Jingo Page 19


'What, just now?'

' 's all Klatchian to me, sir. Anyway, Wazir's gone off with his nose in a sling.'

'Wazir comes from Smale, you see,' said Carrot. 'And Mr Goriff comes from Elharib, and the two countries only stopped fighting ten years ago. Religious differences.'

'Run out of weapons?' said Vimes. 'Ran out of rocks, sir. They ran out of weapons last century.' Vimes shook his head. 'That always chews me up,' he said. 'People killing one another just because their gods have squabbled–'

'Oh, they've got the same god, sir. Apparently it's over a word in their holy book, sir. The Elharibians say it translates as “god” and the Smalies say it's ''man“.'

'How can you mix them up?'

'Well, there's only one tiny dot difference in the script, you see. And some people reckon it's only a bit of fly dirt m any case.'

'Centuries of war because a fly crapped in the wrong place?'

'It could have been worse,' said Carrot. 'If it had been slightly to the left the word would have been ”liquorice“.' Vimes shook his head. Carrot was good at picking up this sort of thing. And I know how to ask for vindaloo, he thought. And it turns out that's just a Klatchian word meaning 'mouth–scalding gristle for macho foreign idiots'. 'I wish we understood more about Klatch,' he said. 'Sergeant Colon tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially. 'Know the enemy, eh, sir?' he said. 'Oh, I know the enemy,' said Vimes. 'It's Klatchians I want to find out about.'

'Commander Vimes?' The watchmen looked round. Vimes narrowed his eyes. 'You're one of Rust's men, aren't you?' The young man saluted. 'Lieutenant Hornett, sir.' He hesitated. 'Er... his lordship has sent me to ask you if you and your senior officers would be so good as to come to the palace at your convenience, sir.'

'Really? Those were his words?' The lieutenant decided that honesty was the only policy. 'In fact he said, ”Get Vimes and his mob up here right now," sir.'

'Oh, did he?' said Vimes. 'Bingeley–bingeley beep!' said a small triumphant voice from his pocket. 'The time is eleven pee em precisely!' The door opened before Nobby knocked, and a small stout woman glared out at him. 'Yes, I am!' she snapped. Nobby stood with his hand still raised. 'Er... are you Mrs Cake?' he said. 'Yes, but I don't hold with doing it except for money. Nobby's hand did not move.

'Er... you can tell the future, right?' said Nobby. They stared at one another. Then Mrs Cake thumped her own ear a couple of times, and blinked. 'Drat! Left my precognition on again.' Her gaze unfocused for a moment as she replayed the recent conversation in the privacy of her head. 'I think we're sorted out,' she said. She looked at Nobby and sniffed. 'You'd better come in. Mind the carpet, it's just been washed. And I can only give you ten minutes 'cos I've got cabbage boilin'.' She led Corporal Nobbs into her tiny front room. A lot of it was occupied by a round table covered with a green cloth. There was a crystal ball on the table, not very well covered by a pink knitted lady in a crinoline dress. Mrs Cake motioned Nobby to sit down. He obediently did so. The smell of cabbage drifted through the room. 'A bloke in the pub told me about you,' Nobby mumbled. 'Said you do mediuming.'

'Would you care to tell me your problem?' said Mrs Cake. She looked at Nobby again and, in a state of certainty that had nothing to do with precognition and everything to do with observation, added: 'That is, which of your problems do you want to know about?' Nobby coughed. 'Er... it's a bit... you know... intimate. Affairs of the heart, sort of thing.'

'Are women involved?' said Mrs Cake cautiously. 'Er... I hope so. What else is there?' Mrs Cake visibly relaxed. 'I just want to know if I'm going to meet any,' Nobby went on. 'I see.' Mrs Cake gave a kind of facial shrug. It wasn't up to her to tell people how to waste their money. 'Well, there's the tenpenny future. That's what you see. And there's the ten–dollar future. That's what you get.'

'Ten dollars? That's more'n a weeks pay! I'd better take the tenpenny one.'

'A very wise choice,' said Mrs Cake. 'Give me your paw.'

'Hand,' said Nobby. 'That's what I said.' Mrs Cake examined Nobby's outstretched palm while taking care not to touch it. 'Are you going to moan and roll your eyes and stuff?' said Nobby, a man out to get his tenpenn'orth. 'I don't have to take cheek,' said Mrs Cake, without looking up. 'That sort of––' She peered closer, and then gave Nobby a sharp look. 'Have you been playing with this hand?'

'Pardon?' Mrs Cake whipped the crinoline lady off the crystal and glared into the depths. After a while she shook her head.

'I don't know, I'm sure... oh, well.' She cleared her throat and spoke in a more sibyllic voice. 'Mr Nobbs, I see you surrounded by dusky ladies in a hot place. Looks a bit foreign to me. They're laughing and chatting with you... in fact, one of them's just handed you a drink...'

'None of 'ern are shouting or anything?' said Nobby, mystified. 'Doesn't look like it,' said Mrs Cake, equally fascinated. 'They seem quite happy.'

'You can't see any... magnets?'

'What're they?'

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'Dunno,' Nobby admitted. 'I 'spect you'd know 'em if you saw 'em.' Mrs Cake, despite a certain rigidity of character, couldn't help but be aware of a drift in Nobby's speculation. 'Some of the ladies look... nubile,' she hinted. 'Ah, right,' said Nobby, his expression not changing in any way. 'If you understand what I mean...'

'Right. Yes. Nubile. Right.' Mrs Cake gave up. Nobby counted out ten pennies. 'And that'll be soon, will it?' said Nobby. 'Oh yes. I can't see very far for tenpence.'

'Happy young ladies...' mused Nobby. 'Nubile, too. Definitely something to think about.' After he'd gone, Mrs Cake went back to her crystal and sneaked a whole ten dollars' worth of precognition for her own curiosity and satisfaction, and laughed about it all afternoon. Vimes was only half surprised when the doors to the Rats Chamber opened and there, sitting at the head of the table, was Lord Rust. The Patrician wasn't there. He was half surprised. That is, at a certain shallow level he thought, that's odd, I thought you couldn't budge the man with a siege weapon. But at a dark level, where the daylight seldom penetrated, he thought: of course. At a time like this men like Rust rise to the top. It's like stirring a swamp with a stick. Really big bubbles are suddenly on the surface and there's a bad smell about everything. Nevertheless, he saluted and said: 'Lord Vetinari on his holidays, then?'

'Lord Vetinari stepped down this evening, Vimes,' said Lord Rust. 'Pro tem, of course. Just for the duration of the emergency.'

'Really?' said Vimes. 'Yes. And I have to say that he anticipated a certain... cynicism on your part, commander, and therefore asked me to give you this letter. You will see that it is sealed with his seal.' Vimes looked at the envelope. There was certainly the official seal in the wax, but–

He met Lord Rust's gaze and at least that suspicion faded. Rust wouldn't try a trick like that. Men like Rust had a moral code of sorts, and some things weren't honourable. You could own a street of crowded houses where people lived like cockroaches and the cockroaches lived like kings and that was perfectly OK, but Rust would probably die before he'd descend to forgery. 'I see, sir,' said Vimes. 'You wanted me?'

'Commander Vimes, I must ask you to take the Klatchians resident in the city into custody.'

'On what charge, sir?'

'Commander, we are on the verge of war with Klatch. Surely you understand?'

'No, sir.'

'We are talking about spying, commander. Sabotage, even,' said Lord Rust. 'To be frank... the city is to be placed under martial law.'

'Yessir? What kind of law's that, sir?' said Vimes, staring straight ahead. 'You know very well, Vimes.'

'Is it the kind where you shout “Stop!” before you fire, sir, or the other kind?'

'Ah. I see.' Rust stood up and leaned forward. 'It pleased you to be... smart with Lord Vetinari, and for some reason he indulged you,' he said. 'I, on the other hand, know your type.'

'My type?'

'It seems to me that the streets are full of crimes, commander. Unlicensed begging, public nuisances... but you seem to turn a blind eye, you seem to think you should have bigger ideas. But you are not required to have big ideas, commander. You are a thief–taker, nothing more. Are you eyeballing me, Vimes?'

'I was trying not to turn a blind eye, sir.'

'You seem to feel, Vimes, that the law is some kind of big glowing light in the sky which is not subject to control. And you are wrong. The law is what we tell it to be. Im not going to add “Do you understand?” because I know you understand and I am not going to try to reason with you. I know a rank bad hat when I see one. '

'Bad hat?' said Vimes weakly. 'Commander Vimes,' he said, 'I had hoped to avoid this, but the last few days point to a succession of astonishing judgemental errors on your part The Prince Khufurah was shot, and you seemed helpless to prevent this or find the criminal responsible. Mobs appear to run around the city unimpeded, I gather that one of your sergeants proposed to shoot innocent people in the head, and we have just heard that you took it upon yourself to arrest an innocent businessman and lock him in the cells for no reason at all.'

Vimes heard Colon gasp. But it sounded a long way off. He could feel everything crumbling under but his mind seemed to be flying now, flapping through a pink sky where nothing mattered very much. 'Oh, I don't know about that, sir,' he said. 'He was guilty of repeatedly being Klatchian, wasn't he? Don't you want me to do that to all of 'em?'

'And if this was not enough,' Rust went on, 'we are told, and in other circumstances I would find this very hard to believe, even of a counter– jumper like you, that earlier tonight you, being quite unprovoked, assaulted two Klatchian guards, trespassed on Klatchian soil, entered the women's quarters, abducted two Klatchians from their beds, ordered the destruction of Klatchian property and... well, frankly, acted quite disgracefully.' What is the point of arguing? Vimes thought. Why play cards with a shaved deck? And yet 'Two Klatchians, sir?'

'It seems Prince Khufurah has been kidnapped, Vimes. I find it hard to believe that even you would attempt that, but the Klatchians seem to be suggesting this. You were seen entering their property illegally. And you appear to have dragged a helpless lady from her bed. What have you got to say about that?'

'It was on fire at the time, sir.' Lieutenant Hornett stepped forward and whispered something. Lord Rust subsided a bit. 'All right. Very well. There were perhaps mitigating circumstances, but politically it was a most ill–advised action, Vimes. I cannot pretend to know what has happened to the Prince, but frankly you seem to have taken a positive delight in making matters worse.' Can you climb, Mr Vimes? Vimes said nothing. The other man had been carrying something bulky over his shoulder... 'You are removed from authority, commander. And the Watch will come under the direct command of this council. Is that understood?' Rust turned to Carrot. 'Captain Carrot, many of us here have heard... good reports about you, and by due authority I hereby appoint you acting Commander of the Watch–' Vimes shut his eyes. Carrot saluted smartly. 'No! Sir!' Vimes opened his eyes wide. 'Really?' Rust stared at Carrot for a few moments, and then gave a little shrug. 'Ah, well... loyalty is a fine thing. Sergeant Colon?' ‘Sir!'

'In the circumstances, and since you are the most experienced non– commissioned officer and have an exemp– and have a military record, you will take command of the Watch for the duration of the... emergency. '

'Nossir!'

'That was an instruction, sergeant.' Beads of sweat began to form on Colon's brow. 'Nossir!'

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