The dark ring - An unusual chin - A job for life but not for long' - Getting started - Fun with Journalism - It's all about the city - A mile in his shoes - A Lavish Occasion
THE MAN… MADE THINGS. He was an unsung craftsman, because the things he made never ended up with his name on them. No, they usually bore the names of dead men on them, men who were masters of their craft. He, in his turn, was the master of one craft. It was the craft of seeming.
'Do you have the money?'
'Yes.' The man in the brown robe indicated the stolid troll next to him.
'Why did you bring that? Can't abide 'em.'
'Five hundred dollars is a lot to carry, Mr Morpeth. And a lot to pay for jewellery that isn't even silver, I may add,' said the young man, whose name was Heretofore.
'Yes, well, that's the trick, ain't it?' said the old man. 'I know this ain't exactly proper, what you're doing. An' I told you stygium's rarer than gold. It just don't sparkle… Well, unless you do things wrong. Believe me, I could sell all I could get to the Assassins. Those fine gentlemen do like their black, so they do. They love it to bits.'
'It's not illegal. No one owns the letter V. Look, we've been through this. Let me see it.'
The old man gave Heretofore a look, then opened a drawer and put a small box on top of his desk. He adjusted the reflectors on the lamps and said: 'Okay, open it.'
The young man lifted the lid, and there it was, black as night, the serifed V a deeper, sharper shadow. He took a deep breath, reached out for the ring, and dropped it in horror.
There was a snort from the maker of things that seemed.' 'course it is. That's stygium, that is. It drinks the light. If you was out in full daylight you'd be sucking your fingers and yellin'. Keep it in a box when it's bright outside, right? Or wear a glove over it if you're a swanker.'
'Yes. It is.' The old man snatched the ring back, and Heretofore began to tumble into his own private Hell. 'It's just like the real thing, ain't it,' growled the seemer. 'Oh, don't look surprised. You think I don't know what I've made? I've seen the real one a coupla times, and this'd fool Vetinari hisself. That takes a lot of forgetting.'
'I don't know what you mean!' Heretofore protested.
'You are stupid, then.'
'I told you, no one owns the letter V!'
'You'll tell that to his lordship, will you? No, you won't. But you'll pay me another five hundred. I'm thinking of retiring anyway, and a little extra will get me a long way away'
'We had an agreement!'
'An' now we're having another one,' said Morpeth. 'This time you're buying forgetfulness.' The maker of things that seemed beamed happily. The young man looked unhappy and uncertain.
'This is priceless to someone, right?' Morpeth prompted.
'All right, five hundred, damn you.'
'Except it's a thousand now,' said the old man. 'See? You were too fast. You didn't haggle. Someone really needs my little toy, right? Fifteen hundred all in. You try to find anyone else in this city who can work stygium like me. An' if you open your mouth to say anything but "yes" it'll be two thousand. Have it my way'
There was a longer pause, and Heretofore said: 'Yes. But I'll have to come back with the rest.'
'You do that, mister. I'll be here waiting. There, that wasn't too hard, was it? Nothing personal, it's just business.'
The ring went back in the box, the box went back in the drawer. At a signal from the young man the troll dropped the bags on the floor and, job done, wandered off into the night.
Heretofore turned suddenly, and the seemer's right hand flew down behind the desk. It relaxed when the young man said: 'You'll be here later, yes?'
'Me? I'm always here. See yourself out.'
'You'll be here?'
'I just said yes, didn't I?'
In the darkness of the stinking hallway the young man opened the door, his heart thumping. A black-clad figure stepped inside. He couldn't see the face behind the mask, but he whispered: 'Box is in the top left drawer. Some kind of weapon on the right side. Keep the money. Just don't… hurt him, okay?'
'Hurt? That's not why I'm here!' hissed the dark figure.
'I know, but… do it neatly, all right?'
And then Heretofore was shutting the door behind him.
It was raining. He went and stood in the doorway opposite. It was hard to hear noises above the rain and the sound of overflowing gutters, but he fancied he heard, above all this, a faint thump. It may have been his imagination, because he did not hear the door open or the approach of the killer, and he nearly swallowed his tongue when the man loomed in front of him, pressed the box into his hand and vanished into the rain.
A smell of peppermint drifted out on to the street; the man was thorough, and he used a peppermint bomb to cover his scent.
You stupid, stupid old fool! Heretofore said, in the turmoil of his skull. Why didn't you take the money and shut up! I had no choice! He wouldn't risk you telling anyone!
Heretofore felt his stomach heave. He'd never meant it to be like this! He'd never meant for anyone to die! And then he threw up.
That was last week. Things hadn't got any better.
Lord Vetinari has a black coach.
Other people also have black coaches.
Therefore, not everyone in a black coach is Lord Vetinari.
It was an important philosophical insight that Moist, to his regret, had forgotten in the heat of the moment.
There was no heat now. Cosmo Lavish was cool, or at least making a spirited effort to be so. He wore black, of course, as people do to show how rich they are, but the real giveaway was the beard.
It was, technically, a goatee similar to that of Lord Vetinari. A thin line of black hair came down each cheek, made a detour to loop equally thinly under the nose, and met in a black triangle just below the lip, thus giving what Cosmo must have thought was a look of menacing elegance. And indeed, on Vetinari it was. On Cosmo the elegant facial topiary floated unhappily on blue jowls glistening with little tiny beads of sweat, and gave the effect of a pubic chin.
Some master barber had to deal with it hair by hair every day, and his job wouldn't have been made any easier by the fact that Cosmo had inflated somewhat since the day he had adopted the style. There is a time in a thoughtless young man's life when his six-pack becomes a keg, but for Cosmo it had become a tub of lard.
And then you saw the eyes, and they made up for everything. They had the faraway look of a man who can already see you dead…
But probably not those of a killer himself, Moist hazarded. He probably bought death when he needed it. True, on fingers that were slightly too podgy for them were ostensibly knobbly poison rings, but surely anyone really in the business wouldn't have so many, would they? Real killers didn't bother to advertise. And why was the elegant black glove on the other hand? That was an Assassins' Guild affectation. Yep, guild-school trained, then. Lots of upper-class kids went there for the education but didn't do the Black Syllabus. He probably had a note from his mother saying he was excused stabbing.
Mr Fusspot was trembling with fear or, perhaps, rage. In Moist's arms he was growling like a leopard.
'Ah, my stepmother's little dog,' said Cosmo as the coach began to move. 'How sweet. I do not waste words. I will give you ten thousand dollars for him, Mr Lipwig.' He held out a piece of paper in the ungloved hand. 'My note of hand for the money. Anyone in this city will accept it.'
The voice of Cosmo was a kind of modulated sigh, as if talking was somehow painful. Moist read:
Please pay the sum of Ten Thousand Dollars to Moist von Lipwig
And it was signed across a One Penny stamp by Cosmo Lavish, with many a flourish.
Signed across a stamp… Where had that come from? But you saw it more and more in the city, and if you asked anyone why, they said: ' 'cos it makes it legal, see?' And it was cheaper than lawyers, and so it worked.
And here it was, ten thousand dollars pointing directly at him.
How dare he try to bribe me, thought Moist. In fact, that was his second thought, that of the soon-to-be wearer of a gold-ish chain. His first thought, courtesy of the old Moist, was: how dare he try to bribe me so small.
'No,' he said. 'Anyway, I'll get more than that for looking after him for a few months!'
'Ah yes, but my offer is less… risky.'
Cosmo smiled. 'Come now, Mr Lipwig. We're men of the world – '
' – you and I, yes?' Moist finished. 'That's so predictable. Besides, you should have offered me more money first.'
At this point something happened in the vicinity of Cosmo's forehead. Both eyebrows began to twist like Mr Fusspot's when he was puzzled. They writhed for a moment, and then Cosmo saw Moist's expression, whereupon he slapped his brow and his momentary glare indicated that instant death would reward any comment.
He cleared his throat and said: 'For what I can get free? We are making a very good case that my stepmother was insane when she made that will.'
'She seemed sharp as a tack to me, sir,' said Moist.
'With two loaded crossbows on her desk?'
'Ah, I see your point. Yes, if she was really sane she'd have hired a couple of trolls with big, big clubs.'
Cosmo gave Moist a long, appraising look, or what he clearly thought was one, but Moist knew that tactic. It was supposed to make the lookee think they were being weighed up for a serious kicking, but it could just as easily mean 'I'll give him the ol' hard eyeball while I'm wondering what to do next'. Cosmo might be a ruthless man, but he wasn't a stupid one. A man in a gold suit gets noticed, and someone would remember whose coach he got into.
'I fear that my stepmother has landed you in a lot of trouble,' said Cosmo.
'I've been in trouble before,' said Moist.
'Oh? When was that?' And this came sharp and sudden.
Ah. The past. Not a good place to go. Moist tried to avoid it.
'Very little is known about you, Mr Lipwig,' Cosmo went on. 'You were born in Uberwald, and you became our Postmaster General. In between…'
'I've managed to survive,' said Moist.
'An enviable achievement indeed,' said Cosmo. He tapped on the side of the coach and it began to slow. 'I trust it will continue. In the meantime, let me at least give you this…'
He tore the bill in half and dropped the half that very emphatically did not carry his seal or signature on to Moist's lap.
'What's this for?' said Moist, picking it up while trying to restrain the frantic Mr Fusspot with the other hand.
'Oh, just a declaration of good faith,' said Cosmo, as the coach stopped. 'One day you might feel inclined to ask me for the other half. But understand me, Mr Lipwig, I don't usually take the trouble to do things the hard way.'
'Don't bother to do so on my account, please,' said Moist, wrenching the door open. Sator Square was outside, full of carts and people and embarrassingly potential witnesses.
lor a moment Cosmo's forehead did that… eyebrow thing again.
He gave it a slap, and said: 'Mr Lipwig, you misunderstand. This was the hard way. Goodbye. My regards to your young lady.'
Moist spun on the cobbles, but the door had slammed shut and the coach was speeding away.
'Why didn't you add "We know where your children will go to school"?' he shouted after it.
What now? Hell's bells, he had been dropped right in it!
A little way up the street, the palace beckoned. Vetinari had some questions to answer. How had the man arranged it? The Watch said she'd died of natural causes! But he'd been trained as an assassin, yes? A real one, specializing in poisons, maybe.
He strode in through the open gates, but the guards stopped him at the building itself. Moist knew them of old. There was probably an entrance exam for them. If they answered the question 'What is your name?' and got it wrong, they were hired. There were trolls that could out-think them. But you couldn't fool them, or talk them round. They had a list of people who could walk right in, and another of people who needed an appointment. If you weren't on either, you didn't get in.
However, their captain, bright enough to read large type, did recognize 'Postmaster General' and 'Chairman of the Royal Bank' and sent one of the lads knuckling off to see Drumknott, carrying a scribbled note. To Moist's surprise, ten minutes later he was being ushered into the Oblong Office.
Seats around the big conference table at one end of the room were fully occupied. Moist recognized a few guild leaders, but quite a few were average-looking citizens, working men, men who looked ill at ease indoors. Maps of the city were strewn across the table. He'd interrupted something. Or rather, Vetinari had interrupted something for him.
Lord Vetinari got up as soon as Moist entered, and beckoned him forward.
'Please excuse me, ladies, gentlemen, but I do need some time with the Postmaster General. Drumknott, do take everyone through the figures again, will you? Mr Lipwig, this way, if you please.'
Moist thought he heard muffled laughter behind them as he was ushered into what he at first thought was a high-ceilinged corridor but which turned out to be a sort of art gallery. Vetinari shut the door behind them. The click seemed, to Moist, to be very loud. His anger was draining fast, to be replaced by a very chilly feeling. Vetinari was a tyrant, after all. If Moist was never seen again his lordship's reputation would only be enhanced.
'Do put Mr Fusspot down,' said Vetinari. 'It will do the little chap good to run about.'
Moist lowered the dog to the ground. It was like dropping a shield. And now he could take in what it was this gallery exhibited.
What he'd thought were carved stone busts were faces, made of wax. And Moist knew how and when they were made, too.
They were death masks.
'My predecessors,' said Vetinari, strolling down the line. 'Not a complete collection, of course. In some cases the head could not be found or was, as you might say, in a rather untidy state.'
There was a silence. Foolishly, Moist filled it.
'It must be strange, having them look down on you every day,' he managed.
'Oh, do you think so? I have to say I've rather looked down on them. Gross men, for the most part, greedy, venal and clumsy. Cunning can do duty for thought up to a point, and then you die. Most of them died rich, fat and terrified. They left the city the worse for their incumbency and the better for their death. But now the city works, Mr Lipwig. We progress. We would not do so if the ruler was the kind of man who would kill elderly ladies, do you understand?'
'I never said – '
'I know exactly what you never said. You refrained from saying it very loudly.' Vetinari raised an eyebrow. 'I am extremely angry, Mr Lipwig.'
'But I've been dropped right in it!'
'Not by me,' said Vetinari. 'I can assure you that if I had, as your ill-assumed street patois has it, "dropped you in it" you would fully understand all meanings of "drop" and have an unenviable knowledge of "it".'
'You know what I mean!'
'Dear me, is this the real Moist von Lipwig speaking, or is it just the man looking forward to his very nearly gold chain? Topsy Lavish knew she was going and simply changed her will. I salute her for it. The staff will accept you more easily, too. And she's done you a great favour.'
'Favour? I was shot at!'
'That was just the Assassins' Guild dropping you a note to say they are watching you.'
'There were two shots!'
'Possibly for emphasis?' said Vetinari, sitting down on a velvet-covered chair.
'Look, banking is supposed to be dull! Numbers, pensions, a job for life!'
'For life possibly, but apparently not for long,' said Vetinari, clearly enjoying this.
'Can't you do something?'
'About Cosmo Lavish? Why should I? Offering to buy a dog is not illegal.'
'But the whole family is - How did you know that? I didn't tell you!'
Vetinari waved a hand dismissively. 'Know the man, know the method. I know Cosmo. In this sort of situation he will not resort to force if money will work. He can be very personable when he wants to be.'
'But I've heard about the rest of them. They sound a pretty poisonous bunch.'
'I couldn't possibly comment. However, Topsy has helped you there. The Assassins' Guild won't take out a second contract on you. Conflict of interests, you see. I suppose technically they could accept a contract on the chairman, but I doubt if they will.
Killing a lap-dog? It would not look good on anyone's resume.'
'I didn't sign up to deal with something like this!'
'No, Mr Lipwig, you signed up to die,' snapped Vetinari, his voice suddenly as cold and deadly as a falling icicle. 'You signed up to be justly hanged by the neck until dead for crimes against the city, against the public good, against the trust of man for man. And you were resurrected, because the city required you to be. This is about the city, Mr Lipwig. It is always about the city. You know, of course, that I have plans?'
'It was in the Times. The Undertaking. You want to build roads and drains and streets under the city. There's some dwarf machine we've got hold of, called a Device. And the dwarfs can make waterproof tunnels. The Artificers' Guild are very excited about it all.'
'I gather by your sombre tones that you are not?'
Moist gave a shrug. Engines of any sort had never interested him. 'I don't think much about it one way or the other.'
'Astonishing,' said Vetinari, taken aback. 'Well, Mr Lipwig, you can at least guess at what we will need in very large amounts for this project.'
'Finance, Mr Lipwig. And I would have it, if we had a banking system suitable for the times. I have every confidence in your ability to… shake things up a little.'
Moist tried one last throw. 'The Post Office needs me – ' he began.
'At the moment it does not, and you chafe at the thought,' said Vetinari. 'You are not a man for the humdrum. I hereby grant you leave of absence. Mr Groat has been your deputy, and while he may not have your… flair, let us say, he will I am sure keep things moving along.'
He stood up, indicating that the audience was at an end. 'The city bleeds, Mr Lipwig, and you are the clot I need. Go away and make money. Unlock the wealth of Ankh-Morpork. Mrs Lavish gave you the bank in trust. Run it well.'
'It's the dog that's got the bank, you know!'
'And what a trusting little face he has,' said Vetinari, ushering Moist to the door. 'Don't let me detain you, Mr Lipwig. Remember: it's all about the city.'
There was another protest march going on when Moist walked to the bank. There'd been more and more of them lately. It was a funny thing, but everyone seemed to want to live under the despotic rule of the tyrannical Lord Vetinari. They poured into the city whose streets were apparently paved with gold.
It wasn't gold. But the influx was having an effect, no doubt about it. Wages were falling, to start with.
This march was against the employment of golems, who uncomplainingly did the dirtiest jobs, worked around the clock, and were so honest they paid their taxes. But they weren't human and they had glowing eyes, and people could get touchy about that sort of thing.
Mr Bent must have been waiting behind a pillar. Moist was no sooner through the doors of the bank, Mr Fusspot tucked happily under his arm, than the chief cashier was by his side.
'The staff are very concerned, sir,' he said, piloting Moist towards the stairs. 'I took the liberty of telling them that you would speak to them later.'
Moist was aware of the worried stares. And of other things, too, now that he was looking with an almost proprietorial eye. Yes, the bank had been built well out of fine materials; get past that and you could see the neglect and the marks of time. It was like the now inconveniently large house of a poor old widow who just couldn't see the dust any more. The brass was rather tarnished, the red velvet curtains frayed and a little bald in places, the marble floor was only erratically shiny –
'What?' he said. 'Oh, yes. Good idea. Can you get this place cleaned up?'
'The carpets are mucky, the plush ropes are unravelled, the curtains have seen better centuries and the brass needs a jolly good scrub. The bank should look smart, Mr Bent. You might give money to a beggar but you wouldn't lend it to him, eh?'
Bent's eyebrows rose. 'And that's the chairman's view, is it?' he said.
'The chairman? Oh, yes. Mr Fusspot's very keen on clean. Isn't that right, Mr Fusspot?'
Mr Fusspot stopped growling at Mr Bent long enough to bark a couple of times.
'See?' said Moist. 'When you don't know what to do, comb your hair and clean your shoes. Words of wisdom, Mr Bent. Jump to it.'
'I shall elevate myself to the best of my ability, sir,' said Bent. 'Meanwhile, a young lady has called, sir. She seemed reluctant to give her name but said you would be pleased to see her. I have ushered her into the small boardroom.'
'Did you have to open a window?' said Moist hopefully.
That ruled out Adora Belle, then, to replace her with a horrifying thought. 'She's not one of the Lavish family, is she?'
'No, sir. And it's time for Mr… it's time for the chairman's lunch, sir. He has cold boned chicken because of his stomach. I'll have it sent along to the small boardroom, shall I?'
'Yes, please. Could you rustle up something for me?'
'Rustle, sir?' Bent looked puzzled. 'You mean steal?'
Ah, that kind of man, Moist thought.
'I meant find me something to eat,' he translated.
'Certainly, sir. There is a small kitchen in the suite and we have a chef on call. Mrs Lavish has lived here for some time. It will be interesting to have a Master of the Royal Mint again.'
'I like the sound of Master of the Royal Mint,' Moist said. 'How about that, Mr Fusspot?'
On cue, the chairman barked.
'Hmm,' said Bent. 'One final thing, sir. Could you please sign these?' He indicated a pile of paperwork.
'What are they? They're not minutes, are they? I don't do minutes.'
'They are various formalities, sir. Basically, they add up to your signing a receipt for the bank on the chairman's behalf, but I am advised that Mr Fusspot's paw mark should appear in the places ticked.'
'Does he have to read all this?' said Moist.
'Then I won't. It's a bank. You've given me the big tour. It's not as though it's got a wheel missing. Just show me where to sign.'
'Just here, sir. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here…
The lady in the boardroom was certainly an attractive woman, but since she worked for the Times Moist felt unable to award her total ladylike status. Ladies didn't fiendishly quote exactly what you said but didn't exactly mean, or hit you around the ear with unexpectedly difficult questions. Well, come to think of it, they did, quite often, but she got paid for it.
But, he had to admit, Sacharissa Cripslock was fun.
'Sacharissa! This is a should-have-been-expected surprise!' he declared, as he stepped into the room.
'Mr Lipwig! Always a pleasure!' said the woman. 'So you are a dog's body now?'
That kind of fun. A bit like juggling knives. You were constantly on your toes. It was as good as a workout.
'Writing the headlines already, Sacharissa?' he said. 'I am merely carrying out the terms of Mrs Lavish's will.' He put Mr Fusspot on the polished tabletop and sat down.
'So you're now chairman of the bank?'
'No, Mr Fusspot here is the chairman,' said Moist. 'Bark circumspectly at the nice lady with the busy pencil, Mr Fusspot!'
'Woof,' said Mr Fusspot.
'Mr Fusspot is the chairman,' said Sacharissa, rolling her eyes. 'Of course. And you take orders from him, do you?'
'Yes. I am Master of the Royal Mint, by the way.'
'A dog and his master,' said Sacharissa. 'How nice. And I expect you can read his thoughts because of some mystic bond between dog and man?'
'Sacharissa, I could not have put it better.'
They smiled at each other. This was only round one. Both knew they were barely warming up.
'So, I take it that you would not agree with those who say that this is one last ruse by the late Mrs Lavish to keep the bank out of the hands of the rest of her family, believed by some to be totally incapable of running it anywhere but further into the ground? Or would you confirm the opinion of many that the Patrician has every intention of bringing the city's uncooperative banking industry to heel, and finds in this situation the perfect opportunity?'
'Some who believe, those who say… Who are these mysterious people?' said Moist, trying to raise an eyebrow as good as Vetinari's. And how is it that you know so many of them?'
Sacharissa sighed. 'And you wouldn't describe Mr Fusspot as really little more than a convenient sock puppet?'
'Woof?' said the dog at the mention of his name.
'I find the very question offensive!' said Moist. 'And so does he!'
'Moist, you are just no fun any more.' Sacharissa closed her notebook. 'You're talking like… well, like a banker.'
'I'm glad you think so.' Remember, just because she's shut the notebook doesn't mean you can relax!
'No dashing around on mad stallions? Nothing to make us cheer? No wild dreams?' said Sacharissa.
'Well, I'm already tidying up the foyer.'
Sacharissa's eyes narrowed. 'Tidying the foyer? Who are you, and what have you done with the real Moist von Lipwig?'
'No, I'm serious. We have to clean up ourselves before we can clean up the economy,' said Moist, and felt his brain shift seductively into a higher gear. 'I intend to throw out what we don't need. For example, we have a room full of useless metal in the vault. That'll have to go.'
Sacharissa frowned. 'Are you talking about the gold?'
Where had that come from? Well, don't try to back away, or she'll go for the throat. Tough it out! Besides, it's good to see her looking astonished.
'Yes,' he said.
'You can't be serious!'
The notebook was instantly flipped open, and Moist's tongue began to gallop. He couldn't stop it. It would have been nice if it had talked to him first. Taking over his brain, it said: 'Deadly serious! I am recommending to Lord Vetinari that we sell it all to the dwarfs. We do not need it. It's a commodity and nothing more.'
'But what's worth more than gold?'
'Practically everything. You, for example. Gold is heavy. Your weight in gold is not very much gold at all. Aren't you worth more than that?'
Sacharissa looked momentarily flustered, to Moist's glee. 'Well, in a manner of speaking – '
'The only manner of speaking worth talking about,' said Moist flatly. 'The world is full of things worth more than gold. But we dig the damn stuff up and then bury it in a different hole. Where's the sense in that? What are we, magpies? Is it all about the gleam? Good heavens, potatoes are worth more than gold!'
'If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what would you prefer, a bag of potatoes or a bag of gold?'
'Yes, but a desert island isn't Ankh-Morpork!'
'And that proves gold is only valuable because we agree it is, right? It's just a dream. But a potato is always worth a potato, anywhere. A knob of butter and a pinch of salt and you've got a meal, anywhere. Bury gold in the ground and you'll be worrying about thieves for ever. Bury a potato and in due season you could be looking at a dividend of a thousand per cent.'
'Can I assume for a moment that you don't intend to put us on the potato standard?' said Sacharissa sharply.
Moist smiled. 'No, it won't be that. But in a few days I shall be giving away money. It doesn't like to stand still, you know. It likes to get out and make new friends.' The bit of Moist's brain that was trying to keep up with his mouth thought: I wish I could make notes about this, I'm not sure I can remember it all. But the conversations of the last day were banging together in his memory and making a kind of music. He wasn't sure he had all the notes yet, but there were bits he could hum. He just had to listen to himself for long enough to find out what he was talking about.
'By give away you mean – ' said Sacharissa.
'Hand over. Make a gift of. Seriously.'
'All in good time!'
'You are smirking at me, Moist!'
No, I've frozen because I've just heard what my mouth said, Moist thought. I don't have a clue, I've just got some random thoughts. It's…
'It's about desert islands,' he said. 'And why this city isn't one.'
'And that's it?'
Moist rubbed his forehead. 'Miss Cripslock, Miss Cripslock… this morning I got up with nothing in mind but to seriously make headway with the Post Office paperwork and maybe lick the problem of that Special 25p Cabbage Green Special stamp. You know, the one that'll grow into a cabbage if you plant it? How can you expect me to come up with a new fiscal initiative by teatime?'
'All right, but – '
'It'll take me at least until breakfast.'
He saw her write that down. Then she tucked the notebook in her handbag.
'This is going to be fun, isn't it?' she said, and Moist thought: never trust her when she's put her notebook away, either. She's got a good memory.
'Seriously, I think this is an opportunity for me to do something big and important for my adopted city,' said Moist, in his sincere voice.
'That's your sincere voice,' she said.
'Well, I'm being sincere,' said Moist.
'But since you raise the subject, Moist, what were you doing with your life before the citizens of Ankh-Morpork greeted you with open palms?'
'Surviving,' said Moist. 'In Uberwald the old empire was breaking up. It was not unusual for a government to change twice over lunch. I worked at anything I could to make a living. By the way, I think you meant "arms" back there,' he added.
'And when you got here you impressed the gods so much that they led you to a treasure trove so that you could rebuild our Post Office.'
'I'm very humble about that,' said Moist, trying to look it.
'Ye-ess. And the god-given gold was all in used coinage from the Plains cities…'
'You know what, I've often lain awake wondering about that myself,' said Moist, 'and I reached the conclusion that the gods, in their wisdom, decided that the gift should be instantly negotiable.' I can go on like this for as long as you like, he thought, and you're trying to play poker with no cards. You can suspect all you like, but I gave that money back! Okay, I stole it in the first place, but giving it back counts for something, doesn't it? The slate is clean, isn't it? Well, acceptably grubby, yes?
The door opened slowly, and a young and nervous woman crept in, holding a plate of cold chicken. Mr Fusspot brightened up as she placed it in front of him.
'Sorry, can we get you a coffee or something?' said Moist, as the girl headed back towards the door.
Sacharissa stood up. 'Thank you, but no. I'm on a deadline, Mr Lipwig. I'm sure we'll be talking again very soon.'
'I'm certain of it, Miss Cripslock,' said Moist.
She took a step towards him and lowered her voice. 'Do you know who that girl was?'
'No, I hardly know anyone yet.'
'So you don't know if you can trust her?'
Sacharissa sighed. 'This is not like you, Moist. She's just given a plate of food to the most valuable dog in the world. A dog that some people might like to see dead.'
'Why shouldn't – ' Moist began. They both turned to Mr Fusspot, who was already licking the empty plate up the length of the table with an appreciative gronf-gronf noise.
'Er… can you see yourself out?' said Moist, hurrying towards the sliding plate.
'If you're in any doubt, stick your fingers down his throat!' said Sacharissa from the door with, Moist considered, an inappropriate amount of amusement.
He grabbed the dog and hurried through the far door, after the girl. It led to a narrow and not particularly well decorated corridor with a green door at the end, from which came the sound of voices.
Moist barged through it.
In the small, neat kitchen beyond, a tableau greeted him. The young woman was backed against a table, and a bearded man in a white suit was wielding a big knife. They looked shocked.
'What's going on?' Moist yelled.
'Er, er… you just ran through the door and shouted?' said the girl. 'Was something wrong? I always give Mr Fusspot his appetizer about now.'
'And I'm doing his entree,' said the man, bringing the knife down on a tray of offal. 'It's chicken necks stuffed with giblets, with his special toffee pudding for afters. And who's asking?'
'I'm the - I'm his owner,' said Moist, as haughtily as he could manage.
The chef removed his white hat. 'Sorry, sir, of course you are. The gold suit and everything. This is Peggy, my daughter. I'm Aimsbury, sir.'
Moist had managed to calm down a little. 'Sorry,' he said. 'I was just worried that someone might try to poison Mr Fusspot…'
'We were just talking about that,' said Aimsbury. 'I thought that - Hold on, you don't mean me, do you?'
'No, no, certainly not!' said Moist to the man still holding a knife.
'Well, all right,' said Aimsbury, mollified. 'You're new, sir, you're not to know. That Cosmo kicked Mr Fusspot once!'
'He'd poison anyone, he would,' said Peggy.
'But I go down to the market every day, sir, and select the little dog's food myself. And it's stored downstairs in the cool room, and I have the only key.'
Moist relaxed. 'You couldn't knock up an omelette for me, could you?' he said.
The chef looked panicky. 'That's eggs, right?' he said nervously. 'Never really got involved with cooking eggs, sir. He has a raw one in his steak tartare on Fridays and Mrs Lavish used to have two raw ones in her gin and orange juice every morning, and that is about it between me 'n' eggs. I've got a pig's head sousing if you'd fancy some of that. Got tongue, hearts, marrowbone, sheep's head, nice bit o' dewlap, melts, slaps, lights, liver, kidneys, beccles – '
In his youth, Moist had been served a lot off that menu. It was exactly the sort of food that you should serve to kids if you want them to grow up skilled in the arts of barefaced lying, sleight of hand and camouflage. As a matter of course Moist had hidden those strange wobbly meats under his vegetables, on one occasion achieving a potato twelve inches high.
Light dawned. 'Did you cook much for Mrs Lavish?' said Moist.
'Nosir. She lived on gin, vegetable soup, her morning pick-me-up and – '
'Gin,' said Peggy firmly.
'So you're basically a dog chef?'
'Canine, sir, if it's all the same to you. You may have read my book? Cooking with Brains?' Aimsbury said this rather hopelessly, and rightly so.
'Unusual path to follow,' said Moist.
'Well, sir, it enables me to… it's safer… well, the truth is, I have an allergy, sir.' The chef sighed. 'Show him, Peggy.'
The girl nodded and pulled a grubby card out of her pocket. 'Please don't say this word, sir,' she said, and held it up.
'You just can't avoid it in the catering business, sir,' said Aimsbury miserably.
This wasn't the time, really wasn't the time. But if you weren't interested in people, then you didn't have the heart of a trickster.
'You're allergic to g - this stuff?' he said, correcting himself just in time.
'No, sir. The word, sir. I can handle the actual allium in question, I can even eat it, but the sound of it, well…'
Moist looked at the word again, and shook his head sadly.
'So I have to shun restaurants, sir.'
'I can see that. How are you with the word… "leek"?'
'Yes, sir, I know where you're going, I've been there. Far leek, tar lick… no effect at all'
'Just garlic, then - Oh, sorry…'
Aimsbury froze, with a distant expression on his face.
'Gods, I'm so sorry, I honestly didn't mean – ' Moist began.
'I know,' said Peggy wearily. 'The word just forces its way out, doesn't it? He'll be like this for fifteen seconds, then he'll throw the knife straight ahead of him, and then he'll speak in fluent Quirmian for about four seconds, and then he'll be fine. Here' - she handed Moist a bowl containing a large brown lump - 'you go back in there with the sticky toffee pudding and I'll hide in the pantry. I'm used to it. And I can do you an omelette, too.' She pushed Moist through the door and shut it behind him.
He put down the bowl, to the immediate and fully focused interest of Mr Fusspot.
Watching a dog try to chew a large piece of toffee is a pastime fit for gods. Mr Fusspot's mixed ancestry had given him a dexterity of jaw that was truly awesome. He somersaulted happily around the floor making faces like a rubber gargoyle in a washing machine.
After a few seconds Moist distinctly heard the twang of a knife vibrating in woodwork, followed by a scream of: 'Nom d'une bouilloire! Pourquoi est-ce que je suis hardiment ri sous cape a part les dieux?'
There was a knock at the double doors, followed instantly by the entry of Bent. He was carrying a large round box.
'The suite is now ready for you, Master,' he announced. 'That is to say, for Mr Fusspot.'
'Oh, yes. The chairman has a suite.'
'Oh, that suite. He has to live above the shop, as it were?'
'Indeed. Mr Slant has been kind enough to give me a copy of the conditions of the legacy. The chairman must sleep in the bank every night – '
'But I've got a perfectly good apartment in the – '
'Ahem. They are the Conditions, sir,' said Bent. 'You can have the bed, of course,' he added generously. 'Mr Fusspot will sleep in his in-tray. He was born in it, as a matter of interest.'
'I have to stay locked up here every night?'
In fact, when Moist saw the suite the prospect looked much less like a penance. He had to open four doors even before he found a bed. It had a dining room, a dressing room, a bathroom, a separate flushing privy, a spare bedroom, a passage to the office which was a kind of public room, and a little private study. The master bedroom contained a huge oak four-poster with damask hangings, and Moist fell in love with it at once. He tried it for size. It was so soft that it was like lying in a huge warm puddle –
He sat bolt upright. 'Did Mrs Lavish – ' he began, panic rising.
'She died sitting at her desk, Master,' said Bent soothingly, as he untied the string on the big round box. 'We have replaced the chair. By the way, she is to be buried tomorrow. Small Gods, at noon, family members only by request.'
'Small Gods? That's a bit downmarket for a Lavish, isn't it?'
'I believe a number of Mrs Lavish's ancestors are buried there. She did once tell me in a moment of confidence that she would be damned if she was going to be a Lavish for all eternity.' There was a rustle of paper, and Bent added: 'Your hat, sir.'
'For the Master of the Royal Mint.' Bent held it up.
It was a black silk hat. Once it had been shiny. Now it was mostly bald. Old tramps wore better hats.
It could have been designed to look like a big pile of dollars, it could have been a crown, it could have been set with small jewelled scenes depicting embezzlement through the ages, the progression of negotiable currency from snot to little white shells and cows and all the way to gold. It could have said something about the magic of money. It could have been good.
A black top hat. No style. No style at all.
'Mr Bent, can you arrange for someone to go over to the Post Office and get them to bring my stuff over here?' said Moist, looking glumly at the wreck.
'Of course, Master.'
'I think "Mr Lipwig" will be fine, thank you.'
'Yes, sir. Of course.'
Moist sat down at the enormous desk and ran his hands lovingly across the worn green leather.
Vetinari, damn him, had been right. The Post Office had made him cautious and defensive. He'd run out of challenges, run out of fun.
Thunder grumbled, away in the distance, and the afternoon sun was being threatened by blue-black clouds. One of those heavy all-night storms was rolling in from the plains. There tended to be more crimes on rainy nights these days, according to the Times. Apparently it was because of the werewolf in the Watch: rain made smells hard to track.
After a while Peggy brought him an omelette containing absolutely no mention of the word 'garlic'. And shortly after that, Gladys arrived with his wardrobe. All of it, including the door, carried under one arm. It bounced off the walls and ceiling as she lumbered with it across the carpet and dropped it in the middle of the big bedroom floor.
Moist went to follow her, but she held up her huge hands in horror.
'No, Sir! Let Me Come Out First!'
She clumped past him into the hallway. 'That Was Nearly Very Bad,' she said.
Moist waited to see if anything more was forthcoming, and then prompted: 'Why, exactly?'
'A Man And A Young Woman Should Not Be In The Same Bedroom,' said the golem with solemn certitude.
'Er, how old are you, Gladys?' said Moist carefully.
'One Thousand And Fifty-Four Years, Mr Lipwig.'
'Er, right. And you are made of clay. I mean, everyone's made of clay, in a manner of speaking, but, as a golem, you are, as it were, er… very made of clay…'
'Yes, Mr Lipwig, But I Am Not Married.'
Moist groaned. 'Gladys, what did the counter girls give you to read this time?' he said.
'It Is Lady Deirdre Waggon's Prudent Advice For Young Women,' said Gladys. 'It Is Most Interesting. It Is How Things Are Done.' She pulled a slim book out of the huge pocket in her dress. It had a chintzy look.
Moist sighed. It was the kind of old-fashioned etiquette book that'd tell you Ten Things Not To Do With Your Parasol. 'I see,' he said.
He didn't know how to explain. Even worse, he didn't know what he'd be explaining. Golems were… golems. Big lumps of clay with the spark of life in them. Clothes? What for? Even the male golems in the Post Office just had a lick of blue and gold paint to make them look smart - Hold on, he was catching it now! There were no male golems! Golems were golems, and had been happy to be just golems for thousands of years! And now they were in modern Ankh-Morpork, where all kinds of races and people and ideas were shaken up and it was amazing what dripped out of the bottle.
Without a further word Gladys clumped across the hallway, turned round and stood still. The glow in her eyes settled down to a dull red. And that was it. She had decided to stay.
In his in-tray, Mr Fusspot snored.
Moist took out the half-bill that Cosmo had given him.
Desert island. Desert island. I know I think best when I'm under pressure, but what exactly did I mean?
On a desert island gold is worthless. Food gets you through times of no gold much better than gold gets you through times of no food. If it comes to that, gold is worthless in a goldmine, too. The medium of exchange in a goldmine is the pickaxe.
Hmm. Moist stared at the bill. What does it need to make it worth ten thousand dollars? The seal and signature of Cosmo, that's what. Everyone knows he's good for it. Good for nothing but money, the bastard.
Banks use these all the time, he thought. Any bank in the Plains would give me the cash, withholding a commission, of course, because banks skim you top and bottom. Still, it's much easier than lugging bags of coins around. Of course, I'd have to sign it too, otherwise it wouldn't be secure.
I mean, if it was blank after 'pay', anyone could use it.
Desert island, desert island… On a desert island a bag of vegetables is worth more than gold, in the city gold is more valuable than the bag of vegetables.
This is a sort of equation, yes? Where's the value?
It's in the city itself. The city says: in exchange for that gold, you will have all these things. The city is the magician, the alchemist in reverse. It turns worthless gold into… everything.
How much is Ankh-Morpork worth? Add it all up! The buildings, the streets, the people, the skills, the art in the galleries, the guilds, the laws, the libraries… Billions? No. No money would be enough.
The city was one big gold bar. What did you need to back the currency? You just needed the city. The city says a dollar is worth a dollar.
It was a dream, but Moist was good at selling dreams. And if you could sell the dream to enough people, no one dared wake up.
In a little rack on the desk are an ink pad and two rubber stamps, showing the city's coat of arms and the seal of the bank. But in Moist's eyes, there is a haze of gold around these simple things, too. They have value.
'Mr Fusspot?' said Moist. The dog sat up in his tray, looking expectant.
Moist pushed his sleeves back and flexed his fingers.
'Shall we make some money, Mr Chairman?' he said.
The chairman expressed unconditional agreement by means of going 'woof!'
'Pay The Bearer The Sum Of One Dollar,' Moist wrote on a piece of crisp bank paper.
He stamped the paper with both the stamps, and gave the result a long critical look. It needed something more. You had to give people a show. The eye was everything.
It needed… a touch of gravitas, like the bank itself. Who'd bank in a wooden hut?
Ah, yes. It was all about the city, right? Underneath he wrote, in large ornate letters:
AD URBEM PERTINET
And, in smaller letters, after some thought:
'Promitto fore ut possessori postulanti nummum unum solvent, an apte satisfaciam.
Signed Moist von Lipwig pp The Chairman.
'Excuse me, Mr Chairman,' he said, and lifted the dog up. It was the work of a moment to press a front paw on the damp pad and leave a neat little footprint beside the signature.
Moist went through this a dozen or more times, tucked five of the resulting bills under the blotter and took the rest of the new money, and the chairman, for walkies.
Cosmo Lavish glared at his reflection in the mirror. Often he got it right in the glass three or four times in a row, and then - oh, the shame - he'd try it in public and people, if they were foolish enough to mention it, would say: 'Have you got something in your eye?'
He'd even had a device constructed that pulled at one eyebrow repeatedly, by means of clockwork. He'd poisoned the man who made it, there and then as he took delivery, chatting with him in his smelly little workshop while the stuff took hold. He'd been nearly eighty and Cosmo had been very careful, so it never came to the attention of the Watch. Anyway, at that age it shouldn't really count as murder, should it? It was more like a favour, really. And obviously he couldn't risk the old fool blabbing happily to someone after Cosmo had become Patrician.
On reflection, he thought, he should have waited until he was certain that the eyebrow-training machine was working properly. It had given him a black eye before he'd made a few hesitant adjustments.
How did Vetinari do it? It was what had got him the Patricianship, Cosmo was sure. Well, a couple of mysterious murders had helped, admittedly, but it was the way the man could raise an eyebrow that kept him there.
Cosmo had studied Vetinari for a long time. It was easy enough, at social gatherings. He'd cut out every picture that appeared in the Times, too. What was the secret that kept the man so powerful and unscathed? How might he be understood?
And then one day he'd read in some book or other: 'If you want to understand a man, walk a mile in his shoes'.
And he'd had a great and glorious idea…
He sighed happily and tugged at the black glove.
He'd been sent to the Assassins' school as a matter of course. It was the natural destination for young men of a certain class and accent. He'd survived, and had made a study of poisons because he'd heard that was Vetinari's speciality, but the place had bored him. It was so stylized now. They'd got so wrapped up in some ridiculous concepts of honour and elegance that they seemed to forget what it was an assassin was supposed to do…
The glove came free, and there it was.
Heretofore had done magnificently.
Cosmo stared at the wondrous thing, moving his hand so that it caught the light. Light did strange things to stygium: sometimes it reflected silver, sometimes an oily yellow, sometimes it remained resolutely black. And it was warm, even here. In direct sunlight it would burst into flame. It was a metal that might have been intended for those who move in shadow…
The ring of Vetinari. Vetinari's signet ring. Such a small thing, and yet so powerful. It was entirely without ornamentation unless you counted the tiny border to the cartouche which surrounded, sharply incised and serifed, the single letter:
He could only guess at all the things his secretary had had to do to get it. He'd had a replica made, 'reversed-devised', whatever that was, from the wax seals it had so impressively stamped. And there had been bribes (expensive ones) and hints of hasty meetings and cautious exchanges and last-minute changes to get the replica exactly right –
And here the real one was, on his finger. Very much on his finger in fact. From Cosmo's point of view Vetinari had very slender fingers for a man, and getting the ring over the knuckle had been a real effort. Heretofore had fretted about getting it enlarged, foolishly not realizing that this would completely ruin it. The magic, and surely Vetinari had a magic all his own, would leak out. It wouldn't be totally the real thing any more.
Yes, it had hurt like hell for a few days, but now he was floating above the pain, in a clear blue sky.
He prided himself he was no fool. He'd have known at once if his secretary had tried to palm him off with a mere copy. The shock that went up his arm when he slid the ring, all right forced the ring over the knuckle was enough to tell him that he had got the real thing. Already he could feel his thoughts getting sharper and faster.
He brushed a forefinger across the deeply cut V and looked up at Drumk - at Heretofore.
'You seem concerned, Heretofore,' he said kindly.
'The finger has gone very white, sir. Almost pale blue. Are you sure it doesn't hurt?'
'Not a bit. I feel… utterly in control. You seem very… worried lately, Heretofore. Are you well?'
'Um… fine, sir,' said Heretofore.
'You must understand I sent Mr Cranberry with you for the best of reasons,' said Cosmo. 'Morpeth would have told someone, sooner or later, however much you paid him.'
'But the boy in the hat shop – '
'Exactly the same situation. And it was a fair fight. Was that not so, Cranberry?'
Cranberry's shiny bald head looked up from his book. 'Yes, sir. He was armed.'
'Bu – ' Heretofore began.
'Yes?' said Cosmo calmly.
'Er… nothing, sir. You are right, of course.' In possession of a small knife and very drunk. Heretofore wondered how much that counted against a professional killer.
'I am, aren't I?' said Cosmo in a kindly voice, 'and you are excellent at what you do. As is Cranberry. I shall have another little quest for you soon, I feel it. Now do go and get your supper.
As Heretofore opened the door Cranberry glanced up at Cosmo, who shook his head almost imperceptibly. Unfortunately for Heretofore, he had excellent peripheral vision.
He's going to find out, he's going to find out, he's going to find oouuuttt!!! he moaned to himself as he scurried along the corridors.
It's the damn ring, that's what it is! It's not my fault Vetinari has thin fingers! He would have smelled a rat if the bloody thing had fitted! Why didn't he let me have it made bigger? Hah, and if I had he'd have sent Cranberry along later to murder the jeweller! I know he'll send him after me, I know it!
Cranberry frightened Heretofore. The man was quietly spoken and modestly dressed. And when Cosmo did not require his services he sat and read books all day. That upset Heretofore. If the man were an illiterate thug things would, in some strange way, have been better, more… understandable. The man apparently had no body hair, too, and the gleam from his head could blind you in sunlight.
And it had all begun with a lie. Why had Cosmo believed him? Because he was mad, but regrettably not all the time; he was a sort of hobby madman. He had this… thing about Lord Vetinari.
Heretofore hadn't spotted that at first, he'd just wondered why Cosmo had fussed about his height at the job interview. And when Heretofore had told him he'd worked at the palace he'd been hired on the spot.
And that was the lie, right there, although Heretofore preferred to think of it as an unfortunate conjunction of two truths.
Heretofore had indeed been employed for a while at the palace, and thus far Cosmo had not found out that this was as a gardener. He had been a minor secretary at the Armourers' Guild before that, which was why he'd felt confident in saying 'I was a minor secretary and I was employed at the palace', a phrase that he felt Lord Vetinari would have examined with more care than the delighted Cosmo had done. And now here he was, advising a very important and clever man on the basis of as much rumour as he could remember or, in desperation, make up. And he was getting away with it. In his everyday business dealings Cosmo was cunning, ruthless and sharp as a tack, but when it came to anything to do with Vetinari he was as credulous as a child.
Heretofore noticed that his boss occasionally called him by the name of the Patrician's secretary, but he was being paid fifty dollars a month, food and own bed thrown in, and for that kind of money he'd answer to 'Daisy'. Well, perhaps not Daisy, but certainly Clive.
And then the nightmare had begun, and in the way of nightmares, everyday objects took on a sinister importance.
Cosmo had asked for an old pair of Vetinari's boots.
That had been a poser; Heretofore had never been inside the actual palace, but he'd got into the grounds that night by scaling the fence next to the old green garden gate, met one of his old mates who had to stay up all night to keep the hothouse boilers going, had a little chat, and the following night returned for a pair of old but serviceable black boots, size eight, and information from the boot boy that his lordship wore down the left heel slightly more than the right.
Heretofore couldn't see any difference in the boots presented, and no one was actually claiming as a fact that these were the fabled Boots Of Vetinari, but well-worn yet still useful boots floated down from the upper floors to the servants' quarters on a tide of noblesse oblige, and if these weren't the boots of the man himself then they had almost certainly, at the very least, sometimes been in the same room as his feet.
Heretofore handed over ten dollars for them and spent an evening wearing down the left heel enough to be noticeable. Cosmo paid him fifty dollars without flinching, although he did wince when he tried them on.
'If you want to understand a man, walk a mile in his shoes,' he'd said, hobbling the length of his office. What insight he'd glean if they were the man's under-butler's shoes, Heretofore couldn't guess at, but after half an hour Cosmo rang for a basin of cold water and some soothing herbs, and the shoes had not made an appearance since.
And then there had been the black skullcap. That had been the one stroke of luck in this whole business. It was even genuine. It was a safe bet that Vetinari bought them from Bolters in the Maul, and Heretofore had cased the place, entered when the senior partners were at lunch, spoke to the impecunious youth who worked the steamy cleaning and stretching machines in the back room - and found that one had been sent in for cleaning. Heretofore walked out with it, uncleaned, leaving the young man extremely pecunious and with instructions to wash a new cap for return to the palace.
Cosmo was beside himself and wanted to know all the details.
Next evening, it turned out that the pecunious youth spent the evening in a bar and died outside in a drunken brawl around midnight, short of money and even shorter of breath. Heretofore's room was next to Cranberry's. On reflection, he'd heard the man come in late that night.
And now there was the signet ring. Heretofore had told Cosmo that he could get a replica made and use his contacts - his very expensive contacts - at the palace to get it swapped for the real thing. He'd been paid five thousand dollars!
Five thousand dollars!
And the boss was overjoyed. Overjoyed and mad. He'd got a fake ring but he swore it had the spirit of Vetinari flowing in it. Perhaps it did, because Cranberry became part of the arrangement. If you got drawn into Cosmo's little hobby, Heretofore realized too late, you died.
He reached his room, darted inside and shut the door. Then he leaned on it. He ought to run, right now. His savings would buy a lot of distance. But the fear subsided a little as he collected his thoughts.
They told him: relax, relax. The Watch hadn't come knocking yet, had they? Cranberry was a professional, and the boss was full of gratitude.
So… why not one last trick? Make some real money! What could he 'obtain' that the boss would pay him another five thousand for?
Something simple but impressive, that would be the trick, and by the time he found out - if he ever did - Heretofore would be on the other side of the continent, with a new name and suntanned beyond recognition.
Yes… the very thing…
The sun was hot, and so were the dwarfs. They were mountain dwarfs and were not at home under open skies.
And what were they here for? The King wanted to know if anything valuable was taken out of the hole that the golems were digging for the mad smoking woman, but they weren't allowed to set foot in it, because that would be trespass. So they sat in the shade and sweated while, about once a day, the mad smoking woman who smoked all the time came and laid… things on a crude trestle table in front of them. The things had this in common: they were dull.
Theere was nothing to mine here, everyone knew. It was barren silt and sand all the way down. There was no fresh water. Such plants as survived here stored winter rain in swollen, hollow roots, or lived off the moisture in the sea mist. The place contained nothing of interest, and what came out of the long sloping tunnel bore this out to the point of boredom.
There were bones of old ships, and occasionally the bones of old sailors. There were a couple of coins, one silver, one gold, which were not dull enough and were duly confiscated. There were broken pots and pieces of statue, which were puzzled over, part of an iron cauldron, an anchor with a few links of chain.
It was clear, the dwarfs considered as they sat in the shade, that nothing came here except by boat. But remember: in matters of commerce and gold, never trust anyone who could see over your helmet.
And then there were the golems. They hated golems, because they moved silently, for all their weight, and looked like trolls. They arrived and departed all the time, fetching timbers from who knew where, marching down into the dark…
And then one day golems came pouring out of the hole, there was a lengthy discussion and the smoking woman marched over to the watchers. They watched her nervously, as fighters do when approached by a self-confident civilian they know they're not allowed to kill.
In broken dwarfish she told them that the tunnel had collapsed, and she was going to leave. All the things they'd dug out, she said, were gifts for the King. And she left, taking the wretched golems with her.
That was last week. Since then the tunnel had completely fallen in and the blowing sand had covered everything.
The money looked after itself. It sailed down the centuries, buried in paperwork, hidden behind lawyers, groomed, invested, diverted, converted, laundered, dried, ironed and polished and kept safe from harm and taxes, and above all kept safe from the Lavishes themselves. They knew their descendants - they'd raised them, after all - and so the money came with bodyguards of trustees, managers and covenants, disgorging only a measured amount of itself to the next generation, enough to maintain the lifestyle for which their name had become synonymous and with a bit left over for them to indulge in the family tradition of fighting amongst themselves over, yes, the money.
Now they were arriving, each family branch and often each individual with their own lawyer and bodyguards, being careful about whom they deigned to notice, just in case they inadvertently smiled at someone they were currently suing. As a family, people said, the Lavishes got along like a bagful of cats. Cosmo had watched them at the funeral, and they spent all their time watching one another, very much like cats, each one waiting for someone else to attack. But even so it would have been a decently dignified occasion, if only that moron nephew the old bitch had allowed to live in the cellar hadn't turned up in a grubby white coat and a yellow rain hat and kept on blubbing all through the ceremony. He had completely spoiled the occasion for everyone.
But now the funeral was over and the Lavishes were doing what they always did after funerals, which was talk about The Money.
You couldn't sit Lavishes around a table. Cosmo had set out small tables in a pattern that represented to the best of his knowledge the current state of the alliances and minor fratricidal wars, but there was a lot of shifting and scraping and threats of legal action before people settled down. Behind them the alert ranks of their lawyers paid careful attention, earning a total of a dollar every four seconds.
Apparently the only relative that Vetinari had was an aunt, Cosmo mused. That man had all the luck. When he was Vetinari, there would have to be a cull.
'Ladies and gentlemen,' he said, when the hissing and name-calling had died away, 'I am so glad to see so many of you here today – '
'Especially you, Pucci,' said Cosmo, smiling at his sister. Vetinari didn't have a sister like Pucci, either. No one did, Cosmo was prepared to bet. She was a fiend in vaguely human shape.
'You've still got something wrong with your eyebrow, you know,' said Pucci. She had a table by herself, a voice like a saw encountering a nail with a slight additional touch of foghorn, and was always referred to as 'a society beauty', which showed just how rich the Lavishes were. Cut in half, she might make two society beauties but not, at that point, very beautiful ones. While it was said that men she had spurned jumped off bridges in despair, the only person known to have said this was Pucci herself.
'I'm sure you all know – ' Cosmo began.
'Thanks to your side of the family's total incompetence you have lost us the bank!'
That came from the far corner of the room, but it triggered a rising chorus of complaint.
'We are all Lavishes here, Josephine,' he said sternly. 'Some of us were even born a Lavish.'
That didn't work. It ought to have done. It would have done for Vetinari, Cosmo was sure. But for Cosmo, it only upset people. The growls of objection got louder.
'Some of us make a better job of it!' snapped Josephine. She was wearing a necklace of emeralds, and they reflected a greenish light on her face. Cosmo was impressed.
Whenever possible, Lavishes married distant cousins, but it wasn't uncommon for a few, every generation, to marry outside, in order to avoid the whole 'three thumbs' situation. The women found handsome husbands who did what they were told, while the men found wives who, amazingly, were remarkably good at picking up the petulance and shaved-monkey touchiness that was the mark of a true Lavish.
Josephine sat down with a poisonous look of satisfaction at the muttered chorus of agreement. She sprang up again, for an encore: 'And what do you intend to do about this unforgivable situation? Your branch has put a mountebank in control of our bank! Again!'
Pucci span in her seat. 'How dare you say that about Father!'
'And how dare you say that about Mr Fusspot!' said Cosmo.
It would have worked for Vetinari, he knew it. It would have made Josephine look silly and raised Cosmo's stock in the room. It would have worked for Vetinari, who could raise his eyebrow like a visual rim shot.
'What? What? What are you talking about?' said Josephine. 'Don't be so silly, child! I'm talking about this Lipwig creature! He's a postman, for goodness' sake! Why haven't you offered him money?'
'I have,' said Cosmo, and added for his inner ear: III remember 'child', you whey-faced old boot. When I am a master of the eyebrow we shall see what you say then!
'I believe he is not interested in money.'
'What about the little doggie?' said an elderly voice. 'What happens if it passes away, gods forbid?'
'The bank comes back to us, Aunt Careful,' said Cosmo, to a very small old lady in black lace, who was engaged in some embroidery.
'No matter how the little doggie dies?' said Aunt Carefulness Lavish, paying fastidious attention to her needlework. 'There is always the option of poison, I am sure.'
With an audible whoosh Aunt Careful's lawyer rose to his feet and said, 'My client wishes to make it clear that she is merely referring to the general availability of noxious substances in general and this is not intended to be and in no way should be taken as an espousal of any illegal course of action.'
He sat down again, fee earned.
'Regrettably, the Watch would be all over us like cheap chain mail,' said Cosmo.
'Watchmen in our bank? Shut the door on them!'
'Times have moved on, Auntie. We can't do that any more.'
'When your great-grandfather pushed his brother over the balcony the Watch even took the body away for five shillings and a pint of ale all round!'
'Yes, Auntie. Lord Vetinari is the Patrician now.'
'And he'd allow watchmen to clump around in our bank?'
'Without a doubt, Auntie.'
'Then he is no gentleman,' the aunt observed sadly.
'He lets vampires and werewolves into the Watch,' said Miss Tarantella Lavish. 'It's disgusting, the way they're allowed to walk the streets like real people.'
- and something went ping! in Cosmo's memory.
'He's just like real people', said the voice of his father.
'This is your problem, Cosmo Lavish!' said Josephine, unwilling to see targets switched. 'It was your wretched father who – '
'Shut up,' said Cosmo calmly. 'Shut up. And those emeralds do not suit you, by the way.'
This was unusual. Lavishes might sue and conspire and belittle and slander, but there was such a thing as good manners, after all.
In Cosmo's head there was another ping, and his father saying: 'And he's managed to hide what he is so well, and at great pain. What he was is probably not even there any more. But you'd better know in case he starts acting funny. . .'
'My father rebuilt the business of the bank,' said Cosmo, the voice still ringing in his head as Josephine drew breath for a tirade, 'and you all let him. Yes, you let him. You didn't care what he did so long as the bank was available to you for all your little schemes, the ones we so carefully conceal and don't talk about. He bought out all the small shareholders, and you didn't mind so long as you got your dividends. It was just a shame that his choice in chums was flawed – '
'Not as bad as his choice of that upstart music-hall girl!' said Josephine.
' – although his choice in his last wife, however, was not,' Cosmo went on. 'Topsy was cunning, devious, ruthless and merciless. The problem I have is simply that she was better at all this than you are. And now I must ask you all to leave. I am going to get our bank back. Do see yourselves out.'
He got up, walked to the door, shut it carefully behind him, and then ran like hell for his study, where he stood with his back to the door and gloated, an exercise he had just the face for.
Good old Dad! Of course, that little talk had been back when he was ten and didn't have his own lawyer yet, and hadn't fully embraced the Lavish tradition of prickly and guarded involvement. But Dad had been sensible. He hadn't just been giving Cosmo advice, he'd been giving him ammunition which could be used against the others. What else was a father for?
Mr Bent! Was… not just Mr Bent. He was something out of nightmares. At the time the revelation had scared young Cosmo, and later on he'd been ready to sue his father over those sleepless nights, in the very best Lavish tradition, but he'd hesitated and that was just as well. It would all have come out in court and he'd have thrown away a wonderful gift.
So the Lipwig fellow thought he controlled the bank, did he? Well, you couldn't run the bank without Mavolio Bent, and by this time tomorrow he, Cosmo Lavish, would own Mr Bent. Hmm, yes… leave it perhaps a little longer. Another day of dealing with Lipwig's bizarre recklessness would wind up poor Mr Bent to the point where Cranberry's special powers of persuasion would hardly be required. Oh, yes.
Cosmo pushed his eyebrow up. He was getting the hang of it, he was sure. He'd been just like Vetinari out there, hadn't he? Yes, he had. The look on the family's faces when he'd told Josephine to shut up! Even the recollection made his spine tingle…
Was this the time? Yes, just for a minute, perhaps. He deserved it… He unlocked a drawer in his desk, reached inside, and pressed the hidden button. On the other side of his desk a secret compartment slid out. From it, Cosmo took a small black skullcap. It seemed as good as new. Heretofore was a genius.
Cosmo lowered the cap on to his head with great solemnity.
Someone knocked on the study door. This was pointless, since it was then slammed open.
'Locking yourself in your room again, bro?' said Pucci triumphantly.
At least Cosmo had strangled the impulse to snatch the cap from his head as if he'd been caught doing something dirty.
'It was not in fact locked, as you see,' he said, 'and you are forbidden to come within fifteen yards of me. I have an injunction.'
'And you are not allowed to be within twenty yards of me, so you broke it first,' said Pucci, pulling up a chair. She straddled it heavily and rested her arms on the back. The wood creaked.
'I wasn't the one who moved, I think?'
'Well, cosmically it's all the same,' said Pucci. 'You know, that's a dangerous obsession you have there.'
Now Cosmo took off the cap. 'I'm simply trying to get inside the man,' he said.
'A very dangerous obsession.'
'You know what I mean. I want to know how his mind works.'
'And this?' Pucci said, waving a hand at the large picture that hung on the wall opposite the desk.
'William Pouter's Man with dog. It's a painting of Vetinari. Notice how the eyes follow you around the room.'
'The dog's nose follows me around the room! Vetinari has a dog?'
'Had. Wuffles. Died some time ago. There's a little grave in the palace grounds. He goes there alone once a week and puts a dog biscuit on it.'
'Vetinari does that?'
'Vetinari the cool, heartless, calculating tyrant?' said Pucci.
'You're lying to your sweet dear sister, yes?'
'You can choose to believe that if you wish.' Cosmo exulted, deep inside. He loved to see that irate-chicken expression of furious curiosity on his sister's face.
'Information like that is worth money,' she said.
'Indeed. And I'm only telling you because it's useless unless you know where he goes, at what time, and on which day. It just may be, dear sweet Pucci, that what you call my obsession is in fact of great practical use. I watch, study and learn. And I believe that Moist von Lipwig and Vetinari must share some dangerous secret which could even – '
'But you just weighed in and offered Lipwig a bribe!' You could say this about Pucci: she was easy to confide in because she never bothered to listen. She used the time to think about what to say next.
'A ridiculously small one. And a threat, too. And so now he thinks he knows all about me,' said Cosmo, not even trying not to look smug. 'And I know nothing about him, which is even more interesting. How did he turn up out of nowhere and immediately get one of the highest jobs in – '
'What the hell is that?' demanded Pucci, whose massive inquisitiveness was hampered by the attention span of a kitten. She was pointing at the little diorama in front of the window.
'That? Oh – '
'Looks like an ornamental window-box. Is it Toytown? What's that all about? Tell me right now!'
Cosmo sighed. He didn't actually dislike his sister - well, more than the natural basic feeling of irksomeness all Lavishes felt for one another - but it was hard to like that loud, nasal, perpetually irritated voice, which treated anything Pucci didn't immediately understand, which was practically everything, as a personal affront.
'It is an attempt to achieve, by means of scale models, a view similar to that seen from the Oblong Office by Lord Vetinari,' he explained. 'It helps me think.'
'That's crazy. What kind of dog biscuit?' said Pucci.
Information also travelled through Pucci's apprehension at different speeds. It must be all that hair, thought Cosmo.
'Tracklement's Yums,' he said. 'The bone-shaped ones that come in five different colours. But he never leaves a yellow one because Wuffles didn't like them.'
'You know they say Vetinari is a vampire?' said Pucci, going off at a tangent to a tangent.
'Do you believe it?' said Cosmo.
'Because he's tall and thin and wears black? I think it takes a bit more than that!'
'And is secretive and calculating?' said Cosmo.
' You don't believe it, do you?'
'No, and it wouldn't make any real difference if he was, would it? But there are other people with more… dangerous secrets. Dangerous to them, I mean.'
'He could be one, yes.'
Pucci's eyes lit up. 'You know something, don't you?'
'Not exactly, but I think I know where there is something to be known.'
'Do you really want to know?'
'Of course I do!'
'Well, I have no intention of telling you,' said Cosmo, smiling. 'Don't let me detain you!' he added, as Pucci stormed out of the room.
Don't let me detain you. What a wonderful phrase Vetinari had devised. The jangling double meaning set up undercurrents of uneasiness in the most innocent of minds. The man had found ways of bloodless tyranny that put the rack to shame.
What a genius! And there, but for an eyebrow, went Cosmo Lavish.
He would have to make good the failings of cruel nature. The mysterious Lipwig was the key to Vetinari, and the key to Lipwig –
It was time to talk to Mr Bent.READ MORE >>