Moist von Lipwig is a con artist…
… and a fraud and a man faced with a life choice: be hanged, or put Ankh-Morpork’s ailing postal service back on its feet.
It’s a tough decision.
They say that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates a man’s mind wonderfully; unfortunately, what the mind inevitably concentrates on is that it is in a body that, in the morning, is going to be hanged.
The man going to be hanged had been named Moist von Lipwig by doting if unwise parents, but he was not going to embarrass the name, in so far as that was still possible, by being hung under it. To the world in general, and particularly on that bit of it known as the death warrant, he was Albert Spangler.
And he took a more positive approach to the situation and had concentrated his mind on the prospect of not being hanged in the morning, and most particularly on the prospect of removing all the crumbling mortar from around a stone in his cell wall with a spoon. So far the work had taken him five weeks, and reduced the spoon to something like a nail file. Fortunately, no one ever came to change the bedding here, or else they would have discovered the world’s heaviest mattress.
It was the large and heavy stone that was currently the object of his attentions, and at some point a huge staple had been hammered into it as an anchor for manacles.
Moist sat down facing the wall, gripped the iron ring in both hands, braced his legs against the stones on either side, and heaved.
His shoulders caught fire and a red mist filled his vision but the block slid out, with a faint and inappropriate tinkling noise. Moist managed to ease it away from the hole and peered inside.
At the far end was another block, and the mortar around it looked suspiciously strong and fresh.
“Just in front of it was a new spoon. It was shiny.
As he studied it, he heard the clapping behind him. He turned his head, tendons twanging a little riff of agony, and saw several of the warders watching him through the bars.
‘Well done, Mr Spangler!’ said one of them. ‘Ron here owes me five dollars! I told him you were a sticker! He’s a sticker, I said!’
‘You set this up, did you, Mr Wilkinson?’ said Moist weakly, watching the glint of light on the spoon.”
‘Oh, not us, sir. Lord Vetinari’s orders. He insists that all condemned prisoners should be offered the prospect of freedom.’
‘Freedom? But there’s a damn great stone through there!’
‘Yes, there is that, sir, yes, there is that,’ said the warder. ‘It’s only the prospect, you see. Not actual free freedom as such. Hah, that’d be a bit daft, eh?’
‘I suppose so, yes,’ said Moist. He didn’t say ‘you bastards.’ The warders had treated him quite civilly this past six weeks, and he made a point of getting on with people. He was very, very good at it. People skills were part of his stock-in-trade; they were nearly the whole of it.
Besides, these people had big sticks. So, speaking carefully, he added: ‘Some people might consider this cruel, Mr Wilkinson.’
‘Yes, sir, we asked him about that, sir, but he said no, it wasn’t. He said it provided—’ his forehead wrinkled ‘—occ-you-pay-shun-all ther-rap-py, healthy exercise, prevented moping and offered that greatest of all treasures which is Hope, sir.’
‘Hope,’ muttered Moist glumly.
‘Not upset, are you, sir?’
‘Upset? Why should I be upset, Mr Wilkinson?’
‘Only the last bloke we had in this cell, he managed to get down that drain, sir. Very small man. Very agile.’
Moist looked at the little grid in the floor. He’d dismissed it out of hand.
‘Does it lead to the river?’ he said.
The warder grinned. ‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you? He was really upset when we fished him out. Nice to see you’ve entered into the spirit of the thing, sir. You’ve been an example to all of us, sir, the way you kept going. Stuffing all the dust in your mattress? Very clever, very tidy. Very neat. It’s really cheered us up, having you in here. By the way, Mrs Wilkinson says ta very much for the fruit basket. Very posh, it is. It’s got kumquats, even!’
‘Don’t mention it, Mr Wilkinson.’
‘The Warden was a bit green about the kumquats ’cos he only got dates in his, but I told him, sir, that fruit baskets is like life: until you’ve got the pineapple off’f the top you never know what’s underneath. He says thank you, too.’
‘Glad he liked it, Mr Wilkinson,’ said Moist absentmindedly. Several of his former landladies had brought in presents for ‘the poor confused boy’, and Moist always invested in generosity. A career like his was all about style, after all.
‘On that general subject, sir,’ said Mr Wilkinson, ‘me and the lads were wondering if you might like to unburden yourself, at this point in time, on the subject of the whereabouts of the place where the location of the spot is where, not to beat about the bush, you hid all that money you stole …?’
The jail went silent. Even the cockroaches were listening.
Pratchett fans in the UK, can buy Going Postal for £1.99 in ebook until the end of June 2020.
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