Have read a bunch of times. Finished again September 3, 2020.
Moist looked around, sorting hastily through the Post Office’s recent little problems. Apart from Drumknott, who was standing by his master with an attitude of deferential alertness, they were alone.
‘Look, I can explain,’ he said.
Lord Vetinari lifted an eyebrow with the care of one who, having found a piece of caterpillar in his salad, raises the rest of the lettuce.
‘Pray do,’ he said, leaning back.
‘We got a bit carried away,’ said Moist. ‘We were a bit too creative in our thinking. We encouraged mongooses to breed in the posting boxes to keep down the snakes …’
Lord Vetinari said nothing.
‘Er … which, admittedly, we introduced into the posting boxes to reduce the number of toads …’
Lord Vetinari repeated himself.
‘Er … which, it’s true, staff put in the posting boxes to keep down the snails …’
Lord Vetinary remained unvocal.
‘Er … These, I must in fairness point out, got into the boxes of their own accord, in order to eat the glue on the stamps,’ said Moist, aware that he was beginning to burble.
‘Well, at least you were saved the trouble of having to introduce them yourselves,’ said Lord Vetinari cheerfully.
‘Didn’t there used to be a deep pit full of spikes down there?’ he said.
‘I can’t imagine why you would think that,’ said Lord Vetinari.
‘I’m sure there was,’ Moist insisted.
‘Can you recall, Drumknott, why our Mr Lipwig should think that there used to be a deep pit full of spikes behind that door?’ said Vetinari.
‘I can’t imagine why he would think that, my lord,’ Drumknott murmured.
The top sheaf was headed ‘Minutes of the Meeting of the Sub Post Offices Subcommittee’, but they looked more like hours.
‘A banker? Me?’
‘Yes, Mr Lipwig.’
‘But I don’t know anything about running a bank!’
‘Good. No preconceived ideas.’
‘I’ve robbed banks!’
‘Capital! Just reverse your thinking,’ said Lord Vetinari, beaming. ‘The money should be on the inside.’
‘Isn’t the fornication wonderful?’
After quite a lengthly pause, Moist ventured: ‘It is?’
‘Don’t you think so? There’s more here than anywhere else in the city, I’m told.’
‘Really?’ said Moist, looking around nervously. ‘Er, do you have to come down here at some special time?’
‘Well, in banking hours usually, but we let groups in by appointment.’
‘You know,’ said Moist, ‘I think this conversation has somehow got away from me …’
Bent waved vaguely at the ceiling. ‘I refer to the wonderful vaulting,’ he said. ‘The word derives from fornix, meaning “arch”.’
‘Ah! Yes? Right!’ said Moist. ‘You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if not many people knew that.’
‘Just because I’m employing an Igor and working in a cellar doesn’t mean I’m some sort of madman, ha ha ha!’
‘Ha ha,’ agreed Moist.
‘Ha hah hah!’ said Hubert. ‘Hahahahahaha!! Ahahahahahahhhhh!!!!!—’
‘That’s a lot of mattresses,’ Moist agreed.
‘I prefer to think of it as one mattress a third of a mile high.’
‘They are correlated to events very carefully, Mr Lipswick,’ said Hubert, looking hurt. ‘Correlation is everything. Did you know it is an established fact that hemlines tend to rise in times of national crisis?’
‘You mean—?’ Moist began, not at all certain how the sentence was going to end.
‘Women’s dresses get shorter,’ said Hubert.
‘And that causes a national crisis? Really? How high do they go?’
There was a dainty knock on the door, and Gladys entered. She bore with extreme care a plate of ham sandwiches, made very, very thin the way only Gladys could make them, which was to put one ham between two loaves and bring her shovel-sized hand down on it very hard.
Don’t let me detain you. What a wonderful phrase Vetinari had devised. The jangling double meaning set up undercurrents of uneasiness in the most innocent of minds. The man had found ways of bloodless tyranny that put the rack to shame.
‘Just as I thought,’ he said, pocketing the tube. ‘You forgot to take the cap off. It’s the kind of mistake amateurs always make!’
Owlswick hesitated, and then said: ‘You mean there’s people who commit suicide professionally?’
‘I’ll talk to Dr Hicks. He’s the head of the Department of Post-Mortem Communications.’
‘Post-Mortem Com—’ Moist began. ‘Isn’t that the same as necroman—’
‘I said the Department of Post-Mortem Communications,’ said Ponder very firmly.
‘Do you know how much trouble you can get into by breaking a contract with a dwarf?’
‘Oh, come on! I’m not starting a war!’
‘No, you’re starting a legal action! And with the dwarfs that’s even worse!’
Students, eh? Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you’re not allowed to hit ‘em with a shovel.
He took off the mask and extended a hand. The man looked as though he’d tried, like any self-respecting necromancer, to grow a proper goatee beard, but owing to some basic lack of malevolence it had turned out a bit sheepish. After a few seconds Hicks realized why they were staring, and pulled off the fake rubber hand with the black fingernails.
‘I thought necromancy was banned,’ said Moist.
‘Oh, we don’t do necromancy here,’ said Hicks. ‘What made you think that?’
Moist looked around at the furnishings, shrugged, and said, ‘Well, I suppose it first crossed my mind when I saw the way the paint was flaking off the door and you can still just see a crude skull and the letters NECR …’
‘Ancient history, ancient history,’ said Hicks quickly. ‘We are the Department of Post-Mortem Communications. A force for good, you understand. Necromancy, on the other hand, is a very bad form of magic done by evil wizards.’
‘And since you are not evil wizards, what you are doing can’t be called necromancy?’
‘And, er, what defines an evil wizard?’ said Adora Belle.
‘Well, doing necromancy would definitely be there right on top of the list.’
Things were getting heated in the conference room. This, to Lord Vetinari, was not a problem. He was a great believer in letting a thousand voices be heard, because this meant that all he actually needed to do was listen only to the ones that had anything useful to say, ‘useful’ in this case being defined in the classic civil service way as ‘inclining to my point of view’. In his experience, it was a number generally smaller than ten. The people who wanted a thousand, etc., really meant that they wanted their own voice to be heard while the other 999 were ignored, and for this purpose the gods had invented the committee. Vetinari was very good at committees, especially when Drumknott took the minutes. What the Iron Maiden was to stupid tyrants, the committee was to Lord Vetinari; it was only slightly more expensive,* far less messy, considerably more efficient and, best of all, you had to force people to climb inside the Iron Maiden.
* The only real expense was tea and biscuits halfway through, which seldom happened with the Iron Maiden.