To Catch a Thief - Part Seven - Father and Son (1 of 3)
Nine AM the following morning saw Commander Samuel Vimes waiting outside of the Oblong Office, the first time he had ever been early to meet with the Patrician.
The door opened, and the head of Drumknott, Lord Vetinari’s senior clerk, poked out.
‘His Lordship will see you now.’ Vimes swept past Drumknott and entered the Oblong Office, his helmet under his arm, as usual. He walked stiffly towards the same spot where he always stood when addressing the Patrician, but this time he did not fix his gaze on the patch of wall just behind the Patrician’s chair. This time, Vimes looked Vetinari, and his son, square in their faces.
The Patrician was seated at his desk, as he always was, and Clarence was lounging on a sofa at the side of the room, looking like he owned the place. Vimes resisted the urge to stride over and slap the smug look off his face.
It wasn’t easy.
The Patrician looked up as Vimes approached, and, seemingly reading his mind, he shot a look over at his son.
‘Get up, Clarence. Show some respect.’ Clarence swung his legs on to the floor and walked idly over to stand behind his father’s chair. He fixed Vimes with another smirk.
‘And you can take that look off your face as well,’ said the Patrician, without looking around. ‘You are a Vetinari, and Commander Vimes is here on official Watch business. Isn’t that so, Commander?’
Vimes was enjoying seeing Clarence being dressed down by his father so much that he had to mentally drag himself back to the here and now.
He cleared his throat and looked both men in the eye.
‘Yes, I do,’ he said.
‘Again, Commander,’ said Vetinari, smoothly. ‘Your dedication to duty remains nothing short of exemplary.’
Vimes said nothing. He still wanted answers, and he wasn’t going to let the Patrician dictate the terms of this engagement.
Not this time.
‘But thank you for allowing me yesterday evening,’ continued the Patrician. ‘It meant a great deal.’
Vimes looked at Lord Vetinari and, like the night before, saw only a man looking back.
‘It was nothing, sir,’ said Vimes.
‘It was not nothing,’ said Vetinari, meaningfully. ‘You would have been perfectly within your rights, within the confines of the law that you so expertly uphold, to deny me my request. It shall not be forgotten.’
Vimes blinked. Despite his burning desire to finally get to the bottom of this whole affair, he mentally banked the fact that the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork essentially owed him a favour. That could come in handy one day.
‘But, to business,’ said Vetinari. ‘I am sure you have questions, Commander?’
‘Yes,’ said Vimes. ‘Lots.’
‘Then please, sit,’ said Vetinari.
Vimes looked at the chair before him, the one that he had never sat in, and decided that today was the day.
So, he sat down.
Vimes’ helmet resting on his knees, Vetinari looked rather pleased, as if he had finally scored some little victory in the years-long chess game that the two men had never agreed to play but had gone head to head on nonetheless. Vetinari cast a glance over his shoulder.
‘Clarence, you take the other seat, if you please. This concerns you as well.’ Clarence walked around the desk and sat himself alongside Vimes, whose fists itched at being so close to the man who had run roughshod over him and the law.
With both men sat, facing Lord Vetinari, the Patrician gestured towards Vimes.
‘Where would you like to start, Commander?’
Where would he like to start? Vimes had been turning the questions over in his mind on his way to the Palace that morning, but now that he had been given the floor his mind felt strangely blank.
But only for a moment.
Vimes looked at Clarence, and then Vetinari.
‘Why?’ was all he said.
‘Why what?’ asked the Patrician, in response.
‘Why let Rust think he had the upper hand over you? And why drag your son into this?’
The Patrician sat back in his chair and rested his elbows on the arms.
‘Dear old Lord Rust was a desperate fellow, and desperate people often do stupid things. He had forgotten, or perhaps underestimated, what you, Commander, took to be a given in your opening question, and that is nothing happens in this city that I am not aware of.’
Clarence made a small snort of laughter, and Lord Vetinari shot him another stern look before continuing.
‘The Rusts, as you well know, are one of the city’s oldest aristocratic families. Not as old as say, the Ramkins – my best to Lady Sybil, of course – but certainly old enough to have acquired that oh so special dose of arrogance and stupidity that beleaguers the wealthy classes.’
Vimes’ fists balled again at the mention of his wife, as well the reminder that he himself was very much an aristocrat since marrying into clan Ramkin, but he stayed quiet.
Lord Vetinari continued.
‘Lord Rust, the last surviving member of his line, is a staunchly proud man, as I am sure you have experienced, but he is also a gambler.’
Vimes’ eyebrows went up involuntarily, and he cursed them for it because he knew that Vetinari would see, and comment.
Which he did.
‘Oh yes, terrible problem. The poor chap would bet on anything, and, sadly, did, with decreasing success. I believe you were at his estate quite recently, were you not?’
‘Yes, sir,’ said Vimes.
‘No doubt you noticed the absence of certain items within his household?’
The mirror, thought Vimes. That bloody great ugly mirror that used to hang above Lord Rust’s fireplace.
It was starting to make a bit of sense.
‘Yes, sir. I did,’ Vimes replied.
‘All part of his unfortunate gambling addiction, I am afraid. The last I heard, he had squandered what was left of the Rust family fortune and owed considerable sums to Crysoprase.’
‘And that’s why he started blackmailing you?’ asked Vimes, although it was clear what the answer was. ‘To pay off his gambling debts?’
‘Not just me,’ said the Patrician. ‘Other notable figures in the city as well. Harry King, the Selachiis, anyone with money and something to hide.’
Which covers just about all of them, thought Vimes.
‘What did Rust have on the others?’ he asked.
Lord Vetinari raised an eyebrow.
‘My dear Commander, I cannot go about discussing the private affairs of fellow victims of this unfortunate incident. I am afraid your enquiries as to Lord Rust’s other targets will have to be directed towards them.’
Vimes knew full well that the Patrician could discuss anything he pleased about anyone within his city. He was just being difficult. However, Vimes didn’t feel the moment called for him to press the matter.
‘And for you it was the fact that you had a son?’ Vimes cast a sideways glance at Clarence as he said this. Gods, they really do look alike, he thought.
‘Quite so,’ said Vetinari, nodding.
‘But why keep Clarence a secret at all?’ asked Vimes. ‘You essentially gave Rust the leverage on you that he needed.’
‘Commander Vimes, I am Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. The city looks to me for guidance and leadership. Although I understand you detest your title of Duke of Ankh and the duties it carries, you have held that position long enough now to understand the finely delicate game that is diplomacy. Do you really think it wise for a man in my position to make public such a human a thing as succumbing to momentary weaknesses of the flesh?’
Both Vimes and Clarence winced slightly at the thought of Lord Vetinari being anything other than, well, Lord Vetinari.
It did not go unnoticed by the Patrician.
‘Think of me what you will, Commander,’ said Vetinari. ‘But strip away all the mythos, all the stories, all the rumour, and I am but a man. And, you have met Lady Margolotta. Surely nothing more need be said?’ Vimes remembered that odd, thick feelings in his head when he had looked at Lady Margolotta, and that had been for just a second. He had heard the rumours about her and Vetinari, of course, the whole city had. But Vimes had always taken them to be just that, rumours. But he was sat right next to living proof that where there was smoke there had clearly been fire.
Clarence cut in on the moment.
‘Father,’ he said, reproachfully.
Vetinari looked at his son.
‘Your Mother is a remarkably special woman, Clarence, as well you know. But do not chastise me, please, for allowing myself to speak openly about the woman I love. I have not had the opportunity to do so before, and quite frankly it feels rather nice.’
‘What I want to know, though,’ said Vimes, pulling the conversation back on track. ‘Is how Clarence ended up working for Rust, and why he stole from you of all people.’
Lord Vetinari smiled, ever so slightly.
‘Oh, that’s quite simple,’ he said.
‘Yes?’ said Vimes when the Patrician didn’t continue.
‘It was my idea.’
Vimes was silent for a moment.
‘But of course.’ Lord Vetinari looked infuriatingly pleased with himself.
‘But why?’ was all Vimes could muster in the moment.
The Patrician smiled again.
‘As I said, Commander, nothing happens in this city that I do not know about. Skeletons in the cupboard are all there for my perusal. Take Lord Rust, for example. I knew of his troubles before he made the unfortunate decision to underestimate me and attempt to extort money, and the moment I learned of the impending arrival of dear Clarence here, I knew that someone, at some time, would seek to use this information against me.’
At the mention of his son, Lord Vetinari looked at Clarence. Vimes was still finding it difficult to process the Patrician as being human enough to be a father, and to see him looking on another person with genuine warmth in his eyes made Vimes irrationally nervous.
Lord Vetinari continued.
‘I had also long suspected that someone within the city – some enterprising person or persons – had placed one of their people within my staff. Either that or they had paid sufficiently to turn one of my own.’
At this, Vimes turned in his chair to look over at Drumknott, who had remained by the door, ready to take any further instruction from the Patrician.
Lord Vetinari smiled.
‘Your suspicion of everyone and everything is a credit to you, Commander. However, I am confident that there is not enough gold in all the Dwarf mines on the Disc that would tempt dear Drumknott to betray his position.’ The Patrician inclined his head towards his chief secretary, who bowed, quick and crisp.
‘And there never will be, my Lord,’ said Drumknott, dutifully.
Vimes turned back in his chair to face the Patrician again.
‘I faced somewhat of a quandary in that moment, though, Commander, I don’t mind admitting. While I knew that someone would use my soon-to-be fatherhood against me, and while I had my suspicions as to whom, I needed to know exactly whom before I could act. I reasoned that if I let things run their course, shall we say, that I would find out soon enough. And I did.’
‘So, you let one of your own staff betray you just to find out who might blackmail you?’ asked Vimes.
‘Precisely,’ said Lord Vetinari, nodding slightly. Even though Vimes was on duty, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know what had happened to the offending employee. He would have dragged the river, but in this icy weather he would have needed an army of trolls to hack the Ankh into pieces and lift it bodily out of the riverbed.
‘So, when did the blackmailing start?’ asked Vimes, keeping his mind on topic.
‘Oh, almost instantly,’ said Vetinari, with a lazy wave of his hand. ‘It was really rather sloppy if you ask me.’
‘How so?’ Vimes shifted in his chair.
‘I am sure you are aware that there are any number of people in this city who believe that they could run it better than I. Lord Rust was certainly amongst that number, and he seemed to enjoy nothing more – save gambling, it transpires – than telling me so, with regular correspondences. You think the poor fool would have at least attempted to disguise his handwriting when he started sending me the blackmail notes.’
The Patrician smiled again, as if this was amusing, but Vimes frowned.
‘Wait, if you knew that it was Rust right off the bat, why didn’t you do something about it? Why didn’t you report it to the Watch?’
Vetinari seemed to find this even more amusing.
‘Oh, come now, Commander, allow me some entertainment.’
Now Vimes was really frowning.
‘You let Rust blackmail you because you enjoyed it?’
‘Are you familiar with the old saying of “Give a man enough rope to hang himself…?”’
‘What? Yes. Why?’ Vimes felt like Vetinari was trying to side-track the conversation, and he was determined not to let him.
‘Well, that is what I was doing. I was interested to see if it could be done figuratively as well.’
Vimes registered the thinly veiled reference to acts of lethal bodily harm and filed it away for another time.
‘And all this started before Clarence was born?’ asked Vimes, as he eyed the younger Vetinari sat next to him.
‘Indeed,’ said Vetinari.
‘And you’ve been paying him blackmail money all these years?’
At this, the Patrician rose from his chair and walked over to the large window that looked out over the city. He stood, his back to Vimes and Clarence, his hands clasped lightly behind his back, just as he had stood the night he learned that he was to be a father.
‘You have heard me speak many times, Commander, of how this city works, yes? Well, to reiterate, it works because it just does. Because everyone within its walls, all the way from me to the admirably resilient Mister Dibbler and his curious ventures, plays their part. Does their bit. I paid Lord Rust who paid his debtors. Or he gambled more with the money I paid him, either seems likely. But what that represents, Commander, is capital circulating in the local economy. I am, by most measures, a simple man. My tastes rarely range to the extravagant, but I am embarrassed to say that the position of Patrician of the city does carry a rather significant salary. It is written into our charter. I had money to spare. Lord Rust did not. The route may have been somewhat circuitous, but vital funds found their way into the city.’
‘So, you condone blackmail because it’s good for the economy?’ asked Vimes, growing annoyed at what he felt was far too flippant an attitude towards crime by the man charged with running the city.
‘In this instance it proved useful.’
‘But…’ Vimes too rose from his seat, placing his helmet down on the chair as he stood to face the Patrician.
‘Fear not Commander,’ said Vetinari, turning around. ‘I have no plans to legalise blackmail as I did thievery. But, in blackmailing me about my son, Lord Rust gave me the reason I had been searching for to bring the fruit of my loins, when he was grown, to my city.’
Vimes looked at Vetinari, frowning. He turned to look at Clarence, who continued to look nonplussed, and then turned back to look again at Vetinari.
‘Are you telling me,’ said Vimes, slowly. ‘That you used Rust blackmailing you as part of a near two-decade long plan to bring Clarence to Ankh-Morpork?’
It all felt so unnecessary, and Vimes was about to say so, when he remembered who he was talking to.
‘This has all been a game to you, hasn’t it?’ said Vimes, eventually, and rather quietly.
One of the Patrician’s eyebrows moved ever so slightly.
‘Not entirely,’ he said.
‘Then why go to all this trouble?’ asked Vimes. He was starting to get agitated, especially at the thought that he had been involved in one of Vetinari’s little schemes that he seemed to concoct just to keep himself amused. ‘Why not simply expose Rust, have him dealt with, and bring Clarence to Ankh-Morpork when he was of age anyway?’
Lord Vetinari smiled again.
‘Where would the fun be in that?’
Vimes stiffened. He was not going to tolerate being party to a tyrant’s fancy and was about to speak his mind on the matter when the Patrician spoke again.
‘But, this has not all been without purpose, of course.’
Vimes took a breath.
‘And what purpose would that be?’ he asked, trying to remain calm.
‘Purposes, really,’ said Vetinari. ‘Plural.’
‘Go on,’ said Vimes, feeling decidedly not in the mood for semantics.
‘Well, to out Lord Rust eventually, of course was one of them. Despite how useful he proved to be; I could not allow him to blackmail me forever. It was not a matter of the money; it was more the principle of the thing.’
The Patrician trailed off again, which was growing more frustrating to Vimes by the minute.