moist opened the vault and put the crate on a shelf. It looked a bit lost and alone, but he could just make out the thudding of the press in the Mint as Mr Spools's men worked hard at providing it with company.
Adora Belle leaned on the doorframe, watching him carefully.
'They tell me that while I was away you did all kinds of risky things. Is that true?'
'I like to flirt with risk. It's always been part of my life.'
'But you don't do that kind of stuff while I'm around,' said Adora Belle. 'So I'm enough of a thrill, am I?'
She advanced. The heels helped, of course, but Spike could move like a snake trying to sashay, and the severe, tight and ostensibly modest dresses she wore left everything to the imagination, which is much more inflammatory than leaving nothing. Speculation is always more interesting than facts.
'What are you thinking about right now?' she said. She dropped her cigarette stub and pinned it with a heel.
'Money boxes,' said Moist instantly.
'Yes, in the shape of the bank and the Mint. To teach the kiddies the habits of thrift. The money could go in the slot where the Bad Penny is – '
'Are you really thinking about money boxes?'
'Er, no. I'm flirting with risk again.'
'Although you must admit that it's a pretty clev – '
Adora Belle grabbed Moist by the shoulders. 'Moist von Lipwig, if you don't give me a big wet kiss right now - Ow! Are there fleas down here?'
It felt like a hailstorm. The air in the vault had become a golden mist. It would have been pretty, if it wasn't so heavy. It stung where it touched.
Moist grabbed her hand and dragged her out as the teeming particles became a torrent. Outside, he took off his hat, which was already so heavy that it was endangering his ears, and tipped a small fortune in gold on to the floor. The vault was already half full.
'Oh no,' he moaned, 'Just when it was going so well…'READ MORE >>