Angua and Noakes raced down Lower Broadway. They slowed down slightly as they approached the Brass Bridge and the Patrician’s Palace came into view.
“What’s gotten into Vimes lately, do you think?” said Angua, as they crossed over. “I mean it’s so unlike him to do anything reckless.”
“We don’t know as he has yet,” said Noakes.
“But you must have noticed a change in him? I mean all this business with Carrot, it seems to have, I don’t know, gotten to him somehow.”
“In what way?”
“Oh, come on, Noakes! He’s been practically out of his mind since Carrot went missing.”
Noakes carried on walking. “The commander’s always been protective of Carrot as far as I can see, sergeant,” he said noncommittally. “Perhaps you’d rather he didn’t care?”
“No, of course not. But it’s almost as if he’s taking this whole thing personally; you know, as if someone’s trying to get to him, through Carrot.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, why did the kidnappers ask Vimes for the money? Have you ever thought about that?”
“That’s simple,” said Noakes. “They’re not from around here; they mistook Carrot for the commander’s son.”
“Okay...” said Angua. “But they knew Vimes was rich. How did they know that if they’re not from around here?”
Noakes shrugged. “Anyone could have told them that.”
“But anyone could have told them Carrot wasn’t Vimes’ son.”
Noakes slowed to a halt and turned to look at her.
“Well, couldn’t they?” Angua insisted.
“Assuming they’d asked, yes. What are you actually getting at, sergeant?”
“Well, nothing, really... I just wonder what you think, that’s all.”
“What I think isn’t important, sergeant,” said Noakes. “And as much as I’d like to stand here and speculate with you, I’m afraid time is a luxury we don’t have.”
He walked off and entered the Palace grounds alone.
“This is where I left him,” he said, as he heard Angua come up behind him again. “His trail would still be quite strong here, I should think.”
“It is,” said Angua, pulling a face. “Bit upset, was he?” She didn’t wait for an answer, but instead looked around for a convenient place to change.
Noakes looked away courteously, and then walked over to the Palace steps. He stopped when he saw Vimes’ armour and weapon lying half-hidden by the side of them.
“Angua...?” he called out over his shoulder. “I think you’d better come and see this...”
Vimes stood perfectly still...
He thought very carefully about his next move. As much as he complained about the ugly world in which he lived, he had no desire to speed his passage into the next one by weakening the crate with unnecessary movements.
A trickle of blood ran into his eyes, daring him to blink.
Unsurprisingly, his first thoughts were for Carrot. He turned his head to one side, trying to see where he was. He could just make him out in the gloom; he hadn’t moved or changed positions since he’d seen him first.
“C-Carrot?” he whispered. “A-are you all right, lad?”
Vimes closed his eyes, trying to remember how long it had been since he’d left the Oblong Office. Everything had happened so fast that time no longer seemed to have any real meaning. He only remembered stopping twice along the way, and suddenly he hated himself for thinking of himself before Carrot. Realizing that, for the first time since all this had happened, he was now facing the very real possibility of losing him.
He tried to imagine his life without Carrot.
“Oh, gods, Carrot...” he choked. “Please talk to me...”
The crate moved suddenly, and he froze.
Mercifully, it held firm.
Vimes blinked, numbly.
He had to focus.
He tried his arms against the restraints of his shirt; he couldn’t move them. He reached up to his neck, attempting to relieve the pressure on his throat by working his fingers under the rope. They barely reached.
The crate creaked loudly.
He held his breath for a few anxious moments and then clawed again at the rope. This time he managed to get a finger from each hand beneath it. For now, at least, it allowed him a small space in which to breathe.
He turned his head carefully to the other side, trying to see where Watts had attached the rope to the wall. He could just make it out. The metal mooring was four, maybe four and a half feet away. He balanced carefully and reached out with his leg, trying to judge the distance. It looked tantalizingly close.
But it was further than he’d thought.
He altered his footing and inched a little nearer. But the crate suddenly shifted and his heart skipped a beat as his foot sank into the rotten wood. The noose tightened. He cried out as he was forced to take his weight on his injured leg to avoid throttling himself. He scrabbled frantically for a firmer footing, unable to see where he was putting his feet. He was relieved when he eventually hit a corner of the crate where the wood was still relatively sound.
But time was running out.
He took a moment to steady himself, and then returned his attention to the mooring. If his time were up then he was damned if he was going to spend his last few minutes waiting for the crate to collapse. He’d try something to save the pair of them, even if it meant dying in the attempt.
He edged out onto the corner of the crate as far as he dare. Then, making sure his fingers were safely between the rope and his throat, he took a deep breath and kicked out at the mooring on the wall.
The tip of his boot just caught it.
He inched a little nearer; ever mindful of his precarious footing, and tried it again.
More of his boot caught it this time, and he felt it give slightly. But the crate was creaking loudly and he was aware that he was sinking lower. He willed it to stay firm for just a few moments longer.
He tried it once more, kicking out as hard as he could. For his efforts, the brickwork crumbled and a few pieces of mortar fell away.
But the mooring held fast.
And unfortunately, in his desperation he’d leaned out too far. He teetered awkwardly, realizing too late that he’d made a fateful mistake.
The crate collapsed.
And suddenly, there was nothing beneath him.
Angua threw back her head and howled.
Noakes started. “What is it?” he said, running back towards her. “Is it the commander?”
Noakes had no idea what her barks and growls meant, but it hardly mattered, because in a flash she was gone again, bounding headlong through the centre of the Shades.
Noakes chased after her.
She slowed down as they approached the docks, sniffing along the ground, letting out another low growl.
“He’s been here?” Noakes hazarded.
Although her language was a mystery to him, there was no doubt in Noakes’ mind how much the commander trusted her. So when she charged off again, heading towards a long wall of crates, he did no less than Vimes would have expected of him; he followed her faithfully, trying his best to keep up.
Vimes was mildly relieved when his entire life failed to flash before him as he swung from the rope. There were parts of it he’d rather forget.
Nothing but shadows filled his vision now as the rope slowly crushed his windpipe.
In a last-ditch effort to save himself, he made another desperate attempt to reach the mooring on the wall. But he had nowhere near enough momentum to reach it now. He kicked out at it wildly; refusing to give up until the last of his life was choked out of him.
He thought of Carrot, and Sybil...
And suddenly he was kicking out, not at the mooring, but at the downright unfairness of it all; at his inability to save Carrot; at the pain he knew he’d cause his wife when she learned she was a widow; and at a million and one other things he considered should never be. He kicked out in frustration at the whole, stinking world in general.
But most of all, he kicked out in anger at his own damned incompetence.
He knew it was a useless gesture, but he did it anyway.
And, quite unexpectedly, his anger paid off...
With a protesting screech, the weakened mooring suddenly gave way, sending the metal fixture spinning across the room.
Vimes landed heavily on his back. Pain shot through his cracked rib. He clawed at the rope around his neck, trying to remove it, struggling to breath through his ravaged windpipe.
Before he could get his breath back, there was the sound of movement in the room above him. It was followed by the scrape of metal as the trapdoor opened up.
Light spilled into the cellar.
“Angua!” he rasped.
“Expecting company, Vimes?” he said, as he came down the stone steps. He glanced around the room, taking in the scene around him. “Well, I’m impressed, Vimes,” he said. “But I’m beginning to tire of your little games, I’m afraid.” He came across the room and stared down at him angrily. “Where’s the rest of the money?” he said.