Going Postal (Discworld #33)

9,673
07.03.2019

‘It’s some kind of banner,’ said Moist, aloud. ‘Sorry, Mr Lipwig?’ said Stanley. ‘Er . . . nothing. Thank you, Stanley. Have fun with the stamps. Good to see you standing up so . . . straight . . .’

‘It’s like having a new life, sir,’ said Stanley. ‘I’d better go, sir, they need help with the sorting . . .’ The banner was crude. It read: ‘Thank You Mr Lipwic!’

Gloom rolled around Moist. It was always bad after he’d won, but this time was the worst. For days his mind had been flying and he’d felt alive. Now he felt numb. They’d put up a banner like that, and he was a liar and a thief. He’d fooled them all, and there they were, thanking him for fooling them. A quiet voice from the doorway behind him said: ‘Mad Al and the boys told me what you did.’

‘Oh,’ said Moist, still not turning round. She’ll be lighting a cigarette, he thought. ‘It wasn’t a nice thing to do,’ Adora Belle Dearheart went on, in the same level tone. ‘There wasn’t a nice thing that would work,’ said Moist. ‘Are you going to tell me that the ghost of my brother put the idea in your head?’ she said. ‘No. I dreamed it up myself,’ said Moist. ‘Good. If you’d tried that, you’d be limping for the rest of your life, believe me.’

‘Thank you,’ said Moist leadenly. ‘It was just a lie I knew people would want to believe. Just a lie. It was a way to keep the Post Office going and get the Grand Trunk out of Gilt’s hands. You’ll probably get it back, if you want it. You and all the other people Gilt swindled. I’ll help, if I can. But I don’t want thanking.’ He felt her draw nearer. ‘It’s not a lie,’ she said. ‘It’s what ought to have been true. It pleased my mother.’

‘Does she think it’s true?’

‘She doesn’t want to think it isn’t.’ No one does. I can’t stand this, Moist thought. ‘Look, I know what I’m like,’ he said. ‘I’m not the person everyone thinks I am. I just wanted to prove to myself I’m not like Gilt. More than a hammer, you understand? But I’m still a fraud by trade. I thought you knew that. I can fake sincerity so well that even I can’t tell. I mess with people’s heads—’

‘You’re fooling no one but yourself,’ said Miss Dearheart, and reached for his hand. Moist— shook her off, and ran out of the building, out of the city and back to his old life, or lives, always moving on, selling glass as diamond, but somehow it just didn’t seem to work any more, the flair wasn’t there, the fun had dropped out of it, even the cards didn’t seem to work for him, the money ran out, and one winter in some inn that was no more than a slum he turned his face to the wall— And an angel appeared. ‘What just happened?’ said Miss Dearheart. Perhaps you do get two . . . ‘Only a passing thought,’ said Moist. He let the golden glow rise. He’d fooled them all, even here. But the good bit was that he could go on doing it; he didn’t have to stop. All he had to do was remind himself, every few months, that he could quit any time. Provided he knew he could, he’d never have to. And there was Miss Dearheart, without a cigarette in her mouth, only a foot away. He leaned forward— There was a loud cough behind them. It turned out to have come from Groat, who was holding a large parcel. ‘Sorry to interrupt, sir, but this just arrived for you,’ he said, and sniffed disapprovingly. ‘Messenger, not one of ours. I thought I’d better bring it straight up ‘cos there’s something moving about inside it . . .’ There was. And airholes, Moist noted. He opened the lid with care, and pulled his fingers away just in time. ‘Twelve and a half per cent! Twelve and a half per cent!’ screamed the cockatoo, and landed on Groat’s hat. There was no note inside, and nothing on the box but the address.

‘Why’d someone send you a parrot?’ said Groat, not caring to raise a hand within reach of the curved beak. ‘It’s Gilt’s, isn’t it?’ said Miss Dearheart. ‘He’s given you the bird?’ Moist smiled. ‘It looks like it, yes. Pieces of eight!’

‘Twelve and a half per cent!’ yelled the cockatoo. ‘Take it away, will you, Mr Groat?’ said Moist. ‘Teach it to say . . . to say . . .’

‘Trust me?’ said Miss Dearheart. ‘Good one!’ said Moist. ‘Yes, do that, Mr Groat.’ When Groat had gone, with the cockatoo balancing happily on his shoulder, Moist turned back to the woman. ‘And tomorrow,’ he said, ‘I’ll definitely get the chandeliers back!’

‘What? Most of this place doesn’t have a ceiling,’ said Miss Dearheart, laughing. ‘First things first. Trust me! And then, who knows? I might even find the fine polished counter! There’s no end to what’s possible!’ And out in the bustling cavern white feathers began to fall from the roof. They may have been from an angel, but were more likely to be coming from the pigeon that a hawk was just disembowelling on a beam. Still, they were feathers. It’s all about style. Sometimes the truth is arrived at by adding all the little lies together and deducting them from the totality of what is known. Lord Vetinari stood at the top of the stairs in the Great Hall of the Palace, and looked down on his clerks. They’d taken over the whole huge floor for this Concludium. Chalked markings – circles, squares, triangles – were drawn here and there on the floor. Within them, papers and ledgers were piled in dangerously neat heaps. And there were clerks, some working inside the outlines and some moving noiselessly from one outline to another bearing pieces of paper as if they were a sacrament. Periodically clerks and watchmen arrived with more files and ledgers, which were solemnly received, assessed and added to the relevant pile. Abacuses clicked everywhere. Clerks would pad back and forth and sometimes they would meet in a triangle and bend their heads in quiet discussion. This might result in their heading away in new directions or, increasingly as the night wore on, one clerk would go and chalk a new outline, which would begin to fill with paper. Sometimes an outline would be emptied and rubbed out and its contents distributed among nearby outlines. No enchanter’s circle, no mystic’s mandala was ever drawn with such painfully meticulous care as the conclusions being played out on the floor. Hour after hour it went on, with a patience that at first terrified and then bored. It was the warfare of clerks, and it harried the enemy through many columns and files. Moist could read words that weren’t there but the clerks found the numbers that weren’t there, or were there twice, or were there but going the wrong way. They didn’t hurry. Peel away the lies, and the truth would emerge, naked and ashamed and with nowhere else to hide. At 3 a.m. Mr Cheeseborough arrived, in a hurry and bitter tears, to learn that his bank was a shell of paper. He brought his own clerks, with their nightshirts tucked into hastily donned trousers, who went down on their knees alongside the other men and spread out more papers, double-checking figures in the hope that if you stared at numbers long enough they’d add up differently. And then the Watch turned up with a small red ledger, and it was given a circle of its own, and soon the whole pattern re-formed around it . . . It wasn’t until almost dawn that the sombre men arrived. They were older and fatter and better – but not showily, never showily -dressed, and moved with the gravity of serious money. They were financiers too, richer than kings (who are often quite poor), but hardly anyone in the city outside

their circle knew them or would notice them in the street. They spoke quietly to Cheeseborough as to one who’d suffered a bereavement, and then talked among themselves, and used little gold propelling pencils in neat little notebooks to make figures dance and jump through hoops. Then quiet agreement was reached and hands were shaken, which in this circle carried infinitely more weight than any written contract. The first domino had been steadied. The pillars of the world ceased to tremble. The Credit Bank would open in the morning, and when it did so bills would be honoured, wages would be paid, the city would be fed. They’d saved the city with gold more easily, at that point, than any hero could have managed with steel. But in truth it had not exactly been gold, or even the promise of gold, but more like the fantasy of gold, the fairy dream that the gold is there, at the end of the rainbow, and will continue to be there for ever provided, naturally, that you don’t go and look. This is known as Finance. On the way back home to a simple breakfast, one of them dropped off at the Guild of Assassins to pay his respects to his old friend Lord Downey, during which current affairs were only lightly touched upon. And Reacher Gilt, wherever he had gone, was now certainly the worst insurance risk in the world. The people who guard the rainbow don’t like those who get in the way of the sun.

Epilogue

Some Time After The figure in the chair did not have long hair, or an eyepatch. It didn’t have a beard or, rather, it wasn’t intending to have a beard. It hadn’t shaved for several days. It groaned. ‘Ah, Mr Gilt,’ said Lord Vetinari, looking up from his playing board. ‘You are awake, I see. I’m sorry for the manner in which you were brought here, but some quite expensive people wish to see you dead and I thought it would be a good idea if we had this little meeting before they did.’

‘I don’t know who you’re talking about,’ said the figure. ‘My name is Randolph Stippler, and I have papers to prove it—’

‘And wonderful papers they are, Mr Gilt. But enough of that. No, it is about angels that I wish to talk to you now.’ Reacher Gilt, wincing occasionally as the aches from three days of being carried by a golem made themselves felt, listened in mounting puzzlement to the angelic theories of Lord Vetinari. ‘. . . brings me on to my point, Mr Gilt. The Royal Mint needs an entirely new approach. Frankly, it’s moribund and not at all what we need in the Century of the Anchovy. Yet there is a way forward. In recent months Mr Lipwig’s celebrated stamps have become a second currency in this city. So light, so easy to carry, you can even send them through the post! Fascinating, Mr Gilt. At last people are loosening their grip on the idea that money should be shiny. Do you know that a typical one penny stamp may change hands up to twelve times before being affixed to an envelope and redeemed? What the Mint needs to see it through is a man who understands the dream of currency. There will be a salary and, I believe, a hat.’

‘You are offering me a job?’

‘Yes, Mr Stippler,’ said Vetinari. ‘And, to show the sincerity of my offer, let me point out the door behind you. If at any time in this interview you feel you wish to leave, you have only to step through it and you will never hear from me again . . .’ Some little time later the clerk Drumknott padded into the room. Lord Vetinari was reading a report on the previous night’s secret meeting of the Thieves’ Guild inner inner council. He tidied up the trays quite noiselessly, and then came and stood by Vetinari. ‘There are ten overnights off the clacks, my lord,’ he said. ‘It’s good to have it back in operation.’

‘Indeed yes,’ said Vetinari, not looking up. ‘Otherwise how in the world would people be able to find out what we want them to think? Any foreign mail?’

‘The usual packets, my lord. The Uberwald one has been most deftly tampered with.’

‘Ah, dear Lady Margolotta,’ said Vetinari, smiling. ‘I’ve taken the liberty of removing the stamps for my nephew, my lord,’ Drumknott went on. ‘Of course,’ said Vetinari, waving a hand. Drumknott looked around the office and focused on the slab where the little stone armies were endlessly in combat. ‘Ah, I see you have won, my lord,’ he said. ‘Yes. I must make a note of the gambit.’

‘But Mr Gilt, I notice, is not here . . .’ Vetinari sighed.

‘You have to admire a man who really believes in freedom of choice,’ he said, looking at the open doorway. ‘Sadly, he did not believe in angels.’

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