Going Postal (Discworld #33)

9,616
07.03.2019

‘Hang on . . . why can’t the mail coaches take it?’ said Moist. ‘Hell, they’re still called mail coaches, right? We know they take stuff from anyone, on the quiet. Well, the Post Office is back in business. They take our mail. Go and find whoever runs them and tell him so!’

‘Yessir,’ said Groat, beaming. ‘Thought about how we’re going to send post to the moon yet, sir?’

‘One thing at a time, Mr Groat!’

‘That’s not like you, sir,’ said Groat cheerfully. ‘All at once is more your style, sir!’ I wish it wasn’t, Moist thought, as he eased his way upstairs. But you had to move fast. He always moved fast. His whole life had been movement. Move fast, because you never know what’s trying to catch you up— He paused on the stairs. Not Mr Pump! The golem hadn’t left the Post Office! He hadn’t tried to catch him up! Was it that he’d been on postal business? How long could he be away on postal business? Could he fake his death, maybe? The old pile-of-clothes-on-the-seashore trick? Worth remembering. All he needed was a long enough start. How did a golem’s mind actually work? He’d have to ask Miss— Miss Dearheart! He’d been flying so high that he’d asked her out! That might be a problem now, because most of the lower part of his body was on fire, not especially for Miss Dearheart. Oh, well, he thought as he entered the office, perhaps he could find a restaurant with really soft seats— FASTER THAN THE ‘SPEED OF LIGHT’

‘Old-fashioned’ Mail Beats Clacks Postmaster delivers, says: Snook Not Cocked Amazing Scenes at Post Office The headlines screamed at him as soon as he saw the paper. He almost screamed back. Of course he’d said all that. But he’d said it to the innocent smiling face of Miss Sacharissa Cripslock, not to the whole world! And then she’d written it down all truthfully, and suddenly . . .

you got this. Moist had never much bothered with newspapers. He was an artist. He wasn’t interested in big schemes. You swindled the man in front of you, looking him sincerely in the eyes. The picture was good, though, he had to admit. The rearing horse, the winged hat and above all the slight blurring with speed. It was impressive. He relaxed a little. The place was operating, after all. Letters were being posted. Mail was being delivered. Okay, so a major part of it all was that the clacks wasn’t working properly, but maybe in time people would see that a letter to your sister in Sto Lat didn’t need to cost thirty pence to maybe get there in an hour but might as well cost a mere five pence to be there in the morning. Stanley knocked at the door and then pushed it open. ‘Cup of tea, Mr Lipwig?’ he said. ‘And a bun, sir.’

‘You’re an angel in heavy disguise, Stanley,’ said Moist, sitting back with care, and wincing. ‘Yes, thank you, sir,’ said Stanley solemnly. ‘Got some messages for you, sir.’

‘Thank you, Stanley,’ said Moist. There was a lengthy pause until he remembered that this was Stanley he was talking to and added: ‘Please tell me what they are, Stanley.’

‘Er . . . the golem lady came in and said . . .’ Stanley closed his eyes, ‘ “Tell the Streak of Lightning he’ll have another eight golems in the morning and if he’s not too busy working miracles I’ll accept his invitation to dine at eight at Le Foie Heureux, meeting at the Mended Drum at seven.”’

‘The Happy Liver? Are you sure?’ But of course it would be correct. This was Stanley. ‘Ha, even the damn soup there is fifteen dollars!’ said Moist. ‘And you have to wait three weeks for an appointment to be considered for a booking! They weigh your wallet! How does she think I—’ His eye fell on ‘Mr Robinson’s box’, sitting innocently in the corner of the office. He liked Miss Dearheart. Most people were . . . accessible. Sooner or later you could find the springs that worked them; even Miss Maccalariat would have a lever somewhere, although it was a horrible thought. But Adora Belle fought back, and to make sure fought back even before she was attacked. She was a challenge, and therefore fascinating. She was so cynical, so defensive, so spiky. And he had a feeling she could read him much, much better than he read her. All in all, she was intriguing. And looked good in a severely plain dress, don’t forget that bit. ‘Okay. Thank you, Stanley,’ he said. ‘Anything else?’ The boy put a sheet of slightly damp greeny-grey stamps on the desk. ‘The first dollar stamps, sir!’ he announced. ‘My word, Mr Spools has done a good job here!’ said Moist, staring at the hundreds of little green pictures of the university’s Tower of Art. ‘It even looks worth a dollar!’

‘Yes, sir. You hardly notice the little man jumping from the top,’ said Stanley. Moist snatched the sheet from the boy’s hand. ‘What? Where?’

‘You need a magnifying glass, sir. And it’s only on a few of them. In some of them he’s in the water. Mr Spools is very sorry, sir. He says it may be some kind of induced magic. You know, sir? Like, even a picture of a wizards’ tower might be a bit magical itself? There’s a few faults on some of the others, too. The printing went wrong on some of the black penny ones and Lord Vetinari’s got grey hair, sir. Some haven’t got gum on, but they’re all right because some people have asked for them that way’

‘Why?’

‘They say they’re as good as real pennies and a whole lot lighter, sir.’

‘Do you like stamps, Stanley?’ said Moist kindly. He was feeling a lot better in a seat that didn’t go up and down. Stanley’s face lit up. ‘Oh, yes, sir. Really, sir. They’re wonderful, sir! Amazing, sir!’

Moist raised his eyebrows. ‘As good as that, eh?’

‘It’s like . . . well, it’s like being there when they invented the first pin, sir!’ Stanley’s face glowed. ‘Really? The first pin, eh?’ said Moist. ‘Outstanding! Well, in that case, Stanley, you are Head of Stamps. The whole department. Which is, in fact, you. How do you like that? I imagine you already know more about them than anyone else.’

‘Oh, I do, sir! For example, on the very first run of the penny stamps they used a different type of—’

‘Good!’ said Moist hurriedly. ‘Well done! Can I keep this first sheet? As a souvenir?’

‘Of course, sir,’ said Stanley. ‘Head of Stamps, sir? Wow! Er . . . is there a hat?’

‘If you like,’ said Moist generously, folding up the sheet of stamps and putting them in his inside pocket. So much more convenient than dollars. Wow, indeed. ‘Or perhaps a shirt?’ he added. ‘You know . . . “Ask Me About Stamps”?’

‘Good idea, sir! Can I go and tell Mr Groat, sir? He’d be so proud of me!’

‘Off you go, Stanley,’ said Moist. ‘But come back in ten minutes, will you? I’ll have a letter for you to deliver – personally.’ Stanley ran off. Moist opened the wooden box, which fanned out its trays obediently, and flexed his fingers. Hmm. It seemed that anyone who was, well, anyone in the city had their paper printed by Teemer and Spools. Moist thumbed through his recently acquired paper samples, and spotted: THE GRAND TRUNK COMPANY ‘AS FAST AS LIGHT’ From the Office of the Chairman It was tempting. Very tempting. They were rich, very rich. Even with the current trouble, they were still very big. And Moist had never met a head waiter who hated money. He found a copy of yesterday’s Times. There’d been a picture . . . yes, here. There was a picture of Reacher Gilt, chairman of the Grand Trunk, at some function. He looked like a better class of pirate, a buccaneer maybe, but one who took the time to polish his plank. That flowing black hair, that beard, that eyepatch and, oh gods, that cockatoo . . . that was a Look, wasn’t it? Moist hadn’t paid much attention to the Grand Trunk Company. It was too big, and from what he’d heard it practically employed its own army. Things could be tough in the mountains, where you were often a long way from anything that resembled a watchman. It wasn’t a good idea to steal things from people who did their own law enforcement. They tended to be very definite. But what he was intending wouldn’t be stealing. It might not even be breaking the law. Fooling a maitre d’ was practically a public service. He looked at the picture again. Now, how would a man like that sign his name? Hmm . . . flowing yet small, that would be the handwriting of Reacher Gilt. He was so florid, so sociable, so huge a personality that one who was good at this sort of thing might wonder if another shard of glass was trying to sparkle like a diamond. And the essence of forgery is to make, by misdirection and careful timing, the glass look so much more like a diamond than a diamond does. Well, it was worth a try. It was not as though he was going to swindle anyone, as such. Hmm. Small yet flowing, yes . . . but someone who’d never seen the man’s writing would expect it to be extravagantly big and curly, just like him . . . Moist poised the pen over the headed paper, and then wrote:

Maître d’, Le foie Heuieux, I would be most grateful if you could find a table for my good friend Mr. Lipwig and his lady at eight o’clock tonight. Reacher Gilt Most grateful, that was good. The Reacher Gilt persona probably tipped like a drunken sailor. He folded the letter, and was addressing the envelope when Stanley and Groat came in. ‘You’ve got a letter, Mr Lipwig,’ said Stanley proudly. ‘Yes, here it is,’ said Moist, ‘No, I mean here’s one for you,’ said the boy. They exchanged envelopes. Moist glanced cursorily at the envelope, and opened it with a thumb. ‘I’ve got bad news, sir,’ said Groat, as Stanley left. ‘Hmm?’ said Moist, looking at the letter. Postmaster, The Pseudopolis clacks line will break down at 9 a.m. tomorrow. The Smoking Gnu ‘Yessir. I went round to the coach office,’ Groat went on, ‘and told them what you said and they said you stick to your business, thank you very much, and they’ll stick to theirs.’

‘Hmm,’ said Moist, still staring at the letter. ‘Well, well. Have you heard of someone called “The Smoking Gnu”, Mr Groat?’

‘What’s a gernue, sir?’

‘A bit like a dangerous cow, I think,’ said Moist. ‘Er . . . what were you saying about the coach people?’

‘They give me lip, sir, that’s what they give me,’ said Groat. ‘I told ’em, I told ’em I was the Assistant Head Postmaster and they said “so what?” sir. Then I said I’d tell you, sir, and they said— you want to know what they said, sir?’

‘Hmm. Oh, yes. I’m agog, Tolliver.’ Moist’s eyes were scanning the strange letter over and over again. ‘They said “yeah, right”,’ said Groat, a beacon of righteous indignation. ‘I wonder if Mr Trooper can still fit me in . . .’ mused Moist, staring at the ceiling. ‘Sorry, sir?’

‘Oh, nothing. I suppose I’d better go and talk to them. Go and find Mr Pump, will you? And tell him to bring a couple of the other golems, will you? I want to . . . impress people.’ Igor opened the front door in answer to the knock. There was no one there. He stepped outside and looked up and down the street. There was no one there. He stepped back inside, closing the door behind him – and no one was standing in the hall, his black cloak dripping rain, removing his wide, flat-brimmed hat. ‘Ah, Mithter Gryle, thur,’ Igor said to the tall figure, ‘I thould have known it wath you.’

‘Readier Gilt asked for me,’ said Gryle. It was more a breath than a voice.

The clan of the Igors had had any tendency to shuddering bred out of it generations ago, which was just as well. Igor felt uneasy in the presence of Gryle and his kind. ‘The marthter ith expecting—’ he began. But there was no one there. It wasn’t magic, and Gryle wasn’t a vampire. Igors could spot these things. It was just that there was nothing spare about him – spare flesh, spare time, or spare words. It was impossible to imagine Gryle collecting pins, or savouring wine or even throwing up after a bad pork pie. The picture of him cleaning his teeth or sleeping completely failed to form in the mind. He gave the impression of restraining himself, with difficulty, from killing you. Thoughtfully, Igor went down to his room off the kitchen and checked that his little leather bag was packed, just in case. In his study, Reacher Gilt poured a small brandy. Gryle looked around him with eyes that seemed not at home with the limited vistas of a room. ‘And for yourself?’ said Gilt. ‘Water,’ said Gryle. ‘I expect you know what this is about?’

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