Night Watch
Page 6

 Terry Pratchett

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'He can't search everywhere in this library, sir,' said Ponder. That would take more time than actually could possibly exist. But all the mundane shelves, certainly. Urn.' Carrot turned to Ponder. 'What was the “urn” for, please, sir?'
'You understand that this is a magical library? And that means that even in normal circumstances there is an area of high magical potential above the bookshelves?'
'I have been in here before,' said Carrot. 'Then you know that time with libraries is ... somewhat more flexible?' said Ponder. 'Given the additional power of the storm, it might just be possible that-'
'Are you going to tell me he's been moved in time?' said the watchman. Ponder was impressed. He hadn't been brought up to believe that watchmen were clever. However, he took care not to show it. 'Would that it were that simple,' he said. 'However, um, the lightning appears to have added a random lateral component 'A what?' said Ridcully. 'You mean in time and space?' said Carrot. Ponder felt himself getting rattled. Non-wizards shouldn't be that quick. 'Not. . . exactly,' he said, and gave up. 'I'm really going to have to work on this, Archchancellor. Some of the readings I'm getting can't possibly be real.' Vimes knew that he had woken up. There had been darkness and rain and a terrible pain in his face.
Then there had been another flowering of pain on the back of his neck, and a feeling of being pulled this way and that. And now there was light. He could see it through his eyelids. His left eyelid, anyway. Nothing but pain was happening on the other side of his face. He kept the eye shut, and strained his hearing instead. Someone was moving about. There was a clink of metal. A woman's voice said, 'He's awake.'
'Are you sure?' said a man's voice. 'How can you tell?'
'Because I'm good at telling if a man is asleep,' said the woman. Vimes opened his eye. He was lying on a bench or table of some sort. A young woman was leaning against the wall next to him, and her dress and bearing and the way she leaned filed her immediately in Vimes's policeman brain as: seamstress, but one of the bright ones. The man had a long black robe and silly floppy hat that got filed under: help, I'm in the hands of a doctor.' He sat bolt upright. 'You lay one hand on me and I'll thump you!' he yelled, trying to swing his legs off the table. Half his head burst into flame. 'I should take it easy, if I was you,' said the doctor, gently pushing him back. That was a very nasty cut. And don't touch the eyepatch!'
'Cut?' said Vimes, his hand brushing the stiff cloth of an eye-patch. Memories interlocked. 'Carcer! Did anyone get him?'
'Whoever attacked you got away,' said the doctor. 'After that fall?' said Vimes. 'He must've been limping, at least! Look, I've got to get-' And then he noticed all the other things. He'd been picking them up all the time, but only now did his subconscious present the list. He wasn't wearing his own clothes . . . 'What happened to my uniform?' he said, and he noticed the I told you so expression the woman gave the doctor. 'Whoever attacked you stripped you down to your drawers and left you lying in the street,' she said. 'I found you some spare clothes at my place. It's amazing what people leave behind.'
'Who took my armour?'
'I never know names,' said the woman. 'I saw a bunch of men running off carrying stuff, though.'
'Ordinary thieves? Didn't they leave a receipt?'
'No!' she said, laughing. 'Why should they?'
'And are we allowed to ask questions?' said the doctor, tidying his tools. None of this was right. . . 'Well, I mean . . . thank you, yes,' said Vimes. 'What's your name?' Vimes's hand stopped halfway to his face again. 'You mean you don't know me?' he said. 'Should we?' said the doctor. None of this was right... 'This is Ankh-Morpork, isn't it?' said Vimes. 'Er, yes,' said the doctor, and turned to the woman. 'There was a blow to the head,' he said, 'but I wouldn't have thought it was that bad 'Look, I'm wasting time,' said the woman. 'Who are you, mister?' Everyone in the city knew Vimes, surely? The Guild of Seamstresses certainly did. And the doctor didn't look stupid. Perhaps this was not the right time to be totally truthful. He might just be somewhere where being a copper wasn't a good thing to be. It might be dangerous to be Vimes and, right now, he wasn't well enough to deal with it. 'Keel,' he said. The name just dropped into his mind; it had been bubbling under the surface of his thoughts all day, ever since the lilac. 'Yeah, right,' said the woman, smiling. 'Want to make up a first name?'
'John,' said Vimes. 'Appropriate. Well . . . John, it's like this. Men lying flat out and naked around here aren't that uncommon. And, it's a funny thing, but they don't usually want anyone to know their real name, or where they live. You won't be the first one Doctor Lawn here has patched up. My name's Rosie. And now there's a little fee, you understand? For both of us.'
'All right, all right, I know how this goes,' said Vimes, holding up his hands. 'This is the Shades, right?' They both nodded. 'Okay, then. Thank you. I haven't got any money, obviously, but once I've got home-'
'I'll escort you, shall I?' said the woman, handing him a badly styled coat and a pair of antique boots. 'I wouldn't like you to be attacked by anything. A sudden loss of memory, for example.' Vimes snapped, but very gently. His face hurt and there were plenty of other bruises everywhere, and he was dressed in a suit that smelled like a privy. He'd go up the Watch House, get cleaned and changed and make a quick report, and head on home. And this young lady could spend a night in the cells and then be handed over to the Seamstresses' Guild. They came down heavily on extortion like this. It was bad for trade.
'All right,' he said. And pulled the boots on. The soles were made of thin, damp cardboard, and they were too tight. Dr Lawn waved his hands in a general gesture of dismissal. 'He's all yours, Rosie. You leave that patch on for a few days, Mr Keel, and with any luck you'll have a working eye. Someone took a slash at you with a sharp knife. I've done the best I can and the stitching is good, but you're going to have a nasty scar.' Vimes raised his hand to his cheek yet again. 'And don't pick at it!' Lawn snapped. 'Come on ... John,' said Rosie. 'Let's get you home where you belong.' They stepped out. Water was dripping from the eaves, but the rain had eased. 'I live up past Pseudopolis Yard,' said Vimes. 'Lead on,' said Rosie. They hadn't reached the end of the street before Vimes was aware that a couple of dark figures had fallen in behind them. He was about to turn, but Rosie clamped a hand on his arm. 'Don't bother them, and they won't bother you,' she said. They're just coming with us for protection.'
'Whose? Yours or mine?' Rosie laughed. 'Both,' she said. 'Yes, you just keep on walking, kind sir, and we'll be as quiet as little mice,' said a shrill voice behind him. A slightly deeper one said, That's right, dearie. Just be a good boy and Aunty Dotsie won't have to open her handbag.'
'That's Dotsie and Sadie!' said Vimes. The Agony Aunts! Well, they bloody well know who I am!' He turned. The dark figures, both wearing old-fashioned black straw hoods, stepped back. In the gloom there were a number of metallic noises, and Vimes forced himself to relax a little. Even though they were, more or less, on the same side as the Watch, you never quite knew where you were with the Agony Aunts. Of course, that's what made them so useful. Any customer disturbing the peace in one of the local houses of good repute feared the threat of the Aunts far more than he did the Watch. The Watch had rules. And the Watch didn't have Dotsie's handbag. And Sadie could do terrible things with a parrot-headed umbrella. 'Come on,' he said. 'Dotsie? Sadie? Let's not mess about, eh?' Something prodded him in the chest. He looked down. The thing had a carved parrot head on it.
'You must keep walking, kind sir,' said a voice. 'While you've still got toes, dearie,' said another voice. 'Probably a good idea,' said Rosie, tugging Vimes's arm. 'But I can tell you've impressed them.'
'You're not bent double and making bubbling noises. Come along, mystery man.' Vimes stared ahead, looking out for the blue light of Pseudopolis Yard. Somehow, it'd all make sense there. But, when he got there, there was no blue light over the archway. There were just a few lights upstairs. Vimes hammered on the door until it opened a crack. 'What the hell's going on here?' he demanded, to the nose and one eye that was the visible totality of the occupant. 'And get out of the way!' He pushed the door back and strode in. It wasn't the Watch House, not inside. There were the familiar stairs, right enough, but there was a wall right across the charge room, and carpets on the floor, and tapestries on the wall . . . and a housemaid holding a tray, and staring, and dropping the tray, and screaming. 'Where are all my officers?' Vimes yelled. 'You leave this minute, d'you hear? You can't just come in like that! You get out of here!' Vimes turned, and confronted the old man who'd opened the door. He looked like a butler, and had picked up a cudgel. Perhaps because of nerves, or maybe just because of general elderly tremors, the tip of the cudgel waved and weaved under his nose. Vimes snatched it and threw it on the floor. 'What is going on?' he demanded. The old man looked as bewildered as he was. Vimes felt an odd, hollow terror welling up inside him. He darted back through the open door and into the wet night. Rosie and the Aunts had melted away in the darkness, as night people do when trouble looms, but Vimes ran on and into Kings Way, pushing aside other pedestrians and dodging the occasional carriage. He was getting a second wind when he reached Scoone Avenue and turned into the driveway of his house. He wasn't sure what he'd find, but the place looked normal and there were torches burning on either side of the door. Familiar gravel crunched under his feet. He went to hammer on the door, but steeled himself not to, and rang the bell instead.
After a moment the door was opened by a butler. 'Thank goodness!' said Vimes. 'It's me, man. Been in a fight. Nothing to worry about. How is-'
'What do you want?' said the butler coldly. He took a step back, bringing him more fully in the light of the hall lamps. Vimes had never seen him before. 'What's happened to Willikins?' said Vimes. 'The scullery boy?' Now the butler's tone was icy. 'If you are a relative, I suggest you enquire round at the tradesmen's entrance. You ought to know better than to come to the front door.' Vimes tried to think how to deal with this, but his fist didn't bother to wait. It laid the man out quite cleanly. 'No time for this,' said Vimes, stepping over him. He stood in the middle of the big hall and cupped his hands. 'Mrs Content? Sybil?' he yelled, feeling the terror twist and knot inside him. 'Yes?' said a voice from what Vimes had always called The Ghastly Pink drawing room, and Sybil stepped out. It was Sybil. The voice was right, and the eyes were right, and the way she stood was right. But the age wasn't right. This was a girl, far too young to be Sybil. . . She looked from him to the prone butler. 'Did you do that to Forsythe?' she said. 'I ... er ... I ... it's . . . there's been a mistake . . .' Vimes murmured, backing away. But Sybil was already pulling a sword off the wall. It wasn't there for show. Vimes couldn't remember if his wife had ever learned to fence, but several feet of edged weapon is quite threatening enough when wielded by an angry amateur. Amateurs sometimes get lucky. He backed away hurriedly. 'It's been a mistake . . . wrong house . . . mistaken identity . . .' He almost tripped over the fallen butler but managed to turn this into a staggering run through the doorway and down the steps. Wet leaves brushed against him as he blundered through the shrubbery to the gateway, where he leaned against the wall and gulped for air. That bloody Library! Hadn't he heard something, once, about how you could walk through time or something there? All those magical books pressed together did something strange. Sybil had been so young. She'd looked sixteen! No wonder there wasn't a Watch House in Pseudopolis Yard! They'd only moved in there a few years ago!