Going Postal (Discworld #33)

9,654
07.03.2019

‘Yes, Your Lordship.’ The golem lumbered forward. ‘Hey! No! What?’ Moist waved his hands wildly and knocked game pieces tumbling. ‘Wait! Wait! There’s a rule! A golem mustn’t harm a human being or allow a human being to come to harm!’ Lord Vetinari raised a finger. ‘Just wait one moment, please, Mr Pump. Very well, Mr Lipwig, can you remember the next bit?’

‘The next bit? What next bit?’ said Moist. ‘There isn’t a next bit!’ Lord Vetinari raised an eyebrow. ‘Mr Pump?’ he said. ‘“ . . . Unless Ordered To Do So By Duly Constituted Authority”,’ said the golem. ‘I’ve never heard that bit before!’ said Moist. ‘Haven’t you?’ said Lord Vetinari, in apparent surprise. ‘I can’t imagine who would fail to include it. A hammer can hardly be allowed to refuse to hit the nail on the head, nor a saw to make moral judgements about the nature of the timber. In any case, I employ Mr Trooper the hangman, whom of course you have met, and the City Watch, the regiments and, from time to time . . . other specialists, who are fully entitled to kill in their own defence or in protection of the city and its interests.’ Vetinari started to pick up the fallen pieces and replace them delicately on the slab. ‘Why should Mr Pump be any different just because he is made of clay? Ultimately, so are we all. Mr Pump will accompany you to your place of work. The fiction will be that he is your bodyguard, as befits a senior government official. We alone will know that he has . . . additional instructions. Golems are highly moral creatures by nature, Mr Lipwig, but you may find their morality a shade . . . old-fashioned?’

‘Additional instructions?’ said Moist. ‘And would you mind telling me exactly what his additional instructions are?’

‘Yes.’ The Patrician blew a speck of dust off a little stone troll and put it on its square.

‘And?’ said Moist, after a pause. Vetinari sighed. ‘Yes, I would mind telling you exactly what they are. You have no rights in this matter. We have impounded your horse, by the way, since it was used in the committing of a crime.’

‘This is cruel and unusual punishment!’ said Moist. ‘Indeed?’ said Vetinari. ‘I offer you a light desk job, comparative freedom of movement, working in the fresh air . . . no, I feel that my offer might well be unusual, but cruel? I think not. However, I believe we do have down in the cellars some ancient punishments which are extremely cruel and in many cases quite unusual, if you would like to try them for the purposes of comparison. And, of course, there is always the option of dancing the sisal two-step.’

‘The what?’ said Moist. Drumknott leaned down and whispered something in his master’s ear. ‘Oh, I apologize,’ said Vetinari. ‘I meant of course the hemp fandango. It is your choice, Mr Lipwig. There is always a choice, Mr Lipwig. Oh, and by the way . . . do you know the second interesting thing about angels?’

‘What angels?’ said Moist, angry and bewildered. ‘Oh, dear, people just don’t pay attention,’ said Vetinari. ‘Remember? The first interesting thing about angels? I told you yesterday? I expect you were thinking about something else. The second interesting thing about angels, Mr Lipwig, is that you only ever get one.’

Chapter Two

The Post Office In which we meet the Staff- Glom of Nit – Dissertation on Rhyming Slang – ‘You should have been there!’ – The Dead Letters – A Golem’s Life – Book of Regulations There was always an angle. There was always a price. There was always a way. And look at it like this, Moist thought: certain death had been replaced with uncertain death, and that was an improvement, wasn’t it? He was free to walk around . . . well, hobble, at the moment. And it was just possible that somewhere in all this was a profit. Well, it could happen. He was good at seeing opportunities where other people saw barren ground. So there was no harm in playing it straight for a few days, yes? It’d give his foot a chance to get better, he could spy out the situation, he could make plans. He might even find out how indestructible golems were. After all, they were made of pottery, weren’t they? Things could get broken, maybe. Moist von Lipwig raised his eyes and examined his future. The Ankh-Morpork Central Post Office had a gaunt frontage. It was a building designed for a purpose. It was, therefore, more or less, a big box to employ people in, with two wings at the rear which enclosed the big stable yard. Some cheap pillars had been sliced in half and stuck on the outside, some niches had been carved for some miscellaneous stone nymphs, some stone urns had been ranged along the parapet and thus Architecture had been created. In appreciation of the thought that had gone into this, the good citizens, or more probably their kids, had covered the walls to a height of six feet with graffiti in many exciting colours. In a band all along the top of the frontage, staining the stone in greens and browns, some words had been set in letters of bronze. ‘ “NEITHER RAIN NOR SNOW NOR GLO M OF NI T CAN STAY THESE MES ENGERS ABO T THEIR DUTY,” ‘ Moist read aloud. ‘What the hell does that mean?’

‘The Post Office Was Once A Proud Institution,’ said Mr Pump. ‘And that stuff?’ Moist pointed. On a board much further down the building, in peeling paint, were the less heroic words: DONT ARSK US ABOUT: rocks troll’s with sticks All sorts of dragons Mrs Cake Huje green things with teeth Any kinds of black dogs with orange eyebrows Rains of spaniel’s fog Mrs Cake ‘I Said It Was A Proud Institution,’ the golem rumbled.

‘Who’s Mrs Cake?’

‘I Regret I Cannot Assist You There, Mr Lipvig.’

‘They seem pretty frightened of her.’

‘So It Appears, Mr Lipvig.’ Moist looked around at this busy junction in this busy city. People weren’t paying him any attention, although the golem was getting casual glances that didn’t appear very friendly. This was all too strange. He’d been – what, fourteen? – when he’d last used his real name. And heavens knew how long it had been since he’d gone out without some easily removable distinguishing marks. He felt naked. Naked and unnoticed. To the interest of no one whatsoever, he walked up the stained steps and turned the key in the lock. To his surprise it moved easily, and the paint-spattered doors swung open without a creak. There was a rhythmic, hollow noise behind Moist. Mr Pump was clapping his hands. ‘Vell Done, Mr Lipvig. Your First Step In A Career Of Benefit Both To Yourself And The Veil- being Of The City!’

‘Yeah, right,’ muttered Lipwig. He stepped into the huge, dark lobby, which was lit only dimly by a big but grimy dome in the ceiling; it could never be more than twilight in here, even at noon. The graffiti artists had been at work in here, too. In the gloom he could see a long, broken counter, with doors and pigeon-holes behind it. Real pigeon-holes. Pigeons were nesting in the pigeon-holes. The sour, salty smell of old guano filled the air, and, as marble tiles rang under Moist’s feet, several hundred pigeons took off frantically and spiralled up towards a broken pane in the roof. ‘Oh, shit,’ he said. ‘Bad Language Is Discouraged, Mr Lipvig,’ said Mr Pump, behind him. ‘Why? It’s written on the walls! Anyway, it was a description, Mr Pump! Guano! There must be tons of the stuff!’ Moist heard his own voice echo back from the distant walls. ‘When was this place last open?’

‘Twenty years ago, Postmaster!’ Moist looked around. ‘Who said that?’ he said. The voice seemed to have come from everywhere. There was the sound of shuffling and the click-click of a walking stick and a bent, elderly figure appeared in the grey, dead, dusty air. ‘Groat, sir,’ it wheezed. ‘Junior Postman Groat, sir. At your service, sir. One word from you, sir, and I will leap, sir, leap into action, sir.’ The figure stopped to cough long and hard, making a noise like a wall being hit repeatedly with a bag of rocks. Moist saw that it had a beard of the short bristled type that suggested that its owner had been interrupted halfway through eating a hedgehog. ‘Junior Postman Groat?’ he said. ‘Indeedy, sir. The reason being, no one’s ever bin here long enough to promote me, sir. Should be Senior Postman Groat, sir,’ the old man added meaningfully, and once again coughed volcanically. Ex-Postman Groat sounds more like it, Moist thought. Aloud he said, ‘And you work here, do you?’

‘Aye, sir, that we do, sir. It’s just me and the boy now, sir. He’s keen, sir. We keeps the place clean, sir. All according to Regulations.’ Moist could not stop staring. Mr Groat wore a toupee. There may actually be a man somewhere on whom a toupee works, but whoever that man might be, Mr Groat was not he. It was chestnut brown, the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong style and, all in all, wrong.

‘Ah, I see you’re admirin’ my hair, sir,’ said Groat proudly, as the toupee spun gently. ‘It’s all mine, you know, not a prunes.’

‘Er . . . prunes?’ said Moist. ‘Sorry, sir, shouldn’t have used slang. Prunes as in “syrup of prunes”, sir. Dimwell slang.* Syrup of prunes: wig. Not many men o’ my age got all their own hair, I expect that’s what you’re thinking. It’s clean living that does it, inside and out.’ * Dimwell Arrhythmic Rhyming Slang: Various rhyming slangs are known, and have given the universe such terms as ‘apples and pears’ (stairs), ‘rubbity-dub’ (pub) and ‘busy bee’ (General Theory of Relativity). The Dimwell Street rhyming slang is probably unique in that it does not, in fact, rhyme. No one knows why, but theories so far advanced are 1) that it is quite complex and in fact follows hidden rules or 2) Dimwell is well named or 3) it’s made up to annoy strangers, which is the case with most such slangs. Moist looked around at the fetid air and the receding mounds of guano. ‘Well done,’ he muttered. ‘Well, Mr Groat, do I have an office? Or something?’ For a moment, the visible face above the ragged beard was that of a rabbit in a headlight. ‘Oh, yes, sir, techn’c’ly,’ said the old man quickly. ‘But we don’t go in there any more sir, oh no, ‘cos of the floor. Very unsafe, sir. ‘cos of the floor. Could give way any minute, sir. We uses the staff locker room, sir. If you’d care to follow me, sir?’ Moist nearly burst out laughing. ‘Fine,’ he said. He turned to the golem. ‘Er . . . Mr Pump?’

‘Yes, Mr Lipvig?’ said the golem. ‘Are you allowed to assist me in any way, or do you just wait around until it’s time to hit me on the head?’

‘There Is No Need For Hurtful Remarks, Sir. I Am Allowed To Render Appropriate Assistance.’

‘So could you clean out the pigeon shit and let a bit of light in?’

‘Certainly, Mr Lipvig.’

‘You can?’

‘A Golem Does Not Shy Away From Vork, Mr Lipvig. I Vill Locate A Shovel.’ Mr Pump set off towards the distant counter, and the bearded Junior Postman panicked. ‘No!’ he squeaked, lurching after the golem. ‘It’s really not a good idea to touch them heaps!’

‘Floors liable to collapse, Mr Groat?’ said Moist cheerfully. Groat looked from Moist to the golem, and back again. His mouth opened and shut as his brain sought for words. Then he sighed. ‘You’d better come down to the locker room, then. Step this way, gentlemen.’ Moist became aware of the smell of Mr Groat as he followed the old man. It wasn’t a bad smell, as such, just . . . odd. It was vaguely chemical, coupled with the eye-stinging aroma of every type of throat medicine you’ve ever swallowed, and with just a hint of old potatoes. The locker room turned out to be down some steps into the basement where, presumably, the floors couldn’t collapse because there was nothing to collapse into. It was long and narrow. At one end was a monstrous oven which, Moist learned later, had once been part of some kind of heating system, the Post Office having been a very advanced building for its time. Now a small round stove, glowing almost cherry-red at the base, had been installed alongside it. There was a huge black kettle on it. The air indicated the presence of socks, cheap coal and no ventilation; some battered wooden lockers were ranged along one wall, the painted names flaking off. Light got in, eventually, via grimy windows up near the ceiling.

❮❯