Vimes tried to speak, but his eyes were already glazing over.
“Th-the money’s in the...” he began.
He never finished the sentence.
He closed his eyes and let out an audible sigh. His hands fell away from his throat.
“Oh, no, you don’t!” cried Watts, rushing at him suddenly and hauling him up by the front of his shirt. He shook him furiously. “Don’t you dare peg out on me yet! Tell me where the rest of the money is first!”
Vimes’ head suddenly came down hard on the bridge of Watts’ nose. “It’s still in the bank, you bastard!” he snarled.
Watts’ nose exploded into a bloody mess. He fell away, howling in pain.
Vimes swung out with his leg, taking Watts’ feet out from under him. And then he was on him, pinning him down by the throat with his handcuffed wrists. Suddenly the darkness that had been plaguing his vision was replaced, by pure, red, animal rage.
Upstairs in the other room, Sharkey was getting edgy. He’d been told to wait by the door, but he could hear the sounds of a scuffle. He gripped the moneybag indecisively. He hadn’t wanted to come back; $50,000 was more than enough money as far as he was concerned. He knew coming back was only inviting trouble...
He edged cautiously into the other room, and risked a quick glance into the cellar.
Vimes had Watts pinned to the floor.
It was all the incentive Sharkey needed to leave. He headed straight for the door.
The constant scratching of the rats outside made him heft his crossbow as he approached. If he never saw another one again it would be too soon. He unlocked the door and swung it wide open...
There was a flash of gold as a magnificent werewolf hit Sharkey full in the chest. He stumbled backwards, hitting his head on the flagstones as he fell. He squeezed the trigger of the crossbow instinctively, sending the bolt whistling past Angua’s ear. It hit the far wall and clattered noisily to the ground.
Angua crouched, ready to strike again, but Sharkey made no move to get up. She glanced around quickly, assessing the room for further dangers. When none presented itself, she headed for the next doorway.
Noakes appeared suddenly from the alleyway, having finally caught up with her. He glanced quickly at the recumbent Sharkey and then followed Angua.
But the familiar creak of a crossbow string being drawn suddenly made him turn...
Sharkey was reloading, and was aiming straight at Angua; there was something about the way the tip of the bolt glinted oddly in the light that suddenly filled Noakes with fear.
“Nooo!” he cried.
He threw himself in the doorway, blocking Sharkey’s line of fire.
Sharkey fired, regardless.
Noakes staggered backwards as the bolt sank deep into his shoulder. He collided with Angua, throwing her forwards, inadvertently plunging them both into the cellar...
Vimes blinked through a sea of red mist as two bodies suddenly bowled into him. He fell sideways, completely disoriented, confused as to why he’d lost his stranglehold on Watts.
Watts had no such concerns; he simply couldn’t believe his luck. Seizing his chance, he scrambled to his feet, showing no concern for the fallen Noakes as he jumped over him and legged it quickly up the stairs.
“Don’t let him get away!” Vimes yelled.
But Angua didn’t need telling; she was already on his tail. She flew out of the trapdoor just in time to see Watts disappear out into the alley. But she didn’t follow; there was a new threat now, requiring her immediate attention. Sharkey had reloaded, and now he had the determined look of a man with nothing left to lose. Angua switched targets automatically and she wasn’t kind; she went straight for the throat.
Suddenly there was nothing, except the awful, nauseating, smell of copper...
Down in the cellar, Noakes had dragged himself over to the wall, and was propped against it, trying to stem the flow of blood from his shoulder. Vimes made a move towards him, but Noakes shook his head, indicating that he see to Carrot first. “I-I’ll be all right,” he said, smiling reassuringly.
But his laboured breathing told Vimes otherwise; he glanced agonizingly at Carrot, and then back again at Noakes.
“Go to him...” said Noakes quietly, managing to convey with a look at least one very important reason why he should.
Vimes crawled over to where Carrot was lying. He was still in his original position; slumped against the wall with his head on his chest.
“C-Carrot?” he said softly, lifting his chin with a trembling hand. “C-can you hear me?” Carrot was deathly pale and his skin was cold to the touch; Vimes felt sure he had gone. But his eyelids flickered slightly, and there was a faint glimmer of recognition. It was followed by a heartbreaking attempt at a smile.
“S-Sam...?” a small voice said.
Vimes’ face creased up. “Oh, Carrot,” he said, pressing his forehead to his. “I thought I’d lost you...” He closed his eyes and held Carrot's head tenderly, struggling to hold on to what remained of his composure.
Noakes suddenly groaned, causing Vimes to look up.
Angua had appeared at top of the steps, wearing an old sack from upstairs. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said, as she came down the stone steps. “I managed to get one of them, but the other one escaped I’m afraid.”
Vimes blinked mistily. “It-it doesn’t matter, Angua,” he said, turning his head quickly to face Carrot. “We have more important things to worry about now.”
Angua came across the room and knelt down beside him. “May I?” she said, gently removing Vimes’ hand from Carrot’s cheek.
“Oh, I think the commander’s quite capable of looking after Captain Carrot for the time being, sergeant,” said a voice they both recognized. “Perhaps you’d be kind enough to help Igor in with his things?”
Vimes looked up.
“My lord!” he said. “W-what are you doing here?”
Vetinari came down the stone steps, followed closely by Igor.
He came across the room and knelt down beside Vimes, speaking quietly. “You have Captain Noakes to thank for my involvement, commander,” he said. Vetinari motioned for Igor to attend to Carrot and then took Vimes’ arm and gently pried him away, allowing Igor room to work. “He came to see me after suspecting your intentions, asking what was written on the note. You know, you seem to be collecting guardian angels at an alarming rate, Sir Samuel, the loyalty of your men never ceases to amaze me.”
Igor assessed Carrot quickly. “There’th been quite a lot of blood loth, thur,” he said. “But he’th definitely a strong one, so I think he’ll be okay.”
“A-are you sure?” said Vimes. “He hasn’t moved for ages.”
Igor nodded, knowingly. “Thensible thing to do, thur, under the circumstanceth. It preventh further blood loth. Don’t worry, thur, we’ll soon have him on the mend. I just need to get my thingth.”
“Well, see to Noakes as soon as you’ve finished,” said Vimes. “He needs attention too.”
“And you too, by the look of it, Sir Samuel,” said Vetinari, looking him over. “You seem to have had quite a run-in with these people.”
“For what good it did,” said Vimes wearily. “One of them escaped, and the devil’s still out there somewhere.”
“Yes, but you needn’t worry yourself,” said Vetinari. “He won’t be bothering anyone anymore.”
“I’ve had one of my men take care of him from the rooftops, Sir Samuel.”
“He’s dead, you mean,” said Vimes flatly.
“It’s the customary sentence for murder, I believe, Sir Samuel.”
“But he hasn’t killed anyone!” said Vimes. “Carrot’s still alive!”
“Yes, I’m pleased to see that he is,” said Vetinari, managing a hint of a smile. It faded, quickly. “But unfortunately, the deadline expired quite some time ago. Had it not, of course, then perhaps this devil, as you so aptly named him, may have been spared his fate.”
Vimes didn’t know why he felt disgusted; ten minutes ago, he’d have quite happily killed Watts with his bare hands. But that was different; they’d been fighting and he’d been defending himself. Assassination was another thing entirely. It was deliberate, and cold-blooded.
Vimes glanced tiredly around the room as the events of the day finally caught up with him. He looked at Carrot, where Igor had now begun treating him, and then to Noakes; slumped against the wall with a red stain spreading slowly across his chest.
And then at himself.
Any one of them could be dead right now; arguing over moral issues with Vetinari hardly seemed worth the effort.
He bowed his head.
“It’s over, Sir Samuel,” said Vetinari, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Vimes was aware of a gentle squeeze as Vetinari’s hand lingered slightly longer than was necessary...
Later that week, back at the Watch House, things were almost back to normal.
Chaos reigned once more in the front office, and Vimes was back behind his desk, marvelling at the speed at which paperwork accumulated when no one was looking.
The bruising on his face had almost faded now, but the rope burns around his neck were still quite evident. His injured leg was sticking out at an awkward angle, having been strapped up so tightly he could hardly bend it; he swore every time Fred tripped over it.
Angua was sitting opposite, watching him.
“I expect you’ll be glad to have Carrot back won’t you, sir?” she said, as the pile of papers she’d been watching finally toppled and fell to the floor.
“Yes, I will, Angua,” Vimes sighed, staring forlornly at his desk. “I do miss him when he’s not here.”
"Well, you won’t have to wait much longer, sir. The doctor thinks he’ll be up and around by the end of the week. Carrot has the most amazing constitution he’s ever seen, apparently.”
“Yes, and a good thing, too,” said Vimes. “I’m convinced it’s the only thing that saved him.”
“Well, I’d have to disagree with you there, sir. I believe you played the biggest part in doing that.”
“I didn’t do anything, Angua. You saw for yourself how much use I was. All Carrot had to do was hang on.”
“And he did so because of you, sir. The reason I know that is because he’s hardly stopped talking about you since he got his strength back; he knew you wouldn’t let him down.” Angua studied his battered face for a moment. “He thinks an awful lot of you, sir, surely you must know that?”
Vimes shuffled the papers on his desk, self-consciously. “Well, I think a lot of Carrot, Angua. As I do all my men.”
“Yes, sir, I know you do,” said Angua, leaning back in her chair. “But, you know, sometimes I get the feeling you two share something that I’m not a party to; like Carrot is special to you somehow.”
Vimes had a sudden urge to reach for the bottom drawer of his desk; a pointless exercise, he knew.
“Special?” he said. “In what way?”
“Well, like you have a soft spot for him, or something.”
“I have a soft spot for all my men, Angua. Even our own dear Corporal Nobbs.”
“You have a soft spot for Nobby, sir?”
“Yes, it’s called a swamp.”
Angua grinned. “I was being serious, sir.”
“Well, seeing as you’ve mentioned it, Angua,” said Vimes, suspecting where this was heading. “I won’t pretend that Carrot doesn’t have a special place in my heart. He’s certainly changed things around here since he joined the Watch, and I can’t deny the enormous impact he’s had on my life.” In more ways than one, he thought. “So, yes, I suppose you could say I have a soft spot for him. In fact, he’s almost like a son to me now.”
Angua smiled. “I’d rather guessed as much, sir,” she said, reaching for her helmet. “Well, it makes sense, I suppose,” she said, getting up. “He’s always looked up to you, figuratively speaking, so I can see how it works.” She shook her head as she headed for the door. “I might have guessed it was a ‘man’ thing,” she said resignedly.
Vimes held the door open for her. “Yes, but that hardly makes us rivals, does it?”
Angua smiled and turned to face him. “I’ll give him your regards, sir. I’m off to see him again later.”
“Before you go, Angua,” said Vimes thoughtfully. “How much do you know about Captain Noakes?”
“James? Not an awful lot, sir. He keeps himself to himself pretty much, sir. Why?”
“Well, it suddenly struck me that I hardly know the man. And I was hoping to rectify that if I could.” Vimes gestured towards his desk. “It’s going to take me forever to find his file among that little lot, so I was just wondering...”
Angua smiled. “What did you want to know, sir?”
“Well, is he married? Is there a Mrs. Noakes?”
“No, sir. But he does live with someone; they’ve been together years, apparently.”
“Do you know where they live?”
“Short Street, I believe, sir. Why?”
“Well, I was thinking of going round there this afternoon, just to put her mind at rest over Noakes’ position. He’s still in pretty bad shape, and I don’t want her worrying about financial arrangements on top of everything else. I feel it’s the least I can do after everything Noakes has done for me.
Angua studied his face for a moment. “Well, that’s entirely up to you, sir,” she said, a little uncertainly. “But... well, good luck anyway.”
“You think that’s a bad idea?”
“No, sir, I think it’s a good idea. It’s just that, well... it’s a ‘he’, sir, not a ‘she’.”
“Didn’t you know, sir?” said Angua, carefully avoiding his gaze. “Noakes lives with a man...”