Carrot’s eyelids flickered. He tried to focus on the sound of the voices, anything to distract himself from the total misery that had become the sum of his world. His wound was throbbing, his back ached; and his arms, still handcuffed securely behind his back, had long since had any feeling. He wondered how long it would be before the numbness spread to the rest of his body, and if it would be preferable to the pain. Finally, giving up trying to think at all, he groaned and let his head fall to his chest.
Sharkey was sitting opposite, watching him. “You shouldn’t have cut him, Watts,” he said. “He doesn’t look too good.”
“I know what I’m doing,” said Watts calmly. He was sitting beside Sharkey, cleaning his fingernails with the dagger; a task he obviously deemed more important since he didn’t bother looking up.
“But what if he dies, Watts? Have you even thought about that?”
Watts held out his hand and inspected his handiwork, then he wiped the blade on his breeches and continued cleaning another nail. “I think you’re underestimating the good commander, Sharkey,” he said. “He won’t let him die.”
“Was there any need to cut him at all? I mean you could’ve smeared rat’s blood on the note, there’s enough of ’em around!” Sharkey had seen one earlier as big as a small dog; he’d used it for target practice until Watts had stopped him. He hated the damned things.
“And you think a werewolf can’t tell the difference, is that it?”
Watts didn’t wait for an answer; he got up and walked over to where Carrot was sitting. He grabbed Carrot's chin roughly and turned his head from side to side. “You’d better get out there soon, Sharkey,” he said. “If Vimes is expecting to save the kid then he ought to be sending someone with the money pretty soon.” He let go of Carrot’s chin. “And remember, do exactly as I told you. You pick up the money and come straight back here, you got that?”
“Can’t you go, Watts? I can watch the kid.”
“No, I need to stay here. I have... things to do.”
“But what if they’re armed? Or there’s more than one of them?” Sharkey didn’t bother asking which ‘things’ needed doing, although he found himself giving Carrot a pitying look.
“Vimes isn’t stupid. He knows what’ll happen if he doesn’t follow the note to the letter.”
“Oh, c’mon, Watts! You can’t really believe he’s going to send someone here alone and unarmed?”
“And plain clothed,” Watts added evenly. “You missed out ‘plain clothed’.”
Sharkey threw up his hands. “Oh, well, who am I to argue?” he said, getting up and striding across the room. “You obviously know the man better than I do.” He climbed the stone steps and slammed the trapdoor open with more force than was necessary. “I just hope you’re right, that’s all,” he said. “Because if anything looks iffy I’m coming straight back.”
“Of course you are, Sharkey,” said Watts, following him. “Just make sure you don’t come back without the money, that’s all.”
Sharkey disappeared out into the alley, slamming the door behind him.
Watts shook his head. Sharkey was a fool. But then, even fools had their uses...
Watts turned and walked across to the chest in the corner. A shiver of anticipation ran through him as he lifted the lid. The chest’s deadly contents stared up at him. He reached inside and ran his hand lovingly over the assorted blades. He’d always had a weakness for daggers; there was something almost sensual about them. Death could be brought about quickly... or painfully slow. It was simply a matter of precision.
He had other things in mind now though, and for that, he needed something else. He delved deeper until he found what he was looking for. He slipped it into his pocket. Then he reached for his next favourite item...
Vimes flew out of the Oblong office; the bag containing the money clutched tightly to his chest.
Noakes came out behind him, struggling to keep up. Suddenly, Vimes was moving with the speed and agility of a man half his age. But he was running on pure adrenaline now, and Noakes knew it; sooner or later it was going to exact its terrible toll.
“We need to move quickly, captain,” said Vimes, pulling the note from his pocket. “I want you to get a clacks to Sergeant Angua, meet her back at the Yard and give her this.” He tore off the top half of the note and shoved it in Noakes’ general direction. “I want to know if this is Carrot’s blood.” He grimaced. “I don’t doubt that it is, but it’ll make a huge difference to me if it’s not.” He shoved the bottom half of the note in his pocket.
“What are you going to do, sir?” said Noakes.
“I’m going to see if I can arrange more money,” said Vimes. “And then I’ll contact you.”
“We don’t have time, captain, now go!”
Noakes turned and headed off in the direction of the nearest clacks tower. It was clear from the look on his face he wasn’t happy about leaving the commander.
Vimes watched him go. He hated himself for sending Noakes back to the Yard on an errand designed to do nothing more than delay him, but he’d already made up his mind about what he was going to do. Noakes was a good man, but that was why he couldn’t stay; because Noakes would try to stop him, and right now, he didn’t have the time or the inclination to argue.
Vimes waited until Noakes was out of sight, and then stripped off his armour. His helmet and sword-belt followed. Going back to get plain clothes was out of the question; as was getting more money, there simply wasn’t enough time. There was never any doubt in his mind he’d be the one to deliver the money; he’d never have given that job to anyone else. If anything happened to Carrot then he’d have only himself to blame. No one else should have to shoulder that responsibility.
Vimes pulled the remainder of the note from his pocket and read it again. The drop-off point was in the Shades. Fine. Home turf. If push came to shove that might give him an advantage.
Gods knew he needed it...
Vimes snatched up the bag and headed south, as fast as his tired legs could carry him.
Angua burst in through the Watch House door. She didn’t need to search for Noakes; he was waiting for her.
“I got here as fast as I could,” she said. “What’s happened?”
“There’s been another note,” said Noakes, pulling the bloody scrap from his pocket. But he kept his fingers wrapped around it when he saw Angua’s face. “Look, I know it’s not pretty, but... the commander needs you to check this to see if it’s—”
Angua stared at Noakes' clenched fist.
“—I mean it might not be Carrot's, they may be only—”
Angua snatched the note wordlessly, and headed straight for Vimes’ office.
“—bluffing,” said Noakes to the carpet.
Vimes leaned back against the wall and tried to get his breath back. He was halfway along the Whore Pits at the northern end of the Shades. He still had a long way to go, but his heart felt like it was fit to burst, and the back of his throat was burning. It was the second time he’d had to stop, but it was either that or risk a damned heart attack.
He glanced at his watch. One minute, he thought. I’ll allow myself one minute...
Two men appeared suddenly from out of nowhere; glancing with interest at the bag Vimes was holding. The way he was clutching it to his chest as if his very life depended on it obviously signalled it was of great importance.
Of greater importance to the two men, however, was the no-nonsense look on the face of the man holding it...
The pair shared a knowing look before moving off in search of easier prey.
Vimes pushed himself off the wall, and stumbled onwards...
It was another ten minutes before he arrived at his destination. He was close to the docks. But he didn’t need to look around to know that, he recognized the smell; and the rats, of course, they were bigger here than anywhere else. He remembered joking about them when he was little; saying that one of them was enough to feed a dwarf family for a whole week. Funny, how everything seemed like a big joke when you were eight years old.
Vimes hastened down one side of an old warehouse. The wall was stacked high with wooden crates. He searched desperately among them for the one in which he’d been told to leave the money. The one bound for Klatch the note had said; but suddenly he realized that every damn crate had a destination label on it, meaning he had to check every one. He swore under his breath. The sadistic bastards knew how little time he had, why hadn’t they just painted it bright red?
His felt his anger rising as time ticked slowly away...
Finally he found it, and threw in the money. He slammed down the lid and then walked away.
But he had no intentions of leaving. As soon as he was out of sight, he clambered up the nearest drainpipe allowing him access to the rooftops. He crept along until he had a clear view of the wall of crates, then he flattened himself against the tiles and waited...
He didn’t have to wait long.
Sharkey appeared from a side alley, heading straight for the Klatchian crate. He didn’t look around, and he didn’t hang about; he simply opened the crate, grabbed the money and left.
Vimes dropped down off the roof and followed him.
Sharkey was moving quickly, but Vimes had no trouble keeping up with him. He followed at a safe distance, eventually arriving at the entrance to a long, narrow alleyway. It was dark and littered with rubbish. And was literally crawling with rats.
Sharkey moved to the far end and disappeared through a doorway. Vimes followed him just far enough to be sure of where he’d gone, and then stopped. He clenched his fists.
Got you, you bastard...
There was a clacks tower less than a hundred yards from where he was standing. In less than ten minutes he could have a dozen armed Watchmen here. His hand moved instinctively to his sword-belt. Damn, why hadn’t he brought his weapon? No one had even checked to see if he was alone or unarmed. They were more amateurish than he’d thought.
The thought of Carrot being just behind the door was tempting him to follow Sharkey, but he knew it would be foolish to tackle them alone. A weapon in the hand of an amateur was no less deadly than a weapon in the hand of a professional. He’d send for backup first, and then come back to make sure the bastards didn’t leave.
Vimes turned to come out of the alley.
Someone was standing in the entrance, silhouetted in the light of the opening.
“Noakes?” he called out.
The figure took a few steps forward, stopping deliberately where the light streamed in through a gap in the buildings.
It wasn’t Noakes.
This man was weasel-like. His dark, lank hair hung around his face, and he had a matchstick hanging from his mouth. Even from this distance he looked evil.
He was armed.
Vimes took in the weapon in the man’s hand and his blood ran cold. He was holding a one-shot; a weapon designed not for fighting, but for killing. And it was as effective as hell.
The man’s voice matched his appearance perfectly.
“I knew you’d come, Vimes...”