My Brother's Keeper
Three thousand miles away, in a little fishing village on the coast of Brindisi, Maria hurried home. She thought of the same things she always did after work, thoughts common to widowed, working mothers all through the multiverse. She thought of how exhausted she was and how much, in her case, her fingers and hands ached from mending nets for hour after hour. She planned what she would prepare for supper, and what she would need to do to stretch the food in the pantry until the next payday. She worried about her children home alone. Her son Tommy was a responsible boy, for the most part, but staying home with a younger sister all day while she worked was a heavy load for any 12-year-old. But there was nothing for it. Her husband had died three years previously when his fishing trawler was lost during an unexpected storm. Like most people, the family did what they had to do to get by. They didn't waste time on bitterness or feeling sorry for themselves. There were a lot of people out there, even some of their friends and neighbors, who were worse off by far. Or so they told themselves.
It suddenly stopped being just another day when she came within sight of her home and saw a fancy black carriage stopped in front. On the front porch, taking advantage of the cool breeze off the water, a middle-aged man sat chatting with Tommy. A gentleman who looked extraordinarily out of place in this neighborhood. He was wearing an expensive, well-fitting suit that didn't appear to have been handed down from two generations before. What hair remained on his balding head had obviously been trimmed by someone who hadn't had to use the same scissors and razors that were usually used to clean fish. He had a briefcase on his lap that looked to be, of all things, real leather, as did his shoes.
Maria's daughter Cora, who had been playing on the strip of dirt that passed for their front yard, jumped up and came running when she spotted her. "Mama!" she cried happily, "Mama, come, a man's here to see you."
"I see that," Maria replied somewhat suspiciously as the gentleman rose and approached her.
"Mrs. Vimes, let me introduce myself," he said in a cultured voice, "My name is Horace Etamore. If it meets with your approval, I will be your new financial solicitor."
"Cora, go get washed up for dinner. Sir, what are you going on about? I didn't have an old financial solicitor. What is a financial solicitor and why ever should I want one?"
"My primary duty will be to see that your funds are invested wisely. I'll also be available to aid in handling any large business transactions."
"Such silliness! The only investment I'm going to be making is to buy a nice fresh tuna come the end of the week. I don't need a solicitor for that; I've been buying fish since I was a young girl. Tommy, take your sister inside and get washed up."
"Mrs. Vimes, if you'll allow me to explain? You are going to need financial advice because, as these documents here explain, an account has been opened in your name in the amount of $75,000."
"Seventy-five Thousand Dollars?! Oh, wow!" Tommy shouted.
"Didn't I tell you to get inside?" Maria said distractedly. She took the papers Mr. Etamore had taken out of his briefcase and blinked at them obtusely. "Look, I don't know if this is some kind of trick or just a poor joke, but..."
"No, no, I assure you. I realize this may seem a bit unreal at first, but everything is perfectly legitimate. You can see that everything is signed and legal. You are to have immediate access to the funds. There are 'no strings attached,' as they say.
"Seventy-five Thousand?" Maria murmured monotonically. She wondered exactly how she had managed to go to sleep and start dreaming while walking home from work.
"Mama, we can buy everything we could ever want!" Tommy crowed. "A new house, a carriage fancier than the one he has, all the food we can eat..."
"Can I ha' a new desth?" Cora inquired, hampered by the finger she had stuck into her mouth, "An' a 'ony?"
"A new dress? You can have a hundred dresses, Cora!" Tommy assured her, "Mama, you can stay home with her! Um, us, I mean. You won't have to work no more!"
"No, now, hold on a minute," Maria cautioned, though a look of delight was creeping onto her face, "We're not spending all of it tomorrow. We'll have to be reasonable. You're going to go to school, both of you, for one thing..."
"A hund'ed desthesth? An' a 'ony?"
"Cora, take that finger out of your mouth. You've been playing in the dirt." Maria felt as though she was speaking on autopilot while her brain went for a long lay down. "And whatever would we do with a pony? I don't need another mouth to feed."
"Um, Mrs. Vimes," Etamore interrupted, "I'm all in favor of encouraging you to practice fiscal responsibility, but there is something more you should understand. This $75,000 is the lump sum you're receiving immediately. There has also been a trust fund established through which you'll be receiving $10,000 annually for the rest of your life. In the event you should pass on in the next twenty years, your children would receive that amount until they reach age 21."
"Wow." Tommy sat down hard on the ground, stunned into silence.
Cora took the finger from her mouth. "Can I have new shoes, too? Red ones? And a hundred dresses, and a pony?"
"I... I don't understand," Maria whispered, shaking her head, "Why? This money... where is it all coming from?"
"I'm afraid I am not at liberty to disclose the name of your benefactor. He asks that you be told only that he is someone who wishes he had taken time to get better acquainted with your husband, Ron, while he still had the chance."
Sir Samuel Vimes grunted as he hoisted a trunk onto the coach, and brushed off his hands with an air of finality. "I think that's everything, then. It certainly should be." Angua nodded briskly. She was not one to pack heavily for a trip.
"Sam," Lady Sybil called, coming out of the house carrying a sizable basket, "I've packed some snacks and fruit juice in ice..."
"Here, give me that! You're not to be lifting things!" Vimes took the basket and slid it inside the coach.
"Oh, honestly, Samuel, I am not an invalid. Women with half my stamina have babies all the time."
"Yes, but I'm not married to any of them. Thank you for this, dear, but I'm sure it's not necessary. There are certainly inns between here and Lancre."
"Would you like me to drive as far as the Watch House to pick up Carrot, sir?" Angua asked. She was becoming uncomfortably aware of being audience to a husband/ wife moment.
"I'll drive, Sergeant. Why don't you get in the coach and see about rearranging things so that we might have some element of comfort." Vimes turned back to his wife, suddenly looking a bit like he wanted to escape the husband/wife moment himself. "Dear, you are... okay with this, right?"
"Well, I wish you would let me come with you, Sam..."
"We've already been through this," Vimes replied, vehemence rising ponderously to the surface. "This is going to be an uncomfortable journey over rough roads just to do a personal, unpleasant job. You were at death's door a mere three weeks ago, and now you think you can go out into the rural mountains where education means learning to sign your name with an 'X' and the nearest town, which means an inn and four houses, is on the other side of a 200 foot deep ditch which you cross by walking on an old log..." He stopped long enough to take a breath, "...Just to close up a poacher's pitiful shack that's probably been ransacked by bandits and taken over by raccoons by now, and go searching for the half decomposed, half eaten remains of a woman you never even met?!"
"That's what you're going to do, Sam," Sybil replied gently.
"I'm not pregnant! Besides, it's different. She was my sister, and she was murdered, and I should have seen Corbis was trouble instead of getting soused out of my head at her wedding. She deserved better than me for a big brother. Seeing that she has some sort of funeral or whatever, well, it's not likely to matter one way or another to her anymore, but I at least owe her memory that much."
"I know that, dear. It's called closure."
"Yes, whatever. The point is, there were five of us, Sybil. And now there's me, and that's the end."
"No, Sam. Not the end," Sybil corrected tenderly, putting her hand on her protruding abdomen.
Vimes took a deep, slow breath, calming himself. "Right. Which is why I want you to be here at home, which we ludicrously refer to as safe. If it would do any good I'd put this off, but..."
"Put it off until I'm further along? Until we have a baby to care for? And the chance that you'll ever locate where Alice lived and died dropping all the while? No, dear, you go along now and I'll stay here and be the patient wife. Just come home to me soon and safe."
"This isn't going to be a long trip. Now you know that either Detritus, Littlebottom or Constable Flint will be here with you day and night while I'm gone..."
"Which is totally silly and unnecessary. Good gracious, Willikins and I lived here alone, except for 37 swamp dragons, for many years, Samuel Vimes!"
"You weren't pregnant then. Or married to a man that all of the city's worse criminals have a personal vendetta against. Look, it's a cushy job for them and it will make me feel a bit better."
"Oh, Sam," Sybil capitulated with a fond smile, "Get on with you, now. Angua's waiting."
"Er, yes," Sam patted her shoulder awkwardly, "I do need to, yes, get going. Okay. Goodbye, dear. Do take care now."
"And you, darling. Have a good journey."
Sam climbed up on the stage. He picked up the reins. He looked at the reins in his hands. He looked at the horses. He sighed. He put down the reins and got down from the stage.
He walked back to Sybil and quickly gave her a gentle kiss. On the lips. Sybil's eyes opened wide in surprise.
"Sybil, I don't know what I'd do without you. I love you."
"I love you, too, dear," Sybil replied, dumbfounded, to his retreating back. She watched as he jumped into the seat and, without looking back, coaxed the horses into a gentle trot down Scoone Avenue. She watched until the coach turned onto King's Way and disappeared from sight.
'The last time he kissed me in public was at our wedding,' she marveled, 'Which was also the first time. And then only because he felt forced to. And he said it. After a year of seeing each other and three years of marriage, he actually said it'
She walked slowly back into the house, musing happily about the unexpected benefits of misfortunes.