To Catch a Thief - Part Three - Summoned (1 of 2)
While Vimes made his way despondently back to the station house, the thief climbed inside a carriage that was waiting for him on the corner of a deserted street.
He was not alone.
‘You have it?’ said an expectant yet calm voice. The thief produced the small sack and threw it across the carriage interior.
‘Temper temper,’ said the man sat opposite the thief, while untying the strings of the sack. There was no small amount of self-satisfaction in his voice as he tipped the contents of the sack into his greedy hands.
The thief said nothing.
Eventually, the other occupant spoke.
‘Impressive.’ Silence followed as the prize was examined further.
‘That is all, for now,’ said the owner of the carriage. ‘You may go. I will call on you when you are needed next.’
Without a word, the thief exited the carriage and disappeared into the city, slamming the door behind him. The driver of the carriage geed the horse into action and it rumbled off in the opposite direction, the paint on the livery peeling ever so slightly.
* * *
‘Inside job,’ said Corporal “Nobby” Nobbs, to the station in general, but mostly to his immediate superior, Sergeant Fred Colon. ‘Gotta be.’ He waggled a grubby finger in an even grubbier ear with the air of one who has all the answers and is just begging to be asked to share them.
‘Give over, Nobby,’ said Colon, dismissively, as he made the tea. ‘Who in their right mind would steal from Vetinari, let alone one of his own staff?’
‘Didn’t say it had to be one of his staff,’ said Nobby. He sniffed and continued. ‘Could have been a family member.’
‘Don’t be daft,’ scoffed Colon. ‘Vetinari don’t have any family.’
‘Not what I…’
Nobby’s retort, and the relative quiet of Pseudopolis Yard, were abruptly broken when Commander Vimes burst in through the front door, still fuming. He stormed past Sergeant Cheery Littlebotttom at the front desk, completely ignored Nobby and Colon, and stalked furiously into his office. He slammed the door with a noise that reverberated through the entire station. Even the suspect that Captain Angua had brought in for questioning was silent, afraid to say anything in case Vimes emerged from his office and tore his head off.
Vimes sat down heavily at his desk and slammed a hand on to its scarred surface. Balled in his fist were the false beard and wig and the maddening little card that the thief had left behind. He released them and looked at the disguise. Anger continued to embroil him, so he stuffed the beard and wig into a desk drawer to get them out of his sight. The card he pushed on to the spike on his desk, adding to the burgeoning pile of notes, reminders, and various things that he was supposed to remember to do. Things to do with work, with home, with every damn thing, it seemed like. He would examine them properly later when he had calmed down. He would still be angry. Crime always made him angry, but at least later it would be the measured and steady anger that would allow him to look at the case properly. Right now, it was too hot, too wild. Anything he did about the thief and his crime right now would be too impulsive, too sloppy. No, he was going to catch the little toe-rag and he knew to do that he needed his wits about him.
His hand still on the desk, faint muscle memory from years past twitched along his fingers, almost sending them into the bottom drawer of his desk for the bottle of Bearhugger’s Whisky that he kept there, a holdover from his days as a roaring drunk. He didn’t know that his wife, Lady Sybil Vimes, nee Ramkin, had secretly replaced the contents with apple juice some years before, but it didn’t matter. Vimes had kicked the drink for the sake of his family, which now included his son, Young Sam, and that was more than enough motivation to prove to the world, and to himself, that he could stay sober.
But still he fumed.
How dare someone come into his city, commit a crime, so brazenly, and then rub it in his face so? Vimes was going to throw the book at him. Followed by the rest of the godsdamned library!
‘I need a smoke,’ he said to the Multiiverse at large.
Vimes reached into a different desk drawer to the one now containing apple juice and pulled out his cigar box. Lady Sybil didn’t approve of Vimes smoking, but she reasoned that the occasional cigar was worlds better than having to have Willikins – Sam Vimes’ gentlemen’s gentleman – scrape her plastered husband out of this gutter or that if he was to take up the drink again. Sybil Ramkin was from a rich enough family to have more than one wine-sodden branch to her family tree, so the cigars were tolerated in favour of the possible alternative.
Sam Vimes walked over to the window of his office and opened it. The cold Ankh-Morpork air hit him like a slap in the face. Even at this low temperature the air of the city was unique. You could taste the life on it. You could practically chew it and spit it back out. Vimes took a deep breath and shivered involuntarily as he struck a match on the splintery window frame. He cupped his hand around the match as he lit the cigar, just as he had done countless times before on those cold and lonely (and often whisky-soaked) Night Watch shifts. Taking the first pull, he filled his lungs with the familiar smoke and let it sit there for a moment, tossing the spent match into the wastepaper basket in the corner. Frowning and looking out into the city, he exhaled and sent the bluish smoke billowing out of the window, watching it mingle with his already visible breath in the steely wintry air. Time was that Vimes smoked at his desk, or anywhere he damn well pleased, thank you so very much, but the gentle moulding that Lady Sybil had implemented to smooth some of the rougher edges that made up Sam Vimes included not smoking indoors. It was absolutely forbidden at home, especially since the birth of Young Sam, and Lady Sybil had conceded to let him smoke at work, providing it wasn’t too many, and providing he opened a window when he did so.
Vimes stood by the window, smoking his cigar, his thoughts switching from how much he loved his good lady wife to how much he hated crime. He ran the entire chase over and over in his head, trying to fix an image of the thief, but it was no good. The beard and wig notwithstanding, he had just been too quick.
Vimes shuddered. He wouldn’t allow the thought to take root. Vimes was nothing if not proud, of his conviction as a copper, at least. His staunch belief in right and wrong could cut diamond, and he would die before he admitted that a common criminal could get the better of him.
He would catch him.
Vimes’ thoughts were interrupted by a gentle knocking at his office door. He took an irritated pull on his cigar. He felt quite sure that the way he had stumped angrily into the office did not need the added clarification that he didn’t want to be bothered.
‘Not now,’ he said.
But the knock came again.
‘I said not now!’ Vimes turned to see Captain Carrot, looking very apologetic, opening the door slightly and snapping to attention when he caught the Commander’s glare.
‘Sorry to disturb you, Sir, but Lord Vetinari would like to see you.’
‘I bet he would,’ spat Vimes.
‘it’s about the burglary at the Palace, Sir.’
‘Yes, thank you, Captain. I had surmised as much.’
‘Sir.’ Carrot peeled off a textbook salute. Vimes turned back to the window and continued to smoke his cigar. A moment of uncomfortable silence followed. Uncomfortable for Carrot, at least.
Vimes sighed and let out another plume of cigar smoke.
‘The Patrician, Sir. He was quite insistent that you come immediately, Sir.’
‘I’m sure he was, Captain,’ said Vimes, not turning to face him. ‘Which is why I’m going to finish this cigar and arrive at the Palace when I bloody well please.’
* * *
‘Sausage inna bun! Delicious and nutritious! Get ‘em while they’re hot!’
Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, entrepreneur extraordinaire, turned in his usual spot in Sator Square to see Commander Sam Vimes standing uncomfortably close to him.
‘Ah, Commander,’ oozed Dibbler, never one to pass up the opportunity to pitch his dubious wares. ‘So good to see you on such a fine, brisk afternoon. Can I interest you in a sausage inna bun? Special Watch rates, o’course. Only a half Dollar, and that’s cutting me own throat!’
‘No, thank you,’ said Vimes, flatly.
‘Very well, very well,’ said Dibbler, reeling expertly. No one could bounce back from rejection quite like Dibbler. ‘Then how about…’
Dibbler took in Vimes’ hardened expression and gave in. Some people just couldn’t spot a good bargain.
‘Okay, what can I do for you?’
‘I assume you’ve heard by now what happened at the Palace earlier on?’ Vimes didn’t really need to ask. Of course Dibbler would know. It would be all over the city by now. Ankh-Morpork was a veritable tinderbox for the wildfires of gossip and rumour, and, sure enough, Dibbler did not disappoint.
‘Oh yeah, talk o’the town, that is,’ said Dibbler, grinning. ‘I hear the culprit gave you the slip good and proper.’ Dibbler chuckled for a second and then quickly stifled himself when he saw the murderous look on Vimes’ face. He coughed and tried to look serious. ‘And I certainly hopes you catch the miscreant.’
‘I will,’ said Vimes.
‘Stealing from the Patrician, though…’ Dibbler blew out his cheeks and shook his head. ‘What could be worth that?’
‘Exactly what I was thinking,’ said Vimes. ‘And that’s where you come in.’
Dibbler swallowed nervously.
‘Yes, Throat. You.’
‘But I was nowhere near the Palace this morning. Ask anyone, they’ll vouch for me…’
‘Throat…’ Vimes tried to interject.
‘You can’t go around making accusations like, you know? I got rights!’
‘Yes, you have the right to shut that trap of yours before I nail it shut, do you hear?’ Vimes was nose to nose with Dibbler now, the greasy smell of his foul sausages invading his nostrils.
Dibbler nodded, silently, never taking his bulging eyes off Vimes’.
‘Right, good. I’m not accusing you, Throat. If I thought you’d done this… Well, I’d be bloody amazed at your stupidity for one, but you’d also have been in the cells before noon by now. No, I want you to keep your ear to the ground. I don’t know what was stolen – I’m on my way to the Palace now to speak to the Patrician. But, if there’s a new thief in town I want to know who he is, where he goes, who he talks to, the works. Got it?’
‘I’ll do what I can,’ said Dibbler, numbly.
‘Good man,’ said Vimes. He patted Dibbler on the shoulder and turned to leave. ‘Oh, and Throat?’
‘When I find out what’s been stolen, if I catch wind that it’s come within ten feet of those grubby mitts of yours and you don’t tell us I’ll very likely lose my temper with you. Are we clear?’
‘Excellent. Have a good day, Throat.’
* * *
Sometime later, Vimes arrived at the Palace, and was crossing the road that ran by the main gates when he was nearly knocked down by a carriage that careened to a halt in front of him. The two impressive horses whinnied as they were hauled back to stop, the carriage’s wheels a mere inch from Vimes’ toes.
‘What the bloody hell!’ he said, angrily. Vimes looked up at the driver and stared, furious, into the eyes of a young man who quickly looked away under the Commander’s outraged glare. He walked towards the driver’s box, scowling.
‘What do you think you’re playing at, sonny-Jim?’ said Vimes, as he laid a hand on the carriage and addressed the handsome young man holding the reins. The driver pulled down his cap to shield his eyes and started to mumble something when a voice cut him off.
‘Good day, Vimes.’
No, not him, thought Vimes.
Oh gods, not him!
Vimes stepped back and took in the imposing crest on the livery on the coach that was blocking his ingress into the Palace grounds and sighed.
It was Lord Rust.
Vimes hated the nobility of Ankh-Morpork, even more so ever since he became one of them, Lady Sybil being the obvious exception (she hated most of them herself, too). He hated their snobbishness, hated their arrogance and their stupidity, but most of all he hated the way that they all seemed to consider themselves somehow above the law. No one was above the law, and Vimes would happily burn down the Disc’s entire aristocracy and dance around the flames in the altogether to prove that point.
Vimes sighed and stepped into view of the carriage’s window.
‘Your lordship,’ he said, woodenly.
‘Terrible business at the Palace, Vimes,’ said Rust, his vulture-like face indicating the gates to his left. ‘When the venerable ruler of this city cannot remain safe from the reach of the petty criminal what hope have the rest of us?’
Oh, you slimy little bastard, thought Vimes. You and your hideously inbred cronies would sell out the Patrician for a tin Dollar tomorrow if you thought you could run the city yourselves. Say what you wanted about the Patrician, at least he was a bastard with only one face, and it was always the one looking at you. Vimes didn’t have time to play Rust’s games, so he responded in official copper mode.
‘I was just on my way to the Palace to inspect the crime scene and interview Lord Vetinari. So, if you’ll excuse me.’
‘Of course.’ Lord Rust smiled; it was truly horrible. He reached inside his immaculate topcoat and produced a small card. ‘Do come and see me soon, Vimes. This travesty has made me fear for my safety and the sanctity of my estate.’ Vimes took the card gingerly, like it might explode at his touch, and pocketed it.