Angua came out of Vimes’ office holding the bloody scrap of paper. “It’s Carrot’s,” she said bluntly, thrusting it back at Noakes.
“I’m sorry, Angua...”
“So, are you planning to tell me what’s going on?” said Angua impatiently. “Where’s the rest of the note? And more importantly, Noakes, what did it say?”
Noakes looked up. “I-I don’t know... I didn’t see it.”
“Well, where in the hells is he?”
“Vimes, of course! He was with you, wasn’t he?”
“I left him outside the Patrician’s Palace...” Noakes frowned and shook his head. “He said something about getting more money. But he was already holding what I assumed was the ransom.”
“And you just let him go?” said Angua incredulously. “A note arrives covered in Carrot’s blood, and you just let Vimes walk off with the money?”
“In the state of mind he’s in?” she said, throwing up her hands. She grabbed Noakes’ arms. “Noakes, listen to me! This is important! Where did they ask for the money to be delivered, do you know?”
“No...” said Noakes. “The commander put the note in his pocket. I didn’t ask to see it.”
“Angua, you can’t really believe he’s—”
“The way he’s been acting lately? Noakes, I’m ready to believe just about anything. I just wish I knew what in god’s names that stupid man is playing at.”
“He’s not that stupid,” said Noakes loyally. “If that is his intention, then he obviously had enough presence of mind to send me back here to get you.”
Angua sighed. “You’re right,” she said. “Well, if that’s where he’s gone, you’d better take me to the last place you saw him. Because if we’re to have any chance of finding him I’ll need to pick up his trail as soon as possible.” She jammed her helmet on her head and started down the stairs. “And pray to gods it doesn’t lead anywhere near the Shades, Noakes. Because if it does, it’s going to be a nightmare tracking him through that damn scallatine...”
Watts moved further down the alley. The one-shot didn’t waver from the centre of Vimes’ chest as he approached.
“Before you think about trying anything heroic, Vimes,” he said. “You ought to know that I’m not likely to miss at this distance, and if you die, I won’t bother saving the kid.” He shrugged. “It’s the death penalty for me either way, so I may as well hang for a sheep, as hang for a lamb.”
“If I had my way you’d hang anyway,” Vimes snarled.
“Temper, temper, commander...”
“Where’s the boy?” Vimes growled. “You’ve got your damned money, now tell me where he is!”
“Why, he’s right through there,” said Watts, motioning to the door at the end of the alley. “You’re free to go and get him.” He gestured with the one-shot, indicating that Vimes move along the alley.
Vimes hesitated. “How do I know you won’t just shoot me in the back?”
“You don’t...” said Watts. “But what choice do you have?”
“Oh, come on, Vimes. I’m not a barbarian. I’ve never killed anyone yet without giving them a sporting chance.”
Vimes gave him a look of pure hatred. “Is that what you call wounding the boy?” he said. “A sporting chance?” He could feel his nails digging into his palms. It was all he could do not to launch himself at Watts and beat the seven hells out of him.
Watts shrugged. “I had to be sure you’d pay,” he said. “Plus, it had the added bonus of giving you less time to think.” He nodded to the doorway. “Shall we?”
Vimes moved towards the entrance, but hesitated before entering. “Just tell me he’s all right,” he said. “I need to know now you’re not taking me to see a corpse.”
“He’s all right, Vimes,” said Watts. “But I can guarantee he won’t be if you don’t quit stalling.”
Vimes ducked under the doorway and entered into the gloom beyond.
It took his eyes a while to accustom themselves to the light, and realizing that Watts would have the same problem, Vimes had a sudden, irresistible urge to tackle him. He pictured the weapon in his hand. One shot, that’s all he had. If he fired and missed, it would be over. Then again, if he fired and didn't miss...
Watts kicked the door closed behind him.
“Over there,” he said, motioning to the next doorway.
Vimes scanned the room automatically as he passed through it, taking a mental note of his surroundings. The room was littered with crates and sacks; there was also a large chest in the corner. It was obviously an old storage room of some kind.
They entered the next room.
Sharkey was coming up from the cellar as they appeared. “Where in the hells have you been, Watts,” he said. “I’ve been lookin—” He stopped when he saw Vimes. “What the... who in the hell’s is this, Watts?”
“Why, this is the great Commander Vimes that the kid keeps talking about, Sharkey. Don’t tell me you didn’t recognize him?”
Sharkey looked Vimes up and down. “That’s him?” he said, looking genuinely surprised. From the way Carrot had been talking he’d been expecting a regular hero, all broad shoulders and broadsword. Not the wiry man he saw before him now. “Well, what in god’s names is he doing here, Watts. Are you out of your mind?”
“He’s come to get the kid, Sharkey. The kid’s all right, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, he’s, uh...” Sharkey glanced back into the cellar. “He’s fine, Watts, just fine...”
Vimes suddenly shoved Sharkey aside and looked down into the cellar.
And fear gripped his heart like a vice.
Carrot was slumped pitifully against the wall; his naked and bleeding body barely covered by the rough blanket that had been thrown over him. He was bound hand and foot. And he wasn’t moving.
“What in god’s names have you done to him, you bastards?” Vimes screamed. With his anger suddenly overtaking his fear, he turned and charged into Watts, knocking him flying against the wall. “Why, you sick—” His hands went automatically for Watts’ throat and he began squeezing as hard as he could.
The one-shot in Watts’ hand went off, sending the deadly missile tearing through Vimes’ thigh. Vimes cried out in pain and spun away, completely losing his grip on Watts. He fell to the floor clutching at his leg.
“You’ll regret that, Vimes,” Watts snarled, throwing the spent weapon aside.
Vimes looked up just in time to see Watts charging at him. He grabbed Watts’ neck, and using his forward momentum, slammed him hard against the wall.
Watts fell; momentarily stunned.
Vimes scrambled to his feet and drew back his leg for a well-aimed kick.
It never landed.
Sharkey was behind him in a flash, grabbing him in a vice-like grip. He picked Vimes up easily and spun him around, slamming him viciously into the wall.
There was a sickening thud as Vimes’ head hit the brickwork. A trickle of blood ran down from his hairline and into his eyes. He blinked, dazedly, still trying to see where Watts was.
Watts was still getting up. But he moved in quickly when he saw Vimes at a disadvantage and landed a quick succession of hard blows to Vimes’ stomach.
Vimes gasped and fell to his knees.
Sharkey released his grip on Vimes, obviously convinced he wasn’t going anywhere now.
But Watts closed in again. “Never give a man like that a chance to get up, Sharkey,” he said. His boot caught Vimes squarely in the ribs.
Sharkey winced when he heard the crack.
“Now, for god’s sakes get some cuffs on him,” Watts growled. “The bastard’s dangerous.”
Sharkey scurried into the other room and returned with a set of cuffs. He threw them across to Watts, who wasted no time in clamping them on Vimes’ wrists.
“Now get him into the cellar,” said Watts. “Before he can do any more harm.”
Sharkey heaved Vimes up and threw him bodily into the cellar. Vimes crashed headlong down the stone steps, quite unable to break his fall. He landed painfully in a heap at the bottom.
Watts followed him down. “It seems you were right about him being trouble, Sharkey,” he said, walking straight past Vimes. “Perhaps it’s just as well I’ve been expecting him.” He walked across to a pile of crates and selected one he deemed suitable with his boot. He kicked it across the room to where Vimes was lying. He looked up at the ceiling and nudged the crate carefully into what was obviously a predetermined position. “Okay,” he said. “Get him up on there.”
Sharkey hauled Vimes up in a bear-like grip and stood him on the crate.
“Good,” said Watts. “But don’t let him go just yet...” He reached above Vimes’ head and pulled something down. “You know, I really ought to kill you, Vimes,” he said. “But seeing as you’ve given us the money, I’m going to give you a sporting chance.”
Vimes blinked and looked up, trying desperately to see what Watts was doing. He realized too late he was standing directly beneath a noose.
Watts dropped it over Vimes’ head and pulled it tight. Then he grabbed the other end and took in the slack, before wrapping it, figure of eight fashion, around a metal mooring on the wall. “I'm not sure how much longer the kid’s got, Vimes,” he said. “But I reckon I’ve kept my end of the bargain. Whether he lives or dies is up to you now.” He grabbed Vimes’ shirt and tore it open before yanking it down hard over his elbows, immobilizing his arms. Then he stood back. “C’mon, Sharkey,” he said. “It’s time we left.”
Sharkey released his grip on Vimes.
And suddenly it became apparent why Watts had chosen that particular crate. It was rotten. Vimes knew it would be only a matter of time before it collapsed completely under his weight.
The trapdoor slammed shut and the bolt shot across.
The crate creaked ominously, and shifted.
And suddenly Vimes’ world became very dark...