men at arms (discworld #15) - Page 18


Boffo produced a large red and white handkerchief and blew his nose with a humorous honking sound.

'Classic,' he said. 'It's what he would have wanted.'

'Have you any idea what happened?' said Colon.

'Oh, yes. Brother Grineldi did the old heel-and-toe trick and tipped the urn down—'

'I mean, why did Beano die?'

'Um. We think it was an accident,' said Boffo.

'An accident,' said Colon flatly.

'Yes. That's what Dr Whiteface thinks.' Boffo glanced upwards, briefly. They followed his gaze. The rooftops of the Assassins' Guild adjoined the Fools' Guild. It didn't do to upset neighbours like that, especially when the only weapon you had was a custard pie edged with short-crust pastry.

'That's what Dr Whiteface thinks,' said Boffo again, looking at his enormous shoes.

Sergeant Colon liked a quiet life. And the city could spare a clown or two. In his opinion, the loss of the whole boiling could only make the world a slightly happier place. And yet . . . and yet . . . honestly, he didn't know what had got into the Watch lately. It was Carrot, that wras what it was. Even old Vimes had picked it up. We don't let things lie any more . . .

'Maybe he was cleaning a club, sort of thing, and it accidentally went off,' said Nobby. He'd caught it, too.

'No-one 'd want to kill young Beano,' said the down, in a quiet voice. 'He was a friendly soul. Friends everywhere.'

Almost everywhere,' said Colon.

The funeral was over. The jesters, jokers and clowns were going about their business, getting stuck in door-ways on the way. There was much pushing and shoving and honking of noses and falling of prats. It was a scene to make a happy man slit his wrists on a fine spring rang.

'All I know is,' said Boffo, in a low voice, 'that when I saw him yesterday he was looking very . . . odd. I called out to him when he was going through the gates and—'

'How do you mean, odd?' said Colon. I am detector-ing, he thought, with a faint touch of pride. People are Helping me with My Inquiries.

'Dunno. Odd. Not quite himself—'

'This was yesterday?'

'Oh, yes. In the morning. I know because the gate rota—'

'Yesterday morning?'

'That's what I said, mister. Mind you, we were all a bit nervous after the bang—'

'Brother Boffo!'

'Oh, no—' mumbled the clown.

A figure was striding towards them. A terrible figure.

No downs were funny. That was the whole purpose of a clown. People laughed at clowns, but only out of nervousness. The point of clowns was that, after watching them, anything else that happened seemed enjoyable. It was nice to know there was someone worse off than you. Someone had to be the butt of the world.

But even clowns are frightened of something, and that is the white-faced clown. The one who never gets in the way of the custard. The one in the shiny white clothes, and the deadpan white make-up. The one with the little pointy hat and the thin mouth and the delicate black eyebrows.

Dr Whiteface.

'Who are these gentlemen?' he demanded.

'Er—' Boffo began.

'Night Watch, sir,' said Colon, saluting.

'And why are you here?'

'Investigating our inquiries as to the fatal demise of the down Beano, sir,' said Colon.

'I rather think that is Guild business, sergeant. Don't you?'

'Well, sir, he was found in the—'

'I am sure it is something we don't need to bother the Watch with,' said Dr Whiteface.

Colon hesitated. He'd prefer to face Dr Cruces than this apparition. At least the Assassins were supposed to be unpleasant. Clowns, were only one step away from mime artists, too.

'No, sir,' he said. 'It was obviously an acddent, right?'

'Quite so. Brother Boffo will show you to the door,' said the head clown. 'And then,' he added, 'he will report to my office. Does he understand?'

'Yes, Dr Whiteface,' mumbled Boffo.

'What'll he do to you?' said Nobby, as they headed for the gate.

'Hat full of whitewash, probably,' said Boffo. 'Pie inna face if I'm lucky.'

He opened the wicket gate.

'A lot of us ain't happy about this,' he whispered. 'I don't see why those buggers should get away with it. We ought to go round to the Assassins and have it out with them.'

'Why the Assassins?' said Colon. 'Why would they kill a down?'

Boffo looked guilty. 'I never said a thing!'

Colon glared at him. 'There's definitely something odd happening, Mr Boffo.'

Boffo looked around, as if expecting a vengeful custard pie at any moment.

'You find his nose,' he hissed. 'You just find his nose. His poor nose!'

The gate slammed shut.

Sergeant Colon turned to Nobby.

'Did exhibit A have a nose, Nobby?'

'Yes, Fred.'

'Then what was that about?'

'Search me.' Nobby scratched a promising boil. 'P'raps he meant a false nose. You know. Those red ones on elastic? The ones,' said Nobby, grimacing, 'they think are funny. He didn't have one.'

Colon rapped on the door, taking care to stand out of the way of any jolly amusing booby traps.

The hatch slid aside.

'Yes?' hissed Boffo.

'Did you mean his false nose?' said Colon.

'His real one! Now bugger off!'

The hatch snapped back.

'Mental,' said Nobby, firmly.

'Beano had a real nose. Did it look wrong to you?' said Colon.

'No. It had a couple of holes in it.'

'Well, I don't know about noses,' said Colon, 'but either Brother Boffo is dead wrong or there's something fishy going on.'

'Like what?'

'Well, Nobby, you're what I might call a career soldier, right?'

' 'S'right, Fred.'

'How many dishonourable discharges have you had?'

'Lots,' said Nobby, proudly. 'But I always puts a poultice on 'em.'

'You've been on a lot of battlefields, ain't you?'

'Dozens.'

Sergeant Colon nodded.

'So you've seen a lot of corpses, right, when you've been ministering to the fallen—'

Corporal Nobbs nodded. They both knew that 'ministering' meant harvesting any personal jewellery and stealing their boots. In many a faraway battlefield the last thing many a mortally wounded foeman ever saw was Corporal Nobbs heading towards him with a sack, a knife and a calculating expression.

'Shame to let good stuff go to waste,' said Nobby.

'So you've noticed how dead bodies get. . . deader,' said Sergeant Colon.

'Deader than dead?'

'You know. More corpsey,' said Sergeant Colon, forensic expert.

'Goin' stiff and purple and suchlike?'

'Right.'

'And then sort of manky and runny . . .'

'Yes, all right—'

'Makes it easier to get the rings off, mind you—'

'The point is, Nobby, that you can tell how old a corpse is. That clown, for e.g. You saw him, same as me. How long, would you say?'

'About 5' 9", I'd say. His boots didn't fit, I know that. Too floppy.'

'I meant how long he'd been dead.'

'Couple of days. You can tell because there's this—'

'So how come Boffo saw him yesterday morning?'

They strolled onwards.

'Bit of a poser, that is,' said Nobby.

'You're right. I expect the captain'll be very interested.'

'Maybe he was a zombie?'

'Shouldn't think so.'

'Never could stand zombies,' Nobby mused.

'Really?'

'It was always so hard to nick their boots.'

Sergeant Colon nodded at a passing beggar.

'You still doing the folk dancing on your nights off, Nobby?'

'Yes, Fred. We're practising “Gathering Sweet Lilacs” this week. There is a very complicated double crossover-step.'

'You're definitely a man of many parts, Nobby.'

'Only if I couldn't cut the rings off, Fred.'

'What I mean is, you presents an intriguing dichotomy.'

Nobby took a kick at a small scruffy dog.

'You been reading books again, Fred?'

'Got to improve my mind, Nobby. It's these new recruits. Carrot's got his nose in a book half the time, Angua knows words I has to look up, even the shortarse is brighter'n me. They keep on extracting the urine. I'm definitely a bit under-endowed in the head department.'

'You're brighter than Detritus,' said Nobby.

'That's what I tell myself. I say, “Fred, whatever happens, you're brighter than Detritus.” But then I say, “Fred – so's yeast.'”

He turned away from the window.

So. The damn Watch!

That damn Vimes! Exactly the wrong man in the wrong place. Why didn't people learn from history? Treachery was in his very genes! How could a city run properly with someone like that, poking around? That wasn't what a Watch was for. Watchmen were supposed to do what they were told, and see to it that other people did too.

Someone like Vimes could upset things. Not because he was clever. A clever Watchman was a contradiction in terms. But sheer randomness might cause trouble. The gonne lay on the table. 'What shall I do about Vimes?' Kill him.

Angua woke up. It was almost noon, she was in her own bed at Mrs Cake's, and someone was knocking at the door.

'Mmm?' she said.

'Oi don't know. Shall I ask him to go away?' said a voice from around keyhole level.

Angua thought quickly. The other residents had warned her about this. She waited for her cue.

'Oh, thanks, love. Oi was forgetting,' said the voice.

You had to pick your time, with Mrs Cake. It was difficult, living in a house run by someone whose mind was only nominally attached to the present. Mrs Cake was a psychic.

'You've got your precognition switched on again, Mrs Cake,' said Angua, swinging her legs out of bed and rummaging quickly through the pile of clothes on the chair.

'Where'd we got to?' said Mrs Cake, still on the other side of the door.

'You just said, “I don't know, shall I ask him to go away?” Mrs Cake,' said Angua. Clothes! That was always the trouble! At least a male werewolf only had to worry about a pair of shorts and pretend he'd been on a brisk run.

'Right.' Mrs Cake coughed. ' “There's a young man downstairs asking for you”,' she said.

' “Who is it?”,' said Angua.

There was a moment's silence.

'Yes, oi think that's all sorted out,' said Mrs Cake. 'Sorry, dear. Oi get terrible headaches if'n people don't fill in the right bits. Are you human, dear?'[12]

'You can come in, Mrs Cake.'

It wasn't much of a room. It was mainly brown. Brown oilcloth flooring, brown walls, a picture over the brown bed of a brown stag being attacked by brown dogs on a brown moorland against a sky which, contrary to established meteorological knowledge, was brown. There was a brown wardrobe. Possibly, if you fought your way through the mysterious old coats[13] hanging in it, you'd break through into a magical fairyland full of talking animals and goblins, but it'd probably not be worth it.

Mrs Cake entered. She was a small fat woman, but made up for her lack of height by wearing a huge black hat; not the pointy witch variety, but one covered with stuffed birds, wax fruit and other assorted decorative items, all painted black. Angua quite liked her. The rooms were clean,[14] the rates were cheap, and Mrs Cake had a very understanding approach to people who lived slightly unusual lives and had, for. example, an aversion to garlic. Her daughter was a werewolf and she knew all about the need for ground floor windows and doors with long handles that a paw could operate.

'He's got chainmail on,' said Mrs Cake. She was holding a bucket of gravel in either hand. 'He's got soap in his ears, too.'

'Oh. Er. Right.'

'Oi can tell 'im to bugger off if you like,' said Mrs Cake. 'That's what I allus does if the wrong sort comes round.

Especially if they've got a stake. I can't be having with that sort of thing, people messing up the hallways, waving torches and stuff.'