To Catch a Thief - Part Three - Summoned (2 of 2)
‘I will send along one of my Captains,’ began Vimes.
‘Tut tut, Commander,’ said Rust, silkily. ‘That really won’t do. I extend this invitation to your good self, not one of your underlings.’ Rust said the word as if Vimes had Foul Ole Ron and his band of professional beggars working for him. He bristled at the tone but managed to catch himself before he told the old fool where he could stick it, and at what angle.
‘I’ll see what I can do to make the time,’ said Vimes, hoping to all the gods on the Disc that his schedule would keep him too busy to even think about visiting the vicious old snake. He thought of Lady Sybil and all the vapid and pointless social functions she was always trying to get him to go to. There was probably one coming up that he could suffer through as an excuse not to meet with Rust. Of course, if there was some nobby do to attend then Rust would be there anyway; the man would never miss the chance to be seen in high society. However, Vimes would have Sybil there and, bless her heart, she was particularly good at deflecting most of the nobbiness from getting too far under her husband’s skin. For now, Vimes’ answer seemed to placate Lord Rust.
‘Good man,’ said Rust, seemingly satisfied that he had gotten his own way. He sat back in his carriage and drew the curtain across the window. Vimes heard him say ‘Drive on’ from within the carriage and the horses were instantly whipped into life, sending the carriage rattling off down the street and, mercifully, out of Vimes’ way. As a testament to how much he hated toffs like Rust, he was glad to be going to see the Patrician, something he never thought he’d think.
As the coach drove away, the young driver looked over his shoulder at Vimes with a most curious expression.
Vimes had to admit, he was a good-looking lad.
Good-looking, and somehow familiar.
Vimes shook himself free of the thought. No time for that now. He had a job to do.
* * *
‘Ah, Commander, do come in.’ Lord Vetinari finished writing something on his immaculate desk, placed it with some other papers, and handed them to his assistant, Drumknott. ‘See to it that these leave by the first Post.’
‘Yes, my Lord,’ said Drumknott before bustling out of the Oblong Office. Lord Vetinari turned his full attention to Vimes and smiled. He looked briefly at the exquisite little carriage clock atop his desk and then back at Vimes, always with the same cool gaze.
‘And only an hour and a half since I summoned you. Impressive.’
‘Sir.’ Vimes walked stiffly, helmet under his arm, to the same spot in front of the Patrician’s desk that he always occupied when treating with Lord Vetinari and stared fixedly ahead.
‘Oh, come now, Commander,’ said Vetinari, smoothly. ‘A man of your station does not have to stand on ceremony like a common patrolman. Please, sit.’
‘If it’s all the same, sir, I’ll stand.’
‘As you wish. How is the family?’ The question completely threw Vimes, so much so that his gaze flitted momentarily from its usual place on the wall behind the Patrician’s head to the face of Vetinari. Asking personal questions was not something you expected from Havelock Vetinari. It was like being asked about your holidays while you were being stabbed. The seconds stretched out before Vimes and his mouth felt oddly dry. He realised that an answer was expected of him.
‘Erm, fine, sir.’
‘Wonderful,’ said Vetinari. ‘Do give my regards to Lady Sybil.’
‘…yes, sir.’ Vimes felt an uncomfortable sensation as he tried to process this new and disarming tack the Patrician was taking. It was common knowledge that no one played mind games quite like Havelock Vetinari, and Vimes hadn’t liked them before, but now he was being asked about his family it felt…odd.
But damn it if the heartless bastard didn’t sound sincere.
Vetinari’s inscrutable gaze continued to linger unwaveringly on Vimes.
‘And young Master Sam?’ asked the Patrician. ‘He must be what, seven by now?’
Vimes stiffened. If Lord Vetinari was trying to get under the Commander’s skin, then asking about his son was a step too far. Vimes was immensely protective over his son. He would have been so about his wife as well, had Lady Sybil not the iron constitution and stiff backhand of the truly robust aristocratic woman, meaning she was more than capable of taking care of herself. If this was one of the Patrician’s little wheedling techniques to gain an advantage over someone then that did not only mean the gloves were off, but they were wrapped in barbed wire and put back on again. For a hot and angry moment Vimes considered telling the Tyrant of Ankh-Morpork to bloody well keep his nose out of his family, but as he glared into the cool eyes of the Patrician he was startled to see no trace of agenda.
Gods, was the man making small talk?
Vimes again realised that he was staring at the Patrician without answering.
‘Eight, sir.’ Vimes resumed looking at the wall above the Patrician’s head.
‘Eight? My goodness!’ exclaimed Vetinari. ‘How time does fly.’
‘What was it you wanted, sir?’ Vimes felt, in that moment, that being sent to the Palace dungeons for a thorough inspection of the facilities would have been a picnic compared to engaging in idle chatter with the Patrician. There was a moment’s silence after Vimes interrupted Vetinari, so he added: ‘Begging your pardon.’
‘Ah, yes.’ Lord Vetinari shifted in his seat ever so slightly and laid his pale hands on the arms of his ornate chair. ‘As you know, the Palace was subject to an intruder this morning.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said Vimes, glad to be back on to official matters.
‘I understand that the miscreant is still at large?’
Vimes let out a long breath. It pained him to admit it, especially to a man whom he felt was always watching him, always watching the Watch.
‘Yes, sir,’ said Vimes, woodenly.
‘Now don’t be like that, Commander,’ said Vetinari, soothingly. ‘If witnesses are to be believed, and I find that people tend to want to tell the truth around me, you gave chase spectacularly.’
Vimes bunched his fist against his side. It still stung that the little sod had given him the slip.
‘We will bring the thief to justice, sir. I will see to it personally.’
‘I have no doubt, Commander,’ said Vetinari, allowing himself a thin smile. ‘I have no doubt at all. But, as I am sure you can appreciate, it does not do for the Palace of the Patrician to be seen as vulnerable.’
‘No, sir.’ Frankly, Vimes couldn’t give a toss about the Palace, and not much of a toss for the Patrician, either. But it had stopped being the Palace the moment the thief had taken…whatever he had taken.
It was now a crime scene.
Vimes’ crime scene.
‘So, my office would greatly appreciate the discretion of the Watch while they deal with this matter.’ Vimes looked at the Patrician again. Was he joking? Vimes’ conversations with Dibbler and Rust on his way to the Palace confirmed what he already knew: news like the Patrician’s Palace being knocked off by some opportunist thief had spread like the wildest of fire. There was no way that it wasn’t being discussed in every corner of the city that very moment.
‘Excellent. Drumknott will see to it that you have what you need.’ As if appearing out of thin air, the Patrician’s assistant was suddenly standing beside him. Vimes gave a little jump; his copper’s senses poised and ready for a fight. He relaxed at the sight of the neat little secretary.
‘This way, Commander,’ said Drumknott, indicating the door. Obediently, Vimes followed. He had taken about half a dozen steps when he froze. He turned to face the Patrician again.
‘Hmmm?’ The Patrician looked up from his desk.
‘What exactly did the thief take?’ Vimes felt remarkably stupid for not asking this question sooner, but the mental chess game that he always seemed to find himself playing with Vetinari had sapped his attention again.
Lord Vetinari smiled, which Vimes always hated. It meant that the cunning bastard was enjoying himself, and that was never good.
‘Does it really matter, Commander?’ said the Patrician, perfectly evenly. ‘The simple fact that a crime has been committed should be good enough for you, surely?’
Vimes turned to fully face the Patrician again, tensing to attention.
‘With all due respect, sir, it does matter, in the eyes of the law.’
Lord Vetinari raised an eyebrow. To a lesser man this spelt almost a certain terminal dip in their future career prospects, but Vimes held fast. The law was the law, and Sam Vimes would have to be long dead – and buried very deeply in a sealed concrete casket – for him not to apply that to everyone, no matter who they were. Both men stared at each other for a moment. Eventually, the solitary eyebrow was lowered.
‘Indeed,’ said the Patrician. ‘As always, Commander, your steadfast upholding of the law to its last letter is most admirable.’
‘Let us just say that something personal has been taken from me, and I am entrusting you to successfully retrieve it.’
Vimes frowned. The Patrician was a famously private man, but how the hell was he supposed to track down a stolen item when he didn’t know what it was? As if Vetinari could read minds – and Vimes wouldn’t be surprised if he could – the Patrician addressed that very thought.
‘Fear not, Commander. I am confident that when you catch this…misguided individual, you will know exactly which of their stolen items belongs to me.’
Wait, items? Vimes’ mind zeroed in on that word like a shark smelling blood in the water.
‘Sir, if you know anything about this thief, then I must insist you inform me this minute.’
There went the eyebrow again. By now, men who fancied themselves as much tougher, more important and generally better than Vimes would have been wetting themselves out of fear, but to Vimes the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork had now stopped being the absolute ruler of the city and was simply a victim of crime that the Watch would do right by.
‘But of course, Commander. And I will happily cooperate with the Watch in this matter. Any pertinent information will, naturally, be made available with swiftness and clarity.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
Again, as if reading Vimes’ mind, the Patrician continued.
‘I merely said “items” because I highly doubt that someone as bold to as encroach upon my home and steal from me is likely to stop at just one burglary.’
‘I do not feel that you will have to wait long before you are back in pursuit of them.’
At that moment, the door to the Oblong Office flew open and Drumknott skidded to a halt, looking flustered.
‘Drumknott? What is the meaning…’ began the Patrician.
‘I’m sorry, my Lord,’ said the wheezing assistant, breathlessly. ‘It’s just…’
‘Yes? Come on, man, spit it out.’
‘There’s been another burglary!’
Vimes’ gaze intensified as he looked at the out of breath clerk, but the Patrician remained as impassive-looking as ever.
‘My dear Drumknott,’ he said, smoothly. ‘You of all people with your most useful love of statistics should know that during an average day in Ankh-Morpork there are countless…’
‘It’s him, my Lord. The same man who struck at the Palace.’
This time both eyebrows went up.
‘Indeed? And where, pray tell, has he breached this time?’
‘The Assassin’s Guild, my Lord.’
In the Oblong Office time seemed to stand still. The only sounds for a moment were the gentle ticking of Lord Vetinari’s antique clock and Drumknott trying to catch his breath.
‘Are you quite sure?’ asked the Patrician, speaking carefully. It took a moment or two for Drumknott to be able to answer, but he nodded as he fought for breath.
‘Word was sent from the desk of Lord Downey himself, my Lord,’ said Drumknott, still red-faced. ‘He has demanded audience.’
‘Has he now?’ said Lord Vetinari, his tone suggesting that he found the concept of anyone demanding anything of him to be mildly amusing.
‘I’m afraid so, my Lord,’ said Drumknott. ‘He has sent word that you are to look into this matter immediately…’ Lord Vetinari could sense there was more to this demand.
‘Or?’ he said, inclining his head slightly.
‘Or, my Lord, the Assassin’s Guild will instead.’
‘I see.’ The Patrician was silent for a moment, but he seemed to brighten when his gaze fell upon Vimes. He looked at him as if he had not been present the whole time. Vimes did not like the way the old tyrant was looking at him, but then again, he never did.
‘Ah, Commander Vimes. Perfect.’
‘Sir?’ Vimes could sense what was coming, and he liked it even less than the way the Patrician was looking at him.
‘I have matters to attend to. Run along to the Assassin’s Guild and parley with Lord Downey before he starts having people inhumed left, right and centre, would you?’
I’m nobody’s errand boy, sonny-Jim! The words rang in Vimes’ head, angry yet unspoken. He knew that Vetinari needed him too much to do anything too harsh to him if he did speak out of turn, but Vimes hadn’t been a copper for as long as he had without knowing how to pick his battles, and with Vetinari you picked them very, very carefully.
In place of the scathing retort that begged to be uttered, Vimes instead snapped to attention.
‘Excellent. Now, don’t let me detain you.’ The Patrician resumed examining papers on his desk, a tried and true method of informing anyone in his presence that their meeting was most definitely over. But something kept Vimes rooted to the spot. Lord Vetinari looked up when he noticed that Vimes had not left his office.
‘Is there something else you require, Commander?’
‘Sir, the Assassin’s Guild is now a crime scene.’
‘So it would seem. And your point on that is?’ Vetinari’s tone was infuriatingly silken.
‘I would have been heading there directly anyway.’
‘Of course you would. Your dedication to duty has always been nothing short of inspiring.’
You slimy git, thought Vimes.
‘Just so we’re clear, sir, I’ll be going as part of my job, and not because you asked me to.’
Good on you! Vimes allowed himself an internal pat on the back.
Vetinari smiled. It was thin and humourless and looked nothing short of deadly.
‘I would expect nothing less, Commander.’
Well alright then, said Vimes’ inner voice.
‘I shall just consider it a personal favour nonetheless.’