Arson was not a popular crime in Ankh-Morpork. Not an unheard of crime, of course, because Ankh-Morpork was nothing if not a city of extremely heard crime. But even in the lowest of low places1 among the city streets, it was rare. River water you could stand on and the general public’s realization that hey, this building is touching that building...and that building...and oh, that building is my house made most potential arsonists follow their survival instincts and join the Alchemists’ Guild instead.2
The lack of fire insurance helped, as well.3
So Addison Post was an unusual case. Sam Vimes looked over his file--one sheet of paper among a sea enveloping his desk--and considered the man. Wizard by training, lunatic by genetics. Friendly enough in person, no prior history, but an interview with his former governess revealed a childhood fondness for matches. Of course, reflected Vimes, the brilliant minds at Unseen University wouldn’t ask about that. Nor would they consider it odd that a fresh student would--with urgency--ask, after two weeks of lessons, if fire suppression spells could be "used the other way round." When pressed, a sheepish entrance examiner explained he thought the glassy-eyed boy was just very keen.
Vimes sifted through his stacks of paper until he found the damage assessment. Ten buildings in half as many days, one brazen attack on the sausage market, and a hole in the University wall the size of an oxcart…keen was not the word. And the word Vimes preferred to use couldn’t go on the reports.
Bloody reports! Untold numbers of people getting hurt, a mad wizard on a rampage, everywhere reeking of burnt sausage…and Vimes had to sit down and sign things. It made his palms itch. He trusted his officers, of course, but he’d rather be out there on the cobbles with them, instead of fidgeting through piles of parchment in his office. And it wasn’t even copper work! They kept that sort of thing in Pessimal's office now. This lot was just “proclamations of critical import” from various guilds, or “vehement complaints” from some noble or another4 about unfairly equal application of the law. He hadn't the heart to look at the gold embossed dinner invitations stacked by the door.
He looked out the window. Smoke from Post’s most recent fire still drifted lazily above the river Ankh. It wouldn’t dissipate for half a day more, and hanging there atop his city it may as well have formed a middle finger. Vimes resisted the urge to toss one back, instead glaring down at the newest bit of nonsense that needed signing. “‘Pseudopolis Yard Renovations,’” he read aloud, quill hovering over a set of complicated sketches. There had been a lot of scaffolding downstairs as of late. New ceiling tiles, replacement grouting in the locker rooms, B.S. Johnson’s Indoor Ramtops system above the main office--
Vimes frowned, tapping his quill on the paper. Indoor Ramtops System. He’d commissioned the damn thing, hadn’t he? Two months ago, but after three days without sleep it could’ve been two decades. What on earth did it do…
A pair of heavy boots on the stairs interrupted him. Six foot seven inches of red-haired dwarf burst through the doorway and the dinner invitation pile to stop short in front of the desk.
“Sir!” Carrot said, and only then realized the wreckage of paper around him. “Oh, uh, sorry, sir--”
“No apologies, Captain,” sighed Vimes. “I’d burn the lot of it if I could. Tell me some good news.”
“We’ve caught Post, sir!”
Vimes felt a twinge of jealousy, but primarily relief. He rose, pushing the blueprints aside. “Well done! Who’s got him?”
“Angua’s processing hi--” was all Carrot managed to say before an angry shriek rang from downstairs. Midway through, it shifted to a canine howl. Carrot beat him to the door, bounding down the steps two at a time. The Commander followed him at speed, and both of them emerged into a scene of growing chaos.
Angua reeked of burnt fur in her wolf form; she gnawed on the leg of a ragged, cursing Addison Post. The wizard, handcuffs glowing red, tried to get away and in the process flung a fireball at Constable Visit-the-Infidel-With-Explanatory-Pamphlets’ desk. Constable Visit, shouting something terribly profane in Morporkian5, stumbled towards a sword rack. Above it all, acrid smoke bloomed across the ceiling.
Carrot watched it all for a fraction of a second before concern and determination sent him at speed towards the madman with the burning hands.
To the fatigue-addled brain of Samuel Vimes, this all happened in leisurely slow-motion. He took in the melee, the flames, and particularly the smoke, something nagging at his brain. Ramtops System. Ramtops System. Why am I remembering the bloody Ramtops System? He looked up. Saw the smoke rising oddly in certain places on the ceiling, as though it were sucking up through little holes. Ah yes.
Vimes slammed his truncheon against the stairs, the bang drowning out even Angua’s growls. “SERGEANT! CAPTAIN!” he roared. “STOP!” Carrot immediately skidded to a halt, looking baffled back at Vimes. Angua worried Post’s leg a moment more before letting him go, sending the wizard stumbling forward. His cuffs seared a line across the floorboards.
Post whirled towards the watchhouse’s heavy oak doors; Constable Visit stood in front of them, sword at ready. Post looked towards the locker rooms; Sergeant Detritus emerged, confusion on his face but an enormous siege crossbow in his hands.
“What’s all ‘dis?” Detritus asked.
“Mister Post seems to think he can burn his way out of Pseudopolis Yard, Sergeant.” Vimes’ voice stayed calm, even as the wizard lurched towards him. “But this watch house won’t burn down, will it?”
“Everything burns!” shouted Post. He paced frenetically inside circle of officers, seeking an exit and finding none.
“Yeah?” Vimes reached out towards the flames until they caught the tip of his cigar. His eyes on the wizard, he put the cigar to his lips and took a deep, long breath, exhaling the smoke towards the ceiling. “Might be true. Then again…” There was a curious creaking somewhere up above, rather like the valve on a hose. A drop of water fell on the cigar, putting it out with a little sizzle.
The wizard gawked upwards.
“D’you think I’d work in a watch house another bloody dragon could burn down?”
A blinding mist of water sprayed from somewhere up above. The hot metal cuffs around Addison Post’s wrists sang in the cooling rain. Angua and Carrot started toward him, but he moved quickly. Not to the locker rooms, not to the basement, not even to the front doors--he bolted toward Vimes, howling in anger.
Vimes stepped aside.
Post seized the opportunity and barreled up the stairs, bashing through the doorway. The ensuing fire spell shot flames back out the door and halfway down the staircase. As they receded, Angua started upstairs, but Vimes held out a hand. "Sergeant? Hold. Post already lit you on fire once today, and the sprinklers should kick in up there any moment."
“Sir, Post is getting away--” Carrot began.
There was the sound of breaking glass, and scuffing on the window ledge. Vimes smiled. “Is he?”
Renovations. So many things to sign off on, big and small. There was the new set of lockers Nobby couldn't break into so easily6, proper steel grates on the windows, a set of cages for Igor that Vimes just didn't want to think about...and the railings. Assassins' Railings. Not called so because they helped the assassins in question, of course. They were called so because, as Addison Post's screams indicated, when you tried to hang from Assassins' Railings with pressure greater than that of your average pigeon, three inch spikes miraculously appeared. Barbed spikes. The screams grew rather high-pitched.
Vimes nodded. “Right. Captain Carrot? Get a ladder. Sergeant Angua? Go get dressed. Sergeant Detritus? Get a bloody big pan of water and see to that fire--”
Vimes started up the stairs and stopped, staring blankly at the pure white smoke of burning parchment pour out of his doorway. According to any standard, this was a catastrophe. Inside that office sat hundreds of papers, stacked wherever stacks could sit. Months of reports, orders, noble correspondence. And now, a wizard's fire and a deluge of water introducing themselves to it all. Such staggering losses...Vetinari's scriveners would spend weeks rewriting it all...
Only Carrot heard the incredulous giggle that came, unbidden, from Vimes' lips.
What productive weeks they could be...
Vimes surveyed his soaking wet watch house, smelled the burning remains of his office, looked at his ruined cigar, and felt as though he’d won the lottery. “But--but, ah...give it a few minutes, eh? ”
1Or, to Dwarfs, the highest of high.
2After its third rebuilding, the Alchemists’ Guildhall received Ankh-Morpork’s first and only mandatory moat.
3Banned by the Patrician after thirteen taverns exploded under mysterious circumstances.
4Though now a Duke, Vimes considered himself less a noble than a commoner taking nobility down from the inside.
5The Omnian translation reads "I AM HIGHLY CROSS RIGHT NOW."
6And one locker he could break into easily, filled with anything the rest of the staff didn't want.