There was already a commotion in the Watch House when Vimes opened the front door. For one brief moment, no one seemed to notice him as he entered and closed the door behind him.
A lone Watchman was trying to assert his authority in an effort to restore some order. Others were huddled together in small groups, whispering and looking concerned. Somewhere above the din, Vimes recognized Colon’s panic-stricken voice declaring: “Mister Vimes is going to go spare!”
“Would someone like to tell me what the hell’s going on?” Vimes yelled above the uproar.
Implausibly, the deathly silence that followed was more deafening than the racket that preceded it. Seconds dragged by like minutes, as the entire Watch House subconsciously deliberated who would be the first to speak.
Vimes waited, patiently.
Captain Noakes pushed his way through the throng. “I was just about to contact you, sir,” he said. “This arrived by pigeon just moments ago, sir.” He handed Vimes a small, rolled-up piece of paper.
Vimes took it silently, looking around the room.
The entire Watch held its breath. You’d have thought Noakes had just handed him a stick of dynamite.
Which, in a way, he had...
Vimes opened it. There was an audible gasp from somewhere in the crowd. “Morning, Fred,” Vimes replied, not quite under his breath.
All eyes were on him as he read the note, his eyes moving slowly across the page. He clenched his jaw. You could have heard a pin drop as he finished reading and inhaled deeply through his nose. “Sergeant Colon?” he said, his voice unusually calm, although it was clear he was struggling to maintain his composure. “Send a clacks out calling the men off. It won’t be necessary to search for Captain Carrot any longer.” He folded the note carefully. “And as soon as Sergeant Angua arrives, send her up to my office immediately.”
Vimes looked up. “The rest of you, get back to work.”
He shoved the note in his pocket and stalked across the room. No one moved. “What’s the matter?” he growled at the horde. “Haven’t you lot got anything to do?” He strode towards the stairs. “Captain Noakes!” he barked. “Come with me!”
The hubbub returned as the pair climbed the stairs to Vimes’ office. The door slammed shut behind them.
Once inside, Vimes pulled the note from his pocket and waved it furiously in Noakes’ face. “Tell me, captain,” he bellowed. “When, exactly, did my correspondence become available to everyone?”
“Sir, I didn’t realize the note was for you until—”
“Until you read it! Yes, I managed to work that much out for myself!”
Noakes did his best to ignore Vimes’ ranting. The commander had been under a lot of stress since Captain Carrot had gone missing. And now this note had arrived, suggesting that... no, stating, that if he wanted to see his precious kid again, then he’d better have $100,000 ready by tomorrow morning or face the consequences. It seemed strange the way they’d worded it, he thought, describing Captain Carrot as Vimes’ ‘precious kid’.
“Well, since I do know, sir,” said Noakes quietly. “What do you intend to do about it?”
Vimes fell into his chair. “Just how many options do I have, captain?”
Noakes sat in the chair opposite him. “Well, sir, if you’d only left the search party out looking for him, there’s still a chance they may be able to find—”
“They won’t,” said Vimes shortly. He leaned back in his chair, and considered Noakes silently for a moment. “Captain...” he said. “Just how many other people read that note?”
“No one, sir. Just me.”
“But everyone downstairs seemed to be aware of its contents.”
“I told them it concerned Captain Carrot, sir, nothing more.”
Vimes nodded. “All right. So, tell me, captain... did anything about that note strike you as odd?” He knew it had; Noakes wasn’t an unintelligent man, if he were he wouldn’t have made captain.
It appeared he wasn’t a liar, either.
“Yes, sir,” said Noakes. “It did. The wording.”
Vimes waited, watching him. “What about it, captain?”
“Well, sir, they described Captain Carrot as your ‘precious kid’, sir.”
“And why was that, do you think?” Vimes’ heart began to beat a little faster.
“Well, sir, it’s almost as if they think...” Noakes hesitated, lowering his eyes. “This is a bit embarrassing, sir.”
“No, please... go on.”
“Well, sir, it’s like they think you and he are...”
“Are what, captain?” Vimes’ heart was pounding now.
Noakes took a deep breath. “Er, related, sir... like they think he’s your son, or something.”
Vimes stared at him, suddenly finding himself fighting an irresistible urge to laugh.
“Obviously they aren’t from around here, sir,” Noakes went on. “I mean, otherwise they’d know, sir, wouldn’t they?”
Vimes allowed him to continue. He wanted to see what else was going on in that head of his. It was a sad fact of life these days; the Watch had grown so large the he hardly knew; really knew, that is, the men he had working under him. Although Noakes was always working away quietly in the background somewhere, Vimes simply gave him his orders in the certain knowledge he’d carry them out efficiently. He never stopped to ask the man how his wife was. Hells, he didn’t even know if he was married.
“Sir, forgive me if I’m speaking out of turn here,” said Noakes. “But does it really matter, sir? What they think, I mean?” He shifted in his seat and leaned forward. “Sir, Captain Carrot has been kidnapped; surely that’s the only thing we should be concerned about?”
“You’re absolutely right, captain,” said Vimes, suddenly beginning to see Noakes in a new light.
When Vimes didn’t speak again, Noakes waited patiently for a few moments, and then said, “Sir, you still haven’t answered my question; what do you intend to do about this?”
Vimes got up. “I intend to get the money, captain,” he said. “I can have it by tonight; the time factor’s not a problem, not for that amount, anyway.”
Noakes frowned. “You’re just going to pay up, sir? You’re not even going to try and catch them?”
“Not unless you can tell me where they are, captain,” said Vimes. “Can you?”
“No, sir, but—”
“Exactly. And you read all the note, I take it?”
“If you mean the bit where they warn you against trying to find him, sir—”
“That’s the bit. The bit where they said if they saw a Watchman searching within six streets of him, they’d kill him, yes.”
Noakes frowned. “But it’s obvious they’re going to say that, sir. They want to scare you off.”
“And you think I’m going to take that chance, captain?” Vimes’ eyes remained fixed on him.
This time it was Noakes’ turn to study Vimes. He scanned his granite features. Usually, he saw nothing but fire behind those hard grey eyes; an innate, burning desire to rid the city of everything that was bad; of everything that he hated. Like the criminals who preyed on the old and weak; the people who exploited the poor and the vulnerable; the bastards who took advantage of the young and innocent, the same kind of people who were holding Captain Carrot...
All he saw now was a tired resignation. What could have happened to change him so?
Noakes took a deep breath. “Sir... can I be frank for a moment?”
“Go ahead, captain.”
“Sir, this... change of heart, sir. Is it due to the fact that Captain Carrot’s one of us?”
Vimes shot him an angry look. “Are you saying I’d care less if he wasn’t a Watchman, captain?”
“No, sir, of course not. It’s just that these... tactics, sir, they seem unusual. For you, I mean.”
Vimes’ expression didn’t change. “So, you’re questioning my judgement now?”
Noakes sighed. “No, sir, not at all...” He shifted awkwardly in his seat. He’d always had the greatest respect for the commander; everyone did. Under normal circumstances he wouldn’t have questioned anything he said or did. But Vimes appeared to be somewhat... strained lately. He knew Vimes felt responsible for the welfare of the men working under him; he also knew he took those responsibilities seriously. The fact that someone had kidnapped a Watchman, and Captain Carrot of all people, had shaken everyone.
But Vimes more than most it seemed...
“Sir...” said Noakes carefully. “I realize the impact this has had on you; on everyone, sir. But are you sure this is really the best way to go about this?”
Vimes closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “All right, captain,” he sighed. “I’m listening. If you think you have a better suggestion, I suppose I’d better hear it.”
“Well, sir, it is only a suggestion, but perhaps if you allowed Sergeant Angua to continue looking on her own, sir—”
Vimes shook his head. “They already know about Sergeant Angua, captain.” He thought about the scallatine. “I’m certain of it.”
“Exactly, so they’ll know she’s been foiled. That’s the whole point. They realize the only way we’re going to find Captain Carrot now is if we go over the whole city with a fine-tooth comb.
Vimes frowned. “I don’t follow you...”
“Think about it, sir. They won’t be expecting us to use Sergeant Angua again, what would be the point? And if what they say in the note is true, and they are keeping a lookout for a search party, then they’ll be looking for Watchmen, sir, not a wolf. If Sergeant Angua is careful, sir, she could carry on looking un-noticed.”
Vimes considered it for a moment, and then shook his head. “No, it’s too risky. Besides, I could be putting Sergeant Angua’s life at risk.”
Noakes was about to continue when there was a knock on the door.
“Come in!” Vimes snapped, not realizing that he had.
Angua appeared. “Er, morning, sir. Sergeant Colon told me to come straight up.” She smiled at Noakes. “Morning, captain.”
Noakes nodded a greeting, and then turned to Vimes. “Well, before you dismiss it out of hand, sir, why don’t you ask the lady herself what she thinks?”
“About what?” said Angua. When no one answered immediately, she began looking from Noakes to Vimes, worriedly.
“Sit down, sergeant,” said Vimes, his eyes still on Noakes. “You and I have some very important decisions to make...”