Men at Arms Page 20


'I'm Captain Vimes of the Watch.'

The gargoyle pricked up its huge ears.

'Ar. Oo erk or Ister Arrot?'

Vimes worked this one out, too, and blinked.

'You know Corporal Carrot?'

'Oh, Ess. Air-ee-un owes Arrot.'

Vimes snorted. I grew up here, he thought, and when I walk down the street everyone says, 'Who's that glum bugger?' Carrot's been here a few months and everyone knows him. And he knows everyone. Everyone likes him. I'd be annoyed about that, if only he wasn't so likeable.

'You live right up here,' said Vimes, interested despite the more pressing problem on his mind, 'how come you know Arrot . . . Carrot?'

'Ee cuns uk ere um-imes an awks oo ugg.'

'Uz ee?'

'Egg.'

'Did someone else come up here? Just now?'

'Egg-'

'Did you see who it was?'

'Oh. Ee oot izh oot on i ed. Ang et ogg a ire-erk. I or ing un ah-ay a-ong Or-oh-Erns Eet.'

Holofernes Street, Vimes translated. Whoever it was would be well away by now.

'Ee ad a ick,' Cornice volunteered. A ire-erk htick.'

A what?'

'Ire-erk. Oo oh? Ang! Ock! Arks! Ockekts! Ang!'

'Oh, fireworks.'

'Egg. Aks ot I ed.'

A firework stick? Like . . . like a rocket stick?'

'Oh, ih-ee-ot! A htick, oo oint, ik koes ANG!'

'You point it and it goes bang?'

'Egg!'

Vimes scratched his head. Sounded like a wizard's staff. But they didn't go bang.

'Well . . . thanks,' he said. 'You've been . . . eh-ee elkfhull.'

He turned back towards the stairs.

Someone had tried to kill him.

And the Patrician had warned him against investigating the theft from the Assassins' Guild. Theft, he said.

Up until then, Vimes hadn't even been certain there had been a theft.

And then, of course, there are the laws of chance. They play a far greater role in police procedure than narrative causality would like to admit. For every murder solved by the careful discovery of a vital footprint or a cigarette end, a hundred failed to be resolved because the wind blew some leaves the wrong way or it didn't rain the night before. So many crimes are solved by a happy accident – by the random stopping of a car, by an overheard remark, by someone of the right nationality happening to be within five miles of the scene of the crime without an alibi . . .

Even Vimes knew about the power of chance.

His sandal clinked against something metallic.

And this,' said Corporal Carrot, 'is the famous commemorative arch celebrating the Battle of Crumhorn. We won it, I think. It's got over ninety statues of famous soldiers. It's something of a landmark.'

'Should have put up a stachoo to the accountants,' said a doggy voice behind Angua. 'First battle in the universe where the enemy were persuaded to sell their weapons.'

'Where is it, then?' said Angua, still ignoring Gaspode.

Ah. Yes. That's the problem,' said Carrot. 'Excuse me, Mr Scant. This is Mr Scant. Official Keeper of the Monuments. According to ancient tradition, his pay is one dollar a year and a new vest every Hogswatchday.'

There was an old man sitting on a stool at the road junction, with his hat over his eyes. He pushed it up.

Afternoon, Mr Carrot. You'll be wanting to see the triumphal arch, will you?'

'Yes, please.' Carrot turned back to Angua. 'Unfortunately, the actual practical design was turned over to Bloody Stupid Johnson.'

The old man eventually produced a small cardboard box from a pocket, and reverentially took off the lid.

'Where is it?'

'Just there,' said Carrot. 'Behind that little bit of cotton wool.'

'Oh.'

'I'm afraid that for Mr Johnson accurate measurements were something that happened to other people.'

Mr Scant dosed the lid.

'He also did the Quirm Memorial, the Hanging Gardens of Ankh, and the Colossus of Morpork,' said Carrot.

'The Colossus of Morpork?' said Angua.

Mr Scant held up a skinny finger. Ah,' he said. 'Don't go away.' He started to pat his pockets. 'Got 'im 'ere somewhere.'

'Didn't the man ever design anything useful?'

'Well, he did design an ornamental cruet set for Mad Lord Snapcase,' said Carrot, as they strolled away.

'He got that right?'

'Not exactly. But here's an interesting fact, four families live in a salt shaker and we use the pepper pot for storing grain.'

Angua smiled. Interesting facts. Carrot was full of interesting facts about Ankh-Morpork. Angua felt she was floating uneasily on a sea of them. Walking along a street with Carrot was like having three guided tours rolled into one.

'Now here,' said Carrot, 'is the Beggars' Guild. They're the oldest of the Guilds. Not many people know that.'

'Is that so?'

'People think it'd be the Fools or the Assassins. Ask anyone. They'll say “the oldest Guild in Ankh-Morpork is certainly the Fools' Guild or the Assassins' Guild”. But they aren't. They're quite recent. But there's been a Beggars' Guild for centuries.'

'Really?' said Angua, weakly. In the last hour she'd learned more about Ankh-Morpork than any reasonable person wanted to know. She vaguely suspected that Carrot was trying to court her. But, instead of the usual flowers or chocolate, he seemed to be trying to gift-wrap a city.

And, despite all her better instincts, she was feeling jealous. Of a city! Ye gods, I've known him a couple of days!

It was the way he wore the place. You expected him any moment to break into the kind of song that has suspicious rhymes and phrases like 'my kind of town' and 'I wanna be a part of it' in it; the kind of song where people dance in the street and give the singer apples and join in and a dozen lowly matchgirls suddenly show amazing choreo-graphical ability and everyone acts like cheery lovable citizens instead of the murderous, evil-minded, self-centred individuals they suspect themselves to be. But the point was that if Carrot had erupted into a song and dance, people would have joined in. Carrot could have jollied a circle of standing stones to form up behind him and do a rumba.

'There's some very interesting old statuary in the main courtyard,' he said. 'Including a very good one of Jimi, the God of Beggars. I'll show you. They won't mind.'

He rapped on the door.

'You don't have to,' said Angua.

'It's no trouble—'

The door opened.

Angua's nostrils flared. There was a smell . . .

A beggar looked Carrot up and down. His mouth dropped open.

'It's Cumbling Michael, isn't it?' said Carrot, in his cheery way.

The door slammed.

'Well, that wasn't very friendly,' said Carrot.

'Stinks, don't it?' said a nasty little voice from somewhere behind Angua. While she was in no mood to acknowledge Gaspode, she found herself nodding. Although the beggars were an entire cocktail of odours the second biggest one was fear, and the biggest of all was blood. The scent of it made her want to scream.

There was a babble of voices behind the door, and it swung open again.

This time there was a whole crowd of beggars there. They were all staring at Carrot.

All right, yer honour,' said the one hailed as Cumbling Michael, 'we give in. How did you know?'

'How did we know wh—' Carrot began, but Angua nudged him.

'Someone's been killed here,' she said.

'Who's she?' said Cumbling Michael.

'Lance-Constable Angua is a man of the Watch,' said Carrot.

'Har, har,' said Gaspode.

'I must say you people are getting better,' said Cumbling Michael. 'We only found the poor thing a few minutes ago.'

Angua could feel Carrot opening his mouth to say 'Who?' She nudged him again.

'You'd better take us to him,' she said.

He turned out to be—

—for one thing, he turned out to be a she. In a rag-strewn room on the top floor.

Angua knelt beside the body. It was very clearly a body now. It certainly wasn't a person. A person normally had more head on their shoulders.

'Why?' she said. 'Who'd do such a thing?'

Carrot turned to the beggars clustered around the doorway.

'Who was she?'

'Lettice Knibbs,' said Cumbling Michael. 'She was just the lady's maid to Queen Molly.'

Angua glanced up at Carrot.

'Queen?'

'They sometimes call the head beggar king or queen,' said Carrot. He was breathing heavily.

Angua pulled the maid's velvet cloak over the corpse.

'Just the maid,' she muttered.

There was a full-length mirror in the middle of the floor, or at least the frame of one. The glass was scattered like sequins around it.

So was the glass from a window pane.

Carrot kicked aside some shards. There was a groove in the floor, and something metallic embedded in it.

'Cumbling Michael, I need a nail and a length of string,' said Carrot, very slowly and carefully. His eyes never left the speck of metal. It was almost as if he expected it to do something.

'I don't think—' the beggar began.

Carrot reached out without turning his head and picked him up by his grubby collar without apparent effort.

'A length of string,' he repeated, 'and a nail.'

'Yes, Corporal Carrot.'

'And the rest of you, go away,' said Angua.

They goggled at her.

'Do it!' she shouted, clenching her fists. 'And stop staring at her!'

The beggars vanished.

'It'll take a while to get the string,' said Carrot, brushing aside some glass. 'They'll have to beg it off someone, you see.'

He drew his knife and started digging at the floorboards, with care. Eventually he excavated a metal slug, flattened slightly by its passage through the window, the mirror, the floorboards and certain parts of the late Lettice Knibbs that had never been designed to see daylight.

He turned it over and over in his hand.

'Angua?'

'Yes?'

'How did you know there was someone dead in here?'

'I . . . just had a feeling.'

The beggars returned, so unnerved that half a dozen of them were trying to carry one piece of string.

Carrot hammered the nail into the frame under the smashed pane to hold one end of the string. He stuck his knife in the groove and affixed the other end of the string to it. Then he lay down and sighted up the string.

'Good grief.' 'What is it?'

'It must have come from the roof of the opera house.' 'Yes? So?'

'That's more than two hundred yards away.' 'Yes?'

'The . . . thing went an inch into an oak floor.'

'Did you know the girl . . . at all?' said Angua, and felt embarrassed at asking.

'Not really.'

'I thought you knew everyone.'

'She was just someone I'd see around. The city's full of people who you just see around.'

'Why do beggars need servants?'

'You don't think my hair gets like this by itself, dear, do you?'

There was an apparition in the doorway. Its face was a mass of sores. There were warts, and they had warts, and they had hair on. It was possibly female, but it was hard to tell under the layers and layers of rags. The aforementioned hair looked as though it had been permed by a hurricane. With treacle on its fingers.

Then it straightened up.

'Oh. Corporal Carrot. Didn't know it was you.'

The voice was normal now, no trace of whine or wheedle. The figure turned and brought her stick down hard on something in the corridor.

'Naughty boy, Dribbling Sidney! You could have told I it were Corporal Carrot!'

'Arrgh!'

The figure strode into the room.

'And who's your ladyfriend, Mr Carrot?'

'This is Lance-Constable Angua. Angua, this is Queen Molly of the Beggars.'

For once, Angua noted, someone wasn't surprised to find a female in the Watch. Queen Molly nodded at her as one working woman to another. The Beggars' Guild was an equal-opportunity non-employer.

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