"So grateful that you won't hang me, then?" said Moist, taking the pen.
This got an appreciative laugh. Mr. Trooper watched him sign along the length, nodding happily.
"Well done, sir, that's my pension plan you're signing there. Now ... are we ready, everyone?"
"Not me!" said Moist quickly, to another round of general amusement.
"You're a card, Mr. Spangler," said Mr. Wilkinson. "It won't be the same without you around, and that's the truth."
"Not for me, at any rate," said Moist. This was, once again, treated like rapier wit. Moist sighed.
"Do you really think all this deters crime, Mr. Trooper?" he said.
"Well, in the generality of things Id say it's hard to tell, given that it's hard to find evidence of crimes not committed," said the hangman, giving the trapdoor a final rattle. "But in the specificality, sir, I'd say it's very efficacious."
"Meaning what?" said Moist.
"Meaning I've never seen someone up here more'n once, sir. Shall we go?"
There was a stir when they climbed up into the chilly morning air, followed by a few boos and even some applause. People were strange like that. Steal five dollars and you were a petty thief Steal thousands of dollars and you were either a government or a hero.
Moist stared ahead while the roll call of his crimes was read out. He couldn't help feeling that it was so unfair. He'd never so much as tapped someone on the head. He'd never even broken down a door. He bad picked locks on occasion, but he'd always locked them again behind him. Apart from all those repossessions, bankruptcies, and sudden insolvencies, what had he actually done that was bad, as such? He'd only been moving numbers around.
"Nice crowd turned out today," said Mr. Trooper, tossing the end of the rope over the beam and busying himself with knots. "Lot of press, too. What Gallows? covers em all, o'course, and there's the Times and the Pseudopolis Herald, prob'ly because of that bank what collapsed there, and I heard there's a man from the Sto Plains Dealer, too. Very good financial section, I always keep an eye on used-rope prices. Looks like a lot of people want to see you dead, sir."
Moist was aware that a black coach had drawn up at the rear of the crowd. There was no coat of arms on the door, unless you were in on the secret, which was that Lord Vetinari's coat of arms featured a sable shield. Black on black. You had to admit, the bastard had style--
"Huh? What?" he said, in response to a nudge.
"I asked if you have any last words, Mr. Spangler?" said the hangman. "It's customary. I wonder if you might have thought of any?"
"I wasn't actually expecting to die," said Moist. And that was it. He really hadn't, until now. He'd been certain that something would turn up.
"Good one, sir," said Mr. Wilkinson. "We'll go with that, shall we?"
Moist narrowed his eyes. The curtain on a coach window had twitched. The coach door had opened. Hope, that greatest of all treasures, ventured a little glitter.
"No, they're not my actual last words," he said. "Er ... let me think . . ."
A slight, clerklike figure was descending from the coach.
"Er ... it's not as bad a thing I do now ... er.." Aha, it all made some kind of sense now. Vetinari was out to scare him, that was it. That would be just like the man, from what Moist had heard. There was going to be a reprieve!
"I... er ...I"
Down below, the clerk was having difficulty getting through the press of people.
"Do you mind speeding up a bit, Mr. Spangler?' said the hangman. "Fair's fair, eh?"
"I want to get it right," said Moist haughtily, watching the clerk negotiate his way around a large troll.
From Going Postal by Terry Pratchett. Copyright Terry Pratchett 2004. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Harper Collins.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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