Making Money (Discworld #36)

Chapter 5

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Spending spree  -  Inadvisability of golem back-rubs  -  Giving away money  -  Some observations on the nature of trust  -  Mr Bent has a visitor  -  One of the Family

WHERE DO YOU TEST a bankable idea? Not in a bank, that was certain. You needed to test it where people paid far more attention to money, and juggled their finances in a world of constant risk where a split-second decision meant the difference between triumphant profit or ignominious loss. Generically it was known as the real world, but one of its proprietary names was Tenth Egg Street.

The Boffo Novelty and Joke Shop, in Tenth Egg Street, prop. J. Proust, was a haven for everyone who thought that fart powder was the last word in humour, which in many respects it is. It had caught Moist's eye, though, as a source of material for disguises and other useful things.

Moist had always been careful about disguises. A moustache that could come off at a tug had no place in his life. But since he had the world's most forgettable face, a face that was still a face in the crowd even when it was by itself, it helped, sometimes, to give people something to tell the Watch about. Spectacles were an obvious choice, but Moist got very good results with his own design of nose and ear wigs. Show a man a pair of ears that small songbirds had apparently nested in, watch the polite horror in his eyes, and you could be certain that that would be all he remembered.

Now, of course, Moist was an honest man, but part of him felt it necessary that he keep his hand in, just in case.

Today he bought a pot of glue and a large jar of fine gold sprinkles, because he could see a use for them.

'That will be thirty-five pence, Mr Lipwig,' said Mr Proust. 'Any new stamps coming along?'

'One or two, Jack,' said Moist. 'How's Ethel? And little Roger,' he added, after only a moment's shuffle through the files in his head.

'Very well, thank you for asking. Can I get you anything else?' Proust added hopefully, in case Moist might have a sudden recollection that life would be considerably improved by the purchase of a dozen false noses.

Moist glanced at the array of masks, scary rubber hands and joke noses, and considered his needs satisfied. 'Only my change, Jack,' he said, and carefully laid one of his new creations on the counter. 'Just give me half a dollar.'

Proust stared at it as if it might explode or vent some mind-altering gas. 'What's this, sir?'

'A note for a dollar. A dollar bill. It's the latest thing.'

'Do I have to sign it or anything?'

'No. That's the interesting bit. It's a dollar. It can be anyone's.'

'I'd like it to be mine, thank you!'

'It is, now,' said Moist. 'But you can use it to buy things.'

'There's no gold in it,' said the shopkeeper, picking it up and holding it away from his body, just in case.

'Well, if I paid in pennies and shillings there would be no gold in them either, right? As it is, you're fifteen pence ahead, and that's a good place to be, agreed? And that note is worth a dollar. If you take it along to my bank, they'll give you a dollar for it.'

'But I've already got a dollar! Er, haven't I?' Proust added.

'Good man! So why not go out in the street and spend it right now? Come on, I want to see how it works.'

'Is this like the stamps, Mr Lipwig?' said Proust, clutching for something he could understand. 'People sometimes pay me in stamps, me doing a lot of mail-order – '

'Yes! Yes! Exactly! Think of it as a big stamp. Look, I'll tell you what, this is an introductory offer. Spend that dollar and I'll give you another bill for a dollar, so that you'll still have a dollar. So what are you risking?'

'Only if this is, like, one of the first dollar bills, right… well, my lad bought some of the first stamps you did, right, and now they're worth a mint, so if I hang on to it, it'll be worth money some day – '

'It's worth money now? Moist wailed. That was the trouble with slow people. Give him a fool any day. Slow people took some time to catch up, but when they did they rolled right over you.

'Yes, but, see,' and here the shopkeeper grinned what he probably thought was an artful grin that in fact made him look like Mr Fusspot halfway through a toffee, 'you're a sly one with them stamps, Mr Lipwig, bringin' out different ones all the time. My granny says if it's true a man's got enough iron in his blood to make a nail then you've got enough brass in your neck to make a doorknob, no offence meant, she speaks her mind does my granny – '

'I've made the mail run on time, haven't I?'

'Oh, yes, Gran says you may be a Slippery Jim but you get things done, no doubt about it – '

'Right! Let's spend a damn dollar, then, shall we?' Is it some kind of duplex magical power I have, he wondered, that lets old ladies see right through me but like what they see?

And thus Mr Proust decided to hazard his dollar in the shop next door, on an ounce of Jolly Sailor pipe tobacco, some mints and a copy of What Novelty?. And Mr 'Natty' Poleforth, once the exercise was explained, accepted the note and took it across the road to Mr Drayman the butcher, who cautiously accepted it, after having things set out fair and square for him, in payment for some sausages and also gave Moist a bone 'for your little doggie'. It was more than likely that Mr Fusspot had never seen a real bone before. He circled it carefully, waiting for it to squeak.

Tenth Egg Street was a street of small traders, who sold small things in small quantities for small sums on small profits. In a street like that, you had to be small-minded. It wasn't the place for big ideas. You had to look at the detail. These were men who saw far more farthings than dollars.

Some of the other shopkeepers were already pulling down the shutters and closing up for the day. Drawn by the Ankh-Morporkian's instinct for something interesting, the traders drifted over to see what was going on. They all knew one another. They all dealt with one another. And everyone knew Moist von Lipwig, the man in the gold suit. The notes were examined with much care and solemn discussion.

'It's just an IOU or marker, really.'

'All right, but supposing you needed the money?'

'But, correct me if I'm wrong, isn't the IOU the money?'

'All right then, who owes it to you?'

'Er… Jack here, because… No, hang on… it is the money, right?'

Moist grinned as the discussion wobbled back and forth. Whole new theories of money were growing here like mushrooms, in the dark and based on bullshit. But these were men who counted every half-farthing and slept at night with the cash box under their bed. They'd weigh out flour and raisins and hundreds-and-thousands with their eyes ferociously focused on the scale's pointer, because they were men who lived in the margins. If he could get the idea of paper money past them then he was home and, if not dry, then at least merely Moist.

'So you think these could catch on?' he said, during a lull.

The consensus was, yes, they could, but they should look 'fancier', in the words of Natty Poleforth: 'You know, with more fancy lettering and similar.'

Moist agreed, and handed over a note to every man, as a souvenir. It was worth it.

'And if it all goes wahoonie-shaped,' said Mr Proust, 'you've still got the gold, right? Locked up down there in the cellar?'

'Oh, yes, you've got to have the gold,' said Mr Drayman.

There was a general murmur of agreement, and Moist felt his spirits slump.

'But I thought we'd all agreed that you don't need the gold?' he said. In fact they hadn't, but it was worth a try.

'Ah, yes, but it's got to be there somewhere,' said Mr Drayman.

'It keeps banks honest,' said Mr Poleforth, in that tone of plonking certainty that is the hallmark of that most knowledgeable of beings, The Man In The Pub.

'But I thought you understood,' said Moist. 'You don't need the gold!'

'Right, sir, right,' said Poleforth soothingly. 'Just so long as it's there.'

'Er, do you happen to know why it has to be there?' said Moist.

'Keeps banks honest,' said Poleforth, on the basis that truth is achieved by repetition. And, with nods all round, this was the feeling of Tenth Egg Street. So long as the gold was somewhere, it kept banks honest and everything was okay. Moist felt humbled by such faith. If the gold was somewhere, herons would no longer eat frogs, either. But in fact there was no power in the world that could keep a bank honest if it didn't want to be.

Still, not a bad start to his first day, even so. He could build on it.

It started to rain, not hard, but the kind of fine rain where you can almost get away without an umbrella. No cabs bothered to trawl Tenth Egg Street for trade, but there was one at the kerb in Losing Street, the horse sagging in the harness, the driver hunched into his greatcoat, the lamps flickering in the dusk. With the rain getting to the blobby, soaking stage, it was a sight for damp feet.

He hurried over, climbed in, and a voice in the gloom said: 'Good evening, Mr Lipwig. It's so nice to meet you at last. I'm Pucci. I'm sure we will be friends…'

'Now, you see, that was good,' said Sergeant Colon of the Watch, as the figure of Moist von Lipwig disappeared round the corner, still accelerating. 'He went right through the cab window without touching the sides, bounced off that bloke creepin' up, very nice roll as he landed, I thought, and he still had hold of the little dog the whole time. Done it before, I shouldn't wonder. Nevertheless, I'm forced, on balance, to consider him a twit.'

'The first cab,' said Corporal Nobbs, shaking his head. 'Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I would not have thought it of a man like him.'

'My point exactly,' said Colon. 'When you know you've got enemies at large, never, never get in the first cab. Fact of life. Even things what live under rocks know it.'

They watched the former creeper gloomily picking up the remains of his iconograph, while Pucci screamed at him from the coach.

'I bet when the first cab was built, no one dared to get into it, eh, sarge?' said Nobby happily. 'I bet the first cabby used to go home every night starvin' on account of everyone knowin', right?'

'Oh, no, Nobby, people with no enemies at large would be okay. Now let's go and report.'

'What does it mean, "at large", anyway,' said Nobby, as they ambled towards the Chittling Street Watch House and the certain prospect of a cup of hot sweet tea.

'It means large enemies, Nobby. It's as clear as the nose on your face. Especially yours.'

'Well, she's a large girl, that Pucci Lavish.'

'And nasty enemies to have, that family,' Colon opined. 'What's the odds?'

'Odds, sarge?' said Nobby innocently.

'You're runnin' a book, Nobby. You always run a book.'

'Can't get any takers, sarge. Foregone conclusion,' said Nobby.

'Ah, right. Sensible. Lipwig goin' to be found lyin' in chalk by Sunday?'

'No, sarge. Everyone thinks he'll win.'

Moist woke up in the big soft bed and strangled a scream.

Pucci! Aaagh! And in a state of what the delicately inclined called dishabille. He'd always wondered what dishabille looked like, but he'd never expected to see so much of it in one go. Even now some of his memory cells were still trying to die.

But he wouldn't be Moist von Lipwig if a certain amount of insouciance didn't rise to heal the wounds. He'd got away, after all. Oh, yes. It wasn't as though it was the first window he'd jumped through. And the sound of Pucci's scream of rage was almost as loud as the crack the man's iconograph made as it hit the cobbles. The ol' honey trap game. Hah. But it was high time he did something illegal, just to get his mind back to a proper state of cynical self-preservation. He wouldn't have got into the first cab a year ago, that was for sure. Mind you, it would be a strange jury that believed he could be attracted to Pucci Lavish; he couldn't see that standing up in court.

He got up, dressed and listened hopefully for signs of life from the kitchen. In their absence, he made himself some black coffee.

Armed with this he made his way into the office, where Mr Fusspot dozed in his in-tray and the official top hat sat, accusingly black.

Ah, yes, he was going to do something about that, wasn't he?

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the little pot of glue, which was one of the convenient ones with a brush in the lid, and after some careful spreading began to pour the glittering flakes as smoothly as he could.

He was still engrossed in this exercise when Gladys loomed in his vision like an eclipse of the sun, holding what turned out to be a bacon and egg sandwich two feet long and one-eighth of an inch thick. She'd also picked up his copy of the Times.

He groaned. He'd made the front page. He usually did. It was his athletic mouth. It ran away with him whenever he saw a notebook.

Er… he'd made page two as well. Oh, and the lead editorial. Bugger, even the political cartoon, too, the one that was never much of a laugh.

First Urchin: 'Why ain't Ankh-Morpork like a desert island?'

Second Urchin: "cos when yer on a desert island the sharks can't bite yer!'

It was side-splitting.

His bleary eyes strayed back to the editorial. They, on the other hand, could be quite funny, since they were based on the assumption that the world would be a much better place if it was run by journalists. They were -  What? What was this?

Time to consider the unthinkable… a wind of change blowing through the vaults at last… undoubted success of the new Post Office… stamps already a de facto currency… fresh ideas needed… youth at the helm…

Youth at the helm? This from William de Worde, who was almost certainly the same age as Moist but wrote editorials that suggested his bum was stuffed with tweed.

It was sometimes hard to tell in all the ponderousness what de Worde actually thought about anything, but it appeared through the rolling fog of polysyllables that the Times believed Moist von Lipwig to be, on the whole and all things considered, taking the long view and one thing with another, probably the right man in the right job.

He was aware of Gladys behind him when red light glinted off the brasswork on the desk.

'You Are Very Tense, Mr Lipwig,' she said.

'Yeah, right,' said Moist, reading the editorial again. Ye gods, the man really did write as though he was chipping the letters in stone.

'There Was An Interesting Article About Back-Rubs In The Ladies' Own Magazine,' Gladys went on. Later, Moist felt that perhaps he should have heeded the hopeful note in her voice. But he was thinking: not just carved, but with big serifs, too.

'They Are Very Good For Relieving Tension Caused By The Hurly-Burly Of Modern Life,' Gladys intoned.

'Well, we certainly don't want any of that,' said Moist, and everything went black.

The strange thing was, he thought, when Peggy and Aimsbury had brought him round and clicked bones back into the right sockets, that he actually felt a lot better. Perhaps that was the idea. Perhaps the hideous white-hot pain was there to make you realize that there were worse things in the world than the occasional twinge.

'I Am Very Sorry,' said Gladys, 'I Did Not Know That Was Going To Happen. It Said In The Magazine That The Recipient Would Experience A Delightful Frisson.'

'I don't think that means you should be able to see your own eyeball,' said Moist, rubbing his neck. Gladys's eyes dimmed so much that he was moved to add: 'I feel much better now, though. It's so nice to look down and not see my heels.'

'Don't you listen to him, it wasn't that bad,' said Peggy, with sisterly fellow feeling. 'Men always make a big fuss over a little pain.'

'They Are Just Big Cuddly Babies, Really,' said Gladys. That caused a thoughtful pause.

'Where did that come from?' said Moist.

'The Information Was Imparted To Me By Glenda At The Stamp Counter.'

'Well, from now on I don't want you to – '

The big doors swung open. They let in a hubbub from the floors below, and riding the noise like some kind of aural surfer was Mr Bent, saturnine and far too shiny for this time of the morning.

'Good morning, Master,' he said icily. 'The street outside is full of people. And might I take this opportunity to congratulate you on disproving a theory currently much in vogue at Unseen University?'

'Huh?' said Moist.

'There are, some like to suggest, an infinite number of universes in order to allow everything that may happen a place to happen in. This is of course nonsense, which we entertain only because we believe words are the same as reality. Now, however, I can prove my point, since in such an infinity of worlds there would have to be one where I would applaud your recent actions and, let me assure you, sir, infinity is not that big!' He drew himself up. 'People are hammering on the doors! They want to close their accounts! I told you banking was about trust and confidence!'

'Oh dear,' said Moist.

'They are asking for gold!'

'I thought that's what you prom – '

'It is only a metaphorical promise! I told you, it is based on the understanding that no one will actually demand it!'

'How many people want to withdraw their money?' said Moist.

'Nearly twenty!'

'Then they are making a lot of noise, aren't they?'

Mr Bent looked uncomfortable. 'Well, there are some others,' he said. 'A few misguided people are seeking to open accounts, but – '

'How many?'

'About two or three hundred, but – '

'Opening accounts, you say?' said Moist. Mr Bent was squirming.

'Only for trifling sums, a few dollars here and there,' he said dismissively. 'It would appear that they think you have "something up your sleeve".' The inverted commas shuddered like a well-bred girl picking up a dead vole.

Some of Moist recoiled. But part of him began to feel the wind on his face.

'Well, let's not disappoint them, shall we?' he said, picking up the gold top hat, which was still a bit sticky. Bent glared at it.

'The other banks are furious, you know,' he said, high-stepping hurriedly after Moist as the Master of the Mint headed for the stairs.

'Is that good or bad?' said Moist over his shoulder. 'Listen, what's the rule about bank lending? I heard it once. It's about interest.'

'Do you mean "Borrow at one-half, lend at two, go home at three"?' said Bent.

'Right! I've been thinking about that. We could shave those numbers, couldn't we?'

'This is Ankh-Morpork! A bank has to be a fortress! That is expensive!'

'But we could alter them a bit, couldn't we? And we don't pay interest on balances of less than a hundred dollars, correct?'

'Yes, that is so.'

'Well, from now on anyone can open an account with five dollars and we'll start paying interest a lot earlier. That'll smooth out the lumps in the mattresses, won't it?'

'Master, I protest! Banking is not a game!'

'Dear Mr Bent, it is a game, and it's an old game called "What can we get away with?".'

A cheer went up. They had reached an open landing that overlooked the hall of the bank as a pulpit overlooks the sinners, and a field of faces stared up at Moist in silence for a moment. Then someone called out: 'Are you going to make us all rich, Mr Lipwig?'

Oh damn, thought Moist. Why are they all here?

'Well, I'm going to do my best to get my hands on your money!' he promised.

This got a cheer. Moist wasn't surprised. Tell someone you were going to rob them and all that happened was that you got a reputation as a truthful man.

The waiting ears sucked at his tongue, and his common sense went and hid. It heard his mouth add: And so I can get more of it, I think  -  that is to say, the chairman thinks  -  that we should be looking at one per cent interest on all accounts that have five dollars in them for a whole year.'

There was a choking sound from the chief cashier, but no great stir from the crowd, most of whom were of the Sock Under The Mattress persuasion. In fact, the news did not appear to please. Then someone raised his hand and said: 'That's a lot to pay just to have you stick our money in your cellar, isn't it?'

'No, it's what I'll pay you to let me stick your money in my cellar for a year,' said Moist.

'You will?'

'Certainly. Trust me.'

The enquirer's face twisted into the familiar mask of a slow thinker trying to speed up. 'So where's the catch?' he managed.

Everywhere, thought Moist. For one thing, I won't be storing it in my cellar, I'll be storing it in someone else's pocket. But you really don't need to know that right now.

'No catch,' he said. 'If you put a hundred dollars on deposit, then after a year it'll be worth one hundred and one dollars.'

'That's all very well for you to say, but where would the likes of me get a hundred dollars?'

'Right here, if you invest just one dollar and wait for  -  how long, Mr Bent?'

The chief cashier snorted. 'Four hundred and sixty-one years!'

'Okay, it's a bit of a wait, but your great-great-great-et cetera grandchildren will be proud of you,' said Moist, above the laughter. 'But I'll tell you what I'll do: if you open an account here today for, oh, five dollars, we'll give you a free dollar on Monday. A free dollar to take away, ladies and gentlemen, and where are you going to get a better deal than – '

'A real dollar, pray, or one of these fakes?'

There was a commotion near the door, and Pucci Lavish swept in. Or, at least, tried to sweep. But a good sweep needs planning, and probably a rehearsal. You shouldn't just go for it and hope. All you get is a lot of shoving.

The two heavies there to clear a way through the press of people were defeated by sheer numbers, which meant that the rather slimmer young men leading her exquisitely bred blond hounds got stuck behind them. Pucci had to shoulder her way through.

It could have been so good, Moist felt. It had all the right ingredients: the black-clad bruisers so menacing, the dogs so sleek and blond. But Pucci herself had been blessed with beady, suspicious little eyes and a generous upper lip which combined with the long neck to put the honest observer in mind of a duck who'd just been offended by a passing trout.

Someone should have told her that black was not her colour, that the expensive fur had looked better on its original owners, that if you are going to wear high heels then this week's fashion tip is don't wear sunglasses at the same time because when you walk out of the bright sunlight into the relative gloom of, say, a bank, you will lose all sense of direction and impale the foot of one of your own bodyguards. Someone should have told her, in fact, that true style comes from innate cunning and mendacity. You can't buy it.

'Miss Pucci Lavish, ladies and gentlemen!' said Moist, starting to clap as Pucci whipped her sunglasses off and advanced on the counter with murder in her eyes. 'One of the directors who will join us all in making money.'

There was some clapping from the crowd, most of whom had never seen Pucci before but wanted the free show.

'I say! Listen to me! Everyone listen to me,' she commanded. Once again she waved what seemed to Moist to look very much like one of the experimental dollar bills. 'This is just worthless paper! This is what he will be giving you!'

'No, it's the same as an open cheque or a banker's draft,' said Moist.

'Really? We shall see! I say! Good people of Ankh-Morpork! Do any of you think this piece of paper could be worth a dollar? Would anyone give me a dollar for it?' Pucci waved the paper dismissively.

'Dunno. What is it?' said someone, and there was a buzz from the crowd.

'An experimental banknote,' said Moist, over the growing hubbub. 'Just to try out the idea.'

'How many of them are there, then?' said the enquiring man.

'About twelve,' said Moist.

The man turned to Pucci. 'I'll give you five dollars for it, how about that?'

'Five? It says it's worth one!' said Pucci, aghast.

'Yeah, right. Five dollars, miss.'

'Why? Are you insane?'

'I'm as sane as the next man, thank you, young lady!'

'Seven dollars here!' said the next man, raising a hand.

'This is madness!' wailed Pucci.

'Mad?' said the next man. He pointed a finger at Moist. 'If I'd bought a pocketful of the black penny stamps when that feller brought them out last year I'd be a rich man!'

'Anyone remember the Triangular Blue?' said another bidder. 'Fifty pence, it cost. I put one on a letter to my aunt; by the time it got there it was worth fifty dollars! And the ol' baggage wouldn't give it back!'

'It's worth a hundred and sixty now,' said someone behind him.

'Auctioned at Dave's Stamp and Pin Emporium last week. Ten dollars is my bid, miss!'

'Fifteen here!'

Moist had a good view from the stairs. A small consortium had formed at the back of the hall, working on the basis that it was better to have small shares than none at all.

Stamp collecting! It had started on day one, and then ballooned like some huge… thing, running on strange, mad rules. Was there any other field where flaws made things worth more? Would you buy a suit just because one arm was shorter than the other? Or because a bit of spare cloth was still attached? Of course, when Moist had spotted this he'd put in flaws on purpose, as a matter of public entertainment, but he certainly hadn't planned for Lord Vetinari's head to appear upside down just once on every sheet of Blues. One of the printers had been about to destroy them when Moist brought him down with a flying tackle.

The whole business was unreal, and unreal was Moist's world. Back when he'd been a naughty boy he'd sold dreams, and the big seller in that world was the one where you got very rich by a stroke of luck. He'd sold glass as diamond because greed clouded men's eyes. Sensible, upright people, who worked hard every day, nevertheless believed, against all experience, in money for nothing. But the stamp collectors… they believed in small perfections. It was possible to get one small part of the world right. And even if you couldn't get it right, you at least knew what bit was missing. It might be, f'r instance, the flawed 50p Triangular Blue, but there were still six of them out there, and who knew what piece of luck might attend the dedicated searcher?

Rather a large piece would be needed, Moist had to admit, because four of them were safely tucked away for a rainy day in a little lead box under the floorboards in Moist's office. Even so, two were out there somewhere, perhaps destroyed, lost, eaten by snails or  -  and here hope lay thick as winter snow  -  still in some unregarded bundle of letters at the back of a drawer.

– and Miss Pucci simply didn't know how to work a crowd. She stamped and demanded attention and bullied and insulted and it didn't help that she'd called them 'good people', because no one likes an outright liar. And now she was losing her temper, because the bidding had reached thirty-four dollars. And now-

-she'd torn it up!

'That's what I think of this silly money!' she announced, throwing the pieces in the air. Then she stood there panting and looking triumphant, as if she'd done something clever.

A kick in the teeth to everyone there. It made you want to cry, it really did. Oh, well…

Moist pulled one of the new notes out of his pocket and held it up.

'Ladies and gentlemen!' he announced. 'I have here one of the increasingly rare first-generation One Dollar notes'  -  he had to pause for the laughter  -  'signed by myself and the chairman. Bids over forty dollars, please! All proceeds to the little kiddies!'

He ran it up to fifty, bouncing a couple of bids off the wall. Pucci stood ignored and steaming with rage for a while and then flounced out. It was a good flounce, too. She had no idea how to handle people and she tried to make self-esteem do the work of self-respect, but the girl could flounce better than a fat turkey on a trampoline.

The lucky winner was already surrounded by his unlucky fellow bidders by the time he reached the bank's doors. The rest of the crowd surged towards the counters, not sure what was going on but determined to have a piece of it.

Moist cupped his hands and shouted: 'And this afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Bent and myself will be available to discuss bank loans!' This caused a further stir.

'Smoke and mirrors, Mr Lipwig,' said Bent, turning away from the balustrade. 'Nothing but smoke and mirrors…'

'But done without smoke and in a total absence of mirror, Mr Bent!' said Moist cheerfully.

'And the "kiddies"?' said Bent.

'Find some. There's bound to be an orphanage that needs fifty dollars. It'll be an anonymous donation, of course.'

Bent looked surprised. 'Really, Mr Lipwig? I'll make no bones about saying that you seem to me to be the sort of man who makes a great Razz Arm Ma Tazz about giving money to charity.' He made razzmatazz sound like some esoteric perversion.

'Well, I'm not. Do good by stealth, that is my watchword.' It'll get found out soon enough, he added to himself, and then I'm not only a jolly good chap but a decently modest one, too.

I wonder… Am I really a bastard or am I just really good at thinking like one?

Something nudged at his mind. Tiny hairs on the back of his neck were twitching. Something was wrong, out of place… dangerous.

He turned and looked down again at the hall. People were milling around, forming into lines, talking in groups –

In a world of movement, the eye is drawn to stillness. In the middle of the banking hall, unheeded by the throng, a man was standing as if frozen in time. He was all in black, with one of those flat wide hats often worn by the more sombre Omnian sects. He just… stood. And watched.

Just another gawper along to see the show, Moist told himself, and knew at once that he was lying. The man was causing a weight in his world.

I have lodged affidavits…

Him? About what? Moist had no past. Oh, a dozen aliases had managed a pretty busy and eventful past between them, but they had evaporated along with Albert Spangler, hanged by the neck until not-quite-dead and awoken by Lord Vetinari, who'd offered Moist von Lipwig a life all shiny and new –

Ye gods, he was getting jumpy, just because some old guy was looking at him with a funny little smile! No one knew him! He was Mr Forgettable! If he walked around the town without the gold suit on, he was just another face.

'Are you all right, Mr Lipwig?'

Moist turned and looked into the face of the chief cashier. 'What? Oh… no. I mean yes. Er… have you ever seen that man before?'

'What man would that be?'

Moist turned back to point out the man in black, but he had gone.

'Looked like a preacher,' he mumbled. 'He was… well, he was looking at me.'

'Well, you do rather invite it. Perhaps you'd agree that the golden hat was a mistake?'

'I like the hat! There's no hat like it!'

Bent nodded. 'Fortunately, this is true, sir. Oh, dear. Paper money. A practice used only by the heathen Agateans…'

'Heathen? They've got far more gods than us! And over there gold is worth less than iron!'

Moist relented. Bent's face, usually so controlled and aloof, had crumpled like a piece of paper. 'Look, I've been reading. The banks issue coins to four times the amount of the gold they hold. That's a nonsense we could do without. It's a dream world. This city is rich enough to be its own gold bar!'

'They're trusting you for no good reason,' said Bent. 'They trust you because you make them laugh. I do not make people laugh, and this is not my world. I don't know how to smile like you do and talk like you do. Don't you understand? There must be something which has a worth that goes beyond fashion and politics, a worth that endures. Are you putting Vetinari in charge of my bank? What guarantees the savings that those people are thrusting over our counter?'

'Not what, who. It's me. I am personally going to see that this bank does not fail.'

'You?'

'Yes.'

'Oh yes, the man in the gold suit,' said Bent sourly. 'And if all else fails, will you pray?'

'It worked last time,' said Moist calmly.

Bent's eye twitched. For the first time since Moist had met him he seemed… lost.

'I don't know what you want me to do!'

It was almost a wail. Moist patted him on the shoulder.

'Run the bank, like you always have. I think we should set up some loans, with all this cash coming in. Are you a good judge of character?'

'I thought I was,' said Bent. 'Now? I have no idea. Sir Joshua, I am sorry to say, was not. Mrs Lavish was very, very good, in my opinion.'

'Better than you could possibly know,' said Moist. 'Good. I shall take the chairman for his walkies, and then… we'll spread some money around. How about that?'

Mr Bent shuddered.

The Times did an early-afternoon edition with a big picture on the front page of the queue winding out of the bank. Most of the queue wanted to get in on the act, whatever the act turned out to be, and the rest were queueing on the basis that there might be something interesting at the other end. There was a boy selling the paper, and people were buying it to read the story entitled 'Huge Queue Swamps Bank', which seemed a bit odd to Moist. They were in the queue, weren't they? Was it only real if they read about it?

'There are already some… people wishing to enquire about loans, sir,' said Bent, behind him. 'I suggest you let me deal with them.'

'No, we will, Mr Bent,' said Moist, turning away from the window. 'Show them into the downstairs office, please.'

'I really think you should leave this to me, sir. Some of them are rather new to the idea of banking,' Bent persisted. 'In fact I don't think some of them have ever been in a bank before, except perhaps during the hours of darkness.'

'I would like you to be present, of course, but I will make the final decision,' said Moist, as loftily as he could manage. 'Aided by the chairman, naturally.'

"Mr Fusspot?

'Oh yes.'

'He is an expert judge, is he?'

'Oh, yes!'

Moist picked up the dog and headed for the office. He could feel the chief cashier glaring at his back.

Bent had been right. Some of the people waiting hopefully to see him about a loan were thinking in terms of a couple of dollars until Friday. They were easy enough to deal with. And then there were others…

'Mr Dibbler, isn't it?' said Moist. He knew it was, but you had to speak like that when you sat behind a desk.

'That's right, sir, man and boy,' said Mr Dibbler, who had a permanently eager, rodent-like cast to his countenance. 'I could be someone else if you like.'

'And you sell pork pies, sausages, rat-on-a-stick…'

'Er, I purvey them, sir,' Dibbler corrected him, 'on account of being a purveyor.'

Moist looked at him over the paperwork. Claude Maximillian Overton Transpire Dibbler, a name bigger than the man himself. Everyone knew C. M. O. T. Dibbler. He sold pies and sausages off a tray, usually to people who were the worse for drink who then became the worse for pies.

Moist had eaten the odd pork pie and occasional sausage in a bun, however, and that very fact interested him. There was something about the stuff that drove you back for more. There had to be some secret ingredient, or maybe the brain just didn't believe what the taste buds told it, and wanted to feel once again that flood of hot, greasy, not entirely organic, slightly crunchy substances surfing across the tongue. So you bought another one.

And, it had to be said, there were times when a Dibbler sausage in a bun was just what you wanted. Sad, yet true. Everyone had moments like that. Life brought you so low that for a vital few seconds that charivari of strange greases and worrying textures was your only friend in all the world.

'Do you have an account with us, Mr Dibbler?'

'Yessir, thankyousir,' said Dibbler, who had refused an invitation to put down his tray and sat with it held defensively in front of him. The bank seemed to make the streetwise trader nervous. Of course, it was meant to. That was the reason for all the pillars and marble. They were there to make you feel out of place.

'Mr Dibbler has opened an account with five dollars,' said Bent.

'And I have brought along a sausage for your little doggie,' said Dibbler.

'Why do you need a loan, Mr Dibbler?' said Moist, watching Mr Fusspot sniff the sausage carefully.

'I want to expand the business, sir,' said Dibbler.

'You've been trading for more than thirty years,' said Moist.

'Yessir, thankyousir.'

'And your products are, I think I can say, unique…'

'Yessir, thankyousir.'

'So I imagine that now you need our help to open a chain of franchised cafes trading on the Dibbler name, offering a variety of meals and drinks bearing your distinctive likeness?' said Moist.

Mr Fusspot jumped down from the desk with the sausage held gently in his mouth, dropped it in the corner of the office, and tried industriously to kick the carpet over it.

Dibbler stared at Moist, and then said: 'Yessir, if you insist, but actually I was thinking about a barrow.'

'A barrow?' said Bent.

'Yessir. I know where I can get a nice little second-hand one with an oven and everything. Painted up nice, too. Wally the Gimp is quitting the jacket potato business 'cos of stress and he'll let me have it for fifteen dollars, cash down. A not-to-be-missed opportunity, sir.' He looked nervously at Mr Bent and added: 'I could pay you back at a dollar a week.'

'For twenty weeks,' said Bent.

'Seventeen,' said Moist.

'But the dog just tried to – ' Bent began.

Moist waved away the objection. 'So we have a deal, Mr Dibbler?'

'Yessir, thankyousir,' said Dibbler. 'That's a good idea you've got there, about the chain and everything, though, and I thank you. But I find that in this business it pays to be mobile.'

Mr Bent counted out fifteen dollars with bad grace and began to speak as soon as the door closed behind the trader. 'Even the dog wouldn't – '

'But humans will, Mr Bent,' said Moist. 'And therein lies genius. I think he makes most of his money on the mustard, but there's a man who can sell sizzle, Mr Bent. And that is a seller's market.'

The last prospective borrower was heralded first by a couple of muscular men who took up positions on either side of the door, and then by a smell that overruled even the persistent odour of a Dibbler sausage. It wasn't a particularly bad smell, putting you in mind of old potatoes or abandoned tunnels; it was what you got when you started out with a severely foul stink and then scrubbed hard but ineffectually, and it surrounded King like an emperor's cloak.

Moist was astonished. King of the Golden River, they called him, because the foundation of his fortune was the daily collection his men made of the urine from every inn and pub in the city. The customers paid him to take it away, and the alchemists, tanners and dyers paid him to bring it to them.

But that had been only the start. Harry King's men took away everything. You saw their carts everywhere, especially around dawn. Every rag-and-bone man and rubbish siever, every dunnikin diver, every gongfermor, every scrap-metal merchant… you worked for Harry King, they said, because a broken leg was bad for business, and Harry was all about business. They said that if a dog in the street looked even a bit strained a King's man would be there in a flash to hold a shovel under its arse, because prime dog muck fetched 9p a bucket from the high-class tanners. They paid Harry. The city paid Harry. Everyone paid Harry. And what he couldn't sell back to them in more fragrant form went to feed his giant compost heaps downriver, which on frosty days sent up such great plumes of steam that kids called them the cloud factories.

Apart from his hired help, King was accompanied by a skinny young man clutching a briefcase.

'Nice place you got here,' said Harry, sitting down in the chair opposite Moist. 'Very sound. The wife's been on at me to get curtains like that. I'm Harry King, Mr Lipwig. I've just put fifty thousand dollars in your bank.'

'Thank you very much, Mr King. We shall do our best to look after it.'

'You do that. And now I'd like to borrow one hundred thousand, thank you,' said Harry, pulling out a fat cigar.

'Have you got any security, Mr King?' said Bent.

Harry King didn't even look at him. He lit the cigar, puffed it into life, and waved it in the general direction of Bent.

'Who's this, Mr Lipwig?'

'Mr Bent is our chief cashier,' said Moist, not daring to look at Bent's face.

'A clerk, then,' said Harry King dismissively, 'an' that was a clerk's question.'

He leaned forward. 'My name is Harry King. That's your security, right there, an' it should be good for a hundred grand in these parts. Harry King. Everyone knows me. I pay what's owing an' I take what's owed, my word, don't I just. My handshake is my fortune. Harry King.'

He slammed his huge hands down on the table. Except for the pinky of his left hand, which was missing, there was a heavy gold ring on each finger, and each ring was incised with a letter. If you saw them coming at you, as for instance in an alley because you'd been skimming something off the take, the last name you would see would be H*A*R*R*Y*K*I*N*G. It was a fact worth keeping in the forefront of your brain, in the interests of keeping the forefront of your brain.

Moist looked up into the man's eyes.

'We shall need a lot more than that,' growled Bent, from somewhere above Moist.

Harry King didn't bother to look up. He said: 'I only talks to the organ grinder.'

'Mr Bent, could you step outside for a few minutes,' said Moist brightly, 'and perhaps Mr King's… associates will do the same?'

Harry King nodded almost imperceptibly.

'Mr Lipwig, I really – '

'Please, Mr Bent.'

The chief cashier snorted, but followed the thugs out of the office. The young man with the briefcase made as if to leave, but Harry waved him back into his seat.

'You want to watch that Bent,' he said. 'There's something funny about him.'

'Odd, maybe, but he wouldn't like to be called funny,' said Moist. 'So why does Harry King need money, Mr King? Everyone knows you're rich. Has the bottom dropped out of the dog-muck business? Or vice versa?'

'I'm cons-sol-id-ating,' said King. 'This Undertaking business… there's going to be a few opportunities for a man in the right place. There's land to buy, palms to grease… you know how it is. But them other banks, they won't lend to King of the Golden River, for all it's my lads what keeps their cesspits fragrant as a violet. Them stuck-up ponces'd be up to their ankles in their own piss if it weren't for me, but they holds their noses when I walks by, oh yeah.' He stopped, as if a thought had occurred, and went on: 'Well, most people do, o'course, it's not like a man can take a bath every five bloody minutes, but that bunch of bankers still gives me the cold shoulder even when the wife has scrubbed me raw. How dare they! I'm a better risk than most of their smarmy customers, you can bet on that. I employs a thousand people in this city, mister, one way or another. That's a thousand families lookin' to me for their dinner. I might be about muck, but I don't muck about.'

He's not a crook, Moist reminded himself. He pulled himself out of the gutter and beat his way to the top in a world where a length of lead pipe was the standard negotiating tool. That world wouldn't trust paper. In that world, reputation was all.

'A hundred thousand is a lot of money,' he said aloud.

'You'll give it to me, though,' said King, grinning. 'I knows you will, 'cos you're a chancer, same as me. I can smell it on you. I smell a lad who's done a thing or two in his time, eh?'

'We all have to eat, Mr King.'

' 'course we do. 'course we do. An' now we can sit back like a coupla judges an' be pillows of the community, eh? So we'll shake hands on it like the gentlemen we ain't. This here,' he went on, laying a huge hand on the shoulder of the young man, 'is Wallace, my clerk what does the sums for me. He's new, on account of the last one I had I caught fiddlin' me. That was a laugh, as you can imagine!' Wallace didn't smile.

'I probably can,' said Moist. Harry King guarded his various premises with creatures that could only be called dogs because wolves aren't that insane. And they were kept hungry. There were rumours, and Harry King was probably happy about that. It paid to advertise. You didn't double-cross Harry King. But it worked both ways.

'Wallace can talk numbers with your monkey,' said Harry, standing up. 'You'll want to squeeze me, right enough. Business is business, and don't I know it. What do you say?'

'Well, I'd say we have an agreement, Mr King,' Moist said. Then he spat on his hand and held it out.

It was worth it to see the look on the man's face.

'I didn't know bankers did that,' said Harry.

'They don't often shake hands with Harry King, then,' said Moist. That was probably overdoing it, but King winked, spat on his own hand, and grasped Moist's. Moist had been prepared, but even so the man's grip ground his finger bones together.

'You're more full of bullshit than a frightened herd on fresh pasture, Mr Lipwig.'

'Thank you, sir. I take that as a compliment.'

'And just to keep your monkey happy, I'll deposit the deeds of the paper mill, the big yard and a few other properties,' said Harry. 'Give 'em to the man, Wallace.'

'You should have said that in the first place, Mr King,' said Moist, as some impressive scrolls were handed over.

'Yeah, but I didn't. Wanted to make sure of you. When can I have my money?'

'Soon. When I've printed it.'

Harry King wrinkled his nose. 'Oh, yeah, the paper stuff. Me, I like money that clinks, but Wallace here says paper's the coming thing.' He winked. 'And it's not like I can complain, since ol' Spools buys his paper off'f me these days. Can't turn me nose up at me own manufacture now, can I? Good day to you, sir!'

Mr Bent strode back into the office twenty minutes later, his face like a tax demand, to find Moist vaguely staring at a sheet of paper on the worn green leather desk.

'Sir, I must protest – '

'Did you nail him down to a good rate?' said Moist.

'I pride myself that I did, but the way you – '

'We will do well out of Harry King, Mr Bent, and he will do well out of us.'

'But you're turning my bank into some sort of – '

'Not counting friend Harry, we took in more than four thousand dollars today. Most of them were from what you'd call poor people, but there's far more of them than rich people. We can set that money to work. And we won't lend to scoundrels this time, don't you worry about that. I'm a scoundrel, and I can spot them a mile off. Please pass on our compliments to the counter staff. And now, Mr Bent, Mr Fusspot and I are going to see a man about making money.'

Teemer & Spools had gone up in the world because of the big stamp contract. They'd always done the best printing work in any case, but now they had the men and muscle to bid for all the big contracts. And you could trust them. Moist always felt rather guilty when he went into the place; Teemer & Spools seemed to represent everything that he only pretended to be.

There were plenty of lights on when he went in. And Mr Spools was in his office, writing in a ledger. He looked up and when he saw Moist smiled the smile you save for your very best customer.

'Mr Lipwig! What can I do for you? Do take a seat! We don't see so much of you these days!'

Moist sat and chatted, because Mr Spools liked to chat.

Things were difficult. Things are always difficult. There were a lot more presses around these days. T&S were staying ahead of the game by staying on top of it. Regrettably, said Mr Spools, with a straight face, their 'friendly' rivals, the wizards at Unseen University Press, had come a cropper with their talking books –

'Talking books? That sounds a good idea,' said Moist.

'Quite possibly,' said Spools with a sniff. 'But these weren't meant to, and certainly not to complain about the quality of their glue and the hamfistedness of the typesetter. And of course now the university can't pulp them.'

'Why not?'

'Think of the screaming! No, I pride myself that we are still riding the wave. Er… was there something special you wanted?'

'What can you do with this?' said Moist, putting one of the new dollars on the table.

Spools picked it up and read it carefully. Then, in a faraway voice, he said: 'I did hear something. Does Vetinari know you're planning this?'

'Mr Spools, I'll bet he knows my shoe size and what I had for breakfast.'

The printer put down the bill as if it was ticking. 'I can see what you're doing. Such a small thing, and yet so dangerous.'

'Can you print them?' said Moist. 'Oh, not that one. I made up a batch just to test the idea. I mean high-quality banknotes, if I can find an artist to draw them.'

'Oh, yes. We are a byword for quality. We're building a new press to keep pace with demand. But what about security?'

'What, in here? No one has ever bothered you so far, have they?'

'No, they haven't. But up until now we haven't had lots of money lying around, if you see what I mean.'

Spools held up the note and let it go. It wafted gently from side to side until it landed on the desk. 'So light, too,' he went on. 'A few thousand dollars would be no problem to carry.'

'But kind of hard to melt down. Look, build the new press in the Mint. There's a lot of space. End of problem,' said Moist.

'Well, yes, that would make sense. But a press is a big thing to move, you know. It'll take days to shift it. Are you in a hurry? Of course you are.'

'Hire some golems. Four golems will lift anything. Print me dollars by the day after tomorrow and the first thousand you print are a bonus.'

'Why are you always in such a hurry, Mr Lipwig?'

'Because people don't like change. But make the change happen fast enough and you go from one type of normal to another.'

'Well, we could hire some golems, I suppose,' said the printer. 'But I fear there are other difficulties less easy to overcome. Do you realize that if you start printing money then you will get forgeries. It's not worth the trouble, maybe, for a twenty-pence stamp, but if you want, say, a ten-dollar note… ?' He raised his eyebrows.

'Probably, yes. Problems?'

'Big ones, my friend. Oh, we can help. Decent linen paper with a pattern of raised threads, watermarks, a good spirit ink, change the plates often to keep it sharp, little tricks with the design… and make it complex, too. That's important. Yes, we could do it for you. They will be expensive. I strongly suggest you find an engraver as good as this…' Mr Spools unlocked one of the lower drawers of his desk and tossed a sheet of 50p Green 'Tower of Art' stamps on to the blotter. Then he handed Moist a large magnifying glass.

'That's top-quality paper, of course,' the printer said as Moist stared.

'You're getting very good. I can see every detail,' Moist breathed, poring over the sheet.

'No,' said Spools, with some satisfaction. 'In fact, you cannot. You might, though, with this.' He unlocked a cupboard and handed Moist a heavy brass microscope.

'He's put in more detail than we did,' he said, as Moist focused. 'It's at the very limit of what metal and paper can be persuaded to do. It is, I declare, a work of genius. He would be your salvation.'

'Amazing,' said Moist. 'Well, we've got to have him! Who does he work for now?'

'No one, Mr Lipwig. He is in prison, awaiting the noose.'

' Owlswick Jenkins?'

'You testified against him, Mr Lipwig,' said Spools mildly.

'Well, yes, but only to confirm that they were our stamps he was copying, and how much we might be losing! I didn't expect he'd be hanged!'

'His lordship is always touchy when it's a case of treason against the city, as he describes it. I think Jenkins was badly served by his lawyer. After all, his work made our stamps look like the real forgeries. You know, I got the impression the poor chap didn't really realize that what he was doing was wrong.'

Moist recalled the watery frightened eyes and the expression of helpless puzzlement. 'Yes,' he said. 'You may be right.'

'Could you perhaps use your influence with Vetinari't – '

'No. It wouldn't work.'

'Ah. Are you sure?'

'Yes,' said Moist flatly.

'Well, you see, there's only so much we can do. We can even number the bills automatically now. But the artwork must be of the finest kind. Oh dear. I'm sorry. I wish I could help. We owe you a great debt, Mr Lipwig. So much official work is coming in now that we'd need the space in the Mint. My word, we're practically the government's printer!'

'Really?' said Moist. 'That's very… interesting.'

It rained ungracefully. The gutters gargled, and tried to spit. Occasionally the wind caught the cascading overflow from the rooftops and slapped a sheet of water across the face of anyone who looked up. But this was not a night to look up. This was a night to scurry, bent double, for home.

Raindrops hit the windows of Mrs Cake's boarding house, specifically the one in the rear room occupied by Mavolio Bent, at the rate of twenty-seven a second, plus or minus fifteen per cent.

Mr Bent liked counting. You could trust numbers, except perhaps for pi, but he was working on that in his spare time and it was bound to give in sooner or later.

He sat on his bed, watching the numbers dance in his head. They'd always danced for him, even in the bad times. And the bad times had been so very bad. Now, perhaps, there were more ahead.

Someone knocked at his door. He said, 'Come in, Mrs Cake.'

The landlady pushed open the door.

'You always know it's me, don't you, Mr Bent,' said Mrs Cake, who was more than a trifle nervous of her best lodger. He paid his rent on time  -  exactly on time  -  and he kept his room scrupulously clean and, of course, he was a professional gentleman. All right, he had a haunted look about him and there was that odd business with his carefully adjusting the clock before he went to work every day, but she was prepared to put up with that. There was no shortage of lodgers in this crowded city, but clean ones who paid regularly and never complained about the food were thin enough on the ground to be worth cherishing, and if they put a strange padlock on their wardrobe, well, least said soonest mended.

'Yes, Mrs Cake,' said Bent. 'I always know it's you because there is a distinctive one point four seconds between the knocks.'

'Really? Fancy!' said Mrs Cake, who rather liked the sound of 'distinctive'. 'I always say you're the man for the adding-up. Er, there is going to be three gentlemen downstairs asking after you…'

'When?'

'In about two minutes,' said Mrs Cake.

Bent stood up in one unfolding movement, like a Jack-in-the-box. 'Men? What will they be wearing?'

'Well, er, just, you know, clothes?' said Mrs Cake uncertainly. 'Black clothes. One of them will hand me his card, but I won't be able to read it because I'll have my wrong spectacles on. Of course, I could go and put the right ones on, obviously, but I get such a headache if I don't let a premonition go properly. Er… and now you're going to say "Please let me know when they arrive, Mrs Cake".' She looked at him expectantly. 'Sorry, but I had a premonition that I'd come up to tell you I had a premonition, so thought I'd better. It's a bit silly, but none of us can change how we're made, I always say.'

'Please let me know when they arrive, Mrs Cake,' said Bent. Mrs Cake gave him a grateful look before hurrying away.

Mr Bent sat down again. Life with Mrs Cake's premonitions could get a little intricate at times, especially now they were becoming recursive, but it was part of the Elm Street ethos that you were charitable towards the foibles of others in the hope of a similar attitude to your own. He liked Mrs Cake, but she was wrong. You could change how you were made. If you couldn't, there was no hope.

After a couple of minutes he heard the ring of the bell, the muted conversation, and went through the motions of surprise when she knocked on his door.

Bent inspected the visiting card.

'Mr Cosmo? Oh. How strange. You had better send them up.' He paused, and looked around. Subdivision was rife in the city now. The room was exactly twice the size of the bed, and it was a narrow bed. Three people in here would have to know one another well. Four would know one another well whether they wanted to or not. There was a small chair, but Bent kept it on top of the wardrobe, out of the way.

'Perhaps just Mr Cosmo,' he suggested.

The man was proudly escorted in a minute later.

'Well, this is a wonderful little hideaway, Mr Bent,' Cosmo began. 'So handy for, um – '

'Nearby places,' said Bent, lifting the chair off the wardrobe. 'There you are, sir. I don't often have visitors.'

'I'll come straight to the point, Mr Bent,' said Cosmo, sitting down. 'The directors do not like the, ha, direction things are going. I'm sure you don't, either.'

'I could wish for them to be otherwise, sir, yes.'

'He should have held a directors' meeting!'

'Yes, sir, but bank rules say he needn't do so for a week, I'm afraid.'

'He will ruin the bank!'

'We are in fact getting many new customers, sir.'

'You can't possibly like the man? Not you, Mr Bent?'

'He is easy to like, sir. But you know me, sir. I do not trust those who laugh too easily. The heart of a fool is in the house of mirth. He should not be in charge of your bank.'

'I like to think of it as our bank, Mr Bent,' said Cosmo generously, 'because, in a very real way, it is ours.'

'You are too kind, sir,' said Bent, staring down at the floorboards visible through the hole in the cheap oilcloth which was itself laid bare, in a very real way, by the bald patch in the carpet which, in a very real way, was his.

'You joined us quite young, I believe,' Cosmo went on. 'My father himself gave you a job as trainee clerk, didn't he?'

'That is correct, sir.'

'He was very… understanding, my father,' said Cosmo. 'And rightly so. No sense in dredging up the past.' He paused for a little while to let this sink in. Bent was intelligent, after all. No need to use a hammer when a feather would float down with as much effect.

'Perhaps you could find some way that will allow him to be removed from office without fuss or bloodshed? There must be something,' he prompted. 'No one just steps out of nowhere. But people know even less about his past than they do about, for the sake of argument, yours.'

Another little reminder. Bent's eye twitched. 'But Mr Fusspot will still be chairman,' he mumbled, while the rain rattled on the glass.

'Oh yes. But I'm sure he will then be looked after by someone who is, shall we say, better capable of translating his little barks along more traditional lines?'

'I see.'

'And now I must be going,' said Cosmo, standing up. 'I'm sure you have a lot of things to'  -  he looked around the barren room which showed no sign of real human occupation, no pictures, no books, no debris of living, and concluded  -  'do?'

'I will go to sleep shortly,' said Mr Bent.

'Tell me, Mr Bent, how much do we pay you?' said Cosmo, glancing at the wardrobe.

'Forty-one dollars per month, sir,' said Bent.

'Ah, but of course you get wonderful job security.'

'So I had hitherto believed, sir.'

'I just wonder why you choose to live here?'

'I like the dullness, sir. It expects nothing of me.'

'Well, time to go,' said Cosmo, slightly faster than he really should. 'I'm sure you can be of help, Mr Bent. You have always been a great help. It would be such a shame if you could not be of help at this time.'

Bent stared at the floor. He was trembling.

'I speak for all of us when I say that we think of you as one of the family,' Cosmo went on. He rethought this sentence with reference to the peculiar charms of the Lavishes and added: 'but in a good way.'

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