Cribbins fights his teeth - Theological advice - 'That's what I call entertainment' - Mr Fusspot's magic toy - Sir Joshua's books - Breaking in to banking - The minds of policemen - What about the gold? - Cribbins warms up - The return of Professor Flead, unfortunately - Moist counts his blessings - A werewolf revealed - Splot: it does you good - Time to pray
'I'M AFRAID I HAVE TO close the office now, reverend.' The voice of Ms Houser broke into Cribbins's dreams. 'We open up again at nine o'clock tomorrow,' it added, hopefully.
Cribbins opened his eyes. The warmth and the steady ticking of the clock had lulled him into a wonderful doze.
Ms Houser was standing there, not gloriously naked and pink as so recently featured in the reverie, but in a plain brown coat and an unsuitable hat with feathers in it.
Suddenly awake, he fumbled urgently in his pocket for his dentures, not trusting them with the custody of his mouth while he slept. He turned his head away in a flurry of unaccustomed embarrassment, as he fought to get them in, and then fought again to get them in and the right way up. They always fought back. In desperation he wrenched them out and banged them sharply on the arm of the chair once or twice to break their spirit before ramming them into his mouth once more.
'Wshg!' said Cribbins, and slapped the side of his face. 'Why, thank you, ma'am,' he said, dabbing at his mouth with a handkerchief. 'I am sorry about that, but I'm a martyr to them, I shwear.'
'I didn't like to disturb you,' Ms Houser went on, her horrified expression fading. 'I'm sure you needed your sleep.'
'Not sleeping, ma'am, but contemplating,' said Cribbins, standing up. 'Contemplating the fall of the unrighteous and the elevation of the godly. Is it not said that the last shall be first and the first shall be last?'
'You know, I've always been a bit worried about that,' said Ms Houser. 'I mean, what happens to the people who aren't first but aren't really last, either. You know… jogging along, doing their best?' She strolled towards the door in a manner which, not quite as subtly as she thought, invited him to accompany her.
'A conundrum indeed, Berenice,' said Cribbins, following her. 'The holy texts don't mention it, but I have no doubt that…' His forehead creased. Cribbins was seldom troubled by religious questions, and this one was pretty difficult. He rose to it like a born theologian. 'I have no doubt that they will be found shtill jogging along, but possibly in the opposite direction!
'Back towards the Last?' she said, looking worried.
'Ah, dear lady, remember that they will by then be the First.'
'Oh yes, I hadn't thought of it like that. That's the only way it could work, unless of course the original First would wait for the Last to catch up.'
'That would be a miracle indeed,' said Cribbins, watching her lock the door behind them. The evening air was sharp and unwelcoming after the warmth of the newspaper room, and made the prospect of another night in the flop-house in Monkey Street seem doubly unappealing. He needed his own miracle right now, and he had a feeling that one was shaping up right here.
'I expect it's very hard for you, reverend, finding a place to stay,' Ms Houser said. He couldn't make out her expression in the gloom.
'Oh, I have faith, shister,' he said. 'If Om does not come, He schends - Arrg!' And at a time like this! A spring had slipped! It was a judgement!
But agonizing as it was, it might yet have its blessing. Ms Houser was bearing down on him with the look of a woman determined to do good at any price. Oh, it hurt, though; it had snapped right across his tongue.
A voice behind him said: 'Excuse me, I couldn't help noticing… Are you Mr Cribbins, by any chance?'
Enraged by the pain in his mouth, Cribbins turned with murder in his heart, but 'That's Reverend Cribbins, thank you,' said Ms Houser, and his fists unclenched.
"Shme,' he muttered.
A pale young man in an old-fashioned clerk's robe was staring at him. 'My name is Heretofore,' he said, 'and if you are Cribbins I know a rich man who wants to meet you. It could be your lucky day.'
'Ish zat sho?' muttered Cribbins. 'And if zat man ish called Coshmo, I want to meet him. It could be hish lucky day, too. Ain't we the lucky onesh!'
'You must have had a moment of dread,' said Moist, as they relaxed in the marble-floored sitting room. At least Adora Belle relaxed. Moist was searching.
'I don't know what you're talking about,' she said as he opened a cupboard.
'Golems weren't built to be free. They don't know how to handle… stuff.'
'They'll learn. And she wouldn't have hurt the dog,' said Adora Belle, watching him pace the room.
'You weren't sure. I heard the way you were talking to her. "Put down the ladle and turn around slowly" sort of thing.' Moist pulled open a drawer.
'Are you looking for something?'
'Some bank keys. There should be a set of them somewhere around.'
Adora Belle joined in. It was that or argue about Gladys. Besides, the suite had a great many drawers and cupboards, and it was something to do while dinner was prepared.
'What is this key for?' she asked, after a mere few seconds. Moist turned. Adora Belle held up a silvery key on a ring.
'No, there'll be a lot more than that,' said Moist. 'Where did you find it, anyway?'
She pointed to the big desk. 'I just touched the side here and - Oh, it didn't do it this time…'
It took Moist more than a minute to find the trigger that slid the little drawer out. Shut, it disappeared seamlessly into the grain of the wood.
'It must be for something important,' he said, heading for another desk. 'Maybe the rest of the keys were kept somewhere else. Just try it on anything. I've only been camping here, really. I don't know what's in half of these drawers.'
He returned to a bureau and was sifting through its contents when he heard a click and creak behind him and Adora Belle said, in a rather flat voice: 'You did say Sir Joshua entertained young ladies up here, right?'
'Apparently, yes. Why?'
'Well, that's what I call entertainment.'
Moist turned. The door of a heavy cupboard stood wide open. 'Oh, no,' he said. 'What's all that for?'
'You are joking?'
'Well, yes, all right. But it's all so… so black.'
'And leathery,' said Adora Belle. 'Possibly rubbery, too.'
They advanced on the museum of inventive erotica just revealed. Some of it, freed at last from confinement, unfolded, slid or, in a few cases, bounced on to the floor.
'This…' Moist prodded something, which went spoing!… 'is, yes, rubbery. Definitely rubbery.'
'But all this here is pretty much frilly,' said Adora Belle. 'He must have run out of ideas.'
'Either that or there were no more ideas to have. I think he was eighty when he died,' said Moist, as a seismic shift caused some more piles to slide and slither downwards.
'Well done him,' said Adora Belle. 'Oh, and there's a couple of shelves of books, too,' she went on, investigating the gloom at the back of the cupboard. 'Just here, behind the rather curious saddle and the whips. Bedtime reading, I assume.'
'I don't think so,' said Moist, pulling out a leather-bound volume and flicking it open at a random page. 'Look, it's the old boy's journal. Years and years of it. Good grief, there's decades!
'Let's publish it and make a fortune,' said Adora Belle, kicking the heap. 'Plain covers, of course.'
'No, you don't understand. There may be something in here about Mr Bent! There's some secret…' Moist ran a finger along the spines. 'Let's see, he's forty-seven, he came here when he was about thirteen, and a few months later some people came looking for him. Old Lavish didn't like the look of them - Ah!' He pulled out a couple of volumes. 'These should tell us something, they're around the right time…'
'What are these, and why do they jingle?' Adora Belle said, holding up a couple of strange devices.
'How should I know?'
'You're a man.'
'Well, yes. And? I mean, I don't go in for this stuff.'
'You know, I think it's like horseradish,' said Adora Belle thoughtfully.
'Like… well, horseradish is good in a beef sandwich, so you have some. But one day a spoonful just doesn't cut the mustard – '
'As it were,' said Moist, fascinated.
' – and so you have two, and soon it's three, and eventually there's more horseradish than beef, and then one day you realize the beef fell out and you didn't notice.'
'I don't think that is the metaphor you're looking for,' said Moist, 'because I have known you to make yourself a horseradish sandwich.'
'All right, but it's still a good one,' said Adora Belle. She reached down and picked up something from the floor. 'Your keys, I think. What they were doing in there we shall never know, with any luck.'
Moist took them. The ring was heavy with keys of all sizes.
'And what shall we do with all this stuff?' Adora Belle kicked the heap again. It quivered, and somewhere inside something squeaked.
'Put it back in the cupboard?' Moist suggested uncertainly. The pile of passionless frippery had a brooding, alien look, like some sea monster of the abyss that had been dragged unceremoniously from its native darkness into the light of the sun.
'I don't think I could face it,' said Adora Belle. 'Let's just leave the door open and let it crawl back by itself. Hey!' This was to Mr Fusspot, who'd trotted smartly out of the room with something in his mouth.
'Tell me that was just an old rubber bone,' she said. 'Please?'
'No-o,' said Moist, shaking his head. 'I think that would definitely be the wrong description. I think it was… was… it was not an old rubber bone, is what it was.'
'Now look,' said Hubert, 'don't you think we'd know if the gold had been stolen? People talk about that sort of thing! I'm pretty certain it's a fault in the crossover multivalve, right here.' He tapped a thin glass tube.
'I don't think the Glooper ith wrong, thur,' said Igor gloomily.
'Igor, you realize that if the Glooper is right then I'll have to believe there is practically no gold in our vaults?'
'I believe the Glooper ith not in error, thur.' Igor took a dollar out of his pocket and walked over to the well.
'If you would be tho good ath to watch the "Lotht Money" column, thur?' he said, and dropped the coin into the dark waters. It gleamed for a moment as it sank beyond the pockets of Mankind.
In one corner of the Glooper's convoluted glass tubing a small blue bubble drifted up, dawdling from side to side as it rose, and burst on the surface with a faint 'gloop'.
'Oh dear,' said Hubert.
The comic convention, when two people are dining at a table designed to accommodate twenty, is that they sit at either end. Moist and Adora Belle didn't try it, but instead huddled together. Gladys stood at the other end, a napkin over one arm, her eyes two sullen glows.
The sheep skull didn't help Moist's frame of mind at all. Peggy had arranged it as a centrepiece, with flowers around it, but the cool sunglasses were getting on his nerves.
'How good is a golem's hearing?' he said.
'Extremely,' said Adora Belle. 'Look, don't worry, I have a plan.'
'No, seriously. I'll take her out tomorrow'.
'Can't you just – ' Moist hesitated, and then mouthed: 'change the words in her head?'
'She's a free golem!' said Adora Belle sharply. 'How would you like it?'
Moist remembered Owlswick and the turnip. 'Not much,' he admitted.
'With free golems you should change minds by persuasion. I think I can do that.'
'Aren't your golden golems due to arrive tomorrow?'
'I hope so.'
'It's going to be a busy day. I'm going to launch paper money and you're going to march gold through the streets.'
'We couldn't leave them underground. Anyway, they might not be golden. I'll go and see Flead in the morning.'
'We will go and see him. Together!'
She patted Moist's arm. 'Never mind. There could be worse things than golden golems.'
'I can't think what they are,' said Moist, a phrase that he later regretted. 'I'd like to take people's minds off gold – '
He stopped, and stared at the sheep, which stared back in a calm, enigmatic way. For some reason Moist felt it should have a saxophone and a little black beret.
'Surely they looked in the vault,' he said aloud.
'Who looked?' said Adora Belle.
'That's where he'd go. The one thing you can depend on, right? The foundation of all that's worthy?'
'Mr Bent is in the gold vault!' said Moist, standing up so quickly that his chair fell over. 'He's got all the keys!'
'Sorry? Is this the man who went haywire after making a simple mistake?'
'That's him. He's got a Past.'
'One of those with a capital P?'
'Exactly. Come on, let's get down there!'
'I thought we were going to have a romantic evening?'
'We will! Right after we get him out!'
The only sound in the vaults was the tap-tap-tapping of Adora Belle's foot. It was really annoying Moist as he paced up and down in front of the gold room, by the light of silver candlesticks that had been gracing the dining-room table.
'I just hope Aimsbury is keeping the broth warm,' said Adora Belle. Tap-tap tap-tap.
'Look,' said Moist. 'Firstly, to open a safe like this you need to have a name like Fingers McGee, and secondly these little lockpicks aren't up to the job.'
'Well, let's go and find Mr McGee. He's probably got the right sort.' Tap-tap tap-tap.
'That won't be any good because, thirdly, there's probably no such person and, fourthly, the vault is locked from the inside and I think he's left the key in the lock, which is why none of these work.' He waved the key ring. 'Fifthly, I'm trying to turn the key from this side with tweezers, an old trick which, it turns out, does not work!'
'Good. So we can go back to the suite?' Tap-tap tap-tap.
Moist peered again through the little spyhole in the door. A heavy plate had been slid across it on the inside, and he could just make out a glimmer of light around the edges. There was a lamp in there. What there was not, as far as he knew, was any kind of ventilation. It looked as though the vault had been built before the idea of breathing caught on. It was a man-made cave, built to contain something you never intended to take out. Gold didn't choke.
'I don't think we have the option,' he said, 'because sixthly, he's running out of air. He may even be dead!'
'If he's dead, can we leave him until tomorrow? It's freezing down here.' Tap-tap tap-tap.
Moist looked up at the ceiling. It was made of ancient oak beams, strapped together with iron bands. He knew what old oak could be like. It could be like steel, only nastier. It blunted axes and bounced hammers back in their owners' faces.
'Can't the guards help?' Adora Belle ventured.
'I doubt it,' said Moist. 'Anyway, I don't particularly want to encourage the idea that they can spend the night breaking into the vault.'
'But they're mostly City Watch, aren't they?'
'So? When a man is legging it for the horizon with as much gold as he can carry he doesn't worry much about what his old job was. I'm a criminal. Trust me.'
He walked towards the stairs, counting under his breath.
'And now what are you doing?'
'Working out which part of the bank is directly over the gold,' said Moist. 'But you know what? I think I already know. The gold room is right under his desk.'
The lamp had burned low, and oily smoke swirled and settled on the sacks where Mr Bent lay curled up in a tight ball.
There was sound above, and voices muffled by the ancient ceiling. One of them said: 'I can't budge it. All right, Gladys, over to you.'
'Is This Ladylike Behaviour?' a second voice rumbled.
'Oh yes, it counts as moving the furniture,' said a voice that was clearly female.
'Very Well. I Shall Lift It Up And Dust Underneath It.'
There was the thunder of wood being scraped on wood, and a little dust fell on to the piled bullion.
'Very Dusty Indeed. I Shall Fetch A Broom.'
'Actually, Gladys, I'd like you to lift up the floor now,' said the first voice.
'There May Be Dust Underneath That Too?'
'I'm certain of it.'
There were several thumps that made the beams creak, and then a rumble of: 'It Does Not Say Anything About Dusting Under The Floor In Lady Waggons Book Of Household Management!
'Gladys, a man may be dying under there!'
'I See. That Would Be Untidy.' The beams rattled under a blow. 'Lady Waggon Says That Any Bodies Found During A Week-End Party Should Be Disposed Of Discreetly, In Case Of Scandal.'
Three more blows, and a beam shattered.
'Lady Waggon Says Watchmen Are Disrespectful And Do Not Wipe Their Dirty Boots.'
Another beam cracked. Light lanced down. A hand the size of a shovel appeared, grabbed one of the iron straps, and snapped it –
Moist peered into the gloom, while smoke poured up past him.
'He's down there! Ye gods, this reeks!'
Adora Belle looked over his shoulder. 'Is he alive?'
'I certainly hope so.' Moist eased himself between the beams and dropped on to the bullion boxes.
After a moment he called up: 'There's a pulse. And there's a key in the lock, too. Can you come down the stairs and give me a hand?'
'Er, we have visitors,' Adora Belle called down.
A couple of helmeted heads were now outlined against the light. Damn it! Using off-duty watchmen was all very well, but they tended to take their badges everywhere with them, and were just the sort of people who'd jump to conclusions merely because they'd found a man standing in the wreckage of a bank vault after hours. The words 'Look, I can explain' presented themselves for utterance, but he strangled them just in time. It was his bank, after all.
'Well, what do you want?' he demanded.
This was sufficiently unexpected to throw the men, but one of them rallied. 'Is this your bank vault, sir?' he said.
'I'm the deputy chairman, you idiot! And there's a sick man down here!'
'Did he fall when you were breaking into the vault, sir?'
Oh gods, you just couldn't budge a born copper. They just kept going, in that patient grinding tone. When you were a policeman, everything was a crime.
'Officer - You are a copper, right?'
'Constable Haddock, sir.'
'Well, constable, can we get my colleague into the fresh air? He's wheezing. I'll unlock the door down here.'
Haddock nodded to the other guard, who hurried away towards the stairs.
'If you had a key, sir, why did you break in?'
'To get him out, of course!'
'So how – '
'It's all perfectly sensible,' said Moist. 'Once I've got out of here we will all have a laugh.'
'I shall look forward to that, sir,' said Haddock, 'because I like a laugh.'
Talking to the Watch was like tap-dancing on a landslide. If you were nimble you could stay upright, but you couldn't steer and there were no brakes and you just knew that it was going to end in a certain amount of fuss.
It wasn't Constable Haddock any more. It had stopped being Constable Haddock just as soon as Constable Haddock had found that the pockets of the Master of the Royal Mint contained a velvet roll of lockpicks and a blackjack, and it then became Sergeant Detritus.
Lockpicks, as Moist knew, were technically not illegal. Owning them was fine. Owning them while standing in someone else's house was not fine. Owning them while being found in a stricken bank vault was so far from fine it could see the curvature of the universe.
So far, to Sergeant Detritus, so good. However, the sergeant's grasp began to slip when confronted with the evidence that Moist quite legitimately had the keys for the vault he had broken into. This seemed to the troll to be a criminal act in itself, and he'd toyed for a while with the charge of 'Wasting Watch time by breaking in when you didn't have to'." He didn't understand about the visceral need for the lockpicks; trolls didn't have a word for machismo in the same way that puddles don't have a word for water. He also had a problem with the mind-set and actions of the nearly late Mr Bent. Trolls don't go mad, they get mad. So he gave up, and it became Captain Carrot.
Moist knew him of old. He was big and smelled of soap and his normal expression was one of blue-eyed innocence. Moist couldn't see behind that amiable face, just couldn't see a thing. He could read most people but the captain was a closed book in a locked bookcase. And the man was always courteous, in that really annoying way police have.
He said 'Good evening', politely, as he sat down opposite Moist in the little office that had suddenly become an interview room. 'Can I start, sir, by asking you about the three men down in the cellar? And the big glass… thing?'
'Mr Hubert Turvy and his assistants,' said Moist. 'They are studying the economic system of the city. They're not involved in this. Come to think of it, I'm not involved in this either! There is, in fact, no this. I have explained all this to the sergeant.'
'Sergeant Detritus thinks you are too smart, Mr Lipwig,' said Captain Carrot, opening his notebook.
'Well, yes, I expect he thinks that about most people, doesn't he?'
Carrot's expression changed not one iota. 'Can you tell me why there is a golem downstairs who is wearing a dress and keeps ordering my men to wipe their dirty boots?' he said.
'Not without sounding mad, no. What has this got to do with anything?'
'I don't know, sir. I hope to find out. Who is Lady Deirdre Waggon?'
'She writes rather out-of-date books on etiquette and household management for young ladies who would like to be the type of women who have time to arrange flowers. Look, is this relevant?'
'I don't know, sir. I am endeavouring to assess the situation. Can you tell me why a small dog is running around the building in possession of what I shall call a wind-up clockwork item of an intimate nature?'
'I think it is because my sanity is slipping away,' said Moist. 'Look, the only thing that is important here is that Mr Bent had… a nasty turn and locked himself in the gold vault. I had to get him out quickly.'
'Ah, yes, the gold vault,' said the captain. 'Can we talk about the gold for a moment?'
'What's wrong with the gold?'
'I was hoping you could tell us, sir. I believe you wanted to sell it to the dwarfs?'
'What? Well, yes, I said that, but it was only to make a point – '
'A point,' said Captain Carrot solemnly, writing this down.
'Look, I know how this sort of thing goes,' said Moist. 'You just keep me talking in the hope that I'll suddenly forget where I am and say something stupid and incriminating, right?'
'Thank you for that, sir,' said Captain Carrot, turning over another page in his notebook.
'Thank me for what?'
'For telling me you know how this sort of thing goes, sir.'
See? Moist told himself. This is what happens when you get too comfortable. You lose the edge. Even a copper can outsmart you.
The captain looked up. 'I will tell you, Mr Lipwig, that some of what you say has been corroborated by an unbiased witness who could not possibly be an accomplice.'
'You talked to Gladys?' said Moist.
'She's the one going on about dirty boots.'
'How can a golem be a "she", sir?'
'Ah, I know this one. The correct answer is: how can a golem be a "he"?'
'An interesting point, sir. That explains the dress, then. Out of interest, how much weight would you say a golem can carry?'
'I don't know. A couple of tons, maybe. What are you getting at?'
'I don't know, sir,' said Carrot cheerfully. 'Commander Vimes says, when life hands you a mess of spaghetti, just keep pulling until you find the meatball. In fact your version of events agrees, insofar as he understood things at the time, with that given to us by a Mr Fusspot.'
'You talked to the dog?'
'Well, he is the chairman of the bank, sir,' said the captain.
'How did you understand what - Ah, you have a werewolf, right?' said Moist, grinning.
'We don't confirm that, sir.'
'Everyone knows it's Nobby Nobbs, you know.'
'Do they, sir? Gosh. Anyway, your movements this evening are accounted for.'
'Good. Thank you.' Moist started to rise.
'However, your movements earlier this week, sir, are not.' Moist sat down again.
'Well? I don't have to account for them, do I?'
'It might help us, sir.'
'How would it help you?'
'It might help us understand why there is no gold in the vault, sir. It's a small detail in the great scheme of things, but it is something of a puzzler.'
At which point, somewhere close at hand, Mr Fusspot began to bark…
Cosmo Lavish sat at his desk with his fingers steepled in front of his mouth, watching Cribbins eat. Not many people in a state to make a choice had ever done this for more than thirty seconds.
'The soup is good?' he said.
Cribbins lowered the bowl after one lengthy final gurgle. 'Champion, your lordship.' He removed a grey rag from his pocket and –
He's going to take his teeth out, right now, here at the table, thought Cosmo. Amazing. Ah, yes, and there's still bits of carrot in them…
'Don't hesitate to repair your teeth,' he said, as Cribbins removed a bent fork from a pocket.
'I'm a martyr to them, shir,' said Cribbins. 'I'll shwear they're out to get me.' Springs twanged as he fought them with the fork and then, apparently satisfied, he wrestled them back on to his grey gums and champed them into place.
'That's better,' he announced.
'Good,' said Cosmo. 'And now, in view of the nature of your allegations, which Drumknott here has carefully transcribed and you have signed, let me ask you: why have you not gone to Lord Vetinari?'
'I've knowed men escape the nooshe, sir,' said Cribbins. 'It ain't too hard if you've got the readies. But I never heard of one get a big plum job the very next day. Gov'ment job, too. Then suddenly he's a banker, no lesh. Shomeone's watching over him, and I don't think it'sh a bleeding fairy. If I was to go to Vetinari, then, I'd be a bit shilly, right? But he's got your bank, and you ain't, which is a shame. Sho I'm your man, shir.'
'At a price, I have no doubt.'
'Well, yes, shomething in the way of expenses would help, yesh.'
'And you are sure that Lipwig and Spangler are one and the same?'
'It's the smile, sir. You never forget it. And he has this gift of chatting to people, he makes people want to do things his way. It's like magic, the little ingrate.'
Cosmo stared at him and then said, 'Give the reverend fifty dollars, Drum - Heretofore, and direct him to a good hotel. One where they might have a hot tub available.'
'Fifty dollarsh? growled Cribbins.
'And then please go ahead with that little acquisition, will you?'
'Yes, sir. Of course.'
Cosmo pulled a piece of paper towards him, dipped a pen in the inkwell, and began to write furiously.
'Fifty dollarsh?' said Cribbins again, appalled at the minimum wage of sin.
Cosmo looked up and stared at the man as if seeing him for the first time and not enjoying the novelty.
'Hah, yes. Fifty dollars indeed for now, reverend,' said Cosmo soothingly. 'And in the morning, if your memory is still as good, we will all look forward to a richer and righteous future. Do not let me detain you.'
He returned to his paperwork.
Heretofore grabbed Cribbins's arm and towed him forcibly out of the room. He'd seen what Cosmo was writing.
It was time for the swordstick, he thought. Get it, hand it over, take the money and run.
Things were quiet in the Department of Post-Mortem Communications. They were never very loud at the best of times, although you always got, when the sounds of the university slid into silence, the reedy little gnat-sized voices leaking through from the Other Side.
The trouble was, thought Hicks, that too many of his predecessors had never had any kind of a life outside the department, where social skills were not a priority, and even when dead had still completely failed to get a life. So they hung around the department, reluctant to leave the place. Sometimes, when they were feeling strong and the Dolly Sisters Players were doing a new production, he let them out to paint the scenery.
Hicks sighed. That was the trouble with working in the DPMC, you could never exactly be the boss. In an ordinary job people retired, wandered back to the ol' workplace a few times while there was anyone who remembered them, and then faded into the ever-swelling past. But the former staff here never seemed to go…
There was a saying: 'Old necromancers never die'. When he told them this, people would say:'… and?' and Hicks would have to reply: 'That's all of it, I'm afraid. Just "Old necromancers never die".'
He was just tidying up for the night when, from his shadowy corner, Charlie said, 'Somebody coming through. Well, I say some body…'
Hicks spun round. The magic circle was glowing and a pearly pointy hat was already rising through the solid floor.
'Professor Head?' he said.
'Yes, and we must hurry, young man,' said the shade of Flead, still rising.
'But I banished you! I used the Ninefold Erasure! It banishes everything.'
'I wrote it,' said Flead, looking smug. 'Oh, don't worry, I'm the only one it doesn't work on. Ha, I'd be a damn fool to design a spell to work on myself, eh?'
Hicks pointed a shaking finger. 'You put in a hidden portal, didn't you?'
'Of course. A bloody good one. Don't worry, I'm the only one who knows where it is, too.' The whole of Flead was floating above the circle now. And don't try to look for it; a man of your limited talent will never find the hidden runes.'
Flead looked around the room. 'Isn't that wonderful young lady here?' he said hopefully. 'Well, never mind. You must get me out of this place, Hicks. I want to see the fun!'
'Fun? What fun?' said Hicks, a man planning to look through the Ninefold Erasure spell very, very carefully.
'I know what kind of golems are coming!'
When he was a child Moist had prayed every night before going to bed. His family were very active in the Plain Potato Church, which shunned the excesses of the Ancient and Orthodox Potato Church. Its followers were retiring, industrious and inventive, and their strict adherence to oil lamps and home-made furniture made them stand out in the region, where most people used candles and sat on sheep.
He'd hated praying. It felt as though he was opening a big black hole into space, and at any moment something might reach through and grab him. This may have been because the standard bedtime prayer included the line 'If I die before I wake', which on bad nights caused him to try to sit up until morning.
He'd also been instructed to use the hours before sleep to count his blessings.
Lying here now, in the darkness of the bank, rather cold and significantly alone, he sought for some.
His teeth were good and he wasn't suffering from premature hair loss. There! That wasn't so hard, was it?
And the Watch hadn't actually arrested him, as such. But there was a troll guarding the vault, which had ominous black and yellow ropes strung around it.
No gold in the vault. Well, even that wasn't entirely true. There was five pounds of it, at least, coating the lead ingots. Someone had done a pretty good job there. That was a silver lining, right? At least it was some gold. It wasn't as if there was no gold at all, right?
He was alone because Adora Belle was spending a night in the cells for assaulting an officer of the Watch. Moist considered that this was unfair. Of course, depending on what kind of day a copper has had there is no action, short of being physically somewhere else, that may not be construed as assault, but Adora Belle hadn't actually assaulted Sergeant Detritus, she'd merely attempted to stab his huge foot with her shoe, resulting in a broken heel and a twisted ankle. Captain Carrot said this had been taken into consideration.
The clocks of the city chimed four, and Moist considered his future, specifically in terms of length.
Look on the bright side. He might just be hanged.
He should have gone down to the vaults on Day 1, with an alchemist and a lawyer in tow. Didn't they ever audit the vaults? Was it done by a bunch of jolly decent chaps who'd poke their heads into some other chaps' vault and sign it off quickly so's not to miss lunch? Can't go doubting a chap's word, eh? Especially when you didn't want him to doubt yours.
Maybe the late Sir Joshua had blown it all on exotic leather goods and young ladies. How many nights in the arms of beautiful women were worth a sack of gold? The price of a good woman was proverbially above rubies, so a skilfully bad one was presumably worth a lot more.
He sat up and lit the candle, and his eye fell on Sir Joshua's journal, on the bedside table.
Thirty-nine years ago… well, it was the right year, and since at the moment he had nothing else to do…
The luck that had been draining from his boots all day came back to him. Even though he wasn't certain what he was looking for, he found it on the sixth random page:
A pair of funny-looking people came to the bank today, asking for the boy Bent. I bade the staff send them away. He is doing exceedingly well. One wonders what he must have suffered.
Quite a lot of the journal seemed to be in some sort of code, but the nature of the secret symbols suggested that Sir Joshua painstakingly recorded every amorous affair. You had to admire his directness, at least. He'd worked out what he wanted to get from life, and had set out to get as much of it as he could. Moist had to take his hat off to the man.
And what had he wanted? He'd never sat down to think about it. But mostly, he wanted tomorrow to be different from today.
He looked at his watch. Four-fifteen, and no one about but the guards. There were watchmen on the main doors. He was indeed not under arrest, but this was one of those civilized little arrangements: he was not under arrest provided that he didn't try to act like a man who was not under arrest.
Ah, he thought, as he pulled on his trousers, there was another small blessing: he had been there when Mr Fusspot proposed to the werewolf -
- which was, by then, balancing on one of the huge ornamental urns that grew like toadstools in the bank's corridors. It was rocking. So was Corporal Nobbs, who was laughing himself sick at -
- Mr Fusspot, who was bouncing up and down with wonderfully optimistic enthusiasm. But he was holding in his mouth his new toy, which appeared to have been mysteriously wound up, and beneficent fate had decreed that at the top of each jump its unbalancing action would cause the little dog to do one slow cartwheel in the air.
And Moist thought: so the werewolf is female and has a Watch badge on her collar, and I've seen that hair colour before. Ha!
But his gaze had gone straight back to Mr Fusspot, who was jumping and spinning with a look of total bliss on his little face -
- and then Captain Carrot had plucked him out of the air, the werewolf fled, and the show was over. But Moist would always have the memory. Next time he walked past Sergeant Angua he'd growl under his breath, although that would probably constitute assault.
Now, fully dressed, he went for a walk along endless corridors.
The Watch had put a lot of new guards in the bank for the night. Captain Carrot was clever, you had to give him that. They were trolls. Trolls were very hard to talk round to your point of view.
He could sense them watching him everywhere he went. There wasn't one at the door into the undercroft, but Moist's heart sank when he neared the pool of brilliant light around the Glooper and saw one standing by the door to freedom.
Owlswick was lying on a mattress and snoring, with his paintbrush in his hand. Moist envied him.
Hubert and Igor were working on the tangle of glassware which, Moist could swear, looked bigger every time he came down here.
'Wrong? Nothing. Nothing's wrong!' said Hubert. 'It's all fine! Is something wrong? Why do you think something is wrong? What would make you think there's something wrong?'
Moist yawned. 'Any coffee? Tea?' he suggested.
'For you, Mr Lipwig,' said Igor, 'I will make Thplot.'
'Splot? Real Splot?'
'Indeed, thur,' said Igor smugly.
'You can't buy it here, you know.'
'I am aware of that, thur. It hath now been outlawed in motht of the old country, too,' said Igor, rummaging in a sack.
'Outlawed? It's been outlawed? But it's just a herbal drink! My granny used to make it!'
'Indeed, it wath very traditional,' Igor agreed. 'It put hairth on your chetht.'
'Yes, she used to complain about that.'
'This is an alcoholic beverage?' said Hubert nervously.
'Absolutely not,' said Moist. 'My granny never touched alcohol.' He thought for a moment and then added: 'Except maybe aftershave. Splot's made from tree bark.'
'Oh? Well, that sounds nice,' said Hubert.
Igor retired to his jungle of equipment, and there was the clinking of glassware. Moist sat down at the cluttered bench.
'How's it going in your world, Hubert?' he said. 'The water gurgling around okay, is it?'
'It's fine! Fine! It's all fine! Nothing is wrong at all!' Hubert went blank, fished out his notebook, glanced at a page, and put it back. 'How are you?'
'Me? Oh, great. Except that there should be ten tons of gold in the gold vaults and there isn't.'
It sounded as though a glass had broken in the direction of Igor, and Hubert stared in horror at Moist.
'Ha? Hahahaha?' he said. 'Ha ha ha ha a HAHAHA!! HA HA HA!!! HA HA – '
There was a blur as Igor leapt to the table and grabbed Hubert. 'Thorry, Mr Lipwig,' he said over his shoulder, 'thith can go on for hourth – '
He slapped Hubert twice across the face and pulled a jar out of his pocket.
'Mr Hubert? How many fingerth am I holding up?'
Hubert slowly focused. 'Thirteen?' he quavered.
Igor relaxed and dropped the jar back into his pocket. 'Jutht in time. Well done, thur!'
'I am so sorry – ' Hubert began.
'Don't worry about it. I'm feeling a bit that way myself,' said Moist.
'So… this gold… have you any idea who took it?'
'No, but it must have been an inside job,' said Moist. 'And now the Watch are going to pin it on me, I suspect.'
'Will that mean you won't be in charge?' said Hubert.
'I doubt I'll be allowed to run the bank from inside the Tanty.'
'Oh dear,' said Hubert, looking at Igor. 'Um… what would happen if it was put back?'
Igor coughed loudly.
'I think that's unlikely, don't you?' said Moist.
'Yes, but Igor told me that when the Post Office burned down last year the gods themselves gave you the money to rebuild it!'
'Harrumph,' said Igor.
'I doubt if that's likely twice,' said Moist. 'And I don't think there's a god of banking.'
'One might take it on for the publicity,' said Hubert desperately. 'It could be worth a prayer.'
'Harrumph!' said Igor, louder this time.
Moist looked from one to the other. Okay, he thought, something's going on, and I'm not going to be told what it is.
Pray to the gods to get a big heap of gold? When had that ever worked? Well, last year it worked, true, but that was because I already knew where a big heap of gold was buried. The gods help those who help themselves, and my word, didn't I help myself.
'You think it's really worth it?' said Moist.
A small steaming mug was placed in front of him. 'Your Thplot,' said Igor. The words 'Now please drink it up and go' accompanied it in every respect but the vocal.
'Do you think I should pray, Igor?' said Moist, watching his face.
'I couldn't thay. The Igor position on prayer is that it is nothing more than hope with a beat to it.'
Moist leaned closer and whispered: 'Igor, as one Uberwald lad to another, your lisp just departed.'
Igor's frown grew. 'Thorry, thur, I have a lot on my mind,' he said, rolling his eyes to indicate the nervous Hubert.
'My fault, I'm disturbing you good people,' said Moist, emptying the cup in one go. 'Any minute now the dhdldlkp;kvyv vbdf[ ;jvjvf;llljvmmk;wbvlm bnxgcgbnme – '
Ah yes, Splot, thought Moist. It contained herbs and all natural ingredients. But belladonna was a herb, and arsenic was natural. There was no alcohol in it, people said, because alcohol couldn't survive. But a cup of hot Splot got men out of bed and off to work when there was six feet of snow outside and the well was frozen. It left you clear-headed and quick-thinking. It was only a shame that the human tongue couldn't keep up.
Moist blinked once or twice and said: 'Ughx…'
He said his goodbyes, even if they were his 'gnyrxs', and headed back up the length of the undercroft, the light from the Glooper pushing his shadow in front of him. Trolls watched him suspiciously as he climbed the steps, trying to keep his feet from flying away from him. His brain buzzed, but it had nothing to do. There was nothing to grab hold of, to worry a solution from. And in an hour or so the country edition of the Times would be out and, very shortly after, so would he. There would be a run on the bank, which is a horrifying thing at best, and the other banks wouldn't help him out, would they, because he wasn't a chap. Disgrace and Ignominy and Mr Fusspot were staring him in the face, but only one of them was licking it.
He'd made it to his office, then. Splot certainly took your mind off all your little problems by rolling them into the big one of keeping all of yourself on one planet. He accepted the little dog's ritual slobbering kiss, got off his knees, and made it as far as the chair.
Okay… sitting down, he could do that. But his mind raced.
People would be here soon. There were too many unanswered questions. What to do, what to do? Pray? Moist wasn't too keen on prayer, not because he thought the gods didn't exist but because he was afraid they might. All right, Anoia had got a good deal out of him and he'd noticed her shiny new temple the other day, its frontage already hung with votive egg-slicers, fondant whisks, ladles, parsnip butterers and many other useless appliances donated by grateful worshippers who had faced the prospect of a life with their drawers stuck. Anoia delivered, because she specialized. She didn't even pretend to offer a paradise, eternal verities or any kind of salvation. She just left you with a smooth pulling action and access to the forks. And practically no one had believed in her before he'd picked her, at random, as one of the gods to thank for the miraculous windfall. Would she remember?
If he had some gold stuck in a drawer, then maybe. Turning dross into gold, probably not. Still, you turned to the gods when all you had left was a prayer.
He wandered into the little kitchen and took a ladle off the hook. Then he went back to the office and rammed it into a desk drawer, where it stuck, this being the chief function of ladles in the world. Rattle your drawers, that was it. She was attracted to the noise, apparently.
'O Anoia,' he said, tugging at the drawer handle, 'this is me, Moist von Lipwig, penitent sinner. I don't know if you remember? We are, all of us, mere utensils, stuck in drawers of our own making, and none more than I. If you could find time in your busy schedule to unstick me in my hour of need you will not find me wanting in gratitude, yea indeed, when we put the statues of the gods on the roof of the new Post Office. I never liked the urns on the old one. Covered in gold leaf too, by the way. Thanking you in anticipation. Amen.'
He gave the drawer one last tug. The ladle sprang out, twanging through the air like a leaping salmon, and smashed a vase in the corner.
Moist decided to take that as a hopeful sign. You were supposed to smell cigarette smoke if Anoia was present, but since Adora Belle had spent more than ten minutes in this room there was no point in sniffing.
What next? Well, the gods helped those who helped themselves, and there was always one last Lipwig-friendly option. It floated up in his mind: wing it.READ MORE >>