The Joy of Collops - Mr Bent goes out to lunch - The Dark Fine Arts - Amateur thespians, avoidance of embarrassment by - The Pen of Doom! - Professor Plead gets cosy - 'Lust comes in many varieties' - A Hero of Banking! - Cribbins's cup runneth over
THE SUN SHONE THROUGH the window of the bank's dining room on to a scene of perfect pleasure.
'You should sell tickets,' said Adora Belle dreamily, with her chin in her hands. 'People who are depressed would come here and go away cured.'
'It's certainly hard to watch it happening and be sad,' said Moist.
'It's the enthusiastic way he tries to turn his mouth inside out,' said Adora Belle.
There was a gulp from Mr Fusspot as the last of the sticky toffee pudding went down. He then turned the bowl over hopefully, in case there was any more. There never had been, but Mr Fusspot was not a dog to bow down to the laws of causality.
'So…' said Adora Belle, 'a mad old lady - all right, a very astute mad old lady - died and gave you her dog, which sort of wears this bank on its collar, and you've told everyone that gold is worth less than potatoes, and you broke a dastardly criminal out of your actual Death Row, he's in the cellar designing "banknotes" for you, you've upset the nastiest family in the city, people are queueing to join the bank because you make them laugh… what have I missed?'
'I think my secretary is, uh, getting sweet on me. Well, I say secretary, she's sort of assumed that she is.'
Some fiancees would have burst into tears or shouted. Adora Belle burst out laughing.
And she's a golem,' said Moist.
The laughter stopped. 'That's not possible. They don't work that way. Anyway, why should a golem think he's female? It's never happened before.'
'I bet there haven't been many emancipated golems before. Besides, why should he think he's male? And she bats her eyelashes at me… well, that's what she thinks she's doing, I think. The counter girls are behind this. Look, I'm serious. Trouble is, so is she.'
'I'll have a word with him… or, as you say, her.'
'Good. The other thing is, there's this man – '
Aimsbury poked his head around the door. He was in love.
'Would you like some more minced collops, miss?' he said, waggling his eyebrows as if to indicate that the joys of minced collops were a secret known only to a few.
'You've still got more?' said Adora Belle, looking down at her plate. Not even Mr Fusspot could have cleaned it better, and she'd already cleaned it twice.
'Do you know what they are?' said Moist, who'd settled again for an omelette, made by Peggy.
'Nor do I. But my granny used to do them and they are one of my happiest childhood memories, thank you very much. Don't spoil it.' Adora Belle beamed at the delighted chef. 'Yes please, Aimsbury, just a little more, then. And could I just say that the flavour could really be brought out by just a touch of gar – '
'You are not eating, Mr Bent,' said Cosmo. 'Perhaps a little of this pheasant?'
The chief cashier looked around nervously, uneasy in this grand house full of art and servants. 'I… I want to make it clear that my loyalty to the bank is – '
' – beyond question, Mr Bent. Of course.' Cosmo pushed a silver tray towards him. 'Do eat something, now you have come all this way.'
'But you are hardly eating at all, Mr Cosmo. Just bread and water!'
'I find it helps me think. Now, what was it you wanted to – '
'They all like him, Mr Cosmo! He just talks to people and they like him! And he is really set on dismissing gold. Think of it, sir! Where would we find true worth? He says it's all about the city but that puts us at the mercy of politicians! It's trickery again!'
'A little brandy would do you good, I think,' said Cosmo. 'And what you say is solid gold truth, but where is our way forward?'
Bent hesitated. He did not like the Lavish family. They crawled over the bank like ivy, but at least they didn't try to change things and at least they believed in the gold. And they weren't silly.
Mavolio Bent had a definition of 'silly' that most people would have considered a touch on the broad side. Laughter was silly. Theatricals, poetry and music were silly. Clothes that weren't grey, black or at least of undyed cloth were silly. Pictures of things that weren't real were silly (pictures of things that were real were unnecessary). The ground state of being was silliness, which had to be overcome with every mortal fibre.
Missionaries from the stricter religions would have found in Mavolio Bent an ideal convert, except that religion was extremely silly.
Numbers were not silly. Numbers held everything together. And gold was not silly. The Lavishes believed in counting and in gold. Mr Lipwig treated numbers as if they were something to play with and he said gold was just lead on holiday! That was more than silly, it was inappropriate behaviour, a scourge that he had torn from his breast after years of struggle.
A man had to go. Bent had worked his way up the echelons of the. bank over many years, fighting every natural disadvantage, and it hadn't been to see this… person make a mockery of it all! No!
'That man came to the bank again today,' he said. 'He was very odd. And he seemed to know Mr Lipwig, but he called him Albert Spangler. Talked as if he knew him from long ago and I think Mr Lipwig was upset at that. Name of Cribbins, or so Mr Lipwig called him. Very old clothes, very dusty. He made out he was a holy man, but I don't think so.'
'And that was what was odd, was it?'
'No, Mr Cosmo – '
'Just call me Cosmo, Malcolm. We surely needn't stand on ceremony.'
'Er… yes,' said Mavolio Bent. 'Well, no, it wasn't that. It was his teeth. They were those dine-chewers, and they moved and rattled when he spoke, causing him to slurp.'
'Ah, the old type with the springs,' said Cosmo. 'Very good. And Lipwig was annoyed?'
'Oh, yes. And the strange thing was, he said he didn't know the man but he called him by name.'
Cosmo smiled. 'Yes, that is strange. And the man left?'
'Well, yes, si - Mr - Cosmo,' said Bent. 'And then I came here.'
'You have done very well, Matthew! Should the man come in again, could you please follow him and try to find out where he is staying?'
'If I can, si - Mr - Cosmo.'
'Good man!' Cosmo helped Bent out of his chair, shook his hand, waltzed him to the door, opened it and ushered him out all in one smooth, balletic movement.
'Hurry back, Mr Bent, the bank needs you!' he said, closing the door. 'He's a strange creature, don't you think, Drumknott?'
I wish he'd stop doing that, Heretofore thought. Does he think he's Vetinari? What do they call those fishes that swim alongside sharks, making themselves useful so they don't get eaten? That's me, that's what I'm doing, just hanging on, because it's much safer than letting go.
'How would Vetinari find a badly dressed man, new to the city, with ill-fitting teeth, Drumknott?' said Cosmo.
Fifty dollars a month and all found, thought Heretofore, snapping out of a brief marine nightmare. Never forget it. And in another few clays you're free.
'He makes much use of the Beggars' Guild, sir,' he said.
'Ah, of course. See to it.'
'There will be expenses, sir.'
'Yes, Drumknott, I'm conscious of the fact. There are always expenses. And the other matter?'
'Soon, sir, soon. This is not a job for Cranberry, sir. I'm having to bribe at the highest level.' Heretofore coughed. 'Silence is expensive, sir…'
Moist escorted Adora Belle back to the university in silence. But the important thing was that nothing had been broken and no one had been killed.
Then as if reaching a conclusion after much careful thought, Adora Belle said: 'I worked in a bank for a while, you know, and hardly anyone got stabbed.'
'I'm sorry, I forgot to warn you. And I did push you out of the way in time.'
'I must admit that the way you threw me to the floor quite turned my head.'
'Look, I'm sorry, okay? And so is Aimsbury! And now will you tell me what all this is about? You found four golems, right? Have you brought them back?'
'No, the tunnel collapsed before we got down that far. I told you, they were half a mile down under millions of tons of sand and mud. For what it's worth, we think there was a natural ice dam up in the mountains, which burst and flooded half the continent. The stories about Um say it was destroyed in a flood, so that fits. The golems were washed away with the rubble, which ended up against some chalk cliffs by the sea.'
'How did you find out they were down there? It's… well, it's nowhere!'
'The usual way. One of our golems heard one singing. Imagine that. It's been underground for sixty thousand years…'
In the night under the world, in the pressure of the depth, in the crushing of the dark… a golem sang. There were no words. The song was older than words; it was older than tongues. It was the call of the common clay, and it carried for miles. It travelled along fault lines, made crystals sing in harmony in dark unmeasured caverns, followed rivers that never saw the sun…
… and out of the ground and up the legs of a golem from the Golem Trust, who was pulling a waggon loaded with coal along the region's one road. When he arrived in Ankh-Morpork he told the Trust. That was what the Trust did: it found golems.
Cities, kingdoms, countries came and went, but the golems that their priests had baked from clay and filled with holy fire tended to go on for ever. When they had no more orders, no more water to fetch or wood to hew, perhaps because the land was now on the sea bed or the city was inconveniently under fifty feet of volcanic ash, they did nothing but wait for the next order. They were, after all, property. Each obeyed whatever instructions were written on the little scroll in his head. Sooner or later, rock erodes. Sooner or later a new city would arise. One day there would be orders.
Golems had no concept of freedom. They knew they were artefacts; some even still bore, on their clay, the finger marks of the long-dead priest. They were made to be owned.
There had always been a few in Ankh-Morpork, running errands, doing chores, pumping water deep underground, unseen and silent and not getting in anyone's way. Then one day, someone freed a golem by inserting in its head the receipt for the money he'd paid for it. And then he told it that it owned itself.
A golem could not be freed by orders, or a war, or a whim. But it could be freed by freehold. When you have been a possession, then you really understand what freedom means, in all its magnificent terror.
Dorfl, the first freed golem, had a plan. He worked hard, around the clock he had no time for, and bought another golem. The two golems worked hard and bought a third golem… and now there was the Golem Trust, which bought golems, found golems entombed underground of in the depths of the sea, and helped golems buy themselves.
In the booming city golems were worth their weight in gold. They would accept small wages but they earned them for twenty-four hours a day. It was still a bargain - stronger than trolls, more reliable than oxen, and more indefatigable and intelligent than a dozen of each, a golem could power every machine in a workshop.
This didn't make them popular. There was always a reason to dislike a golem. They didn't drink, eat, gamble, swear or smile. They worked. If a fire broke out, they hurried en masse to put it out and then walked back to what they had been doing. No one knew why a creature that had been baked into life had the urge to do this, but all it won them was a kind of awkward resentment. You couldn't be grateful to an unmoving face with glowing eyes.
'How many are down there?' said Moist.
'I told you. Four.'
Moist felt relieved. 'Well, that's good. Well done. Can we have a proper celebratory meal tonight? Of something the animal wasn't so attached to? And then, who knows – '
'There may be a snag,' said Adora Belle slowly.
'Oh, please.' Adora Belle sighed. 'Look, the Umnians were the first golem-builders, do you understand? Golem legend says that the Umnians invented golems. It's easy to believe, too. Some priest baking a votive offering says the right words, and the clay sits up. It was their only invention. They didn't need any more. Golems built their city, golems tilled their fields. They invented the wheel, but as a children's toy. They didn't need wheels, you see. You don't need weapons, either, when you've got golems instead of city walls. You don't even need shovels – '
'You're not going to tell me they built fifty-foot-high killer golems, are you?'
'Only a man would think of that.'
'It's our job,' said Moist. 'If you don't think of fifty-foot-high killer golems first, someone else will.'
'Well, there's no evidence of them,' said Adora Belle briskly. 'The Umnians never even worked iron. They did work bronze, though… and gold.'
There was something about the way 'gold' was left hanging there that Moist didn't like.
'Gold,' he said.
'Umnian is the most complex language ever,' said Adora Belle quickly. 'None of the Trust golems know much about it, so we can't be certain – '
'Gold,' said Moist, but his voice was leaden.
'So when the digging team found caves down there we came up with a plan. The tunnel was getting unstable anyway so they closed it off, we said it had collapsed, and by now some of the team will have brought the golems out under the sea and are bringing them underwater all the way into the city,' said Adora Belle.
Moist pointed at the golem's arm in its bag, 'That one isn't gold,' he said hopefully.
'We found a lot of golem remains about halfway down,' said Adora Belle with a sigh. 'The others are deeper… er, perhaps because they're heavier.'
'Gold's twice the weight of lead,' said Moist gloomily.
'The buried golem is singing in Umnian,' said Adora Belle. 'I can't be certain of our translation, so I thought, let's start by getting them into Ankh-Morpork, where they'll be safe.'
Moist took a deep breath. 'Do you know how much trouble you can get into by breaking a contract with a dwarf?'
'Oh, come on! I'm not starting a war!'
'No, you're starting a legal action! And with the dwarfs that's even worse! You told me the contract said you couldn't take precious metals off the land!'
'Yes, but these are golems. They're alive.'
'Look, you've taken – '
' – may have taken – '
' – all right, may have taken, good grief, tons of gold out of dwarf land – '
'Golem Trust land – '
'All right, but there was a covenant! Which you broke when you took – '
' – didn't take. It walked off by itself,' said Adora Belle calmly.
'For heavens' sake, only a woman could think like this! You think because you believe there's a perfectly good justification for your actions the legal issues don't matter! And here am I, this close to persuading people here that a dollar doesn't have to be round and shiny and I'm finding that at any minute four big shiny beaming golems are going to stroll into town, waving and glittering at everybody!'
'There's no need to get hysterical,' said Adora Belle.
'Yes, there is! What there isn't a need for is staying calm!'
'Yes, but that's when you come alive, right? That's when your brain works best. You always find a way, right?'
And there was nothing you could do about a woman like that. She just turned herself into a hammer and you ran right into her.
They'd reached the entrance to the university. Above them loomed the forbidding statue of Alberto Malich, the founder. It had a chamber pot on its head. This had inconvenienced the pigeon which, by family tradition, spent most of its time perched on Alberto's head and now wore on its own head a miniature version of the same pottery receptacle.
Must be Rag Week again, thought Moist. Students, eh? Love 'em or hate 'em, you're not allowed to hit 'em with a shovel.
'Look, golems or not, let's have dinner tonight, just you and me, up in the suite. Aimsbury would love it. He doesn't often get a chance to cook for humans and it'd make him feel better. He'll do anything you want, I'm sure.'
Adora Belle gave him a lopsided look. 'I thought you'd suggest that," so I ordered sheep's head. He was overjoyed.'
'Sheep's head?' said Moist gloomily. 'You know I hate food that stares back. I won't even look a sardine in the face.'
'He promised to blindfold it.'
'My granny did a wonderful sheep's head mould,' said Adora Belle. 'That's where you use pig's trotters to thicken the broth so that when it gets cold you – '
'You know, sometimes there's such a thing as too much information?' said Moist. 'This evening, then. Now let's go and see your dead wizard. You should enjoy it. There's bound to be skulls.'
There were skulls. There were black drapes. There were complex symbols drawn on the floor. There were spirals of incense from black thuribles. And in the middle of all this the Head of Post-Mortem Communications, in a fearsome mask, was fiddling with a candle.
He stopped when he heard them come in, and straightened up hurriedly.
'Oh, you're early,' he said, his voice somewhat muffled by the fangs. 'Sorry. It's the candles. They should be cheap tallow for the proper black smoke, but wouldn't you know it, they've given me beeswax. I told them just dribbling is no good to me, acrid smoke is what we want. Or what they want, anyway. Sorry, John Hicks, head of department. Ponder has told me all about you.'
He took off the mask and extended a hand. The man looked as though he'd tried, like any self-respecting necromancer, to grow a proper goatee beard, but owing to some basic lack of malevolence it had turned out a bit sheepish. After a few seconds Hicks realized why they were staring, and pulled off the fake rubber hand with the black fingernails.
'I thought necromancy was banned,' said Moist.
'Oh, we don't do necromancy here,' said Hicks. 'What made you think that?'
Moist looked around at the furnishings, shrugged, and said, 'Well, I suppose it first crossed my mind when I saw the way the paint was flaking off the door and you can still just see a crude skull and the letters NECR…'
'Ancient history, ancient history,' said Hicks quickly. 'We are the Department of Post-Mortem Communications. A force for good, you understand. Necromancy, on the other hand, is a very bad form of magic done by evil wizards.'
'And since you are not evil wizards, what you are doing can't be called necromancy?'
'And, er, what defines an evil wizard?' said Adora Belle.
'Well, doing necromancy would definitely be there right on top of the list.'
'Could you just remind us what you are going to do?'
'We're going to talk to the late Professor Flead,' said Hicks.
'Who is dead, yes?'
'Very much so. Extremely dead.'
'Isn't that just a tiny bit like necromancy?'
'Ah, but, you see, for necromancy you require skulls and bones and a general necropolitan feel,' said Dr Hicks. He looked at their expressions. 'Ah, I see where you're going here,' he said, with a little laugh that cracked a bit around the edges. 'Don't be deceived by appearances. I don't need all this. Professor Flead does. He's a bit of a traditionalist and wouldn't get out of his urn for anything less than the full Rite of Souls complete with Dread Mask of Summoning.' He twanged a fang.
'And that's the Dread Mask of Summoning, is it?' said Moist. The wizard hesitated for a moment before saying: 'Of course.'
'Only it looks just like the Dread Sorcerer mask they sell in Boffo's shop in Tenth Egg Street,' said Moist. 'Excellent value at five dollars, I thought.'
'I, er, think you must be mistaken,' said Hicks.
'I don't think so,' said Moist. 'You left the label on.'
'Where? Where?' The I'm-not-a-necromancer-at-all snatched up the mask and turned it over in his hands, looking for –
He saw Moist's grin and rolled his eyes. 'All right, yes,' he muttered. 'We lost the real one. Everything gets lost round here, you just wouldn't believe it. They're not clearing up the spells properly. Was there a huge squid in the corridor?'
'Not this afternoon,' said Adora Belle.
'Yes, what's the reason for the squid?'
'Oooh, let me tell you about the squid!' said Hicks.
'You don't want to know about the squid!'
'Believe me! Are you sure it wasn't there?'
'It's the sort of thing you notice,' said Adora Belle.
'With any luck that one's worn off, then,' said Hicks, relaxing. 'It really is getting impossible. Last week everything in my filing cabinet filed itself under "W". No one seems to know why.'
'And you were going to tell us about the skulls,' said Adora Belle.
'All fake,' said Hicks.
'Excuse me?' The voice was dry and crackly and came from the shadows in the far corner.
'Apart from Charlie, of course,' Hicks added hurriedly. 'He's been here for ever!
'I'm the backbone of the department,' said the voice, a shade proudly.
'Look, shall we get started?' said Hicks, rummaging in a black velvet sack. 'There are some hooded black robes on the hook behind the door. They're just for show, of course, but nee - Post-Mortem Communications is all about theatre, really. Most of the people we… communicate with are wizards, and frankly they don't like change.'
'We're not going to do anything… ghoulish, are we?' said Adora Belle, looking at a robe doubtfully.
'Apart from talk to someone who's been dead for three hundred years,' said Moist. He was not naturally at ease in the presence of skulls. Humans have been genetically programmed not to be ever since monkey times, because a) whatever turned that skull into a skull might still be around and you should head for a tree now, and b) skulls look like they're having a laugh at one's expense.
'Don't worry about that,' said Hicks, taking a small ornamental jar out of the black bag and polishing it on his sleeve. 'Professor Flead willed his soul to the university. He's a bit crabby, I have to say, but he can be cooperative if we put on a decent show.' He stood back. 'Let's see… grisly candles, Circle of Namareth, Glass of Silent Time, the Mask, of course, the Curtains of, er, Curtains and' - here he put a small box down beside the jar - 'the vital ingredients.'
'Sorry? You mean all those expensive-sounding things aren't vital?' said Moist.
'They're more like… scenery,' said Hicks, adjusting the hood. 'I mean, we could all sit round reading the script out loud, but without the costumes and scenery who'd want to turn up? Are you interested in the theatre at all?' he added, in a hopeful voice.
'I go when I can,' said Moist guardedly, because he recognized the hope.
'You didn't by any chance see 'Tis Pity She's an Instructor in Unarmed Combat at the Little Theatre recently? It was put on by the Dolly Sisters Players?'
'Uh, no, I'm afraid not.'
'I played Sir Andrew Fartswell,' said Dr Hicks, in case Moist was due a sudden attack of recollection.
'Oh, that was you, was it?' said Moist, who'd met actors before. 'Everyone at work was talking about it!'
I'm okay just so long as he doesn't ask which night they talked about, he thought. There's always one night in every play when something hilariously dreadful happens. But he was fortunate; an experienced actor knows when not to push his luck.
Instead Hicks said: 'Do you know ancient languages?'
'I can do Basic Droning,' said Moist.
'Is this ancient enough for you?'
said Adora Belle, and made Moist's spine tingle. The private language of the golems was usually hell on the human tongue, but it sounded unbearably sexy when Adora Belle uttered it. It was like silver in the air.
'What was that?' said Hicks.
'The common language of golems for the last twenty thousand years,' said Adora Belle.
'Really? Most, er, moving… er… We'll begin…'
In the counting house no one dared to look up as the desk of the chief cashier rumbled around on its turntable like some ancient tumbril. Papers flew under Mavolio Bent's hands while his brain drowned in poisons and his feet treadled continually to release the dark energies choking his soul.
He didn't calculate, not as other men saw it. Calculation was for people who couldn't see the answer turning gently in their head. To see was to know. It always had been.
The mound of accumulated paperwork dwindled as the fury of his thinking racked him.
There were new accounts being opened all the time. And why? Was it because of trust? Probity? An urge towards thrift? Was it because of anything that could be called worth?
No! It was because of Lipwig! People whom Mr Bent had never seen before and hoped never to see again were pouring into the bank, their money in boxes, their money in piggy banks and quite often their money in socks. Sometimes they were actually wearing the socks!
And they were doing this because of words! The bank's coffers were filling up because the wretched Mr Lipwig made people laugh and made people hope. People liked him. No one had ever liked Mr Bent, as far as he was aware. Oh, there had been a mother's love and a father's arms, the one chilly, the other too late, but where had they got him? In the end he'd been left alone. So he'd run away and found the grey caravan and entered a new life based on numbers and on worth and solid respect, and he had worked his way up and, yes, he was a man of worth and, yes, he had respect. Yes, respect. Even Mr Cosmo respected him.
And from nowhere there was Lipwig, and who was he? No one seemed to know except for the suspicious man with the unstable teeth. One day there was no Lipwig, next day he was the Postmaster General! And now he was in the bank, a man whose worth was in his mouth and who showed no respect for anyone! And he made people laugh - and the bank filled up with money!
And did the Lavishes lavish anything on you? said a familiar little voice in his head. It was a hated little part of himself that he had beaten and starved and punched back into its wardrobe for years. It wasn't the voice of his conscience. He was the voice of his conscience. It was the voice of the… the mask.
'No!' snapped Bent. Some of the nearest clerks looked up at the unaccustomed noise and then hurriedly lowered their heads for fear of catching his eye. Bent stared fixedly at the sheet in front of him, watching the numbers roll past. Rely on the numbers! They didn't let you down…
Cosmo doesn't respect you, you fool, you fool. You have run their bank for them and cleaned up after them! You made, they spent… and they laugh at you. You know they do. Silly Mr Bent with his funny walk, silly, silly, silly…
'Get away from me, get away,' he whispered.
The people like him because he likes them. No one likes Mr Bent.
'But I have worth. I have value!' Mr Bent pulled another worksheet towards him and sought solace in its columns. But he was pursued…
Where was your worth and value when you made the numbers dance, Mr Bent? The innocent numbers? You made them dance and somersault and cartwheel when you cracked your whip, and they danced into the wrong places, didn't they, because Sir Joshua demanded his price! Where did the gold dance off to, Mr Bent? Smoke and mirrors!
In the counting house all the pens ceased moving for a few seconds, before scribbling again with frantic activity.
Eyes watering with shame and rage, Mr Bent tried to unscrew the top from his patent fountain pen. In the muted silence of the banking hall, the click of the green pen being deployed had the same effect as the sound of the axe-man sharpening his blade. Every clerk bent low to his desk. Mr Bent Had Found A Mistake. All anyone could do was keep their eyes on the paper in front of them and hope against hope that it was not theirs.
Someone, and please gods it would not be them, would have to go and stand in front of the high desk. They knew that Mr Bent did not like mistakes: Mr Bent believed that mistakes were the result of a deformity of the soul.
At the sound of the Pen of Doom, one of the senior clerks hurried to Mr Bent's side. Those workers who risked being turned to water by the ferocity of Mr Bent's stare essayed a quick glance, saw her being shown the offending document. There was a distant tut-tut sound. Her tread as she came down the steps and crossed the floor echoed in deadly, praying silence. She did not know it as she scurried, button-boots flashing, to the desk of one of the youngest and newest clerks, but she was about to meet a young man who was destined to go down in history as one of the great heroes of banking.
The dark organ music filled the Department of Post-Mortem Communications. Moist assumed it was all part of the ambience, although the mood would have been more precisely obtained if the tune it was playing did not appear to be Cantata and Fugue for Someone Who Has Trouble with the Pedals.
As the last note died, after a long illness, Dr Hicks spun round on the stool and raised the mask.
'Sorry about that, I have two left feet sometimes. Could you both just chant a bit while I do the mystic waving, please? Don't worry about words. Anything seems to work if it sounds sepulchral enough.'
As he walked around the circle chanting variants on oo! and raah! Moist wondered how many bankers raised the dead during the course of an afternoon. Probably not a high number. He shouldn't be doing this, surely. He should be out there making money. Owls - Clamp must have finished the design by now. He could be holding his first note in his hands by tomorrow! And then there was damn Cribbins, who could be talking to anyone. True, the man had a sheet as long as a roller towel, but the city worked by alliances and if he met up with the Lavishes then Moist's life would unravel all the way back to the gallows –
'In my day we at least hired a decent mask,' growled an elderly voice. 'I say, is that a woman over there?'
A figure had appeared in the circle, without any bother or fuss, apart from the grumbling. It was in every respect the picture of a wizard - robed, pointy-hatted, bearded and elderly - with the addition of a silvery monochrome effect overall and some slight transparency.
'Ah, Professor Flead,' said Hicks, 'it's kind of you to join us…'
'You know you brought me here and it's not as if I had anything else to do,' said Flead. He turned back to Adora Belle and his voice became pure syrup. 'What is your name, my dear?'
'Adora Belle Dearheart.' The warning tone of voice was lost on Flead.
'How delightful,' he said, giving her a gummy smile. Regrettably, this made little strings of saliva vibrate in his mouth like the web of a very old spider. 'And would you believe me if I told you that you bear a striking resemblance to my beloved concubine Fenti, who died more than three hundred years ago? The likeness is astounding!'
'I'd say that was a pick-up line,' said Adora Belle.
'Oh dear, such cynicism,' sighed the late Flead, turning to the Head of Post-Mortem Communications. 'Apart from this young lady's wonderful chanting it was frankly a mess, Hicks,' he said sharply. He tried to pat Adora Belle's hand, but his fingers passed right through.
'I'm sorry, professor, we just don't get the funding these days,' said Hicks.
'I know, I know. It was ever thus, doctor. Even in my day, if you needed a corpse you had to go out and find your own! And if you couldn't find one, you jolly well had to make one! It's all so nice now, so damn correct. So a fresh egg technically does the trick, but whatever happened to style? They tell me they've made an engine that can think now, but of course the Fine Arts are always last in the queue! And so I'm brought to this: one barely competent Post-Mortem Communicator and two people from Central Groaning!'
'Necromancy is a Fine Art?' said Moist.
'None finer, young man. Get things just a tiny bit wrong and the spirits of the vengeful dead may enter your head via your ears and blow your brains out down your nose.'
The eyes of Moist and Adora Belle focused on Dr Hicks like those of an archer on his target. He waved his hands frantically and mouthed, 'Not very often!'
'What is a pretty young woman like you doing here, hmm?' said Flead, trying to grab Adora Belle's hand again.
'I'm trying to translate a phrase from Umnian,' she said, giving him a wooden smile and absent-mindedly wiping her hand on her dress.
'Are women allowed to do that sort of thing these days? What fun! One of my greatest regrets, you know, is that when I was in possession of a body I didn't let it spend enough time in the company of young ladies…'
Moist looked around to see if there was any kind of emergency lever. There had to be something, if only in the event of nasal brain explosion.
He sidled up to Hicks. 'It's going to go really bad in a moment!' he hissed.
'It's all right, I can banish him to the Undead Zone in a moment,' Hicks whispered.
'That won't be far enough if she loses her temper! I once saw her put a stiletto heel right through a man's foot while she was smoking a cigarette. She hasn't had a cigarette for more than fifteen minutes, so there's no telling what she'll do!'
But Adora Belle had pulled the golem's arm out of her bag, and the late Professor Flead's eyes twinkled with something more compelling than romance. Lust comes in many varieties.
He picked up the arm. That was the second surprising thing. And then Moist realized that the arm was still there, by Flead's feet, and what he was lifting was a pearly, tenuous ghost.
'Ah, part of an Umnian golem,' he said. 'Bad condition. Immensely rare. Probably dug up on the site of Um, yes?'
'Possibly,' said Adora Belle.
'Hmm. Possibly, eh?' said Flead, turning the spectral arm around. 'Look at the wafer-thinness! Light as a feather but strong as steel while the fires burned within! There has been nothing like them since!'
'I might know where such fires still burn,' said Adora Belle.
'After sixty thousand years? I think not, madam!'
'I think otherwise.'
She could say things in that tone of voice and turn heads. She projected absolute certainty. Moist had worked hard for years to get a voice like that.
'Are you saying an Umnian golem has survived?
'Yes. Four of them, I think,' said Adora Belle.
'Can they sing?'
'At least one can.'
'I'd give anything to see one before I die,' said Flead.
'Er…' Moist began.
'Figure of speech, figure of speech,' said Flead, waving a hand irritably.
'I think that could be arranged,' said Adora Belle. 'In the meantime, we've transcribed their song into Boddely's Phonetic Runes.' She dipped into her bag and produced a small scroll. Flead reached out and once again an iridescent ghost of the scroll was now in his hands.
'It appears to be gibberish,' he said, glancing at it, 'although I have to say that Umnian always does at first glance. I shall need some time to work it out. Umnian is entirely a contextual language. Have you seen these golems?'
'No, our tunnel collapsed. We can't even talk to the golems who were digging any more. Song doesn't travel well under salt water. But we think they are… unusual golems.'
'Golden, probably,' said Flead, the words leaving a thoughtful silence in their wake.
Then Adora Belle said, 'Oh.' Moist shut his eyes; on the inside of the lids the gold reserves of Ankh-Morpork walked up and down, gleaming.
'Anyone who researches Um finds the golden golem legend,' said Flead. 'Sixty thousand years ago some witch doctor sitting by a fire made a clay figure and worked out how to make it live and that was the only invention they ever needed, do you understand? Even had horse golems, did you know that? No one has ever been able to create one since. Yet the Umnians never worked iron! They never invented the spade or the wheel! Golems herded their animals and span their cloth! The Umnians did make their own jewellery, though, which largely consisted of scenes of human sacrifice, badly executed in every sense of the word. They were incredibly inventive in that area. A theocracy, of course,' he added, with a shrug. 'I don't know what it is about stepped pyramids that brings out the worst in a god… Anyway, yes, they did work gold. They dressed their priests in it. Quite possibly they made a few golems out of it. Or, equally, the "golden golem" was a metaphor referring to the value of golems to the Umnians. When people wish to express the concept of worth, "gold" is always the word of choice – '
'Isn't it just,' murmured Moist.
' – or it is simply a legend without foundation. Exploration of the site has never found anything except a few fragments of broken golem,' said Flead, sitting back and making himself comfortable on empty air.
He winked at Adora Belle. 'Perhaps you looked elsewhere? One story tells us that upon the death of all the humans, the golems walked into the sea… ?' The question mark hung in the air like the hook it was.
'What an interesting story,' said Adora Belle, poker-faced.
Flead smiled. 'I will find the sense of this message. Of course you will come and see me again tomorrow?
Moist didn't like the sound of that, whatever it was. It didn't help that Adora Belle was smiling.
'Have you, sir?' said Adora Belle, laughing.
'No, but I have an excellent memory!'
Moist frowned. He liked it better when she was giving the old devil the cold shoulder. 'Can we go now?' he said.
Probationary Trainee Junior Clerk Hammersmith Coot watched Miss Drapes looming ever closer with slightly less apprehension than his older colleagues did, and they knew this was because the poor kid had not been there long enough to know the meaning of what was about to happen.
The senior clerk put the paper on his desk with some force. The total had been ringed around in green ink which was still wet. 'Mr Bent,' she said, with a tincture of satisfaction, 'says you must do this again properly.'
And because Hammersmith was a well-brought-up young man and because this was only his first week in the bank, he said: 'Yes, Miss Drapes,' took the paper neatly and set to work.
There were many different stories told about what happened next. In years to come, clerks measured their banking experience by how close they were when the Thing Happened. There were disagreements on what was actually said. Certainly there was no violence, no matter what some of the stories implied. But it was a day that brought the world, or at least the part of it that included the counting house, to its knees.
Everyone agreed that Hammersmith spent some time working on the percentages. They say he produced a notebook - a personal notebook, which was an offence in itself - and did some work in it. Then, after some say fifteen minutes, some say nearly half an hour, he walked back to the desk of Miss Drapes, and declared: 'I'm sorry, Miss Drapes, but I can't find where the mistake is. I have checked my workings and believe my total is correct.'
His voice was not loud, but the room went silent. In fact, it was more than silent. The sheer straining of hundreds of ears meant that spiders spinning cobwebs near the ceiling wobbled in the suction. He was sent back to his desk to 'do it again and don't waste people's time' and after a further ten minutes, some say fifteen, Miss Drapes went to his desk and looked over his shoulder.
Most people agree that after half a minute or so she picked up the paper, pulled a pencil from the tight bun on the back of her head, ordered the young man out of his seat, sat down and spent some time staring at the numbers. She got up. She went to the desk of another senior clerk. Together they pored over the piece of paper. A third clerk was summoned. He copied out the offending columns, worked on them for a while and looked up, his face grey. No one needed to say it aloud. By now all work had stopped, but Mr Bent, up on the high stool, was still engrossed in the numbers before him and, significantly, he was muttering under his breath.
People sensed it in the air.
Mr Bent had Made a Mistake.
The most senior clerks conferred hastily in a corner. There was no higher authority that they could appeal to. Mr Bent was the higher authority, second only to the inexorable Lord of Mathematics. In the end it was left to the luckless Miss Drapes, who so recently had been the agent of Mr Bent's displeasure, to write on the document, 'I am sorry, Mr Bent, I believe the young man is right.' She placed this at the bottom of a number of working slips that she was delivering to the in-tray, dropped it in as the tray rumbled past, and then the sound of her little boots echoed as she rushed, weeping, the length of the hall to the ladies' restroom, where she had hysterics.
The remaining members of the staff looked around, warily, like ancient monsters who can see a second sun getting bigger in the sky but have absolutely no idea what they should do about it. Mr Bent was a fast man with an in-tray and by the look of it there was about two minutes or less before he was confronted with the message. Suddenly and all at once, they fled for the exits.
'And how was that for you?' said Moist, stepping out into the sunlight.
'Do I detect a note of peevishness?' said Adora Belle.
'Well, my plans for today did not include dropping in to chat with a three-hundred-year-old letch.'
'I think you mean lych, and anyway he was a ghost, not a corpse.'
'He was letching!'
'All in his mind,' said Adora Belle. 'Your mind, too.'
'Normally you go crazy if people try to patronize you!'
'True. But most people aren't able to translate a language so old that even golems can hardly understand a tenth of it. Get a talent like that and it could be you getting the girls when you are three centuries dead.'
'You were just flirting to get what you wanted?'
Adora Belle stopped dead in the middle of the square to confront him. 'And? You flirt with people all the time. You flirt with the whole world! That's what makes you interesting, because you're more like a musician than a thief. You want to play the world, especially the fiddly bits. And now I'm going home for a bath. I got off the coach this morning, remember?'
'This morning,' said Moist, 'I found that one of my staff had swapped the mind of another of my staff with that of a turnip.'
'Was that good?' said Adora Belle.
'I'm not sure. In fact I'd better go and check. Look, we've both had a busy day. I'll send a cab at half past seven, all right?'
Cribbins was enjoying himself. He'd never gone in much for reading, up until now. Oh, he could read, and write too, in a nice cursive script that people thought was quite distinguished. And he'd always liked the Times for its clear, readable font, and had, with the aid of some scissors and a pot of paste, often accepted its assistance in producing those missives that attract attention not by fine writing but by having the messages created in cut-out words and letters and even whole phrases if you were lucky. Reading for pleasure had passed him by, however. But he was reading now, oh yes, and it was extremely pleasurable, goodness yes! It was amazing what you could find if you knew what you were looking for! And now, all his Hogswatches were about to come at once –
'A cup of tea, reverend?' said a voice by his side. It was the plump lady in charge of the Times's back numbers department, who had taken to him as soon as he doffed his hat to her. She had the slightly wistful, slightly hungry look that so many women of a certain age wore when they'd decided to trust in gods because of the absolute impossibility of continuing to trust in men.
'Why, thank you, shister,' he said, beaming. 'And is it not written: "The eleemosynary cup is more worthy than the thrown hen"?'
Then he noticed the discreet little silver ladle pinned to her bosom, and that her earrings were two tiny fish slices. The holy symbols of Anoia, yes. He'd just been reading about her in the religious pages. All the rage these days, thanks to the help of young Spangler. Started out way down the ladder as the Goddess of Things That Get Stuck In Drawers, but the talk in the religious pages was that she was being tipped for Goddess of Lost Causes, a very profitable area, very profitable indeed for a man with a flexible approach but, and he sighed inwardly, it was not such a good idea to do business when the god in question was active, in case Anoia got angry and found a new use for a fish slice. Besides, he'd soon be able to put all that behind him. What a clever lad young Spangler had turned out to be! Smarmy little devil! This wasn't going to be over quick, oh no. This was going to be a pension for life. And it'd be a long, long life, or else –
'Is there anything more I can get you, reverend?' said the woman anxiously.
'My cup runneth over, shister,' said Cribbins.
The woman's anxious expression intensified. 'Oh, I'm sorry, I hope it hasn't gone on the – '
Cribbins carefully put his hand over the cup. 'I meant that I am more than shatisfied,' he said, and he was. It was a bloody miracle, that's what it was. If Om was going to hand them out like this, he might even start believing in Him.
And it got better the more you thought about it, Cribbins told himself, as the woman hurried away. How'd the kid done it? There must have been cronies. The hangman, for one, a couple of jailers…
Reflectively, he removed his false teeth with a twang, swilled them gently in the tea, patted them dry with his handkerchief and wrestled them back into his mouth a few seconds before footsteps told him the woman was returning. She was positively vibrating with genteel courage.
'Excuse me, reverend, but can I ask a favour?' she said, going pink.
'Og orsk… ugger! Usht arg ogent – ' Cribbins turned his back, and against a chorus of snaps and two ings dragged the wretched dentures around the right way. Damned things! Why he'd ever bothered to lever them out of the old man's mouth he'd never know.
'I do beg your pardon, shister, a little dental mishap there…' he murmured, turning back and dabbing at his mouth. 'Pray continue.'
'It's funny you should say that, reverend,' said the woman, her eyes bright with nervousness, 'because I belong to a small group of ladies who run, well, a god of the month club. Er… that is, we pick a god and believe in him… or her, obviously, or it, although we draw the line at the ones with teeth and too many legs, er, and then we pray to them for a month and then we sit down and discuss it. Well, there's so many, aren't there? Thousands! We've not really considered Om, though, but if you would care to give us a little talk next Tuesday I'm sure we'll be happy to give him a jolly good try!'
Springs pinged as Cribbins gave her a huge smile. 'What is your name, shister?' he asked.
'Berenice,' she said. 'Berenice, er, Houser.'
Ah, no longer using the bastard's name, very wise, thought Cribbins. 'What a wonderful idea, Berenice,' he said. 'I would consider it a pleshure!'
'There wouldn't be any biscuits, would there, Berenice?' Cribbins added.
Ms Houser blushed. 'I believe I have some chocolate ones somewhere,' she volunteered, as if letting him into a big secret.
'May Anoia rattle your drawers, shister,' said Cribbins to her retreating back.
Wonderful, he thought, as she bustled off, blushing and happy. He tucked his notebook into his jacket and sat back and listened to the ticking of the clock on the wall and the gentle snores of the beggars, who were the normal habitues of this office on a hot afternoon. All was peaceful, settled, organized, just like life ought to be.
It was going to be the gravy boat for him from this day forward.
If he was very, very careful.
Moist ran down the lengths of the vaults towards the brilliant light at the far end. There was a tableau of peacefulness. Hubert was standing in front of the Glooper, occasionally tapping a pipe. Igor was blowing some curious glass creation over his little forge and Mr Clamp, formerly known as Owlswick Jenkins, was sitting at his desk with a faraway look on his face.
Moist sensed the doom ahead. Something was wrong. It might not be even a particular thing, it was just a sheer platonic wrongness - and he did not like Mr Clamp's expression at all.
Nevertheless, the human brain which survives by hoping from one second to another will always endeavour to put off the moment of truth. Moist approached the desk, rubbing his hands together. 'How's it going then, Owl - I mean Mr Clamp', he said. 'Finished it yet, have we?'
'Oh, yes,' said Clamp, a strange, mirthless little smile on his face. 'Here it is.'
On the desk in front of him was the other side of the first proper dollar bill ever to be designed. Moist had seen pictures quite like it, but they had been when he was four years old in nursery school. The face of what was presumably meant to be Lord Vetinari had two dots for eyes and a broad grin. The panorama of the vibrant city of Ankh-Morpork appeared to consist of a lot of square houses, with a window, all square, in each corner and a door in the middle.
'I think it's one of the best things I have ever done,' said Clamp.
Moist patted him convivially on the shoulder and then marched towards Igor, who was already looking defensive.
'What have you done to that man?' said Moist.
'I have made him a well-balanthed perthonality, no longer bethet with ancthietieth, fearth and the demonth of paranoia,' said Igor.
Moist glanced at Igor's workbench, a brave thing to do by any standards. On it was a jar with something indistinct floating in it. Moist looked closer, another minor act of heroism when you were in an Igor-rich environment.
It was not a happy turnip. It was blotchy. It was bouncing gently from one side of the jar to another, occasionally turning over. 'I see,' said Moist. 'But it would appear, regrettably, that by giving our friend the relaxed and hopeful attitude to life of, not to put too fine a point on it, a turnip, you have also given him the artistic abilities of, and I have no hesitation in using the term again, a turnip.'
'But he ith much happier in himthelf,' said Igor.
'Granted, but how much of himself is, and I really don't wish to keep repeating myself here, of a root-vegetable-like nature?'
Igor considered this for some time. 'Ath a medical man, thur,' he said, 'I mutht conthider what ith betht for the pathient. At the moment he ith happy and content and hath no careth in the world. Why would he give up all thith for a mere fathility with a penthil?'
Moist was aware of an insistent bonk-bonk. It was the turnip banging itself against the side of the jar. 'That is an interesting and philosophical point,' he said, once again looking at Clamp's happy yet somewhat unfocused expression. 'But it seems to me that all those nasty little details were what made him, well, him.' The frantic banging of the vegetable grew louder. Igor and Moist stared from the jar to the eerily smiling man.
'Igor, I'm not sure you know what makes people tick.'
Igor gave an avuncular little chuckle. 'Oh, believe me, thur – '
'Igor?' said Moist.
'Yeth, Marthter,' said Igor gloomily.
'Go and fetch the damn wires again, will you.' 'Yeth, Marthter.'
Moist got back upstairs again to find himself in the middle of a panic. A tearful Miss Drapes spotted him and click-clicked over, at speed.
'It's Mr Bent, sir. He just rushed out, yelling! We can't find him anywhere!'
'Why are you looking?' said Moist, and then realized he'd said it aloud. 'I meant, what is the reason for you looking?'
The story unfolded. As Miss Drapes talked Moist got the impression that all the other listeners were getting the point and he wasn't.
'So, okay, he made a mistake,' he said. 'No harm done, is there? It's all been sorted out, right? A bit embarrassing, I dare say…' But, he reminded himself, an error is worse than a sin, isn't it?
But that's plain daft, his sensible self pointed out. He could have said something like: 'You see? Even I can make a mistake through a moment's inattention! We must be forever vigilant!' Or he could have said: 'I did this on purpose to test you!' Even schoolteachers know that one. I can think of half a dozen ways to wriggle out of something like that. But then I'm a wriggler. I don't think he's ever wriggled in his life.
'I hope he hasn't done something… silly,' said Miss Drapes, fishing a crumpled handkerchief out of a sleeve.
Something… silly, thought Moist. That's the phrase people used when they were thinking about someone jumping into the river or taking the entire contents of the medicine box in one go. Silly things like that.
'I've never met a less silly man,' he said.
'Well, er… we've always wondered about him, to be honest,' said a clerk. 'I mean, he's in at dawn and one of the cleaners told me he's often in here late at night - What? What? That hurt!'
Miss Drapes, who had nudged him hard, now whispered urgently in his ear. The man deflated and looked awkwardly at Moist. 'Sorry, sir, I spoke out of turn,' he mumbled.
'Mr Bent is a good man, Mr Lipwig,' said Miss Drapes. 'He drives himself hard.'
'Drives all of you hard, it seems to me,' said Moist.
This attempt at solidarity with the labouring masses didn't seem to hit the mark.
'If you can't stand the heat, get off the pot, that's what I say,' said a senior clerk, and there was a general murmur of agreement.
'Er, I think you get out of the kitchen,' said Moist.' "Get off the pot" is the alternative when – '
'Half the chief cashiers in the Plains have worked in this room,' said Miss Drapes. 'And quite a few managers, now. And Miss Lee, who's deputy manager of Apsly's Commercial Bank in Sto Lat, she got the job because of the letter Mr Bent wrote. Bent-trained, you see. That counts for a lot. If you've got a reference from Mr Bent, you can walk into any bank and get a job with a snap of your fingers.'
'And if you stay, the pay here is better than anywhere,' a clerk put in. 'He told the Board, if they want the best, they'd have to pay for it!'
'Oh, he's demanding,' said another clerk, 'but I hear they're all working for a Human Resources Manager at Pipeworth's Bank now, and if it comes to that I'll take Mr Bent any day of the week. At least he thinks I'm a person. I was hearing where she was timing how long people spent in the privy!'
'They call it Time and Motion study,' said Moist. 'Look, I expect Mr Bent just wants to be alone for a while. Who was he yelling at, the lad who'd made a mistake?… or didn't make it, I mean.'
'That was young Hammersmith,' said Miss Drapes. 'We sent him home because he was in a bit of a state. And no, Mr Bent wasn't really shouting at him. He wasn't really shouting at anybody. He was – ' She paused, searching for a word.
'Gibbering,' said the clerk who had spoken out of turn, giving the turn another twist, 'and you don't all have to look at me like that. You all heard him. And he looked as though he'd seen a ghost.'
Clerks were wandering back into the counting house in ones and twos. They'd searched everywhere, was the general agreement, and there was strong support for the theory that he'd gone out through the Mint, it being rather busy in there with all the work still going on. Moist doubted it. The bank was old, and old buildings have all sorts of crannies, and Mr Bent had been here for –
'How long has he been here?' he wondered aloud.
The general consensus was 'since the mind of man can remember' but Miss Drapes, who it seemed for some reason had made herself well informed on the subject of Mavolio Bent, volunteered that it was thirty-nine years and that he had got a job when he was thirteen by sitting on the steps all night until the chairman came to work and impressing him with his command of numbers. He went from messenger boy to chief cashier in twenty years.
'Speedy!' said Moist.
'Never had a day off for illness, either,' Miss Drapes concluded.
'Well. Perhaps he's entitled to some now,' said Moist. 'Do you know where he lives, Miss Drapes?'
'Mrs Cake's boarding house.'
'Really? That's a bit' - Moist stopped and chose from a number of options - 'low rent, isn't it?'
'He says that as a bachelor it meets his needs,' said Miss Drapes, and avoided Moist's gaze.
Moist could feel the day slipping away from him. But they were all staring at him. There was only one thing he could say if he was to maintain his image.
'Then I think I ought to see if he's gone there,' said Moist. Their faces broke into smiles of relief. He added: 'But I think that one of you should come with me. After all, you know him.' It looks as though I don't, he thought.
'I'll fetch my coat,' said Miss Drapes. The only reason that her words came out at the speed of sound was that she couldn't make them go any faster.READ MORE >>