Lady Ramkin lay still and pale. They had put her in the Almost Orange Bedroom, the one Sybil kept aired out for the overnight guests she and Sam never had. She would have looked as though she was very soundly sleeping, except Vimes knew that, had that been the case, she would have been very soundly snoring. She didn't stir at all when he called her name. Vimes couldn't do more than that; his hands were still tied firmly behind his back. At least he could see that she was still breathing.
He'd resolutely refused to cooperate until he had seen her. After all, he certainly had no reason to trust their word. He felt he should be relieved to see that she was actually alive. He wasn't. He was too filled up with fear and fury to fit in any relief.
The adrenalin Sam counted on at times like this just wasn't there. His brain was having trouble pushing coherent thoughts through the pounding headache, the throbbing over the entire right side of his face, the churning nausea, the helplessness, the terror, the guilt.
He needed a plan, a way to overpower the two of them, with his hands tied behind his back. And with his legs so numb and stiff from the hours spent tied to the chair that he couldn't walk without stumbling.And then force them to tell him the whereabouts of the antidote.
So far nothing was coming to mind.
"Okay, you've seen her," Corbis growled, "Now let's get on with this. The faster you get us what we want, the better your chances are of saving her life."
Vimes allowed himself to be shoved out of the room, but halted in the hallway outside the master bedroom. "Look, if you expect me to go to Morecombe's office, you've got to at least let me use my privy, for gods' sake. I'm going to be pretty conspicuous with the front of my trousers soaking wet, which is going to happen pretty damn soon if you don't." There were weapons hidden in the bedroom against possible emergencies, and his razor in the lavatory. Besides, nature really was calling, and rather loudly at that.
"Not in there," Corbis replied gruffly, "You can use the one downstairs, but you're gonna haftahold it until I'm ready to untie your hands. Suzanne, get him a clean shirt and bring it downstairs. This one has blood on it."
Standing in the front hallway while Suzanne sponged the caked and dried blood off his face, Sam saw that his short sword and crossbow were missing from their usual place. He couldn't think of an excuse to go into the kitchen, where he might be able to grab a knife.
Eventually Suzanne untied his hands, while Corbisstood a few feet away aiming a crossbow at his chest. New agonies awoke with stiffened muscles and resuming blood circulation, but Vimes forced himself to flex and stretch his fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders. If he did get a chance, he wasn't going to fumble it because his hands were numb. He headed into the downstairs lavatory, but when he started to close the door Corbis kicked it open with his foot and followed him in.
"Er, you're not going to stand there while I'm taking a leak, are you?"
"You shy, your grace?"
Vimes faced the necessary and unlaced with still awkward fingers. "Look, could you just give me a minute's break here? This is not the easiest thing in the world to do with a crossbow pointed between your shoulder blades!"
"Just get on with it."
Sam tried desperately to think about running taps, pouring rain, flowing fountains, or anything else except the possibility of sudden death aimed at his back. Eventually his aching bladder won out.
He changed shirts, the crossbow in Corbis' hand never wavering, and was pronounced adequately prepared for the trip to the solicitor's office. Vimes felt obscenely naked going outside like this - no chain mail, no breast plate, no helmet, no crossbow, not even his short sword. And now he was going off unarmed to withdraw hundreds of thousands of dollars from the vault on Kings Way .Clearly attempted suicide. He tried explaining this toCorbis and Suzanne, but was assured that Corbis would have adequate weapons to defend them both. Or at least to defend the fortune. Samuel did not find any comfort in this.
Two of the finest Ramkin horses were tethered outside, each saddled and laden with several sturdy saddlebags. Sam gathered from the bulges that the jewelry, gems, silver and gold taken from the house were already packed up. It was the first time that aspect had even crossed his mind. Sybil would be distraught... no, Sybil would be livid... when she discovered the loss of all the family's hoarded heirlooms.
Gods, just let her live to make the discovery.
"Okay, Duke, I want you to hear this loud and clear," Corbis began as the three of them approached the horses. "Suzanne, His Grace and I are going to take the horses and pick up the money. We'll need both animals to carry it all. If we aren't back here in one hour, kill one of the servants. Shut your mouth, Vimes! If we aren't back in another half hour, kill the other servant, take one of the other horses, and get out of here. You know where I'll meet you. If anything looks suspicious, if things don't go smoothly, you kill the servants immediately and take off. Got that? You get that, Duke?"
"I got it," Vimes said grimly.
"Okay, Your Grace, saddle up and lead the way."
Angua and Carrot were within sight of Scoone Avenue when Vimes and his escort rounded the corner onto King's Way.
"Carrot, there's Mr. Vimes!"
"Where? No, it can't be... you're right! Those are Ramkin horses." Angua gave him an exasperated look. "Commander!Sir! Over here! Wait just a minute!"
Vimes had a brief discussion with the other man, thenthey began walking the horses toward Carrot and Angua.
"Sir, you're hurt! I should have known something was wrong when you didn't report in this morning. What happened?"
"Just a brief altercation, none of your concern.Whatever is on your mind, it's going to have to wait, Carrot. I've got some urgent personal business to attend to and I'm in a hurry."
Angua took Carrot's arm, digging her fingernails into his biceps.
Carrot frowned with confusion. "But, Commander, this could be important. Have you seen this clacks from Lan...?"
"I said not now, Carrot. Go back to the Watch House and cover for me until I can get in."
"O-Okay, sir, if that's what you want," Carrot stammered, clearly uneasy, "But I really think we should stop by your home first..."
"No!" Vimes shouted, "There's no... no need for that. Go back to the Watch House now and take over until I get this sorted out. That's an order, Captain Carrot!"
"Yessir."Carrot saluted. Vimes and his companion urged the horses back out into the traffic without a backward glance.
"Something's very wrong," Angua hissed as soon as the two men were out of hearing range.
"Something's certainly out of the ordinary. I haven't seen the Commander out of uniform and unarmed since... I'm not sure I can remember ever seeing him out of uniform and unarmed, not when he's supposed to be on duty."
"It's more than that, Carrot. He's scared."
"Scared? Of what?"
"I have no idea. But I've been with Commander Vimes in some pretty sticky situations, and he doesn't scare easily. But now...Carrot, I could smell the fear pouring off him a block away. Anger, too, a lot of it, but that’s pretty standard for Mr. Vimes. But mainly fear. He's terrified. Really terrified."
Carrot stared after the two men. "I don't know what to do. He doesn't want to say what's going on. And he gave me a direct order. He knows I'll obey that, Angua."
"He knows you'll obey it. I'm not quite so literal about these things, Carrot. And besides, he was talking to you. He didn't say a thing to me."
Twenty minutes later, Mr. Morecombe walked into Mr. Slant's office with a handful of paperwork and a somewhat nonplused expression. "I need a second authorization signature on these, Slant," he said, putting the papers on the desk, "I'll need to take a rather large figure in gold and jewels out of the deep vaults. Inconvenient, and a little puzzling, actually."
"Vimes?" said Slant, glancing over the paperwork, "That is uncharacteristic. He never touches that fund. Proud, self-righteous drivel about it not being his money, even though Lady Ramkin has signed it over to him. And all in hard currency?"
"Well, it seems he's making a large purchase as a surprise gift for his wife. Says that the seller insists on a cash transaction.He appears more nervous than enthused, though"
"Well, one must keep in mind that the man has an enormous, irrational phobia of vampires, sir. Hmm. Still seems rather odd, but then, Vimes is an extraordinarily peculiar individual." Slant signed the paperwork and handed it back to the senior partner. "Alright, sir, there you are."
As Morecombe left the office, Slant rose from his desk and paced circumspectly to his window. He took in the stranger waiting outside with two horses from the Ramkin estate.
Mr. Morecombe, who had been the Ramkin family solicitor for centuries, was an exceptional genius with finances and a cagey man with investments, particularly using other people's money. But he was also a highly trustworthy, rather uncomplicated vampire when it came to dealing with his clientele. Mr. Slant, on the other hand, defense attorney to the very rich, had spent centuries as a zombie developing the twisty sort of mind that would instinctively look for all of the loopholes, implications, allusions and weaknesses in people and their actions. He was a totally suspicious bastard, although he would have been appalled to think he had this or any other trait in common with Samuel Vimes.
Coming to a quick decision, Slant returned to his desk, used his quill pen and finest stationery to compose a hasty note, and called for a messenger boy.
Completing the transaction at the solicitor's office, loading the horses, and returning to Scoone Avenue had taken over fifty minutes. Samuel was soaked in nervous, impotent sweat by the time he and Corbis rode around to the back of the house.
Suzanne came rushing out of the door as they dismounted. Her hair was disheveled, her face streaked with dirt and tears, and her clothes shredded in several places. Blood oozed from a wound on her right arm. She had belted on Sam's short sword; there was blood on the grip, but not the blade.
"Jack!" she cried out, "Jack, thank gods! There's a wolf in there! A wolf! It broke right through the window!" She glanced fearfully over her shoulder and back into the house. "It ran upstairs and, and looked at Lady Sybil like, like it knew what it was doing! It licked her face! Then it ran downstairs and, so help me, Jack, it threw itself against the door of the wine cellar until it broke open! It's down there now, with the servants!"
"Did it attack you? You're bleeding!"
"It, so help me, Jack, it acted like I wasn't there, until I got the sword and started toward it. Then it bit my arm and pulled until I dropped the sword, and it growled and tore my clothes and chased and, and pulled me clear down the stairs and into the back corner of the Mildly Yellow Sitting Room. And then it just, just lost interest in me. That's when it started in on the cellar door. I went back upstairs after the sword, but I'm not going down in that cellar after it!"
"Godsdamn it, get back in there now and see what it's doing!" Corbis roared. He grabbed and loaded his crossbow, pointing it straight at Samuel's chest. "I said no tricks, your grace. I told you everything had to go absolutely smoothly."
Sam held up his hands placatingly. "Hey, you can't blame me for a wolf breaking into my house. We don't keep any pet wolves. Just swamp dragons."
"You and I are going into that house. You first.You're either going to sort this out or be dinner for that wolf."
Vimes could hear a horse at full gallop, just turning onto Scoone from King's Way. He wasn't sure whether to be pleased or panicked. "Look, you've got what you want. Let me handle the wolf. I think you'd better leave. Right now."
"I don't like loose ends, Lord Vimes, and a trained wolf is a loose end. We're going to kill that wolf. Then you can take a short nap in that cellar, with the servants and the drink you love so well, while Suzanne and I are getting out of here."
"Never mind," Vimes replied, rubbing the bridge of his nose and shaking his head, "It's too late now."
Captain Carrot came around the corner on horseback, dismounting and drawing his sword in one smooth motion almost before the animal was stopped. He approached Corbis slowly but without hesitation.
"Okay, Watchman, stop right there or your Commander and Duke is dead," Corbis commanded. He still had the crossbow aimed at Vimes, but was trying to watch Carrot from the corner of his eye. The Captain had slowed, but was still advancing one careful step at a time.
"Carrot, I ordered you to go to the Watch House," Sam said, his voice tired and worried.
"I did, Commander. But now I have orders from the Patrician himself to bring both you and this gentleman to the Palace immediately." His eyes hadn't left Corbis. "Put down the bow, sir, you're under arrest."
"I said stay where you are!" Corbis shouted. Carrot stopped. "Now," he continued, "How about you put down the sword instead? Works a lot better for me. Under arrest for what?"
"Threatening an Officer of the Watch with a lethal weapon, sir. Now put it down. It will go a lot easier on you if it's 'threatening' than if it's 'attempting to attack.'"
"Put down the sword now or it's going to be 'killing with a lethal weapon.'"
"Then you will be holding an unloaded crossbow and be under arrest for murdering an Officer of the Watch. None of us want that, sir." Carrot took another step.
"Don't kill him, Carrot," Vimes said sharply, "Sybil's been poisoned. You've got to get him to tell you..."
"Vimes, shut up!"
"...where the antidote..."
"Vimes, tell him to let us go now or..."
"Carrot! Behind you!"Vimes screamed.
Then several things happened simultaneously. Or at least as close to simultaneously as the human mind can register. Actually, some events definitely sneaked in before others, but the only way Samuel could comprehend how they led to the end result was to go through the whole thing frame by frame much later, after the dust had settled.
Frame One: Carrot spun around, lifting his sword to block the clumsy swing Suzanne was making with Vimes' sword.
Frame Two: Corbis swung the crossbow around to point at Carrot.
Frame Three: Vimes launched himself at Corbis, while a sleek golden wolf leaped through the air at Carrot.
Frame Four: Corbis sent the bolt flying toward Carrot's back.
Frame Five: Vimes impacted glancingly with Corbis, while the wolf struck Carrot, knocking him out of the bolt's path.
Frame Six: Corbis fell backward, landing on his backside. Vimes hit the ground hard several feet past him, ending up with his face in the dirt and no air in his lungs. Carrot fell heavily onto his back, the beautiful but heavy wolf landing hard on top of him.
And the bolt from Corbis' crossbow buried itself directly into Suzanne Alberts' heart.