Maskerade (Discworld #18)

Chapter 25

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There was no one in the office, but there was another closed door in the far wall. Bucket knocked again, and then rattled the door handle. 'I'm in the bath,' said Salzella. 'Are you decent?'

'I'm fully clothed, if that's what you mean. Is there a pail of ice out there?'

'Was it you who ordered it?' said Bucket guiltily. 'Yes!'

'Only I, er, I had it taken to my office so I could stick my feet in it. . .'

'Your feet?'

'Yes. Er. . . I went for a brisk run around the city, don't know why, just felt like it. . .'

'Well?'

'My boots caught fire on the second lap.' There was a sloshing noise and some sotto voce grumbling and then the door swung open, revealing Salzella in a purple dressing-gown. 'Has Senor Basilica been safely tethered?' he said, dripping on the floor. 'He's going through the music with Herr Trubelmacher.'

'And he's. . . all right?'

'He sent along to the kitchen for a snack.' Salzella shook his head. 'Astonishing.'

'And they've put the interpreter in a cupboard. They don't seem to be able to get him unfolded.' Bucket sat down carefully. He was wearing carpet slippers. 'And-' Salzella prompted. 'And what?'

'Where did that dreadful woman go?'

'Mrs Ogg is showing her around. Well, what else could I do? Two thousand dollars, remember!'

'I am endeavouring to forget,' said Salzella. 'I promise never to talk about that lunch ever again, if you don't either.'

'What lunch?' said Bucket innocently. 'Well done.'

'She does seem to have an amazing effect though, doesn't she. . .'

'I don't know who you are talking about.'

'I mean, it's not hard to see how she made her money. . .'

'Good heavens, man, she's got a face like a hatchet!'

'They say that Queen Ezeriel of Klatch had a squint, but that didn't stop her having fourteen husbands, and that was only the official score. Besides, she's knocking on a bit. . .'

'I thought she'd been dead for two hundred years!'

'I'm talking about Lady Esmerelda.'

'So am I.'

'At least try to be civil to her at the soiree before the performance tonight.'

'I'll try.'

'The two thousand might be only the start, I hope. Every time I open a drawer there are more bills! We seem to owe money to everyone!'

'Opera is expensive.'

'You're telling me: Whenever I try to make a start on the books, something dreadful happens. Do you think I might just have a few hours without something awful happening?'

'In an opera house?' The voice was muffled by the half-dismantled mechanism of the organ. 'All right-give me middle C.'

A hairy finger pressed a key. It made a thudding noise and somewhere in the mechanism something else went woing. 'Blast, it's come off the peg. . . hold on again. . . The note rang out sweet and clear. 'O-kay,' said the voice of the man hidden in the exposed entrails of the organ. 'Wait until I tighten the peg. . .' Agnes stepped closer. The hulking figure seated at the organ turned around and gave her a friendly grin, which was much wider than the average grin. Its owner was covered in red hair and, while short-changed in the leg department, had obviously been first in the queue when the arm counter opened. And had also been given a special free offer of lip. . . .try 'André?' said Agnes weakly. The organist extracted himself from the mechanism. He was holding a complicated wooden bar with springs on it. 'Oh, hello,' he said. 'Er. . . who is this?' said Agnes, backing away from the primeval organist. 'Oh, this is the Librarian. I don't think he has a name. He's the Librarian at Unseen University but, much more importantly, he's their organist and it turns out our organ is a Johnson[8], just like theirs. He's given us some spare parts-'

'Ook'

'Sorry, lent us some spare parts.'

'He plays the organ?'

'In an amazingly prehensile way, yes.' Agnes relaxed. The creature didn't seem about to attack. 'Oh,' she said. 'Well. . . I suppose it's natural, because sometimes barrel-organ men came to our village and they often had a dear little mon-' There was a crashing chord. The orang-utan raised its other hand and waved a finger politely in front of Agnes's face. 'He doesn't like being called a monkey,' said André. 'And he likes you.'

'How can you tell?, 'He doesn't usually go in for warnings.' She stepped back quickly and grabbed the boy's arm. 'Can I have a word with you?' she said. 'We've got only a few hours and I'd really like to get this-'

'It's important.' He followed her into the wings. Behind them, the Librarian tapped a few keys on the half-repaired keyboard and then ducked underneath. 'I know who the Ghost is,' whispered Agnes. André stared at her. Then he pulled her further into the shadows. 'The Ghost isn't anybody,' he said softly. 'Don't be silly. It's just the Ghost.'

'I mean he's someone else when he takes his mask off.' Who. 'Should I tell Mr Bucket and Mr Salzella?'

'Who? Tell them about who?'

'Walter Plinge.' He stared at her again. 'If you laugh I'll. . . I'll kick you,' said Agnes. 'But Walter isn't even-'

'I didn't believe it either but he said he saw the Ghost in the ballet school and there's mirrors all over the walls and he'd be quite tall if he stood up properly and he roams around in the cellars-'

'Oh, come on. . .'

'The other night I thought I heard him singing on the stage when everyone else had gone.'

'You saw him?'

'It was dark.'

'Oh, well. . .' André began dismissively. 'But afterwards I'm certain I heard him talking to the cat. Talking normally, I mean. I mean like a normal person, I mean. And you've got to admit. . . he is strange. Isn't he just the sort of person who'd want to wear a mask to hide who he is?' She sagged. 'Look, I can see you don't want to listen-'

'No! No, I think. . . well. . .'

'I just thought I'd feel better if I told someone.' André smiled in the gloom. 'I wouldn't mention it to anyone else, though.' Agnes looked down at her feet. 'I suppose it does sound a bit far- fetched. . .' André laid a hand on her arm. Perdita felt Agnes draw herself back. 'Do you feel better?' he said. 'I. . . don't know. . . I mean. . . I don't know. . . I mean, I just can't imagine him hurting anyone. . . I feel so stupid. . .'

'Everyone's on edge. Don't worry about it.'

'I'd. . . hate you to think I was being silly-'

'I'll keep an eye on Walter, if you like.' He smiled at her. 'But I'd better get on with things,' he added. He gave her another smile, as fast and brief as summer lightning. 'Thank y-' He was already walking back to the organ. * * * This shop was a gentlemen's outfitters. 'It's not for me,' said Nanny Ogg. 'It's for a friend. He's six foot tall, very broad shoulders.'

'Inside leg?'

'Oh, yes.' She looked around the store. Might as well go all the way. It was her money, after all. 'And a black coat, long black tights, shoes with them shiny buckles, one of those top hats, a big cloak with a red silk lining, a bow-tie, a really posh black cane with a very nobby silver knob on it. . . and. . . a black eye-patch.'

'An eye-patch?'

'Yes. Maybe with sequins or something on it, since it's the opera.' The tailor stared at Nanny. 'This is a little irregular,' he said. 'Why can't the gentleman come in himself?'

'He ain't quite a gentleman yet.'

'But, madam, I meant that we have to get the size right.' Nanny Ogg looked around the shop. 'Tell you what,' she said, 'you sell me something that looks about right and we'll adjust him to fit. 'Souse me. . .' She turned away demurely -twingtwangtwong -and turned back, smoothing down her dress and holding a leather bag. 'How much'll it be?' she said. The tailor looked blankly at the bag. 'I'm afraid we won't be able to have all that ready until at least next Wednesday,' he said. Nanny Ogg sighed. She felt she was becoming familiar with one of the most fundamental laws of physics. Time equalled money. Therefore, money equalled time.

'I was sort of hoping to get it all a bit quicker than that,' she said, jingling the bag up and down. The tailor looked down his nose at her. 'We are craftsmen, madam. How long did you think it should take?'

'How about ten minutes?'

' Twelve minutes later she left the shop with a large packet under one arm, a hatbox under the other, and an ebony cane between her teeth. Granny was waiting outside. 'Got it all?'

'Ess.'

'I'll take the eye-patch, shall I?'

'We've got to get a third witch,' said Nanny, trying to rearrange the parcels. 'Young Agnes has got good strong arms.'

'You know if we was to drag her out of there by the scruff of her neck we'd never hear the last of it,' said Granny. 'She'll be a witch when she wants to be.' They headed for the Opera House's stage-door. 'Afternoon, Les,' said Nanny cheerfully as they entered. 'Stopped itching now, has it?'

'Marvellous bit of ointment that was you gave me, Mrs Ogg,' said the stage-doorkeeper, his moustache bending into something that might have been a smile. 'Mrs Les keeping well? How's her sister's leg?'

'Doing very well, Mrs Ogg, thank you for asking.'

'This is just Esme Weatherwax who's helping me with some stuff,' said Nanny. The doorkeeper nodded. It was clear that any friend of Mrs Ogg was a friend of his. 'No trouble at all, Mrs Ogg.' As they passed through into the dusty network of corridors Granny reflected, not for the first time, that Nanny had a magic all of her own. Nanny didn't so much enter places as insinuate herself; she had unconsciously taken a natural talent for liking people and developed it into an occult science. Granny Weatherwax did not doubt that her friend already knew the names, family histories, birthdays and favourite topics of conversation of half the people here, and probably also the vital wedge that would cause them to open up. It might be talking about their children, or a potion for their bad feet, or one of Nanny's really filthy stories, but Nanny would be in and after twenty-four hours they'd have known her all their lives. And they'd tell her things. Of their own free will. Nanny Got On with people. Nanny could get a statue to cry on her shoulder and say what it really thought about pigeons. It was a knack. Granny had never had the patience to acquire it. just occasionally, she wondered whether it might have been a good idea. 'Curtain up in an hour and a half,' said Nanny. 'I promised Giselle I'd give her a hand. . .'

'Who's Giselle?'

'She does makeup.'

'You don't know how to do makeup!'

'I distempered our privy, didn't I?' said Nanny. 'And I paint faces on eggs for the kiddies every Soul Cake Tuesday.'

'Got to do anything else, have you?' said Granny sarcastically. 'Open the curtains? Fill in for a ballet dancer who's been taken poorly?'

'I did say I'd help with the drinks at the swarray,' said Nanny, letting the irony slide off like water on a red-hot stove. 'Well, a lot of the staff have buggered off 'cos of the Ghost. It's in the big foyer in half an hour. I expect you ought to be there, being a patronizer.'

'What's a swarray?' said Granny suspiciously. 'It's a sort of posh party before the opera.'

'What do I have to do?'

'Drink sherry and make polite conversation,' said Nanny. 'Or conversation, anyway. I saw the grub being done for it. They've even got little cubes of cheese on sticks stuck in a grapefruit, and you don't get much posher than that.'

'Gytha Ogg, you ain't done any. . . special dishes, have you?'

'No, Esme,' said Nanny Ogg meekly. 'Only you've got an imp of mischief in you.'

'Been far too busy for anything like that,' said Nanny. Granny nodded. 'Then we'd better find Greebo,' she said. 'You sure about this, Esme?' said Nanny. 'We might have a lot to do tonight,' said Granny. 'Maybe we could do with an extra pair of hands.'

'Paws.'

'At the moment, yes.' * * * It was Walter. Agnes knew it. It wasn't knowledge in her mind, exactly. It was practically something she breathed. She felt it as a tree feels the sun. It all fitted. He could go anywhere, and no one took any notice of Walter Plinge. In a way he was invisible, because he was always there. And, if you were someone like Walter Plinge, wouldn't you long to be someone as debonair and dashing as the Ghost? If you were someone like Agnes Nitt, wouldn't you long to be someone as dark and mysterious as Perdita X Dream? The traitor thought was there before she could choke it off. She added hurriedly: But I've never killed anyone. Because that's what I'd have to believe, isn't it? If he's the Ghost, then he's killed people. All the same. . . he does look odd, and he talks as if the words are trying to escape. . . A hand touched her shoulder. She spun round. 'It's only me!' said Christine. '. . .Oh.'

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