23,673
07.03.2019

“Well, of course this is the case. ” The thief hesitated. The Patrician’s last remark had barbs on it. You found yourself waiting for him to strike.

“Er, ” he said, hoping for a clue.

“With so much business being conducted, that is.”

Panic took over the thief’s features. Randomised guilt flooded his mind. It wasn’t a case of what had he done, it was a question of what the Patrician had found out about. The man had eyes everywhere, none of them so terrifying as the icy blue ones just above his nose.

“I, er, don’t quite follow… ”he began.

“Curious choice of targets. ” The Patrician picked up a sheet of paper. “ For example, a crystal ball belonging to a fortune teller in Sheer Street. A small ornament from the temple of Offler the Crocodile God. And so on. Gewgaws. ”

“I am afraid I really don’t know-” said the head thief. The Patrician leaned forward.

“No unlicensed thieving, surely?” he said.[6]

“I shall look into it directly!” stuttered the head thief. “Depend upon it!”

The Patrician gave him a sweet smile. “I’m sure I can, ” he said. “Thank you for coming to see me. Don’t hesitate to leave. ”

The thief shuffled out. It was always like this with the Patrician, he reflected bitterly. You came to him with a perfectly reasonable complaint. Next thing you knew, you were shuffling out backwards, bowing and scraping, relieved simply to be getting away. You had to hand it to the Patrician, he admitted grudgingly. If you didn’t, he sent men to come and take it away.

When he’d gone Lord Vetinari rang the little bronze bell that summoned his secretary. The man’s name, despite his handwriting, was Lupine Wonse. He appeared, pen poised.

You could say this about Lupine Wonse. He was neat. He always gave the impression of just being completed. Even his hair was so smoothed-down and oiled it looked as though it had been painted on.

“The Watch appears to be having some difficulty with the Thieves’ Guild, ” said the Patrician. “Van Pew has been in here claiming that a member of the Watch arrested him. ”

“What for, sir?”

“Being a thief, apparently. ”

“A member of the Watch? ” said the secretary.

“I know. But just sort it out, will you?”

The Patrician smiled to himself.

It was always hard to fathom Lord Vetinari’s idiosyncratic sense of humour, but a vision of the red-faced, irate head thief kept coming back to him.

One of the Patrician’s greatest contributions to the reliable operation of Ankh-Morpork had been, very early in his administration, the legalising of the ancient Guild of Thieves. Crime was always with us, he reasoned, and therefore, if you were going to have crime, it at least should be organised crime.

And so the Guild had been encouraged to come out of the shadows and build a big Guildhouse, take their place at civic banquets, and set up their training college with day-release courses and City and Guilds certificates and everything. In exchange for the winding down of the Watch, they agreed, while trying to keep their faces straight, to keep crime levels to a level to be determined annually. That way, everyone could plan ahead, said Lord Vetinari, and part of the uncertainty had been removed from the chaos that is life.

And then, a little while later, the Patrician summoned the leading thieves again and said, oh, by the way, there was something else. What was it, now? Oh, yes…

I know who you are, he said. I know where you live. I know what kind of horse you ride. I know where your wife has her hair done. I know where your lovely children, how old are they now, my, doesn’t time fly, I know where they play. So you won’t forget about what we agreed, will you? And he smiled.

So did they, after a fashion.

And in fact it had turned out very satisfactorily from everyone’s point of view. It took the head thieves a very little time to grow paunches and start having coats-of-arms made and meet in a proper building rather than smoky dens, which no-one had liked much. A complicated arrangement of receipts and vouchers saw to it that, while everyone was eligible for the attentions of the Guild, no-one had too much, and this was very acceptable-at least to those citizens who were rich enough to afford the quite reasonable premiums the Guild charged for an uninterrupted life. There was a strange foreign word for this: inn-sewer-ants. No-one knew exactly what it had originally meant, but Ankh-Morpork had made it its own.

The Watch hadn’t liked it, but the plain fact was that the thieves were far better at controlling crime than the Watch had ever been. After all, the Watch had to work twice as hard to cut crime just a little, whereas all the Guild had to do was to work less.

And so the city prospered, while the Watch had dwindled away, like a useless appendix, into a handful of unemployables who no-one in their right mind could ever take seriously.

The last thing anyone wanted them to do was get it into their heads to fight crime. But seeing the head thief discommoded was always worth the trouble, the Patrician felt.

Captain Vimes knocked very hesitantly at the door, because each tap echoed around his skull.

“Enter. ”

Vimes removed his helmet, tucked it under his arm and pushed the door open. Its creak was a blunt saw across the front of his brain.

He always felt uneasy in the presence of Lupine Wonse. Come to that, he felt uneasy in the presence of Lord Vetinari-but that was different, that was down to breeding. And ordinary fear, of course. Whereas he’d known Wonse since their childhood in the Shades. The boy had shown promise even then. He was never a gang leader. Never a gang leader. Hadn’t got the strength or stamina for that. And, after all, what was the point in being the gang leader? Behind every gang leader were a couple of lieutenants bucking for promotion. Being a gang leader is not a job with long-term prospects. But in every gang there is a pale youth who’s allowed to stay because he’s the one who comes up with all the clever ideas, usually to do with old women and unlocked shops; this was Wonse’s natural place in the order of things.

Vimes had been one of the middle rankers, the falsetto equivalent of a yes-man. He remembered Wonse as a skinny little kid, always tagging along behind in hand-me-down pants with the kind of odd skipping run he’d invented to keep up with the bigger boys, and forever coming up with fresh ideas to stop them idly ganging up on him, which was the usual recreation if nothing more interesting presented itself. It was superb training for the rigours of adulthood, and Wonse became good at it.

Yes, they’d both started in the gutter. But Wonse had worked his way up whereas, as he himself would be the first to admit, Vimes had merely worked his way along. Every time he seemed to be getting anywhere he spoke his mind, or said the wrong thing. Usually both at once.

That was what made him uncomfortable around Wonse. It was the ticking of the bright clockwork of ambition.

Vimes had never mastered ambition. It was something that happened to other people.

“Ah, Vimes. ”

“Sir, ” said Vimes woodenly. He didn’t try to salute in case he fell over. He wished he’d had time to drink dinner.

Wonse rummaged in the papers of his desk.

“Strange things afoot, Vimes. Serious complaint about you, I’m afraid, ” he said. Wonse didn’t wear glasses. If he had worn glasses, he’d have peered at Vimes over the top of them.

“Sir?”

“One of your Night Watch men. Seems he arrested the head of the Thieves’ Guild. ”

Vimes swayed a little and tried hard to focus. He wasn’t ready for this sort of thing.

“Sorry, sir, ” he said. “Seem to have lost you there. ”

“I said, Vimes, that one of your men arrested the head of the Thieves’ Guild. ”

“One of my men?”

“Yes. ”

Vimes’s scattered brain cells tried valiantly to regroup. “A member of the Watch?” he said.

Wonse grinned mirthlessly. “Tied him up and left him in front of the palace. There’s a bit of a stink about it, I’m afraid. There was a note…. ah… here it is… ‘This man is charged with, Conspiracy to commit Crime, under Section 14 (iii) of the General Felonies Act, 1678, by me, Carrot Ironfoundersson. ‘ ”

Vimes squinted at him.

“Fourteen eye-eye-eye?”

“Apparently, ” said Wonse.

“What does that mean?”

“I really haven’t the faintest notion, ” said Wonse drily. “And what about the name… Carrot?”

“But we don’t do things like that!” said Vimes. “You can’t go around arresting the Thieves’ Guild. I mean, we’d be at it all day!”

“Apparently this Carrot thinks otherwise. ”

The captain shook his head, and winced. “Carrot? Doesn’t ring a bell. ” The tone of blurred conviction was enough even for Wonse, who was momentarily taken aback.

“He was quite-” The secretary hesitated. “Carrot, Carrot, ” he said. "I’ve heard the name before.

Seen it written down. “ His face went blank. ”The volunteer, that was it! Remember me showing you?”

Vimes stared at him. "Wasn’t there a letter from, I don’t know, some dwarf-?”

"All about serving the community and keeping the streets safe, that’s right. Begging that his son would be found suitable for a humble position in the Watch. ” The secretary was rummaging among his files.

“What’d he done?” said Vimes.

“Nothing. That was it. Not a blessed thing. ”

Vimes’s brow creased as his thoughts shaped themselves around a new concept.

“A volunteer?” he said.

“Yes. ”

“He didn’t have to join?”

"He wanted to join. And you said it must be a joke, and I said we ought to try and get more ethnic minorities into the Watch. You remember?”

Vimes tried to. It wasn’t easy. He was vaguely aware that he drank to forget. What made it rather pointless was that he couldn’t remember what it was he was forgetting any more. In the end he just drank to forget about drinking.

A trawl of the chaotic assortment of recollections that he didn’t even try to dignify any more by the name of memory produced no clue.

“Do I?” he said helplessly.

Wonse folded his hands on the desk and leaned forward.

“Now look, Captain, ” he said. “Lordship wants an explanation. I don’t want to have to tell him the captain of the Night Watch hasn’t the faintest idea what goes on among the men under, if I may use the term loosely, his command. That sort of thing only leads to trouble, questions asked, that sort of thing. We don’t want that, do we. Do we?”

“No, sir, ” Vimes muttered. A vague recollection of someone earnestly talking to him in the Bunch of Grapes was bobbing guiltily at the back of his mind. Surely that hadn’t been a dwarf? Not unless the qualification had been radically altered, at any rate.

“Of course we don’t, ” said Wonse. “For old times’ sake. And so on. So I’ll think of something to tell him and you, Captain, will make a point of finding out what’s going on and putting a stop to it. Give this dwarf a short lesson in what it means to be a guard, all right?”

“Haha, ” said Vimes dutifully.

“I’m sorry?” said Wonse.

“Oh. Thought you made an ethnic joke, there. Sir. ”

“Look, Vimes, I’m being very understanding. In the circumstances. Now, I want you to get out there and sort this out. Do you understand?”

❮❯