Talking with Vetinari made the hairs on the back of Moist's neck rise. He had very sensitive follicles. They had been a necessity in the profession he'd left behind; conveniently, his new profession seemed to require their expert opinion almost as often. The law of diminishing marginal comfort was strictly involved with rising marginal hackles.
'Black isn't quite your colour,' said Vetinari, and Moist wasn't sure how to take that.
They were in the palace, but that didn't put any more (or less) behind the words than being in a coach or in the gardens or in a lavatory would have. It was just one of those things. A setting for a greater play, in which only the patrician knew the lines, and the plot twists, and the secret about who'd end up getting stabbed to death by members of any one/many concerned civic part(ies).
'Um,' Moist said, intelligently. 'I suppose not. Gold glitters better.' And people don't look past the shine, most of the time.
'Mm,' Vetinari agreed with what Moist didn't say, looking at the banker/postmaster/hanged man/fraud over the top of steepled fingers. Moist took the opportunity to let his gaze drop: bad criminal etiquette, since you were supposed to keep eye contact at all times and put up a brick wall in front of your thoughts as you were best able to, but then again – everything's relative. Lying was useless against little old ladies, animals and Havelock Vetinari.
There was the afternoon edition of the Times on the top of Vetinari's desk. The crossword was done, the fiddly little mathematical fill-in-the-squares all sorted out. Moist recognised Drumknott's handwriting, and the fact that the letters and numbers were penned in ink. It was all a lot more eerie than it really should have been. 'Did you want to see me for something?'
'No,' Vetinari said, casually. It made Moist feel like his insides were curling in on themselves, until the patrician added, 'not for anything in particular,' which was such a lie that it could have been a truth. 'I'm merely interested in your periodic update on how the money supply is holding up.'
But you know, Moist wanted to complain. You know how it's holding up. You probably know better than I do, because all I know is that we have more stuff inside the vault than people are asking to take out, and that that's a good thing. 'We're on to printing the new ten dollar bills,' he said, carefully. 'The ones with the corrected coat of arms.'
'Ah, yes,' smiled Vetinari, somewhat indulgently as befitted someone who controlled Moist's source of bill designs. An angel had come and given Mr Jenkins a second chance at life, alongside superfine measuring instruments, a number of superior geometrical tools and - though Moist would never know for sure - maybe even a working partner with a mind even more erratic, brilliant and disturbed than his own. He was neither an architect nor a mathematician, but Moist had sat down with the first sheet of the new designs one night. You could trace out patterns within patterns on the thing. The coat of arms fell just inside a perfect golden rectangle, and divided itself throughout in a way that would've had people in Ephebe jumping out of bathtubs and shouting loudly while running down the street naked. He'd seen some of Leonard of Quirm's work before, and --
'People have been very eager to buy up the old run,' Moist continued, warily, cutting of his own internal train of thought before it crashed and turned messy. 'Limited edition sales have almost covered the costs of printing.'
Vetinari nodded, and continued looking at Moist. Moist felt obliged to keep going. 'Security's not been much of a problem. We have two golems inside the mint at all times, and the men are very protective of their sheds. And, consequently, the bills we keep inside the sheds, so...'
The words died on Moist's tongue, and left a faintly bad taste in his mouth. From somewhere underneath Vetinari's desk came a sleepy woof, and Mr Fusspot crawled out to give Moist's leg an affectionate slobber before slinking away again. It occurred to Moist, not for the first time, that no one had really made much of Vetinari essentially kidnapping Ankh Morpork's most important canine. That no one had made any attempts on said canine's life ever since then was a) a decided improvement of Mr Fusspot's standard of living and b) the source of Moist's own indefinite tenure as the bank's de facto chairperson.
Speaking conjecturally, getting out of the job was only an option if the balance of power shifted itself over to the Lavish family following Mr Fusspot's death – he who slept at the feet of tyrants and took walkies around a palace bristling with guards. The Assassins wouldn't take the job, both for reasons of pride and sheer viability.
Vetinari let him stew in cruel introspection for a minute or so more. There were absolutely no clocks inside the patrician's oblong office, which meant that the only thing keeping track of time was Moist's own erratic heartbeat. He was far more comfortable outside in the corridor, where the grandfather's clock next to the door kept purposefully erratic time, which was fun to observe and wholly distracting.
Eventually, Vetinari asked, 'Are you done?', to which Moist blinked and said, 'Am I?'
'I think you are, Mr Lipwig,' Vetinari replied, flattening his hand on the tops of his desk. 'Otherwise you shall be late for your 2 o clock appointment with Ms Dearheart.'
Moist managed not to swear, but it was a close thing. 'Uh,' he said, pulling his hat up from where it sat, dejected and limply bright, on his lap.
'There is a coach waiting outside the gates,' Vetinari pointed out. He waved a hand. 'You may go.'
Moist went, and was too busy running to notice the small smile that edged the curve of Vetinari's lips.
'Twenty two minutes, sir,' Drumknott said, sliding in out of the shadows. 'And just in time for your meeting with the committee for trade rights.'
'Tell me, Drumknott,' Vetinari asked his secretary, standing. 'Do I seem more relaxed after these sessions?'
'They are less dull, I think, sir,' Drumknott replied, 'than the puzzles in the newspapers.'
'Yes,' Vetinari agreed. 'For one, Moist never manages to repeat himself. Has the delivery been made?'
'Yes, my lord,' Drumknott said. 'And the tailor did very fine work with it, if I may say so.'
'Sator Square,' Moist gasped as he climbed in through the door of the coach. He caught his first proper breath as it began to rattle off out of the courtyard and onto the bridge. The bump of the cobblestones gave him a reassuring sense of reality. He pulled out his pocket watch – fifteen more minutes. If the cab didn't run into any major accidents, he should scrape by.
Then the coach took a left turn when it should've done a right. Moist's stomach started to sink. 'You're going the wrong way.'
'Nossir,' his cab driver objected. 'This way to the Blue Dove, sir. It's faster than going down Main Street, sir. You'll still be there on time.'
'But I'm not going to the Blue Dove,' Moist objected, except that he knew that he was going to the Blue Dove, just as he knew that he'd never made an appointment at the Blue Dove, and same as he knew how Adora Belle would have a good laugh about it, since she'd been wondering for the last month about why a snotty place like that had a waiting list that went on into the next year.
'The lordship says you're going,' the coachman said, with what sounded suspiciously like pity.
Moist put a hand over his face, and didn't say anything for a little while. When he'd found the strength of mind to look up again, he noticed the neat, slim box placed on the seat next to him. His one consolation was the fact that it didn't tick.
I could get out of this, he thought to himself as he regarded the mysterious package. When the coach stops at the intersection on Broadway, I could get out, and then there are any number of ways that I could be back in Uberwald before anyone's even noticed.
Except, another part of him pointed out, back in Uberwald, you'll be lying to two-bit highwaymen and mad scientists, not entire cities.
Moist opened the box.
He stared at it for a very long while, until the coachman piped up, 'I can stop for a moment by the emporium for you to get changed, sir.'
The suit was black as night, and had creases so sharp that Moist could've cut bread with them. Gingerly, he pushed the crinkly paper out of the way and pulled it out. The lapels fell beautifully. The jacket wasn't a robe, and it wasn't double breasted. Just neat, easy lines that made it look far less formal than the expensive fabric actually proclaimed it to be. The pants straight enough that Moist felt twice as crooked, like putting it on would be telling the greatest fib on earth. No one would look past it. The suit didn't glitter at all, but it beguiled, which was a lot worse. It was soft, malleable confidence waiting to be worn like armour. There was a white shirt underneath, linen and pressed, and a neat pair of onyx cufflinks. Moist's skin ached and itched with a visceral lust.
'Yes,' he said to the coachman, hating himself but wanting to at least see what it looked like, what it felt like. 'Do that.'
When he was done putting all the pieces together, Moist looked up into the mirror and felt the world go through one of its little crises of faith. You weren't supposed to like this, Moist knew. You weren't supposed to like living in someone else's skin. Cosmo had had that problem, and –
'You're going to want to leave now, sir,' the coachman said. 'Elsewises you're going to be late.'
Moist got off at the Blue Dove and smiled at the maitre d', who had the kind of sharp nose which maximised his ability to look down on other people. 'I've a table for two,' Moist said, leaning a little on the man's reservations counter. The suit whispered all the words to him.
'I assume you are partnered with the lady who at the one smoking table in our non-smoking establishment?' the maitre d' coughed.
'She adds such atmosphere, doesn't she?' Moist winked, and followed the hazy trail all the way to Adora Belle.
She looked him up and down once, and then burst out laughing loud enough that anyone in the restaurant who wasn't staring at her previously had no choice but to stare at her then. 'You've been flirting again,' she accused.
'Not really,' Moist objected, slipping into his seat and picking up a menu. He thought for a moment that there had been a problem with their printed – but no, the decimal indicators were coming in off three digits. 'Inflation,' he muttered, before he looked up. 'This wasn't my idea.'
'I didn't think so,' Adora Belle grinned. 'It's sweet of him, it really is. All these people,' she gestured around the room. 'It would've taken me months if I had to work at pissing them off one by one. Yet here they all are, all in a bunch.' She looked over to the next table at Lord Grant, who'd voiced his objections to the recent influx of golems into the city by smashing his open and leaving the clay bits bubbling on top of the River Ankh. Adora Belle blew a thick stream of smoke right towards him, and sighed happily. 'He paid for that suit, right?' she asked.
'I suppose,' Moist relented, still having a personal argument with his own principles about wearing another man's colours.
'Looks good on you,' she said, picking up her own menu. 'And it means he's going to be paying for lunch as well, just to help civilise his pet Uberwald boy. Do you think they have sheep's head?'
'Pet –' Moist started, before he decided it wasn't worth it. 'No, dear. I don't think they do.'
'Pity. Maybe we should try this – a hundred dollars for uncooked fish slices.'
Moist let Adora Belle Dearheart's running commentary on the menu float along one of his levels of consciousness, and tried not to be alternately terrified and confused and excited about the vague notion forming in his head about how Havelock Vetinari wanted him to be happy.