Commander Vimes finished reading over the report, signed his name, and finally looked up.
"Constable Saporta," he said, heavily. "Constable Lambert."
He looked them over. Constable Lambert was standing at nearly pitch-perfect attention, marred only by the fact that his hair was completely refusing to cooperate. Constable Saporta, clearly also doing his damnedest to show proper respect, was similarly impaired by the unfortunate fact of being, inescapably, Constable Saporta.
"I'd like to know," he said, "why I'm being petitioned by forty officers to adopt a Klatchian snake as Watch mascot, why three quarters of the Shades have been turning up at the square by the Unseen University every Tuesday for the last month for" —he consulted a report— "'a spot of a singalong', and why, according to Sergeant Angua, as near as I can make out, a man who claims to be a rabbit is asking the Patrician to intervene and force one of my Watchmen to either come back home or do his part for the upkeep of their offspring, also, apparently, rabbits."
He had to admit he'd been hoping to have gotten some of the details wrong there; Angua had been laughing too hard to be entirely clear. His hopes weren't helped along by the fact that Saporta now looked extremely troubled.
"And Constable Lambert," Vimes said. "I'd also like to know, other than your involvement in this musical event the Archchancellor is threatening extreme measures if I don't put a stop to, why I have another petition here from fifty-seven officers asking me to allow body glitter as part of the regulation uniform."
Lambert was looking puzzled now. "I didn't actually have anything to do with that, sir."
"They did?" Saporta said, with interest. "Can I see?" He apparently took Vimes' freezing stare as assent, since he took a step nearer and picked it up off the desk.
"I've been told by reliable sources," Vimes told Lambert, his eyes still resting grimly on Saporta, who was reading the petition with every sign of absorbed fascination, "that this is directly related to some of the Watch going to see a show of yours in one of the new roundos."
Vimes' sources were as reliable as it came, since they were all Captain Carrot. Carrot had also reported that there'd been dancing involved, and suggested, with his usual and lethal lack of sarcasm, that Lady Sybil might enjoy attending next time.
Carrot had also signed the petition. Vimes was very slightly tempted to approve it just to find out whether this was in the interest of supporting self-expression in others, or if Carrot was considering adding glitter to his own uniform.*
[*After all, Vimes' mind commented uncharitably, rumor had it that the Official Captain Carrot Unofficial Fan Club** had recently been debating adding Constable Lambert as a secondary subject. One did have to maintain one's status, after all.]
[**Chairman and founder C.M.O.T Dibbler, membership fee a measly seventy Ankh-Morpork dollars, valuable gift upon registration in the form of a Captain Carrot action doll with included throwing axe, movable arms and removable body armor.]
Lambert was frowning. "Sir, I'm really not sure what—"
"Put down that pen, Constable," Vimes said coldly. Saporta, who had been about to use a corner of Vimes' desk to add his name, paused and looked at him in wonder.
Vimes swung his gaze back to Lambert. "Well?"
Lambert continued to look perplexed; even more so when Saporta clapped a hand on his shoulder and said, "In defense of my colleague, sir, he was only trying to keep the peace."
Vimes narrowed his eyes. "The piece of what?" Though it was not Lambert's regular modus operandi, Vimes was all too familiar with officers who fought valiantly only in the name of keeping the last piece of complimentary rat pie on the counter, for values of complimentary that meant 'left there by the previous occupant of the bar stool', and values of officer that meant 'Corporal Nobby Nobbs'.
"The peace of the establishment, sir," Saporta said earnestly. "You see, before Corporal Lambert's act, a group of boys were playing Music With Rocks In on stage."
"Music With Rocks In And A Thing That Popped," Lambert noted.
"Music With Rocks In And A Thing That Popped," Saporta said. "With Emotion. Lots of it. Lots of emotions all over one another, if you know what I'm saying."
"Do you mean, what, soulful gazing and all that lot?" Vimes asked. Cheery talked about soulful gazing sometimes, and quivering pectorals, and sighed about how kids these days didn't do nearly enough of it, or at least not as much as she'd been led to believe in the mountains.
"Some soulful gazing," Saporta said thoughtfully. "More grinding hips. But the crowd got most worked up by the tongue action, I felt."
"What exactly do you mean by worked up?" Vimes asked.
"There was small stampede, sir."
"What, to get outside?"
"No, sir. To get to the front of the stage. It caused quite the panic."
"There was a panic at the roundo?"
"Yes, sir," Saporta said gravely.
"I see," Vimes said after a moment. He turned to Lambert. "And what did you do to stop this panic?"
"I, er." Lambert looked only a little bit embarrassed. "I took my shirt off."
"You... took your shirt off."
"It was very distracting," Saporta stepped in again. Vimes could not recall ever seeing him be this helpful. "The crowd stopped and just stared for, like, a minute. Long enough for the Poppy Emotional Music With Rocks In boys to slip backstage without getting trampled."
Vimes took this in. To his great distress, he could very easily imagine the scene unfolding in his head. He'd seen Lambert shirtless on the last Mandatory Participation Watch Fitness Day. It was indeed a... formidable distraction.
It also answered the question of where, exactly, the glitter had come in. Fitness Day had been extremely sunny, and several people had been forced to report to the doctor after staring at Lambert for too long with no eye-protection; it said something about a person when his chest blinded more people without his polished breastplate than wearing it. At the time, Vimes had mostly been preoccupied with wondering—or rather, trying very hard not to wonder—how glitter under the regulation uniform could possibly not chafe.
Chafing wasn't the problem right now, though, at least not unless he decided to approve the uniform change; rather, it was Lambert's very distinctive crowd control techniques. It wasn't that Vimes was opposed to new and creative solutions to problems; It was just that, well. There was a Watchperson's way to handle things.
Vimes eyes flitted back to the petition, still lying on the corner of his desk. He sighed. "You couldn't have just brought your truncheon?" he asked.
Saporta smirked. "Oh, he brought his truncheon all right."
"Gabe," Lambert hissed.
Vimes very pointedly did not look below Lambert's waistline. Sometimes, he hated Corporal Saporta very much.
There was a knock on the door.
"Please come in," Vimes said immediately, careful to keep the relief out of his voice.
Vimes oiled the hinges of his office door at least once a week; he liked being able to move around Pseudopolis Yard soundlessly without resorting to climbing down the drainpipe outside his window. Some people, though, walked around with a near-tangible halo of their own personal dramatic effects. The door swung open slowly, emitting a long, drawn-out, spine-curdling creak.
"Good evening," said Susan Sto Helit, stepping into the room. Her heels clacked on the wooden floorboards. "I've come to report an attempted murder."
Vimes blinked. "You mean you've come to confess?"
Susan narrowed her eyes. "Of course not. I don't kill."
Vimes skeptically eyed the thin, black umbrella she was holding, that looked not unlike an iron poker in disguise. Susan swiveled the umbrella discreetly so that her hand was covering the pointy part. She cleared her throat. "There is a band of, well, bandits, living in the desert outside the city."
Both Lambert and Saporta perked up at her words.
"Desert?" Saporta asked with a tinge of wistfulness.
"Band?" Lambert asked, in the same tone of voice.
"Yes," she said. "They've been spotted a few miles outside the city walls, and according to everyone who's seen them, their only goal seems to be to kill—please take this seriously—to kill joy."
Vimes' eyebrows rose up. "To kill joy? Is that actually possible?"
Susan sighed. "We don't know. But you can see why in this case, we'd prefer not to find out when it's too late."
"Certainly," Vimes said. A band of bandits set to kill joy, he thought. The problem with kids these days, other than the criminal lack of soulful gazing, was that half the time, Vimes had no idea what in the world was going on in their minds.
Luckily enough, he had officers—significantly younger, though he tried not to think about that—officers who were, for the most part, trained for the job.
"So, constables," he said. Lambert and Saporta both straightened expectantly. Lambert even snapped the heels of his boots*** together sharply. "It looks like we're going to have to find out more about these joy-killers. Either of you fancy a trip to the desert?"
[***Snakeskin, the result of a previous petition regarding Watch regalia. Surprisingly, Saporta had been opposed to that one, going so far as to launch a passionate but ultimately failed informative campaign in defense of snakes.]
The time it took them to raise their hands may have broken speed records.
"Good," Vimes said. "Anything else they need to know?"
Susan considered it for a moment. "You can probably find them by following the sounds. The bandits are involved in making Music With Rocks And Bits Of Metals In. It's quite loud."
It was hard not to notice Lambert and Saporta exchanging an unsubtle look, utterly failing to suppress their excitement.
"Right," said Vimes, ignoring them. "What else?"
A soft rustling underneath Susan's coat was followed by small, yet somehow resonant, helpful little SQUEAK.
"Oh, that's right, thank you," she said. "This part's just hearsay, but, well, as a general rule, rats don't tend to have much reason to lie: their weapon is art."
Vimes wrinkled his nose. "Art who lives under the sewers in Treacle Mine Road?"
"No, no," Susan said. "Art, the act of creation, of rule-breaking, the expression of human creative skill and imagination, paint-stains and severed ears and berets, the whole lot of it."
"Constables," Vimes said flatly. "You do realize that I am sending you to gather information undercover, not to join the bandits yourselves?"
Both faces schooled themselves into expressions of innocence faster than they'd volunteered for the mission. "Why, I'd never," squawked Saporta, as Lambert indignantly muttered something about an oath to serve and use protection.
"Right," Vimes grunted, making a note to himself to assign someone a tad less corruptible to the mission as well. The new officer from Llamedos, perhaps, who spent nights helping Carrot organize bake-offs in the Shades. That, and the fact he'd never—well, yet—stolen from the office collection jar… he was proving himself to be quite the dependable fellow. Yes, he decided. "Take Constable Allen with you. Make sure he reports back every—" Oh god, every thirty minutes was probably too frequent, wasn't it?
It wasn't that Lambert and Saporta were untrustworthy. It was just that Vimes didn't trust them.
"Once a day," he finally relented. "I expect reports once a day. You can go now."
"Yes sir," Lambert said. He'd brightened considerably at the mention of Allen's name. "Sir, can I make Kris a bandit costume to make sure he blends in with the--"
"Go now," Vimes said, trying not to regret his decision already.
"Yes sir," Lambert said, grinning, and with another salute, spun around and left the room. Saporta's presence was conspicuously absent behind him.
"Er," Vimes heard coming from the general direction of his desk. "Does anybody have a pen?"
He gritted his teeth. "Out."
"Right, yes," Saporta said quickly, and scurried out of the room. A single sheet of paper fluttered slowly to the floor behind him. Susan speared one of the corners with her umbrella and picked it up.
"Hmm," she said, turning the petition to face Vimes. "Signed."
Vimes sighed. "Naturally."
She folded the paper neatly in half and handed it to Vimes. "Well," she said. "I suppose that will be all."
"Of course," he said. The petition seemed slightly sparklier than it had when Vimes had touched it last. It smelled slightly of carrots. "Yes, we're on the case. Will there be any way to contact you if we find ourselves in need of, er. Talents of your sort?"
She narrowed her eyes. "You mean the sharpness of my observation and my skills with an umbrella?"
"In that case, you can find me at 163b Elm Street on weekdays, and the Unseen University Front Plaza on Tuesday afternoons."
"Isn't that where—" he began, before realizing. "Oh."
"Yes." Susan smiled. "The children do enjoy a singalong."
Vimes rubbed his forehead. "Of course. Do give the Archchancellor my regards. And the rest of my police force, which I'm sure will be there as well. And now, if you'll excuse me," he said, looking gloomily at his desk. An overstacked pile of paperwork stared unforgivingly back. Vimes was willing to bet he would need to call in Lambert and Saporta for a follow-up by the time he finished reviewing all of it.
Susan looked sympathetic. "I'll leave you to it," she said.
A whispered SQUEAK sounded from the general area of her bosom.
"He says you should tell your men to use lotion with the glitter, otherwise it chafes," Susan said over her shoulder, and closed the door behind her.
Through the fraction of open window, the faint beginnings of a tune spilled into the room and exited through a crack in the door, continuing down to the courtyard. It had travelled a long way, swooping above trees and curving round buildings and cutting through the streets of the city.
It went: Na Na Na Na Na...
Nobby, Vimes thought. Probably back from Happy Hour again.
He went back to work.