Night Watch
Page 23

 Terry Pratchett

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'The riot up at Dolly Sisters,' said Tilden. 'It was only a couple of hours ago.' I'm too close, Vimes thought, as the words sank in. All those things were just names, it all seemed to happen at once. Dolly Sisters, yeah. They were a right mob of hotheads up there . . . 'The lieutenant of the Day Watch called in one of the regiments,' said Tilden. 'Which he was duly authorized to do. Of course.'
'Which one?' said Vimes, for the look of the thing. The name was in the history books, after all. 'Lord Venturi's Medium Dragoons, sergeant. My old regiment.' That's right, thought Vimes. And cavalry are highly trained at civilian crowd control. Everyone knows that. 'And, er, there were some, er, accidental deaths . . .' Vimes felt sorry for the man. In truth, it was never proved that anyone was given an order to ride people down, but did it matter? Horses pushing, and people unable to get away because of the press of people behind them ... it was too easy for small children to lose grip of a hand . . . 'But, in fairness, missiles were thrown at the officers and one soldier was badly injured,' said Tilden, as if reading the words off a card. That's all right, then? Vimes thought. 'What kind of missiles, sir?'
'Fruit, I gather. Although there may have been some stones as well.' Vimes realized that Tilden's hand was shaking. The riot was over the price of bread, I understand.' No. The protest was over the price of bread, said Vimes's inner voice. The riot was what happens when you have panicking people trapped between idiots on horseback and other idiots shouting 'yeah, right!' and trying to push forward, and the whole thing in the charge of a fool advised by a maniac with a steel rule. 'The feeling of the palace,' said Tilden slowly, 'is that revolutionary elements may attack the Watch Houses.'
'Really, sir? Why?'
'It's the sort of thing they do,' said Tilden. 'As a matter of fact, sir, the men are putting up shutters and-'
'Do whatever you feel necessary, sergeant,' said Tilden, waving a hand with a scrawled letter in it. 'We are told we must be mindful of the curfew regulations. That has been underlined.'
Vimes paused before answering. He'd bitten back the first answer. He contented himself with 'Very well, sir,' and left. The man wasn't a bad man, he knew; he must have been badly affected by the news to give such a stupid, dangerous order. 'Do what you feel necessary.' Give an order like that to a man who's liable to panic when he sees a bunch of people waving their fists and you got the Dolly Sisters Massacre. He walked back down the stairs. The squad were standing around looking nervous. 'Prisoner in the cells?' said Vimes. Corporal Colon nodded. 'Yessir. Sarge, Snouty says that up at Dolly Sisters-'
'I know. Now here's what I feel is necessary. Take the shutters down, unbar the door, leave it open and light all the lamps. Why isn't the blue lamp over the door lit?'
'Dunno, sarge. But what if-'
'Get it lit, corporal. And then you and Waddy go and stand guard outside, where you can be seen. You're friendly-looking local lads. Take your bells but, and I want to make this very clear, no swords, right?'
'No swords?' Colon burst out. 'But what if a bloody great mob comes round the corner and I'm not armed?' Vimes reached him in two swift strides and stood nose to nose. 'And if you have got a sword, what will you do, eh? Against a bloody great mob? What do you want 'em to see? Now what I want 'em to see is Fatty Colon, decent lad, not too bright, I knew 'is dad, an' there's ol' Waddy, he drinks in my pub. 'cos if they just see a couple of men in uniform with swords you'll be in trouble, and if you draw those swords you'll be in real trouble, and if by any chance, corporal, you draw swords tonight without my order and survive then you'll wish you hadn't done either because you'll have to face me, see? And then you'll know what trouble is, 'cos everything up until then will look like a bleedin' day at the soddin' seaside. Understand?' Fred Colon goggled at him. There was no other word for it. 'Don't let my sugary sweet tones lead you to believe that I'm not damn well giving you orders,' said Vimes, turning away. 'Vimes?'
'Yes, sarge?' said young Sam. 'Have we got a saw in this place?' Snouty stepped forward. 'I've got a toolbox, sarge.'
'Nails, too?'
'Right. Rip the door off my locker and hammer a lot of nails right through it, will you? Then lay it down on the upstairs landing, points up. I'll take the saw, 'cos I'm going to the privy.' After the silence that followed, Corporal Colon obviously felt he had to make a contribution. He cleared his throat and said, 'If you've got a problem in that area, sarge, Mrs Colon's got a wonderful medicine she-'
'I won't be long,' said Vimes. In fact, he was four minutes. 'All done,' he said, returning to the sound of hammering from the locker room. 'Come with me, lance-constable. Time for a lesson in interrogation. Oh . . . and bring the toolbox.'
'Fred and Waddy don't like being outside,' said Sam, as they went down the stone steps. 'They say what if that bunch of Unmentionables turn up?'
'They needn't worry. Our friends at Cable Street are not front-door kind of people.' He pushed open the door to the cells. The prisoner stood up and grabbed the bars. 'Okay, they've come, now you let me out,' he said. 'Come on, and I'll put in a good word for you.'
'No one's come for you, sir,' said Vimes. He locked the main door behind him, and then unlocked the cell. 'It's probably a busy time for them,' he added. 'Been a bit of a riot over in Dolly Sisters. A few deaths. Might be a while before they get around to you.' The man eyed the toolbox that the lance-constable was holding. It was only a flicker, but Vimes saw the moment of uncertainty. 'I get it,' said the prisoner. 'Good Cop, Bad Cop, eh?'
'If you like,' said Vimes. 'But we're a bit short staffed, so if I give you a cigarette would you mind kicking yourself in the teeth?'
'Look, this is a game, right?' said the prisoner. 'You know I'm one of the Particulars. And you're new in town and want to impress us. Well, you have. Big laugh all round, haha. Anyway, I was only on stake-out.'
'Yes, but that's not how it works, is it,' said Vimes. 'Now we've got you, we can decide what you're guilty of. You know how it's done. Fancy a ginger beer?' The man's face froze. 'Y'know,' said Vimes, 'it turns out that after the riot this evening we've been warned to expect revolutionary attacks on the Watch Houses. Now personally I wouldn't expect that. What I'd expect is a bunch of ordinary people turning up, you know, because they've heard what happened. But - and you can call me Mr Suspicious if you like - I've got a feeling that there will be something a bit worse. You see, apparently we've got to be mindful of the curfew regulations. What that means, I
suppose, is that if we get people coming to complain about unarmed citizens being attacked by soldiers, which personally I would consider to be Assault With A Deadly Weapon, we've got to arrest them. I find that rather-' There was a commotion from above. Vimes nodded to young Sam, who disappeared up the stairs. 'Now that my impressionable assistant has gone,' said Vimes quietly, 'I'll add if any of my men get hurt tonight then I'll see to it that for the rest of your life you scream at the sight of a bottle.'
'I haven't done anything to you! You don't even know me!'
'Yes. Like I said, we're doing it your way,' said Vimes. Sam reappeared, in a hurry. 'Someone's fallen in the privy!' he announced. 'They were climbing on the roof and it had been sawn through and gave way!'
'It must be one of those revolutionary elements,' said Vimes, watching the prisoner's face. 'We've been warned about them.'
'He says he's from Cable Street, sarge!'
'That's just the kind of thing I'd say, if I was a revolutionary element,' said Vimes. 'All right, let's take a look at him.' Upstairs, the front door was still open. There were a few people outside, just visible in the lamplight. There was also Sergeant Knock inside, and he was not happy. 'Who said we open up like this?' he was saying. 'It looks nasty out on those streets! Very dangerous-'
'I said we stay open,' said Vimes, coming up the stairs. 'Is there a problem, sergeant?'
'Well . . . look, sarge, I heard on the way over, they're throwing stones at the Dimwell Street House,' said Knock, deflating. There's people in the streets! Mobs! I hate to think what's happening downtown.'
'We're coppers! We should be getting prepared!'
'What? To bar the doors and listen to the stones rattle off the roof?' said Vimes. 'Or maybe we should go out and arrest everyone? Any volunteers? No? I'll tell you what, sergeant, if you want to do some coppering you can go and arrest the man in the privy. Do him for Breaking and Entering-' There was a scream from upstairs. Vimes glanced up. 'And I reckon if you go up on to the attic landing you'll find there's a man who dropped through the skylight right on to a doorful of nails that
was accidentally left there,' he went on. He looked at Knock's puzzled face. 'It's the Cable Street boys, sergeant,' he said. They thought they could come across the roofs and scare the dumb brownjobs. Chuck 'em both in the cells.'
'You're arresting Unmentionables?'
'No uniform. No badge. Carrying weapons. Let's have a bit of law around here, shall we?' said Vimes. 'Snouty, where's that cocoa?'
'We'll get into trouble!' Knock shouted. Vimes let Knock wait until he'd lit a cigar. 'We're in trouble anyway, Winsborough,' he said, shaking out the match. 'It's just a case of deciding what kind we want. Thanks, Snouty.' He took the mug of cocoa from the jailer and nodded at Sam. 'Let's take a stroll outside,' he said. He was aware of the sudden silence in the room, except for the whimpering coming from upstairs and the distant yelling from the privy. 'What're you all standing around for, gentlemen?' he said. 'Want to ring your bells? Anyone fancy shouting out that all's well?' With those words hanging in the room all big and pink, Vimes stepped out into the evening air. There were people hanging around out there, in little groups of three or four, talking among themselves and occasionally turning to look at the Watch House. Vimes sat down on the steps, and took a sip of his cocoa. He might as well have dropped his breeches. The groups opened up, became an audience. No man drinking a nonalcoholic chocolate beverage had ever been the centre of so much attention. He'd been right. A closed door is an incitement to bravery. A man drinking from a mug, under a light, and apparently enjoying the cool night air, is an incitement to pause. 'We're breaking curfew, you know,' said a young man, with a quick dart forward, dart back movement. 'Is that right?' said Vimes. 'Are you going to arrest us, then?'
'Not me,' said Vimes cheerfully. 'I'm on my break.'
'Yeah?' said the man. He pointed to Colon and Waddy. 'They on their break too?'
'They are now.' Vimes half turned. 'Brew's up, lads. Off you go. No, no need to run, there's enough for everyone. And come back out when you've got it . . .'
When the sound of pounding boots had died away, Vimes turned back and smiled at the group again. 'So when do you come off your break?' said the man. Vimes paid him some extra attention. The stance was a giveaway. He was ready to fight, even though he didn't look like a fighter. If this were a bar room, the bartender would be taking the more expensive bottles off the shelf, because amateurs like that tended to spread the glass around. Ah, yes . . . and now he could see why the words 'bar room' had occurred to him. There was a bottle sticking out of the man's pocket. He'd been drinking his defiance. 'Oh, around Thursday, I reckon,' said Vimes, eyeing the bottle. There was laughter from somewhere in the growing crowd. 'Why Thursday?' said the drinker. 'Got my day off on Thursday.' There were a few more laughs this time. When the tension is drawing out, it doesn't take much to snap it. 'I demand you arrest me!' said the drinker. 'Come on, try it!'