Moist looked at the little grid in the floor. He'd dismissed it out of hand.
"Does it lead to the sewers?" he said.
The warden 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 thanks 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 of the top you never know what's underneath. He says thank you, too."
"Glad he liked it, Mr. Wilkinson," 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.
"No, I couldn't do that, Mr. Wilkinson," said Moist loudly, after a decent pause for dramatic effect. He tapped his jacket pocket, held up a finger, and winked.
The warders grinned back.
"We understand totally, sir. Now I'd get some rest if I was you, sir, 'cos we're hanging you in half an hour," said Mr. Wilkinson.
"Hey, don't I get breakfast?"
"Breakfast isn't until seven o'clock, sir," said the warder reproachfully. "But, tell you what, I'll do you a bacon sandwich. 'Cos it's you, Mr. Spangler."
AND NOW IT WAS A FEW MINUTES before dawn and it was him being led down the short corridor and out into the little room under the scaffold. Moist realized he was looking at himself from a distance, as if part of himself was floating outside his body like a child's balloon, ready, as it were, for him to let go of the string.
The room was lit by light coming though cracks in the scaffold floor above, and, significantly, from around the edges of the large trapdoor. The hinges of said door were being carefully oiled by a man in a hood.
He stopped when he saw the party arrived and said, "Good morning, Mr. Spangler." He raised the hood helpfully, "It's me, sir, Daniel 'One Drop' Trooper. I am your executioner for today, sir. Don't you worry, sir. I've hanged dozens of people. We'll soon have you out of here."
"Is it true that if a man isn't hanged after three attempts he's reprieved, Dan?" said Moist, as the executioner carefully wiped his hands on a rag.
"So I've heard, sir, so I've heard. But they don't call me 'One Drop' for nothing, sir. And will sir be having the black bag today?"
"Will it help?"
"Some people think it makes them look more dashing, sir. And it stops that pop-eyed look. It's more a crowd thing, really. Quite a big one out there this morning. Nice piece about you in the Times yesterday, I thought. All them people saying what a nice young man you were, and everything. Er ... would you mind signing the rope beforehand, sir? I mean, I won't have a chance to ask you afterwards, eh?"
"Signing the rope?" said Moist.
"Yessir," said the hangman. "It's sort of traditional. There's a lot of people out there who collect rope. Specialist collectors, you could say. A bit strange, but it takes all sorts, eh? Worth more signed, of course." He flourished a length of stout rope. "I've got a special pen that signs on rope. One signature every couple of inches? Straightforward signature, no dedication needed. Worth money to me, sir. I'd be very grateful."
From Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. Copyright Terry Pratchett 2004. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Harper Collins.
Blood at the Root
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