Men at Arms Page 7


The point was that everyone else had someone, even if in Nobby's case it was probably against their will.

So, Captain Vimes, what is it really? Do you care for her? Don't worry too much about love, that's a dicey word for the over-forties. Or are you just afraid of becoming some old man dying in the groove of his life and buried out of pity by a bunch of youngsters who never knew you as anything other than some old fart who always seemed to be around the place and got sent out to bring back the coffee and hot figgins and was laughed at behind his back?

He'd wanted to avoid that. And now Fate was handing him a fairy tale.

Of course he'd known she was rich. But he hadn't expected the summons to Mr Morecombe's office.

Mr Morecombe had been the Ramkins' family solicitor for a long time. Centuries, in fact. He was a vampire.

Vimes disliked vampires. Dwarfs were law-abiding little buggers when they were sober, and even trolls were all right if you kept them where you could see them. But all the undead made his neck itch. Live and let live was all very well, but there was a problem right there, when you thought about it logically . . .

Mr Morecombe was scrawny, like a tortoise, and very pale. It had taken him ages to come to the point, and when it came the point nailed Vimes to his chair.

'How much?'

'Er. I believe I am right in saying the estate, including the farms, the areas of urban development, and the small area of unreal estate near the University, are together worth approximately . . . seven million dollars a year. Yes. Seven million at current valuation, I would say.'

'It's all mine?'

'From the hour of your wedding to Lady Sybil. Although she instructs me in this letter that you are to have access to all her accounts as of the present moment.'

The pearly dead eyes had watched Vimes carefully.

'Lady Sybil,' he said, 'owns approximately one-tenth of Ankh, and extensive properties in Morpork, plus of course considerable farm lands in—'

'But . . . but . . . we'll own them together . . .'

'Lady Sybil is very specific. She is deeding all the property to you as her husband. She has a somewhat. . . old-fashioned approach.' He pushed a folded paper across the table. Vimes took it, unfolded it, and stared.

'Should you predecease her, of course,' Mr Morecombe droned on, 'it will revert to her by common right of marriage. Or to any fruit of the union, of course.'

Vimes hadn't even said anything at that point. He'd just felt his mouth drop open and small areas of his brain fuse together.

'Lady Sybil,' said the lawyer, the words coming from far away, 'while not as young as she was, is a fine healthy woman and there is no reason why—'

Vimes had got through the rest of the interview on automatic.

He could hardly think about it now. When he tried, his thoughts kept skidding away. And, just as always happened when the world got too much for him, they skidded somewhere else.

He pulled open the bottom drawer of his desk and stared at the shiny bottle of Bearhugger's Very Fine Whiskey. He wasn't sure how it had got there. Somehow he'd never got around to throwing it out.

Start that again and you won't even see retirement. Stick to cigars.

He shut the drawer and leaned back, taking a half-smoked cigar from his pocket.

Maybe the guards weren't so good now anyway. Politics. Hah! Watchmen like old Kepple would turn in their graves if they knew that the Watch had taken on a w—

And the world exploded.

The window blew in, peppering the wall behind Vimes'desk with fragments and cutting one of his ears.

He threw himself to the floor and rolled under the desk.

Right, that did it! The alchemists had blown up their Guild House for the last time, if Vimes had anything to do with it . . .

But when he peered over the window sill he saw, across the river, the column of dust rising over the Assassins' Guild . . .

The rest of the Watch came trotting along Filigree Street as Vimes reached the Guild entrance. A couple of black-clad Assassins barred his way, in a polite manner which nevertheless indicated that impoliteness was a future option. There were sounds of hurrying feet behind the gates.

'You see this badge? You see it?' Vimes demanded.

'Nevertheless, this is Guild property,' said an Assassin.

'Let us in, in the name of the law!' bellowed Vimes.

The Assassin smiled nervously at him. 'The law is that Guild law prevails inside Guild walls,' he said.

Vimes glared at him. But it was true. The laws of the city, such as they were, stopped outside the Guild Houses. The Guilds had their own laws. The Guild owned the . . .

He stopped.

Behind him, Lance-Constable Angua reached down and picked up a fragment of glass.

Then she stirred the debris with her foot.

And then her gaze met that of a small, non-descript mongrel dog watching her very intently from under a cart. In fact non-descript was not what it was. It was very easy to descript. It looked like halitosis with a wet nose.

'Woof, woof,' said the dog, in a bored way. 'Woof, woof, woof, and growl, growl.'

The dog trotted into the mouth of an alleyway. Angua glanced around, and followed it. The rest of the squad were gathered around Vimes, who'd gone very quiet.

'Fetch me the Master of Assassins,' he said. 'Now!'

The young Assassin tried to sneer.

'Hah! Your uniform doesn't scare me,' he said.

Vimes looked down at his battered breastplate and worn mail.

'You're right,' he said. 'This is not a scary uniform. I'm sorry. Forward, Corporal Carrot and Lance-Constable Detritus.'

The Assassin was suddenly aware of the sunlight being blocked out.

'Now these, I think you'll agree,' said Vimes, from somewhere behind the eclipse, 'are scary uniforms.'

The Assassin nodded slowly. He hadn't asked for this. Usually there were never any guards outside the Guild. What would be the point? He had, tucked away in his exquisitely tailored black clothes, at least eighteen devices for killing people, but he was becoming aware that Lance-Constable Detritus had one on the end of each of his arms. Closer, as it were, to hand.

'I'll, er, I'll go and get the Master, then, shall I?' he said.

Carrot leaned down.

'Thank you for your co-operation,' he said gravely.

Angua watched the dog. The dog watched her.

She squatted on her haunches as it sat down and scratched an ear furiously.

Looking around carefully to make sure that no-one could see them, she barked an inquiry.

'Don't bower,' said the dog.

'You can talk?'

'Huh. That don't take much intelligence,' said the dog. 'And it don't take much intelligence to spot what you are, neither.'

Angua looked panicky.

'Where does it show?'

'It's the smell, girl. Din't you learn nuffm? Smelled you a mile orf. I thought, oh-ho, what's one of them doing in the Watch, eh?'

Angua waved a finger wildly.

'If you tell anyone—!'

The dog looked more pained than normal.

'No-one'd listen,' it said.

'Why not?'

' 'Cos everyone knows dogs can't talk. They hear me, see, but unless things are really tough they just think they're thinking to 'emselves.' The little dog sighed. 'Trust me. I know what I'm talking about. I've read books. Well . . . chewed books.'

It scratched an ear again. 'Seems to me,' it said, 'we could help each other . . .'

'In what way?'

'Well, you could put me in the way of a pound of steak. That does wonders for my memory, steak. Makes it go clean away.'

Angua frowned.

'People don't like the word “blackmail”,' she said.

'It ain't the only word they don't like,' said the dog. 'Take my case, now. I've got chronic intelligence. Is that any use to a dog? Did I ask for it? Not me. I just finds a cushy spot to spend my nights along at the High Energy Magic building at the University, no-one told me about all this bloody magic leaking out the whole time, next thing I know I open me eyes, head starts fizzing like a dose of salts, oh-oh, thinks I, here we go again, hello abstract conceptualizing, intellectual development here we come. . . What bloody use is that to me? Larst time it happened, I ended up savin' the world from horrible wossnames from the Dungeon Dimensions, and did anyone say fanks? Wot a Good Dog, Give Him A Bone? Har har.' It held up a threadbare paw. 'My name's Gaspode. Something like this happens to me just about every week. Apart from that, I'm just a dog.'

Angua gave up. She grasped the moth-eaten limb and shook it.

'My name's Angua. You know what I am.' 'Forgotten it already,' said Gaspode.

Captain Vimes looked at the debris scattered across the courtyard from a hole in one of the ground-floor rooms. All the surrounding windows had broken, and there was a lot of glass underfoot. Mirror glass. Of course, assassins were notoriously vain, but mirrors would be in rooms, wouldn't they? You wouldn't expect a lot of glass outside. Glass got blown in, not out.

He saw Lance-Constable Cuddy bend down and pick up a couple of pulleys attached to a piece of rope, which was burned at one end.

There was a rectangle of card in the debris.

The hairs on the back of Vimes' hand prickled.

He sniffed rankness in the air.

Vimes would be the first to admit that he wasn't a good copper, but he'd probably be spared the chore because lots of other people would happily admit it for him. There was a certain core of stubborn bloody-mindedness there which upset important people, and anyone who upsets important people is automatically hot a good copper. But he'd developed instincts. You couldn't live on the streets of a city all your life without them. In the same way that the whole jungle subtly changes at the distant approach of the hunter, there was an alteration in the feel of the city.

There was something happening here, something wrong, and he couldn't quite see what it was. He started to reach down—

'What is the meaning of this?'

Vimes straightened up. He did not turn around.

'Sergeant Colon, I want you to go back to the Watch House with Nobby and Detritus,' he said. 'Corporal Carrot and Lance-Constable Cuddy, you stay with me.'

'Yes, sah!' said Sergeant Colon, stamping heavily and ripping off a smart salute to annoy the Assassins. Vimes acknowledged it.

Then he turned around.

'Ah, Dr Cruces,' he said.

The Master of Assassins was white with rage, contrasting nicely with the extreme black of his clothing.

'No-one sent for you!' he said. 'What gives you the right to be here, mister policeman? Walking around as if you own the place?'

Vimes paused, his heart singing. He savoured the moment. He'd like to take this moment and press it carefully in a big book, so that when he was old he could take it out occasionally and remember it.

He reached into his breastplate and pulled out the lawyer's letter.

'Well, if you would like the most fundamental reason,' he said, 'it is because I rather think I do.'

A man can be defined by the things he hates. There were quite a lot of things that Captain Vimes hated. Assassins were near the top of the list, just after kings and the undead.

He had to allow, though, that Dr Cruces recovered very quickly. He didn't explode when he read the letter, or argue, or claim it was a forgery. He simply folded it up, handed it back, and said, coldly, 'I see. The freehold, at least.'

'Quite so. Could you tell me what has been happening, please?'

He was aware of other senior Assassins entering the courtyard through the hole in the wall. They were very carefully looking at the debris.

Dr Cruces hesitated for a moment.

'Fireworks,' he said.

'What happened,' said Gaspode, 'was that someone put a dragon in a box right up against the wall inside the courtyard, right, and then they went and hid behind one of the statues and pulled a string and next minute – bang!'

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