Thud!


Chapter 14




Vimes sat rigidly staring at the scrawls on the page. In the distance, Detritus was barking a command at someone. He felt like a man crossing a river on stepping stones. He was nearly halfway across, but the next stone was just a bit too far and could only be reached with serious groinal stress. Nevertheless, his foot was waving in the air and it was that or a ducking ... He wrote: "Rascal. Then he circled the word several times, the pencil biting into the cheap paper. Rascal must have been to Koom Valley. Let"s say he found a cube there, who knows how. Just lying there? Anyway, he brings it home. He paints his picture and goes mad, but somewhere along the line the cube starts talking to him. Vimes wrote "SPECIAL WORD?" He drew a circle round it so hard that his pencil broke. Maybe he can"t find the word for "stop talking"? Anyway, he chucks it down a well ... He tried to write "Did Rascal ever live in Empirical Crescent?; and then gave up and tried to remember it. Anyway ... then he dies and, afterwards, this damn book is written. It doesn"t sell many copies, but recently it"s republished and ... ah, but now there"re lots of dwarfs in the city. Some of them read it and something tells them that the secret is in this cube. They want to find out where it is. How? Damn. Doesn"t the book say the secret of Koom Valley is in the painting? Okay. Maybe he ... somehow painted some kind of code into the painting to say where the cube was? But so what? What was so bad to hear that you killed the poor devils who heard it? I think I"m looking at this wrong. It"s not my cow. It"s a sheep with a pitchfork. Unfortunately, it goes quack. He was getting lost now, going all over the place, but he"d got a toe on the opposite stone and he felt he"d made some progress. But to what, exactly? I mean, what would really happen if there was proof that, say, the dwarfs ambushed the trolls? Nothing that isn"t happening already, that"s what. You can always find an excuse that your side will accept, and who cares what the enemy thinks? In the real world, it wouldn"t make any difference. There was a faint knock at the door, the sort that you use if you secretly hope it won"t be answered. Vimes sprang from his chair and pulled the door open. A. E. Pessimal stood there. "Ah, A. E.," said Vimes, going back to his desk and laying down his pencil. "Come on in. What can I do for you? How"s the arm?" "Er ... could you spare a moment of your time, your grace?" Your grace, thought Vimes. Well, he hadn"t the heart to object this time. He sat down again. A. E. Pessimal was still wearing the chain mail shirt with the Specials badge on it. He didn"t look very shiny. Brick"s swipe had bowled him across the plaza like a ball. "Er. .." A. E. Pessimal began. "You"ll have to start as a lance-constable, but a man of your talents ought to make it to sergeant within a year. And you can have your own office," said Vimes. A. E. Pessimal shut his eyes. "How did you know?" he breathed. "You attacked a boozed-up troll with your teeth," said Vimes. "There"s a man born for the badge, I thought to myself." And that"s what you"ve always wanted, right? But you were always too small, too weak, too shy to be a watchman. I can buy big and strong anywhere. Right now I need a man who knows how to hold a pencil without breaking it. "You"ll be my adjutant," he went on. "You"ll handle all my paperwork. You"ll read the reports, you"ll try to figure out what"s important. And so you can learn what is important, you"ll have to do at least two patrols a week." A tear was running down A. E. Pessimal"s cheek. "Thank you, your grace," he said hoarsely. If A. E. Pessimal had had enough chest to stick out, it would be sticking. "Of course you"ll need to finish your report on the Watch first," Vimes added. "That is a matter between you and his lordship. And now, if you will excuse me, I really must get on. I look forward to seeing you working for me, Lance-Constable Pessimal." "Thank you, your grace!" "Oh, and you won"t call me "your grace"," said Vimes. He thought for a moment, and decided that the man had earned this, all in one go, and added: ""Mister Vimes" will do." And so we make progress, he said to himself, after A. E. Pessimal had floated away. And his lordship won"t like it, so as far as I can see there"s no downside. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, er, qui custodes custodient? Was that right for "Who watches the watcher that watches the watchmen?"? Probably not. Still ... your move, my lord. He was just puzzling over his notebook again when the door opened without an introductory knock. Sybil entered, with a plate. "You"re not eating enough, Sam," she announced. "And the canteen here is a disgrace. It"s all grease and stodge!" "That"s what the men like, I"m afraid," said Vimes guiltily. "I"ve cleaned out the tea urn, at least," Sybil went on, with satisfaction. "You cleaned out the tea urn?" said Vimes in a hollow voice. It was like being told that someone had wiped the patina off a fine old work of art. "Yes, it was like tar in there. There really wasn"t much proper food in the store, but I managed to make you a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich." "Thank you, dear." Vimes cautiously lifted a corner of the bread with his stricken pencil. There seemed to be too much lettuce, which was to say, there was some lettuce. "There"s a lot of dwarfs come to see you, Sam," said Sibyl, as if this was preying on her mind. Vimes stood up so fast that his chair fell over. "Is Young Sam all right?" he said. "Yes, Sam. They"re city dwarfs. You know them all, I think. They say they want to talk to you about-" But Vimes was already clattering down the stairs, drawing his sword as he did so. The dwarfs were clustered nervously by the duty officer"s desk. They had that opulence of metalwork, sleekness of beard and thickness of girth that marked them out as dwarfs who were doing very well for themselves, or who had been right up until now. Vimes appeared in front of them like a whirlwind of wrath. You scum, you rat-sucking little worm eaters! You headsdown little scurriers in the dark! What did you bring to my city? What were you thinking? Did you want the deep-downers here? Did you dare deplore what Hamcrusher said, all that bile and ancient lies? Or did you say "Well, I don"t agree with him, of course, but he"s got a point"? Did you say, "Oh he goes too far but it"s about time somebody said it"?And now, have you come here to wring your hands and say how dreadful, it was nothing to do with you? Who were the dwarfs in the mobs, then? Aren"t you community leaders? Were you leading them? And why are you here now, you ugly snivelling grubbers? Is it possible, is it possible, that now, after that bastard"s bodyguards tried to kill my family, you"re here to complain? Have I broken some code, trodden on some ancient toe? To hell with it. To hell with you. He could feel the words straining, fighting to get out, and the effort of restraining them filled his stomach with acid and made his temples throb. Just one whine, he thought. Just one pompous moan. Go on. "Well?" he demanded. The dwarfs had perceptibly moved backwards. Vimes wondered if they"d read his thoughts; they"d echoed in his brain loudly enough. A dwarf cleared his throat. "Commander Vimes-"he began. "You"re Pors Stronginthearm, aren"t you?" Vimes demanded. "One half of Burleigh & Stronginthearm? You make crossbows." "Yes, commander, and-" "Remove your weapons! All of them! All of you!" Vimes snapped. The room fell silent. Out of the corner of his eye Vimes saw a couple of dwarf officers, who had at least been pretending to be engaged in paperwork, rising from their seats. He was being dangerously stupid, part of him knew, but right now he wanted to hurt a dwarf and he wasn"t allowed to do it with steel. Most of the battle stuff they wore was simply for clang in any case, but a dwarf would sooner drop his drawers than put aside his axe. And these were serious city dwarfs, with seats in the Guilds and everything. Ye gods, he was going too far. He managed to grunt, "All right, keep your battle-axes. Leave everything else at the desk. You"ll get a receipt." For a moment, quite a long moment, he thought, no, he hoped they would refuse. But one of them, somewhere in the group, said, "I think we must do this for the commander. These are difficult times. We must learn to fit them." Vimes went up to his office, hearing the clinks and clangs behind him, and landed so violently in his chair that this time a wheel snapped off. The receipt was a nasty touch. He was quite pleased with it. On his desk, on a little stand that Sybil had made for it, was his official baton of office. It was in fact the same size as the ordinary copper"s truncheon, but was turned out of rosewood and silver instead of lignum vitae or oak. It still had plenty of weight, though. Certainly enough to leave the words PROTECTER OF THEE KINGE"S PIECE printed back to front on a dwarf skull. The dwarfs were ushered in, looking slightly less heavy. Just one word, Vimes thought, as the acid swirled. One damn word. Go on. Just a breath wrong. "Very well, what can I do for you?" he said. "Uh, I"m sure you know all of us," Pors began, trying to smile. "Probably. The dwarf next to you is Grabpot Thundergust, who has just launched the new "Ladies" Secrets" range of perfumes and cosmetics. My wife uses your stuff all the time." Thundergust, in traditional chain mail, a three-horned helmet and an enormous axe strapped across his back, gave Vimes an embarrassed nod. Vimes"s gaze moved on. "And you are Setha Ironcrust, proprietor of the chain of bakeries of the same name, and you are surely Gimlet Gimlet, owner of two famous dwarf delicatessens and the newly opened "Yo Rat!" in Attic Bee Street." Vimes looked round the office, dwarf after dwarf, until he got back to the front row and a dwarf of fairly modest dress by dwarf standards, who had been watching him intently. Vimes had a good memory for faces and had seen this one recently, but couldn"t place it. Perhaps it had been behind a well-flung half-brick ... "You, I don"t think I know," he said. "Oh, we haven"t exactly been introduced, commander," said the dwarf cheerfully. "But I"m very interested in the theory of games. ... or Mr Shine"s Thud Academy? Vimes thought. The dwarf"s voice sounded like the one that had, he"d admit it, been of diplomatic help downstairs. He wore a simple plain round helmet, a plain leather shirt with some basic mail on it, and his beard was clipped to something tidier than the general dwarfish "gorse bush" effect. Compared to the other dwarfs, this one looked ... streamlined. Vimes couldn"t even see an axe. "Indeed?" he said. "Well, in fact I don"t play "em, so what"s your name?" "Bashfull Bashfullsson, commander. Grag Bashfullsson." Quietly, Vimes picked up his truncheon and rolled it in his fingers. "Not underground, then?" he said. "Some of us move on, sir. Some of us think that darkness isn"t a depth, it"s a state of mind." "That"s nice of you, said Vimes. Oh, friendly and forward-looking are we now? Where were you yesterday? But now I"ve got all the aces! Those bastards murdered four city dwarfs! They broke into my home, tried to kill my wife! And now they"ve had it away on their toes! Wherever they"ve gone they"re going dow- coming up! He put the truncheon back on its stand. "As I said, what can I do for you ... gentlemen?" He got the sense that they were all turning, physically or mentally, to Bashfullsson. I see, he thought, it seems that what we have here is a dozen monkeys and one organ grinder, eh? "How can we help you, commander?" said the grag. Vimes stared. You could have stopped them, that"s how you could have helped. Don"t give me those sombre faces. Maybe you didn"t say "yes" but you sure as hell didn"t say "no!" loud enough. I owe you not one damned thing. Don"t come to me for your bloody absolution. "Right now? By going out on to the street, walking up to the biggest troll you can see and shaking him warmly by the hand, maybe?" said Vimes. "Or just going out into the street . Quite frankly, I"m busy, gentlemen, and the middle of a horse race is not the time to be mending fences." "They"ll be heading for the mountains," said Bashfullsson. "They"ll steer clear of Uberwald and Lancre. They won"t be sure of meeting friends there. That means going into the mountains via Llamedos. Lots of caves there." Vimes shrugged. "We can see you"re annoyed, Mister Vimes," said Stronginthearm. "But we-" "I"ve got two dead assassins in the morgue," said Vimes. "One of em died of poison. What do you know about that? And I"m Commander Vimes, thank you." "It"s said they take a slow poison before they go on an important mission," said Bashfullsson. "No turning back, eh?" said Vimes. "Well, that"s interesting. But it"s the living that concern me right now." He stood up. "I have to go and see a dwarf in the cells who does not want to talk to me: "Ah, yes. That would be Helmclever," said Bashfullsson. "He was born here, commander, but went off to study in the mountains more than three months ago, against his parents" wishes. I"m sure he never intended anything like this. He was trying to find himself." "Well, he can start looking in my cells," said Vimes crisply. "May I be there when you question him?" said the grag. "Why?" "Well, for one thing, it may prevent rumours that he was mistreated: "Or start them?" said Vimes. Who watches the watchmen? he asked himself. Me! Bashfullsson gave him a cool look. "It could ... calm the situation, sir. "I don"t habitually beat up prisoners, if that"s what you"re suggesting," said Vimes. "And I am sure you would not wish to do so tonight." Vimes opened his mouth to shout the grag out of the building, and stopped. Because the cheeky little sod had got it right slap bang on the money. Vimes had been on the edge since leaving the house. He"d felt a tingling across his skin and a tightness in his gut and a sharp, nasty little headache. Someone was going to pay for all this ... this ... this thisness, and it didn"t need to be a screwed-up bit-player like Helmclever. And he was not certain, not certain at all, what he"d do if the prisoner gave him any lip or tried to be smart. Beating people up in little rooms ... he knew where that led. And if you did it for a good reason, you"d do it for a bad one. You couldn"t say "we"re the good guys" and do bad-guy things. Sometimes the watching watchman inside every copper"s head could use an extra pair of eyes. Justice has to be seen to be done, so he"d see it done up good and proper. "Gentlemen," he said, keeping his eye on the grag but talking to the room at large, "I know all of you, you all know me. You"re all respected dwarfs with a stake in this city. I want you to vouch for Mr Bashfullsson, because I"ve never met him before in my life. Come on, Setha, I"ve known you for years, what do you say?" "They killed my son," said Ironcrust. A knife dropped into Vimes"s head. It slipped down his windpipe, sliced his heart, cut through his stomach and disappeared. Where the rage had been, there was a chill. "I"m sorry, commander," said Bashfullsson quietly. "It"s true. I don"t think Gunder Ironcrust was interested in the politics, you understand. He just took a job at the mine because he wanted to feel like a real dwarf and work with a shovel for a few days." "They left him to the mud," said Ironcrust, in a voice that was eerily without emotion. "Any help you need, we will give. Any help. But when you find them, kill them all." Vimes could think of nothing more to say than "I will catch them: He didn"t say: Kill them? No. Not if they surrender, not if they don"t come at me armed. I know where that leads. "Then we will leave and let you get about your business," said Stronginthearm. "Grag Bashfullsson is known to us, indeed. A little modern, perhaps. A little young. Not the kind of grag we grew up with, but ... yes, we"d vouch for him. Good night, commander." Vimes stared at his desk as they filed out. When he looked up, the grag was still there, with a patient little smile. "You don"t look like a grag. You look like just another dwarf," said Vimes. "Why haven"t I heard of you?" "Because you are a policeman, perhaps?" said Bashfullsson meekly. "Okay, I take the point. But you"re not a deep-downer?" Bashfullsson shrugged. "I can think deep thoughts. I was born here, commander, just like Helmclever. I don"t believe I need a mountain over my head in order to be a dwarf." Vimes nodded. A local lad, not some mountain greybeard. Got a quick brain, too. No wonder the leaders like him. "All right, Mr Bashfullsson, you can tag along," he said. "But it"s on two conditions, okay? Condition one: you"ve got five minutes to lay your hands on a Thud set. I think you can do that? "I think I can, too," said the dwarf, smiling faintly. "And the other condition?" "How long will it take you to teach me to play?" said Vimes. "You? You"ve never played it at all?" "No. A certain troll showed me the game a little while ago, but I"ve never played games since I grew up. I used to be good at tiddley-rats [1] when I was a nipper, though: "Well, a few hours should be-" Bashfullsson began. "We don"t have time," said Vimes. "You"ve got ten minutes: [1] A famous Ankh-Morpork gutter sport, second only to Dead Rat Conkers. Turd Races in the gutter appear to have died out, despite an attempt to take them upmarket with the name Poosticks. The drinking had started in The Bucket, in Gleam Street. This was the coppers" pub. Mr Cheese, the owner, understood about coppers. They liked to drink somewhere where they wouldn"t see anything that reminded them they were a copper. Fun was not encouraged. It was Tawneee who suggested that they move to Thank Gods It"s Open. Angua wasn"t really in the mood, but she hadn"t the heart to say no. The plain fact was that while Tawneee had a body that every other woman should hate her for, she compounded the insult by actually being very likeable. This was because she had the selfesteem of a caterpillar and, as you found out in any kind of conversation with her, about the same amount of brain. Perhaps it all balanced out, perhaps some kindly god had said to her: "Sorry, kid, you are going to be thicker than a yard of lard, but the good news is, that"s not going to matter." And she had a stomach made of iron, too. Angua found herself wondering how many hopeful men had died trying to drink her under the table. Alcohol didn"t seem to go to her head at all. Maybe it couldn"t find it. But she was pleasant, easygoing company, if you avoided allusion, irony, sarcasm, repartee, satire and words longer than "chicken: Angua was tetchy because she was dying for a beer, but the young man behind the bar thought that "a pint of Winkles" was the name of a cocktail. Given the drinks on offer, perhaps this was not surprising. "What," said Angua, reading the menu, "is a Screaming Orgasm?" "Ah," said Sally. "Looks like we got to you just in time, girl!" "No," sighed Angua, as the others laughed; that was such a vampire response. "I mean, what"s it made of?" "Almonte, Wahlulu, Bearhuggers Whiskey Cream and vodka," said Tawneee, who knew the recipe for every cocktail ever made. "And how does it work?" said Cheery, craning to see over the top of the bar. Sally ordered four, and turned back to Tawneee. "So ... you and Nobby Nobbs, eh?" she said. "How about that?" Three sets of ears flared. The other thing you got used to in the presence of Tawneee was silence. Everywhere she went, went quiet. Oh, and the stares. The silent stares. And sometimes, in the shadows, a sigh. There were goddesses who"d kill to look like Tawneee. "He"s nice," said Tawneee. "He makes me laugh and he keeps his hands to himself." Three faces locked in expressions of concentrated thought. This was Nobby they were talking about. There were so many questions they were not going to ask. "Has he shown you the tricks he can do with his spots?" Angua said. "Yes. I thought I"d widdle myself! He"s so funny!" Angua stared into her drink. Cheery coughed. Sally studied the menu. "And he"s very dependable," said Tawneee. And, as if dimly aware that this was still not sufficient, she added sadly, "If you must know, he"s the first boy who"s ever asked me out." Sally and Angua breathed out together. Light dawned. Ah, that was the problem. And this one"s a baaaad case. "I mean, my hair"s all over the place, my legs are too long and I know my bosom is far too-" Tawneee went on, but Sally had raised a quieting hand. "First point, Tawneee-" "My real name"s Betty," said Tawneee, blowing a nose so exquisite that the greatest sculptor in the world would have wept to carve it. It went Blort. "First point, then ... Betty" Sally managed, struggling to use the name, "is that no woman under forty-five-" "Fifty; Angua corrected. "Right, fifty ... no woman under fifty uses the word "bosom" to name anything connected to her. You just don"t do it." "I didn"t know that," Tawneee sniffed. "It"s a fact," said Angua. And, oh dear, how to begin to explain the jerk syndrome? To someone like Tawneee, on whom the name Betty stuck like rocks to a ceiling? This wasn"t just a case of the jerk syndrome, this was it, the quintessential, classic, pure platonic example, which should be stuffed and mounted and preserved as a teaching aid for students in the centuries to come. And she was happy with Nobby! "What I"ve got to tell you now is. .."she began, and faded in the face of the task, "is ... Look, shall we have another drink? What"s the next cocktail on the menu?" Cheery peered at it. "Pink, Big and Wobbly," she announced. "Classy! We"ll have four!" Fred Colon peered through the bars. He was, on the whole, a pretty good jailer: he always had a pot of tea on the go, he was as a general rule amiably disposed to most people, he was too slow to be easily fooled and he kept the cell keys in a tin box in the bottom drawer of his desk, a long way out of reach of any stick, hand, dog, cunningly thrown belt or trained Klatchian monkey spider. [1] He was a bit worried about this dwarf. You got all sorts in jail, and they often yelled a bit but with this one he didn"t know what was worse, the sobbing or the silence. He"d put a candlestick on aMaking Fred Colon possibly unique in the annals of jail history. stool by the bars, too, because the dwarf carried on alarmingly if there wasn"t enough light. He stirred the tea reflectively and handed a mug to Nobby. "We"ve got a rum "un here, I reckon," he said. "A dwarf that"s scared of the dark? Not right in the head, then. Wouldn"t touch his tea and biscuit. What do you think?" "I think I"ll have his biscuit," said Nobby, reaching over to the plate. "Why"re you down here, anyway?" said Fred. "I"m surprised you ain"t out there a-ogling of young women." "Tawneee"s going out boozing with the girls tonight," said Nobby. "Ah, you want to warn her about that sort of thing," said Fred Colon. "You know what it"s like in the centre when the pubs and clubs empty. There"s throwin" up and yellin" and unladylike behaviour and takin" their vests off and I don"t know what. "S called . "he scratched his head". .. minge drinking." "She"s only gone out with Angua and Sally and Cheery, sarge," said Nobby, taking another biscuit. "Oooh, you wanna watch that, Nobby. Women gangin" up on men-" Fred paused. "A vampire and a werewolf out on the razzle? Take my tip, lad, stay indoors tonight. And if they start behaving in-" He stopped as the sound of Sam Vimes"s voice came down the spiral stone steps, followed closely by its owner. "So I"ve got to stop them forming a block, right?" "If you"re playing the troll side, yes," said a new voice. "A tight group of dwarfs is bad news for trolls." "Trolls shove, dwarfs throw." "Right: "And the central rock, no one can jump that, right?" said Vimes. "Yes." "I still think the dwarfs have it all their own way." "We shall see. The important thing-" Vimes stopped when he saw Nobby and Colon. "Okay, lads, I"ll talk to the prisoner now," he said. "How is he?" Fred indicated the hunched figure on the narrow bunk in the corner cell.





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