Angua sat down. The look on Vimes’ face was unmistakable. Something had transpired overnight, it had something to do with Carrot; and it wasn’t good...
“What is it, sir?” she said uneasily, looking from one anxious face to the other. “What’s happened?”
Vimes’ eyes were still fixed on Noakes. He lowered them and looked down at the note still folded in his hands. He fingered it absently, as if deciding whether or not to show it to her. He was thinking of the wording they had used.
If you want to see your precious kid again...
Noakes had spotted it. Would Angua?
“Sir?” Angua repeated; her voice seemed to be coming from far away. “Has something happened to Carrot, sir?”
Vimes seemed unable to tear his eyes or his mind away from the note...
Noakes frowned, suddenly concerned. Vimes had a vague look in his eyes; it was the look of a man overwhelmed with the cares of the Disc, a man who had now just been asked to make a life-changing decision. He looked lost.
“Sir?” said Angua again.
The hand holding the note seemed to raise itself, unbidden...
“Captain Carrot has been kidnapped, sergeant,” said Noakes, his hand suddenly reaching out, tactfully pushing the note back into Vimes’ lap. “And the kidnappers are demanding the commander has $100,000 ready by tomorrow morning, or face the consequences.”
“Oh, dear gods!” Angua gasped.
Vimes looked up. He blinked at Noakes and then quickly regained his senses. “Angua, I don’t need to tell you how carefully we need to handle this situation,” he said. “And I think I ought to tell you that the first thing I intend to do is get the money.”
“The money?” said Angua, panic edging into her voice. “But, sir, you of all people know that’s no guarantee of getting him back!”
“No, I know it’s no guarantee, but at the moment we don’t even know where he’s being held, and—”
Angua got up. “Then I’ll go back out and keep looking, sir! There’s no way I’m going to sit here doing nothing!”
“Angua! I am not doing nothing!” said Vimes, jumping up suddenly and grabbing her arm as she headed for the door. The change in her from the other night had taken him by surprise. Suddenly he found himself angry with her, not just for the way she’d spoken to him, but for the mere suggestion he might not be doing all he could to get Carrot back.
Noakes lowered his eyes.
“Angua! I want Carrot back just as much as you do!” said Vimes. “But I want him back alive, not dead!”
Angua faltered. “W-what do you mean, sir?” she said, her immediate thoughts of pulling away from him momentarily forgotten.
“Angua, in the note, it said...” Vimes hesitated, as he remembered the threatening words. “It said if they saw a Watchman searching within six streets of him, they’d kill him.”
Angua sagged suddenly under his grip; Vimes held on, half afraid she might fold up completely.
“It’s all right, Angua,” he said, his anger dissipating as quickly as it had arrived. “We’ll get him back somehow, I promise. But we need to go about this the right way.”
Angua nodded. “Y-yes, sir,” she muttered. “I-I’m sorry, sir.” She wiped her eyes quickly and straightened up. “Just tell me what I need to do, sir.”
“Well, Captain Noakes has come up with a plan,” said Vimes, handing her his hankie with his free hand. “But, first things first...”
Vimes smiled weakly. “Would you mind sitting down again,” he said. “Please?”
Watts leaned back against the wall and stuck another matchstick in his mouth. He chewed it moodily. All the waiting around was beginning to get to him; he was getting tetchy. For the past half hour he’d managed to amuse himself by watching Carrot, as he painstakingly attempted to change positions beneath the pitiful blanket whilst still keeping himself covered. But after watching him do it for the umpteenth time, even that was beginning to annoy him.
“Can’t you sit still for five minutes, boy?” he snarled irritably. “Your damned fidgetting’s getting on my nerves!”
Sharkey looked up from inspecting his crossbow, noticing the familiar edge to Watts’ voice. “Leave the kid alone, Watts,” he said. “He’s probably just uncomfortable.”
A smirk crept slowly across Watts’ face. “Well, maybe I can do something about that,” he said, in a low voice. He got up and walked over to where Carrot was sitting. He stood, towering over him ominously. The matchstick in his mouth danced as he chewed it.
Carrot kept his eyes on the opposite wall. He didn’t need to look up to know what Watts was doing; he’d been doing the same thing ever since he got there. Watts’ eyes were all over him again; he could feel it. It made his skin crawl, and made him wish desperately that Vimes were there.
Watts nudged Carrot’s foot with his boot. “Hey, boy...” he whispered. “How ’bout you and me go into the other room for a while?”
Carrot swallowed. “Er, no, I-I don’t think so.”
Sharkey strained his ears in an attempt to hear what was being said.
“C’mon...” said Watts, his tone conspiratorial. “Your boyfriend doesn’t have to know...”
The very words infuriated Carrot; something inside him snapped. “I said, no!”
Sharkey got up. “Hey, Watts, stop tormenting the kid, will ya?”
Watts spun around. “What’s the matter with you all of a sudden? It’s not as if he doesn’t like men!”
“Yeah, and have you forgotten who his boyfriend is?”
Watts’ eyes widened in theatrical horror. “Oh, yes, of course!” he exclaimed. “The great Commander Vimes!” He snorted. “What d’you keep worrying about him for? You don’t even know the man!”
“I know I don’t want to get on the wrong side of him!” Sharkey realized how stupid it sounded as soon as he’d said it.
Watts shook his head in amazement. “Don’t you think it’s a little late for that, Sharkey?”
When Sharkey didn’t reply, Watts returned his attention to Carrot. Now, he seemed more agitated than amorous. “So, what is it you see in this Commander Vimes, then, boy? I wouldn’t have thought he was your type. He looks a right miserable bugger to me; face like thunder all the time.”
“It’s none of your business!” said Carrot, incensed now, despite himself.
“Well, it makes no sense to me,” said Watts. “Nice looking lad like you...” His eyes were starting to roam Carrot’s body again; the leer, never far from his face, was slowly returning. “You could’ve had anyone, I reckon. Someone like me, perhaps...”
Carrot glared at him. “Commander Vimes is worth ten of you!” he spat.
Sharkey tried to shoot Carrot a warning glance, but Carrot was looking the other way.
“And don’t think this will be over once you get your money!” Carrot went on. “Because it won’t be! Commander Vimes will find you and hunt you down like the dogs you are!”
Sharkey closed his eyes.
Watts’ features twisted strangely. “Oh, is that so?” he said, reaching to his belt and pulling the thin dagger from its sheath; the silken sound had the effect of stopping Carrot dead in his tracks. Watts twirled the blade purposefully between his fingers and fixed Carrot with a dark stare.
Sharkey took a step forward.
“Stay out of this, Sharkey,” said Watts quietly. “This is just between me and the boy.”
The hairs on the back of Sharkey’s neck stood up. “Watts, for god’s sakes, don’t do anything stupid... not now.” He edged towards him cautiously.
Watts spun around. “Stay where you are, Sharkey!” he warned; the dagger was aiming at him now, readied to strike. “I’m sick of all this pussy-footing around. I think it’s time I showed everyone who’s in charge here!”
Despite the danger to himself, Sharkey took another step forward, but he did so hesitantly, clearly indecisive. Finally, giving Carrot a somewhat apologetic look, he decided to back down.
Watts gave Sharkey a flash of his crooked smile and switched the blade skilfully to his other hand. Then he turned, his smile widening, as he returned his attention to the now petrified Carrot...
Angua got up from her chair. “So, let me make sure I’ve got this absolutely right, sir. I have until the deadline tomorrow morning to continue searching for him, correct?”
“That’s when the next note is due to arrive, yes,” said Vimes. “Until then, we don’t even know where they want the money delivered; assuming we decide to hand it over, of course.”
“But you still intend to get the money?”
“Oh, there’s no question about it. It’s vital we have something to bargain with. Think of it as...” Vimes searched for the right word. “As backup, I suppose. It seems the money is their only motivation for this kidnapping, after all.”
Angua nodded. “And it’s imperative I’m not seen searching for him.”
“A slight understatement,” said Vimes. “But, yes.”
Noakes got up and handed Angua her helmet. She took it distractedly and began examining the rivets on it, taking in a deep breath, an obvious attempt to steady her nerves. Then she looked up at Vimes.
Just for a moment, Vimes saw his own concern reflected in her eyes, and suddenly he realized how selfish he’d been. It was clear she loved Carrot as much as he did, and it made him more determined than ever to get him back safely now, for her sake, as well as his own.
“Angua,” he said, feeling he should say something. “I know this may be hard to believe, but I—” Careful, he thought. Choose your words carefully. “I... think I know what you’re going through,” he managed. “And if there was any way on the Disc I could trade places with Carrot, believe me, I would.”
“I know you would, sir,” said Angua, giving him a weak smile. “And you ought to know it wouldn’t make me feel any better.” She looked down again, continuing to study her helmet. “But, thank you, sir,” she added quietly. She put her helmet on and tapped it, hoping the gesture made her look more confident than she felt. “Right,” she said. “I’d best get going. We’re wasting precious time.”
“Be careful, Angua,” said Vimes, as she headed for the door.
“Don’t worry, sir. I’m only too aware of what’s at stake here.”
Vimes moved to the door and watched her leave, the look of uneasiness returning to his face.
Noakes watched too, his own face full of consternation. But his eyes weren’t on Angua; his concern was for someone else...
Vimes leaned heavily against the doorframe and closed his eyes. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep up this charade. Outside, he was just about coping, but inside, he knew he was falling apart. It was more than he could bear; the thought of Carrot out there somewhere, alone, in the hands of gods knows whom. He hadn’t lied when he said he’d trade places with him. He meant it.
He wanted Carrot back so badly he ached.