To Catch a Thief - Part Seven - Father and Son (2 of 3)
‘I had to wait for Clarence to be ready,’ said Vetinari.
‘Ready for what, to come to Ankh-Morpork?’
The Patrician nodded before continuing.
‘It was agreed that Clarence would remain in Überwald with Lady Margolotta. There he would be raised and educated to the finest standards, and I was kept informed through regular correspondences.’ The Patrician looked over at his son and that unnerving softness stole over his expression again. ‘I can assure you both that it was not an easy decision to make, necessary though it was. But, it was also agreed that Clarence would travel to Ankh-Morpork once he had come of age.’
‘You say that Clarence working for Lord Rust was your idea, though?’ said Vimes. ‘Did Lady Margolotta know what you had planned for him when he got to the city?’
‘Oh yes,’ said the Patrician. ‘Lady Margolotta is not one to keep secrets from.’ Both he and Clarence smiled at this.
‘But wait,’ said Vimes, seizing on a thought that had just occurred to him. ‘If Rust knew that you knew you had a son, how did Clarence end up working for him and Rust still think he had one over on you?’
‘That, Commander, was one of the fun parts,’ said the Patrician.
Fun? Fun? Vimes turned this over in his mind. Lord Rust was facing several counts of blackmail and now one for attempted murder. Fun wasn’t exactly the word that Vimes would have chosen. He stayed quiet, though, to allow Lord Vetinari to elaborate.
‘It is here that Lord Rust made another fatal error, poor man.’ The Patrician certainly seemed to be enjoying recounting this for Vimes, and he leaned back in his chair slightly as he carried on. ‘He clearly felt that simply knowing that I was to be a father would be enough leverage on me to suit his purposes.’ Here, the Patrician paused again and smiled, in that way that told Vimes he was enjoying a particular thought but not sharing it.
Vimes didn’t have time for that.
‘And why was that an error?’ Vimes asked.
Vetinari’s smile grew slightly before he spoke again. Vimes didn’t think he had ever seen the man smile so much in the entire time that he had known him. Granted, it looked like the kind of smile that sat behind a length of taut garrotte wire, but it was most definitely a smile.
‘It was an error, Commander,’ said the Patrician, softly. ‘Because Lord Rust never bothered to learn the identity of the mother.’
Vimes looked at the Patrician, then Clarence, and back again.
‘You mean, he never knew that it was Lady Margolotta who…?’ Vimes’ voice trailed off as Lord Vetinari shook his head, ever so slightly.
‘It is another unfortunate truth about Lord Rust that as well as being a hopelessly addicted gambler, he is also quite the misogynist.’
Vimes’ eyebrows betrayed him again as they rose, but as soon as they did he realised that this wasn’t as surprising a piece of news as it initially felt.
‘I am afraid so,’ said Vetinari, sighing slightly. ‘This may be the Century of the Anchovy, but you would never guess it with Lord Rust where women were concerned.’
‘He was always pleasant enough around Sybil,’ said Vimes, thinking back to any number of interminable social functions that Vimes had had to attend as part of his role as Duke of Ankh.
‘But of course he was,’ said Vetinari. ‘To her face.’ Vimes bristled somewhat at the implication that someone had been bad-mouthing his wife behind her back, but he quickly remembered that Sybil was more than capable of taking care of herself, and if the proverbial had ever hit the fan, one stiff back-hand from Sybil and Rust would have been carrying his teeth home in his handkerchief.
‘But alas, he felt that his deplorably antiquated opinions on what he laughably referred to as “the weaker sex” were ones shared by all men. It is interesting, Commander, how much a man will reveal of himself if he thinks that you agree with him.’
‘So, Rust didn’t know who the mother was when he started blackmailing you about Clarence?’ Vimes asked, pulling the conversation back to the matter at hand.
‘Quite so,’ said the Patrician, nodding again.
‘So, how did he end up with Clarence in his employ?’
‘Well, naturally, as soon as I started receiving the letters I informed Lady Margolotta promptly. We have always kept in close correspondence, as the rumours about me abound, and obviously these correspondences only increased when we learned that dear Clarence was soon to be with us.’ Vetinari reached out and placed a hand on his son’s that made Vimes shift uneasily in his seat. He felt again as if he were intruding on a decidedly private moment.
‘And how did Lady Margolotta take the news?’ Vimes asked.
‘You saw her last night,’ said Vetinari. ‘Her reaction to our unborn son being used as leverage was much the same. But, I am pleased to say, like last night, I was able to convince her to take a more, shall we say, level-headed approach.’
‘You mean you talked her out of ripping him limb from limb?’ said Vimes, remembering all too vividly the feral look that Lady Margolotta had taken on when her son had been threatened.
‘To put it bluntly,’ said the Patrician.
‘But, that still doesn’t explain why you continued to pay the blackmail for nearly two decades, and how Clarence came to be working for Rust.’
‘Like I said, Commander, I was able to persuade Lady Margolotta against her more, as you put it, limb-ripping course of action, and suggest something more beneficial to all.’
‘Which was?’ Vimes was really starting to feel like he was chasing his own tail in this conversation and it was starting to grate, noticeably.
‘Between the two of us, Lady Margolotta and I devised a plan in which, when the time was right, Clarence would make his way to Ankh-Morpork and seek out Lord Rust. As you can see, there was little point in Clarence trying to act as though he didn’t know who his father was. I am sure you can agree, Commander, that the resemblance is more than apparent.’ Lord Vetinari looked proudly at his son as he said this. He was right, if you knew what Lord Vetinari looked like – and anyone who had used a stamp to send a letter anywhere on the Circle Sea in the last several years would do, for the Patrician’s likeness graced the One Penny Ankh-Morpork stamp – then meeting Clarence would be like meeting the Patrician’s younger doppelganger.
Lord Vetinari continued.
‘So, with no believable means of having Clarence seek out anyone within Ankh-Morpork and claiming not to know who his father was, it was decided that a certain degree of subterfuge was called for. Clarence would play the part of the spurned son, telling a tale of woe and neglect to Lord Rust in order to gain his favour. And it worked.’
Clarence looked proud as his father spoke.
‘What did you tell him?’ asked Vimes, directing his enquiry towards Clarence for the first time. Clarence looked almost taken aback that he was being addressed. He looked to his father, unsure if he should speak.
‘It is alright, son,’ said the Patrician, kindly. ‘We are all on the same side here.’
Clarence cleared his throat and looked into Vimes’ hard face.
‘I made out,’ said Clarence, Vimes noting the definite Überwald edge to his voice. ‘That father had never wanted any part of my life, my upbringing. I had a whole story prepared, detailing years of being ignored, treated as a shameful secret, that kind of thing. But, it turned out that I didn’t need any of it.’
‘How so?’ asked Vimes.
‘It became instantly apparent,’ said Lord Vetinari, cutting in. ‘That Lord Rust was so desperate to find a way out of the hole that he had dug himself into with his ever-mounting gambling debts, coupled with his aforementioned rigid belief that he and his fellow aristocrats could run this city far more efficiently than I, that he greedily seized upon the first opportunity that came his way, in his mind, to solve both problems. Poor man.’
‘So, you got yourself in with Rust,’ said Vimes, keeping a mental track of proceedings. ‘And then he had you stealing for him?’
‘Yes,’ said Clarence. Despite his generally arrogant demeanour, Clarence seemed to be taking note of the respect that his father held for Vimes. That, and the fact that the Commander of the Watch clearly wanted to throttle him made Clarence keep more of a lid on his usual swagger.
‘Stealing what, though?’ asked Vimes. ‘Throughout all this – and I can’t believe I’m even saying it – I’ve been chasing a thief when I didn’t even know what was stolen.’
The Patrician smiled at this.
‘Information, of course.’
Vimes sat for a second, realising that he had been a bit of an idiot for not realising it sooner. That made complete sense. Rust’s money troubles clearly needed more attention than the quick fix of a simple burglary. Steal a man’s fortune, and you have power over him only in that one moment. Steal his secrets, and you have power over him always.
At least that’s how Vimes pictured Rust thinking about it.
‘But wait,’ said Vimes, surfacing from that particular thought. ‘Rust had been blackmailing you since you learned that Lady Margolotta was pregnant (Vimes didn’t even think that vampires could get pregnant, but that was not a thread he wanted to pull on at this time). Why did he need Clarence to steal from you if he already had information on you?’
‘Quite simply,’ said the Patrician. ‘He got greedy.’
‘That’s it?’ said Vimes.
‘Pardon me, greedier. Lord Rust clearly could not pass up the opportunity to see what other skeletons I had in my cupboard, so he set Clarence to work. I really could not have planned it better myself.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I said to you earlier, Commander, that it was agreed between Lady Margolotta and myself that Clarence would be permitted to travel to Ankh-Morpork when he was ready. By that, I mean when he had been educated and trained to the required level.’
‘Trained?’ Vimes was certain that he didn’t like the thought of Überwald turning out cunning and efficient thieves and setting them loose in his city.
Again, the Patrician smiled.
‘You have seen him at work, have you not?’ he asked, knowing full well that Vimes had indeed been unsuccessful in chasing Clarence down before.
‘Yes,’ said Vimes, through gritted teeth.
‘Well, there you are then,’ said Lord Vetinari, as if this explained the matter. ‘I had, of course, been kept updated as to Clarence’s progress throughout his life, but that was no substitute for seeing him in action, so to speak. I hear he gave you quite the run-around.’
The urge to smack Clarence in the face was returning to Vimes’ mind with alarming speed.
‘Yes, he did,’ said Vimes, teeth still firmly gritted.
‘Come come now, Commander,’ said Lord Vetinari, in an almost schoolteacher-like way. ‘I fully appreciate how frustrating it must have been not to be able to catch Clarence, but really you should be thanking me.’
Vimes’ glare whipped to the Patrician as if he had just said something unpleasant about his mother.
‘Thanking you?’ Vimes wanted to be sure that he had heard correctly, and that his ears weren’t simply playing tricks on him, egging the rest of him on for a fight.
‘Quite so,’ said Vetinari, calmly. ‘Having someone with skills as finely honed as Clarence will no doubt be of great benefit.’
‘To whom?’ asked Vimes, determined to stay angry, but unable to stop a tinge of confusion from colouring the edges.
‘Why, to you, of course,’ said the Patrician, smiling.
There was nothing for it, Vimes was completely lost.
‘What are you talking about?’ he said, nearly barking the words.
‘My dear Commander, you cannot possibly think that such time and effort has been spent on Clarence’s education and training simply to take down Lord Rust. No no, that was merely a longstanding issue that needed clearing up. The chief reason for Clarence coming to Ankh-Morpork was for him to get a job.’
Vimes frowned. A job? Doing what? As the son of the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and arguably Überwald’s wealthiest woman, surely Clarence wouldn’t need to work a day in his life, if he didn’t want to. The wheels in Vimes’ mind started turning, though. Clarence had shown noticeable skill as a thief, and his little display at the Assassin’s Guild showed him proficient with camouflage and concealment. Vimes disliked both prospects of the Clarence joining either the Thieves’ Guild or the Assassin’s Guild; he felt he was a little too good for both, and that could spell a litany of headaches for the Watch.
No, thought Vimes.
They wouldn’t dare.
Vimes looked hard at the Patrician.
‘You don’t mean…’ he began.
Lord Vetinari nodded, ever so slightly.
‘Commander, may I present to you your newest recruit.’ At this, Clarence stood up and snapped himself to attention. Despite himself, Vimes couldn’t help but think that Carrot would be impressed with the lad’s snapping to.
But, Vimes was also dumbfounded.
They were daring, very much so. Several seconds stretched out into what felt like aeons while Vimes tried to process what he’d been told. Eventually, he found his voice.
‘You…want to join the Watch?’ he said, speaking to Clarence.
‘Yes, sir,’ said Clarence, staring fixedly ahead, as if he were on parade.
‘He…wants to join the Watch?’ Vimes asked, this time speaking to the Patrician.
‘He does. Very much,’ said Vetinari.
‘But…he stole. He ran from the Law.’ Vimes privately added, in his mind, that Clarence had also made him look and feel a fool, but he wasn’t about to say that out loud, especially given his current company.
‘Yes, he did,’ said Vetinari. ‘But, on my orders, of course.’
‘So, this…this is what the training was for?’
The Patrician nodded.
Vimes couldn’t think. In the entire time that he had been aware of Clarence’s existence he had considered him an enemy, a lawbreaker, someone he needed to catch and bring to justice. And now, in a mere moment, he was expected to take him on as one of his own.
Vimes looked again at the Patrician and Clarence, swivelling his eyes between the two men.
He had no choice. He wanted to have a choice. He wanted to tell Vetinari, and his son, where they could stick it, and he was prepared to draw them a diagram.
The lad was good, though, it had to be said. Vimes hated himself for admitting that, but it was unavoidable. Say what you wanted about the Vetinaris, but they were clearly good at what they did, when they put their minds to something.
He really did have no choice.
He looked at Clarence.
Sod it, he thought.