Angua stepped out into Pseudopolis Yard, shielding her eyes against the sunlight. For an Ankh-Morpork morning, it was really rather pleasant outside. If it wasn’t for the enormity of her task, and the terrifying consequences if she failed, she might have actually felt good about going out on patrol.
And somehow, that just made it worse.
It proved how fickle fate was, and just how quickly fortunes could change. This time yesterday she and Carrot had been chatting idly in the Watch canteen. Now, less than 24 hours later, she might be all that stood between his life... and death.
She couldn’t afford to screw this up; it would cost her more than she was prepared to pay. The price of failure would be Carrot.
She shook her head, refusing to dwell on it any longer as she left the Yard and headed south, towards Pon’s Bridge.
Vimes pushed himself off the doorframe and sighed. Then he turned, and looked straight into the worried face of Captain Noakes.
It suddenly struck Vimes that he’d gotten so used to having Noakes around in the background somewhere that he hardly seemed to notice him at times; like an object in a room, so familiar that it no longer registered. It was an awful thing, he thought, to suddenly discover the people you relied on for so much were often the very people you took for granted; Noakes gave all he had to the job, and for the most part, Vimes simply ignored him.
It was hard to ignore him now though, or the look of concern in his eyes.
“I, uh, I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, captain,” Vimes offered dismissively. “I guess it’s catching up with me.”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me, sir,” said Noakes quietly.
Vimes gave him a tired smile. “No, no, I don’t, do I?” he said. He looked down at the note still folded in his hands, turning it over as if his entire world revolved around it. “But, still...”
Noakes watched him. “I’m sure Angua will do her best to find him, sir.”
Vimes looked up. “Yes, yes, I’m sure she will, captain.” He sighed and shoved the note in his pocket. “And now, it’s time I did my bit.” He reached behind the door and grabbed his jacket. “I’m going to leave you in charge while I arrange the money, captain. It shouldn’t take too long, but I’ll expect you to contact me if anything happens while I’m away.”
“Yes, sir, of course.”
“And then I’d better see the Patrician,” said Vimes, shrugging on his jacket. “He’ll need to know about this, of course.” He grimaced. “That is, if he doesn’t know already.”
“I’ll get word to him straight away, sir, to let him know you’re on your way.” Noakes took out his notepad and began to write. “I believe a brief outline of events will suffice for now, sir,” he said, without looking up. “I’ve no doubt you’ll want to fill him in on the details yourself when you get there.”
Vimes buttoned his jacket as he watched him write. “Yes, that’s right, captain.” He smoothed down his jacket.
Noakes looked up. “Is there anything else you’d like me to do, sir?”
“No, no, that’s it,” said Vimes. He watched as Noakes began dealing with the paperwork immediately. “Right,” he said, patting his pockets, just for effect. “I’ll leave everything in your capable hands, then, captain.”
“I’ll do my best, sir.”
Yes, you will, won’t you? Vimes thought as he left.
Watts leaned closer, until his face was merely inches away from Carrot’s. He held the dagger out in front of him, so that the thin blade was the only thing separating them.
“What’s the matter, boy?” he said, eyeing Carrot from behind the blade. “You seem to have lost your tongue.”
Carrot blinked at him, and tried to back away. The advancing blade was dangerously close to his face, and the manic gleam in Watts’ eye told him he had no scruples about using it. Carrot's shoulder blades scraped along the brickwork, but with his back already pressed hard against the wall, he barely managed to move more than a couple of inches.
Watts reached out and held the blade against Carrot’s cheek.
“Y-you’ll only make it worse for yourself if you harm me,” said Carrot. “Commander Vimes will—”
“But Commander Vimes isn’t here, is he, boy?” said Watts, trailing the blade delicately down Carrot’s cheek. “It’s just you and me now.”
Carrot closed his eyes. His mind raced frantically, as he tried to think of everything Vimes had ever taught him.
Vimes had made every effort to try and educate Carrot in the workings of the criminal mind. Every day he was explaining something to him. Not the kind of stuff he could find in ‘The Laws and Ordinances of the city of Ankh-Morpork’, Carrot already knew all of that. But the useful stuff, like what to do if you ever found yourself at the wrong end of a crossbow, or how to talk yourself out of a situation in which you were hopelessly outnumbered.
Vimes knew, or rather hoped, that most of it would never apply to Carrot. By and large, most petty criminals played it by the book, and as for the rest of the populace, well, in their eyes Carrot was the law. But Vimes had made a point of telling him anyway, knowing that one day there would always be one vicious bastard who refused to play by the rules.
Carrot tried to remember if Vimes had ever told him what to do if he found himself in a cellar, naked; handcuffed hand and foot, in the company of two armed men.
Nothing came to mind.
Something did though...
“...Circumstances can sometimes drive normal, law-abiding people to do unlawful things, lad,” he’d said. “It wasn’t necessarily because they were bad; it was because they were desperate. And desperate people sometimes did bad things...”
Carrot opened his eyes and blinked at Watts. He wasn’t sure if there was ever a time in Watts’ past when he’d been law-abiding, but he certainly looked desperate.
“...And if the worse ever comes to the worst, lad, and you find yourself up to your neck in it, then just play along with them. But for god’s sakes don’t antagonize them. Just play for time and hope like hells that help comes soon...”
“So, why don't you tell me about Commander Vimes?” said Watts, fascinated suddenly by the sight of the blade against Carrot’s flawless cheek. “Tell me what sort of man he is.”
“H-he’s a good man,” said Carrot. “He cares about people.”
“Well, that’s good,” said Watts approvingly. “And since he obviously cares about you, then he’ll have no trouble paying up, right?”
“I-I don’t know,” said Carrot truthfully. “Only Commander Vimes can answer that.”
Watts’ right eye twitched. “But you know him better than anyone,” he said. “What do you think?” The pressure on the blade increased. “Tell me the truth, boy.”
“I-I know he doesn’t agree with kidnapping,” said Carrot. “He says there are other ways to get what you want. He says it’s not right to—”
“I’m not interested in what’s right, boy, I’m only interested in whether or not he’ll pay.”
Sharkey had been slowly edging closer. He was within earshot now, and suddenly interested in what Carrot had to say.
“Well, he might pay if he were forced to,” said Carrot, glancing up at Sharkey as he came nearer. “But, I don’t think he’d be very happy about it...”
“I knew it was a bad idea to get the kid,” Sharkey grumbled. “I said it’d bring nothing but trouble.”
“Shut up, Sharkey,” Watts hissed.
“We should have waited and got Vimes like we intended. His wife wouldn’t have given us any trouble; she would’ve just given us the money. This Vimes geezer ain’t gonna pay!”
“Yes he will... now back off!”
“Haven’t you been listening, Watts? Didn’t you hear what the kid just said?”
“I heard exactly what he said,” said Watts coldly. “He said Vimes’d pay if he were forced to.”
There was an awful moment of silence, and then the realization of what Watts had just said suddenly sank in. “Oh, no, Watts... Not this time. We don’t need—”
Sharkey didn’t see what happened next; his view was blocked by Watts’ back. But there was no mistaking the sudden movement of Watts’ weapon hand, or Carrot’s yelp of pain.
Sharkey stared, wide-eyed, frozen to the spot. Somewhere in front of Watts, he heard Carrot whimper. “Oh, my gods, Watts... What have you done?”
Watts inhaled deeply through his nose, then let it out again slowly. He wiped the blade calmly on the corner of Carrot’s blanket.
“See how careless I get when people upset me, Sharkey?” he said. “Now I’ve gone and made the kid bleed...”