sam_storyteller: (Discworld: Watch)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-09 08:25 am
Entry tags:

The Policeman's Ball; PG.

Note: This falls after Night Watch in the books and Either Way in my fanfictional timeline.
Summary: Someone is after Captain Carrot, but it's hard to investigate a crime in the middle of a party.
Warnings: None.

Also available at AO3.


'If there was a policemen's ball, we would be among the first to buy a ticket,' said Mr Pin.
'Specially if it was mounted on a plinth, or a little display stand of some sort,' said Mr Tulip, 'Cos we like beautiful things.'
-- The Truth

It was the nature of the job of a senior Watch officer to be polite, friendly, and plain-spoken. They are much the same type of person, for much the same reasons, as a kindergarten teacher.

Now, the senior Watch officer, the Commander, he could be tough and rude and imposing as a school's headmaster, because he dealt with the upper levels of society and a kind person amongst lords will soon find himself without a job or, in the keener parts of the social stratosphere, without a head. Ordinary Watch officers who walked a beat were allowed a similar leeway, because they dealt with people who would cut your throat for the cash in your pocket. Ordinary officers had to sort out venomous fights between drunken pub-goers and needed the extra edge.

For the other ninety-nine percent of people who did not compose the criminal or noble classes, whose only dealings with the Watch were traffic tickets and perhaps bailing out their teenaged children when they'd been arrested for scrawling graffiti on the city walls, there was the Captain*.

* It hadn't always been that way. Commander Vimes had, by all reports, been just as rude and tough when he was Captain, although, the unkind said, probably less coherent than he was now.

Ordinary people didn't complain to the Commander, because nobs did, and 'we ain't puttin' ourselves as high as all that'. Ordinary people viewed the Commander as a politician, because he so obviously was, albeit a politician with a fine right hook and at least a little good sense. Ordinary people complained to the Captain, in the belief that he was far more able to get things done.

This was quite possibly true, granting that it was Captain Carrot, who knew everyone and was liked by everyone he knew. Carrot was a simple soul, though his superiors suspected him of keen intelligence and occasionally even sarcasm as well. He liked walking around the city, and did it even on his days off. He was likely to smile and assume that it was all a big misunderstanding, where another officer* would throw a punch.

* Sam Vimes, for e.g.

Carrot fought daily the battle of belief that everyone was good-natured at heart, delinquent children were just rascally souls in need of a football, and Mr. Dibbler was an innocent tradesman trying to make his way in the world. It led to a lot of ideas which, coming from anyone else, would have been considered absurd.

Carrot planned community-service jobs for prisoners, and youth-outreach programs for youths who would bite your outreached hand before they'd tell you their name. He organized pancake breakfasts for the elderly and was also very involved in the dwarf community.

And people actually listened to him.

And nobody laughed.

And it all worked out, somehow.

Which was why Commander Vimes, who had encountered Carrot's unique genius too often to be surprised, merely sighed when he saw the printed flyers, and pulled one down to take back to the Watch House with him.

Come Onne Come, Alle!
Join the Watch for,
an aftyrnoon of funn & Games.
Merchants, foode, and mufic.
Sator fquarre 3 o'clock 4rth Grune
Bring your freinds & family!

In the Evening the first ever Policeman's Ball.
Tickets sold, at the Opera House.
For a good caufe!

It was one of the small delights of William de Worde to leave any jobs not meant for publication in his news sheet with the exact spelling and punctuation that he'd received in the proof. The commas were suspiciously Carrot-esque, but 'freinds' confirmed it. Vimes sighed. The worst thing was, he'd probably already approved it without thinking. Carrot had a distressing tendency to slip things past him when he knew his mind was elsewhere, and his mind was almost always elsewhere, since the Commander of the Watch had no limit of available distractions.

Corporal Nobbs was on desk duty when he entered the Watch House, and the little man tossed him about half a salute before he saw the paper clenched in Vimes' left hand.

"Good afternoon, Nobby," Vimes said, leaning on the desk. Nobby leaned away from him warily. "Quiet day?"

"Yes, Mister Vimes."

"Good! Where's Fred?"

"In the canteen I think, sir."

"Aha. On break?"


"And do you happen to know where Captain Carrot is, Nobby?"

Nobby weighed the options. If he lied to Mr. Vimes, he was almost certainly going to get yelled at, whereas if he narked on Carrot, he'd probably just get a suspiciously hearty slap on the back. Self- preservation warred with loyalty to his Captain.

"Arch'ry butts, sir," he said miserably. Loyalty, well-used to losing when it came to Corporal Nobbs, slunk back into its hole.

"I see. Did he say when he'd be back?"

"Pretty soon, I think, sir."

"Excellent. And now for the three-hundred dollar question, Nobby. Did you know about this?"

The slightly grubby sheet of print was thrust under Nobby's nose.

"I seen 'em this morning, sir," Nobby said helpfully. "All over the city."

"Before they were printed, Nobby."

"Er...sort of, sir."

"How exactly did you 'sort of' know about this, Corporal?"

"Well, Carrot said..."


"E said 'wouldn't it be nice if we had a ball for charity', sir, and after I stopped sniggering, sir, I said we ort to make a day of it..."

Vimes read Nobby's eyes all too clearly. A day of refereeing the shooting range at a fair would be a day where you didn't have to patrol in the hot summer sun, and might even see someone get shot, which was always good for a few minutes' entertainment.

"Right. Send Carrot up when he gets in, would you?" Vimes said, and thumped up the stairs to his office.

It wasn't that Vimes was against community outreach, theoretically, but this was Ankh-Morpork. It was not a town where happy street fairs thrived. He liked the city, in the way coppers have, but when it came to actual people Vimes was a misomnithrope; he didn't like anyone, regardless of species or gender.

The Patrician would have Words about this. Are these men going to be paid out of the city budget for attending the 'funn and games'? he'd ask. What, exactly, is the good cause for which these funds are being raised? A Policeman's Ball? My, my. How very entertaining of young Carrot.

Vimes busied himself with the mountainous paperwork on his desk, while he waited for Carrot to arrive. Visions of mob scenes around the ring-toss game (operated, with suspiciously small rings, by Mr. Dibbler) and Detritus in another terrible tuxedo, holding a cup of punch as if it were a thimble, floated in front of his eyes. He himself would probably have to shake hands with people he didn't like and try to make small talk with the Patrician, which was patently impossible.

He heard Carrot coming up the stairs, and the polite knock on his door. Carrot was the picture of innocence when he was told to enter.

"Captain," he said slowly, as Carrot stood to attention, "there's been some very interesting flyers circulating in the city." He held up the printed announcement, and saw just a flicker of anxiety in Carrot's big honest face. "Funn and Games?" he asked.

"Well, sir, I though, it's summer and all, get people out in the fresh air..." Carrot began. "You know, a few merchant stalls, they're always in the Square anyhow. I thought we could have a half-field football match, Officers versus All Comers, Ping volunteered to be captain. And Corporal Visit says he knows how to rig a dunk-tank, he says they used to use them in Omnia all the time and he's sure if we just removed the water-boiling mechanism -- "

"Did I approve this, Carrot?"

"Erm. Yes, sir. Well, sort of, sir."

You could always count on Carrot to be scrupulously honest.

"You know, it's funny, Nobby used that phrase too. Sort of. Could you define 'sort of' for me, Carrot?"

Carrot licked his lips. "Well, sir, I said we ought to do more in the community to present a positive image of the Watch, and you said 'I'd like to see you try and present what we haven't got', and then Billy the Snickler robbed the post office and you took off, sir, before I could finish."

Vimes nodded. "So you organized a street fair."

"Yes, sir. I thought perhaps...well, I don't know why, really, but we could sort of, we could cut some big metal oil drums in half and cook food in them, on a grate over a fire, you know. I thought sausages and ribs and such. Sham Harga's dead set on the idea, says he can charge double since people won't want to look around for cheaper. And of course Mr. Dibbler supports it. He says in this heat he could bottle water and sell it. And there'll be a ball afterwards for anyone who wants to come."

Vimes sighed. "I would have called it a dance, Carrot. At least on the flyers."

"Corporal Nobbs said -- "

"Carrot, what have I told you about listening to Nobby?"

Carrot thought about this. "Erm. Don't, sir."

"Exactly." He smoothed the flyer, thoughtfully. "It's all organized, is it? Corporal Visit building the dunk tank as we speak?"

"Re-drawing the plans, sir."

"And Sham Harga and Dibbler are on board? And you've already talked to the people at the Opera House?"

"They'll let us use it free of charge, if we promise not to let Detritus attend the opera again. I thought we could raise money for the Sunshine Sanctuary."

Which meant that Lady Sybil Vimes already knew about it. Which meant that Commander Sir Samuel Vimes was well and truly up the Ankh without a paddle.

"I've lined up officers to volunteer at the fair, and Reg's willing to supervise the b -- the dance, sir. Lots of people have already bought tickets. Mr. de Worde ran a bit about it in his society column, says the Times'll be there taking pictures and all."

Uniquely, at least for a human being, Vimes knew when he was beat.

"And what will my job be, Carrot?" he asked tiredly.

"Well, sir, I haven't found anyone for the dunk -- er." Carrot saw the look in his Commander's eye, and nodded. "Right, sir. In that case, I suppose you could come visible."


"Yes, sir. People like to see their leaders out and about."

"I'm not a leader, and they see me every day."

"But usually not for long, sir, on account of the running. With all due respect, people ought to know you're more than a metallic blur."

"Visible. Eat one of Harga's sausages, try my hand at the ring-toss, that sort of thing."

"There's the spirit, sir!"

"Yes. I was afraid you'd say that."


In a way, a very specific way which few other people would understand, the street fair was the best entertainment Vimes could remember having in a long time.

It was a hot day, and Sator Square provided very little shade, but people had turned out in droves to attend Captain Carrot's Fair. He'd probably gone door-to-door announcing it. Throat Dibbler, Merchant Venturer, had made good on his idea of selling water. It was Ankh river-water, so there was a good inch of sediment on the bottom of each bottle, but he was doing a brisk business all the same. Water in bottles!

Dibbler was competing, however, with the Brewers, Vinters, and Associated Trades Guild stall, which was selling beer straight from the tap at outrageous prices and giving away free peanuts. Before the day was out, someone was going to break a water bottle over someone else's head, he suspected.

Gargoyles, as interested in street theatre as any other Ankh-Morpork citizen, had temporarily colonized the upper floors of the buildings surrounding the square. Constable Downspout, at Carrot's request, had passed out long ribbons, and it was a rare creature that didn't have at least one colourful decoration wrapped around its ears or dangling from its perpetually-open mouth.

They were eating well, too. Pigeons and seagulls came in droves to eat up the scraps that fell from the fairgoers' hands, and there is nothing a gargoyle likes more than fresh pigeon.

Vimes passed the Pin-The-Badge-On-Detritus game, where they were almost out of pins, and stopped to greet Carrot, who was wearing an enormous apron over his Watch uniform and tending one of Sham Harga's grills. It's good for people to see that we're just like them, Carrot had said. Vimes privately thought that Carrot was like nobody else on the Disc, and a bloody good thing, too, but he kept it to himself.

It was better than a circus. See Dorfl, the ceramic Golem, teaching children fire-safety by setting a fellow Golem on fire. See Ponder Stibbons of Unseen University, selling giant magical bags of cloud-like stuff called 'Spun Sugar' to raise money for new additions to Hex. See Chrysoprase the troll, head of the Breccia crime family, manning a booth for the Guild of Legitimate Businessmen. Next to it, Nobby Nobbs, showing a precocious seven-year-old how to shoot the head off a stuffed mannequin with a crossbow. Even the Assassins had opened a recruiting stall for the Guild school, inviting kiddies to try and guess how many weapons each of the stall's occupants was wearing under their clothing. Get it right, win a prize!

Vimes didn't look too closely at what the prizes were. He suspected he didn't want to know.

There was Ping, saluting as he captaining the Officers' team of the ongoing football match, while Archchancellor Ridcully refereed energetically. Occasionally the Archchancellor shouted indiscriminate encouragement, or turned people who disagreed with him into rabbits, which Vimes supposed was the magical equivalent of a red-card. The Officers were losing on goals but had twice as many fouls as the other team, and half as many rabbits. That's my lads, Vimes thought to himself.

And everywhere he went, people greeted him, or pointed him out to others, or gave him the sort of half-hearted nod that people give policemen while they're trying to recall anything illegal they've done recently.

Visibility. Sure.

He stopped in front of the dunk-tank, which seemed to consist of a giant bathtub full of water with a seat above it, attached by a long wooden arm to a sheet with a target painted in the center. The goal was to hit the target and knock a young Lance-Constable, already soaking and beginning to sunburn, into the bathtub. The line for a go at the Watchman was quite long.

The boy -- Vimes thought his name was Dodgson -- had pinned his Watch badge to his swimsuit. Vimes grinned.

"Have a try, Commander? For you, three throws, free of charge," Constable Fiddyment, manning the paying end of the dunk-tank, offered generously. The rest of the line looked on with interest. "Knock him in and win a free raffle ticket."

A raffle. Carrot had outdone himself.

"Sure you want to offer that? When I was a corporal I could knock a geranium pot off a third story window with a marble. In the dark," Vimes said.

"Then this should be a piece of cake," Fiddyment replied. "Just one little hit, right there in the bulls-eye. One little hit, ladies and gentlemen, and the Watchman gets dunked! We promise not to arrest you," he added. The people in the line laughed nervously.

"All right," Vimes agreed. He saw Sybil standing nearby, holding young Sam, and a spark of inner machismo dared him to do it. He took one of the wooden spheres that was offered, hefted it, and let go with a beautiful over-arm throw that missed the bull's-eye by inches.

The constable silently passed him another one. This was an inch off, on the other side. He saw Dodgson's seat give a little shiver.

"Warm-ups, eh Commander?" Fiddyment asked.

"Wouldn't want to dunk him three times in one go," Vimes said. He tossed the third one in his hand, twice, and nailed the target in the direct center. There was a frozen moment, a gurgling 'noo!' and Dodgson vanished from view.

"Well done, Commander!" Dodgson called, leaping up out of the chilly water. It poured off his hair and down his face, splashing onto the ground. "G'day, yer ladyship!"

"Good day, Mr. Dodgson," Sybil called back. "That wasn't very nice, Sam," she added, with a little touch of pride.

"A good throw, Mr. Vimes," Fiddyment was saying. "Line'll be twice as long now."

"Did Dodgson volunteer for that?" Vimes asked, aghast. That water looked painful.

"Yessir. Said it'd be better than working the shooting arcade with Corporal Nobbs, sir."

"You give him my raffle ticket, he could use it," Vimes muttered, and returned Dodgson's salute before joining Sybil near a shoe-merchant's stall.

"You see, I told you this would be fun," she said. "I've been over at the Opera House. It should be really terribly entertaining tonight. You know Otto Chriek?"

"The nutter vampire?"

"The iconographer," she corrected. "He says the grand ballroom has exceptional lighting for his art. He thinks candle-light makes everything look mysterious."

"Anything stronger makes him dissolve," Vimes said dismissively. "How's the adoption going?"

Sybil had gotten together with a few of her society friends, and they were taking turns manning a booth full of rescued swamp dragons, trying to adopt them out. He'd heard at least one bang from their general direction.

"We've only had two explosions so far," Sybil said. "No adoptions yet, but we're quite hopeful. It's so hard to find good homes for them."

"It's hard to find homes that'll stand up against them," Vimes added.

"The benefit tonight should be a great help to the Sanctuary, though. Here's your contribution, by the way," she added, pinning a hand-made badge to a strap on his armour. It said 'Light My Fire! Adopt A Dragon Today'. Vimes, well-used to the Sunshine Sanctuary's propaganda, didn't give it a second thought. Young Sam already had one holding his nappy on.

"It's been quite an afternoon, but I think we ought to go soon," Sybil continued, taking his arm. "I've got to dress for tonight, and Wilikins has been polishing your new dress armour -- " She saw his expression, and shook her head. "This is the Policeman's Ball and you are the Commander of the Watch."

"Yes, that's why -- " He stopped, suddenly, and looked up. All of the gargoyles' heads were turning to the left, towards Sham Harga's food court.

"What're they watching?" he asked.

"The gargoyles?" Sybil followed his gaze. "Probably just a flock of pigeons, Sam -- "

But he was already running, pushing his way through the crowd towards the barbecue drums. He could see Dorfl, towering over everyone, arriving from the other direction.

Flames were roaring up around the cooks, engulfing and melting the barbecues with the intensity of their heat. He saw Dorfl and two other golems stamp their way through, but you couldn't carry a person through those flames, it'd kill them --

He saw his gap and dove for it, sliding on his back under one of the drums that hadn't yet collapsed. Through the smoke, Carrot was carrying Sham Harga on his shoulder.

"THIS WAY!" Vimes yelled, and Carrot nodded calmly. They shoved the unconscious cook through the gap, wincing as the heat blasted them, and then Carrot waved him forward. Dorfl, nearby, had already beaten one of the fires to death with his big ceramic fists.

This is why we like diversity in the Watch, Vimes thought. Next man says I shouldn't employ Golems, I'm going to set him on fire.

Hands reached out to pull him through, and he saw someone splashing water over Harga's head. He staggered to his feet, smelled burning leather, and noticed that his britches had seared all the way up his left leg. He flexed it gingerly. Nothing out of order with the leg, apparently...

Sybil appeared out of the mass of people, with a wailing Sam in her arms and Lord Vetinari on her heels. Vimes tried to smile reassuringly. Carrot, dusting ash off his uniform and beating out a small grass fire with the remains of the apron, joined him.

"Keep smiling, sir," Carrot said quietly. "That wasn't an accidental fire."

"Somehow I didn't think so," Vimes answered, out of the corner of his mouth. He felt pieces of his britches beginning to crumble away.

"Are you all right, Sam?" Sybil asked, taking her own inventory of his injuries. She produced a volumnous handkerchief and wiped soot away from his eyes. "That was jolly brave of you."

"I'm fine, I think. Carrot?"

"Tip-top, sir. Wouldn't mind a cool drink."

"Me either," Vimes agreed. "Where's Dibbler?"

"I took the liberty," the Patrician said, producing two bottles of cloudy water. "Mr. Dibbler is, as always, man on the spot when one needs to make a hurried purchase," he continued. Carrot uncorked the bottles and passed one to Vimes, who dumped it over his head.

"Very dignified, your Grace," the Patrician murmured.

"I just pulled a man from a grill fire, I'm not up to dignity right now," Vimes retorted. "Anyone else in there, Dorfl?"

Dorfl, clicking and pinging as he cooled, appeared through the smoke. "No, Sir," he rumbled. "We Have Contained The Fire. Just Another Example Of The Dangers Of An Open Flame," he said, to several small children who were staring up in awe.

"Nothing more to see, ladies and gentlemen," Vimes announced, shaking water onto Dorfl, where it danced and steamed. "Move along. Go on."

"Music at the stage in half an hour!" Carrot shouted after the crowd, which was already dispersing.

"I think it's time we went home," Vimes said to Sybil. "Carrot, could you spare the time to come along?"


Carrot sat at the writing table in the grand bedroom of the house on Scoone Avenue, looking politely out at the grounds while Vimes changed out of his disentegrating britches.

"The fire you were cooking on," Vimes said, peering into the closet where his dress uniform hung. "It was charcoal. It shouldn't have flared up like that."

"And not all at once, sir. Someone put something on the coals right before it went up. Probably lamp oil. Maybe paint thinner."

"And you didn't see who did it. Of course."

"No sir. I was taking orders from Mr. Spindler."

Vimes took down the dress trousers. They weren't comfortable, but they were a lot better than the tights he'd had to wear in the past. He pulled them on, cinching his belt over them.

"And Mr. Spindler is not, by and large, a criminal mastermind?"

"No sir. He makes forks, sir."

Vimes turned to him. "Just forks?"

"He's a Guild specialist. People as far away as Muntab buy his forks. Well. They would, if they used forks in Muntab..."

Vimes scratched his head, then pulled off his breastplate, which had soot-marks on it. Underneath, his chainmail had fused together in places. He was somewhat surprised he hadn't cooked himself.

"Who'd want to ruin the fair?" Carrot asked, his forehead wrinkled. He sounded as though someone had just kicked his new kitten. "All we were doing was having a bit of a cook-out and some games!"

"Maybe someone who hates other people enjoying themselves," Vimes said. He looked at the cotton shirt, with scorch marks in it from the chain mail, and tossed it onto the bed. Another shirt for dusters; if they really were saving all of them, there ought to be a room in the mansion full from floor to ceiling with rags by now. "Any rabidly aggressive vegetarians around the place? Meat Is Dead, sort of thing?"

"Nobody who'd set fire on us."

"All right, here we are," Sybil sang out, as she brought a tin of foul-smelling stuff into the room. "Carrot, I know you've got a burn on your arm there, let's see to it."

"It isn't anything, Lady Sybil," Carrot said, embarrassed. Sybil shook her head and began to apply a liberal amount of the poultice, which was orange, with disturbing purple flecks. Vimes handed her his scorched shirt, and she tore an even strip off of it, wrapping it around Carrot's massive arm.

"Now you, Sam," she said. He struggled into a new shirt.

"Haven't got any," he replied. "No, Sybil, honestly."

"I want a look at that leg, Sam Vimes."

He sighed, and hitched the leg of his trousers. There was an angry red mark, two inches long, just below his knee.

"I thought so. Sit," she commanded. He exchanged a hopeless look with Carrot, and put in his cuff links while she slathered the poultice on his leg and bandaged it. It gave the muscle a sort of cramping chill.

"Well, you won't look perfect for the ball, but you'll definetely look heroic," she said, carrying the remains of her ministrations to Wilikins, who had appeared silently in the doorway. "Now, I must get ready. Sam, when you're finished..."

"Yes dear."

"Thank you, Lady Sybil," Carrot said, as they left the bedroom. He caught Vimes' eye again, and Vimes shrugged.

"Anyone been after you, Carrot?" Vimes asked, leading the way down the stairs and out, into the sprawling grounds of the estate. "Sham Harga's a terrible cook, but I can't think anyone would want to kill him over it."

"Why would they want me dead, sir?" Carrot asked. Vimes looked at him narrowly.

"Well, the Assassins aren't taking contracts on me anymore. You're next in line, Captain. It's not their style, fire, but it wouldn't be against," he spat, "the rules."

"But...I haven't done anything wrong, sir," Carrot continued.

"Well, neither had I, and look where it got me. Wrong is a matter of opinion, Carrot. How much're you worth, right now?"

"Worth, sir?"

"To the Assassins, Carrot."

"Couldn't say, Mister Vimes."

Vimes looked at him in surprise. "You don't know? And you're walking around the city unprotected?"

"Oh no, sir. I have my sword and truncheon."

Naive as it was, Carrot had a point. Nobody wanted to kill Captain Carrot. You'd have to be really depraved to hire someone to do it, and you'd have to be pretty hard-up to take the contract. Vimes got quite irritable when people tried to kill his officers. And Carrot was smart enough, underneath his innocent exterior, to notice an assassination attempt before it happened.

"Could be a freak coincidence. Some lunatic with nothing better to do than start fires. If that's so, I want him caught, and soon. If someone puts a match to Ankh-Morpork in the summertime, we'll all be looking for our hair by morning."

"I'll make inquiries, sir."

"Maybe you'd better stay away from the Opera House tonight," Vimes said thoughtfully, as they reached the gate. Carrot shook his head.

"I want to be there, sir. I promised Lady Sybil. And Angua, too. She has a new dress and everything," he added.

"All right. But I want officers on the door and a weapons check. Get Downspout and a couple of others up on the roof. Andre knows the layout there, call him in and get him into a caterer's outfit."

"Yes, sir," Carrot said, saluting and turning to go.

"Oh, and Carrot?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Mind you wash up a bit," Vimes said with a smile. "Or you'll get soot on Angua's dress."

Carrot gave him a tired grin and nodded as he left.


Carrot began giving orders as soon as he arrived back at Pseudopolis Yard. He was still giving them when a flurry of messenger pigeons went out to the other Watch Houses and various officers on the street; he was discussing the orders with Colon when some of the pigeons returned, and he was sending out more pigeons when Andre's message was clacksed in, saying he was already at the Opera House. By then, Downspout had elbowed out some of the other gargoyles on the front facade of the building, and there were three Watchmen on the roof, sharing a quiet smoke while they waited for something interesting to happen.

It was typical police work. You did a thousand useless things, and at the end, you'd learned maybe two facts you didn't know before. In this case, the two facts were these:

1. Nobody knew anything; and
2. Angua was very angry.

She'd been one of the unlucky officers who'd drawn patrol duty during the fair, and had been on the other side of the city when the fire occurred. She was back at the Yard quite soon afterward, and the shouting was something you could sell tickets to. Angua had learned a lot about coppering from Carrot, but she'd also learned a lot from Vimes, and one of the things she'd picked up from the Commander was just how effective shouting can be. Even if nothing new got accomplished, it was a wonderful purge.

Carrot, in his room upstairs, took down what amounted to his one fancy-dress outfit; clean, shiny boots, brand new trousers, and the specially-made fancy-weave chain-mail shirt that Angua had given him for his birthday. His armour never needed shining to be dress armour. Angua stood nearby and ranted, but she did rant while she was laying out her dress for the evening.

Carrot closed his eyes while she changed into the dress. Angua sighed. He wasn't listening anyhow. He was still preoccupied with why anyone would want to ruin the fair. The fact that he'd almost been set on fire was a minor point.

"Don't you look nice," he said, with true appreciation, while she put her hair up. She smiled.

"We make a nice couple," said Angua, taking his hand and turning him so that they could see themselves in the mirror. "I'll tell you what, Carrot. If you stop worrying about the fire, I'll stop yelling about it."

"All right," he said, reluctantly. "But I think -- "

"I'll start yelling again."

Carrot fell silent, and turned back to the mirror.

"We do look well together, don't we?" he said quietly.


"I look an idiot."

Sybil sighed, and tugged on the shoulders of her husband's shirt so that it hung straight. "You look nothing of the sort."

"Only idiots wear gold armour."

"Idiots and my husband."

He glanced at her reflection in the mirror. "Are you taking the piss, Sybil?"

"Maybe a little." She smiled and straightened his belt, too. He immediately shifted his weight so that it hung crooked again. She gave up and handed him his sword.

"You look fine, anyhow," he grumbled, as they walked through the front hall to the carriage below. "As usual."

"Thank you, dear," she said, and kissed him on the cheek. He looked irritable. "It's for a good cause, Sam. Remember that."

"Cheeky little dragons. Yes, indeed," he replied, banging on the roof of the carriage. It rattled away towards the Opera House.


Vimes was never quite sure how Carrot arranged for the Policeman's Ball to be the social do of the season, but apparently he had even better connections than the Duke of Ankh. The list of nobs in attendance would have made any host proud.

Carrot, who would be in the thick of the crowd if he wasn't also head and shoulders above the crowd, waved as he spotted them, and pushed his way through.

"Watchmen on every corner of the building, gargoyles on the outside, and Andre says he's put plainclothes men in every hidden place everywhere. Angua won't let me talk about it," Carrot added.

"Good for Angua. Go enjoy yourself, Carrot. I have inquiries to make," Vimes said. Sybil had already seen an acquaintance, and was moving through the crowd to greet her. Vimes found the fruit juice easily enough, and didn't have much difficulty locating the head of the Assassins' Guild, either. There was usually a respectful distance between him and anyone he wasn't actually speaking to.

"Ah, Commander. How are you this evening? I must say, your Captain's done an excellent job," Downey said politely, when Vimes approached. "He was in charge of the ball, wasn't he?"

Vimes nodded. "It's about Carrot I'd like to talk to you, Downey," he said quietly.

"Shop talk?"

"You could call it that. How much is he worth?"

Downey regarded him coolly. "Surely, if you wanted him killed, Commander -- "

"I don't want him killed. I think someone else does. I want to know how much he's worth."

"I can assure you, Sir Samuel, we have no outside contracts on Mr. Ironfoundersson at the present time. The Guild has set his price at five hundred thousand dollars, and there have been petitions to put it into abeyance, which are being mediated."


Downey grinned at him. "Because he's Captain Carrot," he said.


"Some members of the Guild council have reason to be grateful to the Watch -- both yourself and the Captain. Mr. Agara, I understand, owes his son's life to Captain Ironfoundersson's quick thinking. Of course, if you or the Captain wish to purchase some insurance against those malcontents outside of the Guild, we provide those services as well."

Vimes gave the Assassin a sweeping, disgusted glance. "Things will have come to a pretty pass, Downey, when Carrot and I can't defend ourselves without Guild help."

"Officers against all comers, eh?" Downey asked with false joviality. "Ah, I see Lord Vetinari has arrived. Excuse me, Commander."

"You're damn right," Vimes said under his breath. All comers and then some, he thought. He knew better than to take Downey's assurances about Carrot at face value. He suspected, in part, that the bids for putting Carrot in abeyance on the Guild's books had something to do with the rage that he, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, would exercise on the Guild if his Captain were killed.

Like his wife and child, like Angua and Fred and Detritus and yes, if it came to that, like Nobby, Carrot was family*. Family was important to a man raised in Cockbill street. Family was important to a copper.

* Although, if you thought of those people as his family, Nobby was closer to the unknown moggy that occasionally robbed the trash bins than anything else. Vimes didn't want to think about what Detritus was.

He watched Carrot walk easily through mass of people; they simply moved out of the way for him, without noticing it themselves. Who'd want to kill him?

There's always a malcontent.

Everyone knew, though no-one would say, that Carrot was the rightful king of the city. And even Vimes would admit that Carrot might have made a good king. Not that a good king was anything anyone needed, any more than they needed a bad one.

But even if Carrot had been a good king, there would always be someone waiting in the wings to overthrow him. If it wasn't a local peasant, it was the King's Secretary or Grand Vizier or Evil Uncle or some such rot.

He chased that thought, but it faded; that was how these things worked. So he carefully ignored it, and drank his fruit juice (he was so tired of fruit juice) and watched the shadows, until Sybil worked her way back to him.

"Dear, you're being antisocial," she said gently. "They're about to start the dancing."

He moaned. "Sybil, don't make me dance."

"One dance, Sam. At least you don't have to do the whole thing backwards."

"No, I just have to know what to do in the first place." He set the cup down, sighed, and offered her his arm. "Which way?"

"Over by the orchestra," she said firmly.

About halfway there, he noticed Carrot again, speaking to the leader of a dozen-odd musicians in tuxedos and black dresses, in one corner of the room. Angua stood nearby.

Vimes' eyebrows shot up in surprise. He was used to seeing his female officers -- and there were a few, other than Angua and Cheri -- in the normal uniform of the Watch*, hard-wearing brown leather knee-britches and lots of chain mail. He'd very nearly forgotten they were female at all.

* Which in Cheri's case meant high-heeled steel-toed boots, true.

Nobody, seeing Angua in that dress, could miss the fact that she was a woman. And, to judge by the sidelong looks that some of the other lords were giving her, nobody had.

"Don't stare, dear, it's impolite," Sybil said, and he thanked his stars that she wasn't a jealous woman. She sounded amused. "The Watch does clean up rather nice, when they put their mind to it," she added. He, wisely, kept silent.

"Commander!" Carrot called, as they reached the musicians' stage. "Glad you're here, sir. You've got to start the dancing."

"I do?" Vimes asked. "Hallo, Angua, you look nice."

"Thank you sir. Good evening, Lady Sybil."

"Yes, you're the Commander of Police," Carrot continued.

"Good evening, Angua," Sybil said. "Carrot behaving himself?"

"What's that got to do with anything?" Vimes demanded.

"Oh, yes, he's enjoying all of it," Angua replied.

"It's your ball, sir," said Carrot.

Angua and Sybil both looked at Vimes, who was turning quite a pleasant shade of red.

"I still don't see -- "

"You've got to make a show, Sam," Sybil said patiently. "You should be used to this by now."

"Used to embarrassing myself in public?"

"That too, possibly."

Angua coughed, again. Vimes sighed and made a gesture of surrender. The musicians, who'd been watching the little drama with interest, struck the opening chord.

He'd never really learned to dance properly. Sybil and Angua had taken him aside one day, shortly after he'd been promoted to Duke, and tried to show him. They said that Sir Samuel might be able to get away with scowling from a corner instead of dancing, but the Duke of Ankh had a position to maintain and anyhow had to be polite to the wives of foreign ambassadors who might want to dance with the closest thing Ankh-Morpork had to royalty. If anyone but Sybil had said that, he'd have cold-cocked them.

Their efforts had been, if not successful, then somewhat helpful. He could get around the floor without killing anyone, and he could make polite conversation while doing it, if he remembered to keep counting in his head. More than that was asking too much.

And here he was, like the idiot that he appeared to be in his dress uniform, the centre of attention (because nobody would dance until the Duke had danced, of course, what had he expected?).

"It reminds me of the trip home from Uberwald," Sybil said, as he concentrated on counting.

"Oh yes?"

"Yes -- do you remember? Just before we reached the plains, there was the coaching inn, and the man playing the harmonium, and you gave him a dollar."

"Oh...yes," he said, half his mind on the conversation, the other half on his feet. He did remember that; it was the only time he could recall that he had danced spontaneously. But it was a nice night, and they were still far away from the troubles of the city, and he was going to be a father... "I do remember that."

The nanny should be checking in on young Sam just about now... "Maybe when Sam's old enough, we ought to travel again."

Carrot had begun to dance with Angua, and others were slowly joining in... "Yes, I think so. How old enough is that, do you suppose?"

There was Vetinari, the lucky sod, had a game leg as an excuse not to do this... "Oh, I don't know. Once he's on solids, I should think."

He'd gotten the bad leg from an attack by a Guild leader... "We could go to Klatch. All the food's runny there anyhow."

Nine times out of ten, it was the organisation that put forth the malcontents... "Now Sam, you know you don't mean that."

Nine times out of ten, one of your own men was the one making trouble... "No, dear. Of course not."

It was instinct. Pure and simple. If history wasn't so fond of split- second timing, he would have looked like he was having some sort of fit.

In one fluid movement, he thrust Sybil into the crowd and turned and, because his body was already moving that way, kicked out in front of Carrot. His boot missed Angua's shoulder by inches, and then only because the dress trousers were constricting him*.

* A complaint he'd often made to Sybil, but now he had valid reasoning behind it.

There was a thud, and a tooth-jarring impact that knocked him off his feet.

"DOWN, you two!" he shouted, scrambling up. There was a knife-hilt sticking out of his boot. It would have hit Carrot squarely in the neck. His ankle felt as though it could possibly be broken. No time for that.

He pulled the knife out, praying that there wouldn't be any blood, as he turned in the direction the knife had come from. The draperies on the stairs were swinging. Several Watchmen were already running --

-- in the wrong direction.

"NOT US, YOU IDIOTS!" Vimes shouted. "THAT WAY!"

The Watchmen skidded to a stop, as much from the force of the shout as from the orders he gave.

"Go!" Carrot shouted, from the floor. They unfroze. So did Carrot. He was up and running towards the stairs before Vimes had even managed to get his mind around the fact that he had just caught a knife in his boot and apparently still had all his toes. Angua had, more sensibly, faded into the shadows. He saw a flash of golden fur from a dark corner.

He turned just enough to see that Sybil was all right -- yes, there was Downey on one side and Vetinari on the other, helping her up, both men reaching for the concealed weapons that they of course did not carry.

"Get her out of here," he growled, and ran in the opposite direction from the others. There were two stairways in the grand ballroom of the opera house, and if a dozen Watchmen were racing up one, it made sense to circle around and run down the other.

No wonder no-one had seen who put the lamp oil on the flame, no wonder the Watch hadn't caught anyone sneaking into the ballroom's balconies with a knife.

The fire-starter was a Watchman.

He snarled to himself under his breath. Who'd want Carrot dead? A sergeant bucking for his position? There was only one Captain of the Watch, and only one Commander. And since Vimes was notoriously hard to kill...

Ankle definitely hurting. Feeling a bit dizzy --

And there it was. Raging up from the dark recesses, drowning out the voices of logic. When you need'll come when you call.

Cop-killers were a despicable breed of criminal, but there were a few worse, and one of them was the crooked cop.

He reached the top of the stairs and turned without thinking. If he didn't do this right, right now, he'd never get another try. Watchmen everywhere, one more uniform, so many sergeants and corporals and lance-corporals jockeying for rank behind the Captain.

And now the little roulette wheel was spinning in his head, asking the horrible question no copper ever wanted to ask himself. If one of your men was a killer, who would it be? Cut out the stupid, the lazy, the incompetent, the unambitious, and even in the Watch there was still a fair-sized population of keen, smart youngsters who thought the world owed them rank.

Vimes slowly checked off the sergeants in his head, as he ran through the shadows towards the stairwell that led to the flyspace above the Opera House ballroom, where the chandelier and decorations were hung. Angua, Detritus, Fred, Stronginthearm, no, no, no, no. Quirke, disqualified for stupidity. Couldn't be a troll sergeant, they were too noticeable. Who did that leave? The ones he didn't know as well, and behind them, a mass of corporals...

He saw a flash of metal and swung himself flat against a wall. Another knife flew out of the darkness.

By the gods, whoever they were, they were a keen hand with a knife. Did any of his sergeants have Assassins' training? He doubted it. But he'd made sure most of them were good fighters, hadn't he?

Downey's assurances echoed back, as the beast roared in his subconscious.

No outside contracts.

He was going to murder Downey with his bare hands. Right after he threw this firebug off the rigging.

He was the only one following the trail, now, and he could see that it was, indeed, a human, in a Watch uniform; he was picking his way out on the catwalks, cautiously, because one slip meant a forty- foot plunge to the ballroom below, into the crowd of upturned faces watching them. Vimes, with a beast unhindered by a fear of death, did not pick carefully. He ran.

"Now, you son of a -- " Vimes began, as he leapt and pulled the Watchman off his feet. They landed on a metal platform near the chandelier, and for a minute the air was knocked out of him. He blocked one attempt to disembowel him, kicked, and ducked as the man tried to give him a shave, Assassin-style, across the throat.

He saw Carrot, moving as gracefully as a dancer, walking across the catwalks. Then the big policeman's hands descended, and the attacker was pulled off of him, and then Vimes rolled and found himself leaning over the edge of the platform, and just about then his body decided it'd had enough, and he passed out, briefly.


The patrons of the Ball thought it was quite a good show. They hadn't expected amateur theatricals from the Watch, but that trick with the knife in the Commander's shoe was bloody well done, almost looked as if someone had really thrown a knife at the Captain. Carrot wasn't about to dissuade them from the notion that it was all a planned entertainment; he gave orders, as he was carrying the unconscious Watchman down and helping an embarrassed Vimes back across the catwalks, for the other officers to act normally. Normally for Watchmen, anyhow.

Carrot was, himself, quite impressed by the shoe trick, as Vimes sat in a dim, moldy-smelling back room of the Opera House and eased the boot off his foot. Angua, nearby, was readjusting her dress and trying to recall where she'd left her shoes.

"Never saw anything like that, sir," Carrot said excitedly. "It was like kung-faux*!"

* A little-known form of martial arts where the combatants dress in fake fur and wigs. It never caught on, really.

"It was bloody stupid is what it was," Vimes said. "Bloody stupid and bloody good luck, that's all." He examined his foot, gingerly. The blade had gone in just above the boot's sole, and there was a neat, shallow slice on the ball of his foot, which had already stopped bleeding. He'd thought it must have hit his ankle, but apparently that was just the force of shoe-meets-knife when both were traveling at relatively high speeds. He'd limp for a few days. He limped now, as he crossed to the Watchman bound up in the corner.

It was a Sergeant named Bealle, a veteran who'd said he'd come out from Sto Helit to join the Watch in the big city. Bealle had been a corporal under Quirke, until he made rank. That explained at least part of it.

Vimes tried slapping him awake, but he was out cold. Instead, he turned his attention to the doorway, as Sybil entered the room. She was followed by Vetinari and Downey.

Downey was fast. Vimes was faster, and angrier. He had him pinned to the wall, one hand on his throat and the other on a knife that was perilously close to making Downey sing soprano, before anyone could react.

"No outside contracts," Vimes grated, as Carrot hovered behind him. Downey froze. When you had a blade that close to a man's vitals, he tended to move carefully, if at all. "You bloody commissioned it yourself, didn't you?"

Downey gurgled. Sybil put a hand on her husband's arm.

"You wouldn't like the rest of the Watch to see this," she said quietly. He glanced at her, and dropped Downey. The Assassin slid limply down the wall, gasping for breath.

"Now, what's going on?" Sybil asked. Vetinari, very casually, swung his walking stick out sharply, to prevent Downey from lunging forward.

"He hired a Watchman to kill Carrot," Vimes snarled. "Hired and trained him, didn't you?"

Vetinari looked slightly more carnivorous than usual. "I believe you've reversed the order, Sir Samuel," he said, watching Downey intently. Vimes turned to look at Bealle.

"An Assassin?" he roared. "A Guild spy in my Watch?"

Vetinari examined the brass head of his stick. "Well, Downey?" he asked, as if the Master of Assassins was a child getting caught at a game of Naughty Fruit Throwing. Downey gurgled again, rubbing his throat. The tip of Vetinari's walking stick rested against his chest.

"It was the only way we could put the abeyance through into Guild law," Downey began hoarsely. "I'm doing you a favor, Commander."

"I'll do you a favor -- " Vimes began, but this time Carrot and Angua were ready and caught his arms, stopping him.

"What's all this, then?" Carrot asked.

"What abeyance?" added Angua.

"Nobody'd ever wanted us to even try!" Downey protested. "Nobody wants the Captain dead."

"Let me see if I can sum up events, shall I?" the Patrician said. "Nobody wants our good Captain dead. I certainly don't. But several dozen attempts have been made on his Commander's life, yes? The Duke does so enjoy his games with the Guild."

"I don't enjoy -- " Vimes protested, weakly.

"Please, Sir Samuel, do not interrupt. Perhaps...yes. An arrest is made. A troubled youth, to be sure. The son of a lord, or..." Vetinari gave Vimes a toothy little smile, "You arrested the Duke of Eorle's nephew, visiting from Quirm, did you not?"

"Assault on a Watch Officer," Vimes growled.

"Yes, and if I recall, several Seamstresses as well. Rosemary Palm was most put out that you got there first. She seems to think that Watch justice is somewhat lacking in...flair. At any rate, while the native population of Ankh-Morpork holds you in quite high esteem, Captain, the sentiment does not hold true for spoilt young men from Quirm. I seem to recall a scene between the Duke of Eorle and several Guild members when he was informed that the Guild would not take contracts on the Commander. I imagine his sentiment was to the effect that someone ought to be assassinated. He didn't seem particular about whom."

"So we suggested that Captain Carrot be put in abeyance," Downey said, less hoarsely now. "But it's a Council decision, you know. I can't just say 'so shall it be done'. There are rules that have to be followed. At least one attempt has to be made, first. With Sir Samuel, this was not a problem, but -- "

"Are you telling me that you took Eorle's offer on Carrot because I wasn't available? Sorry, the Commander's out, call on the Captain?" Vimes demanded.

"It was the only way," Downey answered. "I said we oughtn't to give the contract to Bealle, the only reason he's even in the Watch is that he couldn't make a living as an Assassin, and nobody but Bealle thought that if the Captain died he'd be next promoted. It was out of my hands!"

Angua had begun to growl, low, in the back of the throat. It was a sound that many of the criminal underclass were quite familiar with, albeit for brief periods of time. For many of them it was the herald of unconsciousness.

"Unsporting," Sybil murmured, in the tone of voice that the upper class used, which made it sound as though being a bad sport was second only to being a genocide.

"That's what I said!" Downey answered. "I said Bealle was unbalanced, he didn't even wear black -- "

"Yes, a breach of Guild law, how sad for you," Vetinari said sharply. "In the meantime, Downey, I would suggest that the attempt having been made and thwarted, there will be no further objection to the removal of the Captain from active...bidding? And Mr. Bealle will be removed from the Guild's active lists and sent quite far away? Or shall I pay a visit to the Guild council to explain the situation? Say, Monday, at eight? I can be there quite early," he added, with a look of predatory benevolence.

"That will not be necessary," Downey said firmly. "I think, between His Grace's most emphatic protest and your lordship's interest in the case, I can convince the council to -- "

"Just like that?" said Vimes, abruptly. "All sorted out then, is it? Nobody's going to complain about the fact that Carrot almost got killed? All because of some legal wrangle in the rulebooks of a guild that murders people for a living?" He turned to Carrot. "I think my lad here's got a right to a little more than that, don't you?"

Carrot looked dubious. "Well, it's not as though they can really make amends, sir," he said. "I mean, Lord Downey's already said he's sorry, sort of. I suppose they could buy you a new set of armour, and maybe give some money to Dorfl's volunteer firefighters. There's the water that the Patrician bought for us. And Sham Harga, we owe him for a new grill," he added brightly.

Vimes covered his eyes with his hand, exasperated. Angua gave him a sympathetic pat on his shoulder.

"It's just his way, sir," she said.

"Yes, Angua, I know," he answered. "All right," he added, turning to Downey. "You heard Carrot."

"Of course," Downey said, with the smoothness of a man who's been beaten but may still get out alive. He drew an expensive-looking pocket-book out of his coat, and poised a pen over a blank cheque. "How much, Captain?"

Carrot pursed his lips. "Was it your good breastplate, sir?"

"No, Carrot."

"Right then. Ten and fifteen for repairs and making good; three to the Patrician for the water. Where do you buy your shirts, sir?"

Vimes, thoroughly angry but also beginning to understand where Carrot was going, looked at Sybil. She insisted on buying his uniform clothes for him; if he bought his own, she had the laundry girl lose them, and replaced them with ones she'd bought anyway.

"Marks & Stronginthearm," she said. "Low-collar, smooth spin."

"Good quality. Twenty dollars about right? Fifty for the trousers?"

"I'd say so, yes," Sybil smiled.

"Fifty dollars?" Vimes asked. "I pay fifty dollars for my trousers?"

"They're very durable, Sam."

"Good lord."

"Plus the grill and a donation, new boots, I'd say...two hundred and fifty-eight dollars and twenty pence ought to do it," Carrot said. "Made out to Mister Vimes, of course."

Downey scowled. Vimes grinned, suddenly.

He was going to have the cancelled cheque framed and hung in his office.


The event was definitely a hit. There were no end of people who wanted to tell him how much they'd enjoyed it. Vimes could have lived with a few less people enjoying it, truth be told. But he tried to smile and say 'thank you', and blamed the whole thing on Carrot if anyone asked.

"Do you think we could escape?" he asked Sybil, as another Leader of Industry or Lord His Honor The or someone wandered off.

"Your foot?" she asked, sympathetically. The pain had died to a dull twinge, but for once in his life he seized the opportunity.

"Yes. Terrible aches," he said. "I'll limp for a month."

"You're not a very good liar, Sam," she said, but she smiled. "I'll go have a word with Carrot."

He stood in the shadows, where he liked to be, and watched the dancing. Angua sidled up, quietly.

"I see you found your shoes, Sergeant," he said.

"Yes, sir."

"Enjoy yourself?"

"Mostly, sir," Angua answered, because she was a truthful woman. "Be glad to get back in uniform."

"That's two of us, then."

"Have a good evening, sir," she said, and hugged him briefly. He blinked. "That's for caring about Carrot," she added, and vanished into the crowd.

"All right, I've settled things," Sybil said, returning. "Shall we go, Sam?"

He smiled, and offered her his arm, and even remembered to limp as they walked towards the carriage.

"I think the Policeman's Ball has been quite a success, don't you?" he asked.


[identity profile] 2005-10-04 11:20 pm (UTC)(link)
The watch definitely has balls.

[identity profile] 2008-01-22 07:28 pm (UTC)(link)
marks and stronginthearm's? classy.

and unrelated..

are you planning to watch 'ashes to ashes' when it airs? Gene Hunt's still there, even if Sam's not.

[identity profile] 2008-01-23 08:13 pm (UTC)(link)
i was hoping you'd know about it.

follow up to life on mars. set in '81, gene and the other two in the office go to london.

It starts on BBC in february but i presume you'll be downloading or omething similar as you aren't in england anymore, are you??

[identity profile] 2008-01-24 03:40 pm (UTC)(link)

I dunno, I'd miss Sam. Still, I'll download an episode or two when it comes on :)
sailorlibra: (happy me)

[personal profile] sailorlibra 2011-08-13 05:20 pm (UTC)(link)
This is a really delightful story.

[personal profile] chironsgirl 2011-11-23 12:56 pm (UTC)(link)
A metallic blur.....a shouting metallic blur.