Maskerade (Discworld #18)

Chapter 22



'I'll be mogadored!' said Nanny again.

'Powder and paint,' said Granny. 'Huh. Just another kind of mask. Oh, well.' She gave the hairdresser a dreadful smile. 'How much do we owe you?' she said. 'Er. . . thirty dollars?' said the hairdresser. 'That is. . ., 'Give the w. . . man thirty dollars and another twenty to make up for his trouble,' said Granny, clutching at her head. 'Fifty dollars? You could buy a shop for-'


'Oh, all right. 'Scuse me, I'm just going to the bank.' She turned away demurely, raised the hem of her skirt -twangtwingtwongtwang -and turned back with a handful of coins. 'There you go, my good wo. . . sir,' she said sourly. There was a coach waiting outside. It was the best Granny had been able to hire with Nanny's money. A footman held open the door as Nanny helped her friend aboard. 'We'll go straight to Mrs Palm's so's I can change,' said Granny as they pulled away. 'And then to the Opera House. We ain't got much time.'

'Are you all right?'

'Never felt better.' Granny patted her hair. 'Gytha Ogg, you wouldn't be a witch if you couldn't jump to conclusions, right?' Nanny nodded. 'Oh, yes.' There was no shame in it. Sometimes there wasn't time to do anything else but take a flying leap. Sometimes you had to trust to experience and intuition and general awareness and take a running jump. Nanny herself could clear quite a tall conclusion from a standing start. 'So I've no doubt at all that there's some kind of idea floating around in your mind about this Ghost. . .'

'Well. . . sort of an idea, yes. . .'

'A name, perhaps?' Nanny shifted uncomfortably, and not only because of the moneybags under her skirt. 'I got to admit something crossed my mind. A kind of. . . feeling. I mean, you never can tell. . .' Granny nodded. 'Yes. It's all neat, isn't it? It's a lie.'

'You said last night you saw the whole thing!'

'It's still a lie. Like the lie about masks.'

'What lie about masks?'

'The way people say they hide faces.'

'They do hide faces;' said Nanny Ogg. 'Only the one on the outside.' No one took much notice of Agnes. The stage was being set for the new performance tonight. The orchestra was rehearsing. The ballerinas had been herded into their practice-room. In various other rooms people were singing at cross-purposes. But no one seemed to want her to do anything. I'm just a wandering voice, she thought. She climbed the stairs to her room and sat on the bed. The curtains were still drawn and, in the gloom, the strange roses glowed. She had rescued them from the bin because they were beautiful, but, in a way, she'd have been happier if they weren't there. Then she could have believed she'd imagined the whole thing. There was no sound from Christine's room. Telling herself that it was really her room anyway, and Christine had just been allowed to borrow it, Agnes went in. It was a mess. Christine had got up, got dressed either that or a thorough but overenthusiastic burglar had gone through every drawer in the place-and gone. The bouquets that Agnes had put into whatever

receptacles she could find last night were where she had left them. The others were where she had left them, too, and they were already dying. She caught herself wondering where she could find some jars and pots for them, and hated herself for it. It was as bad as saying 'poot!' You might as well paint WELCOME on yourself and lie down on the doorstep of the universe. It was no fun at all, having a wonderful personality. Oh. . . and good hair. And then she went and found pots for them anyway. The mirror dominated the room. It seemed to grow a little larger each time she looked at it. All right. She had to know, didn't she? Heart pounding, she felt around the edges of it. There was a little raised area that might have looked like part of the frame, but as her fingers moved across it there was a 'click' and the mirror swung inwards a fraction of an inch. When she pushed at it, it moved. She breathed out. And stepped in. 'It's disgusting!' said Salzella. 'It's pandering to the most depraved taste!' Mr Bucket shrugged. 'It's not as though we're putting “Good Chance of Seeing Someone Throttled on Stage” on the posters,' he said. 'But news has got around. People like. . . drama.'

'You mean the Watch didn't want us to shut down?'

'No. They just said we should mount guards like last night and they'd take steps.'

'Steps to the nearest place of safety, no doubt.'

'I don't like it any more than you do, but it's gone too far. We need the Watch now. Anyway, there'd be a riot if we closed. Ankh-Morpork has always enjoyed. . . excitement. We're completely sold out. The show must go on.'

'Oh, yes,' said Salzella nastily. 'Would you like me to slit a few throats in the second act? Just so no one feels disappointed?'

'Of course not,' said Bucket. 'We don't want any deaths. But. . .' The 'but' hung in the air like the late Dr Undershaft. Salzella threw up his hands. 'Anyway, I believe we are past the worst,' said Mr Bucket. 'I hope so,' said Salzella. 'Where's Senor Basilica?' said Bucket. 'Mrs Plinge is showing him his dressing-room.'

'Mrs Plinge hasn't been murdered?'

'No, no one has been found dead so far today,' said Salzella. 'That is good news.'

'Yes, and it must be, oh, at least ten past twelve,' said Salzella with an irony that Bucket quite failed to notice. 'I will go and fetch him up so that we can have lunch, shall I? It must be a good half an hour since he had a snack.' Bucket nodded. After the director had gone he surreptitiously checked his desk drawers again. There was no letter. Perhaps it was over. . . Perhaps it was true what they were saying about the late doctor. Someone knocked at the door, four times. Only one person could achieve four knocks without any rhythm whatsoever. 'Come in, Walter.' Walter Plinge stumbled into the room. 'There's a lady!' he said. 'She's to see Mr Bucket!' Nanny Ogg poked her head around the door. 'Coo-ee,' she said. 'It's only me.'

'It's. . . Mrs Ogg, isn't it?' said Mr Bucket.

There was something slightly worrying about the woman. He didn't recall her name on the list of employees. On the other hand, she was clearly around the place, she wasn't dead, and she made a decent cup of tea, so was it his worry if she wasn't getting paid? 'Good gracious, I'm not the lady,' said Nanny Ogg. 'I'm as common as muck, me, on the highest authority. No, she's waiting down in the foyer. I thought I'd better nip round here and warn you.'

'Warn me? Warn me about what? I don't have any other appointments this morning. Who is this lady?'

'Have you ever heard of Lady Esmerelda Weatherwax?'

'No. Should I?'

'Famous patron of the opera. Conservatories all over the place,' said Nanny. 'Pots of money, too.'

'Really? But I'm due to-' Bucket looked out of the window. There was a coach and four horses outside. It had so much rococo ornamentation on it that it was surprising it ever managed to move. 'Well, I-' he began again. 'It is really very incon-'

'She ain't the sort of person who likes to be kept waiting,' said Nanny, with absolute honesty. And then, because Granny had been getting on her nerves all morning and the initial embarrassment at Mrs Palm's still rankled and there was a streak of mischief in Nanny a mile wide, she added, 'They say she was a famous courtesan in her younger days. They say she didn't like to be kept waiting then, either. Retired now, of course. So they say.'

'You know, I've visited most of the major opera houses and I've never heard the name,' mused Bucket. 'Ah, I heard she likes to keep her donations secret,' said Nanny. Mr Bucket's mental compass once again swung around to point due Money. 'You'd better show her up,' he said. 'I could perhaps give her a few minutes-'

'No one ever gave Lady Esmerelda less than half an hour,' said Nanny, and gave Bucket a wink. 'I'll go and fetch her, shall I?' She bustled away, towing Walter behind her. Mr Bucket stared after her. Then, after a moment's thought, he got up and checked the set of his moustache in the mirror over the fireplace. He heard the door open and turned with his finest smile in place. It faded only slightly at the sight of Salzella, ushering the impressive bulk of Basilica in front of him. The little manager and interpreter fussed along beside him, like a tugboat. 'Ah, Senor Basilica,' said Bucket. 'I trust the dressingrooms are to your satisfaction?' Basilica gave him a blank smile while the interpreter spoke in Brindisian, and then replied. 'Senor Basilica says they are fine but the larder isn't big enough,' he said. 'Haha,' said Bucket, and then stopped when no one else laughed. 'In fact,' he said hurriedly, 'Senor Basilica will I'm sure be very happy to hear that our kitchens have made a special effort to-' There was another knock at the door. He hurried across and opened it. Granny Weatherwax stood there, but not for long. She pushed him aside and swept into the room. There was a choking noise from Enrico Basilica. 'Which one of you is Bucket?' she demanded. 'Er. . . me. . .' Granny removed a glove and extended her hand. 'So sorry,' she said. 'Ai am not used to important people opening their own doors. Ai am Esmerelda Weatherwax.'

'How charming. I've heard so much about you,' lied Bucket. 'Pray let me introduce you. No doubt you know Senor Basilica?'

'Of course,' said Granny, looking Henry Slugg in the eye. 'I'm sure Senor Basilica recalls the many happy times we've had in other opera houses whose names I can't quite remember at the moment.' Henry grimaced a smile, and said something to the interpreter. 'That is astonishing,' said the interpreter. 'Senor Basilica has just said how fondly he recalls meeting you many times before at opera houses that have just slipped his mind at present.' Henry kissed Granny's hand, and looked up at her with pleading in his eyes. My word, thought Bucket, that look he's giving her. . . I wonder if they ever- 'Oh, uh, and this is Mr Salzella, our director of music,' he said, remembering himself. 'Honoured,' said Salzella, giving Granny a firm handshake and looking her squarely in the eye. She nodded. 'And what's the first thing you'd take out of a burning house, Mr Salzella?' she enquired. He smiled politely. 'What would you like me to take, madam?' She nodded thoughtfully and let go of his hand. 'May I get you a drink? said Bucket. 'A small sherry,' said Granny. Salzella sidled up to Bucket as he was pouring the drink. 'Who the hell is she?'

'Apparently she's rolling in money,' whispered Bucket. 'And very keen on opera.'

'Never heard of her.'

'Well, Senor Basilica has, and that's good enough for me. Make yourself pleasant to them, will you, while I try to sort out lunch.' He pulled open the door and tripped over Nanny Ogg. 'Sorry!' said Nanny, standing up and giving him a cheerful grin. 'These doorknobs are a bugger to polish, aren't they?'

'Er, Mrs-' ,Ogg., '–Ogg, could you run along to the kitchens and tell Mrs Clamp there will be another one for lunch, please.'

'Right you are.' Nanny bustled away. Bucket nodded approvingly. What a reliable old lady, he thought. It wasn't exactly a secret. When the room had been divided a space had been left between the walls. At the far end it opened on to a staircase, a perfectly ordinary staircase, which even had some grubby daylight via a dirt-encrusted window. Agnes was vaguely disappointed. She had expected, well, a real secret passage, perhaps with a few torches flickering secretly in rather valuable secret wrought-iron holders. But the staircase had just been walled off from the rest of the place at some time. It wasn't secret-it had merely been forgotten. There were cobwebs in the corners. The cocoons of extinct flies hung down from the ceiling. The air smelled of long-dead birds. But there was a clear track through the dust. Someone had used the stairs several times. She hesitated between up and down, and headed up. That was no great journey-after one more flight it ended at a trapdoor that wasn't even bolted.


You can use arrow keyboard to go to pervious/next chapter. The WASD keys also have the same function as arrow keys.