men at arms (discworld #15) - Page 13

'Well . . . I mean, I've nothing against Mrs Cake, a lovely woman, one of the best. . . but. . . well. . . you must have noticed . . .'

'Noticed what?'

'Well. . . she's not very . . . you know . . . choosy.'

'Sorry. I'm still not with you.'

'You must have seen some of the other guests? I mean, doesn't Reg Shoe still have lodgings there?'

'Oh, said Angua, 'you mean the zombie.'

'And there's a banshee in the attic.'

'Mr Ixolite. Yes.'

'And there's old Mrs Drull.'

'The ghoul. But she's retired. She does children's party catering now.'

'I mean, doesn't it strike you the place is a bit odd?'

'But the rates are reasonable and the beds are clean.'

'I shouldn't think anyone ever sleeps in them.'

'All right! I had to take what I could get !'

'Sorry. I know how it is. I was like that myself when I first arrived here. But my advice is to move out as soon as it's polite and find somewhere . . . well . . . more suitable for a young lady, if you know what I mean.'

'Not really. Mr Shoe even tried to help me upstairs with my stuff. Mind you, I had to help him upstairs with his arms afterwards. Bits fall off him all the time, poor soul.'

'But they're not really . . . our kind of people,' said Carrot wretchedly. 'Don't get me wrong. I mean . . . dwarfs? Some of my best friends are dwarfs. My parents are dwarfs. Trolls? No problem at all with trolls. Salt of the earth. Literally. Wonderful chaps under all that crust. But . . . undead . . . I just wish they'd go back to where they came from, that's all.'

'Most of them came from round here.'

'I just don't like 'em. Sorry.'

'I've got to go,' said Angua, coldly. She paused at the dark entrance of an alley.

'Right. Right,' said Carrot. 'Um. When shall I see you again?'

'Tomorrow. We're in the same job, yes?'

'But maybe when we're off duty we could take a—'

'Got to go!'

Angua turned and ran. The moon's halo was already visible over the rooftops of Unseen University.

'OK. Well. Right. Tomorrow, then,' Carrot called after her.

Angua could feel the world spinning as she stumbled through the shadows. She shouldn't have left it so long!

She stumbled out into a cross-street with a few people in it and managed to make it to an alley mouth, pawing at her clothes . . .

She was seen by Bundo Prung, recently expelled from the Thieves' Guild for unnecessary enthusiasm and conduct unbecoming in a mugger, and a desperate man. An isolated woman in a dark alley was just about what he felt he could manage.

He glanced around, and followed her in.

Silence followed, for about five seconds. Then Bundo emerged, very fast, and didn't stop running until he reached the docks, where a boat was leaving on the tide. He ran up the gangplank just before it was pulled up, and became a seaman, and died three years later when an armadillo fell on his head in a far-off country, and in all that time never said what he'd seen. But he did scream a bit whenever he saw a dog.

Angua emerged a few seconds later, and trotted away.

Lady Sybil Ramkin opened the door and sniffed the night air.

'Samuel Vimes! You're drunk!'

'Not yet! But I hope to be!' said Vimes, in cheerful tones.

'And you haven't changed out of your uniform!'

Vimes looked down, and then up again.

'That's right!' he said brightly.

'The guests will be here any minute. Go on up to your room. There's a tub drawn and Willikins has laid out a suit for you. Get along with you . . .'

'Jolly good!'

Vimes bathed in lukewarm water and a rosy alcoholic glow. Then he dried himself off as best he could and looked at the suit on the bed.

It had been made for him by the finest tailor in the city. Sybil Ramkin had a generous heart. She was a woman out for all she could give.

The suit was blue and deep purple, with lace on the wrists and at the throat. It was the height of fashion, he had been told. Sybil Ramkin wanted him to go up in the world. She'd never actually said it, but he knew she felt he was far too good to be a copper.

He stared at it in muzzy incomprehension. He'd never really worn a suit before. When he was a kid there'd been whatever rags could be tied on, and later on there'd been the leather knee britches and chainmail of the Watch – comfortable, practical clothes.

There was a hat with the suit. It had pearls on it.

Vimes had never worn any headgear before that hadn't been hammered out of one piece of metal.

The shoes were long and pointy.

He'd always worn sandals in the summer, and the traditional cheap boots in the winter.

Captain Vimes could just about manage to be an officer. He wasn't at all sure how to become a gentleman. Putting on the suit would seem to be part of it . . .

Guests were arriving. He could hear the crunch of carriage wheels on the driveway, and the flip-flop of the sedan-chair carriers.

He glanced out of the window. Scoone Avenue was higher than most of Morpork and offered unrivalled views of the city, if that was your idea of a good time. The Patrician's Palace was a darker shape in the dusk, with one lighted window high up. It was the centre of a well-lit area, which got darker and darker as the view widened and began to take in those parts of the city where you didn't light a candle because that was wasting good food. There was red torchlight around Quarry Lane . . . well, Trolls' New Year, understandable. And a faint glow over the High Energy Magic building at Unseen University; Vimes would arrest all wizards on suspicion of being too bloody clever by half. But more lights than you'd expect to see around Cable and Sheer, the part of the city that people like Captain Quirke referred to as 'tinytown' . . .


Vimes adjusted his cravat as best he could.

He'd faced trolls and dwarfs and dragons, but now he was having to meet an entirely new species. The rich.

It was always hard to remember, afterwards, how the world looked when she was dans une certaine condition, as her mother had delicately called it.

For example, she remembered seeing smells. The actual streets and buildings . . . they were there, of course, but only as a drab monochrome background against which the sounds and, yes, the smells seared like brilliant lines of . . . coloured fire and clouds of . . . well, of coloured smoke.

That was the point. That was where it all broke down. There were no proper words afterwards for what she heard and smelled. If you could see an eighth distinct colour just for a while, and then describe it back in the seven-coloured world, it'd have to be . . . 'something like a sort of greenish-purple'. Experience did not cross over well between species.

Sometimes, although not very often, Angua thought she was very lucky to get to see both worlds. And there was always twenty minutes after a Change when all the senses were heightened, so that the world glowed in every sensory spectrum like a rainbow. It was nearly worth it just for that.

There were varieties of werewolf. Some people merely had to shave every hour and wear a hat to cover the ears. They could pass for nearly normal.

But she could recognize them, nevertheless. Werewolves could spot another werewolf across a crowded street. There was something about the eyes. And, of course, if you had time, there were all sorts of other clues. Werewolves tended to live alone and take jobs that didn't bring them into contact with animals. They wore scent or aftershave a lot and tended to be very fastidious about their food. And kept diaries with the phases of the moon carefully marked in red ink.

It was no life, being a werewolf in the country. A stupid chicken went missing and you were a number one suspect. Everyone said it was better in the city.

It was certainly overpowering.

Angua could see several hours of Elm Street all in one go. The mugger's fear was a fading orange line. Carrot's trail was an expanding pale green cloud, with an edge that suggested- he was slightly worried; there were additional tones of old leather and armour polish. Other trails, faint or powerful, crisscrossed the street.

There was one that smelled like an old privy carpet.

'Yo, bitch,' said a voice behind her.

She turned her head. Gaspode looked no better through canine vision, except that he was at the centre of a cloud of mixed odours.

'Oh. It's you.'

' 'S'right,' said Gaspode, feverishly scratching himself. He gave her a hopeful look. 'Just askin', you understand, just gettin' it over with right now, for the look of the thing, for wossname's sake as it might be, but I s'pose there's no chance of me sniffing—'


'Just askin'. No offence meant.'

Angua wrinkled her muzzle.

'How come you smell so bad? I mean, you smelled bad enough when I was human, but now—'

Gaspode looked proud.

'Good, innit,' he said. 'It didn't just happen. I had to work at it. If you was a true dog, this'd be like really great aftershave. By the way, you want to get a collar, miss. No-one bothers you if you've got a collar.'


Gaspode seemed to have something on his mind.

'Er . . . you don't rip hearts out, do you?'

'Not unless I want to,' said Angua.

'Right, right, right,' said Gaspode hurriedly. 'Where're you going?'

He broke into a waddling, bow-legged trot to keep up with her.

'To have a sniff around Hammerhock's place. I didn't ask you to come.'

'Got nothing else to do,' said Gaspode. 'The House of Ribs don't put its rubbish out till midnight.'

'Haven't you got a home to go to ?' said Angua, as they trotted under a fish-and-chip stall.

'Home? Me? Home? Yeah. Of course. No problemo. Laughing kids, big kitchen, three meals a day, humorous cat next door to chase, own blanket and spot by the fire, he's an old softy but we love him, ekcetra. No problem there. I just like to get out a bit,' said Gaspode.

'Only, I see you haven't got a collar.'

'It fell off.'


'It was the weight of all them rhinestones.'

'I expect it was.'

'They let me do pretty much as I like,' said Gaspode.

'I can see that.'

'Sometimes I don't go home for, oh, days at a time.'


'Weeks, sometimes.'


'But they're always so glad to see me when I do,' said Gaspode.

'I thought you said you slept up at the University,' said Angua, as they dodged a cart in Rime Street.

For a moment Gaspode smelled uncertain, but he recovered magnificently.

'Yeah, right,' he said. 'We-ell, you know how it is, families . . . All them kids picking you up, giving you biscuits and similar, people pattin' you the whole time. Gets on yer nerves. So I sleeps up there quite often.'


'More often than not, point of fact.'


Gaspode whimpered a little.

'You want to be careful, you know. A young bitch like you can meet real trouble in this dog's city.'

They had reached the wooden jetty behind Hammer-hock's workshop.

'How d'you—' Angua paused.

There was a mixture of smells here, but the overpowering one was as sharp as a saw.


'And fear,' said Gaspode. 'Lots of fear.'

He sniffed the planks. 'Human fear, not dwarf. You can tell if it's dwarfs. It's the rat diet, see? Phew! Must have been real bad to stay this strong.'

'I smell one male human, one dwarf,' said Angua.

'Yeah. One dead dwarf.'

Gaspode stuck his battered nose along the line of the door, and snuffled noisily.

'There's other stuff,' he said, 'but it's a bugger what with the river so close and everything. There's oil and . . . grease . . . and all sorts – hey, where're you going?'

Gaspode trotted after her as Angua headed back to Rime Street, nose close to the ground.