To Catch a Thief - Part Four - Fool Me Once... (1 of 1)
‘Vetinari sent you?’
‘Yes, my Lord.’
Lord Downey looked thoroughly unimpressed. Vimes wasn’t best pleased, either. He refused, point blank, at least to himself, to call the Patrician “my Lord”, but there was something about Downey and the fact that he was head of a band of mercenary killers who would casually slit your throat for the right price that made Vimes hesitant to push his luck. He stood, stock still, in Lord Downey’s dark and foreboding office, while the head of the Assassin’s Guild came to terms with the fact that his demand to see the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork had been downgraded to being visited by a jumped-up flatfoot. Vimes being the Duke of Ankh cut no water whatsoever with Downey, and he looked at the Commander of the City Watch with the same unashamed disdain that he would were Nobby in his presence, cleaning in between his toes.
Eventually, he relented.
‘Well, I suppose you’ll have to do.’
‘Good,’ said Vimes, steadily. ‘Now, send them away.’
Lord Downey blinked.
He then looked decidedly affronted.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I know they’re there, so send them away.’
Downey and Vimes stared at one another, daring the other silently to blink.
‘Or,’ Vimes added. ‘I’ll arrest every man-jack of them for wasting Police time.’
Another stare, but this one was shorter.
Lord Downey frowned.
‘Very well. Gentlemen.’ Downey waved his hand lazily and suddenly several shadows disengaged themselves from the walls and recesses of Downey’s office, revealing themselves to be black-clad Assassins. They eyed Vimes suspiciously as they filed out of the room, their masks and hoods showing only their eyes. The last to leave the plush office caught Vimes’ gaze.
The eyes bothered Vimes, but he couldn’t put his finger on why. Besides, he didn’t have time to bandy-legs with those cunning bastards. He was there to see the cunning bastard.
When they were properly alone, Vimes turned back to face Lord Downey.
‘Getting jumpy, my Lord?’ said Vimes.
‘Standard precaution,’ said Downey, shrugging. Vimes didn’t want to think what else the Assassin’s Guild would consider “standard.” Instead, he addressed the matter at hand.
‘I am to understand that a crime was committed here not too long ago.’ Vimes wasn’t asking a question, but he intoned his voice to prompt Lord Downey to respond in the affirmative.
‘Yes,’ growled Downey. ‘And where was the Watch, I’d like to know?’
‘Keeping an agreeable distance from this den of murderers, my Lord.’
Easy there, thought Vimes. He liked nothing more than to rile the nobs of the city, and there was a definite savage satisfaction from calling the Assassins murderers, mainly because that’s what Vimes thought they were, but he knew this would not sit well with Downey.
Not well at all.
True to form, Lord Downey looked as if Vimes had just slapped him in the face.
‘We, my good man, are not murderers! We perform a valued and time-honoured service, for a set and respectable fee.’
‘I’m sure.’ Despite hating dealing with these pretentious prats, Vimes was starting to enjoy himself.
‘What I want to know, Commander, is what are you going to do to bring this scoundrel to justice?’
‘Everything in my power, my Lord. That I can assure you.’ Their eyes locked again and Vimes stared hard, stating, silently, that despite their differences the law was the Law, and the Watch upheld it for everybody, regardless of who they were.
Or who they thought they were.
Lord Downey’s face had not lost its look of being totally unimpressed.
‘I should hope so, Commander. Because, if the Watch cannot muster itself to catch this blackguard then the Assassin’s Guild…’
‘Then the Assassin’s Guild will what?’ Vimes took a step forward and placed both hands on the edge of Lord Downey’s desk.
‘Take matters into its own hands.’ Lord Downey looked annoyingly smug at his comment, but it was short-lived.
‘You do that, sunshine, and you’ll be seeing me again very soon.’
‘Downey spluttered with barely contained outrage.
‘Sunshine? What on the Disc do you mean by that?’
‘I mean, my Lord, that, to my knowledge, no one has taken out a contract on this thief with the Assassin’s Guild. Is that right?’
Lord Downey said nothing.
‘Is that right?’ said Vimes, more firmly.
‘Yes,’ said Downey, sulkily.
‘Right. So, if this chap, whomever he is, turns up dead and I link it back to the Assassin’s Guild and you lot can’t produce a contract that comes up to snuff, your feet won’t touch the bloody ground!’ Vimes was leaning over the desk now, boring holes into Lord Downey with his eyes. He didn’t like being nasty to people, unless they were asking for it. Then he loved it.
‘Just catch him,’ said Downey, defiantly.
‘I intend to,’ said Vimes, satisfied that he had scored a small victory against the old killer. ‘No need to get up. I’ll see myself out.’
Leaving the office, Vimes wondered, in the back of his mind, if he was going to be done in before he even had chance to leave the grounds. Lord Downey was as proud as he was petty, and Vimes knew that his opinion on the Assassin’s Guild, which he kept no secret of, had not endeared him one bit to the Chief Assassin. The rational part of his brain knew that they couldn’t do anything to him without a contract, but he still didn’t feel safe until he had the Guild doors closed behind him.
Vimes stood at the top of the steps of the Guild, feeling the freezing air work its way into every nook and cranny. He shivered slightly as he put his helmet on.
He reached for the straps when there was a movement behind him.
‘You’re it, Your Grace.’
Vimes felt his helmet knocked from his head, momentarily blocking his vision. He wrenched it up in time to see one of the Assassins vaulting the garden wall and beginning to run off.
Vimes stared. It was one of the Assassins who had been hiding in Downey’s office. He was wearing the same night attire that had marched out of the office in unison not a few moments prior.
There was something about this one, though. Vimes recognised the way the Assassin ran; light and swift.
It was the thief.
Vimes’ hindbrain kicked in and he was off, clambering over the same garden wall and giving chase. Were he not so angry at the brazenness of this fellow – returning to the crime scene to confront him like this – then he might have been impressed. But all he felt was roiling anger. This lawbreaker was not only making a mockery of him by committing crimes and getting away with it, but he was forcing Vimes to have to deal with people like Downey and Vetinari.
Despite the frigid air, Vimes began to feel hot and uncomfortable under his armour. His helmet banged about annoyingly atop his head, so Vimes pushed it irritably back and heard it hit the ground with a clang. He’d retrieve it later, providing someone hadn’t made off with it. His helmet was the least of his worries, though: the thief was exiting the Guild grounds by the gardener’s gate at the very back of the compound. Vimes leapt over a small decorative shrubbery and made it to the gate moments after it had slammed shut.
‘Where are you, you…’ Vimes looked frantically around and quickly caught sight of his quarry. He renewed the pursuit and cursed at every person and object that got in his way. They were back into the city proper now, meaning real life was pressing in on them from all sides. Vimes was jostled and waylaid as he fought to keep the thief in sight, but the slippery rascal seemed to have none of those problems. He ducked and dodged with infuriating ease, cresting one of the city’s many bridges before stopping. Vimes halted at the base of the bridge and called out to the thief.
‘You there! Stop! You’re under arrest!’
The thief’s eyes narrowed in a way that told Vimes that he was smiling.
The bastard was smiling!
‘Catch me if you can!’
Clearing the parapet with ease, the thief sprang off the bridge and down to the river. The waters of the Ankh were thick and turgid at the best of times, but in this sub-zero weather the river had solidified into one long, vile block of ice. The thief landed lightly onto the frozen surface and took off again at an impressive sprint.
Vimes let out another breath of exasperated air.
Testing the surface briefly, Vimes stepped out on to the solid river and gave chase as best he could. He looked at either side of the river and knew that, despite the slippery surface slowing him down, he was still making better time than he would weaving his way through the mass of life that thronged both banks. His body skidded and jerked as he tried his best to stay upright, but the thief was moving like he was still running along the cobbled streets.
How the hell was he doing it?
Vimes felt winded, and the icy river was making him feel clumsy and ineffectual. Still he kept the thief in his sights, determined to catch him. They were nearing the next bridge when the thief stopped abruptly and turned around.
The eyes narrowed again.
You absolute bastard!
As Vimes approached, the thief reached to his beltline and thrust an arm into the air. A grapple shot out of a concealed sleeve compartment, caught the top of the bridge, went taut, and pulled the thief off the ice and away from Vimes’ grasp.
As the thief ascended, he threw whatever he had fished out from around his belt on to the frozen river. It exploded at Vimes’ feet, instantly melting the ice and sending him collapsing helplessly into the fetid waters of the Ankh.
‘See you soon, Your Grace,’ said the thief, before disappearing into the city.
Somewhere, under the waters of the Ankh, Vimes swore.
Wetly, but loudly.
* * *
There was no carriage this time. After dispatching Commander Vimes, the thief trotted lightly along a non-descript side street before coming to an equally non-descript door. He stopped and knocked, very gently, on the peeling painted wood. The sound of a bolt being withdrawn bade him enter. The thief cast a cautionary glance over his shoulder and slipped inside.
Darkness enveloped him.
Then a voice spoke.
‘Well?’ It was an oily voice. Full of expectancy and greed.
As the thief’s eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he looked about at the shabby interior.
‘A little below your station, isn’t it?’ he said, smoothly, yet quietly, almost in a whisper. ‘I didn’t think you ever left your carriage when out in the big, bad city.’
The other occupant in the room shifted irritably.
‘It is my driver’s afternoon off,’ the other man said to the thief. ‘And I don’t appreciate your insolent tone, either.’
‘My apologies,’ said the thief, again, in barely audible tones.
‘It is of little concern,’ said the other man. ‘Do you have it?’
‘But of course.’ The thief produced another small sack from the recesses of his clothes, just as he had done after the theft from the Patrician’s Palace. He tossed it idly to his impatient employer. A match was struck, and the room was suddenly bathed in the harsh, flickering glare of the flame. The other man lit a stubby candle and proceeded to empty the contents of the small sack into his greedy hands. There was silence for a moment or two, his covetous eyes taking in his latest prize.
‘Excellent,’ he said, to no one in particular.
The thief coughed, breaking his employer’s reverie.
‘Is that all?’ asked the thief.
‘For now,’ said the other man, smiling horribly.
The thief rolled his eyes as he made for the door. He left his employer to his spoils and disappeared back into the city.
* * *
As this was happening, the post was being delivered throughout Ankh-Morpork. Diligent men and women were seeing to it that items of importance and sentiment reached their destinations. Throughout that day, several official-looking letters, all bearing the same highly official seal, landed on various desks, and were placed in various hands.
These letters were read with great interest.
* * *