Making Money (Discworld #36)

Chapter 8

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As Below, so Above  -  No gain without pain  -  A mind for puzzles  -  Mr Bent's sad past  -  Something in the wardrobe  -  Wonderful money  -  Thoughts on madness, by Igor  -  A pot thickens

HUBERT TAPPED THOUGHTFULLY on one of the Glooper's tubes. 'Igor?' he said.

'Yeth, marthter?' said Igor, behind him.

Hubert jumped. 'I thought you were over by your lightning cells!' he managed.

'I wath, thur, but I am here now. What wath it you wanted?'

'You've wired up all the valves, Igor. I can't make any changes!'

'Yeth, thur,' said Igor calmly. 'There would be amathingly dire conthequentheth, thur.'

'But I want to change some parameters, Igor,' said Hubert, absent-mindedly taking a rain hat off the peg.

'I'm afraid there ith a problem, thur. You athked me to make the Glooper ath accurate ath poththible.'

'Well, of course. Accuracy is vital.'

'It ith… extremely accurate, thur,' said Igor, looking uncomfortable. 'Poththibly too accurate, thur.'

This 'poththibly' caused Hubert to grope for an umbrella. 'How can anything be too accurate?'

Igor looked round. Suddenly he was on edge. 'Would you mind if I wind down on the lisp a little?'

'Can you do that?'

'Oh yeth… or, indeed, yes, sir. But it's a clan thing, you see. It's expected, like the stitcheth. But I think you will find the explanation hard enough to understand as it is.'

'Well, er, thank you. Go ahead, please.'

It was quite a long explanation. Hubert listened with care, his mouth open. The term 'cargo cult' whirled past, and was followed by a short dissertation on the hypothesis that all water, everywhere, knows where all the other water is, some interesting facts about hyphenated silicon and what happens to it in the presence of cheese, the benefits and hazards of morphic resonation in areas of high background magic, the truth about identical twins and the fact that if the fundamental occult maxim 'As Above, so Below' was true, then so was 'As Below, so Above'…

The silence that followed was broken only by the tinkle of water in the Glooper, and the sound of the former Owlswick's pencil as he worked away with demon-haunted skill.

'Do you mind going back to lisping, please?' said Hubert. 'I don't know why, it just sounds better that way.'

'Very good, thur.'

'All right. Now, are you really saying that I can now change the economic life of the city by adjusting the Glooper? It's like a witch's wax doll and I've got all the pins?'

'That ith correct, thur. A very nithe analogy.'

Hubert stared at the crystal masterpiece. The light in the undercroft was changing all the time as the economic life of the city pumped itself around the tubes, some of them no thicker than a hair.

'It's an economic model, in fact, which is the real thing?'

'They are identical, thur.'

'So with one hammer blow I could throw the city into an irrevocable economic crash?'

'Yes, thur. Do you want me to fetch a hammer?'

Hubert stared up at the rushing, trickling, foaming thing that was the Glooper and his eyes bulged. He started to giggle but it grew very quickly into a laugh.

'Haha! Ahahaha!!! AHAHAHAHA!!!!… Can you get me a glass of water, please?… HAHAHAHA!!! Hahahahaha!!… HAHA HAHA!!! – ' The laughter stopped abruptly. 'That can't be right, Igor.'

'Really, thur?'

'Yes indeed! Look at our old friend Flask 244a! Can you see it? It's empty!'

'Indeed, thur?'

'Indeed indeed', said Hubert. 'Flask 244a represents the gold in our very own vaults, Igor. And ten tons of gold don't just get up and walk away! Eh? HAHAHAHA!!! Could you get me that glass of water I asked for? Hahaha aha!!… HAHA HAHA!!! – '

A smile played around Cosmo's lips, which was a dangerous playground for anything as innocent as a smile.

'All of them?' he said.

'Well, all the counting house clerks,' said Heretofore. 'They just ran out into the street. Some of them were in tears.'

'A panic in fact,' murmured Cosmo. He looked at the picture of Vetinari opposite his desk and was sure it winked at him.

'Apparently it was some problem with the chief cashier, sir.'

'Mr Bent?'

'Apparently he made a mistake, sir. They said he was muttering to himself and then just ran out of the room. They said that some of the staff had gone back in to search for him.'

'Mavolio Bent made a mistake? I think not,' said Cosmo.

'They say he ran off, sir.'

Cosmo very nearly raised an eyebrow without mechanical aid. It was that close.

'Ran off? Was he carrying any large and heavy bags? They usually do.'

'I believe he wasn't, sir,' said Heretofore.

'That would have been… helpful.'

Cosmo leaned back in his chair, pulled off the black glove for the third time today, and held out his hand at arm's length. The ring did look impressive, especially against the pale blue of his finger.

'Have you ever seen a run on a bank, Drumknott?' he said. 'Have you ever seen the crowds fighting for their money?'

'No, sir,' said Heretofore, who was beginning to worry again. The tight boots had been, well, funny, but surely a finger shouldn't look that colour?

'It's a dreadful sight. It's like watching a beached whale being eaten alive by crabs,' said Cosmo, turning his hand so that the light showed up the shadowy V. 'It may squirm in its agony, but there can be only one outcome. It is a terrible thing, if done properly.'

This is how Vetinari thinks, his soul exulted. Plans can break down. You cannot plan the future. Only presumptuous fools plan. The wise man steers.

'As a director of the bank and, of course, a concerned citizen,' he said dreamily, 'I shall now write a letter to the Times!

'Yes, sir, of course,' said Heretofore, 'and shall I send for a jeweller, sir? I understand they have some fine little snips that – '

'No pain without gain, Drumknott. It sharpens my thinking.' The glove went back on.

'Er…' and then Heretofore gave up. He'd tried his best, but Cosmo was bent on his own destruction, and all a sensible man could do was to make as much money as possible and then stay alive to spend it.

'I've had another stroke of luck, sir,' he ventured. He'd have liked more time, but it was clear that time was getting short.

'Indeed? What is this?'

'That project I have been working on…'

'Very expensively? Yes?'

'I believe I can get you Vetinari's stick, sir.'

'You mean his swordstick?'

'Yes, sir. As far as I know the blade has never been drawn in anger.'

'I understood it was always close to him.'

'I didn't say it would be easy, sir. Or cheap. But after much, much work I now see a clear way,' said Heretofore.

'They say the steel of the blade was taken from the iron in the blood of a thousand men…'

'So I have heard, sir.'

'Have you seen it?'

'Very briefly, sir.'

For the first time in his career, Heretofore found himself feeling sorry for Cosmo. There was a kind of yearning in the man's voice. He didn't want to usurp Vetinari. There were plenty of people in the city who wanted to usurp Vetinari. But Cosmo wanted to be Vetinari.

'What was it like?' The voice was pleading. The poison must have got to his brain, thought Heretofore. But his mind was pretty poisonous to begin with. Perhaps they will be friends.

'Er… well, the handle and scabbard are just like yours, sir, but a little worn. The blade, though, is grey and looks – '

'Grey?'

'Yes, sir. It looks aged and slightly pitted. But here and there, when the light catches it, there are little red and gold flecks. I have to say that it looks ominous.'

'The flecks of light would be the blood, of course,' said Cosmo thoughtfully, 'or, possibly, yes, very possibly the trapped souls of those who died to make the dreadful blade.'

'I had not thought of that, sir,' said Heretofore, who had spent two nights with a new blade, some haematite, a brass brush and some chemicals to produce a weapon that looked as though it'd spring for your throat of its own accord.

'You could get it tonight?'

'I think so, sir. It will be dangerous, of course.'

'And require yet more expense, I imagine,' said Cosmo, with rather more insight than Heretofore would have expected in his current state.

'There are so many bribes, sir. He will not be happy when he finds out, and I daren't risk the time it would take to make an exact replacement.'

'Yes. I see.'

Cosmo pulled off the black glove again and looked at his hand. There seemed to be a greenish tint to his finger now, and he wondered if there was some copper in the ring's alloy. But the pink, almost red streaks moving up his arm looked very healthy.

'Yes. Get the stick,' he murmured, turning his hand to catch the light from the lamps. Odd, though, he couldn't feel any heat on the finger, but that didn't matter.

He could see the future so clearly. The shoes, the cap, the ring, the stick… Surely, as he filled the occult space occupied by Vetinari, the wretched man would feel himself getting weaker and more confused, and he'd get things wrong and make mistakes… 'See to it, Drumknott,' he said.

Havelock, Lord Vetinari pinched the bridge of his nose. It had been a long day and was clearly going to be a long evening.

'I think I need a moment to relax. Let's get it over with,' he said.

Drumknott walked over to the long table, which at this time of day held copies of several editions of the Times, his lordship being keen on keeping track of what people thought was going on.

Vetinari sighed. People told him things all the time. Lots of people had been telling him things in the last hour. They told him things for all sorts of reasons: to gain some credit, to gain some money, for a favour quid pro quo, out of malice, mischief or, suspiciously, out of a professed regard for the public good. What it amounted to was not information, but a huge Argus-eyed ball of little, wiggling factoids, out of which some information could, with care, be teased.

His secretary laid before him the paper, carefully folded to the correct page and place, which was occupied by a square filled with a lot of smaller squares, some of them containing numbers.

'Today's "Jikan no Muda", sir,' he said. Vetinari glanced at it for a few seconds, and then handed it back to him.

The Patrician shut his eyes and drummed his fingers on the desktop for a moment.

'Hm… 9 6 3 1 7 4'  -  Drumknott scribbled hastily as the numbers streamed and eventually concluded  -  '8 4 2 3. And I'm sure they used that one last month. On a Monday, I believe.'

'Seventeen seconds, sir,' said Drumknott, his pencil still catching up.

'Well, it has been a tiring day,' said Vetinari. 'And what is the point? Numbers are easy to outwit. They can't think back. The people who devise the crosswords, now they are indeed devious. Who would know that "pysdxes" are ancient Ephebian carved-bone needle-holders?'

'Well, you, sir, of course,' said Drumknott, carefully stacking the files, 'and the Curator of Ephebian Antiquities at the Royal Art Museum, "Puzzler" of the Times and Miss Grace Speaker, who runs the pet shop in Pellicool Steps.'

'We should keep an eye on that pet shop, Drumknott. A woman with a mind like that content to dispense dog food? I think not.'

'Indeed, sir. I shall make a note.'

'I'm pleased to hear that your new boots have ceased squeaking, by the way.'

'Thank you, sir. They have broken in nicely.'

Vetinari stared pensively at the day's files. 'Mr Bent, Mr Bent, Mr Bent,' he said. 'The mysterious Mr Bent. Without him, the Royal Bank would be in far more trouble than it has been. And now that it is without him it will fall over. It revolves around him. It beats to his pulse. Old Lavish was frightened of him, I'm sure. He said he thought that Bent was a…' He paused.

'Sir?' said Drumknott.

'Let us just accept the fact that he has, in every way, proved to be a model citizen,' said Vetinari. 'The past is a dangerous country, is it not?'

'There is no file on him, sir.'

'He has never drawn attention to himself. All I know for sure is that he arrived here as a child, on a cart owned by some travelling accountants…'

'What, like tinkers and fortune-tellers?' said Moist, as the cab rocked its way through streets that grew narrower and darker.

'I suppose you could say so,' said Miss Drapes with a hint of disapproval. 'They do big, you know, circuits all the way up to the mountains, doing the books for little businesses, helping people with their taxes, that sort of thing.' She cleared her throat. 'Whole families of them. It must be a wonderful life.'

'Every day a new ledger,' said Moist, nodding gravely, 'and by night they drink beer and happy laughing accountants dance the Double Entry Polka to the sound of accordions…'

'Do they?' said Miss Drapes nervously.

'I don't know. It would be nice to think so,' said Moist. 'Well, that explains something, at least. He was obviously ambitious. All he could hope for on the road was being allowed to steer the horse, I suppose.'

'He was thirteen,' said Miss Drapes, and she blew her nose loudly. 'It's so sad.' She turned a tearful face towards Moist. 'There's something dreadful in his past, Mr Lipstick. They say one day some men came to the bank and asked – '

'This is it, Mrs Cake's,' said the cabman, pulling up sharply, 'an' that'll be eleven pence and don't ask me to hang about 'cos they'll have the 'orse up on bricks and its shoes off in a wink.'

The door of the boarding house was opened by the hairiest woman Moist had ever seen, but in the area of Elm Street you learned to discount this sort of thing. Mrs Cake was famously accommodating to the city's newly arrived undead, giving them a safe and understanding haven until they could get on their feet, however many they had.

'Mrs Cake?' he said.

'Mother's at church,' said the woman. 'She said to expect you, Mr Lipwig.'

'You have a Mr Bent staying here, I believe?'

'The banker? Room Seven on the second floor. But I don't think he's in. He's not in trouble, is he?'

Moist explained the situation, aware all the while of doors opening a fraction in the shadows beyond the woman. The air was sharp with the smell of disinfectant; Mrs Cake believed that cleanliness was more to be trusted than godliness and, besides, without that sharp note of pine half the clientele would be driven mad by the smell of the other half.

And in the middle of all this was the silent, featureless room of Mr Bent, chief cashier. The woman, who volunteered that her name was Ludmilla, let them in, very reluctantly, with a master key.

'He's always been a good guest,' she said, 'never a moment's trouble.'

One glance took in everything: the narrow room, the narrow bed, the clothes hanging neatly around the walls, the tiny jug and basin set, the incongruously large wardrobe. Lives collect clutter, but Mr Bent's did not. Unless, of course, it was all in the wardrobe.

'Most of your long-term guests are unde – '

' – differently alive,' said Ludmilla sharply.

'Yes, of course, so I'm wondering why… Mr Bent would stay here.'

'Mr Lipwick, what are you suggesting?' said Miss Drapes.

'You must admit it's rather unexpected,' said Moist. And, because she was already distraught enough, he didn't add: I don't have to suggest anything. It suggests itself. Tall. Dark. Gets in before dawn, leaves after dark. Mr Fusspot growls at him. Compulsive counter. Obsessive over detail. Gives you a gentle attack of the creeps which makes you feel mildly ashamed. Sleeps on a long thin bed. Stays at Mrs Cakes, where the vampires hang up. It's not very hard to join up the dots.

'This isn't about the man who was here the other night, is it?' said Ludmilla.

'What man would that be?'

'Didn't give a name. Just said he was a friend. All in black, had a black cane with a silver skull on it. Nasty piece of work, Mum said. Mind you,' Ludmilla added, 'she says that about nearly everyone. He had a black coach.'

'Not Lord Vetinari, surely?'

'Oh, no, Mum's all for him, except she thinks he ought to hang more people. No, this one was pretty stout, Mum said.'

'Oh, really?' said Moist. 'Well, thank you, ma'am. Perhaps we should be going. By the way, do you by any chance have a key to that wardrobe?'

'No key. He put a new lock on it years ago, but Mum didn't complain because he's never any trouble. It's one of those magic ones they sell at the University,' Ludmilla went on, as Moist examined the lock. The trouble with the wretched magical ones was that just about anything could be a key, from a word to a touch.

'It's rather strange that he hangs all his clothes on the walls, isn't it?' he said, straightening up.

Ludmilla looked disapproving. 'We don't use the word strange in this household.'

'Differently normal?' Moist suggested.

'That'll do.' There was a warning glint in Ludmilla's eye. 'Who can say who is truly normal in this world?'

Well, someone whose fingernails don't visibly extend when they're annoyed would be a definite candidate, thought Moist. 'Well, we should get back to the bank,' he said. 'If Mr Bent turns up, do tell him that people are looking for him.'

'And care about him,' said Miss Drapes quickly, and then put a hand over her mouth and blushed.

I just wanted to make money, thought Moist, as he led the trembling Miss Drapes back to the area where cabs dared to go. I thought life in banking was profitable boredom punctuated by big cigars. Instead, it has turned out differently normal. The only really sane person in there is Igor, and possibly the turnip. And I'm not sure about the turnip.

He dropped the snuffling Miss Drapes at her lodgings in Welcome Soap, with a promise to let her know when the errant Mr Bent broke cover, and took the cab onwards to the bank. The night guards had already arrived, but quite a few clerks were still hanging around, apparently unable to come to terms with the new reality. Mr Bent had been a fixture, like the pillars.

Cosmo had been to see him. It wouldn't have been a social call.

What had it been? A threat? Well, no one liked being beaten up. But perhaps it was more sophisticated. Perhaps it was we'll tell people you are a vampire. To which a sensible person would reply: stick it where the sun shineth not. That would have been a threat twenty years ago, but today? There were plenty of vampires in the city, neurotic as hell, wearing the Black Ribbon to show they'd signed the pledge, and in general getting on with, for want of a better word, their lives. Mostly, people just accepted it. Day after day went past with no trouble, and so the situation became regarded as normal. Differently normal, but still normal.

Okay, Mr Bent had kept quiet about his past, but that was hardly a pitchforking matter. He'd been sitting in a bank for forty years doing sums, for heavens' sake.

But perhaps he didn't see it that way. You measured common sense with a ruler, other people measured it with a potato.

He didn't hear Gladys's approach. He just became aware that she was standing behind him.

'I Have Been Very Worried About You, Mr Lipwig,' she rumbled.

'Thank you, Gladys,' he said cautiously.

'I Will Make You A Sandwich. You Like My Sandwiches.'

'That would be kind of you, Gladys, but Miss Dearheart will be joining me shortly for dinner upstairs.'

The glow in the golem's eyes faded for a moment and then grew brighter. 'Miss Dearheart.'

'Yes, she was here this morning.'

'A Lady'

'She's my fiancee, Gladys. She will be here quite a lot, I expect.'

'Fiancee,' said Gladys. 'Ah, Yes. I Am Reading Twenty Tips To Make Your Wedding Go With A Swing.'

Her eyes dimmed. She turned round and plodded towards the stairs.

Moist felt like a heel. Of course he was a heel. But that didn't make feeling like one feel any better. On the other hand, she -  damn, he… it… Gladys was the fault of misplaced female solidarity. What could he hope to achieve against that? Adora Belle would have to do something about it.

He was aware that one of the senior clerks was hovering politely.

'Yes?' he said. 'Can I help you?'

'What do you want us to do, sir?'

'What's your name?'

'Spittle, sir. Robert Spittle.'

'Why are you asking me, Bob?'

'Because the chairman goes woof, sir. Safes need locking up. So does the ledger room. Mr Bent had all the keys. It's Robert, sir, if you don't mind.'

'Are there any spare keys?'

'They might be in the chairman's office, sir,' said Spittle.

'Look… Robert, I want you to go home and get a good night's sleep, okay? And I'll find the keys and turn every lock I can find. I'm sure Mr Bent will be with us tomorrow, but if he's not, I'll call a meeting of the senior clerks. I mean, hah, you must know how it all works!'

'Well, yes. Of course. Only… well… but…' The clerk's voice faded into silence.

But there's no Mr Bent, thought Moist. And he delegated with the same ease that oysters tango. What the hell are we going to do?

'There's people here? So much for bankers' hours,' said a voice from the doorway. 'In trouble again I hear.'

It was Adora Belle, and of course she meant 'Hello! It's good to see you.'

'You look stunning,' said Moist.

'Yes, I know,' said Adora Belle. 'What's happening? The cabby told me all the staff had walked out of your bank.'

Later Moist thought: that was when it all went wrong. You have to leap on the stallion of Rumour before he's out of the yard, so that you might be able to pull on the reins. You should have thought: what did it look like with staff running out of the bank? You should have run to the Times office. You should have got in the saddle and turned it right around, there and then.

But Adora Belle did look stunning. Besides, all that had happened was that a member of staff had had a funny turn and had left the building. What could anyone make of that?

And the answer, of course, was: anything they wanted to.

He was aware of someone else behind him.

'Mr Lipwig, thur?'

Moist turned. It was even less fun looking at Igor when you'd just been looking at Adora Belle.

'Igor, this is really not the time – ' Moist began.

'I know I'm not thuppothed to come upthtairth, thur, but Mr Clamp thayth he hath finithed hith drawing. It ith very good.'

'What was all that about?' said Adora Belle. 'I think I nearly got two of the words.'

'Oh, there's a man down in the forni -  the cellar who is designing a dollar note for me. Paper money, in fact.'

'Really? I'd love to see that.'

'You would?'

It was truly wonderful. Moist looked at the designs for the back and the front of the dollar note. Under Igor's brilliant white lights they looked rich as plum pudding and more complicated than a dwarf contract.

'We're going to make so much money,' he said aloud. 'Wonderful job, Owls -  Mr Clamp!'

'I'm going to hold on to the Owlswick,' said the artist nervously. 'It's the Jenkins that matters, after all'

'Well, yes,' said Moist, 'there must be dozens of Owlswicks around.' He looked over at Hubert, who was on a stepladder and peering hopelessly at the tubing.

'How's it going, Hubert?' he said. 'The money still rushing around okay, is it?'

'What? Oh, fine. Fine. Fine,' said Hubert, almost knocking over the ladder in his haste to get down. He looked at Adora Belle with an expression of uncertain dread.

'This is Adora Belle Dearheart, Hubert,' said Moist, in case the man was about to flee. 'She is my fiancee. She's a woman,' he added, in view of the worried look.

Adora Belle held out her hand and said, 'Hello, Hubert.'

Hubert stared.

'It's okay to shake hands, Hubert,' said Moist carefully. 'Hubert's an economist. That's like an alchemist, but less messy.'

'So you know how the money moves around, do you, Hubert?' said Adora Belle, shaking an unresisting hand.

At last the notion of speech dawned on Hubert. 'I welded one thousand and ninety-seven joints,' he said, 'and blew the Law of Diminishing Returns.'

'I shouldn't think anyone's ever done that before,' said Adora Belle.

Hubert brightened up. This was easy! 'We are not doing anything wrong, you know!' he said.

'I'm sure you aren't,' said Adora Belle, trying to pull her hand away.

'It can keep track of every dollar in the city, you know. The possibilities are endless! But, but, but, um, of course we're not upsetting things in any way!'

'I'm very glad to hear it, Hubert,' said Adora Belle, tugging harder.

'Of course we are having teething troubles! But everything is being done with immense care! Nothing has been lost because we've left a valve open or anything like that!'

'How intriguing!' said Adora Belle, bracing her free hand on Hubert's shoulder and wrenching the other one from his grasp.

'We have to go, Hubert,' said Moist. 'Keep up the good work, though. I'm very proud of you.'

'You are?' said Hubert. 'Mr Cosmo said I was insane, and wanted Auntie to sell the Glooper for scrap!'

'Typical hidebound, old-fashioned thinking,' said Moist. 'This is the Century of the Anchovy. The future belongs to men like you, who can tell us how everything works.'

'It does?' said Hubert.

'You mark my words,' said Moist, ushering Adora Belle firmly towards the distant exit.

When they had gone, Hubert sniffed the palm of his hand and shivered. 'They were nice people, weren't they?' he said.

'Yeth, marthter.'

Hubert looked up at the glittering, trickling pipes of the Glooper, faithfully mirroring in its ebbing and flowing the tides of money around the city. Just one blow could rattle the world. It was a terrible responsibility.

Igor joined him. They stood in a silence broken only by the sloshing of commerce.

'What shall I do, Igor?' said Hubert.

'In the Old Country we have a thaying,' Igor volunteered.

'A what?'

'A thaying. We thay: "If you don't want the monthter you don't pull the lever".'

'You don't think I've gone mad, do you, Igor?'

'Many great men have been conthidered mad, Mr Hubert. Even Dr Hanth Forvord wath called mad. But I put it to you: could a madman have created a revoluthionary living-brain ecthtractor?'

'Is Hubert quite… normal?' said Adora Belle, as they climbed the marble staircases towards dinner.

'By the standards of obsessive men who don't get out into the sunlight?' said Moist. 'Pretty normal, I'd say.'

'But he acted as if he'd never seen a woman before!'

'He's just not used to things that don't come with a manual,' said Moist.

'Hah,' said Adora Belle. 'Why is it that only men get like that?'

Earns a tiny wage working for golems, thought Moist. Puts up with graffiti and smashed windows because of golems. Camps out in wildernesses, argues with powerful men. All for golems. But he didn't say anything, because he'd read the manual.

They had reached the managerial floor. Adora Belle sniffed. 'Smell that? Isn't that just wonderful?' she said. 'Wouldn't it turn a rabbit into a carnivore?'

'Sheep's head,' said Moist gloomily.

'Only to make the broth,' said Adora Belle. 'All the soft wobbly bits get taken out first. Don't worry. You've just been put off by the old joke, that's all'

'What old joke?'

'Oh, come on! A boy goes into a butcher's shop and says: "Mum says can we please have a sheep's head and you're to leave the eyes in 'cos it's got to see us through the week." You don't get it? It's using "see" in the sense of "to last" and also in the sense of, well, to see…'

'I just think it's a bit unfair to the sheep, that's all.'

'Interesting,' said Adora Belle. 'You eat nice anonymous lumps of animals but think it's unfair to eat the other bits? You think the head goes off thinking: at least he didn't eat me? Strictly speaking, the more we eat of an animal the happier its species should be, since we wouldn't need to kill so many of them.'

Moist pushed open the double doors, and the air was full of wrongness again.

There was no Mr Fusspot. Normally he'd be waiting in his in-tray, ready to greet Moist with a big slobbery welcome. But the tray was empty.

The room seemed larger, too, and this was because it also contained no Gladys.

There was a little blue collar on the floor. The smell of cooking filled the air.

Moist ran down the passage to the kitchen where the golem was standing solemnly by the stove, watching the rattling lid of a very large pot. Grubby foam slid down and dripped on to the stove.

Gladys turned when she saw Moist. 'I Am Cooking Your Dinner, Mr Lipwig.'

The dark moppets of dread played their paranoid hopscotch across Moist's inner eyeballs.

'Could you just put the ladle down and step away from the pot, please?' said Adora Belle, suddenly beside him.

'I Am Cooking Mr Lipwig's Dinner,' said Gladys, with a touch of defiance. The scummy bubbles, it seemed to Moist, were getting bigger.

'Yes, and it looks as if it's nearly done,' said Adora Belle. 'So I Would Like To See It, Gladys.'

There was silence.

'Gladys?'

In one movement the golem handed her the ladle and stood back, half a ton of living clay moving as lightly and silently as smoke.

Cautiously, Adora Belle lifted the pot's lid and plunged the ladle into the seething mass.

Something scratched at Moist's boot. He looked down into the worried goldfish eyes of Mr Fusspot.

Then he looked back at what was rising out of the pot, and realized that it was at least thirty seconds since he'd last drawn breath.

Peggy came bustling in. 'Oh, there you are, you naughty boy!' she said, picking up the little dog. 'Would you believe it, he got all the way down to the cold room!' She looked around, brushing hair out of her eyes. 'Oh, Gladys, I did tell you to move it on to the cool plate when it started to thicken!'

Moist looked at the rising ladle, and in the flood of relief various awkward observations scrambled to be heard.

I've been in this job less than a week. The man I really depend on has run away screaming. I'm going to be exposed as a criminal. That's a sheep's head…

And  -  thank you for the thought, Aimsbury  -  it's wearing sunglasses.

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