The Glooper - A proper Hubert - One very big mattress - Some observations on tourism - Gladys makes a sandwich - The Blind Letter Office - Mrs Lavish's posterity - An ominous note - Flight planning - An even more ominous note, and certainly more ominous than the first note - Mr Lipwig boards the wrong coach
MOIST HAD SEEN GLASS being bent and blown, and marvelled at the skill of the people who did it - marvelled as only a man can marvel whose sole skill is in bending words. Some of those geniuses had probably worked on this. But so had their counterparts from the hypothetical Other Side, glassblowers who had sold their souls to some molten god for the skill to blow glass into spirals and intersecting bottles and shapes that seemed to be quite close but some distance away at the same time. Water gurgled, sloshed and, yes, glooped along glass tubing. There was a smell of salt.
Bent nudged Moist, pointed to an improbable wooden hatstand, and wordlessly handed him a long yellow oilskin coat and a matching rain hat. He had already donned a similar outfit, and had magically procured an umbrella from somewhere.
'It's the Balance of Payments,' he said, as Moist struggled into the coat. 'He never gets it right.' There was a crash from somewhere, and water droplets rained down on them. 'See?' Bent added.
'What's it doing?' said Moist.
Bent rolled his eyes. 'Hell knows, Heaven suspects,' he said. He raised his voice. 'Hubert? We have a visitor!'
A distant splashing grew louder and a figure appeared around the edge of the glassware.
Rightly or wrongly, Hubert is one of those names you put a shape to. There may well be tall, slim Huberts, Moist would be the first to agree, but this Hubert was shaped like a proper Hubert, which is to say, stubby and plump. He had red hair, unusual, in Moist's experience, in the standard model Hubert. It grew thickly, straight up from his head, like the bristles of a brush; about five inches up, it appeared to have been cut short with the aid of shears and a spirit level. You could have stood a cup and saucer on it.
'A visitor?' said Hubert nervously. 'Wonderful! We don't get many down here!' Hubert wore a long white coat, with a breast pocket full of pencils.
'Really?' said Moist.
'Hubert, this is Mr Lipwig,' said Bent. 'He is here to… learn about us.'
'I'm Moist,' said Moist, stepping forward with his best smile and an extended hand.
'Oh, I'm sorry. We should have hung the raincoats nearer the door,' said Hubert. He looked at Moist's hand as if it was some interesting device, and then shook it carefully. 'You're not seeing us at our best, Mr Lipwick,' he said.
'Really?' said Moist, still smiling. How does the hair stay up like that, he wondered. Does he use glue, or what?
'Mr Lipwig is the Postmaster General, Hubert,' said Bent.
'Is he? Oh. I don't get out of the cellar very much these days,' said Hubert.
'Really?' said Moist, his smile now a bit glassy.
'No, we're so close to perfection, you see,' said Hubert. 'I really think we're nearly there…'
'Mr Hubert believes that this… device is a sort of crystal ball for showing the future,' said Bent, and rolled his eyes.
' Possible futures. Would Mr Lipstick like to see it in operation?' said Hubert, vibrating with enthusiasm and eagerness. Only a man with a heart of stone would have said no, so Moist made a wonderful attempt at indicating that all his dreams were coming true.
'I'd love to,' he said, 'but what does it actually do?'
too late, he saw the signs. Hubert grasped the lapels of his jacket, as if addressing a meeting, and swelled with the urge to communicate, or at least talk at length in the belief that it was the same thing.
'The Glooper, as it is affectionately known, is what I call a quote analogy machine unquote. It solves problems not by considering them as a numerical exercise but by actually duplicating them in a form we can manipulate: in this case, the flow of money and its effects within our society become water flowing through a glass matrix - the Glooper. The geometrical shape of certain vessels, the operation of valves and, although I say so myself, ingenious tipping buckets and flow-rate propellers enable the Glooper to simulate quite complex transactions. We can change the starting conditions, too, to learn the rules inherent in the system. For example, we can find out what happens if you halve the labour force in the city by the adjustment of a few valves, rather than by going out into the streets and killing people.'
'A big improvement! Bravo!' said Moist desperately, and started to clap.
No one joined in. He shoved his hands in his pockets.
'Er, perhaps you would like a less, um, dramatic demonstration?' Hubert volunteered.
Moist nodded. 'Yes,' he said. 'Show me… show me what happens when people get fed up with banks,' he said.
'Ah, yes, a familiar one! Igor, set up program five!' Hubert shouted to some figure in the forest of glassware. There was the sound of squeaky screws being turned and the glug of reservoirs being topped up.
'Igor?' said Moist. 'You have an Igor?'
'Oh, yes,' said Hubert. 'That's how I get this wonderful light. They know the secret of storing lightning in jars! But don't let that worry you, Mr Lipspick. Just because I'm employing an Igor and working in a cellar doesn't mean I'm some sort of madman, ha ha ha!'
'Ha ha,' agreed Moist.
'Ha hah hah!,' said Hubert. 'Hahahahahaha!! Ahahaha-hahah!!!!! – '
Bent slapped him on the back. Hubert coughed. 'Sorry about that, it's the air down here,' he mumbled.
'It certainly looks very… complex, this thing of yours,' said Moist, striking out for normality.
'Er, yes,' said Hubert, a little bit thrown. 'And we are refining it all the time. For example, floats coupled to ingenious spring-loaded sluice gates elsewhere on the Glooper can allow changes in the level in one flask to automatically adjust flows in several other places in the system – '
'What's that for?' said Moist, pointing at random to a round bottle suspended in the tubing.
'Phase of the Moon valve,' said Hubert promptly.
'The moon affects how money moves around?'
'We don't know. It might. The weather certainly does.'
'Certainly!' Hubert beamed. 'And we're adding fresh influences all the time. Indeed, I will not be satisfied until my wonderful machine can completely mimic every last detail of our great city's economic cycle!' A bell rang, and he went on: 'Thank you, Igor! Let it go!'
Something clanked, and coloured waters began to foam and slosh along the bigger pipes. Hubert raised not only his voice but also a long pointer.
'Now, if we reduce public confidence in the banking system - watch that tube there - you will see here a flow of cash out of the banks and into Flask Twenty-eight, currently designated the Old Sock Under the Mattress. Even quite rich people don't want their money outside their control. See the mattress getting fuller, or perhaps I should say… thicker?'
'That's a lot of mattresses,' Moist agreed.
'I prefer to think of it as one mattress a third of a mile high.'
'Really?' said Moist.
Slosh! Valves opened somewhere, and water rushed along a new path.
'Now see how bank lending is emptying as the money drains into the Sock?' Gurgle! 'Watch Reservoir Eleven, over there. That means business expansion is slowing… there it goes, there it goes…' Drip!
'Now watch Bucket Thirty-four. It's tipping, it's tipping… there! The scale on the left of Flask Seventeen shows collapsing businesses, by the way. See Flask Nine beginning to fill? That's foreclosures. Job losses is Flask Seven… and there goes the valve on Flask Twenty-eight, as the socks are pulled out.' Flush! 'But what is there to buy? Over here we see that Flask Eleven has also drained…' Drip.
Except for the occasional gurgle, the aquatic activity subsided.
'And we end up in a position where we can't move because we're standing on our own hands, as it were,' said Hubert. 'Jobs vanishing, people without savings suffering, wages low, farms going back to wilderness, rampaging trolls coming down from the mountains – '
'They're here already,' said Moist. 'Some of them are even in the Watch.'
'Are you sure?' said Hubert.
'Yes, they've got helmets and everything. I've seen them.'
'Then I expect they'll be wanting to rampage back to the mountains,' said Hubert. 'I think I would if I were them.'
'You believe all that could really happen?' said Moist. 'A bunch of tubes and buckets can tell you that?'
'They are correlated to events very carefully, Mr Lips wick,' said Hubert, looking hurt. 'Correlation is everything. Did you know it is an established fact that hemlines tend to rise in times of national crisis?'
'You mean – ?' Moist began, not at all certain how the sentence was going to end.
'Women's dresses get shorter,' said Hubert.
And that causes a national crisis? Really? How high do they go?'
Mr Bent coughed a leaden cough. 'I think perhaps we should go, Mr Lipwig,' he said. 'If you have seen all you want, no doubt you are in a hurry to leave.' There was a slight emphasis on 'leave'.
'What? Oh… yes,' said Moist. 'I probably should be getting along. Well, thank you, Hubert. It has been an education and no mistake.'
'I just can't get rid of the leaks,' said the little man, looking crestfallen. 'I swear that every joint is watertight, but we never end up with the same amount of water that we started with.'
'Of course not, Hubert,' said Moist, patting him on the shoulder. 'And that's because you're close to achieving perfection!'
'It is?' said Hubert, wide-eyed.
'Certainly. Everyone knows that at the end of the week you never have quite as much money as you think you should. It's a well-known fact!'
The sunrise of delight dawned on Hubert's face. Topsy was right, Moist told himself. I am good with people.
'Now demonstrated by the Glooper!' Hubert breathed. 'I shall write a paper on it!'
'Or you could write it on paper!' said Moist, shaking him warmly by the hand. 'Okay, Mr Bent, let us tear ourselves away!'
When they were walking up the main stairs Moist said: 'What relation is Hubert to the current chairman?'
'Nephew,' said Bent. 'How did you – ?'
'I'm always interested in people,' said Moist, smiling to himself. 'And there's the red hair, of course. Why does Mrs Lavish have two crossbows on her desk?'
'Family heirlooms, sir,' lied Bent. It was a deliberate, flagrant lie, and he must have meant it to be seen as such. Family heirlooms. And she sleeps in her office. All right, she's an invalid, but people usually do that at home.
She doesn't intend to step out of the room. She's on guard. And she's very particular about who comes in.
'Do you have any interests, Mr Bent?'
'I do my job with care and attention, sir.'
'Yes, but what do you do in the evenings?'
'I double-check the day's totals in my office, sir. I find counting very… satisfying.'
'You're very good at it, yes?'
'Better than you can imagine, sir.'
'So if I save ninety-three dollars forty-seven a year for seven years at two and a quarter per cent, compound, how – '
'$835.13 calculated once annually, sir,' said Bent calmly.
Yes, and twice you've known the exact time, thought Moist. And you didn't look at a watch. You are good with numbers. Inhumanly good, perhaps…
'No holidays?' he said aloud.
'I did a walking tour of the major banking houses of Uberwald last summer, sir. It was most instructive.'
'That must have taken weeks. I'm glad you felt able to tear yourself away!'
'Oh, it was easy, sir. Miss Drapes, who is the senior clerk, sent a coded clacks of the day's business to each of my lodging houses at the close of business every day. I was able to review it over my after-dinner strudel and respond instantly with advice and instructions.'
'Is Miss Drapes a useful member of staff?'
'Indeed. She performs her duties with care and alacrity.' He paused. They were at the top of the stairs. Bent turned and looked directly at Moist. 'I have worked here all my life, Mr Lipwig. Be careful of the Lavish family. Mrs Lavish is the best of them, a wonderful woman. The others… are used to getting their own way.'
Old family, old money. That kind of family. Moist felt a distant call, like the song of the skylark. It came back to taunt him every time, for example, he saw an out-of-towner in the street with a map and a perplexed expression, crying out to be relieved of his money in some helpful and hard-to-follow way.
'Dangerously so?' he said.
Bent looked a little affronted at this directness. 'They are not at home to disappointment, sir. They have tried to declare Mrs Lavish insane, sir.'
'Really?' said Moist. 'Compared to who?'
The wind blew through the town of Big Cabbage, which liked to call itself the Green Heart of the Plains.
It was called Big Cabbage because it was home to the Biggest Cabbage in the World, and the town's inhabitants were not very creative when it came to names. People travelled miles to see this wonder; they'd go inside its concrete interior and peer out through the windows, buy cabbage-leaf bookmarks, cabbage ink, cabbage shirts, Captain Cabbage dolls, musical boxes carefully crafted from kohlrabi and cauliflower that played 'The Cabbage Eater's Song', cabbage jam, kale ale, and green cigars made from a newly developed species of cabbage and rolled on the thighs of local maidens, presumably because they liked it.
Then there was the excitement of BrassicaWorld, where very small children could burst into terrified screams at the huge head of Captain Cabbage himself, along with his friends Cauliflower the Clown and Billy Broccoli. For older visitors there was of course the Cabbage Research Institute, over which a green pall always hung and downwind of which plants tended to be rather strange and sometimes turned to watch you as you passed.
And then… what better way to record the day of a lifetime than pose for a picture at the behest of the black-clad man with the iconograph who took the happy family and promised a framed, coloured picture, sent right to their home, for a mere three dollars, P&P included, one dollar deposit to cover expenses, if you would be so good, sir, and may I say what wonderful children you have there, madam, they are a credit to you and no mistake, oh, and did I say that if you are not delighted with the framed picture then send no further money and we shall say no more about it?
The kale ale was generally pretty good, and there's no such thing as too much flattery where mothers are concerned and, all right, the man had rather strange teeth, which seemed determined to make a break from his mouth, but none of us is perfect and what was there to lose?
What there was to lose was a dollar, and they add up. Whoever said you can't fool an honest man wasn't one.
Round about the seventh family, a watchman started taking a distant interest, so the man in dusty black made a show of taking the last name and address and strolled into an alley. He tossed the broken iconograph back on the pile of junk where he had found it - it was a cheap one and the imps had long since evaporated - and was about to set off across the fields when he saw the newspaper being bowled along by the wind.
To a man travelling on his wits, a newspaper was a useful treasure. Stuck down your shirt, it kept the wind off your chest. You could use it to light fires. For the fastidious, it saved a daily resort to dockweed, burdock or other broad-leaved plants. And, as a last resort, you could read it.
This evening, the breeze was getting up. He gave the front page of the paper a cursory glance and tucked it under his vest.
His teeth tried to tell him something, but he never listened to them. A man could go mad, listening to his teeth.
When he got back to the Post Office, Moist looked up the Lavish family in Whom's Whom. They were indeed what was known as 'old money', which meant that it had been made so long ago that the black deeds which had originally filled the coffers were now historically irrelevant. Funny, that: a brigand for a father was something you kept quiet about, but a slave-taking pirate for a great-great-great-grandfather was something to boast of over the port. Time turned the evil bastards into rogues, and rogue was a word with a twinkle in its eye and nothing to be ashamed of.
They'd been rich for centuries. The key players in the current crop of Lavishes, apart from Topsy, were first her brother-in-law Marko Lavish and his wife Capricia Lavish, daughter of a famous trust fund. They lived in Genua, as far away from other Lavishes as possible, which was a very Lavish thing to do. Then there were Topsy's stepchildren, the twins Cosmo and Pucci, who had, the story ran, been born with their little hands around one another's throat, like true Lavishes. There were also plenty more cousins, aunts and genetic hangers-on, all watching one another like cats. From what he'd heard, the family business was traditionally banking, but the recent generations, buoyed by a complex network of long-term investments and ancient trust funds, had diversified into disinheriting and suing one another, apparently with great enthusiasm and a commendable lack of mercy. He recalled pictures of them in the Times's society pages, getting in or out of sleek black coaches and not smiling very much, in case the money escaped.
There was no mention of Topsy's side of the family. They were Turvys, apparently not grand enough to be Whoms. Topsy Turvy… there was a music-hall sound to it, and probably Moist could believe that.
Moist's in-tray had been topped up in his absence. It was all unimportant stuff, and really didn't need anything from him, but it was this newfangled carbon paper that was the trouble. He got copies of everything, and they took up time.
It wasn't that he wasn't good at delegating. He was extremely good at delegating. But the talent requires people on the other end of the chain to be good at being delegated on to. They weren't. Something about the Post Office discouraged original thinking. The letters went in the slots, okay? There was no room for people who wanted to experiment with sticking them in their ear, up the chimney or down the privy. It'd do them good to –
He spotted the pink flimsy clacks amongst the other stuff and tugged it out quickly.
It was from Spike!
Success. Returning day after tomorrow. All will be revealed . S.
Moist put it down carefully. Obviously she'd missed him terribly and was desperate to see him again, but she was stingy about spending Golem Trust money. Also, she'd probably run out of cigarettes.
Moist drummed his fingers on the desk. A year ago he'd asked Adora Belle Dearheart to be his wife, and she'd explained that in fact he was going to be her husband.
It was going to be… well, it was going to be some time in the near future, when Mrs Dearheart finally lost patience with her daughter's busy schedule and arranged the wedding herself.
But he was a nearly married man, however you looked at it. And nearly married men didn't get mixed up with the Lavish family. A nearly married man was steadfast and dependable and always ready to hand his nearly wife an ashtray. He had to be there for his oneday children, and make sure they slept in a well-ventilated nursery.
He smoothed out the message.
And he would stop the night climbing, too. Was it grown up? Was it sensible? Was he a tool of Vetinari? No!
But a memory stirred. Moist got up and went over to his filing cabinet, which he normally avoided at all costs.
Under 'Stamps' he found the little report he'd had two months ago from Stanley Howler, the Head of Stamps. It noted in passing the continued high sales of one- and two-dollar stamps, which was higher than even Stanley had expected. Maybe 'stamp money' was more prevalent than he'd thought. After all, the government backed it, right? It was even easy to carry. He'd have to check on exactly how much they –
There was a dainty knock at the door, and Gladys entered. She bore with extreme care a plate of ham sandwiches, made very, very thin the way only Gladys could make them, which was to put one ham between two loaves and bring her shovel-sized hand down on it very hard.
'I Anticipated That You Would Have Had No Lunch, Postmaster,' she rumbled.
'Thank you, Gladys,' said Moist, mentally shaking himself.
'And Lord Vetinari Is Downstairs,' Gladys went on. 'He Says There Is No Rush.'
The sandwich stopped an inch from Moist's lips. 'He's in the building?'
'Yes, Mr Lipwig.'
'Wandering about by himself?' said Moist, horror mounting.
'Currently He Is In The Blind Letter Office, Mr Lipwig.'
'What's he doing there?'
'Reading The Letters, Mr Lipwig.'
No rush, thought Moist grimly. Oh, yes. Well, I'm going to finish my sandwiches that the nice lady golem has made for me.
'Thank you, Gladys,' he said.
When she had gone Moist took a pair of tweezers out of his desk drawer, opened the sandwich and began to disembowel it of the bone fragments caused by Gladys's drop-hammer technique.
It was a little over three minutes later when the golem reappeared and stood patiently in front of the desk.
'Yes, Gladys?' said Moist.
'His Lordship Desired Me To Inform You That There Is Still No Rush.'
Moist ran downstairs and Lord Vetinari was indeed sitting in the Blind Letter Office with his boots on a desk, a sheaf of letters in his hand and a smile on his face.
'Ah, Lipwig,' he said, waving the grubby envelopes. 'Wonderful stuff! Better than the crossword! I like this one: "Duzbuns Hopsit pfarmerrsc". I've put the correct address underneath.' He passed the letter over to Moist.
He had written: K. Whistler, Baker, 3 Pigsty Hill.
'There are three bakeries in the city that could be said to be opposite a pharmacy,' said Vetinari, 'but Whistler does those rather good curly buns that regrettably look as though a dog has just done his business on your plate and somehow managed to add a blob of icing.'
'Well done, sir,' said Moist weakly.
At the other end of the room Frank and Dave, who spent their time deciphering the illegible, misspelled, misdirected or simply insane mail that sleeted through the Blind Letter Office every day, were watching Vetinari in shock and awe. In the corner, Drumknott appeared to be brewing tea.
'I think it is just a matter of getting into the mind of the writer,' Vetinari went on, looking at a letter covered with grubby fingerprints and what looked like the remains of someone's breakfast. He added: 'In some cases, I imagine, there is a lot of room.'
'Frank and Dave manage to sort out five out of every six,' said Moist.
'They are veritable magicians,' said Vetinari. He turned to the men, who smiled nervously and backed away, leaving the smiles hanging awkwardly in the air, as protection. He added: 'But I think it is time for their tea break?'
The two looked at Drumknott, who was pouring tea into two cups.
'Somewhere else?' Vetinari suggested.
No express delivery had ever moved faster than Frank and Dave. When the door had shut behind them, Vetinari went on: 'You have looked round the bank? Your conclusions?'
'I think I'd rather stick my thumb in a mincing machine than get involved with the Lavish family,' said Moist. 'Oh, I could probably do things with it, and the Mint needs a good shaking. But the bank needs to be run by someone who understands banks.'
'People who understand banks got it into the position it is in now,' said Vetinari. 'And I did not become ruler of Ankh-Morpork by understanding the city. Like banking, the city is depressingly easy to understand. I have remained ruler by getting the city to understand me.'
'I understood you, sir, when you said something about angels, remember? Well, it worked. I am a reformed character and I will act like one.'
'Even as far as the gold-ish chain?' said Vetinari, as Drumknott handed him a cup of tea.
'Mrs Lavish was very impressed with you.'
'She said I was an out-and-out crook!'
'High praise indeed, coming from Topsy,' said Vetinari. He sighed. 'Well, I can't force such a reformed person as you to – ' He paused as Drumknott leaned down to whisper in his ear, and then continued: ' – well, clearly I can force you, but on this occasion I don't think I will. Drumknott, take this down, please. "I, Moist von Lipwig, wish to make it clear that I have no desire or intention to run or be involved in the running of any bank in Ankh-Morpork, preferring instead to devote my energies to the further improvement of the Post Office and the clacks system." Leave a space for Mr Lipwig's signature and the date. And then – '
'Look, why is this necessary – ' Moist began.
' – continue: "I, Havelock Vetinari, etc., confirm that I have indeed discussed the future of the Ankh-Morpork banking system with Mr Lipwig and fully accept his express wish to continue his fine work at the Post Office, freely and without hindrance or penalty." Space for signature, etc. Thank you, Drumknott.'
'What is all that about?' said Moist, bewildered.
'The Times seems to think I intend to nationalize the Royal Bank,' said Vetinari.
'Nationalize?' said Moist.
'Steal,' Vetinari translated. 'I don't know how these rumours get about.'
'I suppose even tyrants have enemies?' said Moist.
'Well put as usual, Mr Lipwig,' said Vetinari, giving him a sharp look. 'Give him the memorandum to sign, Drumknott.'
Drumknott did so, taking care to retrieve the pencil afterwards with a rather smug look. Then Vetinari stood up and brushed off his robe.
'I well recall our interesting conversation about angels, Mr Lipwig, and I recall telling you that you only get one,' he said, a little stiffly. 'Do bear that in mind.'
'It would appear that the leopard does change his shorts, sir,' mused Drumknott, as the evening mist drifted, waist high, along the street.
'It would appear so, indeed. But Moist von Lipwig is a man of appearances. I'm sure he believes everything he said, but one must look beyond the surface to the Lipwig beneath, an honest soul with a fine criminal mind.'
'You have said something similar before, sir,' said the secretary, holding open the coach door, 'but it seems that honesty has got the better of him.'
Vetinari paused with his foot on the step. 'Indeed, but I take some heart, Drumknott, from the fact that, once again, he has stolen your pencil.'
'In fact he has not, sir, because I was most careful to put it in my pocket!' said Drumknott, in some triumph.
'Yes,' said Vetinari, happily, sinking into the creaking leather as Drumknott started to pat himself down with an increasing desperation, 'I know.'
There were guards in the bank at night. They patrolled the corridors in a leisurely way, whistling under their breath, safe in the knowledge that the very best locks kept miscreants out and all the ground floor was paved with marble which, in the long silent watches of the night, rang like a bell at every step. Some dozed, standing upright with their eyes half open.
But someone ignored the locks of iron, passed through the bars of brass, trod soundlessly on the ringing tiles, moved under the very noses of the slumbering men. Nevertheless, when the figure walked through the big doors to the chairman's office, two crossbow bolts passed through it and splintered the fine woodwork.
'Well, you can't blame a body for trying,' said Mrs Lavish.
I am not concerned with your body, Mrs Topsy Lavish, said Death.
'It's been quite a while since anyone was,' sighed Topsy.
This is the reckoning, Mrs Lavish. The final accounting.
'Do you always use banking allusions at a time like this?' said Topsy, standing up. Something remained slumped in the chair, but it wasn't Mrs Lavish any more.
I try to acknowledge the ambience, Mrs Lavish.
'The "Closing of the Ledger" would have the right ring, too.'
Thank you. I shall make a note. And now, you must come with me.
'I made my will just in time, it seems,' said Topsy, letting her white hair down.
One should always take care of one's posterity, Mrs Lavish.
'My posterity? The Lavishes can kiss my bum, sir! I've fixed 'em for good. Oh yes! Now what, Mr Death?'
Now? said Death. Now, you could say, comes… the audit.
'Oh. There is one, is there? Well, I'm not ashamed.'
'Good. It should,' said Topsy.
She took Death's arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.
After a while Mr Fusspot sat up and started to whine.
There was a small article about the banking business in the Times next morning. It used the word crisis quite a lot.
Ah, here we are, thought Moist, when he got to paragraph four. Or, rather, here I am.
'Lord Vetinari told the Times:
"It is true that, with the permission of the bank's chairman, I discussed with the Postmaster General the possibility of his offering his services to the Royal Bank in these difficult times. He has declined, and the matter ends there. It is not the business of the government to run banks. The future of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork is in the hands of its directors and shareholders."'
And gods help it, thought Moist.
He tackled the in-tray with vigour. He threw himself at the paperwork, checking figures, correcting spelling, and humming to himself to drown out the inner voice of temptation.
Lunchtime arrived, and with it a plate of one-foot-wide cheese sandwiches delivered by Gladys, along with the midday copy of the Times.
Mrs Lavish had died in the night. Moist stared at the news. It said she had passed away quietly in her sleep, after a long illness.
He dropped the paper and stared at the wall. She'd seemed like someone hanging together by sheer grit and gin. Even so, that vitality, that spark… well, she couldn't hold on for ever. So what would happen now? Ye gods, he was well out of it!
And it was probably not a good day to be Mr Fusspot. He'd looked a waddly sort of dog, so he'd better learn to run really quickly.
The latest post that Gladys had brought up contained a long and thoroughly second-hand envelope addressed to him 'personly' in thick black letters. He slit it open with the paperknife and shook it out into the waste bin, just in case.
There was a folded newspaper inside. It was, it turned out, yesterday's Times, and there was Moist von Lipwig on the front page. Circled.
Moist turned it over. On the other side, in tiny neat handwriting, were the words:
Dear Sir, I have took the small precawtion of loging certain affedavids with trusted associates. You will here from me gain.
Take it slowly, take it slowly… It can't be from a friend. Everyone I think of as a friend can spell. This must be some kind of con, yes? But there were no skeletons in his closet…
Oh, all right, if you were going for the fine detail, there were in fact enough skeletons in his closet to fill a big crypt, with enough left over to equip a funfair House of Horrors and maybe also make a macabre but mildly amusing ashtray. But they'd never been associated with the name Lipwig. He'd been careful about that. His crimes had died with Albert Spangler. A good hangman knows exactly how much rope to give a man, and had dropped him out of one life and into another.
Could anyone have recognized him? But he was the least recognizable person in the world when he wasn't wearing his golden suit! When he was young his mother had sometimes gone home from school with the wrong child!
And when he wore the suit, people recognized the suit. He hid by being conspicuous…
It had to be a scam of some kind. Yes, that was it. The old 'guilty secret' job. Probably no one got to a position like this without accumulating some things they'd rather not see made public. But it was a nice touch to include the bit about affidavits. It was there to set a nervous man to wondering. It suggested that the sender knew something so dangerous that you, the recipient, might try to silence him, and he was in a position to set the lawyers on you.
Hah! And he was being given some time in which, presumably, to stew. Him! Moist von Lipwig! Well, they might just find out how hot a stew could get. For now, he shoved the paper in a bottom drawer. Hah!
There was a knock at the door.
'Come in, Gladys,' he said, rummaging in the in-tray again.
The door opened and the worried, pale face of Stanley Howler appeared around it.
'It's me, sir. Stanley, sir,' it said.
'Head of Stamps at the Post Office, sir,' Stanley added, in case pinpoint identification was required.
'Yes, Stanley, I know,' said Moist patiently. 'I see you every day. What is it that you want?'
'Nothing, sir,' said Stanley. There was a pause, and Moist adjusted his mind to the world as seen through the brain of Stanley Howler. Stanley was very… precise, and as patient as the grave.
'What is the reason for you, coming here, to see me, today, Stanley?' Moist tried, enunciating carefully in order to deliver the sentence in bite-sized chunks.
'There is a lawyer downstairs, sir,' Stanley announced.
'But I've only just read the threatening – ' Moist began, and then relaxed. 'A lawyer? Did he say why?' he said.
'A matter of great importance, he said. There's two watchmen with him, sir. And a dog.'
'Really?' said Moist calmly. 'Well, you'd better show them up, then.'
He glanced at his watch.
O-kay… Not good.
The Lancre Flyer would be leaving in forty-five seconds. He knew he could be down that damn drainpipe in eleven seconds. Stanley was on his way below to bring them up here, call that thirty seconds, maybe. Get them off the ground floor, that was the thing. Scramble on to the back of the coach, jump off when it slowed down for the Hubwards Gate, pick up the tin chest he'd got stashed in the beams of the old stable in Lobbin Clout, get changed and adjust his face, stroll across the city to have a coffee in that shop near the main Watch House, keep an eye on the clacks traffic for a while, stroll over to Hen and Chickens Court where he had another trunk stored with 'I don't know' Jack, get changed, leave with his little bag and his tweed cap (which he'd change for the old brown bowler in the bag in some alley, just in case Jack had a sudden attack of memory brought on by excessive money), and he'd mosey down to the slaughterhouse district and step into the persona of Jeff the drover and hang out in the huge fetid bar of the Butcher's Eagle, which was where the drovers traditionally damped down the road dust. There was a vampire in the Watch these days and they'd had a werewolf for years, too. Well, let those famously sharp noses snuff up the mixed cocktail stink of manure, fear, sweat, offal and urine and see how they liked it! And that was just in the bar - if anything, it was worse in the slaughterhouses.
Then maybe he'd wait until evening to hitch a lift on the steaming dung carts heading out of the city, along with the other drunk drovers. The gate guards never bothered to check them. On the other hand, if his sixth sense was still squawking, then he'd run the thimble game with some drunk until he'd got enough for a little bottle of perfume and a cheap but decent third-hand suit at some shonky shop and repair to Mrs Eucrasia Arcanum's Lodging House for Respectable Working Men, where with a tip of a hat and some wire-rimmed spectacles he'd be Mr Trespass Hatchcock, a wool salesman, who stayed there every time his business brought him to the city and who always brought her a little gift suitable for a widow of the age she'd like people to think she was. Yes, that'd be a better idea. At Mrs Arcanum's the food was solid and plentiful. The beds were good and you seldom had to share.
Then he could make real plans.
The itinerary of evasion wound across his inner eye at the speed of flight. The outer eye alighted on something less pleasing. There was a copper in the coach yard, chatting to a couple of the drivers. Moist recognized Sergeant Fred Colon, whose chief duty appeared to be ambling around the city chattering to elderly men of the same age and demeanour as himself.
The watchman spotted Moist at the window and gave him a little wave.
No, it was going to get complicated and messy if he ran. He'd have to bluff it out up here. It wasn't as though he'd done anything wrong, technically. The letter had thrown him, that's all it was.
Moist was sitting at his desk looking busy when Stanley came back, ushering in Mr Slant, the city's best-known and, at 351, probably also its oldest lawyer. He was accompanied by Sergeant Angua and Corporal Nobbs, widely rumoured to be the Watch's secret werewolf. Corporal Nobbs was accompanied by a large wicker hamper and Sergeant Angua was holding a squeaky rubber bone, which she occasionally, in an absent-minded way, squeaked. Things were looking up, but strange.
The exchanged pleasantries were not that pleasant, this close to Nobby Nobbs and the lawyer, who smelled of embalming fluid, but when they were over Mr Slant said: 'I believe you visited Mrs Topsy Lavish yesterday, Mr Lipwig.'
'Oh, yes. Er, when she was alive,' said Moist, and cursed himself and the unknown letter writer. He was losing it, he really was.
'This is not a murder investigation, sir,' said the sergeant calmly.
'Are you sure? In the circumstances – '
'We've made it our business to be sure, sir,' said the sergeant, 'in the circumstances!
'Don't think it was the family, then?'
'No, sir. Or you.'
'Me?' Moist was suitably open-mouthed at the suggestion.
'Mrs Lavish was known to be very ill,' said Mr Slant. 'And it seems that she took quite a shine to you, Mr Lipwig. She has left you her little dog, Mr Fusspot.'
'And also a bag of toys, rugs, tartan coats, little bootees, eight collars including one set with diamonds and, oh, a vast amount of other stuff,' said Sergeant Angua. She squeaked the rubber bone again.
Moist's mouth shut. 'The dog,' he said in a hollow voice. 'Just the dog? And the toys?'
'You were expecting something more?' said Angua.
'I wasn't expecting even that!' Moist looked at the hamper. It was suspiciously silent.
'I gave him one of his little blue pills,' said Nobby Nobbs helpfully. 'They knocks him out for a little while. Don't work on people, though. They tastes of aniseed.'
'All this is a bit… odd, isn't it?' said Moist. 'Why's the Watch here? The diamond collar? Anyway, I thought the will wasn't read until after the funeral…'
Mr Slant coughed. A moth flew out of his mouth. 'Yes indeed. But knowing the contents of her will, I thought it prudent to hasten to the Royal Bank and deal with the most…'
There was a very long pause. For a zombie, the whole of life is a pause, but it seemed that he was looking for the right word.
'… problematical bequests immediately,' he finished.
'Yes, well, I suppose the little doggie needs feeding,' said Moist, 'but I wouldn't have thought that – '
'The… problem, if such it be, is in fact his paperwork,' said Mr Slant.
'Wrong pedigree?' said Moist.
'Not his pedigree,' said Mr Slant, opening his briefcase. 'You may be aware that the late Sir Joshua left a one per cent share in the bank to Mr Fusspot?'
A cold, black wind began to blow through Moist's mind.
'Yes,' he said. 'I am.'
'The late Mrs Lavish has left him another fifty per cent. That, by the customs of the bank, means that he is the new chairman, Mr Lipwig. And you own him.'
'Hold on, an animal can't own – '
'Oh, but it can, Mr Lipwig, it can!' said Slant, with lawyerly glee. 'There is a huge body of case law. There was even, once, a donkey who was ordained and a tortoise who was appointed a judge. Obviously the more difficult trades are less well represented. No horse has yet held down a job as a carpenter, for example. But dog as chairman is relatively usual.'
'This makes no sense! She hardly knows me!' And his mind chimed in with: oh yes she does! She had you bang to rights in a blink!
'The will was dictated to me last night, Mr Lipwig, in the presence of two witnesses and Mrs Lavish's physician, who declared her very sound of mind if not of body.' Mr Slant stood up. 'The will, in short, is legal. It does not have to make sense.'
'But how can he, well, chair meetings? All he does with chairs is sniff the legs!'
'I assume he will in fact act as chairman through you,' said the lawyer. There was a squeak from Sergeant Angua.
And what happens if he dies?' said Moist.
Ah, thank you for reminding me,' said Mr Slant, taking a document from the case. 'Yes, it says here: the shares will be distributed among any remaining members of the family.'
'Any remaining members of the family? What, his family? I don't think he's had much of a chance to have one!'
'No, Mr Lipwig,' said Slant, 'the Lavish family.'
Moist felt the winds grow colder. 'How long does a dog live?'
'An ordin'ry dog?' said Nobby Nobbs. 'Or a dog who stands between a bunch of Lavishes and another fortune?'
'Corporal Nobbs, that was a pertinent remark!' snapped Sergeant Angua.
'Ahem.' A cough from Mr Slant liberated another moth. 'Mr Fusspot is used to sleeping in the Manager's Suite at the bank, Mr Lipwig,' he said. 'You will sleep there too. It is a condition of the bequest.'
Moist stood up. 'I don't have to do any of this,' he snapped. 'It's not like I've committed a crime! You can't run people's lives from beyond the grav - well, you can, sir, no problem there, but she can't just – '
A further envelope was produced from the briefcase. Mr Slant was smiling, which is never a good sign.
'Mrs Lavish also wrote this personal heartfelt plea to you,' he said. 'And now, sergeant, I think we should leave Mr Lipwig alone.'
They departed, although after a few seconds Sergeant Angua walked back in and without saying a word or catching his eye walked over to the bag of toys and dropped the squeaky rubber bone.
Moist walked over to the basket and lifted the lid. Mr Fusspot looked up, yawned, and then reared up on his cushion and begged. His tail wagged uncertainly once or twice and his huge eyes filled with hope.
'Don't look at me, kid,' said Moist, and turned his back.
Mrs Lavish's letter was drenched in lavender water, slightly spiced with gin. She wrote in a very neat, old-lady hand:
Dear Mr Lipwig,
I feel that you are a dear, sweet man who will look after my little Mr Fusspot. Please be kind to him. He has been my only friend in difficult times. Money is such a crude thing in these circumstances, but the sum of $20,000 annually will be paid to you (in arrears) for performing this duty, which I beg you to accept.
If you do not, or if he dies of unnatural causes, your arse will belong to the Guild of Assassins. $100,000 is lodged with lord Downey, and his young gentlemen will hunt you down and gut you like the weasel you are, Smart Boy!
May the gods bless you for your kindness to a widow in distress.
Moist was impressed. Stick and carrot. Vetinari just used stick, or hit you over the head with the carrot.
Vetinari! Now there was a man with some questions to answer!
The hairs on the back of his neck, trained by decades of dodging in any case and suddenly made extra sensitive with Mrs Lavish's words still bouncing in his skull, bristled in terror. Something came through the window and thunked! into the door. But Moist was already diving for the carpet when the glass broke.
Shuddering in the door was a black arrow.
Moist crawled across the carpet, reached up, grabbed the arrow and ducked down again.
In exquisite white writing, like the inscription on some ancient ring, were the words: GUILD OF ASSASSINS - 'WHEN STYLE MATTERS'.
It had to be a warning shot, right? Just a little grace note, yes? A sort of emphasis? Just in case?
Mr Fusspot took this opportunity to leap out of his basket and lick Moist's face. Mr Fusspot didn't care who he was or what he'd done, he just wanted to be friends.
'I think,' said Moist, giving in, 'that you and me ought to go walkies.'
The dog gave an excited little yip and went and tugged at the bag of accessories until it fell over. He disappeared inside, tail wagging madly, and came out dragging a little red velvet doggie coat on which the word 'Tuesday' was embroidered.
'Lucky guess, boy,' said Moist, as he buckled it up. This was difficult, because he was being washed by dog goo all the while.
'Er, you wouldn't know where your lead is, would you?' Moist ventured, trying not to swallow. Mr Fusspot bounced off to the bag and returned again with a red leash.
'O-kay,' said Moist. 'This is going to be the fastest walky in the history of walkies. It is, in fact, going to be a runny…'
As he reached up for the door handle, the door opened. Moist found himself staring up at two terracotta-coloured legs that were as thick as tree trunks.
'I Hope You Are Not Looking Up My Dress, Mr Lipwig?' rumbled Gladys, far above.
At what, exactly? Moist thought. 'Ah, Gladys,' he said. 'Would you just go and stand at the window? Thank you!'
There was a little tick! sound and Gladys turned round, holding another black arrow between thumb and forefinger. Its sudden deceleration in Gladys's grasp had caused it to catch fire.
'Someone Has Sent You An Arrow, Mr Lipwig,' she announced.
'Really? Just blow it out and put it in the in-tray, will you?' said Moist, crawling out of the door. 'I'm just going to see a man about a dog.'
He picked up Mr Fusspot and hurried down the stairs through the thronged hall, down the stone steps - and there, just pulling up to the kerb, was a black coach. Ha! The man was always one jump ahead, right?
He wrenched open the door as the coach came to a stop, landed heavily in an unoccupied seat with Mr Fusspot barking happily in his arms, glared across the carpet and said –
'Oh… sorry, I thought this was Lord Vetinari's coach…' A hand leaned over and slammed the door shut. It was wearing a large, black and very expensive glove, with jet beads embroidered into it. Moist's gaze followed it up an arm to a face, which said:
'No, Mr Lipwig. My name is Cosmo Lavish. I was just coming to see you. How do you do?'READ MORE >>