Going Postal (Discworld #33)

9,614
07.03.2019

‘No, sir,’ said Moist. ‘If you remember, I spent the past six weeks in a condemned cell.’ His lordship put down the paper, steepled his fingers, and looked at Moist over the top of them. ‘Ah, yes. So you did, Mr Lipwig. Well, well, well.’

‘Look, I’m really sorr—’ Moist began. ‘Anywhere in the world? Even to the gods? Our postmen don’t break down so easily? History is not to be denied? Very impressive, Mr Lipwig. You have made quite a splash,’ Vetinari smiled, ‘as the fish said to the man with the lead weight tied to his feet.’

‘I didn’t exactly say—’

‘In my experience Miss Cripslock tends to write down exactly what one says,’ Vetinari observed. ‘It’s a terrible thing when journalists do that. It spoils the fun. One feels instinctively that it’s cheating, somehow. And I gather you are selling promissory notes, too?’

‘What?’

‘The stamps, Mr Lipwig. A promise to carry a penny’s worth of mail. A promise that must be kept. Do come and look at this.’ He stood up and walked across to the window, where he beckoned. ‘Do come, Mr Lipwig.’ Fearing that he might be hurled down on to the cobbles, Moist nevertheless did so. ‘See the big clacks tower over there on the Tump?’ said Vetinari, gesturing. ‘Not much activity on the Grand Trunk this morning. Problems with a tower out on the plains, I gather. Nothing is getting to Sto Lat and beyond. But now, if you look down . . .’ It took Moist a moment to understand what he was seeing, and then— ‘That’s a queue outside the Post Office?’ he said. ‘Yes, Mr Lipwig,’ said Vetinari, with dark glee. ‘For stamps, as advertised. Ankh-Morpork citizens have an instinct for, you might say, joining in the fun. Go to it, Mr Lipwig. I’m sure you’re full of ideas. Don’t let me detain you.’

Lord Vetinari returned to his desk and picked up the paper. It’s right there on the front page, Moist thought, he can’t have not seen it . . . ‘Er . . . about the other thing . . .’ he ventured, staring at the cartoon. ‘What other thing would that be?’ said Lord Vetinari. There was a moment’s silence. ‘Er . . . nothing, really,’ said Moist. ‘I’ll be off, then.’

‘Indeed you will, Postmaster. The mail must get through, must it not?’ Vetinari listened to distant doors shut, and then went and stood at the window until he saw a golden figure hurry across the courtyard. Drumknott came and tidied up the ‘Out’ tray. ‘Well done, sir,’ he said quietly. ‘Thank you, Drumknott.’

‘I see Mr Horsefry has passed away, sir.’

‘So I understand, Drumknott.’ There was a stir in the crowd as Moist crossed the street. To his unspeakable relief he saw Mr Spools, standing with one of the serious men from his printery. Spools hurried over to him. ‘I, er, have several thousand of both of the, er, items,’ he whispered, pulling out a package from under his coat. ‘Pennies and twopennies. They’re not the best we can do but I thought you might be in want of them. We heard the clacks was down again.’

‘You’re a life saver, Mr Spools. If you could just take them inside. By the way, how much is a clacks message to Sto Lat?’

‘Even a very short message would be at least thirty pence, I think,’ said the engraver. ‘Thank you.’ Moist stood back and cupped his hands. ‘Ladies and gentlemen!’ he shouted. ‘The Post Office will be open in five minutes for the sale of penny and twopenny stamps! In addition, we will be taking mail for Sto Lat! First express delivery to Sto Lat leaves on the hour, ladies and gentlemen, to arrive this morning. The cost will be ten pence per standard envelope! I repeat, ten pence! The Royal Mail, ladies and gentlemen! Accept no substitutes! Thank you!’ There was a stir from the crowd, and several people hurried away. Moist led Mr Spools into the building, politely closing the door in the face of the crowd. He felt the tingle he always felt when the game was afoot. Life should be made of moments like this, he decided. With his heart singing, he poured out orders. ‘Stanley!’

‘Yes, Mr Lipwig?’ said the boy, behind him. ‘Run along to Hobson’s Livery Stable and tell them I want a good fast horse, right? Something with a bit of fizz in its blood! Not some feagued-up old screw, and I know the difference! I want it here in half an hour! Off you go! Mr Groat?’

‘Yessir!’ Groat actually saluted. ‘Rig up some kind of table for a counter, will you?’ said Moist. ‘In five minutes, we open to accept mail and sell stamps! I’m taking letters to Sto Lat while the clacks is down and you’re Acting Postmaster while I’m gone! Mr Spools!’

‘I’m right here, Mr Lipwig. You really don’t have to shout,’ said the engraver reproachfully. ‘Sorry, Mr Spools. More stamps, please. I’ll need some to take with me, in case there’s mail to come back. Can you do that? And I’ll need the fives and the dollar stamps as soon as— Are you all right, Mr Groat?’ The old man was swaying, his lips moving soundlessly. ‘Mr Groat?’ Moist repeated.

‘Acting Postmaster . . .’ mumbled Groat. ‘That’s right, Mr Groat.’

‘No Groat has ever been Acting Postmaster . . .’ Suddenly Groat dropped to his knees and gripped Moist round the legs. ‘Oh, thank you, sir! I won’t let you down, Mr Lipwig! You can rely on me, sir! Neither rain nor snow nor glom of—’

‘Yes, yes, thank you, Acting Postmaster, thank you, that’s enough, thank you,’ said Moist, trying to pull away. ‘Please get up, Mr Groat. Mr Groat, please!’

‘Can I wear the winged hat while you’re gone, sir?’ Groat pleaded. ‘It’d mean such a lot, sir—’

‘I’m sure it would, Mr Groat, but not today. Today, the hat flies to Sto Lat.’ Groat stood up. ‘Should it really be you that takes the mail, sir?’

‘Who else? Golems can’t move fast enough, Stanley is . . . well, Stanley, and the rest of you gentlemen are ol— rich in years.’ Moist rubbed his hands together. ‘No argument, Acting Postmaster Groat! Now – let’s sell some stamps!’ The doors were opened, and the crowd flocked in. Vetinari had been right. If there was any action, the people of Ankh-Morpork liked to be a part of it. Penny stamps flowed over the makeshift counter. After all, the reasoning went, for a penny you got something worth a penny, right? After all, even if it was a joke it was as safe as buying money! And envelopes came the other way. People were actually writing letters in the Post Office. Moist made a mental note: envelopes with a stamp already on them and a sheet of folded paper inside them: Instant Letter Kit, Just Add Ink! That was an important rule of any game: always make it easy for people to give you money. To his surprise, although he realized it shouldn’t have been, Drumknott elbowed his way through the crowd with a small but heavy leather package, sealed with a heavy wax seal bearing the city crest and a heavy V. It was addressed to the mayor of Sto Lat. ‘Government business,’ he announced pointedly, as he handed it over. ‘Do you want to buy any stamps for it?’ said Moist, taking the packet. ‘What do you think, Postmaster?’ said the clerk. ‘I definitely think government business travels free,’ said Moist. ‘Thank you, Mr Lipwig. The lord likes a fast learner.’ Other mail for Sto Lat did get stamped, though. A lot of people had friends or business there. Moist looked around. People were scribbling everywhere, even holding the notepaper up against walls. The stamps, penny and twopenny, were shifting fast. At the other end of the hall, the golems were sorting the endless mail mountains . . . In fact, in a small way, the place was bustling. You should’ve seen it, sir, you should’ve seen it! ‘Lipwig, are yer?’ He snapped out of a dream of chandeliers to see a thickset man in front of him. Recognition took “a moment, and then said that this was the owner of Hobson’s Livery Stable, at once the most famous and the most notorious such enterprise in the city. It was probably not the hive of criminal activity that popular rumour suggested, although the huge establishment often seemed to contain grubby-looking men with not much to do apart from sit around and squint at people. And he was employing an Igor, everyone knew, which of course was sensible when you had such a high veterinary overhead, but you heard stories . . . * * That, for example, stolen horses got dismantled at dead of night and might well turn up with a dye job and two different legs. And it was said that there was one horse in Ankh- Morpork that had a longitudinal seam from head to tail, being sewn together from what was left of two horses that had been involved in a particularly nasty accident.

‘Oh, hello, Mr Hobson,’ said Moist. ‘Seems yer think I hire tired old horses, sir, do you?’ said Willie Hobson. His smile was not entirely friendly. A nervous Stanley stood behind him. Hobson was big and heavy-set but not exactly fat; he was probably what you’d get if you shaved a bear. ‘I have ridden some that—’ Moist began, but Hobson raised a hand. ‘Seems yer want fizz,’ said Hobson. His smile widened. ‘Well, I always give the customer what I want, you know that. So I’ve brought yer Boris.’

‘Oh, yes?’ said Moist. ‘And he’ll get me to Sto Lat, will he?’

‘Oh, at the very least, sir,’ said Hobson. ‘Good horseman, are yer?’

‘When it comes to riding out of town, Mr Hobson, there’s no one faster.’

‘That’s good, sir, that’s good,’ said Hobson, in the slow voice of someone carefully urging the prey towards the trap. ‘Boris does have a few faults, but I can see a skilled horseman like you should have no trouble. Ready, then? He’s right outside. Got a man holding him.’ It turned out that there were in fact four men holding the huge black stallion in a network of ropes, while it danced and lunged and kicked and tried to bite. A fifth man was lying on the ground. Boris was a killer. ‘Like I said, sir, he’s got a few faults, but no one could call him a . . . now what was it . . . oh, yeah, a feagued-up old screw. Still want a horse with fizz?’ Hobson’s grin said it all: this is what I do to snooty buggers who try to mess me around. Let’s see you try to ride this one, Mister-I-Know- All-About-Horses! Moist looked at Boris, who was trying to trample the fallen man, and at the watching crowd. Damn the gold suit. If you were Moist von Lipwig, there was only one thing to do now, and that was raise the stakes. ‘Take his saddle off,’ he said. ‘You what?’ said Hobson. ‘Take his saddle off, Mr Hobson,’ said Moist firmly. ‘This bag’s quite heavy, so let’s lose the saddle.’ Hobson’s smile remained, but the rest of his face tried to sidle away from it. ‘Had all the kids you want, have yer?’ he said. ‘Just give me a blanket and a bellyband, Mr Hobson.’ Now Hobson’s smile vanished completely. This was going to look too much like murder. ‘You might want to think again, sir,’ he said. ‘Boris took a couple of fingers off a man last year. He’s a trampler, too, and a snaffler and a scraper and he’ll horlock if he can get away with it. He’s got demons in him, and that’s a fact.’

‘Will he run?’

‘Not so much run as bolt, sir. Born evil, that one,’ said Hobson. ‘You need a crowbar to get him round corners, too. Look, sir, fair play to yer for a game ‘un, but I’ve got plenty of other—’ Hobson flinched as Moist gave him a special grin.’ You chose him, Mr Hobson. I’ll ride him. I’d be grateful if you could get your gentlemen to point him up Broadway for me while I go and conclude a few items of business.’ Moist went into the building, ran up the stairs to his office, shut the door, crammed his handkerchief in his mouth and whimpered gently for a few seconds, until he felt better. He’d ridden bareback a few times, when things had been really hot, but Boris had the eyes of a crazy thing. But back off now and he’d be . . . just a fool in a shiny suit. You had to give them a show, an image, something to remember. All he had to do was stay on until he left the city and then find a suitable bush to jump off into. Yes, that’d do. And then stagger into Sto Lat hours later, still with the mail, having valiantly fought off bandits. He’d be believed, because it would feel right . . . because people wanted to believe things, because it’d make a good tale, because if you made it

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