A. E. Pessimal looked as though there was one major assumption in that sentence that he did not understand, so Vimes took a small amount of pity on him. "Well, Sergeant Littlebottom here will look after you," he said with fake joviality. "Find Mr A. E. Pessimal an office somewhere, sergeant, and let him see any paperwork he requires: As much as possible, Vimes thought. Bury him in the stuff, if it keeps him away from me.
"Thank you, your grace," said A. E. Pessimal. "I shall need to interview some officers, too."
"Why?" said Vimes.
"To ensure that my report is comprehensive, your grace," said Mr A. E. Pessimal calmly.
"I can tell you anything you need to know," said Vimes.
"Yes, your grace, but that is not how an inquiry works. I must act
completely independently. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? your grace." "I know that one," said Vimes. "Who watches the watchmen? Me, Mr Pessimal."
"Ah, but who watches you, your grace?" said the inspector, with a brief smile.
"I do that, too. All the time," said Vimes. "Believe me."
"Quite so, your grace. Nevertheless, I must represent the public
interest here. I shall try not to be obtrusive."
"Very good of you, Mr Pessimal," said Vimes, giving up. He hadn"t
realized he"d been upsetting Vetinari so much lately. This felt like one of his games. "All right. Enjoy your hopefully brief stay with us. Do excuse me, this is a busy morning, what with the damn Koom Valley thing and everything. Come in, Fred!"
That was a trick he"d learned from Vetinari. It was hard for a visitor to hang on when their replacement was in the room. Besides, Fred sweated a lot in this hot weather; he was a champion sweater. And in all these years he"d never worked out that when you stood outside the office door, the long floorboard seesawed slightly on the joist and rose just where Vimes could notice it.
The piece of floorboard settled again, and the door opened.
"Don"t know how you do it, Mister Vimes!" said Sergeant Colon cheerfully. "I was just about to knock!"
After you"d had a decent earful, thought Vimes. He was pleased to see A. E. Pessimal"s nose wrinkle, though.
"What"s up, Fred?" he said. "Oh, don"t worry, Mr Pessimal was just leaving. Carry on, Sergeant Littlebottom. Good morning, Mr Pessimal."
Fred Colon removed his helmet as soon as the inspector had been ushered away by Cheery, and wiped his forehead.
"It"s heating up out there again," he said. "We"re in for thunderstorms, I reckon."
"Yes, Fred. And you wanted what, exactly?" said Vimes, contriving to indicate that while Fred was always welcome, just now was not the best of times.
"Er ... something big"s going down on the street, sir," said Fred earnestly, in the manner of one who had memorized the phrase.
Vimes sighed. "Fred, do you mean something"s happening?"
"Yes, sir. It"s the dwarfs, sir. I mean the lads here. It"s got worse. They keep going into huddles. Everywhere you look, sir, there"s huddlin" goin" on. Only they stops as soon as anyone else comes close. Even the sergeants. They stops and gives you a look, sir. And that"s makin" the trolls edgy, as you might expect.
"We"re not going to have Koom Valley replayed in this nick, Fred," said Vimes. "I know the city"s full of it right now, what with the anniversary coming up, but I"ll drop like a ton of rectangular building things on any copper who tries a bit of historical re-creation in the locker room. He"ll be out on his arse before he knows it. Make sure everyone understands that."
"Yessir. But I ain"t talking about all that stuff, sir. We all know about that," said Fred Colon. "This is something different, fresh today. It feels bad, sir, makes my neck tingle. The dwarfs know something. Something they ain"t sayin"."
Vimes hesitated. Fred Colon was not the greatest gift to policing. He was slow, stolid and not very imaginative. But he"d plodded his way around the streets for so long that he"d left a groove and somewhere inside that stupid fat head was something very smart, which sniffed the wind and heard the buzz and read the writing on the wall, admittedly doing the last bit with its lips moving.
"Probably it"s just that damn Hamcrusher who has got them stirred up again, Fred," he said.
"I hear them mentioning his name in their lingo, yes, sir, but there"s more to it, I"ll swear. I mean, they looked really uneasy, sir. It"s something important, sir, I can feel it in my water."
Vimes considered the admissibility of Fred Colon"s water as Exhibit A. It wasn"t something you"d want to wave around in a court of law, but the gut feeling of an ancient street monster like Fred counted for a lot, one copper to another.
He said, "Where"s Carrot?
"Off, Sir. He pulled the swing shift and the morning shift down at Treacle Mine Road. Everyone"s doin" double shifts, sir," Fred Colon added reproachfully.
"Sorry, Fred, you know how it is. Look, I"ll get him on it when he comes in. He"s a dwarf, he"ll hear the buzz."
"I think he might be just a wee bit too tall to hear this buzz, sir," said Colon, in an odd voice.
Vimes put his head on one side.
"What makes you say that, Fred?"
Fred Colon shook his head. "Just a feeling, sir," he said. He added, in a voice tinged with reminiscence and despair: "It was better when there was just you and me and Nobby and the lad Carrot, eh? We all knew who was who in the old days. We knew what one another was thinking . .
"Yes, we were thinking "I wish the odds were on our side, just for once", Fred," said Vimes. "Look, I know this is getting us all down, right? But I need you senior officers to tough it out, okay? How do you like your new office?"
Colon brightened up. "Very nice, sir. Shame about the door, o course.
Finding a niche for Fred Colon had been a problem. To look at him, you"d see a man who might well, if he fell over a cliff, have to stop and ask directions on the way down. You had to know Fred Colon. The newer coppers didn"t. They just saw a cowardly, stupid fat man, which, to tell the truth, was pretty much what was there. But it wasn"t all that was there.
Fred had looked retirement in the face, and didn"t want any. Vimes had got around the problem by giving him the post of Custody Officer, to the amusement of all,  and an office in the Watch Training School across the alley, which was much better known as, and probably would for ever be known as, the old lemonade factory. Vimes had thrown in the job of Watch Liaison Officer, because it sounded good and no one knew what it meant. He"d also given him Corporal Nobbs, who was another awkward dinosaur in today"s Watch.
It was working, too. Nobby and Colon had a street-level knowledge of the city that rivalled Vimes"s own. They ambled about,
 As in "Ol" Fred thought he said custard officer and volunteered!" Since this is an example of office humour, it doesn"t actually have to be funny.
apparently aimless and completely unthreatening, and they watched and they listened to the urban equivalent of the jungle drums. And sometimes the drums came to them. Once, Fred"s sweaty little office had been the place where bare-armed ladies had mixed up great batches of Sarsaparilla and Raspberry Lava and Ginger Pop. Now the kettle was always on and it was open house for all his old mates, ex-watchmen and old cons - sometimes the same individual - and Vimes happily signed the bill for the doughnuts consumed when they dropped by to get out from under their wives" feet. It was worth it. Old coppers kept their eyes open, and gossiped like washerwomen.
In theory, the only problem in Fred"s life now was his door.
"The Historians" Guild say we"ve got to preserve as much of the old fabric as possible, Fred," said Vimes.
"I know that, sir, but ... well, "The Twaddle Room" sir? I mean, really!"
"Nice brass plate, though, Fred," said Vimes. "It"s what they called the basic soft-drink syrup, I"m told. Important historical fact. You could stick a piece of paper over the top of it."
"We do that, sir, but the lads pull it off and snigger."
Vimes sighed. "Sort it out, Fred. If an old sergeant can"t sort out that kind of thing, the world has become a very strange place. Is that all?"
"Well, yes, sir, really. But-"
"C"mon, Fred. It"s going to be a busy day."
"Have you heard of Mr Shine, sir?"
"Do you clean stubborn surfaces with it?" said Vimes.
"Er ... what, sir?" said Fred. No one did perplexed better than
Fred Colon. Vimes felt ashamed of himself.
"Sorry, Fred. No, I haven"t heard of Mr Shine. Why?"
"Oh ... nothing, really. "Mr Shine, him Diamond!" Seen it on
walls a few times lately. Troll graffiti; you know, carved in deep.
Seems to be causing a buzz among the trolls. Important, maybe?"
Vimes nodded. You ignored the writing on the walls at your peril. Sometimes it was the city"s way of telling you, if not what was on its bubbling mind, then at least what was in its creaking heart.
"Well, keep listening, Fred. I"m relying on you not to let a buzz become a sting," said Vimes, with extra cheerfulness to keep the man"s spirits up. "And now I"ve got to see our vampire.)
"Best of luck, Sam. I think it"s going to be a long day."
Sam, thought Vimes, as the old sergeant went out. Gods know he"s earned it, but he only calls me Sam when he"s really worried. Well, we all are.
We"re waiting for the first shoe to drop.
Vimes unfolded the copy of the Times that Cheery had left on his desk. He always read it at work, to catch up on the news that Willikins had thought it unsafe for him to hear whilst shaving.
Koom Valley, Koom Valley . Vimes shook out the paper and saw Koom Valley everywhere. Bloody, bloody Koom Valley . Gods damn the wretched place, although obviously they had already done so - damned it and then forsaken it. Up close it was just another rocky wasteland in the mountains. In theory it was a long way away, but lately it seemed to be getting a lot closer. Koom Valley wasn"t really a place now, not any more. It was a state of mind.
If you wanted the bare facts, it was where the dwarfs had ambushed the trolls and/or the trolls had ambushed the dwarfs, one ill-famed day under unkind stars. Oh, they"d fought one another since Creation, as far as Vimes understood it, but at the Battle of Koom Valley that mutual hatred became, as it were, Official, and as such had developed a kind of mobile geography. Where any dwarf fought any troll, there was Koom Valley. Even if it was a punch-up in a pub, it was Koom Valley. It was part of the mythology of both races, a rallying cry, the ancestral reason why you couldn"t trust those short, bearded/big, rocky bastards.
There had been plenty of such Koom Valleys since that first one. The war between the dwarfs and the trolls was a battle of natural
forces, like the war between the wind and the waves. It had a momentum of its own.
Saturday was Koom Valley Day and Ankh-Morpork was full of trolls and dwarfs, and you know what? The further trolls and dwarfs got from the mountains, the more that bloody, bloody Koom Valley mattered. The parades were okay; the Watch had got good at keeping them apart, and anyway they were in the morning when everyone was still mostly sober. But when the dwarf bars and the troll bars emptied out in the evening, hell went for a stroll with its sleeves rolled up.
In the bad old days the Watch would find business elsewhere, and turned up only when stewed tempers had run their course. Then they"d bring out the hurry-up wagon and arrest every troll and dwarf too drunk, dazed or dead to move. It was simple.
That was then. Now, there were too many dwarfs and trolls - no, mental correction, the city had been enriched by vibrant, growing communities of dwarfs and trolls - and there was more ... yes, call it venom in the air. Too much ancient politics, too many chips handed down from shoulder to shoulder. Too much boozing, too.
And then, just when you thought it was as bad as it could be, up popped Grag Hamcrusher and his chums. Deep-downers, they were called, dwarfs as fundamental as the bedrock. They"d turned up a month ago, occupied some old house in Treacle Street and had hired a bunch of local lads to open up the basements. They were grags". Vimes knew just enough dwarfish to know that grag meant renowned master of dwarfish lore. Hamcrusher, however, had mastered it in his own special way. He preached the superiority of dwarf over troll, and that the duty of every dwarf was to follow in the footsteps of their forefathers and remove trollkind from the face of the world. It was written in some holy book, apparently, so that made it okay, and probably compulsory.
Young dwarfs listened to him, because he talked about history and destiny and all the other words that always got trotted out to put a gloss on slaughter. It was heady stuff, except that brains weren"t involved. Malign idiots like him were the reason you saw dwarfs walking around now not just with the "cultural" battle-axe but heavy mail, chains, morningstars, broadswords ... all the dumb, in-your-face swaggering that was known as "clang.
Trolls listened too. You saw more lichen, more clan graffiti, more body-carving and much, much bigger clubs being dragged around.
It hadn"t always been like this. Things had loosened up a lot in the last ten years or so. Dwarfs and trolls as races would never be chums, but the city stirred them together and it had seemed to Vimes that they had managed to get along with no more than surface abrasions.
Now the melting pot was full of lumps again.
Gods damn Hamcrusher. Vimes itched to arrest him. Technically, he was doing nothing wrong, but that was no barrier to a copper who knew his business. He could certainly get him under Behaviour Likely To Cause A Breach Of The Peace. Vetinari had been against it, though. He"d said it"d only inflame the situation, but how much worse could it get?
Vimes closed his eyes and recalled that little figure, dressed in heavy black leather robes and hooded so that he would not commit the crime of seeing daylight. A little figure, but with big words. He remembered:
"Beware of the troll. Trust him not. Turn him from your door. He is nothing, a mere accident of forces, unwritten, unclean, the mineral world"s pale, jealous echo of living, thinking creatures. In his head, a rock; in his heart, a stone. He does not build, he does not delve, he neither plants nor harvests. His nascency was a deed of theft and everywhere he drags his club he steals. When not thieving, he plans theft. The only purpose in his miserable life is its ending, relieving from the wretched rock his all-too-heavy burden of thought. I say this in sadness. To kill the troll is no murder. At its very worst, it is an act of charity."
It was round about that time that the mob had broken into the hall.
That was how much worse it could be. Vimes blinked at the newspaper again, this time seeking anything that dared suggest that people in Ankh-Morpork still lived in the real world
"Oh, damn!" He got up and hurried down the stairs, where Cheery practically cowered at his thundering approach.
"Did we know about this?" he demanded, thumping the paper down on the Occurrences Ledger.
"Know about what, sir?" said Cheery.
Vimes prodded a short illustrated article on page four, his finger stabbing at the page. "See that?" he growled. "That pea-brained idiot at the Post Office has only gone and issued a Koom Valley stamp!"
The dwarf looked nervously at the article. "Er ... two stamps, sir," she said.
Vimes looked closer. He hadn"t taken in much of the detail before the red mist descended. Oh yes, two stamps. They were very nearly identical. They both showed Koom Valley, a rocky area ringed by mountains. They both showed the battle. But in one, little figures of trolls were pursuing dwarfs from right to left, and, in the other, dwarfs were chasing trolls from left to right. Koom Valley, where the trolls ambushed the dwarfs and the dwarfs ambushed the trolls. Vimes groaned. Pick your own stupid history, a snip at ten pence, highly collectable.
"The Koom Valley Memorial Issue," he read. "But we don"t want them to remember it! We want them to forget it!"
"It"s only stamps, sir," said Cheery. "I mean, there"s no law against stamps. .."
"There ought to be one against being a bloody fool!"
"If there was, sir, we"d be on overtime every day!" said Cheery, grinning.
Vimes relaxed a little. "Yep, and no one could build cells fast enough. Remember the cabbage-scented stamp last month?
"Send your expatriate sons and daughters the familiar odour of home"? They actually caught fire if you put too many of them together!"
"I still can"t get the smell off my clothes, sir."
"There are people living a hundred miles away who can"t, I reckon. What did we do with the bloody things in the end?"
"I put them in No. 4 evidence locker and left the key in the lock," said Cheery.
"But Nobby Nobbs always steals anything that-" Vimes began.
"That"s right, sir!" said Cheery happily. "I haven"t seen them for weeks."
There was a crash from the direction of the canteen, followed by shouting. Something in Vimes, perhaps the very part of him that had been waiting for the first shoe, propelled him across the office, down the passage and to the canteen"s doorway at a speed that left dust spiralling on the floor.
What met his eyes was a tableau in various shades of guilt. One of the trestle tables had been knocked over. Food and cheap tinware was strewn across the floor. On one side of the mess was troll Constable Mica, currently being held between troll Constables Bluejohn and Schist; on the other was dwarf Constable Brakenshield, currently being lifted off the ground by probably human Corporal Nobbs and definitely human Constable Haddock.
There were watchmen at the other tables too, all caught in the act of rising. And, in the silence, audible only to the fine-tuned ears of a man searching for it, was the sound of hands pausing an inch away from the weapon of choice, and very slowly being lowered.
"All right," said Vimes, in the ringing vacuum. "Who"s going to be the first to tell me a huge whopper? Corporal Nobbs?"
"Well, Mister Vimes," said Nobby Nobbs, lowering the mute Brakenshield to the floor,". .. er ... Brakenshield here ... picked up Mica"s ... yes, picked up Mica"s mug by mistake, as it were ... and
... we all spotted that and jumped up, yes. .: Nobby speeded up, the really steep fibs now successfully negotiated,". .. and that"s how the table got knocked over ... "cos," and here Nobby"s face assumed an expression of virtuous imbecility that was really quite frightening to see, "he"d have really hurt himself if he"d taken a swig of troll coffee, sir."
Inside, Vimes sighed. As stupid lame excuses went, it wasn"t actually a bad one. For one thing it had the virtue of being completely unbelievable. No dwarf would come close to picking up a mug of troll espresso, which was a molten chemical stew with rust sprinkled on the top. Everyone knew this, just as everyone knew that Vimes could see that Brakenshield was holding an axe over his head and Constable Bluejohn was still frozen in the act of wrenching a club off Mica. And everyone knew, too, that Vimes was in the mood to sack the first bloody idiot to make a wrong move and, probably, anyone standing near him.
"That"s what it was, was it?" said Vimes. "So it wasn"t, as it might be, someone making a nasty remark about a fellow officer and others of his race, perhaps? Some little bit of stupidity to add to the mess of it that"s floating around the streets right now?"
"Oh, nothing like that, sir," said Nobby. "Just one of them ... things.
"Nearly a nasty accident, was it?" said Vimes. "Yessir!"
"Well, we don"t want any nasty accidents, do we, Nobby ...
"None of us want nasty accidents, I expect," said Vimes, looking around the room
. Some of the constables, he was grimly glad to see, were sweating with the effort of not moving. "And it"s so easy to have em, when your mind isn"t firmly on the job. Understood?"
There was a general muttering.
"I can"t hear you!"
This time there were audible riffs on the theme of "Yessir!"
"Right," snapped Vimes. "Now get out there and keep the peace,
because as sure as hell you won"t do it in here!" He directed a special
glare at Constables Brakenshield and Mica, and strode back
to the main office, where he almost bumped into Sergeant Angua. "Sorry, sir, I was just fetching-" she began. "I sorted it out, don"t worry," said Vimes. "But it was that close." "Some of the dwarfs are really on edge, sir. I can smell it," said Angua.
"You and Fred Colon," said Vimes.
"I don"t think it"s just the Hamcrusher thing, sir. It"s something ... dwarfish."
"Well, I can"t beat it out of them. And just when the day couldn"t get any worse, I"ve got to interview a damned vampire."
Too late Vimes saw the urgent look in Angua"s eyes.
"Ah ... I think that would be me," said a small voice behind him.
Fred Colon and Nobby Nobbs, having been rousted from their lengthy coffee break, proceeded gently up Broadway, giving the of uniform an airing. What with one thing and another, it was probably a good idea not to be back at the Yard for a while.
They walked like men who had all day. They did have all day. They had chosen this particular street because it was busy and wide and you didn"t get too many trolls and dwarfs in this part of town. The reasoning was faultless: in lots of areas, right now, dwarfs or trolls were wandering around in groups or, alternatively, staying still in groups in case any of those wandering bastards tried any trouble in this neighbourhood. There had been little flare-ups for weeks. In these areas, Nobby and Fred considered, there wasn"t much peace, so it was a waste of effort to keep what little was left of
it, right? You wouldn"t try keeping sheep in places where all the sheep got eaten by wolves, right? It stood to reason. It would look silly. Whereas in big streets like Broadway there was lots of peace which, obviously, needed keeping. Common sense told them this was true. It was as plain as the nose on your face, and especially the one on Nobby"s face.
"Bad business," said Colon, as they strolled. "I"ve never seen the dwarfs like this."
"It always gets tricky, sarge, just before Koom Valley Day," Nobby observed.
"Yeah, but Hamcrusher"s really got them on the boil and no mistake." Colon removed his helmet and wiped his brow. "I told Sam about my water and he was impressed."
"Well, he would be," Nobby agreed. "It would impress anyone."
Colon tapped his nose. "There"s a storm coming, Nobby."
"Not a cloud in the sky, sarge," Nobby observed.
"Figure of speech, Nobby, figure of speech." Colon sighed, and glanced sideways at his friend. When he continued, it was in the hesitant tones of a man with something on his mind. "As a matter of fact, Nobby, there was another matter about which, per say, I wanted to speak to you about, man to-" there was only the tiniest hesitation, "-man:
"Now you know, Nobby, that I"ve always taken a pers"nal interest in your moral well-being, what with you havin" no dad to put your feet on the proper path. .:Colon managed.
"That"s right, sarge. I would have strayed no end if you hadn"t," said Nobby virtuously.
"Well, you know you was telling me about that girl you"re goin" out with, what was her name, now..."
"That"s the ... bunny. The one you said worked in a club, right?" "That"s right. Is there a problem, sarge?" said Nobby anxiously.
"Not as such. But when you was on your day off last week me an" Constable Jolson got called into the Pink PussyCat Club, Nobby. You know? There"s pole-dancing and table-dancing and stuff of that nature? And you know of Mrs Spudding what lives in New Cobblers?"
"Ol" Mrs Spudding with the wooden teeth, sarge?"
"The very same, Nobby," said Colon magisterially. "She does the cleaning in there. And it appears that when she come in at eight o"clock in the morning ae-em, with no one else about, Nobby, well, I hardly like to say this, but it appears she took it into her head to have a twirl on the pole."
They shared a moment of silence as Nobby ran this image in the cinema of his imagination and hastily consigned much of it to the cutting-room floor.
"But she must be seventy-five, sarge!" he said, staring at nothing in fascinated horror.
"A girl can dream, Nobby, a girl can dream. O"course, she forgot she wasn"t as limber as she used to be, plus she got her foot caught in her long drawers and panicked when her dress fell over her head. She was in a bad way when the manager came in, having been upside down for three hours with her false teeth fallen out on the floor. Wouldn"t let go of the pole, too. Not a pretty sight - I trust I do not have to draw you a picture. Come the finish, Precious Jolson had to rip the pole out top and bottom and we slid her off. That girl"s got the muscles of a troll, Nobby, I"ll swear it. And then, Nobby, when we was bringing her round behind the scenes this young lady wearing two sequins and a bootlace comes up and says she"s a friend of yours! I did not know where to put my face!"
"You"re not supposed to put it anywhere, sarge. They throw you out for that sort of thing," said Nobby.
"You never told me she was a pole-dancer, Nobby!" Fred wailed.
"Don"t say it like that, sarge: Nobby sounded a little hurt. "This is
modern times. And she"s got class, Tawneee has. She even brings her own pole. No hanky-panky."
"But, I mean ... showin" her body off in lewd ways, Nobby! Dancing around without her vest and practic"ly no drawers on. Is that any way to behave?"
Nobby considered this deep metaphysical question from various angles. "Er ... yes?" he ventured.
"Anyway, I thought you were still walking out with Verity Pushpram? That"s a handy little seafood stall she runs," Colon said, sounding as though he was pleading a case.
"Oh, Hammerhead"s a nice girl if you catch her on a good day, sarge," Nobby conceded.
"You mean those days when she doesn"t tell you to bugger off and chase you down the street throwing crabs at you?"
"Exactly those days, sarge. But good or bad, you can never get rid of the smell of fish. And her eyes are too far apart. I mean, it"s hard to have a relationship with a girl who can"t see you if you stand right in front of her."
"I shouldn"t think Tawneee can see you if you"re up close, either!" Colon burst out. "She"s nearly six feet tall and she"s got a bosom like ... well, she"s a big girl, Nobby." Fred Colon was at a loss. Nobby Nobbs and a dancer with big hair, a big smile and ... general bigitigy? Look upon this picture, and on this! It did your head in, it really did.
He struggled on. "She told me, Nobby, that she"s been Miss May on the centrefold of Girls, Giggles and Garters! Well, I mean. .. !"
"What do you mean, sarge? Anyway, she wasn"t just Miss May, she was the first week in June as well," Nobby pointed out. "It was the only way they had room."
"Err, well, I ask you," Fred floundered, "is a girl who displays her body for money the right kind of wife for a copper? Ask yourself that!"
For the second time in five minutes, what passed for Nobby"s face wrinkled up in deep thought.
"Is this a trick question, sarge?" he said, at last. ""Cos I know for a fact that Haddock has got that picture pinned up in his locker and every time he opens it he goes "Phwoar, will you look at th-"
" "How did you meet her, anyway?" said Colon quickly.
"What? Oh, our eyes met when I shoved an IOU in her garter, sarge," said Nobby happily.
"And ... she hadn"t just been hit on the head, or something?" "I don"t think so, sarge:
"She"s not ... ill, is she?" said Fred Colon, exploring every likelihood.
"No, sarge!" "Are you sure?"
"She says perhaps we"re two halves of the same soul, sarge," said
Colon stopped with one foot raised above the pavement. He
stared at nothing, his lips moving.
"Sarge?" said Nobby, puzzled by this.
"Yeah ... yeah," said Colon, more or less to himself. "Yeah. I can see that. Not the same stuff in each half, obviously. Sort of ... sieved. .
The foot landed. "I say!"
It was more of a bleat than a cry, and it came from the door of
the Royal Art Museum. A tall, thin figure was beckoning to the
watchmen, who strolled over.
"Yessir?" said Colon, touching his helmet. "We"ve had a burglareah, officer!" "Burglar rear?" said Nobby.
"Oh dear, sir," said Colon, putting a warning hand on the corporal"s shoulders. "Anything taken?"
"Years. I rather think that"s hwhy it was a burglareah, you see?" said
the man. He had the attitude of a preoccupied chicken, but Fred
Colon was impressed. You could barely understand the man, he was
that posh. It was not so much speech as modulated yawning. "I"m Sir Reynold Stitched, curator of Fine Art, and I was hwalking through the Long Gallereah and ... oh, dear, they took the Rascal!"
The man looked at two blank faces.
"Methodia Rascal?" he tried. "The Battle of Koom Valley? It is a priceless work of art!"
Colon hitched up his stomach. "Ah," he said, "that"s serious. We"d better take a look at it. Er ... I mean, the locale where it was situated in.
"Years, years, of course," said Sir Reynold. "Do come this hway. I am given to understand that the modern hWatch can learn a lot just by looking at the place where a thing was, is that not so?"
"Like, that it"s gone?" said Nobby. "Oh, years. We"re good at that."
"Er ... quite so," said Sir Reynold. "Do come this way."
The watchmen followed. They had been inside the museum before, of course. Most citizens had, on days when no better entertainment presented itself. Under the governance of Lord Vetinari it had hosted fewer modern exhibitions, since his lordship held Views, but a gentle stroll amongst the ancient tapestries and rather brown and dusty paintings was a pleasant way of spending an afternoon. Plus, it was always nice to look at the pictures of big pink women with no clothes on.
Nobby was having a problem. "Here, sarge, what"s he going on about?" he whispered. "It sounds like he"s yawning all the time. What"s a galler rear?"
"A gallery, Nobby. That"s very high-class talkin", that is." "I can hardly understand him!"
"Shows it"s high class, Nobby. It wouldn"t be much good if people like you could understand, right?"
"Good point, sarge," Nobby conceded. "I hadn"t thought of that."
"You found it missing this morning, sir?" said Colon, as they trailed after the curator into a gallery still littered with ladders and dust sheets.
"So it was stolen last night, then?"
Sir Reynold hesitated. "Er ... not necessarileah, I"m afraid. We have been refurbishing the Long Gallereah. The picture was too big to move, of course, so hwe"ve had it covered in heavy dust sheets for the past month. But when we took them down this morning, there hwas only the frame! Observe!"
The Rascal occupied - or rather, had occupied - a frame some ten feet high and fifty feet long which, as such, was pretty close to being a work of art in its own right. It was still there, framing nothing but uneven, dusty plaster.
"I suppose some rich private collector has it now," Sir Reynold moaned. "But how could he keep it a secret? The canvas is one of the most recognizable paintings in the world! Every civilized person would spot it in an instant!"
"What did it look like?" said Fred Colon.
Sir Reynold performed that downshift of assumptions that was the normal response to any conversation with Ankh-Morpork"s Finest.
"I can probableah find you a copy," he said weakly. "But the original is fifty feet long! Have you never seen it?
"Well, I remember being brought to see it when I was a kiddie, but it"s a bit long, really. You can"t really see it, anyway. I mean, by the time you get to the other end you"ve forgotten what was happening back up the line, as it were."
"Alas, that is regrettableah true, sergeant," said Sir Reynold. "And hwhat is so vexing is that the hwhole point of this refurbishment hwas to build a special circular room to hold the Rascal. His ideah, you know, hwas that the viewer should be hwholly encircled by the mural and feel right in the thick of the action, as it hwere. You hwould be there in Koom Valleah! He called it panoscopic art. Say hwhat you like about the current interest, but the extra visitors hwould have made it possible to display the picture as hwe believe he intended it to be displayed. And now this!"
"If you were going to move it, why didn"t you just take it down and put it away nice and safe, sir?"
"You mean roll it up?" said Sir Reynold, horrified. "That could cause such a lot of damage. Oh, the horror! No, hwe had a very careful exercise planned for next hweek, to be done with the utmost diligence: He shuddered. "hWhen I think of someone just hacking it out of the frame I feel quite faint-"
"Hey, this must be a clue, sarge!" said Nobby, who had returned to his default activity of mooching about and poking at things to see if they were valuable. "Look, someone dumped a load of stinking ol rubbish here!"
He"d wandered across to a plinth which did, indeed, appear to be piled high with rags.
"Don"t touch that, please!" said Sir Reynold, rushing over. "That"s Don"t Talk to Me About Mondays! It"s Daniellarina Pouter"s most controversial hwork! You didn"t move anything, did you?" he added nervously. "It"s literalleah priceless and she"s got a sharp tongue on her!"
"It"s only a lot of old rubbish," Nobby protested, backing away.
"Art is greater than the sum of its mere mechanical components, corporal," said the curator. "Surely you hwould not say that Caravati"s Three Large Pink hWomen and One Piece of Gauze is just, ahem, "a lot of old pigment"?
"What about this one, then?" said Nobby, pointing to the adjacent plinth. "It"s just a big stake with a nail in it! Is this art, too?"
"Freedom? If it hwas ever on the market, it hwould probableah fetch thirty thousand dollars," said Sir Reynold.
"For a bit of wood with a nail in it?" said Fred Colon. "Who did it?"
"After he viewed Don"t Talk to Me About Mondays! Lord Vetinari graciousleah had Ms Pouter nailed to the stake by her ear," said Sir Reynold. "However, she did manage to pull free during the afternoon."
"I bet she was mad!" said Nobby.
"Not after she hwon several awards for it. I believe she"s planning to nail herself to several other things. It could be a very exciting exhibition."
"Tell you what, then, sir," said Nobby helpfully. "Why don"t you leave the ol big frame where it is and give it a new name, like Art Theft?
"No," said Sir Reynold coldly. "That would be foolish."
Shaking his head at the way of the world, Fred Colon walked right up to the wall so cruelly, or cruelleah, denuded of its covering. The painting had been crudely cut from its frame. Sergeant Colon was not a high-speed thinker, but that point struck him as odd. If you"ve got a month to pinch a painting, why botch the job? Fred had a copper"s view of humanity that differed in some respects from that of the curator. Never say that people wouldn"t do something, no matter how strange it was. Probably there were some mad rich people out there who would buy the painting, even if it meant only ever viewing it in the privacy of their own mansion. People could be like that. In fact, knowing that this was their big secret probably gave them a lovely tight little shiver inside.
But the thieves had slashed the painting out as if they didn"t care about making a sale. There were several ragged inches all along the- Just a moment ...
Fred stood back. A Clue. There it was, right there. He got a lovely tight little shiver inside. "This painting," he declared, "this painting ... this painting which isn"t here, I mean, obviously, was stolen by a ... troll."
"My goodness, how can you tell?" said Sir Reynold.
"I"m very glad you asked me that question, sir," said Fred Colon, who was. "I have detected, you see, that the top of the circular muriel was cut really close to the frame." He pointed. "Now, your troll would easily be able to reach up with his knife, right, and cut along the edge of the frame at the top and down a bit on each side, see?
But your average troll don"t bend that well, so when it came to cutting along the bottom, right, he made a bit of a mess of the job and left it all jagged. Plus, only a troll could carry it away. A stair carpet"s bad enough, and a rolled-up muriel would be a lot heavier than that!"
"Well done, sergeant!" said the curator.
"Good thinking, Fred," said Nobby.
"Thank you, corporal," said Fred Colon generously.
"Or it could have been a couple of dwarfs with a stepladder," Nobby went on cheerfully. "The decorators have left a few behind. They"re all over the place."
Fred Colon sighed. "Y"see, Nobby" he said, "it"s comments like that, made in front of a member of the public, that are the reason why I"m a sergeant and you ain"t. If it was dwarfs, it would be neat all round, obviously. Is this place locked up at night, Mr Sir Reynold?"
"Of course! Not just locked, but barred! Old John is meticulous about it. And he lives in the attics, so he can make this place like a fortress."
"This"d be the caretaker?" said Fred. "We"ll need to talk to him." "Certainly you may," said Sir Reynold nervously. "Now, I think
hwe may have some details about the painting in our storeroom.
I"ll, er, just go and, er, find them . .
He hurried off towards a small doorway.
"I wonder how they got it out?" said Nobby, when they were alone.
"Who says they did?" said Fred Colon. "Big place like this, full of attics and cellars and odd corners, well, why not stash it away and wait a while? You get in as a customer one day, see, hide under a sheet, take out the muriel in the night, hide it somewhere, then go out with the customers next day. Simple, eh?" He beamed at Nobby. "You"ve got to outsmart the criminal mind, see?"
"Or they could"ve just smashed down a door and pushed off with the muriel in the middle of the night," said Nobby. "Why mess about with a cunning plan when a simple one will do?"
Fred sighed. "I can see this is going to be a complicated case, Nobby."
"You should ask Vimesy if we can have it, then," said Nobby. "I mean, we already know the facts, right?"
Hovering in the air, unsaid, was: Where would you like to be in the next few days? Out there where the axes and clubs are likely to be flying, or in here searching all the attics and cellars very, very carefully? Think about it. And it wouldn"t be cowardice, right? "cos a famous muriel like this is bound to be part of our national heritage, right? Even if it is just a painting of a load of dwarfs and trolls having a scrap.
"I think I will do a proper report and suggest to Mister Vimes that maybe we should handle this one," said Fred Colon slowly. "It needs the attention of mature officers. D"you know much about art, Nobby?"
"If necessary, sarge."
"Oh, come on, Nobby!"
"What? Tawneee says what she does is Art, sarge. And she wears more clothes than a lot of the women on the walls around here, so why be sniffy about it?"
"Yeah, but. .." Fred Colon hesitated here. He knew in his heart that spinning upside down around a pole wearing a costume you could floss with definitely was not Art, and being painted lying on a bed wearing nothing but a smile and a small bunch of grapes was good solid Art, but putting your finger on why this was the case was a bit tricky.