Night Watch
Page 17

 Terry Pratchett

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skitter along his breastplate as he lowered his head and tugged the man hard into the helmet. The man folded up quite neatly on the cobbles. Vimes spun around to the first man, who was bent almost double, and wheezing, but had nevertheless kept hold of his knife, which he waved around in front of him like some kind of talisman. The point made erratic figures-of-eight in the air. 'Drop it,' said Vimes. 'I won't ask again.' He sighed, and pulled an object out of his back pocket. It was black and tapered and made of leather filled with lead shot. He'd banned them in the modern Watch but he knew some officers had acquired them, and if he judged the man to be sensible then he didn 't know they'd got them. Sometimes an argument had to be ended quickly, and there were worse alternatives. He brought the blackjack down on the man's arm, with a certain amount of care. There was a whimper and the knife bounced off the cobbles. 'We'll leave your chum to sleep it off,' he said. 'But you are coming to see the doctor, Henry. Are you coming quietly?' A few minutes later Dr Lawn opened his back door and Vimes brushed past, the body over his shoulders. 'You minister to all sorts, right?' said Vimes. 'Within reason, but-'
'This one's an Unmentionable,' said Vimes. 'Tried to kill me. Needs some medicine.'
'Why's he unconscious?' said the doctor. He was wearing a huge rubber apron, and rubber boots. 'Didn't want to take his medicine.' Lawn sighed, and with a hand that held a mop he waved Vimes towards an inner door. 'Bring him right into the surgery,' he said. 'I'm afraid I'm cleaning up after Mr Salciferous in the waiting room.'
'Why, what did he do?'
'He burst.' Vimes, his natural inquisitiveness suddenly curbed, carried the body into Lawn's inner sanctum. It looked little different from when Vimes had last seen it, but then he'd barely been capable of taking in details. There was the table, and a workbench, and all along one wall were racks of bottles. No two bottles were the same size. In one or two of them, things floated. On another wall were the instruments.
'When I die,' said Lawn, inspecting the patient, 'I'm going to instruct them to put a bell on my tombstone, just so's I can have the pleasure of not getting up when people ring. Put him down, please. Looks like concussion.'
'That was me hitting him,' said Vimes helpfully. 'You broke his arm too?'
'That's right.'
'You made a very neat job of it. Easy to set it and plaster him up. Is there something wrong?' Vimes was still staring at the instruments. 'You use all these?' he said. 'Yes. Some of them are experimental, though,' said Lawn, busying himself at his work table. 'Well, I'd hate you to use this on me,' said Vimes, picking a strange instrument like a couple of paddles tied with string. Lawn sighed. 'Sergeant, there are no circumstances where the things you're holding could possibly be used on you,' he said, his hands working busily. 'They are ... of a feminine nature.'
'For the seamstresses?' said Vimes, putting the pliers down in a hurry. 'Those things? No, the ladies of the night take pride these days in never requiring that sort of thing. My work with them is more of, shall we say, a preventative nature.'
'Teaching them to use thimbles, that sort of thing?' said Vimes. 'Yes, it's amazing how far you can push a metaphor, isn't it . . .' Vimes prodded the paddles again. They were quite alarming. 'You're married, sergeant?' said Lawn. 'Was Rosie right?'
'Er . . . yes. My wife is, er, elsewhere, though.' He picked the things up and dropped them hastily again, with a clatter. 'Well, it's just as well to be aware that giving birth isn't like shelling peas,' said the doctor. 'I should bloody well hope not!'
'Although I have to say the midwives seldom refer anything to me. They say men shouldn't fish around where they don't belong. We might as well be living in caves.' Lawn looked down at his patient. 'In the words of the philosopher Sceptum, the founder of my profession: am I going to get paid for this?' Vimes investigated the moneybag on the man's belt. 'Will six dollars do it?' he said.
'Why would the Unmentionables attack you, sergeant? You're a policeman.'
'I am, but they aren't. Don't you know about them?'
'I've patched up a few of their guests, yes,' said Lawn, and Vimes noted the caution. It didn't pay to know too much in this town. 'People with curious dislocations, hot wax burns . . . that sort of thing 'Well, I had a little brush with Captain Swing last night,' Vimes said, 'and he was as polite as hell to me about it, but I'd bet my boots he knows that this lad and his friend came after me. That's his style. He probably wanted to see what I'd do.'
'He's not the only one interested in you,' said Lawn. 'I got a message that Rosie Palm wants to see you. Well, I assume she meant you. “That ungrateful bastard” was the actual term she used.'
'I think I owe her some money,' said Vimes, 'but I've no idea how much.'
'Don't ask me,' said Lawfi, smoothing the plaster with his hand. 'She generally names her price up front.'
'I mean the finder's fee, or whatever it was!'
'Yes, I know. Can't help you there, I'm afraid,' said Lawn. Vimes watched him working for a while, and said, 'Know anything about Miss Battye?'
'The seamstress? She hasn't been here long.'
'And she's really a seamstress?'
'For the sake of precision,' said Dr Lawn, 'let us say she's a needlewoman. Apparently she heard there was a lot of work for seamstresses in the big city and had one or two amusing misunderstandings before someone told her exactly what was meant. One of them involved me removing a crochet hook from a man's ear last week. Now she just hangs out with the rest of the girls.'
'Because she's making a fortune, that's why,' said the doctor. 'Hasn't it ever occurred to you, sergeant, that sometimes people go to a massage parlour for a real massage, for example? There's ladies all over this city with discreet signs up that say things like “Trousers repaired while you wait” and a small but significant number of men make the same mistake as Sandra. There's lots of men work here in the city and leave their wives back home and sometimes, you know, a man feels these . . . urges. Like, for a sock without holes and a shirt with more than one button. The ladies pass on the work. Apparently it's quite hard to find a really good needlewoman in this city. They don't like being confused with, er, seamstresses.'
'I just wondered why she hangs around street corners after curfew with a big sewing basket. . .' said Vimes.
Lawn shrugged. 'Can't help you there. Right, I've finished with this gentleman. It'd be helpful if he lies still for a while.' He indicated the racks of bottles behind him. 'About how long will you want him to lie still for?'
'You can do that?'
'Oh, yes. It's not accepted Ankh-Morpork medical practice, but since Anhk-Morpork medical practice would consist of hitting him on the head with a mallet he's probably getting the best of the deal.'
'No, I meant that you doctors aren't supposed to hurt people, are you?'
'Only in the course of normal incompetence. But I don't mind sending him to sleepy land for another twenty minutes. Of course, if you want to wham him with the mallet I can't stop you. The last guest of Swing I treated had several fingers pointing entirely the wrong way. So if you'd like to give him a few wallops for good luck I could point out some quite sensitive areas-'
'No thanks. I'll just haul him out the back way and drop him in an alley.'
'Is that all?'
'No. Then . . . I'll sign my name on his damn plaster cast. So he sees it when he wakes up. In bloody big letters so it won't rub off.'
'Now that's what I call a sensitive area,' said Lawn. 'You're an interesting man, sergeant. You make enemies like a craftsman.'
'I've never been interested in needlework,' said Vimes, hoisting the man on his shoulder. 'But what sort of things would a needlewoman have in her workbasket, do you think?'
'Oh, I don't know. Needles, thread, scissors, wool . . . that kind of thing,' said Mossy Lawn. 'Not very heavy things, then?' said Vimes. 'Not really. Why d'you ask?'
'Oh, no reason,' said Vimes, making a small mental note. 'Just a thought. I'll go and drop off our friend here while I've still got some mist to lurk in.'
'Fine. I'll have breakfast on when you get back. It's liver. Calves'.' The beast remembers. This time, Vimes slept soundly. He had always found it easier to sleep during the day. Twenty-five years on nights had ground their nocturnal groove in his brain. Darkness was easier, somehow. He knew how to stand still, a talent that few possess, and how to merge into the shadows. How to guard, in fact, and see without being seen.
He remembered Findthee Swing. A lot of it was history. The revolt would have happened with Swing or without him but he was, as it were, the tip of the boil. He'd been trained at the Assassins' School and should never have been allowed to join the Watch. He had too much brain to be a copper. At least, too much of the wrong kind of brain. But Swing had impressed Winder with his theories, had been let in as a sergeant and then was promoted to captain immediately. Vimes had never known why; it was probably because the officers were offended at seeing such a fine genn'lman pounding the streets with the rest of the oiks. Besides, he had a weak chest, or something. Vimes wasn't against intellect. Anyone with enough savvy to let go of a doorknob could be a street monster in the old days, but to make it above sergeant you needed a grab-bag of guile, cunning and street wisdom that could pass for 'intelligence' in a poor light. Swing, though, started in the wrong place. He didn't look around, and watch and learn, and then say, 'This is how people are, how do we deal with it?' No, he sat and thought: This is how the people ought to be, how do we change them?' And that was a good enough thought for a priest but not for a copper, because Swing's patient, pedantic way of operating had turned policing on its head. There had been that Weapons Law, for a start. Weapons were involved in so many crimes that, Swing reasoned, reducing the number of weapons had to reduce the crime rate. Vimes wondered if he'd sat up in bed in the middle of the night and hugged himself when he'd dreamed that one up. Confiscate all weapons, and crime would go down. It made sense. It would have worked, too, if only there had been enough coppers - say, three per citizen. Amazingly, quite a few weapons were handed in. The flaw, though, was one that had somehow managed to escape Swing, and it was this: criminals don't obey the law. It's more or less a requirement for the job. They had no particular interest in making the streets safer for anyone except themselves. And they couldn't believe what was happening. It was like Hogswatch every day. Some citizens took the not unreasonable view that something had gone a bit askew if only naughty people were carrying arms. And they got arrested in large numbers. The average copper, when he's been kicked in the nadgers once too often and has reason to believe that his bosses don't much care, has an understandable tendency to prefer to arrest those people who won't instantly try to stab him, especially if they act a bit snotty and wear more expensive clothes than he personally can afford. The rate of arrests shot right up, and Swing had been very pleased about that. Admittedly some of the arrests had been for possessing weaponry after dark, but quite a few had been for assaults on the Watch by irate citizens. That was Assault on a City Official, a very heinous and despicable crime and, as such, far more important than all these thefts that were going on everywhere.
It wasn't that the city was lawless. It had plenty of laws. It just didn't offer many opportunities not to break them. Swing didn't seem to have grasped the idea that the system was supposed to take criminals and, in some rough and ready fashion, force them into becoming honest men. Instead, he'd taken honest men and turned them into criminals. And the Watch, by and large, into just another gang. And then, just when the whole wretched stew was thickening, he'd invented craniometries. Bad coppers had always had their ways of finding out if someone was guilty. Back in the old days - hah, now - these included thumbscrews, hammers, small pointed bits of wood and, of course, the common desk drawer, always a boon to the copper in a hurry. Swing didn't need any of this. He could tell if you were guilty by looking at your eyebrows. He measured people. He used calipers and a steel ruler. And he quietly wrote down the measurements, and did some sums, such as dividing the length of the nose by the circumference of the head and multiplying it by the width of the space between the eyes. And on such figures he could, infallibly, tell that you were devious, untrustworthy and congenially criminal. After you had spent the next twenty minutes in the company of his staff and their less sophisticated tools of inquiry he would, amazingly, be proved right. Everyone was guilty of something. Vimes knew that. Every copper knew it. That was how you maintained your authority -everyone, talking to a copper, was secretly afraid you could see their guilty secret written on their forehead. You couldn't, of course. But neither were you supposed to drag someone off the street and smash their fingers with a hammer until they told you what it was. Swing would probably have ended up face down in some alley somewhere if it wasn't for the fact that Winder had found in him a useful tool. No one could sniff out conspiracies like Swing. And so he'd ended up running the Unmentionables, most of whom made Sergeant Knock look like Good Copper Of The Month. Vimes had always wondered how the man had kept control, but maybe it was because the thugs recognized, in some animal way, a mind which had arrived at thuggery by the long route and was capable of devising in the name of reason the kind of atrocities that unreason could only dream of. It wasn't easy, living in the past. You couldn't whack someone for what they were going to do, or what the world was going to find out later. You couldn't warn people, either. You didn't know what could change the future, but if he understood things right, history tended to spring back into shape. All you could change was the bits around the edges, the fine details. There was nothing he could do about the big stuff. The lilac was going to bloom. The revolution was going to happen. Well ... a kind of revolution. That wasn't really the word for what it was. There was the People's Republic of Treacle Mine Road (Truth! Justice! Freedom! Reasonably priced Love! And a Hard-Boiled Egg!) that would live for all of a few hours, a strange candle that burned too briefly and died like a firework. And there was the scouring of the house of pain, and the-