men at arms (discworld #15) - Page 11


'It was attacking a dragon!' shouted Vimes. 'One that wouldn't back down!'

He pulled himself to his knees and tapped Carrot's breast-plate.

'You polish that up real bright!' he said. 'You can see yourself in it. So can anything else!'

'Oh, yes, of course there's that,' said Lady Sybil. 'Everyone knows you should keep dragons away from mirrors—'

'Mirrors,' said Carrot. 'Hey, there were bits of—'

'Yes. He showed Chubby a mirror,' said Vimes.

'The poor little thing must have been trying to make himself bigger than himself,' said Carrot.

'We're dealing here,' said Vimes, 'with a twisted mind.'

'Oh, no! You think so?'

'Yes.'

'But . . . no . . . you can't be right. Because Nobby was with us all the time.'

'Not Nobby,' said Vimes testily. 'Whatever he might do to a dragon, I doubt if he'd make it explode. There's stranger people in this world than Corporal Nobbs, my lad.'

Carrot's expression slid into a rictus of intrigued horror.

'Gosh,' he said.

Sergeant Colon surveyed the butts. Then he removed his helmet and wiped his forehead.

'I think perhaps Lance-Constable Angua shouldn't have another go with the longbow until we've worked out how to stop her . . . her getting in the way.'

'Sorry, sergeant.'

They turned to Detritus, who was standing sheepishly behind a heap of broken longbows. Crossbows were out of the question. They sat in his massive hands like a hairpin. In theory the longbow would be a deadly weapon in his hands, just as soon as he mastered the art of when to let go.

Detritus shrugged.

'Sorry, mister,' he said. 'Bows aren't troll weapon.'

'Ha!' said Colon. 'As for you, Lance-Constable Cuddy—'

'Just can't get the hang of aiming, sergeant.'

'I thought dwarfs were famous for their skills in battle!'

'Yeah, but . . . not these skills,' said Cuddy.

'Ambush,' murmured Detritus.

Since he was a troll, the murmur bounced off distant buildings. Cuddy's beard bristled.

'You devious troll, I get my—'

'Well now,' said Sergeant Colon quickly, 'I think we'll stop training. You'll have to . . . sort of pick it up as you go along, all right?'

He sighed. He was not a cruel man, but he'd been either a soldier or a guard all his life, and he was feeling put-upon. Otherwise he wouldn't have said what he said next.

'I don't know, I really don't. Fighting among yourselves, smashing your own weapons . . . I mean, who do we think we're fooling? Now, it's nearly noon, you take a few hours off, we'll see you again tonight. If you think it's worth turning up.'

There was a spang! noise. Cuddy's crossbow had gone off in his hand. The bolt whiffled past Corporal Nobbs' ear and landed in the river, where it stuck.

'Sorry,' said Cuddy.

'Tsk, tsk,' said Sergeant Colon.

That was the worst part. It would have been better all round if he'd called the dwarf some names. It would have been better if he'd made it seem that Cuddy was worth an insult.

He turned around and walked off towards Pseudo-polis Yard.

They heard his muttered comment.

'What him say?' said Detritus.

' “A fine body of men”,' said Angua, going red.

Cuddy spat on the ground, which didn't take long on account of its closeness. Then he reached under his cloak and produced, like a conjuror extracting a size 10 rabbit from a size 5 hat, his double-headed battle axe. And started to run.

By the time he reached the virginal target he was a blur. There was a rip and the dummy exploded like a nuclear haystack.

The other two wandered up and inspected the result, as pieces of chaff gently drifted to the ground.

'Yes, all right,' said Angua. 'But he did say you're supposed to be able to ask them questions afterwards.'

'He didn't say they've got to be able to answer them,' said Cuddy grimly.

'Lance-Constable Cuddy, deduct one dollar for target,' said Detritus, who already owed eleven dollars for bows.

' “If it's worth turning up”!' said Cuddy, losing the axe somewhere about his person again. 'Speciesist!'

'I don't think he meant it that way,' said Angua.

'Ho, it's all right for you,' said Cuddy.

'Why?'

' 'Cos you a man,' said Detritus.

Angua was bright enough to pause for a moment to think this over.

'A woman,' she said.

'Same thing.'

'Only in broad terms. Come on, let's go and have a drink . . .'

The transient moment of camaraderie in adversity completely evaporated.

'Drink with a troll?'

'Drink with a dwarf?'

'All right,' said Angua. 'How about you and you coming and having a drink with me?'

Angua removed her helmet and shook out her hair. Female trolls don't have hair, although the more fortunate ones are able to cultivate a fine growth of lichen, and a female dwarf is more likely to be complimented on the silkiness of her beard than on her scalp. But it was just possible the sight of Angua scraped little sparks off some shared, ancient, cosmic maleness.

'I haven't really had a chance to look around,' she said. 'But I saw a place in Gleam Street.'

Which meant that they had to cross the river, at least two of them trying to indicate to passers-by that they weren't with at least one of the other two. Which meant that, with desperate nonchalance, they were looking around.

Which meant that Cuddy saw the dwarf in the water.

If you could call it water.

If you could still call it a dwarf.

They looked down.

'You know,' said Detritus, after a while, 'that look like that dwarf who make weapons in Rime Street.'

'Bjorn Hammerhock?' said Cuddy.

'That the one, yeah.'

'It looks a bit like him,' Cuddy conceded, still talking in a cold flat voice, 'but not exactly like him.'

'What d'you mean?' said Angua.

'Because Mr Hammerhock,' said Cuddy, 'didn't have such a great big hole where his chest should be.'

Doesn't he ever sleep? thought Vimes. Doesn't the bloody man ever get his head down? Isn't there a room somewhere with a black dressing gown hanging on the door?

He knocked on the door of the Oblong Office.

'Ah, captain,' said the Patrician, looking up from his paperwork. 'You were commendably quick.'

'Was I?'

'You got my message?' said Lord Vetinari.

'No, sir. I've been . . . occupied.'

'Indeed. And what could occupy you?'

'Someone has killed Mr Hammerhock, sir. A big man in the dwarf community. He's been . . . shot with something, some kind of siege weapon or something, and dumped in the river. We've just fished him out. I was on the way to tell his wife. I think he lives in Treacle Street. And then I thought, since I was passing . . .'

'This is very unfortunate.'

'Certainly it was for Mr Hammerhock,' said Vimes.

The Patrician leaned back and stared at Vimes.

'Tell me,' he said, 'how was he killed?'

'I don't know. I've never seen anything like it . . . there was just a great big hole. But I'm going to find out what it was.'

'Hmm. Did I mention that Dr Cruces came to see me this morning?'

'No, sir.'

'He was very . . . concerned.'

'Yes, sir.'

'I think you upset him.'

'Sir?'

The Patrician seemed to be reaching a decision. His chair thumped forward.

'Captain Vimes—'

'Sir?'

'I know that you are retiring the day after tomorrow and feel, therefore, a little . . . restless. But while you are captain of the Night Watch I am asking you to follow two very specific instructions . . .'

'Sir?'

'You will cease any investigations connected with this theft from the Assassins' Guild. Do you understand? It is entirely Guild business.'

'Sir.' Vimes kept his face carefully immobile.

'I'm choosing to believe that the unspoken word in that sentence was a yes, captain.'

'Sir.'

'And that one, too. As for the matter of the unfortunate Mr Hammerhock . . . The body was discovered just a short while ago?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Then it's out of your jurisdiction, captain.'

'What? Sir?'

'The Day Watch can deal with it.'

'But we've never bothered with that hours-of-daylight jurisdiction stuff!'

'Nevertheless, in the current circumstances I shall instruct Captain Quirke to take over the investigation, if it turns out that one is necessary.'

If one is necessary. If people don't end up with half their

chest gone by accident. Meteorite strike, perhaps, thought Vimes.

He took a deep breath and leaned on the Patrician's desk.

'Mayonnaise Quirke couldn't find his arse with an atlas! And he's got no idea about how to talk to dwarfs! He calls them gritsuckers! My men found the body! It's my jurisdiction!'

The Patrician glanced at Vimes' hands. Vimes removed them from the desk as if it had suddenly grown red-hot.

'Night Watch. That's what you are, captain. Your writ runs in the hours of darkness.'

'It's dwarfs we're talking about! If we don't get it right, they'll take the law into their own hands! That usually means chopping the head off the nearest troll! And you'll put Quirke on this?'

'I've given you an order, captain.'

'But—'

'You may go.'

'You can't—'

'I said you may go, Captain Vimes!'

'Sir.'

Vimes saluted. Then he turned about, and marched out of the room. He closed the door carefully, so that there was barely a click.

The Patrician heard him thump the wall outside. Vimes wasn't aware, but there were a number of barely perceptible dents in the wall outside the Oblong Office, their depths corresponding to his emotional state at the time.

By the sound of it, this one would need the services of a plasterer.

Lord Vetinari permitted himself a smile, although there was no humour in it.

The city operated. It was a self-regulating college of Guilds linked by the inexorable laws of mutual self-interest, and it worked. On average. By and large. Overall. Normally.

The last thing you needed was some Watchman blundering around upsetting things, like a loose . . . a loose . . . a loose siege catapult.

Normally.

Vimes seemed in a suitable emotional state. With any luck, the orders would have the desired effect . . .

There's a bar like it in every big city. It's where the coppers drink.

The Guard seldom drank in Ankh-Morpork's more cheerful taverns when they were off duty. It was too easy to see something that would put them back on duty again.[9] So they generally went to The Bucket, in Gleam Street. It was small and low-ceilinged, and the presence of city guards tended to discourage other drinkers. But Mr Cheese, the owner, wasn't too worried about this. No-one drinks like a copper who has seen too much to stay sober.

Carrot counted out his change on the counter.

'That's three beers, one milk, one molten sulphur on coke with phosphoric acid—'

'With umbrella in it,' said Detritus.

'—and A Slow Comfortable Double-Entendre with lemonade.'

'With a fruit salad in it,' said Nobby.

'Woof?'

'And some beer in a bowl,' said Angua.

'That little dog seems to have taken quite a shine to you,' said Carrot.

'Yes,' said Angua. 'I can't think why.'

The drinks were put in front of them. They stared at the drinks. They drank the drinks.

Mr Cheese, who knew coppers, wordlessly refilled the glasses and Detritus' insulated mug.

They stared at the drinks. They drank the drinks.

'You know,' said Colon, after a while, 'what gets me, what really gets me, is they just dumped him in the water. I mean, not even weights. Just dumped him. Like it didn't matter if he was found. You know what I mean?'

'What gets me,' said Cuddy, 'is that he was a dwarf.'