Men at Arms Page 21


'Good day to you. You couldn't spare I ten thousand dollars for a small mansion, could you?'

'No.'

'Just asking.'

Queen Molly prodded at the gown.

'What was it, corporal?'

'I think it's a new kind of weapon.'

'We heard the glass smash and there she was,' said Molly. 'Why would anyone want to kill her?'

Carrot looked at the velvet cloak.

'Whose room is this?' he said.

'Mine. It's my dressing room.'

'Then whoever did it wasn't after her. He was after you, Molly. “Some in rags, and some in tags, and one in a velvet gown” . . . it's in your Charter, isn't it? Official dress of the chief beggar. She probably couldn't resist seeing what it looked like on her. Right gown, right room. Wrong person.'

Molly put her hand to her mouth, risking instant poisoning.

'Assassination?'

Carrot shook his head. 'That doesn't sound right. They like to do it up dose. It's a caring profession,' he added, bitterly.

'What should I do?'

'Burying the poor thing would be a good start.' Carrot turned the metal slug over in his fingers. Then he sniffed it.

'Fireworks,' he said.

'Yes,' said Angua.

'And what are you going to do?' said Queen Molly.

'You're Watchmen, aren't you? What's happening? What are you going to do about it?'

Cuddy and Detritus were proceeding along Phedre Road. It was lined with tanneries and brick kilns and timber yards and was not generally considered a beauty spot which was why, Cuddy suspected, they'd been given it to patrol 'to get to know the city'. It got them out of the way. Sergeant Colon thought they made the place look untidy.

There was no sound but the clink of his boots and the thump of Detritus' knuckles on the ground.

Finally, Cuddy said: 'I just want you to know that I don't like being teamed up with you any more than you like being teamed up with me.'

'Right!'

'But if we're going to have to make the best of it, there'd better be some changes, OK?'

'Like what?'

'Like it's ridiculous you not even being able to count. I know trolls can count. Why can't you?'

'Can count!'

'How many fingers am I holding up, then?'

Detritus squinted.

'Two?'

'OK. Now how many fingers am I holding up?'

'Two . . . and one more . . .'

'So two and one more is . . . ?'

Detritus looked panicky. This was calculus territory.

'Two and one more is three.'

'Two and one more is three.'

'Now how many?'

'Two and two.'

'That's four.'

'Four-er.'

'Now how many?'

Cuddy tried eight fingers.

'A twofour.'

Cuddy looked surprised. He'd expected 'many', or possibly 'lots'.

'What's a twofour?'

A two and a two and a two and a two.'

Cuddy put his head on one side.

'Hmm,' he said. 'OK. A twofour is what we call an eight.'

'Ate.'

'You know,' said Cuddy, subjecting the troll to a long critical stare, 'you might not be as stupid as you look. This is not hard. Let's think about this. I mean . . . I'll think about this, and you can join in when you know the words.'

Vimes slammed the Watch House door behind him. Sergeant Colon looked up from his desk. He had a pleased expression.

'What's been happening, Fred?'

Colon took a deep breath.

'Interesting stuff, captain. Me and Nobby did some detectoring up at the Fools' Guild. I've writ it all down what we found out. It's all here. A proper report.'

'Fine.'

'All written down, look. Properly. Punctuation and everything.'

'Well done.'

'It's got commas and everything, look.'

'I'm sure I shall enjoy it, Fred.'

'And the—and Cuddy and Detritus have found out stuff, too. Cuddy's done a report, too. But it's not got so much punctuation as mine.'

'How long have I been asleep?'

'Six hours.'

Vimes tried to make mental space for all of this, and failed.

'I've got to get something inside me,' he said. 'Some coffee or something. And then the world will somehow be better.'

Anyone strolling along Phedre Road might have seen a troll and a dwarf apparently shouting at one another in excitement.

A two-thirtytwo, and eight, and a one!'

'See? How many bricks in that pile?'

Pause.

A sixteen, an eight, a four, a one!'

'Remember what I said about dividing by eight-and-two?'

Longer pause.

'Two-enty-nine . . .?'

'Right!'

'Right!'

'You can get there!'

'I can get there!'

'You're a natural at counting to two!'

'I'm a nat'ral at counting to two!'

'If you can count to two, you can count to anything!'

'If I can count to two, I can count to anything!'

And then the world is your mollusc!'

'My mollusc! What's a mollusc?'

Angua had to scurry to keep up with Carrot.

'Aren't we going to look at the opera house?' she said.

'Later. Anyone up there'll be long gone by the time we get there. We must tell the captain.'

'You think she was killed by the same thing as Hammer hock ?'

'Yes.'

'There are . . . niner birds.'

'That's right.'

'There are . . . one bridge.'

'Right.'

'There are . . . four-ten boats.'

All right.'

'There are . . . one tousand. Three hundret. Six-ty. Four bricks.'

'OK.'

'There are—'

'I should give it a rest now. You don't want to wear everything out by counting—'

'There are – one running man . . .'

'What? Where?'

Sham Harga's coffee was like molten lead, but it had this in its favour: when you'd drunk it, there was this overwhelming feeling of relief that you'd got to the bottom of the cup.

'That,' said Vimes, 'was a bloody awful cup of coffee, Sham.'

'Right,' said Harga.

'I mean I've drunk a lot of bad coffee in my time but that, that was like having a saw dragged across my tongue. How long'd it been boiling?'

'What's today's date?' said Harga, cleaning a glass. He was generally cleaning glasses. No-one ever found out what happened to the clean ones.

August the fifteenth.'

'What year?'

Sham Harga smiled, or at least moved various muscles around his mouth. Sham Harga had run a successful eatery for many years by always smiling, never extending credit, and realizing that most of his customers wanted meals properly balanced between the four food groups: sugar, starch, grease and burnt crunchy bits.

'I'd like a couple of eggs,' said Vimes, 'with the yolks real hard but the whites so runny that they drip like treacle. And I want bacon, that special bacon all covered with bony nodules and dangling bits of fat. And a slice of fried bread. The kind that makes your arteries go clang just by looking at it.'

'Tough order,' said Harga.

'You managed it yesterday. And give me some more coffee. Black as midnight on a moonless night.'

Harga looked surprised. That wasn't like Vimes.

'How black's that, then?' he said.

'Oh, pretty damn black, I should think.'

'Not necessarily.'

'What?'

'You get more stars on a moonless night. Stands to reason. They show up more. It can be quite bright on a moonless night.'

Vimes sighed.

'An overcast moonless night?' he said.

Harga looked carefully at his coffee pot.

'Cumulus or cirro-nimbus?'

'I'm sorry? What did you say?'

'You gets city lights reflected off cumulus, because it's low lying, see. Mind you, you can get high-altitude scatter off the ice crystals in—'

'A moonless night,' said Vimes, in a hollow voice, 'that is as black as that coffee.'

'Right!'

'And a doughnut.' Vimes grabbed Harga's stained vest and pulled him until they were nose to nose. 'A doughnut as doughnutty as a doughnut made of flour, water, one large egg, sugar, a pinch of yeast, cinnamon to taste and a jam, jelly or rat filling depending on national or species preference, OK? Not as doughnutty as something in any way metaphorical. Just a doughnut. One doughnut.'

'A doughnut.'

'Yes.'

'You only had to say.'

Harga brushed off his vest, gave Vimes a hurt look, and went back into the kitchen.

'Stop! In the name of the law!'

'What the law's name, then?'

'How should I know!'

'Why we chasing him?'

'Because he's running away!'

Cuddy had only been a guard for a few days, but already he had absorbed one important and basic fact: it is almost impossible for anyone to be in a street without breaking the law. There are a whole quiverful of offences available to a policeman who wishes to pass the time of day with a citizen, ranging from Loitering with Intent through Obstruction to Lingering While Being the Wrong Colour/Shape/Species/Sex. It occurred briefly to him that anyone not making a dash for it when they saw Detritus knuckling along at high speed behind them was probably guilty of contravening the Being Bloody Stupid Act of 1581. But it was too late to take that into account. Someone was running, and they were chasing. They were chasing because he was running, and he was running because they were chasing.

Vimes sat down with his coffee and looked at the thing he'd picked up from the rooftop.

It looked like a short set of Pan pipes, provided Pan was restricted to six notes, all of them the same. They were made of steel, welded together. There was a strip of serrated metal along one side, like a flattened-out cogwheel, and the whole thing reeked of fireworks.

He laid it carefully beside his plate.

He read Sergeant Colon's report. Fred Colon had spent some time on it, probably with a dictionary. It went as follows:

'Report of Sgt F. Colon. Approx. 10am today, Auguste 15, I proseeded in the company of Corporal, C. W. St. J. Nobbs, to the Guild of Fools and Joculators in God Street, whereupon we conversed with clown Boffo who said, down Beano, the corpus derelicti, was definitely seen by him, down Boffo, leaving the Guild the previous morning just after the explosion. {This is dead bent in my opinion, the reason being, the stiff was dead at least two days, Cpl C. W. St. J. Nobbs agrees, so someone is telling meat pies, never trust anyone who falls on his arse for a living.} Whereupon Dr Whiteface met us, and, damn near gave us the derriere velocite out of the place. It seemed to us, viz, me and Cpl C. W. St. J. Nobbs, that the Fools are worried that it might have been the Assassins, but we don't know why. Also, clown Boffo went on about us looking for Beano's nose, but he had a nose on when we saw him here, so we said to clown Boffo, did he mean a false nose, he said, no, a real one, bugger off. Whereupon we come back here.'

Vimes worked out what derriere velocite meant. The whole nose business looked like a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma, or at least in Sergeant Colon's handwriting, which was pretty much the same thing. Why be asked to look for a nose that wasn't lost?

He looked at Cuddy's report, written in the careful angular handwriting of someone more used to runes. And sagas.

'Captain Vimes, this herewith is the chronicle of me, Lance-Constable Cvddy. Bright was the morning and high ovr hearts when we proceeded to the Alchemists Gvild, where events eventvated as I shall now sing. These inclvded exploding balls. As to the qvest vpon which we were sent, we were informed that the attached piece of paper [attached] is in the handwriting of Leonard of Qvirm, who vanished in mysteriovs circvmstances. It is how to make a powder called No. 1 powder, which is vsed in fireworks. Mr Silverfish the alchemist says any alchemists knows it. Also, in the margin of the paper, is a drawing of The Gonne, becavse I asked my covsin Grabpot abovt Leonard and he vsed to sell paints to Leonard and he recognized the writing and said Leonard always wrote backwards becavse he was a genivs. I have copied same herewith.'

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