“I said, we have been trying to think of some suitable recompense, Captain Vimes. Various public-spirited citizens-” the Patrician's eyes took in the Council and Lady Ramkin-“and, of course, myself, feel that an appropriate reward is due.”
Vimes still looked blank.
“Reward?” he said.
“It is customary for such heroic endeavour,” said the Patrician, a little testily.
Vimes faced forward again. “Really haven't thought about it, sir,” he said. “Can't speak for the men, of course.”
There was an awkward pause. Out of the corner of his eye Vimes was aware of Nobby nudging the sergeant in the ribs. Eventually Colon stumbled forward and ripped off another salute. “Permission to speak, sir,” he muttered.
The Patrician nodded graciously.
The sergeant coughed. He removed his helmet and pulled out a scrap of paper.
“Er,” he said. “The thing is, saving your honour's presence, we think, you know, what with saving the city and everything, or sort of, or, what I mean is ... we just had a go you see, man on the spot and that sort of thing ... the thing is, we reckon we're entitled. If you catch my drift.”
The assembled company nodded. This was exactly how it should be.
“Do go on,” said the Patrician.
“So we, like, put our heads together,” said the sergeant. “A bit of a cheek, I know ...”
“Please carry on, Sergeant,” said the Patrician. “You needn't keep stopping. We are well aware of the magnitude of the matter.”
“Right, sir. Well, sir. First, it's the wages.”
“The wages?” said Lord Vetinari. He stared at Vimes, who stared at nothing.
The sergeant raised his head. His expression was the determined expression of a man who is going to see it through.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “Thirty dollars a month. It's not right. We think-” he licked his lips and glanced behind him at the other two, who were making vague encouraging motions-“we think a basic rate of, er, thirty-five dollars? A month?” He stared at the Patrician's stony expression. “With increments as per rank? We thought five dollars.”
He licked his lips again, unnerved by the Patrician's expression. “We won't go below four,” he said. “And that's flat. Sorry, your Highness, but there it is.”
The Patrician glanced again at Vimes's impassive face, then looked back at the rank.
“That's if?”he said.
Nobby whispered in Colon's ear and then darted back. The sweating sergeant gripped his helmet as though it was the only real thing in the world.
“There was another thing, your reverence,” he said.
“Ah.” The Patrician smiled knowingly.
“There's the kettle. It wasn't much good anyway, and then Errol et it. It was nearly two dollars.” He swallowed. "We could do with a new kettle, if it's all the same, your lordship.''
The Patrician leaned forward, gripping the arms of his chair.
“I want to be clear about this,” he said coldly. “Are we to believe that you are asking for a petty wage increase and a domestic utensil?”
Carrot whispered in Colon's other ear.
Colon turned two bulging, watery-rimmed eyes to the dignitaries. The rim of his helmet was passing through his fingers like a mill wheel.
“Well,” he began, “sometimes, we thought, you know, when we has our dinner break, or when it's quite, like, at the end of a watch as it may be, and we want to relax a bit, you know, wind down ...” His voice trailed away.
Colon took a deep breath.
“I suppose a dartboard would be out of the question-?”
The thunderous silence that followed was broken by an erratic snorting.
Vimes's helmet dropped out of his shaking hand. His breastplate wobbled as the suppressed laughter of the years burst out in great uncontrollable eruptions. He turned his face to the row of councillors and laughed and laughed until the tears came.
Laughed at the way they got up, all confusion and outraged dignity.
Laughed at the Patrician's carefully immobile expression.
Laughed for the world and the saving of souls.
Laughed and laughed, and laughed until the tears came.
Nobby craned up to reach Colon's ear.
“I told you,” he hissed. “I said they'd never wear it. I knew a dartboard'd be pushing our luck. You've upset 'em all now.”
Dear Mother and Father [wrote Carrot] You will never guess, I have been in the Watch only a few weeks and, already I am to be a full Constable. Captain Vimes said, the Patrician himself said I was to be One, and that also he hoped I should have a long and successful career in the Watch as well and, he would follow it with special interest. Also my wages are to go up by ten dollars and we had a special bonus of twenty dollars that Captain Vimes paid for out of his own pocket,
Sgt Colon said. Please find money enclosed. I am keeping a little bit by though because I went to see Reet and Mrs Palm said all the girls had been following my career with Great Interest as well and I am to come to dinner on my night off. Sgt Colon has been telling me about how to start courting, which is very interesting and not at all complicated it appears. I arrested a dragon but it got away. I hope Mr Varneshi is well.
I am as happy as anyone can be in the whole world.
Your son, Carrot.
Vimes knocked on the door.
An effort had been made to spruce up the Ramkin mansion, he noticed. The encroaching shrubbery had been pitilessly hacked back. An elderly workman atop a ladder was nailing the stucco back on the walls while another, with a spade, was rather arbitrarily defining the line where the lawn ended and the old flower beds had begun.
Vimes stuck his helmet under his arm, smoothed back his hair, and knocked. He'd considered asking Sergeant Colon to accompany him, but had brushed the idea aside quickly. He couldn't have tolerated the sniggering. Anyway, what was there to be afraid of? He'd stared into the jaws of death three times; four, if you included telling Lord Vetinari to shut up.
To his amazement the door was eventually opened by a butler so elderly that he might have been resurrected by the knocking.
“Yerss?” he said.
“Captain Vimes, City Watch,” said Vimes.
The man looked him up and down.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Her ladyship did say. I believe her ladyship is with her dragons,” he said. “If you like to wait in 'ere, I will-”
“I know the way,” said Vimes, and set off around the overgrown path.
The kennels were a ruin. An assortment of battered wooden boxes were lying around under an oilcloth awning. From their depths a few sad swamp dragons whiffled a greeting at him.
A couple of women were moving purposefully among the boxes. Ladies, rather. They were far too untidy to be mere women. No ordinary women would have dreamed of looking so scruffy; you needed the complete self-confidence that comes with knowing who your great-great-great-great-grandfather was before you could wear clothes like that. But they were, Vimes noticed, incredibly good clothes, or had been once; clothes bought by one's parents, but so expensive and of such good quality that they never wore out and were handed down, like old china and silverware and gout.
Dragon breeders, he thought. You can tell. There's something about them. It's the way they wear their silk scarves, old tweed coats and granddad's riding boots. And the smell, of course.
A small wiry woman with a face like old saddle leather caught sight of him.
“Ah,” she said, “you'll be the gallant captain.” She tucked an errant strand of white hair back under a headscarf and extended a veiny brown hand. “Brenda Rodley. That's Rosie Devant-Molei. She runs the Sunshine Sanctuary, you know.” The other woman, who had the build of someone who could pick up carthorses hi one hand and shoe them with the other, gave him a friendly grin.
“Samuel Vimes,” said Vimes weakly.
“My father was a Sam,” said Brenda vaguely. “You can always trust a Sam, he said.” She shooed a dragon back into its box. “We're just helping Sybil. Old friends, you know. The collection's all to blazes, of course. They're all over the city, the little devils. I dare say they'll come back when they're hungry, though. What a bloodline, eh?”
“Sybil reckons he was a sport, but I say we should be able to breed back into the line in three or four generations. I'm famed for my stud, you know,” she said. “That'd be something, though. A whole new type of dragon.”
Vimes thought of supersonic contrails criss-crossing the sky.
“Er,” he said. “Yes.”
“Well, we must get on.”
“Er, isn't Lady Ramkin around?” said Vimes. “I got this message that it was essential, she said, for me to come here.”
“She's indoors somewhere,” said Miss Rodley. “Said she had something important to see to. Oh, do be careful with that one, Rose, you silly gel!”
“More important than dragons?” said Vimes.
“Yes. Can't think what's come over her.” Brenda Rodley fished in the pocket of an oversized waistcoat. “Nice to have met you, Captain. Always good to meet new members of the Fancy. Do drop in any time you're passing, I'd be only too happy to show you around.” She extracted a grubby card and pressed it into his hand. “Must be off now, we've heard that some of them are trying to build nests on the University tower. Can't have that. Must get 'em down before it gets dark.”
Vimes squinted at the card as the women crunched off down the drive, carrying nets and ropes.
It said: Brenda, Lady Rodley. The Dower House, Quirm Castle, Quirm. What it meant, he realised, was that striding away down the path like an animated rummage stall was the dowager Duchess of Quirm, who owned more country than you could see from a very high mountain on a very clear day. Nobby would not have approved. There seemed to be a special land of poverty that only the very, very rich could possibly afford . . .
That was how you got to be a power in the land, he thought. You never cared a toss about whatever anyone else thought and you were never, ever, uncertain about anything.
He padded back to the house. A door was open. It led into a large but dark and musty hall. Up in the gloom the heads of dead animals haunted the walls. The Ramkins seemed to have endangered more species than an ice age.
Vimes wandered aimlessly through another mahogany archway.
It was a dining room, containing the kind of table where the people at the other end are in a different time zone. One end had been colonised by silver candlesticks.
It was laid for two. A battery of cutlery flanked each plate. Antique wineglasses sparkled in the candlelight.
A terrible premonition took hold of Vimes at the same moment as a gust of Captivation, the most expensive perfume available anywhere in Ankh-Morpork, blew past him.
“Ah, Captain. So nice of you to come.”
Vimes turned around slowly, without his feet appearing to move.
Lady Ramkin stood there, magnificently.
Vimes was vaguely aware of a brilliant blue dress that sparkled in the candlelight, a mass of hair the colour of chestnuts, a slightly anxious face that suggested that a whole battalion of skilled painters and decorators had only just dismantled their scaffolding and gone home, and a faint creaking that said underneath it all mere corsetry was being subjected to the kind of tensions more usually found in the heart of large stars.