The Watch had left before Captain Vimes got back to Pseudopolis Yard. He plodded up the stairs to his office, and sat down in the sticky leather chair. He gazed blankly at the wall.
He wanted to leave the Guard. Of course he did.
It wasn't what you could call a way of life. Not life.
Unsocial hours. Never being certain from one day to the next what the Law actually was, in this pragmatic city. No home life, to speak of. Bad food, eaten when you could; he'd even eaten some of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler's sausages-in-a-bun before now. It always seemed to be raining or baking hot. No friends, except for the rest of the squad, because they were the only people who lived in your world.
Whereas in a few days he would, as Sergeant Colon had said, be on the gravy boat. Nothing to do all day but eat his meals and ride around on a big horse shouting orders at people.
At times like this the image of old Sergeant Kepple floated across his memory. He'd been head of the Watch when Vimes was a recruit. And, soon afterwards, he retired. They'd all clubbed together and bought him a cheap watch, one of those that'd keep going for a few years until the demon inside it evaporated.
Bloody stupid idea, Vimes thought moodily, staring at the wall. Bloke leaves work, hands in his badge and hourglass and bell, and what'd we get him? A watch.
But he'd still come in to work the next day, with his new watch. To show everyone the ropes, he said; to tidy up a few loose ends, haha. See you youngsters don't get into trouble, haha. A month later he was bringing the coal in and sweeping the floor and running errands and helping people write reports. He was still there five years later. He was still there six years later, when one of the Watch got in early and found him lying on the floor…
And it emerged that no-one, no-one, knew where he lived, or even if there was a Mrs Kepple. They had a whip-round to bury him, Vimes remembered. There were just guards at the funeral…
Come to think of it, there were always just guards at a guard's funeral.
Of course it wasn't like that now. Sergeant Colon had been happily married for years, perhaps because he and his wife arranged their working lives so that they only met occasionally, normally on the doorstep. But she left him decent meals in the oven, and there was clearly something there; they'd got grandchildren, even, so obviously there had been times when they'd been unable to avoid each other. Young Carrot had to fight young women off with a stick. And Corporal Nobbs… well, he probably made his own arrangements. He was said to have the body of a twenty-five year old, although no-one knew where he kept it.
The point was that everyone else had someone, even if in Nobby's case it was probably against their will.
So, Captain Vimes, what is it really? Do you care for her? Don't worry too much about love, that's a dicey word for the over-forties. Or are you just afraid of becoming some old man dying in the groove of his life and buried out of pity by a bunch of youngsters who never knew you as anything other than some old fart who always seemed to be around the place and got sent out to bring back the coffee and hot figgins and was laughed at behind his back?
He'd wanted to avoid that. And now Fate was handing him a fairy tale.
Of course he'd known she was rich. But he hadn't expected the summons to Mr Morecombe's office.
Mr Morecombe had been the Ramkins' family solicitor for a long time. Centuries, in fact. He was a vampire.
Vimes disliked vampires. Dwarfs were law-abiding little buggers when they were sober, and even trolls were all right if you kept them where you could see them. But all the undead made his neck itch. Live and let live was all very well, but there was a problem right there, when you thought about it logically…
Mr Morecombe was scrawny, like a tortoise, and very pale. It had taken him ages to come to the point, and when it came the point nailed Vimes to his chair.
“Er. I believe I am right in saying the estate, including the farms, the areas of urban development, and the small area of unreal estate near the University, are together worth approximately… seven million dollars a year. Yes. Seven million at current valuation, I would say.”
“It's all mine?”
“From the hour of your wedding to Lady Sybil. Although she instructs me in this letter that you are to have access to all her accounts as of the present moment.”
The pearly dead eyes had watched Vimes carefully.
“Lady Sybil,” he said, “owns approximately one-tenth of Ankh, and extensive properties in Morpork, plus of course considerable farm lands in—”
“But… but… we'll own them together…”
“Lady Sybil is very specific. She is deeding all the property to you as her husband. She has a somewhat… old-fashioned approach.” He pushed a folded paper across the table. Vimes took it, unfolded it, and stared.
“Should you predecease her, of course,” Mr Morecombe droned on, “it will revert to her by common right of marriage. Or to any fruit of the union, of course.”
Vimes hadn't even said anything at that point. He'd just felt his mouth drop open and small areas of his brain fuse together.
“Lady Sybil,” said the lawyer, the words coming from far away, “while not as young as she was, is a fine healthy woman and there is no reason why—”
Vimes had got through the rest of the interview on automatic.
He could hardly think about it now. When he tried, his thoughts kept skidding away. And, just as always happened when the world got too much for him, they skidded somewhere else.
He pulled open the bottom drawer of his desk and stared at the shiny bottle of Bearhugger's Very Fine Whiskey. He wasn't sure how it had got there. Somehow he'd never got around to throwing it out.
Start that again and you won't even see retirement. Stick to cigars.
He shut the drawer and leaned back, taking a half-smoked cigar from his pocket.
Maybe the guards weren't so good now anyway. Politics. Hah! Watchmen like old Kepple would turn in their graves if they knew that the Watch had taken on a w—
And the world exploded.
The window blew in, peppering the wall behind Vimes' desk with fragments and cutting one of his ears.
He threw himself to the floor and rolled under the desk.
Right, that did it! The alchemists had blown up their Guild House for the last time, if Vimes had anything to do with it…
But when he peered over the window sill he saw, across the river, the column of dust rising over the Assassins' Guild…
The rest of the Watch came trotting along Filigree Street as Vimes reached the Guild entrance. A couple of black-clad Assassins barred his way, in a polite manner which nevertheless indicated that impoliteness was a future option. There were sounds of hurrying feet behind the gates.
“You see this badge? You see it?” Vimes demanded.
“Nevertheless, this is Guild property,” said an Assassin.
“Let us in, in the name of the law!” bellowed Vimes.
The Assassin smiled nervously at him. “The law is that Guild law prevails inside Guild walls,” he said.
Vimes glared at him. But it was true. The laws of the city, such as they were, stopped outside the Guild Houses. The Guilds had their own laws. The Guild owned the…
Behind him, Lance-Constable Angua reached down and picked up a fragment of glass.
Then she stirred the debris with her foot.
And then her gaze met that of a small, non-descript mongrel dog watching her very intently from under a cart. In fact non-descript was not what it was. It was very easy to descript. It looked like halitosis with a wet nose.
“Woof, woof,” said the dog, in a bored way. “Woof, woof, woof, and growl, growl.”
The dog trotted into the mouth of an alleyway. Angua glanced around, and followed it. The rest of the squad were gathered around Vimes, who'd gone very quiet.