Night Watch
Page 13

 Terry Pratchett

  • Background:
  • Text Font:
  • Text Size:
  • Line Height:
  • Line Break Height:
  • Frame:
'I'll bet they do. Er . . . Rosie said you had a spare room,' said Vimes. 'I can pay,' he added quickly. 'I've got a job. Five dollars a month? I won't be needing it for long.'
'Upstairs on the left,' said Lawn, nodding. 'We can talk about it in the morning.'
'I'm not a criminal madman,' said Vimes. He wondered why he said it, and then wondered who he was trying to reassure.
'Never mind, you'll soon fit in,' said Lawn. There was a whimper from the door leading to the surgery. 'The bed's not aired but I doubt that you'll care,' he said. 'And now, if you'll excuse me . . .' It wasn't aired, and Vimes didn't care. He didn't even remember getting into it. He woke up once, in panic, and heard the sound of the big black wagon rattling down the street. And then it just, quite seamlessly, became part of the nightmare. At ten o'clock in the morning Vimes found a cold cup of tea by his bed and a pile of clothes and armour on the floor outside the door. He drank the tea while he inspected the pile. He'd read Snouty right. The man survived because he was a weathercock and kept an eye on which way the wind was blowing, and right now the wind was blowing due Vimes. He'd even included fresh socks and drawers, which hadn't been in the specification. It was a thoughtful touch. They probably hadn't been paid for, of course. They had been 'obtained'. This was the old Night Watch. But, glory be, the breathy little crawler had scrounged something else, too. The three stripes for a sergeant had a little gold crown above them. Vimes instinctively disliked crowns, but this was one he was prepared to treasure. He went downstairs, doing up his belt, and bumped into Lawn coming out of his surgery, wiping his hands on a cloth. The doctor smiled absently, then focused on the uniform. The smile did not so much fade as drain. 'Shocked?' said Vimes. 'Surprised,' said the doctor. 'Rosie won't be, I expect. I don't do anything illegal, you know.'
'Then you've got nothing to fear,' said Vimes. 'Really? That proves you're not from round here,' said Lawn. 'Want some breakfast? There's kidneys.' This time it was Vimes's smile that drained. 'Lamb,' the doctor added. In the tiny kitchen he prised the lid off a tall stone jar and pulled out a can. Vapour poured off it. 'Ice,' he said. 'Get it from over the road. Keeps food fresh.' Vimes's brow wrinkled. 'Over the road? You mean the mortuary?'
'Don't worry, it's not been used,' said Lawn, putting a pan on the stove. 'Mr Garnish drops off a lump a few times a week, in payment for being cured of a rather similar medical condition.'
'But mostly you work for the ladies of, shall we say, negotiable affection?' said Vimes. Lawn gave him a sharp look to see if he was joking, but Vimes's expression hadn't changed.
'Not just them,' he said. 'There are others.'
'People who come in by the back door,' said Vimes, looking around the little room. 'People who for one reason or another don't want to go to the . . . better known doctors?'
'Or can't afford them,' said Lawn. 'People who turn up with no identity. And you had a point . . . John?'
'No, no, just asking,' said Vimes, cursing himself for walking right into it. 'I just wondered where you trained.'
'The kind of people who come in by the back door are the kind of people who want results, I imagine.'
'Hah. Well, I trained in Klatch. They have some novel ideas about medicine over there. They think it's a good idea to get patients better, for one thing,' he turned over the kidneys with a fork. 'Frankly, sergeant, I'm pretty much like you. We do what needs doing, we work in, er, unpopular areas and I suspect we both draw the line somewhere. I'm no butcher. Rosie says you aren't. But you do the job that's in front of you, or people die.'
'I'll remember that,' said Vimes. 'And when all's said and done,' said Lawn, 'there are worse things to do in the world than take the pulse of women.' After breakfast Sergeant-at-Arms John Keel stepped out into the first day of the rest of his life. He stood still for a moment, shut his eyes, and swivelled both feet like a man trying to stub out two cigarettes at once. A slow, broad smile spread across his face. Snouty had found just the right kind of boots. Willikins and Sybil between them conspired to prevent him wearing old, well-worn boots these da- those days, and stole them away in the night to have the soles repaired. It was good to feel the streets with dry feet again. And after a lifetime of walking them, he did feel the streets. There were the cobblestones: catheads, trollheads, loaves, short and long setts, rounders, Morpork Sixes, and the eighty-seven types of paving brick, and the fourteen types of stone slab, and the twelve types of stone never intended for street slabs which had got used anyway, and had their own patterns of wear, and the rubbles and the gravels, and the repairs, and the thirteen different types of cellar cover and twenty types of drain lid- He bounced a little, like a man testing the hardness of something. 'Elm Street,' he said. He bounced again. 'Junction with Twinkle. Yeah.' He was back. It wasn't many steps to Treacle Mine Road, and as he turned towards the Watch House a flash of colour caught his eye.
And there it was, overhanging a garden wall. Lilac was common in the city. It was vigorous and hard to kill and had to be. The flower buds were noticeably swelling. He stood and stared, as a man might stare at an old battlefield. . . . they rise hands up, hands up, hands up . . . How did it go, now? Think of things happening one after the other. Don't assume that you know what's going to happen, because it might not. Be yourself. And, because he was himself, he made a few little purchases in little shops in dark alleys, and went to work. The Treacle Mine Road Night Watch House was generally deserted around midday, but Vimes knew that Snouty, at least, would be there. He was a Persistent Floater, just like Nobby and Colon and Carrot and, when you got down to it, Vimes as well. Being on duty was their default state of being. They hung around the Watch House even when off duty, because that's where their lives took place. Being a copper wasn't something you left hanging by the door when you went home. But I promise I'll learn how, thought Vimes. When I get back, it'll all be different. He went around the back and let himself in by the stable entrance. It wasn't even locked. Black mark right there, lads. The iron bulk of the hurry-up wagon stood empty on the cobbles. Behind it was what they called, now, the stables. In fact, the stables were only the bottom floor of what would have been part of Ankh-Morpork's industrial heritage, if anyone had ever thought of it like that. In practice they thought of it as junk that was too heavy to cart away. It was part of the winding gear from a treacle mine, long since abandoned. One of the original lifting buckets was still up there, glued to the floor by its last load of the heavy, sticky, unrefined treacle which, once set, was tougher than cement and more waterproof than tar. Vimes remembered, as a kid, begging chippings of pig treacle off the miners; one lump of that, oozing the sweetness of prehistoric sugar cane, could keep a boy's mouth happily shut for a week.* * In the same way that ancient forests become coal, ancient swaths of natural sugar cane can become, under the pressure of millennia, what in various parts of the Disc is known as hokey-pokey, pig treacle or rock molasses. But much boiling and purification was necessary to create the thick golden syrup that was the city dweller's honey, and these days Ankh-Morpork's supplies come from the more accessible toffee beds near Quirm. Inside the treacle-roofed stable level, chewing a bit of bad hay, was the horse. Vimes knew it was a horse because it checked out as one: four hooves, tail, head with mane, seedy brown coat. Considered from another angle, it was half a ton of bones held together with horsehair. He patted it gingerly; as one of nature's pedestrians, he'd never been at home around horses. He unhooked a greasy clipboard from a nail near by
and flicked through its pages. Then he had another look around the yard. Tilden never did that. He looked at the pigsty in the corner where Knock kept his pig, and then at the chicken run, and the pigeon loft, and the badly made rabbit hutches, and he did a few calculations. The old Watch House! It was all there, just like the day he first arrived. It had been two houses once, and one of them had been the treacle mine office. Everywhere in the city had been something else once. And so the place was a maze of blocked-in doorways and ancient windows and poky rooms. He wandered around like a man in a museum. See the old helmet on a stick for archery practice! See Sergeant Knock's broken-springed armchair, where he used to sit out on sunny afternoons! And, inside, the smell: floor wax, stale sweat, armour polish, unwashed clothes, ink, a hint of fried fish and always, here, a taint of treacle. The Night Watch. He was back. When the first members of the Night Watch came in they found a man perfectly at ease, leaning back in a chair with his feet on a desk and leafing through paperwork. The man had sergeant's stripes and an air of an unsprung trap. He was also giving absolutely no attention to the newcomers. He particularly paid no heed to one gangly lance-constable who was still new enough to have tried to put a shine on his breastplate . . . They fanned out among the desks, with muttered conversations. Vimes knew them in his soul. They were in the Night Watch because they were too scruffy, ugly, incompetent, awkwardly shaped or bloody-minded for the Day Watch. They were honest, in that special policeman sense of the word. That is, they didn't steal things too heavy to carry. And they had the morale of damp gingerbread. He'd wondered last night about giving them some kind of pep talk by way of introduction, and decided against it. They might be very bad at it but they were coppers, and coppers did not respond well to the Happy Families approach: 'Hello, chaps, call me Christopher, my door is always open, I'm sure if we all pull together we shall get along splendidly like one big happy family.' They'd seen too many families to fall for that rubbish. Someone cleared their throat with malice aforethought. Vimes glanced up and into the face of Sergeant 'Knocker' Knock and, for a fraction of a second, had to suppress the urge to salute. Then he remembered what Knock was. 'Well?' he said. 'That's my desk you're sitting at, sergeant,' said Knock. Vimes sighed, and pointed to the little crown on his sleeve. 'See this, sergeant?' he said. 'It's what they used to call the hat of authority.' Knock's little weaselly eyes focused on the crown. And then they went back to Vimes's face, and widened in the shock of recognition.
'Bloody hell,' breathed Knock. 'That's “bloody hell, sir,”' said Vimes. 'But “sarge” will do. Most of the time. And this is your mob, is it? Oh dear. Well, let's make a start.' He swung his feet off the desk and stood up. 'I've been looking at the feed bills for Marilyn,' he said. 'Interesting reading, lads. According to my rough calculations a horse eating that much ought to be approximately spherical. Instead, she's so thin that with two sticks and some sheet music I could give you a tune.' Vimes put the papers down. 'Don't think I don't know where the corn goes. I bet I know who's got the chickens and rabbits and pigeons,' he said. 'And the pig. I bet the captain thinks they get fat on leftovers.'
'Yeah, but-' a voice began. Vimes's hand slammed on the desk. 'You lot even starve the damn horse!' he said. That stops right now! So will a lot of other things. I know how it works, see? Mumping free beer and a doughnut, well, that's part of being a copper. And who knows, there might even be a few greasy spoons in this town so happy to see a copper that they will spontaneously offer him a free nosh. Stranger things have happened. But nicking the oats from Marilyn, that stops now. And another thing. Says here that last night the hurry-up wagon had eight passengers,' he said. 'Two of them I know about, .'cos one of them must've been me and I met the other man. The cells are empty this morning. What happened to the other six? Sergeant Knock?' The sergeant licked his lips nervously. 'Dropped 'em off in Cable Street for questioning, o'course,' he said. 'As per instructions.'