To Catch a Thief - Part Five - The Best Laid Plans (1 of 2)
For the second time that day, Sam Vimes disrupted the relative quiet of Pseudopolis Yard by entering the building like an extremely bad-tempered hurricane. He certainly felt about as wet as one. He trudged, squelching, past the front desk, garnering curious but anxious looks from the various officers on duty. No one dared meet Vimes’ furious glare as he made his way, damply, to his office, and no one even entertained the thought of asking him what had happened. Even Constable Bluejohn, hailed as the largest troll alive and quite often mistaken for a walking quarry, shuffled his enormous feet and inspected the lichen under his massive fingers rather than catch the attention of his incensed Commander.
Vimes stalked into his office and slammed the door, putting the hinges at risk of popping out of the woodwork. The station remained motionless for a moment, unsure if it was wise to resume working again just yet, when Vimes opened the door again and stuck his head out.
‘Squad meeting! Ten minutes!’
He then slammed the door again.
* * *
Ten minutes later, the entire squad was assembled in the break room. There were several murmured conversations going on about what was happening, why Commander Vimes had come back to the station soaked to the skin and smelling like the river, and so on. When Vimes entered the room, he had something rolled up tucked under one arm and something dark and hairy-looking clenched in his other hand. He was still pretty wet, and he was still furious. The second Vimes had come in Captain Carrot shot to his feet and stood to rigid attention.
‘Tenshun!’ he shouted, staring fixedly ahead, like a living embodiment of Law and Order.
‘Sit down,’ growled Vimes. Most of the squad had barely gotten to their feet before they were sitting down again. All eyes were on Vimes as he unrolled the large piece of paper that he was carrying. It was a map of the city, and he pinned it to the wall for all to see. Circled in red were the Patrician’s Palace and the Assassin’s Guild. The squad took it in as Vimes rounded on them.
‘Right,’ he said, running his eyes over his assembled troops. ‘Listen up and listen good, we have a new thief in town, and I want him caught! I am making this Priority Number One!’ Vimes paused for a moment to allow the initial information to sink in. Some of the officers under his command needed a moment or two for new facts to fully bed in. Sergeant Detritus could be seen writing it all down in his large notebook, his craggy mouth moving slowly as he committed things to paper. When Vimes was satisfied that everyone was caught up he threw what had been in his hand to Captain Angua. She caught it expertly but looked at Vimes quizzically.
‘Smell that, please,’ said Vimes.
‘That is the false beard and wig that our thief wore when committing his first robbery.’ Hopefully his first, thought Vimes. He didn’t want to think that this new criminal stalking his streets had been committing crimes that had gone unnoticed by the Watch. He had been made to feel enough of a fool already.
Captain Carrot’s hand shot into the air like an eager schoolboy.
‘Captain?’ said Vimes, indicating the over-keen Dwarf. Carrot’s raised hand was snapped into another crisp, textbook salute.
‘Sir, would that be the break in at the Patrician’s Palace?’
‘Yes, Captain, it would.’
Angua was still holding the false beard and wig and giving Vimes a somewhat strained look. Even through his anger and his ironclad determination to nail this bastard, whomever he was, to every wall possible, he realised in that moment what he was doing. It was common knowledge that Captain Angua was a werewolf, but it was an identity that she still struggled with a little since leaving Überwald for the streets of Ankh-Morpork, and being asked to demonstrate her more wolf-like talents in front of the whole squad suddenly felt very ham-fisted and insensitive. Vimes cleared his throat and his expression softened.
‘I’m sorry, Captain,’ he said, in a much less aggressive voice. ‘But I need all available resources on this one. If you could kindly tell me if you get anything from these items, it would be greatly appreciated.’ Angua’s expression also softened, and she raised the beard and wig to her nose and smelled.
Her brows knitted.
She smelled again.
Her eyes widened.
‘Oh,’ she said.
‘Captain?’ Vimes moved closer to her, eager for any break in the case. Angua looked from Commander Vimes to the beard and wig and back again, her expression now thoroughly puzzled. She took another smell.
‘I’m sorry, Commander. I must have mis-smelled.’ At this both Vimes’ and Carrot’s eyebrows raised. Angua’s sense of smell was, naturally, second to none, but in that moment she was feeling very exposed and on display.
‘Captain?’ said Vimes, somewhat concerned.
‘Angua?’ said Carrot, somewhat more concerned. Angua flushed a little red, which was highly noticeable on her flawless pale skin.
‘I’m sorry, I’m not getting anything useful. The thief must have been hiding somewhere in the Palace before he committed the crime. I’m only getting smells…connected to the Palace.’ Vimes looked at her for moment, and Carrot looked at Vimes. Eventually, Vimes moved back to the front of the room and looked again at the entire squad.
‘Okay, thank you, Captain. We’ll revisit those items as and when necessary.’ Vimes stood back right next to the map and tapped it with his knuckle. ‘Whoever this bloke is he’s bold. Knocking off the Patrician’s Palace and the Assassin’s Guild in one day.’
‘Flamin’ loony, more like,’ said Corporal Nobbs, slightly less under his breath than he intended.
‘Yes, thank you, Nobby,’ said Vimes. ‘Whatever he is – master thief or raving madman – I want him caught! Not for Vetinari, not for Downey, but because he bloody well broke the law!’ Vimes thumped the desk he was standing by, causing Sergeant Colon to jump in his chair. He looked around the room and went back to the map.
‘Right,’ he said, knocking his knuckle again on the map. ‘Let’s start at the beginning. What do we know about this thief?’ Almost instantly, Carrot’s hand shot in the air, his face radiating eager keenness. ‘Yes, Captain?’ said Vimes.
‘Sir, we know he stole from both the Patrician’s Palace and the Assassin’s Guild.’
‘Captain Obvious,’ muttered Nobby towards Colon. Sergeant Colon grinned, despite himself.
‘Nobby,’ said Vimes, his voice laced with warning.
‘Sorry, sir,’ said Nobby, looking at his boots.
‘What else?’ said Vimes, to the room at large. Again, Carrot’s hand shot up. Gods, thought Vimes. I feel like a damned schoolteacher. Determined that the squad meeting included the squad and not just him and Carrot, Vimes picked on someone else.
‘Fred?’ Sergeant Colon jerked, clearly surprised at being called upon to participate. He began sweating slightly as he sought for something useful to add.
‘Erm, he wore a disguise to both thefts, so we don’t know what he looks like…?’ Colon ended his statement with a worried questioning tone, desperate to not have got it wrong.
‘Exactly,’ said Vimes, nodding. Colon beamed and looked around at the squad, clearly pleased with himself.
‘Kiss-arse,’ mumbled Nobby.
‘Corporal Nobbs,’ said Vimes, taking a step towards where Nobby was sitting. ‘Seeing as you seem so intent to give us your opinion on things please, what else do we know about this case?’ Nobby took in Vimes’ hard stare and realised that now was not the time to try and be flippant. Not even jovial. He cleared his throat and swallowed audibly. He looked past Vimes at the map and then back at Vimes. A moment’s silence passed, all the while Vimes didn’t take his eyes off the grubby little corporal.
‘Well?’ he said, raising his eyebrows. Nobby had gotten by in the Watch for as long as he had by avoiding as much real police work as possible, but now he was cornered.
There was nothing for it.
Time to go for broke.
Nobby stood up, causing Vimes to take an alarmed step backwards. Brows knitted around the room as Nobby walked past Vimes to the front of the room. He turned when he reached the map and stood to what looked very much like attention.
‘Well, we’re dealing with someone who knows the city. Whether he’s from here or not is unclear, but he knows who the big nobs in town are and so far he’s hit two of the biggest. You don’t knock off people like the Patrician or the Assassin’s Guild unless you’re trying to make a point, and the point our lad is making is that he wants us to know that he can do anyone at any time. He’s daring us to catch him – you can attest to that Commander – and left unchecked he’s only going to get bolder and bolder. So, what I reckon we ought to do is send officers to the next bunch of likely targets. Crysoprase the troll, Harry King, Lord Rust, them kinds of people. Send an officer to stake the place out, provide a noticeable presence. Either we’ll deter him from hitting his next target or we’ll get lucky and catch him in the act. We’ll also need to position officers in key places around the city that are within sight or earshot of all suspected targets. That way, if our thief does hit any of the places we’re watching then that officer can alert everyone else with a quick blast of the old whistle.’
Silence dropped on to the room like a lead weight. All eyes were on Nobby, staring, dumbfounded at him. It was as if a chimpanzee had just recited Shakespeare. Nobby shuffled a little on the spot, as he started to feel a little embarrassed from everyone staring at him.
‘What?’ he said, eventually. During Nobby’s strategizing Vimes had had to sit down, all the while gaping at Nobby as if he had just sprouted a tail. He realised his mouth was open and he closed it, drily. He stood up and walked to where Nobby was standing.
‘Nobby,’ he said, quietly. ‘That is…brilliant!’ Despite his usual brand of greasy devil-may-care nonchalance, Nobby blushed. Not that you could tell under all the grime that seemed to have permeated his skin on a lifelong basis.
‘Oh, go on, Commander,’ said Nobby, uncharacteristically coyly.
‘No, honestly,’ said Vimes. ‘How did you come up with it, though?’ Vimes had long suspected that there were hidden depths to Nobby, he had just never been brave enough to explore them.
‘Common sense, innit?’ said Nobby, rubbing his nose. ‘You don’t rob from two of the most dangerous people in the city and stop there, do you? Nah, this bloke’s doin’ it for the fame. It ain’t about what he’s stealin’ – whatever that is. He’s enjoyin’ it.’
‘Well, I hate to spoil his enjoyment,’ began Vimes. ‘Actually, no. I’ll bloody love to spoil this little oik’s enjoyment. Thank you, Corporal, excellent work.’ Nobby returned to his seat. Captain Carrot slapped him proudly on the back, nearly knocking him to the floor. Sergeant Colon looked at his long-time compatriot as if he was meeting him for the first time. When Nobby was settled, Vimes addressed the room anew.
‘You all heard Corporal Nobbs. If what he says is true, and right now it’s a damn good theory and the best we’ve got to work with, there are certain people within the city who are likely targets for the next robbery. So,’ he scanned the room. ‘Fred and Nobby, you go and stake out Harry King’s.’
‘But the smell!’ whined Colon.
‘Put a damn clothespin on your nose, just do it!’
‘Sir,’ said Colon, suitably chastised.
‘Detritus and Bluejohn, you go and see Chrysoprase.’
‘Sir.’ The room grew darker for a moment as the two enormous trolls stood up and blocked the windows from view.
‘Carrot and Angua, go back to the crime scenes at the Palace and the Assassin’s Guild.’ Vimes walked over to Angua and spoke to her directly in a quieter voice. ‘Captain, if you could give both places a good going over that would really help us.’ Vimes tapped his nose conspiratorially, just in case Angua was unsure that he wanted her to use her sense of smell to hunt for clues.
‘Yes, sir,’ she said, not needing the tapping gesture at all. She knew what he meant.
‘Sir?’ said Carrot.
‘Will you be guarding your own house, Sir? You and Lady Ramkin are important people in the city, after all.’ Vimes was so engrossed in full-on copper mode that he had forgotten that, technically, he was one of the “big nobs” that Nobby had alluded to. He liked forgetting that he was supposed to be a member of the aristocracy, but he hated remembering it.
He thought for a second.
‘No, Captain. I won’t.’
‘Robbing from the Patrician and the Assassin’s Guild is one thing, but anyone stupid enough to try and take on my wife and Willikins is not only asking for trouble, they’re asking for double helpings with extra gravy!’’
‘And besides,’ said Vimes with a grimace as he fished a card out of his pocket. ‘I suppose one of us has to go and watch over that old git Rust.’
* * *
The squad meeting done with, the assembled members of the Watch filed out of the briefing room, ready to tend to their individual assignments. Vimes was feeling positive about this case for the first time. Nobby’s unexpected bout of brilliance had breathed new life into him, and even though he’d rather be doing anything other than having to go and let Rust smarm his way over his last nerve, he still felt good.
Until he walked face first into Foul Ole Ron.
‘Buggrit!’ said the bedraggled beggar.
‘Sorry, Commander,’ said Sergeant Cheery Littlebottom, peering out from behind her dishevelled suspect. ‘Some silly sod has given Ron booze again. Am I alright to throw him in the tank for the night?’
‘Yes, fine,’ said Vimes, waving them away irritably as he sought to leave the station and put the plan into action.
‘Millennium hand and shrimp!’ shouted the inebriated Ron.
‘Yes, yes,’ said Cheery, rolling her eyes. ‘Come on, you.’ She ushered Ron away towards the cells, leaving Vimes to lead the charge.
‘To your posts,’ he said. ‘Let’s catch this bastard!’
* * *