men at arms (discworld #15) - Page 19


'I think I know who it is,' said Angua. 'I'll see to it.'

She tucked in her shirt.

'Pull the door to if you go out,' Mrs Cake called after her as she went out into the hall. 'Oi'm just off to change the dirt in Mr Winkins' coffin, on account of his back giving him trouble.'

'It looks like gravel to me, Mrs Cake.'

'Orthopaedic, see?'

Carrot was standing respectfully on the doorstep with his helmet under his arm and a very embarrassed expression on his face.

'Well?' said Angua, not unkindly.

'Er. Good morning. I thought, you know, perhaps, you not knowing very much about the city, really. I could, if you like, if you don't mind, not having to go on duty for a while . . . show you some of it. . .?'

For a moment Angua thought she'd contracted pre-science from Mrs Cake. Various futures flitted across her imagination.

'I haven't had breakfast,' she said.

'They make a very good breakfast in Gimlet's dwarf delicatessen in Cable Street.'

'It's lunchtime.'

'It's breakfast time for the Night Watch.'

'I'm practically vegetarian.'

'He does a soya rat.'

She gave in. 'I'll fetch my coat.'

'Har, har,' said a voice, full of withering cynicism.

She looked down. Gaspode was sitting behind Carrot, trying to glare while scratching himself furiously.

'Last night we chased a cat up a tree,' said Gaspode.

'You and me, eh? We could make it. Fate has thrown us together, style of fing.'

'Go away.'

'Sorry?' said Carrot.

'Not you. That dog.'

Carrot turned.

'Him? Is he bothering you now? He's a nice little chap.'

'Woof, woof, biscuit.'

Carrot automatically patted his pocket.

'See?' said Gaspode. 'This boy is Mister Simple, am I right?'

'Do they let dogs in dwarf shops?' said Angua.

'No,' said Carrot.

'On a hook,' said Gaspode.

'Really? Sounds good to me,' said Angua. 'Let's go.'

'Vegetarian?' mumbled Gaspode, limping after them. 'Oh, my.'

'Shut up.'

'Sorry?' said Carrot.

'I was just thinking aloud.'

Vimes' pillow was cold and hard. He felt it gingerly. It was cold and hard because it was not a pillow but a table. His cheek appeared to be stuck to it, and he was not interested in speculating what with.

He hadn't even managed to take his armour off.

But he did manage to unstick one eye.

He'd been writing in his notebook. Trying to make sense of it all. And then he'd gone to sleep.

What time was it? No time to look back.

He traced out:

Stolen from Afsafsins' Guild: gonne – >Hammerhock killed.

Smell of fireworks. Lump of lead. Alchemical Symbols. 2nd body in river. A clown. Where was his red nose? Gonne.

He stared at the scrawled notes.

I'm on the path, he thought. I don't have to know where it leads. I just have to follow. There's always a crime, if you look hard enough. And the Assassins are in this somewhere.

Follow every lead. Check every detail. Chip, chip away.

I'm hungry.

He staggered to his feet and looked at his face in the cracked mirror over the basin.

Events of the previous day filtered through the dogged gauze of memory. Central to all of them was the face of Lord Vetinari. Vimes grew angry just thinking about that. The cool way he'd told Vimes that he mustn't take an interest in the theft from—

Vimes stared at his reflection—

—something stung his ear and smashed the glass.

Vimes stared at the hole in the plaster, surrounded by the remains of a mirror frame. Around him, the mirror glass tinkled to the floor.

Vimes stood stock still for a long moment.

Then his legs, reaching the conclusion that his brain was somewhere else, threw the rest of him to the floor.

There was another tinkle and a half bottle of Bear-hugger's exploded on the desk. Vines couldn't even remember buying it.

He scrambled forward on hands and knees and pulled himself upright alongside the window.

Images flashed through his mind. The dead dwarf. The hole in the wall . . .

A thought seemed to start in the small of his back and spread upwards to his brain: These were lath and plaster walls, and old ones at that; you could push a finger through them with a bit of effort. As for a lump of metal—

He hit the floor at the same time as a pock coincided with a hole punched through the wall on one side of the window. Plaster dust puffed into the air.

His crossbow was leaning against the wall. He wasn't an expert but, hells, who was? You pointed it and you fired it. He pulled it towards him, rolled on his back, stuck his foot in the stirrup and hauled on the string until it clicked into place.

Then he rolled back on to one knee and slotted a quarrel into the groove.

A catapult, that's what it was. It had to be. Troll-sized, perhaps. Someone up on the roof of the opera house or somewhere high . . .

Draw their fire, draw their fire . . . he picked up his helmet and balanced it on the end of another quarrel. The thing to do was crouch below the window and . . .

He thought for a moment. Then he shuffled across the floor to the corner, where there was a pole with a hook on the end. Once upon a time it had been used to open the upper windows, now long rusted shut.

He balanced his helmet on the end, wedged himself into the corner, and with a certain amount of effort moved the pole so that the helmet just showed over the window si . . .

Pock.

Splinters flew up from a point on the floor where it would undoubtedly have severely inconvenienced anyone lying on the boards cautiously raising a decoy helmet on a stick.

Vimes smiled. Someone was trying to kill him, and that made him feel more alive than he had done for days.

And they were also slightly less intelligent than he was. This is a quality you should always pray for in your would-be murderer.

He dropped the pole, picked up the crossbow, spun past the window, fired at an indistinct shape on the opera house roof opposite as if the bow could possibly carry across that range, leapt across the room and wrenched at the door. Something smashed into the doorframe as the door swung to behind him.

Then it was down the back stairs, out of the door, over the privy roof, into Knuckle Passage, up the back steps of Zorgo the Retrophrenologist,[15] into Zorgo's operating room and over to the window.

Zorgo and his current patient looked at him curiously.

Pugnant's roof was empty. Vimes turned back and met a pair of puzzled gazes.

' 'Morning, Captain Vimes,' said the retrophrenologist, a hammer still upraised in one massive hand.

Vimes smiled manically.

'Just thought—'he began, and then went on,'—I saw an interesting rare butterfly on the roof over there.'

Troll and patient stared politely past him.

'But there wasn't,' said Virnes.

He walked back to the door.

'Sorry to have bothered you,' he said, and left.

Zorgo's patient watched him go with interest.

'Didn't he have a crossbow?' he said. 'Bit odd, going after interesting rare butterflies with a crossbow.'

Zorgo readjusted the fit of the grid on his patient's bald head.

'Dunno,' he said, 'I suppose it stops them creating all these damn thunderstorms.' He picked up the mallet again. 'Now, what were we going for today? Decisiveness, yes?'

'Yes. Well, no. Maybe.'

'Right.' Zorgo took aim. 'This,' he said with absolute truth, 'won't hurt a bit.'

It was more than just a delicatessen. It was a sort of dwarf community centre and meeting place. The babble of voices stopped when Angua entered, bending almost double, but started up again with slightly more volume and a few laughs when Carrot followed. He waved cheerfully at the other customers.

Then he carefully removed two chairs. It was just possible to sit upright if you sat on the floor.

'Very . . . nice,' said Angua. 'Ethnic.'

'I come in here quite a lot,' said Carrot. 'The food's good and, of course, it pays to keep your ear to the ground.'

'That'd certainly be easy here,' said Angua, and laughed.

'Pardon?'

1S6

'Well, I mean, the ground is . . . so much . . . closer . . .'

She felt a pit opening wider with every word. The noise level had suddenly dropped again.

'Er,' said Carrot, staring fixedly at her. 'How can I put this? People are talking in Dwarfish . . . but they're listening in Human.'

'Sorry.'

Carrot smiled, and then nodded at the cook behind the counter and cleared his throat noisily.

'I think I might have a throat sweet somewhere —' Angua began.

'I was ordering breakfast,' said Carrot.

'You know the menu off by heart?'

'Oh, yes. But it's written on the wall as well.'

Angua turned and looked again at what she'd thought were merely random scratches.

'It's Oggham,' said Carrot. 'An ancient and poetic runic script whose origins are lost in the mists of time but it's thought to have been invented even before the Gods.'

'Gosh. What does it say?'

Carrot really cleared his throat this time.

'Soss, egg, beans and rat 12p Soss, rat and fried slice l0p Cream-cheese rat 9p Rat and beans 8p Rat and ketchup 7p Rat 4p'

'Why does ketchup cost almost as much as the rat?' said Angua.

'Have you tried rat without ketchup?' said Carrot. 'Anyway, I ordered you dwarf bread. Have you ever eaten dwarf bread?'

'No.'

'Everyone should try it once,' said Carrot. He appeared to consider this. 'Most people do,' he added.[16]

Three and a half minutes after waking up, Captain Samuel Vimes, Night Watch, staggered up the last few steps to the roof of the city's opera house, gasped for breath and threw up allegro ma non troppo.

Then he leaned against the wall, waving his crossbow vaguely in front of him.

There wasn't anyone else on the roof. There were just the leads, stretching away, drinking up the morning sunlight. It was already almost too hot to move.

When he felt a bit better he poked around among the chimneys and skylight. But there were a dozen ways down, and a thousand places to hide.

He could see right into his room from here. Come to that, he could see into the rooms of most of the city.

Catapult . . . no . . .

Oh, well. At least there'd been witnesses.

He walked to the edge of the roof, and peered over.

'Hello, there,' he said. He blinked. It was six storeys down, and not a sight to look at on a recently emptied stomach.

'Er . . . could you come up here, please?' he said.

' 'Ight oo are.'

Vimes stood back. There was a scrape of stone and a gargoyle pulled itself laboriously over the parapet, moving like a cheap stop-motion animation.

He didn't know much about gargoyles. Carrot had said something once about how marvellous it was, an urban troll species that had evolved a symbiotic relationship with gutters, and he had admired the way they funnelled run-off water into their ears and out through fine sieves in their mouths. They were probably the strangest species on the Disc.[17] You didn't get many birds nesting on buildings colonized by gargoyles, and bats tended to fly around them.

'What's your name, friend?'

' 'ornice-oggerooking-Oardway.'

Vimes' lips moved as he mentally inserted all those sounds unobtainable to a creature whose mouth was stuck permanently open. Cornice-overlooking-Broad-way. A gargoyle's personal identity was intimately bound up with its normal location, like a limpet.

'Well now, Cornice,' he said, 'do you know who I am?'

'Oh,' said the gargoyle sullenly.

Vimes nodded. It sits up here in all weather straining gnats through its ears, he thought. People like that don't have a crowded address book. Even whelks get out more.