Actions

Work Header

The Brain Thief

Work Text:

Policemen have their own walk. It's called "proceeding," and it is the gentle, rolling gait of every law enforcement officer in the history of the multiverse. It is a constant, like the deliberate dimness of sergeants or the missing three dollars in the tea kitty. Or like the way a running man will catch a watchman's eye...

***

Sam Vimes, twenty-one years old and a newly minted corporal, was proceeding down Attic Bee Street in a not-untroubled state of mind. On the face of it, he should have had very little to feel uneasy about. He was, after all, the scion of Ankh-Morpork's wealthiest family, son of the Watch Commander, and promoted not though the nepotism that advanced so many well-bred young men, but through the patient solving of a nasty murder. Sam was still rather proud of that.

It was just that all his good fortune made him rather more noticeable that he was used to being; his parents certainly had a high profile, but Sam had always enjoyed a little more obscurity. Mostly because any news organization interested in changing that state of affairs had, previously, caught seven kinds of hell from Dad.

There was a news-stand on the corner. Sam couldn't help but wince as he passed it. It was the way his own face seemed to grimace at him, as if in pained sympathy, from half the covers.

That bloody article! "Ankh's Most Eligible Bachelor." It was such a lot of nonsense, but Dad said you could never underestimate how much nonsense the magazine-buying portion of the public was willing to consume. Dad said a lot of things like that, and Sam found he was very rarely wrong.

The article itself wasn't actually that bad, although it got his eye color wrong, listed his hobbies as painting watercolors and pursuing great justice, and included a truly terrifying fold-out poster that was now in pride of place on the bedroom walls of twelve-year-old girls across the city. No, the real problem was that the article seemed to have announced an open season on him, Sam Vimes, and every eligible young lady in the city-- and their mothers-- had taken their romantic crossbows down from above the mantel and begun polishing, as it were, the stocks.

Sergeant Colon's granddaughters had been bad enough, Sam thought to himself as he proceeded down the busy sidewalk. But this was an order of magnitude more alarming.

It's lucky that Sam had a Watchman's instincts, because most people would have been, by this point, much too distracted to notice a single running man in the crowded street. But Sam was a Watchman, and quite a good one, so no number of personal problems kept Sam from noticing the figure, carrying a satchel, shoving his way through the crowd. A girl was following him, running with the single-minded determination of the recently robbed. Sam sighed and reached for his bell.

The man was running towards him, which was lucky. Sam angled out into the crowded street to intercept him-- once the thief realized there was a copper in the way, he'd have to try to dodge him, or arrow off into an alley, or possibly drop the satchel and feign sudden-onset amnesia, which someone had actually tried on Sam's friend Gordon once when they were lance-constables.

What Sam was not expecting was for the man to spot him, start frantically waving his free arm, and shout "Officer! Officer!" But life in the big city was full of surprises.

The thief reached Sam a moment ahead of the girl, and pushed Sam into her path. The two of them immediately began conducting a screaming argument over Sam's helmet. Sam winced.

"--showed her my license, I did--"

"--and what kind of a city are you running here, I ask you--"

"--chased me all the way from Goosegate, and the missus says I'm not to strain meself--"

"--tried to tell me it was some sort of a licensed theft, of all things--"

"--mad, sir, I really think--"

"--completely insane--"

A small crowd had begun to gather already, with the typical Ankh-Morpork enthusiasm for street theatre. Sam sighed. "Sir, if you could just-- miss, really, if you would calm down for a moment--" No response. Sam took off his helmet, unholstered his truncheon, and hit one with the other, producing a resounding clang that silenced the man, the girl, and the fellow selling sausages to the bystanders.

"That's better," Sam said. "Sir. Miss. Mr. Dibbler. If you could all be quiet for a moment, I think we can get this sorted out, hm?"

Everyone looked suitably chastened, although Sam noticed Mr. Dibbler taking the opportunity to pocket the change he'd been about to hand a man.

"Sorry, sir," said the thief. The girl blushed furiously and looked away.

"Now," said Sam, "Miss. You're recently arrived to the city, I'm guessing?"

Her mouth formed an O of astonishment. "How did you--"

"Newcomers tend to be a little... taken aback by their first experience with the Thieves' Guild," said Sam. "It's very common. I think they do an introductory pamphlet now, usually."

"I tried to give her one," the thief said, aggrieved. "But she just kicked me on the knee and started shouting."

"He tried to take my books," said the young lady, in the tones of one who has every confidence that all would be made clear by this statement.

“I offered her an out-of-towner’s discount!” the thief countered.

“Right,” Sam said. He held out a hand for the satchel, and the thief handed it over, with some reluctance. It was astonishingly heavy; Sam’s arm sagged under the weight. “Sir. I think you may have to write this one off as a loss. Ask your Guild representative to come round Treacle Mine Road and talk to me if there’s any trouble. And miss...?” He raised an eyebrow at the young lady, waiting for a name.

She flushed again. Sam found himself noticing that she looked rather nice with pink cheeks; she was a pale girl, his own age or a little older, freckled a bit, with a cloud of dark curly hair tied back from her face. “Meg, officer. Meg Garlick. And I am sorry for the trouble, but I really need those books.” She eyed the satchel rather hungrily, and when Sam handed it over she snatched it back and began to rifle through it, making sure that nothing was missing.

The thief left, grumbling, and the crowd dispersed. Miss Garlick finished taking inventory of her bookbag, and sighed with relief. “Everything’s here. If he’d taken Aubergine’s Anatomy I might have hit him, in all honesty.”

“Are you a student, then?” Sam asked.

She nodded. “Trainee doctor at the Free Hospital. I’m just down from Lancre this week; my first day’s tomorrow. Specializing in obstetrics,” she added, which would have been gibberish to most people, but most people didn’t grow up in a house with the Lady Sybil Free Hospital’s namesake, and two-thirds of its original Board of Directors.

“You want to be a midwife, then?”

She brightened up considerably once she realized that Sam knew what she was talking about. It made her eyes sparkle, which Sam rather liked. “Not quite,” she said, “but I trained with some really amazing midwives back home. And I suppose a good bit of my practice will be standard midwifery. But I came to the city to learn the really complicated stuff. What to do when the midwife’s toolkit* isn’t any good. That sort of thing.” She paused, then, and shook her head. “But I’m being frightfully rude. I don’t even know your name, and you’ve been so helpful.”

Later, Sam couldn’t say why he’d done it. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, and Sam was usually the sort who thought things out, weighed the pros and cons before making any big choice. But something in his hindbrain took over his mouth, and he found himself saying, “Sam Ramkin, miss. It’s very nice to meet you.”

It wasn’t, technically, a lie. Ramkin was his middle name, and it was Mum’s maiden name; he had a perfect right to it. But it wasn’t the name that Miss Garlick would have known instantly as one of the most famous in Ankh-Morpork, the name that said “rich bugger and a duke in waiting besides.” It was not, in short, a name that Meg would recognize. Sam had had more than enough of girls who recognized his name, just lately. Maybe that was why he did it.

So Miss Garlick smiled at him, without a hint of recognition flickering in her dark eyes. “It’s nice to meet you, too, Sam,” she said. “And please, call me Meg.”

*Sam also happened to be one of the few people in the city whose own birth might not have happened if not for the existence of a toolkit larger and more complex than the average midwife’s. This was a fact he devoutly wished he did not know. Parents tend to take a sort of evil relish in telling their children the stories of their own births, and Sam’s were no exception. When he got into really spectacular trouble as a boy, Mum had liked to remind him how many hours she’d been in labor.

***

Miss Garlick-- Meg-- ended up walking with him for the rest of his patrol. She was headed his way in any case, she said, and Sam was the first person she’d met in the city who’d been really nice to her.

“Not that anyone’s been awful, I mean,” she amended quickly. “Even that thief was polite. But no one really seems to go out of their way here, you know? At home, when someone new moves in they’ve got half the town coming round to introduce themselves before they’re done unpacking. I haven’t even met any of my neighbors yet.”

“That’s life in the big city, I’m afraid,” Sam said. “People keep to themselves a bit more here.” When they weren’t gawking, at any rate.

“Did you grow up here, then?” Meg asked.

“‘Fraid so,” Sam answered. “Born and bred. I don’t even like walking on surfaces that aren’t cobblestoned.” He had been to the country; he just didn’t see the point of all that space. “What’s Lancre like?”

Meg thought about her answer before she gave it. “Small,” she said at last. “Nice, but small. Everyone knows everything about everyone else, which can get a bit tiring, and it’s hard to feel grown-up when everyone you know still thinks of you as being about seven.”

“Well, I know what that feels like,” Sam said. “My-- my dad’s a copper, too, and I was just about raised in a Watch House. So most of my commanding officers have changed my nappies, which makes things a bit uncomfortable sometimes.” Inwardly, it occurred to Sam that talking about his nappies was probably not the best subject to bring up around a pretty girl who, he found, he had a growing interest in. He tried not to let the cringe show on his face.

But Meg only laughed. “Oh, I know exactly what you mean!” she said. “Mum’s specialty was herbs, not midwifery, but she’s worked with all the best midwives in the Ramtops. I trained under the woman who delivered me. I never shook the feeling that she saw me as quite bright, for an infant.”

Sam only knew a little about Meg’s home country-- they’d studied geography in school, but the Ramtops had only been lightly covered. He did know one thing about that part of the world, though.

“So your mum-- is she, er, a witch, then?”

But Meg didn’t seem to take it amiss. “Only part-time. She, ah, tried to retire when she married Dad, but it didn’t take. So I grew up around witches.”

“Haven’t met many witches, here,” Sam said. “There’s a few in the city, but they don’t tend to need coppers.” Which he approved of entirely. Like wizards, witches rarely broke the sorts of laws he was called on to enforce. And you hardly ever saw eldritch and horrible Things from the Dungeon Dimensions in the city these days; apparently the magical community had got a lot stricter about that kind of thing in Sam’s lifetime.

Sam’s patrol was nearly over, and Meg was nearly back to her flat, but Sam found himself reluctant to part ways with her just yet. “Er,” he said, suddenly awkward, “would you like to get lunch with me some time? Since you’re new here, and don’t know what’s good yet?”

Meg smiled at him and Sam relaxed a little. “That sounds lovely. It was very nice to meet you, Sam. How about Saturday? I’m sure I’ll need the break after my first few days at the hospital.”

“Saturday sounds fine,” Sam said, but he was distracted, suddenly, by the realization that they were approaching a newsstand. He wondered what the odds were that Meg would notice that she was walking with front-page news. Pretty good, he wagered. She seemed like an observant sort of girl. And there was no way to steer her round it without her noticing the change of direction, either; there was nothing for it but to try to keep her attention on him and hope for the best...

But it turned out that he needn’t worry. The man at the newsstand was putting out the afternoon editions, covering up the morning papers with Sam’s picture on the cover. A small, solemn crowd began to gather as he wrote the new headlines on his chalkboard.

“What’s everyone looking so grim about?” Meg asked. “Is something wrong?”

“It’s the latest news on his Lordship,” Sam explained. “He took a turn for the worse last night, so everyone’s been a little worried. But look-- the palace says he’s doing better. Even had a bit of lunch.”

And indeed, the crowd round the newsstand looked distinctly relieved. The lead headline on the chalkboard said “VETINARI TAKES TOAST, TEA.” Another said “DOCTORS PREDICT SUPPER FOR HIS LORDSHIP.”

“People are paying attention that closely?” Meg asked, puzzlement clear on her face. “I mean, I heard he was ill, but it seems a bit, well, morbid, to track the poor man like this.”

“I think it’s something you have to be Morporkian to understand,” said Sam. “Sorry. But we’re all very worried about Lord Vetinari.”

Because Lord Vetinari was dying. And nobody knew what would happen next.

***

Sam’s dad said the trouble was that Lord Vetinari had done his job too well. He’d remade the city to his own design, and everyone was secretly afraid that the web would come untangled without the sober, black-clad spider who had sat in its middle for more than thirty years. Oh, he’d picked a successor, and everyone claimed to have every confidence in Mr. Lipwig, who’d done such wonderful things with the Post Office and the Bank and the Tax Bureau, not to mention all the work he’d done with the Underground.

But no one could quite shake the fear that a world with a Vetinari-shaped hole in it would simply fall to pieces, like an arch without its keystone. For people Sam’s age, who’d grown up in a city shaped by Vetinari’s vision, it was like imagining the sky without the sun in it.

This was nearly impossible to convey to someone who had been in the city less than forty-eight hours, but Sam did his best. “Oh,” said Meg, when he finished his fumbling explanation. “I think-- I think I see. It’s like when my godmother died. Everyone thought she’d be there forever, and suddenly she wasn’t.”

“Did it feel a bit like the world was ending?” Sam asked, smiling weakly.

Meg didn’t smile back. “It did, actually. But the surprising thing was-- life went on.”

“That’s good to hear,” Sam said. “Reassuring, like. I suppose it’s just a difference of scale.”

“Granny was the heart and soul of witchcraft in the Ramtops,” Meg said. “She told us all what we were, just by existing. There wasn’t a person or a place in Lancre that hadn’t felt her influence. I think none of us quite knew who we were, without her.” They’d stopped walking, standing to one side of the crowd at the newsstand. Sam wondered how the conversation had got so serious, but it seemed almost natural to be talking about something so weighty with Meg. She took him seriously, and he felt it only fair that he do the same.

“Then you do know why we’re watching his Lordship so closely,” Sam said. “I don’t know if he’s the heart and soul of Ankh-Morpork; maybe he’s its brain. But he’s something vital, anyway, and we’re not at all sure what we’re going to do without him.”

Meg simply nodded. “I’m glad I met you, Sam Ramkin. I feel a little more at home here already.” And she walked off, into the bustle of the street. Sam stood there a few moments longer, turning his helmet over in his hands, before he walked the rest of the way back to Treacle Mine Road.

***

In the darkened city, the figure moved from shadow to shadow between the gaslights. He was carrying something over his shoulder-- something heavy, by the way he walked, an unwieldy bundle wrapped in rough dark cloth. The figure lurked its way to the high wall that ran along the river. It found a flight of steps and climbed, and from atop the wall it unshouldered its bundle. Whatever the figure had been carrying, it hit the water with a distant splash, and the dark figure hurried back into the shadows it had come from.

***

Sam, much to his chagrin, had a title. As the son of a duke he was a Lord anyway, which was bad enough, but the firstborn son of the Duke of Ankh had a courtesy title, which meant that Sam had to be introduced at posh parties as the Viscount of Oxbury. There was no such place as Oxbury, at least not in the last nine hundred years, and being the Viscount of it was complete nonsense, but that didn't mean a thing to the people who announced you at posh parties. They went right on doing it regardless.

It did have one advantage. Over the years, Sam had taken to separating out all the posh nonsense in his life and assigning it to the Viscount. He could be plain Sam Vimes, who was an ordinary copper like his dad; the Viscount of Oxbury was some rich bugger who was going to grow up to be a duke. It made it much easier to forget that plain Sam Vimes was as much of a fiction as the Viscount.

As he walked back to Treacle Mine Road, Sam thought about Meg, and wondered if he should have told her his real name from the start. But that would have meant her knowing about the Viscount, and somehow Sam suspected that the Viscount couldn’t have had the sort of real, genuine conversation he’d had with Meg. He couldn’t imagine her telling the Viscount about her granny, certainly.

Sam was deep enough in thought that Penny was nearly able to catch him unawares at the entrance to the Watch House. But the sun flashed off her red hair as she approached him, and he dragged himself out of his brown study in time to smile at her and hold the Watch House door open.

Nevertheless, she rolled her eyes at him as she ducked under his arm. “Shoegazing again, Sam?” she asked. Penny thought Sam lived in his own head too much; in all fairness, sometimes Sam thought the same thing. He followed her into the squad room, which was quiet; a few coppers were writing their reports at the low tables, and the sergeant at the high desk looked bored. Penny gave her a wave, and the sergeant nodded back.

Penny Ironfoundersson was the reason Sam could sympathize with Gordon when his younger sisters were giving him trouble. Despite being entirely unrelated, she had taken up the role of puncturer of Sam’s ego and underminer of his self-image with some glee, and took every opportunity to deflate his head, if ever it should swell. Sam didn’t think he was particularly full of himself, but then, he had Penny around to ensure that he didn’t get to be.

Despite her role as critic, Sam rather liked Penny. She had her mother’s sense of humor and her father’s genuine fondness for the city and its people; she knew everyone, and seemed to like them even if she did make fun of them from time to time. She was remarkably level-headed for a sixteen-year-old. If Sam was Ankh-Morpork’s favorite son, then Penny was surely her favorite daughter.

She didn’t want to be a copper, though. Sam found that slightly baffling. She had a copper’s instinct for putting her nose* where it wasn’t wanted, but she had decided years ago that she wanted to be a newspaper reporter, the policeman’s natural enemy. She seemed to be sticking to it, too, disregarding Sam’s best attempts at making her see sense.

Despite not wanting to follow her parents into the best job in the world, Penny spent quite a lot of time at the Watch House. Most of her friends who’d already finished school were coppers, not to mention her mum and dad, and like Sam she’d grown up underfoot at the Yard and the various Watch Houses.

“How’s school, Penny?” Sam asked. “Going well, I hope?”

Penny only shrugged. “The student newspaper still won’t let me cover anything exciting. And when I’ve got an inside scoop, too!”

“Dinner-table conversation’s not really meant to be reported on, you know,” Sam said, shaking his head.

“Then Mum and Dad shouldn’t discuss grisly murders over supper, should they? And on that note,” she added, brightening up, “have you had any word on the Rag-and-Bone Man?”

“I told you not to call him that,” said Sam. “And no. There haven’t been any more... bodies. And you’re not supposed to know if there are, anyway.”

“I told you,” said Penny. “Dinner-table conversation. And it’s bad enough you’re making me sit on the story of the year-- not telling me when there’s news would be simply unforgivable.”

“I’ll tell you,” said Sam, “but only to keep you from trying to figure it out for yourself, and getting into trouble.”

“And because I have all the good blackmail material on you,” said Penny. “I know where the pictures are hidden.”

“They’re washtub iconographs from when I was a baby, not blackmail material,” Sam said, lowering his voice and glancing round at the rest of the squad room. “And they’re not even hidden! Mum keeps them in albums on the drawing room shelves!”

“I still know where they a-are,” Penny replied in a singsong voice.

Sam did his best to glower at her. Despite being the son of a man with a near-legendary glower, this was singularly ineffective. Sam wished he’d managed to inherit either of his parents’ airs of authority, which seemed to come to them as naturally as breathing. The best he could do was polite competence, which worked for most basic coppering but really didn’t put much in the way of quivering fear into the hearts of criminals and lowlifes. It certainly didn’t work on Penny.

“You know, if you want me to tell you what happening with the Rag-- with my case, this is not the best way to go about it,” Sam pointed out.

“Yes, but it’s such fun,” Penny said. “Oh, all right, Sam, I’ll stop. Honestly, have you had any word on the case?”

“Not for a week,” Sam said. “And I like it that way. It might mean it’s over.”

“You don’t really think that, do you?”

“No,” Sam admitted. “But I wish I did.”

Penny took that seriously, at least. “Sorry, Sam,” she said. “I’ll leave you be. Just try not to get too wrapped up in the case.”

“I’ll do my best,” Sam said, smiling at her until she looked reassured, and watched her climb the stairs up to Captain Angua’s office.

*But not her mother’s sense of smell. Penny, much to her chagrin, was not a werewolf.
***

What Penny called the Rag-and-Bone Man Case, and Sam refused to call anything the sort, was the sort of case that makes most coppers wish they’d gotten a nice quiet job as a grocer instead. But it was Sam’s case, because he’d done well on his first murder, and because he’d discovered the first body. Bodies. Well. It was complicated, and that was what made this case the sort that made coppers go prematurely grey.

Six weeks ago, Sam had been first on the scene when a body was dragged out of the river. It had been in the river for some time, but that didn’t explain why it was covered in ropy, unhealed scars, or why its arms and legs were all different lengths, or why it made the Igor on duty in Forensics throw a huge stroppy fit and storm out in the middle of a shift. Once Igor had calmed down, and the rest of Forensics had taken a look, it had been determined that the corpse had been sewn together from several other corpses, all of them already dead, and that what Igor had really been objecting to was the profligate waste of body parts. And the sloppy technique.

Since then four more patchwork corpses, each a little less inexpertly-made than the last, had been found in various parts on the city. Sam had also uncovered a rash of unreported grave-robbings, all from paupers’ tombs in the city’s least-cared-for cemeteries. Working that out had been a tricky piece of coppering, too.

The trouble was, the last two corpses had healed-over scars. Whoever Sam’s mystery monster-maker was, he was getting better at it: his last two creations had lived, after a fashion, for at least a little while.

Sam’s first line of inquiry had been to investigate the city’s many Igors, although he hadn’t been able to narrow it down much beyond that. Igors were widely suspected of doing this sort of thing already, by the average citizen, and though Sam was not an average citizen he still considered the possibility. Igors had the technical know-how, after all, and they were skilled transplant surgeons. Perhaps his mystery bodies belonged to an Igor getting in some after-hours practice, doing the surgeon’s equivalent of building models in his spare time?

But every Igor he spoke to assured him this could not be the case. Building entire bodies out of spare parts was quite against the Code of the Igors*, violating their central precept of preserving life and ensuring that everyone got the parts they needed. “No,” said the Watch’s own Igor, “thith lookth like clathic mad thience to me, Corporal Vimeth. You get thith thort of thing in Uberwald from time to time-- thome bugger with a medical degree and a limited underthanding of how long brainth last on ice. It never ended well.”

Do brains last long on ice?” Sam asked, appalled but a little fascinated nonetheless.

“Not very well,” Igor answered cheerfully, happy to be talking about his specialty. “You thee, jutht about any other body part can be brought round with a good bolt of lightning, but brainth have got no shelf-life at all. Once they’re dead, they’re dead, and lightning thcrambles them thomething awful.”

“So the body we found in the river--” Sam began, who was beginning to feel a bit queasy.

“Wouldn’t have worked for a minute. The partth are bad enough-- dayth old, motht of them-- but the brain’th jutht too dead to be any good. Whoever made thith couldn’t have hoped he’d get it up and walking.”

“So why do it?”

Igor shrugged, one shoulder going up noticeably higher than the other. “Who knowth? Practith, I’m betting. We’ll thee more from him, you mark my wordth.”

And they had.

*”Wathte not, want not.”

***

So now Sam had a case, but not, as such, a crime. Certainly the grave-robbing was illegal, but the monster-maker, whoever he was (or she; Sam did not discount the possibility), hadn’t done anything worse than theft in the eyes of the law. There was no law against making horrible patchwork creatures out of stolen body parts, probably because no one had ever thought there’d be a need for one. Which only went to show how creative criminals could be, Sam thought to himself.

He finished his reports (the Thieves Guild had, in fact, sent someone round to complain), stood and stretched, his shoulders stiff from hunching over the desk. It was funny how fast he’d gotten out of the habit of sitting at a desk, once he was out of school, but then one of the things he liked best about being a copper was that it got you out in the fresh air. Well, and the pouring rain, and the bitter cold, and the stinking heat, but that was all right. Sam was a street copper in his bones and in his blood, generations of Vimeses ensuring that he actually didn’t much mind being out on patrol at 3 AM in a downpour.

Sam went home. He lived not far from the Watch House, in a walk-up off Ettercap Street, where he presided in happy bachelor squalor with his mate Gordon. As he walked, Sam wondered if he’d won the ongoing game of Sink Chicken yet; Gordon was naturally a tidy person, and usually did the washing up himself if Sam left it long enough. Sam’s one small rebellion against his upbringing* was to be messy. He’d grown up in a house where anything left out got tidied away by either Mum or a servant, though he’d managed to enforce a boundary at the door to his own bedroom.

Hettie was already there when Sam got home. She and Gordon were fixing dinner, talking in low voices. Hettie laughed at something Gordon said as Sam let himself in.

Sam liked his flat. It was mostly furnished with hand-me-downs from his parents’ attic, and therefore was quite a bit nicer than most bachelor flats. Gordon had somehow acquired a stack of Underground maps, and they’d wallpapered one whole wall of the main room with them, which Sam though lent the place some interest. And they had quite an impressive pyramid of beer bottles going. It was no wonder that Hettie spent so much time there.

Granted, Hettie still lived with her family, and Sam supposed most places would be more fun to hang out in than the Colon family residence. But he was biased, there. Hettie was the only Colon granddaughter who wasn’t determined to marry him. She was also his best friend, after Gordon, so he liked having her around.

“Hi, Sam,” Hettie said. “We made enough for three. You hungry?”

“Ravenous,” said Sam. “The canteen only had egg salad, and I didn’t stop to eat on patrol.”

“Don’t know what you’ve got against egg salad, Sam,” said Gordon. “It’s not that bad.”

“It’s vile,” Sam said, making a face. “And you’ll eat anything, anyway.”

Gordon only shrugged. He had slowed down a bit once they left their teens, but Gordon still had a near-magical ability to vacuum down any and all available food, while maintaining the physique of a stick insect in spectacles. And he wasn’t at all particular about what kind of food it was. “Any news on your grave-robber?”

“Not yet. Have your lot got anything useful from that last body?”

“No such luck. Whoever he is, he’s good at covering his tracks. He must dump them in the dead of night, when no one’s around, and he doesn’t leave much in the way of forensic evidence.”

“You’ll catch him, Sam,” said Hettie. “Although if I have to spend another night staking out a cemetery, I can’t say I’ll be pleased. Not that it’s a bad idea,” she added hurriedly, “but it’s, well, dead boring.”

Gordon and Hettie were both coppers, though Gordon was Forensic and Hettie was Street. They’d been at school together, and been friends since they were kids. For Sam, they were practically family.

Which made it a bit weird for Sam, that Gordon and Hettie were dating. They’d snuck around behind his back with it for nearly a month, too, before they’d finally told him, and while he hadn’t been upset, exactly (well, he’d been upset about the sneaking around) he still found it rather strange.

It seemed to work well for them, though. Physically, they were almost a couple out of a pantomime: Gordon tall and thin, Hettie short and curvy; Gordon with his hair cropped almost to the scalp, Hettie with her long, long hair braided up into a crown; Gordon dark, Hettie pale. But they worked, together, and they seemed blissfully happy with each other, and that was all Sam could really ask for his best friends.

He did feel a bit of a third wheel, though. Just sometimes. Like one of those tricycles you saw old ladies riding , when they couldn’t quite manage a regular velocipede.

Not now, at any rate. The three of them sat down to eat together and it was just like old times, with Hettie and Sam ganging up to tease Gordon, Gordon retaliating with a cutting remark, the conversation ranging over how the three of them had spent the day. Sam
told them about meeting Meg, though he didn’t mention that he’d given her the wrong name, and Gordon and Hettie both seemed happy for him.

“She sounds lovely, Sam,” Hettie said. “I hope we get to meet her.”

It was growing dark outside, and Gordon got up to light the gas jets. Sam decided to be the good flatmate for once, and did the washing up. “So how late can you stay, Hettie?” he asked her.

“Er, well,” Hettie said. “I... may have told Mum and Dad I was staying over at a girlfriend’s tonight.”

“Why, Mehitabel Colon!” Sam said, mock-affronted. “You rebel, you.”

“Oh, shut it, Sam,” said Hettie, rolling her eyes.

“What? I am just shocked-- shocked, I say-- that sweet, innocent Mehitabel could conceive of such a deception. Really, it’s not at all like you,” Sam said.

“Hettie’s been running rings round her parents since she was twelve, and you know that perfectly well,” said Gordon. “Besides, they’re too proud of having a copper in the family to complain about her late nights and overnights. Which works out pretty well for us,” he added, looking a little smug.

Hettie was the only one of old Sergeant Colon’s grandchildren who’d become a copper. To say that he was proud of her was the understatement of the millennium; he practically achieved weightlessness when he talked about her.

But that didn’t mean Sam wanted to hear about what Gordon and Hettie got up to in private. “Ugh,” he said, “spare me the details.”

“Oh, all right,” said Gordon.

It was a lovely evening. Sam remembered that, later, when everything went to hell.

*Unlike most young men, Sam had never had a real rebellious phase as a teen. The main reason for this was that the only thing that would have really upset his parents would have been to start acting like a rich, privileged Assassins’ Guild prat, and Sam hated those bastards nearly as much as Dad did.

***

Another night, another furtive trip to the river, another bundle tipped into the water. He was getting closer, though-- closer each and every time. Perhaps he would be ready soon. Perhaps it would be soon enough to save her.

Perhaps he would be soon enough to save them all.

***

The next day was Sam’s day off, and before lunch he decided to stop by the Free Hospital. It was its usual hurried din, doctors and nurses rushing off in all directions, small children (and some adults) bawling, a scrum of wheelchairs jockeying for position at the entrance to the lift. Sam had never been to Obstetrics before, and wasn’t sure of the way, so he flagged down a young doctor pushing a wheelchair and asked him. The girl in the wheelchair was pale as milk, and breathing wheezily. “You look a bit young... to be a dad,” she said between gasps. “And not terrified... enough.”

“Don’t talk too much, Sophronia,” said the doctor. “You’ll strain your lungs.” He was taller than Sam, broad-shouldered and blond with his hair parted just a shade too neatly. He wore wire-rimmed spectacles, and behind them his eyes were full of concern for his patient. Sam’s inner copper mentally classified him as wound a bit too tight, might snap all over everyone.

Sophronia only rolled her eyes, though. “I think we’re a bit... beyond that, Dr. Dussel.”

“Don’t say that!” Dr. Dussel said sharply. Then he seemed to remember Sam was standing there. “Sorry. Third floor, west wing. And congratulations, I suppose.”

“Oh, no, I’m not-- I mean, I don’t have a-- I’m just dropping in to say hello to a friend,” Sam stammered. “One of the new trainees. I don’t suppose you know her-- Meg Garlick?”

“I met her... this morning,” Sophronia wheezed. “You remember, Dr. Dussel? Nice... girl.”

“Right,” said the doctor. “Her. Well, must be off,” he said abruptly, and wheeled Sophronia away. She turned to wave weakly at Sam, before they rounded a corner and were gone.

Sam made his way up to the third floor, and asked after Meg at the nurses’ station. She turned up a few minutes later, looking very sharp in her white coat, and broke into a smile when she saw him.

“Hello, Sam,” she said. “What brings you here?”

“Just wondering how your first day was going,” he said. “And wondering if you’d like to get some lunch.”

“That sounds lovely,” Meg said. “Let me make sure I can get away for a bit. I’ll be right back.”

While Sam waited, he gradually became aware that he was the only person in sight who was a) male, and b) not heavily pregnant. He idly began eavesdropping on a couple of women sitting nearby, and just as quickly stopped when he realized that their conversation was rather horrifyingly biological.

Meg came back without her white coat, her ill-fated satchel now looking a lot lighter as it swung by her side. “What were you thinking of getting?” she asked. “I don’t know any good restaurants yet. You’ll have to be my native guide.”

“Well,” said Sam, mentally cataloguing the vast variety of ethnic cuisines available to the average Morporkian, “there’s pizza, sushi, crepes, Genuan, Ephebian, Klatchian, Howondalandish, and a couple of Fourecksian pubs in a three-block radius. Depends on what you’re hungry for, really.”

Meg blinked a little at this array. "Well, I've never had Klatchian food," Meg said. "Is it nice?"

"It's a bit spicy," Sam said, not entirely truthfully, because it was in fact extremely spicy unless you ordered the watered-down stuff for soft Morporkians. Sam had once got through an entire banquet at the Klatchian Embassy on a single glass of water and without wiping his eyes, a fact of which he was still extremely proud and which had earned him some repute in the diplomatic community. But he'd cheated a bit there, of course.

"I think I'd like to try it," Meg said, "especially if it's something you like. Lancrastrian food runs to boiled potatoes and vegetables cooked in pork, and I want to try lots of different things while I'm here. What's your favorite Klatchian restaurant?"

There was nothing to be done for it. If he went anywhere else, word would get back to Mrs. Aziz, and he'd never hear the end of it. And it was a Thursday, anyway.

"The Painted Garden's very good," he said. "And I know the owners."

***

Sam prayed to whatever minor deities looked after coppers with complicated romantic lives as he approached the Painted Garden, Meg beside him. But the Goddess Araminta* must have been off-duty that day, because Mina was behind the hostess' desk at the front of the restaurant.

"Hi, Sam," she said, and cut her eyes sideways at Meg. She didn't even have the decency to look amused; instead she smiled like a cat and her eyes went hooded. It was a look Sam had been quite fond of, once, but back then he had always been in on the joke. "Who's your friend?"

Nothing to do but bully through it, was there? "This is Meg," Sam said grimly. "She's from Lancre, and she's never had Klatchian food, and I though, well, if I went anywhere else…"

"You'd never hear the end of it from Mum. Right," said Mina. "I'll tell her you said hello, by the way. She's out with Hana. Wedding shopping, you know, or else it'd be Hana's day to hostess."

"It is Thursday, isn't it?" Sam said, as if he didn't know. "That explains it. How's the planning going?"

Mina rolled her eyes. "There's a new disaster every week, if you ask Mum," she said. "But Hana's holding up fine. Can't wait to get it over with. You're still coming, right?"

Sam had wondered a lot, in the last few months, what kind of ex-girlfriend said “no hard feelings” and actually meant it. The kind who chucked you, rather than the reverse, he supposed. Damn her for meaning it, anyway, and he really did like Hana and their parents; had thought about them in the context of potential in-laws, once.

"Of course," he said. "Wouldn't miss it." And Mina led them to a table, still smiling.

*There's a god for nearly everything, if you look hard enough. In this case, Araminta did double-duty as the goddess of salves and unguents, and had missed Sam's plea due to a particularly tricky ointment that needed looking after as its maker put it into jars. If Sam had known he had been overlooked in favor of keeping a Genuan housewife's eyebrows unsinged, he probably would not have felt much better.

***

Sam and Mina had dated for eight months, the first four of which he had spent trying to impress her, and the last four of which had been spent trying to prove he wasn't that impressive, really. In the time since the breakup, he had figured out the trouble with the first approach, but not the second.

Mina had been a brilliant girlfriend: smart and funny, tremendously interesting, pretty to the point that Sam felt significantly outclassed. Her parents liked him, and his parents liked her. Being allowed to kiss her, to hold her hand, to take her out to restaurants and museums and walks along the river-- all these things made Sam feel slightly giddy, long after the novelty should have worn off.

But she was never comfortable around the Viscount. She didn't like going to any of the nobby parties Sam had to go to (and why not, Sam didn't like them either), and he did everything wrong when she told him why she didn't want to go to any more of them. He'd offered to buy her a new dress, of all the damn stupid things, because she was self-conscious wearing her same old best sari over and over again.

He'd tried not to talk about the future, about the Duke of Ankh looming over his head, but by the end that was all Mina had been able to see. "I like you, Sam," she'd said. "I like Sam Vimes a lot. But I don't know that I can stay with you when the Duke of Ankh is going to need someone I can't be."

Sam had argued with her, which was also stupid. She'd said she couldn't move in nobby circles the way he could, because her family wasn't old and posh like his. This was a deep insult, which she knew perfectly well, and also untrue. "Mum comes from an old family, okay, but Dad's just ordinary. You know that. All the titles and stuff, that all came later."

"Then why's there a statue of your however-many-great-grandad at the top of Broad Way?" she'd asked, which was a reasonable question. And it was perfectly true that, since the days of Old Stoneface, the Vimes family had spent most of its time at the bottom of the social heap, but it was also true that they had, once, been at the top, and were now at the top again.

So Mina had chucked Sam, and said 'no hard feelings' and meant it, and Sam had moped around and gotten drunk with Gordon and felt sorry for himself. And now, for the first time since then, there was a girl who he liked and who seemed to like him and, best of all, had no idea about the bloody Viscount, and here he was having lunch with her under Mina's watchful eye.

Mina seated them at a table towards the back, under Sam’s favorite of the murals that lined the walls, all painted to look like a Klatchian garden. “That’s lovely,” Meg said, nodding up at the painting. “Who did it?”

“I did,” Mina said, and looked proud. She was starting to get her work in galleries, Sam knew, and though her parents didn’t think that being an artist was quite respectable (and certainly not as respectable as being a duchess), they’d let her go wild on the walls of the restaurant. She’d done a wonderful job.

Meg was duly impressed, and Mina’s smile was quite genuine as she left them with their menus. Sam sagged a little with relief once she was gone. “What should I get?” Meg asked, opening her menu. “It’s all Ephebian to me, I’m afraid.”

“It depends on what you like. But the vegetable biryani’s very good, if you don’t eat meat, and the chicken makhni if you do. And they’re not too spicy.”

“The chicken, then,” Meg said decisively. “So how do you know that girl, Sam?”

“Er. Well. We used to, um. Date. For a bit.”

Meg’s eyebrows went up. “And how long is a bit, then?”

“Well. Eight months or so.” As though he didn’t know how long, to the day.

“I see,” Meg said. “You two seem to get along quite well, though.”

“Yeah, well. She dumped me,” Sam said, by way of explanation. “But we’re still friends. More or less.”

“That’s very big of you.” Meg said it solemnly, but her eyes were dancing.

“Don’t make fun,” Sam said, though he didn’t really mean it. He scrabbled frantically for a topic of conversation. What did people talk about on first dates, anyway? It had been ages since he’d been on one.

“So what’s your family like?” he offered at last. “I know your mum’s a witch, but what about your dad? Any brothers or sisters?”

“My family? Er, well...” Meg seemed to hesitate for a moment. “They’re pretty ordinary, I suppose. Two little brothers, a little sister. Dad trained with the Fools’ Guild here in the city, but he never liked it much. He’s... I suppose you’d call him a bureaucrat, these days.”

“Lancre has bureaucrats?” Sam asked, teasing a little. “I’d have guessed you didn’t have enough people to need them.”

“Well, we really only need a couple,” Meg said. “So Dad and Shaun Ogg, between them, take care of most things.”

Sam nodded. It was hard to imagine, though, a country where a couple of people could handle the day-to-day running of things. He thought of the hive of activity that was the Patrician’s Palace, the rooms upon rooms full of clerks and analysts, all passing information steadily upwards until it reached the tall thin man in the Oblong Office, sitting at his desk before the empty golden throne.

“Lancre’s a monarchy, isn’t it? Sam asked.

Meg flushed. “Well, yes. More or less. I mean, we do have a king, and a royal family, but Lancrastrians don’t really make very good subjects. They-- we-- tend to take royal commands as mild suggestions.”

Sam shrugged. “S’pose it’s all right if that’s what you’re used to. I’m a republican, me. His Lordship might be an absolute ruler, but nobody says he was born with the right to be one.”

“That’s-- certainly one way of looking at it,” Meg said. Sam was left with the impression that he’d said entirely the wrong thing. He tried not to wince. Mina, showing remarkably good timing, chose that moment to take their orders, and Sam tried to beam a silent “thank you” at her with his eyes.

She beamed back a “you’re welcome, dummy,” before explaining to Meg why she ought to order a mango lassi. Sam chimed in to back up Mina-- they were delicious here-- and ended up getting one too.

Conversation got a bit easier after that, turning to Meg’s first day at the hospital, and from there to their respective jobs. “Did you always want to be a policeman?” Meg asked him after the samosas came out to the table, piping-hot and wrapped in golden pastry.

“Since I was small, yeah. I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. What about you? Did you always want to be a doctor?”

“No. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a witch, like Mum, and my godmother. Everyone said I’d be a natural at it, too. But when I got to the age where you start training if you really want to do it, I found that I didn’t. But I still wanted to help people, and I was interested in midwifery, so doctoring seemed like a good idea.”

“Huh,” Sam said. “What happened to change your mind?”

“Nothing happened,” Meg said. “Not really. I just... didn’t want to be the thing everyone expected me to be. You never felt like that?”

Sam shrugged. “Suppose I have. But I wouldn’t give up coppering for anything. I’m good at it, and I like it, and I’d still like it even if Dad didn’t want me to do it, I think.” In fact, sometimes Sam wondered if his dad did want him to be a copper. Not that he disapproved, or wasn’t proud, but-- it was a tough old life, sometimes, coppering. Not that he’d ever heard a word of it out loud, but sometimes Sam got the sense that Dad didn’t necessarily want Sam following in his footsteps.

Well, they hadn’t all been the easiest footsteps. Sam knew his father’s history, knew why he drank fruit juice and not sherry, knew why Dad knew more dirty fighting than any three other Watchmen put together. But Sam had been born above all that.

No one had asked him if he wanted to be, though.

And now he was pretending he hadn’t been. What would Dad say about that?

***

Through the rest of lunch, Sam managed to keep the awkwardness to a minimum, achieving something like a natural flow of conversation with Meg. It helped that she was interesting. Her work was interesting, her viewpoint as an outsider to the city was interesting, her opinions were interesting-- and she was funny. Sam liked girls who liked to laugh.

“Well, the midwife who trained me certainly liked a joke,” Meg said. “Though not as much as she liked a dirty song. And my godmother had quite a good sense of humor; she was just a lot quieter about it.”

“She sounds interesting, your godmother,” Sam said. “Being the head witch and all that.”

“Oh no, there’s no such thing as a hierarchy, with witches. Granny wouldn’t have stood for that for a second,” Meg said. “She was the best, though. She knew the most, and she could do the most astonishing things. People said she could talk to Death, and muck about with Time, and Borrow a swarm of bees.”

“How d’you borrow bees?” Sam asked. “I mean, do you ask the queen nicely and promise to give them back?”

“Not borrow, Borrow,” Meg said. “It’s-- leaving your body, and hitching a ride in someone else’s. Usually an animal’s-- a bird, or a hare, or a wolf. You see through their eyes and hear through their ears. But you have to be able to put your whole self outside your body, and that’s dangerous. Granny was better at it than anyone. That’s why they said she could do it with bees-- it’s nearly impossible, but if anyone could, it was Granny.”

“Huh,” said Sam. “Could you do it?”

“--I never tried,” Meg said, and changed the subject.

At the end of lunch, Meg excused herself to use the ladies’, and Mina materialized beside the table the instant she was gone. “So, Sam,” she began, and Sam rolled his eyes. “What’s the verdict? Will there be a second date?”

“Mina, shove off,” Sam said. “I’m going to get enough nonsense from Hettie and Penny. I don’t need it from you, too.”

“Well, I like her, anyway,” Mina said. “I think she’s good for you. And she doesn’t seem a bit intimidated to be on a date with Ankh’s Most Eligible Bachelor.”

Sam never could lie to Mina. “Yes, well,” he muttered, and Mina’s eyes widened.

“Sam. She does know who she’s on a date with, doesn’t she?” Sam didn’t answer. “Doesn’t she?”

“It’s a bit complicated,” Sam said, looking down at his hands. “I may have... stretched the truth a little.”

“Oh, Sam.” The worst part was, Mina didn’t even look angry. Disappointed, maybe, which was worse. “You’ve got to tell her.”

“And scare her off? No thank you,” Sam said. “I’ll tell her when I’m damn well ready to, Mina. In the meantime, can I enjoy the novelty of being around a girl I like without the bloody Viscount floating overhead like a storm cloud?”

Whatever Mina had been about to say in response was cut off by Meg’s return from the loo. “That was an amazing meal, Mina,” she said happily. “I officially love Klatchian food. Sam, will you walk me back to the hospital?”

“I’d be glad to,” Sam said hastily, and ignored Mina’s warning look.

***

Sam dropped Meg off at the hospital, and took the Underground to Five and Seven Yard. It was only a few blocks from there to Scoone Avenue. The train wasn’t too badly crowded, but Sam stood anyway, hanging from a strap and watching the dwarf shops that lined the station begin to blur as the train accelerated. After a few minutes, he noticed that a man sitting across the aisle was giving him a long, speculative look.

“Here, now,” the man said, finally, “You’re Old Stoneface’s son, aren’t you?”

“Er,” said Sam, suddenly uncomfortable. “Yes, I’m Sam Vimes.”

The man elbowed the girl sitting next to him. “Would you look at that, Cicely?” he said. “Sam Vimes, riding the Underground with the rest of us.” Cicely giggled. With a sinking heart, Sam began to suspect that she had read That Article.

“You know, lad, your dad arrested me once,” the man said, with an air of one remembering the good old days. “On a Drunk and Disorderly, it was. Spent a night in the cells, but no hard feelings-- ‘e was just doing his job. ‘Course, I don’t suppose he’s had to do that sort of thing in a long while, eh?”

“Well, he’s retired,” Sam said. “So no, not lately.”

“I think it was terribly brave of you to become a policeman too,” said Cicely, batting her eyelashes at him in a disquieting way. “I mean, you could have done anything you liked.”

“Nah,” said Sam. “And miss out on the best job in the world?”

The man guffawed. “Said like a fellow who’s never needed to work for a living! Lad, you and I know you’re born to bigger things than the Watch. But it’s good of you to work when you don’t have to. Shows character, like.”

Sam smiled politely, and thanked the man, and didn’t give any outward sign that he was clenching his teeth at all. Someone looking closely might have noticed his white-knuckled grip on the hanging strap, but Sam found that most people didn’t look too closely at all. That was the trouble, of course.

Sam was in a foul mood the rest of the way to Mum and Dad’s. Of all the bloody patronizing--! As though he was just playing at being a copper, as though he didn’t pay his rent and buy his groceries like anyone else, as though he was just marking time until his real life as a useless nob got started.

If there was one thing Sam hated, really hated, about being born Sam Vimes, it was the way that perfect strangers acted as though they had a right to his life. The way people just assumed things, about who Sam was, who he was going to be, and didn’t feel the least bit of compunction about imposing those opinions on Sam. The way that people looked at him and saw the Viscount, or the Duke-in-waiting, or a rich bastard who didn’t need to do an honest day’s work-- and they never saw Sam. Not really.

In was in this savage mood that he arrived at his parents’ house in Scoone Avenue, and it was very nearly the last straw when Mum came in from the dragon house, saw him, and said, “Oh, good! Dear, there’s a reception at the palace tonight, and your father and I were hoping you’d come--” She stopped when she got a better look at Sam’s face. “Oh, dear. Was someone being stupid, darling?”

Sam did his best to smooth out his expression. “Yeah, Mum. It’s all right. I can come along if Dad wants the moral support. Have you got a change of clothes for me?”

“In your old room. I hope it wasn’t too bad, Sam-- I know how people can get. Especially since That Article. But at least they ran a very good photograph of you, you know.”

Sam’s dad had three walls of one drawing room devoted to press clippings, and a hallway for the newspaper cartoons. Mum had only just started a wall for Sam; so far it took up a few square feet.

“Sure, Mum.” Sam gave her a kiss on the cheek. Mum knew all about people assuming things because of who you were born as, at least. They had always had that in common. “I’ll be ready in a bit.”

She smiled maternally at him, and Sam went upstairs to get changed.

***

Officially, the Watch school had begun when Sam was four, and the first classes were enrolled. But really it had begun much earlier, when Sam was only a few days old, and his father had cradled him in his arms, stroked his wispy hair, and said, “I’ll send him to the Assassins’ school over a whole heap of dead bodies, Sybil.” Not that Sam ever knew it, but that’s really where it started.

There was, of course, a long tradition of Guild schools in the city; the children of Guild members were educated in them without fee, as were those whose non-Guild parents could scrape up the money. Outside the Guild schools, most went to little neighborhood grammar schools for a few years, to learn the rudiments of reading and writing and sums; the rest went to those schools variously known as Life, the Real World, and Hard Knocks.

The Watch School’s official name was the Guild of Policemen’s Academy, but no one called it that. The Guild of Policemen did exist, in a nominal way; it had been formed by Nobby some indeterminate number of years ago during what Commander Carrot politely called “a labor dispute” and Captain Angua called “a bloody mess.” Now it existed mostly to give the School a polite veneer of officiality, and to supplement Nobby’s income when he remembered to collect the dues.

The Watch School was unusual in that it did not collect fees from any of its students, whether or not they were any relation of a Watchman. Instead, it extended charity scholarships, sponsored by the Watch (but really by the Watch Commander) to promising students from all round the city. And, of course, it schooled the children of Watchmen and former Watchmen, giving them a well-rounded education that, despite an emphasis on police work, could serve graduates well in a broad range of jobs.

This was the version you got in the brochure. In reality, what Commander Vimes was accomplishing was a sneak attack on the city’s class barriers, a quiet democratization of education that ensured rapid economic mobility for children of the city’s poorest families. Sam Vimes, Senior didn’t know what a liberal arts education was, but he knew a good school turned out people who knew how to think, and he ensured that his school did so.

Sam didn’t see the Watch School this way while he was going there, of course. For him, it had been a second home from the ages of four to eighteen, the place he met most of his best friends, and a fairly central part of his identity. It was where he had decided he wanted to be a copper, like his dad, and where he had earned the skills that allowed him to become one.

So naturally, Sam took it somewhat amiss when posh Assassins’ School gits looked down their long noses at Watch School kids. Just now, he was having some trouble restraining himself from punching one horse-faced idiot right in the neck. It was only Mum’s warning glare that kept him from sidling over to the two expensively-dressed young men standing a few feet away, over by the buffet table, and inserting a few choice words--or fists-- into their conversation.

“Well, honestly,” the one in the silly hat was saying, “it’s not as though anyone in the city can rival the Guild for quality of education. I mean, there are those that might try,” and, yes, that was a snooty glance in Dad’s direction, “but for a true classical education, there’s really no other option.” His companion, a chinless wonder Sam thought was probably a Venturi, nodded. Gods, they even nodded haughtily.

Sam excused himself to Mum, nodded at Dad and Mr. Lipwig, and walked off across the room, dodging knots of well-dressed people, avoiding those that tried to catch his eye. The de Worde boys were here, and he didn’t mind them-- they were a few years younger, and a little bit tiring, but they were Watch School kids when you got down to it-- but what Sam really wanted was to be alone. And, if he remembered correctly, there was an alcove just along here where he could do that.

But the alcove was occupied. Luckily for Sam, it was occupied by someone he could stand.

"Hi, Aggie," Sam said. "Home from school again?"

Agatha Rust offered him a crooked smile. More than once, Sam had wondered how the Rust family, which ran to underbites and unthinking arrogance, had produced a girl like Agatha, who had a sharp little chin and an even sharper mind. She had wanted to go to the Watch School, which to Sam's way of thinking proved she had good sense, but her parents had sent her to the Quirm College for Young Ladies instead, thus setting off an endless game of cat and mouse between Agatha, her parents, and the College wardens.

"Mum says I can stay home until they replace the shutters on my dormitory," Aggie said. "With stronger hinges, I guess. Not that it's my fault they didn't think of the hinges when they replaced the locks."

Aggie was the College's all-time record holder for successful running-away attempts, a fact of which she was enormously proud.

"That's nice," said Sam. "I'll tell Penny you said hello."

Penny and Aggie had somehow managed to establish a fast friendship, despite moving in completely different social circles and only seeing each other a few times a year. They wrote letters, apparently, when Aggie was away at school.

“Thanks, Sam,” Aggie said. “So, what’s this I hear about you and some girl from Lancre?”

“Oh, come on!” Sam said. “I know news travels fast, but-- that fast? I’ve only been out with her once!”

“Well, you told Hettie, who told her cousin Rue, who told Joyful, who told Penny, who told me,” Aggie explained. “And I didn’t hear that you’d been out with her. When did this happen?”

“Just this afternoon, which is a fact that you are to keep strictly to yourself,” Sam said warningly. “If I wanted Penny or Joyful or Rue to know, I’d have told them.”

“Oh, all right,” Aggie said, pulling a face at him. “But you should know Rue’s quite crushed. She’s mad for you, you know.”

“Yeah, her, her sisters, and eight of her cousins,” Sam said.

“Well, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be,” Aggie said. “You are, after all--” Sam groaned, and put his hands over his ears, but Aggie kept going, relentless-- “Ankh’s Most Eligible Bachelor.”

“Not you too,” Sam moaned.

“Well, I actually know you, so no,” Aggie said. “But I hope this girl from Lancre knows what she’s getting into.”

“I just hope she doesn’t,” Sam muttered, but waved it off when Agatha shot him a questioning look. “C’mon,” he said, “back to the party. People will be wondering where we’ve gone.”

Agatha grumbled, but agreed, and the two of them walked back together.

***

The de Worde boys scooped Aggie up as soon as she and Sam returned to the party. The oldest was just Aggie’s age, and Sam suspected he was developing a crush. So Sam wandered over to where Dad and Mr. Lipwig were still talking.

“--good for the city, you can’t deny that,” Dad was saying, but Mr. Lipwig was shaking his head.

“It’s not that I disagree,” he said, and nodded hello to Sam. “But the Guilds wouldn’t like it, you know that, and how would we ever pay for it?”

“You’re the taxman, Lipwig; it’s your job to figure that out. The city’s coffers are in better shape than they’ve ever been, anyway. And you can’t say it wouldn’t be a project for the public good.”

Ah. Dad was on about the schools again. Since establishing the Watch School, Sam’s dad had become convinced that something needed to be done about the patchwork state of education in the city. And since retiring from the Watch, Dad hadn’t had an awful lot else to occupy his time. Dad was the sort of man who needed a job in front of him, and the Watch had been it for more than forty years. Now the job was different, but the man doing it hadn’t changed. Dad was going after public education the same way he’d gone after criminals: full bore, and relentlessly.

This meant badgering Guild leaders, school administrators, and various nobs until they gave way under the sheer force of Dad’s personality. It was going quite well, as far as Sam knew, but Mr. Lipwig was proving a tough nut to crack.

“Sto Lat’s had public education for years,” Dad said, and Sam began reciting along in his head. “They’re even talking about making it compulsory. There are enough damned ignorant fools in this city that I’d think you’d be glad to raise the general knowledge base. Having an educated population--” is good for everyone, Sam finished mentally, as Dad said it out loud.

“The Watch School’s been a good example of that,” Sam said loyally, and Dad gave him a grateful smile.

Mr. Lipwig sighed. “You too, Sam? I suppose I can’t expect you to take my side in this, though. It’s really not that it’s a bad idea, you know; I wish we could do it too. But the money’s not there, and neither is the public support.”

“I think you’d be surprised, there,” Sam said. “People want their kids to do better than they did. And they know education’s the fastest way up the ladder.”

Sam hadn’t been paying much attention to the rest of the party, but now he became aware of a little bubble of silence that was spreading from the far doors, behind him, outwards through the room. Dad glanced over Sam’s shoulder and cut off whatever he was going to say; he looked surprised enough that Sam turned to see what was causing the fuss.

Lord Vetinari was standing in the doorway.

It was the first time Sam had seen him in months; certainly the first public appearance he’d made in weeks. He was pale and far too thin, and he leaned more heavily on his stick than he had in Sam’s memory, but he didn’t look like a dying man. Not really.

But he was one, which was the trouble. His Lordship’s illness had been protracted and unpleasant, with long spells bedbound, and his doctors were largely mystified. There were any number of potential causes. His Lordship had been poisoned with arsenic once, and his leg contained rather more lead pellet than was considered generally advisable. It wasn’t that he was particularly old, though; he was barely seventy. Only a few years older than Sam’s dad, as a matter of fact.

That was something that Sam tried not to think about too much. He just told himself that Dad was made of teak, and tried to let the treacherous numbers slide out of his thoughts.

Mr. Lipwig excused himself, and went to welcome Lord Vetinari to the party. Dad clapped Sam on the back. “Any luck with that case of yours, lad?”

“No, Dad. Not yet. And we’d better not talk about it here; I see Ms. Cripslock within earshot.” Sam had been lucky, so far, in keeping the Rag-and-Bone Man case out of the papers. He didn’t like to think about the public furore that would ensue if it became general knowledge that someone was robbing graves and stitching up patchwork monsters out of the parts.

“You’ll crack it, don’t worry. It was clever of you to stake out the graveyards.” Sam inflated a little with pride. “Now,” Dad said, “I think the dancing’s about to start.”

“Da-ad,” Sam moaned. It wasn’t that he didn’t like dancing, or that he was bad at it; Mum had ensured he’d not embarrass himself by sending him to dancing lessons for most of his childhood and adolescence.* But the girls he had to dance with at parties like these were not the kind of girls he wanted to have anything to do with; he couldn’t just park on Aggie’s dance card, not least because her mother would start to think Sam was an acceptable target for her marrying-off ambitions.

Since That Article, dancing at parties had become something of a social minefield. He had to dance with everyone, he couldn’t dance with anyone twice, and if he showed the slightest hint of actually liking one of the girls he danced with, he had to contend with their mothers coming round for tea and suggesting to Mum that he marry their daughters.

Sam knew that by the standards of Ankh-Morpork’s upper classes, he was something of a catch. The catch, actually: the hundred-pound catfish that lurked in deep waters, too crafty for even the cleverest of lures. Society mothers were experienced anglers to a woman, though, and for the son of a Duke they were willing to put on their hip waders and get muddy.

So dancing had become something of a chore. Sitting out drew severe social opprobrium, though, and also Sam felt bad for the girls who had to dance with absolute prats instead of with him.**

Sam danced. With Aggie, which was a relief, and with Jane Dearheart-Lipwig, who was only thirteen and blushed a lot and stepped on his toes, and with an assortment of interchangeable society belles who had absolutely nothing of interest to say. Most of them had enough sense to avoid the subject of That Article, at least, and stuck to innocuous topics, like upcoming social events.

“Oh, I’m terribly excited for the Cotillion,” burbled one of them-- Sam forgot quite which one. “You know, there’s a real Princess coming, from some tiny little country or other-- but still! A Princess! It’s too charming.”

“Hm? Oh, yes, quite,” Sam said. He had been thinking about where a mad scientist might get body parts, if the cemeteries were no longer an option.

The last song ended, and everyone clapped politely. Sam made a beeline for Mum and Dad, who were talking to His Lordship and Mr. Lipwig.

“Ah. Young Corporal Vimes. How goes the pursuit of justice?”

Lord Vetinari always talked that way to Sam; he didn’t much mind it anymore. “Going well, your Lordship. How’s the city running?”

That was an old question, one Sam had been asking the Patrician since he was small. Just now, Sam didn’t mind feeling a little younger than he was.

And it made his Lordship laugh-- only a dry little chuckle, but better than nothing. “Oh, as well as it ever has, my boy. I hope to leave it thus in Mr. Lipwig’s capable hands."

“Not any time soon, though, my Lord,” said Mr. Lipwig. “What with you doing so much better and all.”

Lord Vetinari smiled the way he always did, which was thinly. “We shall see, we shall see. You know, I’m told the wizards are informed in advance when they’re going to die; it must make scheduling so much easier.”

An uncomfortable little silence descended on the conversation. Dad frowned into his fruit juice, and Sam could see Mum racking her brain for a decently light topic of conversation.

“Er,” said Sam. “Oh! Mum, Dad, I haven’t told you. Gordon and Hettie are dating.”

“Why, that’s lovely, Sam,” Mum said, grateful for the change in subject. “And-- are you quite all right with that?”

“Oh, yeah,” Sam said. “I mean, they’re my friends, they’re happy, I want them to be happy. Bit out of the blue, though, isn’t it?”

“On the contrary,” said his Lordship, “I’ve been expecting it for years.” Off everyone’s slightly astonished looks, he said, “Well, I do hear all the gossip. Eventually.”

Sam reflected that Lord Vetinari’s sense of humor was a little weird. But then, it always had been.

*This remained one of Sam’s most deeply guarded secrets; as a lad, he had been convinced that it would have been absolute social suicide to admit even taking dance lessons, much less acknowledging that they weren’t completely horrible. Sam was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to like dancing.

**It was thoughts like this that led Penny to crush Sam’s ego whenever possible. Not that Sam was an absolute prat-- he wasn’t, really, a prat at all-- but he tended to think of himself as being better than other well-born young men by dint of his gainful employment and Watch School affiliations. This was a different kind of snobbery, but it was snobbery nonetheless.

***

Everything hurt. If the poor creature making its limping progress through the nighttime streets had been able to form the words, or even the thought, that's what it would have said. Everything hurt, and nothing made sense, and it had run, run from the place where it had been brought to fitful life. But now it was tired, and the life that had flared briefly in it was dimming. All the creature wanted was darkness, and quiet, and for the hurting to stop. It staggered a few steps further before its legs gave out from beneath it, and the last spark in its thoughtless head was a feeling of relief.

***

Three weeks passed. Sam went out with Meg twice more, each time more successfully than the last; he had dinners with Gordon and Hettie, wrote reports, walked patrols. And another patchwork body was found.

“He’th practithing hith thtitching,” Igor mused, looking through a magnifying lens at the corpse. “Look how much better it ith on thith one than it wath on the otherth.”

This one hadn’t been found in the river, which was a first; instead, a Watchman in Dolly Sisters had followed what he thought was a shambling drunk into an alley, seen the drunk collapse, and got a nasty shock when he turned the body over. It was the first real confirmation Sam had that the patchwork people really were walking around. His monster-maker wasn’t just making increasingly well-sewn dead bodies, but things that could be brought to a semblance of life.

“But it still couldn’t have lived for very long?” Sam asked Igor.

“Oh, no, not more than a few dayth,” Igor said. “He’th thtill not uthing very good brainth. Thith one’s fresher, but it was thtill much too dead by the time he got it in the thkull.”

Sam reflected that it was lucky that coppering earned you an ironclad stomach and a nearly nonexistent gag reflex; otherwise he might have chucked lunch all over Igor’s nice clean morgue. “Any luck tracking where it came from?” he asked.

“We’ve got the K-9 unit following itth trail,” Igor said. “I’ll have Gordon keep you updated.”

“Thanks, Igor,” Sam said. “If we can find out where this one’s been, we might get a hint of where these things are being made.” He passed a critical eye over the body. At first glance, it didn’t look too different from Igor himself, what with its network of scars and general lopsidedness, but Igors were different, somehow. Igors made themselves over as part of a campaign of relentless self-improvement: they wanted nimbler hands, sharper eyes, keener ears. The patchwork man on the table was crude and blunt by comparison.

Igors also tended to care a little bit more about appearances. Not that they were anything like conventionally attractive, but they tried for a certain kind of uniformity throughout the Clan, and they cared a great deal about things like neat stitching. They would never have left half a tattoo on one leg, all sloppy, with a crooked line of stitches cutting it off.

Wait. Wait. Sam reviewed the last several sentences that had passed through his brain, trying to figure out which one had sent up the semaphore flags. Ah--!

“This tattoo, Igor,” he said, trying not to sound too excited, “can you get an iconograph of it?” And send copies round to the other Watch Houses? One for me, too.”

“Thertainly, Corporal Vimeth,” said Igor. “What are you going to do with it?”

“Identify the victim,” Sam said. “Or a bit of him, anyway.”

Sam stopped at the canteen for a sandwich-- it wasn’t egg salad today-- and headed out for his patrol, his head full of patchwork thoughts. Before he bit into the sandwich, though, he grimaced, remembering Igor’s comment about brains, and had some second thoughts about eating. He tossed half his sandwich to a small, scruffy street dog who was looking hopefully up at him. The dog caught it neatly.

“Thanks, mifter,” the dog said around his mouthful. Sam nodded at him and walked on.

No one knew how the city had acquired its small population of talking dogs. They had just started turning up when Sam was a lad, and now you saw them all over. There were a few in the Watch-- they made surprisingly good coppers, and the K-9 unit did good work under Captain Angua’s guidance. Some talking rats had come down from a village in Uberwald, as well, and formed a little community around the Underground station in Dimwell; a few of them had joined the Watch too.

The talking cats were another story entirely. They mostly kept to themselves, and they weren’t at all the coppering sort. They made good informants, though. Cats saw everything.

Sam’s patrol took him past a few tattoo shops, and he stopped in at each one with the iconograph of the patchwork man’s leg, asking if anyone recognized it. He hadn’t any luck, though one artist offered that it looked like amateur work. “You get fellows doing their own work sometimes, to look tough,” explained the artist, who had a surprisingly delicate rendering of a bird in flight wrapping around one massive bicep. “Or it could be prison work. Down in the Tanty, there’s not much to do, so they tattoo each other. They’re not very good at it, though. This certainly wasn’t done with proper tools. And why’s it cut off in the middle like that?”

“That’s confidential, I’m afraid,” Sam said. “Police business. You’ve been a great help, though-- thanks very much.”

***

She would do it tonight. Tonight, after he had gone to sleep; tonight she would have a chance to slip away, and she would take it. Tonight it had to end, the way it ought to have ended in the first place. Maybe then he would see that this was wrong, that what he was doing had to stop. Maybe then he would understand, and she would be the last to suffer so.

He’d asked her if she was in pain, been solicitous and conscientious and kind, and she had lied and said she didn’t feel it. Lied, when everything hurt, and all she wanted was blessed darkness. But soon it would be over.

***

Sam finished his patrol in a thoughtful mood. He decided to walk to Meg’s place, rather than taking the train; it was a lovely night for it and he wasn’t supposed to meet Meg for an hour. She lived off Treacle Street, in an elevator building near Dragon’s Landing. It was a nice neighborhood, full of people who worked in the Street of Cunning Artificers or Merchant’s Street, part of the city’s burgeoning middle class. Sam supposed Meg’s family must be reasonably well-off for her to live here while she studied at the hospital.*

Sam called for the elevator and stood waiting in Meg’s lobby, his thoughts still circling round the tattoo. He was sure it would lead him somewhere useful; he just didn’t have the faintest idea where that was. The elevator’s arrival cut him off mid-ponder, though, and he tried to put the Rag-and-Bone Man out of his head for now.

He pulled open the elevator gate and stepped in. “Fifth floor, please,” he said to the imp in its call box, and the little creature saluted him sharply. It was wearing a little jacket with gold braid and tassels on the shoulders, and a tiny hat.

“Right-o,” said the imp, who then pressed a little lever in the call box. Distant hydraulics sloshed, and the elevator began to rise.

Sam knocked on the door to Meg’s flat, and tugged a little anxiously at his neckcloth. He was taking Meg to a play at the Dysk, which meant dressing up a bit; it wasn’t something he’d done around Meg before. He didn’t know why he was worried. It wasn’t as though she’d take one look at him and go “aha! I see through your clever disguise, you are actually a nob! Begone, for I have no use for upper-class twits!” For one thing, Meg didn’t even talk like that.

His worry evaporated when Meg answered the door in a dress. It was-- really quite a nice dress. Perfect for the theater. Up ‘til now he’d only seen Meg in practical skirts and shirtwaists, occasionally a waistcoat or spencer over that; this was the first time he’d seen her dressed up. She looked lovely. She had all her curly hair piled up on her head, with a ribbon wound round it, and pearl earbobs. Her dress was a soft sage green, trimmed with pale yellow and white, and as she gathered her shawl around her and looked up at Sam, he found himself smiling foolishly.

“You look-- nice. Really nice. Lovely, in fact. Er. Good evening,” Sam said.

“Hi, Sam. You really think so? I know we’re a bit behind the fashions, back home, but I do like this dress. It’s my favorite color,” she admitted.

“Well, it suits you,” Sam said.

“Thanks. You look nice, too,” she added.

They took a cab to the theater, and Meg didn’t let go of Sam’s hand after he helped her up into it. Sam hoped his palms wouldn’t sweat. He had a bit of trouble following the plot of the play. Not that it wasn’t good-- they were always quite good, at the Dysk-- but he couldn’t help but be distracted. At intermission, Meg had to explain the plot to him.

“You seem a bit distracted, Sam. Are you sure you’re all right? Got work on the brain?”

“Not work, no,” said Sam, feeling a little foolish. “But I have been a bit distracted. It’s just-- been a little while since I took anyone on a real date, and I guess I’m a bit nervous.”

“Oh,” Meg said, and flushed prettily. “Well. You don’t have to be nervous.” And she leaned in and kissed him, just once, a soft brush of lips on Sam’s mouth, right in front of the gods and everybody in the middle of the lobby.

Sam beamed at her, forgetting entirely to worry about being recognized. “Right. Well. I suppose I’m not so nervous, anymore.”

When the play was over, they walked together through the nighttime city. Conversation turned, as it always seemed to with the two of them, to work.

“It’s called a Tactican section,” Meg explained. “After General Tacticus, you know; the story goes that he was cut from his dead mother’s belly with a sword. Which is probably nonsense, of course, but there might be a little grain of truth in it.”

“I always thought that story was a myth,” Sam said. “In school they taught us it was probably propaganda, to puff up his military credentials when he started conquering everything later on.” The Watch School had taken a rather skeptical view of Ankh-Morpork’s glorious history of empire.

“Well, it might be,” said Meg. “But the procedure’s real enough. It’s what you do in childbirth when everything else has failed, when the mother’s dead or dying and your only hope is to save the baby. Or at least, that’s what it’s been up until now.”

“But you’re trying to change that?” Sam asked.

Meg waved this off. “Not me, I’m just a trainee. I’m happy when I get to observe. But Dr. Igorina’s made a lot of amazing advances in telling when a delivery’s about to go Rimwards, and she thinks she’s close to performing a successful T-section-- one where mother and child both survive. It’s really fascinating work.”

It occurred to Sam for the first time that Meg might be able to, as it were, help the police with their inquiries. He couldn’t tell her the details of the Rag-and-Bone Man case, of course, but he might be able to find out something useful. “Meg, do all the trainee doctors learn to do surgery? Like, the really delicate stuff, the kind you need to know if you want to do something like a T-section?”

“Well, no,” Meg said. “Only the surgical residents learn that. And I’m learning enough that I could do a T-section if I have to, but I’m doing extra training with Dr. Igorina. Why do you ask?”

“It’s a copper thing. Sorry, but I can’t actually tell you the details. I was just wondering how much medical training someone would need to have, say, to stitch up a wound. Or reattach a limb, things like that.” Sam wondered hopefully if his case was about to get quite a bit easier to solve.

“Well, those are two very different things, Sam. I could teach you to suture in half an hour, if I needed to, but it would take you a bit of time and practice to actually get good at it. Reattaching limbs is tricky, though.”

Apparently, it wasn’t. “But someone who practiced a lot-- they wouldn’t necessarily need medical training to do it?”

“Well, I suppose not. I wouldn’t like to be the patient they practiced on, though! There’s a reason we learn on corpses.”

Sam froze. “Wait. What did you say?”

“Oh, I suppose that’s a bit yucky, isn’t it?” Meg said, in the tones of one who had seen every fluid a human body can produce, and been spattered with most of them. “Sorry. It’s not common knowledge, but yes, medical students do practice surgery on dead people-- mostly condemned criminals, but we do get the occasional person who donates their body to science.” In a slightly jolly tone, she added, “We practice suturing on pigs, as well. Isn’t that odd? But when you give it a good shave, a side of bacon’s basically the same texture as a human.”

They were walking across the Brass Bridge by now, and Sam stopped to lean on one of the wooden hippos and collect his thoughts. Condemned criminals-- the prison tattoo? Was his monster-maker getting his parts from the hospital, now that he couldn’t raid the cemeteries? It made sense, if it was someone from the hospital-- he’d have surgical skills, he’d have access to bodies.

Sam watched the sparse traffic crossing the bridge, and tried to put the pieces together. Mag frowned nervously at him. “Sam? Are you all right?”

“Yeah. I think so,” he said. “I think you just gave me a big break in a case, actually.”

“Oh. Well, good for me,” she said. “You’ll tell me what this is all about eventually, won’t you? Because if you’ve got a case involving an amateur surgeon, that’s a bit worrying. There’s a reason we train for so long.”

“Yeah,” said Sam. “The question I’m trying to answer is, how amateur a surgeon is my suspect? Because that’d go a long way towards solving this case.” He sighed, and leaned back on the hippo, taking a long look around.

There weren’t a lot of people crossing the Brass Bridge at this hour, and that’s why the black-shrouded figure caught Sam’s eye. Well, not only that. Her walk was off, a little staggered, and she was swathed from head to toe in a face-concealing cloak. He was only guessing that the shape was female, in fact, because it was slight and slim and more or less conical, with a suggestion of skirts beneath the cloak. And she was walking towards the railing of the bridge.

“Meg,” Sam said slowly, “am I mad, or is there something funny about that woman over there?”

Meg looked. “You’re not mad,” she said, “unless I am too-- oh my gods.”

The woman was climbing the railing. Sam was already running before she had one foot up; was shouting “Miss, don’t!” before her second foot left the ground; was reaching for the all-concealing folds of cloth as she swung herself over the side and into empty air. His hands grasped at nothing; the woman fell.

He heard Meg gasp, only half a second behind him, a littler slower in her long skirts, and the two of them watched the figure make the long fall, down to the black water below. There was a distant splash.

“Oh, no,” Meg breathed. “The poor thing...”

“I’ve got to get to the nearest Watch House,” Sam said. “Will you be all right?”

“I’m coming with you,” Meg said, and cut off his protest. “--Don’t argue, I am. If she’s found alive, she’s going to need a doctor.”

“All right,” Sam said. “How are you at running?”

She hitched up her skirts. “Not bad,” she said, and took Sam’s hand. “Let’s go.”

They ran.

*Sam tried not to be class-conscious, but he wasn’t very good at it.

***

“Is it over? Really and truly?”

IT IS. I’M SORRY.

“Oh, don’t be, please. It should have been over once already.”

YES. STILL, I AM SORRY.

Under a black sky spangled with stars, she walked away across the desert. Her limp was gone, the pain was gone, she was unburdened by any mortal form. Death watched her go.

***

Sam could remember, back when he was a boy, that the river had been thick and green and nearly solid enough to run across, if you were quick and had exceptionally large feet. It was still fairly green, and extremely scummy, but there was fast-moving water visible under the frothy skin of foam, and rumors of fish pulled alive from it. Not that anyone would eat a fish from the River Ankh-- Morporkians prided themselves on their toughness, but they weren't actually suicidal-- but there hadn't been fish in the river when Sam was young. Not live ones, anyway.

The difference was the water treatment plant, which had been built fifteen years ago to separate Ankh-Morpork's sewage into its component parts. It produced the gas that lit the city, astonishingly potent fertilizer for the farmers of the plains, and water that wasn't actively dangerous. Harry King, who'd been rich before he bankrolled the plant and was a lot richer now, said that he was a forward-thinking man, and that was true. He'd looked into the river, and seen a future where your reflection could be visible in the water.

Now Sam stood in the shadow of the Brass Bridge, right down by the water, and watched the River Patrol boat dragging its net across the surface. Beside him, Meg scanned the water anxiously. “They’re not going to find her alive, are they?” she asked sadly.

“The odds aren’t good,” Sam said. “It’s a long fall, and the current’s pretty swift here.” They were still dressed for the theater. Meg drew a few odd looks from the other Watchmen, in her pretty dress, but everyone knew Sam.

“You ought to turn in, Sam,” Hettie told him; she’d been on night duty at the Yard all week. “Your friend must be tired; you ought to take her home.”

“Thanks, but I’m all right,” Meg said. “And if there’s any chance she’s still alive, I want to be here. I know rescue breathing, if that’s any help.”

Hettie shrugged, “It might be,” she said. “But it probably won’t, I’m sorry to say. You’re welcome to stay if you like. Just stick close to Sam or someone will want to know what you’re doing here.”

A shout went up from the boat in the river. “Have they found her?” Sam asked, craning his neck to see.”

“They’ve found something, anyway.” Hettie looked grim. Jumpers always made her uneasy.

The boat seemed to make it's way back to shore at half speed. Sam glanced up at the bridge, where a crowd of onlookers had gathered to watch the Watch at work. "Can we clear those gawkers off the bridge?" he asked Hettie.

"I'll send a couple of lance-constables up, and we'll see what they can do," Hettie promised.

The River Patrol boat pulled up to the dock with a heavy wooden clunk. Two Watchmen climbed over the side, maneuvering a stretcher between them. The shape in the stretcher had a blanket pulled over its face, hiding it from view. Sam reached out to twitch the blanket back, but one of the coppers stopped him.

"Not here, Corporal," he said. The man looked pale and a little shaky, as if he'd just had a fright. "Trust me. Wait 'til we get her back to the morgue at the Yard."

Sam looked at him, surprised, and the man nodded at the limp white hand that had come loose from its wrappings, now hanging off the edge of the stretcher.

It had a neat ring of stitches round the wrist. Sam’s eyes widened, and he nodded at the other Watchman. "Right," he said, understanding. "At the Yard."

“What’s wrong?” Meg asked.

“Can I tell you when we get to the Yard?” Sam asked. “I’ve got to get a proper witness statement from you, anyway.”

“Well, all right,” said Meg. “But you’re being very mysterious about this, Sam. It’s worrying.”

“If it’s any consolation, I’m quite worried too,” Sam said.

Back at the Yard, Sam left Meg in the squadroom and followed the body down to the morgue. Uncovering her made every Watchman in the room recoil. She was wearing a high-necked dress and long sleeves, but the face was enough for a pretty good recoil all on its own. It had the same jigsaw look as the other Rag-and-Bone Man bodies, but there was something ineffably different about this one, something Sam couldn’t quite put his finger on... and then it clicked.

The Rag-and-Bone Man hadn’t been trying to make his other creatures look nice. They’d been slapdash, thrown together, with no eye for aesthetics, but with this one the Rag-and-Bone Man had aimed for beauty, and missed. The stitching was even more delicate and fine than it had been on the last body, the pieces more carefully matched, but that only made the general effect more uncanny. In death, the face was eerie, near-perfect in form but very, very wrong in all the details. And what was oddest of all, thought Sam, was that it almost looked familiar.

“Sam? I gave my statement to your friend Hettie; she says I ought to go home, but I wanted to say good-night--” Meg stopped mid-sentence and mid-step, just inside the doorway to the morgue. “Oh, no. The poor thing,” she said. “This is the case you were asking about, wasn’t it, Sam?”

“‘Fraid so,” Sam croaked, his throat dry. “Good deduction. You’d make a good copper.*”

“Have there been more of these, then?” Meg asked. Sam nodded. “And you think whoever’s doing it might work at the hospital?” Another nod. “Right,” said Meg. “You’re going to catch this bastard, aren’t you?”

“I’m certainly going to try,” Sam said.

“Good,” Meg said. “That’s-- good.”

Sam pulled the blanket back over the patchwork girl’s face, and that seemed to break the spell. “I think I’d like to go home now, Sam,” Meg said, her voice sounding suddenly small.

“I’ll walk you,” Sam said quickly. “I’m sorry the night turned out like this.”

“Not your fault,” Meg said, shaking her head. “It was a lovely evening, until-- well. Until.”

Sam put his arm around her as they walked back across the Brass Bridge to Meg’s flat, and she leaned into his side the whole way.

*Sam’s highest compliment.

***

“I’m thorry, but thith is jutht fathinating,” Igor said. He was wearing a massive magnifying lens on a headband, and blinking owlishly through it at Sam. “It’s a deplorable wathte of parts, I know, but you have to admire the artithtry.”

“I really don’t,” Sam said. “Now, what was wrong with the brain on this one?”

“What do you mean?” Igor asked. It really was disconcerting, the way the lens made him look like he had one massive eye and one regular, slightly lopsided one. But it was still nicer to look at than the body on the table.

“Was it too old, like the others? I mean, obviously it wasn’t working at a hundred percent, the poor thing jumped off a bridge,” Sam said.

“No, the brain’th not bad at all,” Igor said. “He mutht have got it on ithe as thoon as the donor kicked the bucket and tranthplanted it not long after, becauthe I’m theeing very few signth of brain-death. She wath in her right mind when she jumped.”

“Just not her right body,” Sam muttered, and Igor surprised him by laughing.

“Thorry, Corporal, but that’th a very Igor thort of joke to make. Thith cathe hath got you thinking like uth, hasn’t it?”

“It hasn’t got me understanding the culprit, though,” Sam said. There was a question Sam had been wondering about for a while. “Igor, why doesn’t the Clan do things like this? Build patchwork people, do brain transplants, all of it? It’s not that many steps away from what you normally do.”

Igor stopped laughing. “It’th farther away than you think it ith, Corporal. We Igorth do our our best to pretherve life-- even to extend it-- but not indefinitely. We know that everyone hath to die eventually. If they didn’t, the world would be an awful meth. An Igor who trieth to cheat death ith an Igor who’th forgotten he’th a part of the Great Work. We take that very theriouthly.”

“And if you found out an Igor was the one responsible for this?” Sam asked, waving at the poor creature on the slab. “What would you do then?”

“Oh, the Clan would do our best to thee that he got hith head put on thtraight,” Igor said. “Literally, if nethethary. But you think it’th most likely thomeone at the hothpital, don’t you?”

“That’s the current theory,” Sam said. “Which, actually, is what I’m about to go and explain to the Commander.”

Commander Carrot was doing paperwork when Sam came into his office. Unlike Sam’s dad, who had tended to let the stuff pile up and regarded filing as a black art, Commander Carrot believed in keeping a tidy office. He did his paperwork promptly and without any apparent reluctance. Sam thought it was a bit weird, but that was Commander Carrot for you.

“Hallo, Sam,” Carrot said. “Bit of a commotion last night, wasn’t it? I’m sorry your date got spoiled.”

Sam shrugged. “It turned out all right,” he said. “And Meg gave me a bit of a breakthrough on the case, anyway.” He explained about the prison tattoo. “So I think it really must be someone at the hospital-- someone who works there, and has access to bodies.”

“Why’d he start out by grave-robbing, then?” Carrot asked. “If he could have used the hospital’s resources from the start.”

“That’s... a good question,” Sam said. “Maybe he was afraid of drawing notice. But now he hasn’t got another choice, since he knows the cemeteries are being watched. And, well, I think he wanted fresher parts.”

“Yes, Igor told me this one would have lived-- properly lived, more or less-- if she hadn’t jumped,” Carrot said. “Why do you think she did it?”

Sam had thought about this, and the thought had given him the cold shudders. “Well, put yourself in her shoes. Feet. Whatever. She dies, presumably of natural causes, and then she wakes up and she’s a patchwork monster and some madman’s cackling at her that he’s created life. One look in the mirror, and she runs for the bridge. That’s my best guess, anyway.”

“Seems like a reasonable deduction,” the Commander said. He paused, and a faint frown flickered across his face. “There was... something else I wanted to talk to you about, Sam.”

Sam found himself feeling unaccountably nervous. “Yes, Commander Carrot?”

“It’s about your... friend,” Carrot said. “Miss Garlick. I spoke with her briefly. For some reason, she seems to be under the impression that your name’s Sam Ramkin. Any idea why that might be?”

The floor, unfortunately, did not open up and swallow Sam. He gulped. “Er.”

Captain Carrot only looked at him, with the same mild look he always used when you’d done something you shouldn’t. It was worse than if he’d looked upset, really, because the mild look made you feel about six years old.

“I may have, er, fibbed a bit,” Sam said. “I just-- when I met her, That Article had just come out, and I was really sick of being Ankh’s Most Eligible Bachelor. So I pretended I wasn’t.”

Commander Carrot didn’t look disappointed, the way Mina had. He just looked a bit sad, and the corner of his mouth twitched, the way it did when he was trying not to say something he knew wouldn’t be taken well. “Sam, you can’t keep deceiving this girl,” he said. “You know it’s not right. You’ve got to tell her the truth.”

“I know, I know,” Sam said. “I’m just-- working up to it. I’m not sure how she’ll take it, that’s the trouble.”

“It doesn’t matter how she’s going to take it,” Carrot said. “It matters that it’s the right thing to do.”

Sam slumped miserably in his chair. “I know,” he said, “and I will do it. Just-- just let me work up to it a bit, you know?” He froze. “You haven’t mentioned this to Dad, have you?”

“I haven’t,” Carrot said, “but if this carries on too long I might. So tell her, already.”

“Right,” said Sam. He left the Commander’s office with a sinking feeling that his day was about to get a lot worse. Well, he was headed for his parents’ house from here, at any rate.
Assuming they still didn’t know about Meg, nothing too bad could happen there.

***

“Mum, I’m not going to do it,” Sam said, and meant it.

“Oh, honestly, dear, it’s nothing to cause a fuss over. The poor girl just needs an escort, that’s all. And think of who’d be inflicted on her if you didn’t do it!”

“I don’t care, Mum,” Sam said, although the thought of the alternatives did make him wince a bit. “I’m not escorting some useless figurehead. It’s bad enough that I’ve got to go to the Cotillion at all, and it’d be a sight worse if I had to take a Princess to it!”

“The lad has a point, Sybil,” Dad said, and Sam shot him a grateful look. “Even if she’s the princess of some damned tiny country no one’s ever heard of. A Vimes escorting royalty? Sam would never hear the end of it.”

“She’s a very sweet girl,” Sybil said, “princess or no. And you get on very well with the royal family of Lancre, Sam. You sat next to the King at dinner not two years ago and you told me you quite liked him!”

Sam felt a ball of ice form in his stomach. Dad was saying “That was the King? And he seemed like a sensible sort, too,” but Sam wasn’t really listening. The Crown Princess of Lancre? Oh damn, damn, damn...

But he couldn’t say why he didn’t want to do it, could he? He hadn’t told Mum and Dad about Meg yet, and he certainly wasn’t about to tell them he was dating a girl who didn’t know his real name. But in a country small as Lancre, odds were good that Meg knew the Crown Princess, at least well enough to say hello to, and she certainly wasn’t going to miss pictures of her new boyfriend in the society pages, dancing with the Princess of her own country.

Then again, Meg wasn’t really the sort to read the society pages, was she?

Sam realized he had backed himself into a corner. The best he could really do was hope the Cotillion fell on a day when there was actual news to publish, and therefore got shunted to a back page of the paper. Meg might not notice. Mum and Dad, on the other hand, would certainly figure out something was up if he kept putting up a fuss about the Cotillion. He tuned back into the conversation, which by now consisted of his parents bickering amiably, and cleared his throat.

“All right, Mum. I’ll do it. But only to spare her being escorted by a Venturi, or one of the Rusts.”

“That’s sweet of you, dear,” Mum said, but Dad was frowning.

“Are you sure about this, Sam?” he asked.

“Perfectly,” Sam lied. Lying to his parents was not something Sam was particularly skilled at, but the good news was that he usually got away with it on the rare occasions he had to do it, because Mum and Dad were never expecting it. This, blessedly, was no exception. Dad looked a little suspicious at Sam’s turnaround, but the coppering instincts didn’t appear to have kicked in.

So Sam's secret was safe, for now. He just had to figure out the right way of telling the truth to Meg. Maybe once he'd solved his case, the answer would come to him.

***

“It’s a novel solution, to be sure,” someone said. The room was dim enough that the speaker’s face could not be seen. No one’s could, in fact, and the high-backed chairs hid everything that the light might have revealed. If this meeting were happening, which it wasn’t, it was being done the old-fashioned way. Not that it was being done at all, of course.

“Would it work?” another voice asked. This voice, like the first one, was wary, unsure, and not a voice that was used to being either of those things. It was a voice that was meant for barking orders and stating things firmly, not this faffing around uncertainly. But here it was, faffing.

“It might not fail,” said a third voice. “And if it did, we’d be no worse off than we are now.”

“Would we be that badly off, if it didn’t work, though?”

“No one knows. That’s the damned trouble,” the third voice said. It sounded supremely annoyed at this fact, at the way reality was failing to provide it with certainty.

“The Watch--” said the first voice.

“--Won’t get anywhere if it’s not allowed to. We can still manage that, even in-- these modern times,” said the second voice.

“So he’ll be allowed to continue his work,” said a voice. It could have been any of them.

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

“It’s agreed, then.”

***

As for his case, Sam wasn't having much luck at the hospital. The trouble was that he was still trying to keep the case out of the papers, so he couldn't exactly pick a doctor and say "So, suspect any of your colleagues of stealing body parts? Had any brains go missing?"

Meg was a help, there. She kept her eyes and ears open at the hospital, and Sam didn’t have to worry that she was a suspect because she’d moved to Ankh-Morpork after the bodies started turning up. She was the one who found out that a morgue attendant had been fired, but Sam was the one who found out why.

“Bodies with parts missing? And why is this the first the Watch has heard of it, Mr. Coppersmith?” Sam asked.

The dwarf scowled up at him. “That’s the hospital’s business, not mine. I was sacked, remember? And I’m well shut of it, too. They just wanted someone to blame.”

“So you don’t know what happened to the missing parts?” Sam asked.

“Know what happened to them? I didn’t even know they were missing ‘til some family opened the casket and saw their poor auntie was short an arm. And I got the blame for it.” He frowned at Sam. “Anyway, why d’you need to hear it from me? Ought to ask the hospital, if you want to know what’s been going on.”

“They’ve not been very forthcoming,” Sam said. And in fact, none of the administrators Sam had tried to interview had been willing to admit that body parts had gone missing at all, much less that someone in their employ might be responsible for the loss. “Can you remember who any of the, er, victims were? Who had parts missing, and what they were?”

“I might,” said Mr. Coppersmith. “If you catch the bastard, you think I could get my job back?”

“I can’t make any promises there, sir,” Sam said. “But it certainly couldn’t hurt.”

“Right,” the dwarf said gruffly, and sat down to make Sam a list.

The list was helpful, up to a point. The parts had been stolen from women, mostly young, mostly dead from accidents rather than illnesses. Arni Coppersmith had mostly only been able to spot missing arms and legs, obvious things, though he’d noticed one corpse was too light and found her lungs and large intestine were gone. It didn’t add up to a whole person, at any rate, so Arni hadn’t caught every theft.

But it told Sam that the Rag-and-Bone Man had access to the morgue, and access to the hospital at times when the morgue attendants were gone. That meant he worked there, almost certainly.

The next step was to keep a close eye on the morgue, and see what else went missing. It didn’t take long. A man without a foot, others with chunks of flesh or organs gone; one fellow who’d had a particularly nasty accident wound up in fewer pieces than he ought to have been. But Sam heard of all this secondhand, in rumors relayed by Meg, because the hospital still wouldn’t admit there was a problem.

“There is nothing to investigate, Corporal Vimes,” the head of surgery told Sam. Dr. Burke was a thin, prim man, neat as a pin, with spidery hands that moved restlessly on his desk. Sam wondered if he shouldn’t be looking closer at the man-- could he be the culprit? But Sam had followed him home the same night a set of kidneys went missing, and he hadn’t gone near the morgue.

“If Doctor Lawn knew this was going on--” Sam began, but the man cut him off.

“Yes, Corporal Vimes,” and there was a nasty little inflection there on Sam’s last name, “I’m sure you have Doctor Lawn round for dinner with your parents all the time. But he is retired, and the running of this hospital is no longer his business. Nor is it yours. Please see yourself out; I have a meeting.” And he swept out, in a huff of white coat and antiseptic fumes.

Sam stormed out after him, and nearly knocked over a doctor hurrying the other way. “Sorry, sorry,” Sam said, and helped the poor man to his feet. It was the blond doctor Sam had met, that first day he’d taken Meg to lunch.

“Quite all right,” Dr. Dussel said, brushing himself off. He looked, Sam thought, like he hadn’t been sleeping enough. “You’re Miss Garlick’s young man, aren’t you? I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the name, if I ever knew it.”

“Call me Sam,” Sam said, and they shook hands. “So you work with Meg, then? She’s quite brilliant, isn’t she?”

“She’s very talented,” Dr. Dussel admitted. “And you can call me Henry. Meg’s doing some quite fascinating work with Dr. Igorina. I’ve been following it with interest.”

“Me, too-- what I understand of it, anyway,” Sam said. He remembered the girl who Henry had been escorting, the last time they met. “How’s your patient? Sophronia, wasn’t it?”

The pleasant smile dropped off Henry’s face. “She’s dead,” he said shortly, and turned on his heel and walked off.

“Huh,” said Sam. He went to go and look for Meg.

“What do you know about a fellow named Henry Dussell?” Sam asked her as they made their way out of the hospital.

Meg nimbly dodged a couple of small boys barrelling past in wheelchairs much too big for them. “Henry? He’s a dear. He works on the chronic ward-- lung diseases, mostly.”

“Not a surgeon, then?”

“No. You don’t suspect him, do you?”

Sam shrugged. “He came over very odd about a patient of his, when I asked about her. Told me she was dead, then just walked off.”

“Oh, dear,” Meg said. “Poor Henry. He’s been a bit upset about that. She’d been his patient for a while, and, well, I think he was a bit sweet on her, honestly.”

“Sweet enough to build her a new body, do you think?”

Meg looked shocked, and lowered her voice. “You don’t think he could have done-- that, do you?”

“I think anybody who’s not got an alibi could have done it. I’m not discounting anyone.”

“Well, I doubt it was him, at any rate. But I’ll keep an eye out, if you think it’s worth doing.”

“Thanks, Meg,” Sam said, and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled at him, blushing a little, and took his hand as they passed through the hospital doors.

Soon, Sam told himself. I’ll tell her the truth about me soon.

***

"I've been scooped, Sam."

The newspaper Penny thunked down in front of him wasn't opened to the front page, which Sam was grateful for; at least his case wasn’t drawing too much attention yet. "WATCH SILENT ON MYSTERY JUMPER," the headline announced, and Sam flicked his eyes across the short article covering the shrouded woman who'd thrown herself off the Brass Bridge.

"Wait," Sam said. "How d'you even know this has anything to do with the Rag-and-Bone Man? Who've you been talking to?"

Penny scowled. "Hettie told me. I ought to have heard it from you, though-- you promised."

"I've been a bit busy."

“And I’ve been scooped. This was going to be my breakout story, Sam!”

“Once I’ve solved it, you can break out all you like,” Sam promised. “But not until then. Anyway, there’s no sign in the article that this is linked to the grave robbings or the other bodies. The Times doesn’t even know about the grave robbings or the other bodies, thank goodness.”

“And how much longer will that last?” Penny demanded. “Anyway, don’t you think you’d have an easier time catching the Rag-and-Bone Man if people outside the Watch knew what you were looking for?”

“I think that causing a panic is probably not a good idea,” Sam said. “And a panic is just what this story will cause if it hits the papers before I’ve caught the culprit.”

Penny threw herself down in the chair opposite Sam. “You’re no fun at all, Sam.”

“Yes, I know,” said Sam. “It’s awful of me, isn’t it?”

She pulled a face. “Fine, fine,” she said. “If you won’t let me at the actual news, I’ll just have to settle for gossip. Aggie tells me you’re dating a girl from Lancre?”

Sam wished he didn’t blush so easily. “Well, we’ve been on a few dates. And I quite like her. But I don’t know if I’d say we’re dating yet. And tell Aggie to keep her mouth shut, will you?”

“I have a nose for news, Sam, I would have known she had something juicy to tell me even if he had kept shut about it. Now, I want to hear everything. What’s she like? Why’d she come to the city? Is she terribly intimidated by your lofty stature?”

Sam groaned. “Shove off, Penny.”

“Ooh, have I hit a nerve? Sam, are you embarrassed? Really, you shouldn’t be, there’s no shame in being Ankh’s Most Eligible--”

“I said shove off!” Sam said, a little too loudly. The rest of the squadroom grew quiet, coppers being nosy buggers who probably wanted to know what the fuss was about. Something on his face must have told Penny he meant it, at least, because her mocking smile disappeared, replaced with a gentler expression.

“Sorry, Sam. I know it’s a sore spot. Didn’t realize it was that much of one, though.”

“Yeah, well.” Sam sighed. “It’s all right, Penny. I think this case is getting to me. It’s frustrating, to know where the bastard must be working, know he’s still stealing bits of people, and not be able to do anything about it because the hospital’s got its head in the sand.”

“Well, maybe a fresh set of eyes will help. Not literally, I mean! Just a different perspective. Show me what you’ve got since the last time I got an update, and maybe I can find something you didn’t.”

“You just want to be back in the loop.”

“Well, maybe a bit. But I do want to help, if I can.”

“All right, “ said Sam. “All right. Let me show you what I’ve got.”

He went over what he had with Penny: Arni Coppersmith’s list, Meg’s secondhand accounting of parts, the reluctance of the hospital administration to even acknowledge the problem. Penny frowned thoughtfully down at Sam’s pile of paperwork.

“Well, I think the trouble is, you don’t know what the Rag-and-Bone Man wants. What’s he trying to accomplish? He started out making patchwork men, then he made a patchwork woman. Why’d he change? If he wanted to make himself a girlfriend, he could have done that from the start. He’s working towards something, I think, but I don’t know what it is.”

“That’s... a really good point, Penny.”

“Try not to look too surprised.” Sam did his best to lower his eyebrows.

“Sorry. But you’re right, I won’t know what he’s going to do next until I work out his motive, and that’s been bloody opaque thus far.”

There was a commotion at the Watch House door. A handful of coppers were escorting in two handcuffed men. Hettie strode over to Sam at his desk, looking triumphant, and carrying, for some reason, a shovel.

“Caught them trying to dig up a fresh grave at Small Gods, Sam,” Hettie said, and set the shovel down on the desk in front of him with a clang. “Think we’ve got your grave-robbers.”

***

"Right," said Sam across the interrogation room table, "this'll go a lot easier for you if you just tell us the truth."

The man opposite Sam had his head in his hands. James Cholmondley and his partner-in-crime, Tobias Lemming, had been caught brown-handed, waist-deep in grave dirt at a fresh grave in Small Gods cemetery. Tobias was in Interrogation Two, getting the same treatment from Hettie.

Well, not quite the same. Sam was usually nicer. Not this time, though.

Sam wondered why it hadn't occurred to him before that the Rag-and-Bone Man could, in fact, be the Rag-and-Bone Men. It made sense, now he thought about it-- two could get such a lot more done than one.

“I’m really, really sorry, officer,” Mr. Cholmondley said, his voice a little muffled by the hands over his face. “If it’s any help, it was all Tobias’ idea, and we’d been drinking, and-- well-- d’you think I can get out of this without anyone telling the hospital?”

“You work at the hospital?” Sam asked, with rising excitement. He was right! It had been someone at the hospital! “Have they cottoned on to you there, then? Not so easy to steal from the morgue anymore, so you went back to grave-robbing?”

“Steal from-- I beg your pardon?” Mr. Cholmondley said, looking up at Sam properly for the first time. “We never stole anything from the morgue.”

“Don’t play innocent with me, Mr. Cholmondley,” Sam said. “Parts have been disappearing from the hospital for weeks, ever since you two stopped robbing graves the first time round. I’ve got a list as long as my arm of missing body parts, including several arms.”

Mr. Cholmondley’s eyes were round as saucers. “Officer-- sir-- I’ve got nothing to do with that. I swear. Tobias and I have never, ever robbed a grave before tonight, and we were only doing it because we’ve got a big surgery practical coming up and he had the bright idea of getting in some extra practice. I’ve heard the rumors about parts missing from the morgue, too, but that’s not us.” His expression was pleading, clearly desperate for Sam to believe him.

There was a soft knock at the door. “Sam?” Hettie said. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”

Outside, Hettie looked disappointed. “I’m not sure they’re your guys, Sam,” she said. “Mr. Lemming has some fairly solid alibis for a lot of the dates on your list.”

“So? There’s two of them, they probably switch off,” Sam said. “Did he feed you that line about surgical practice, too? Mine tried to blame it on drink and youthful high spirits, like he’s just some stupid kid.”

“I think they are a couple of stupid kids,” Hettie said.

“They’re older than we are!”

“Nonetheless. They don’t smell right,” Hettie said.

“I should think not-- they’re covered in grave dirt,” said Sam.

“Sam! You know what I mean,” Hettie said reprovingly. “I showed Mr. Lemming a picture of that patchwork woman and he nearly threw up. If he made her, he’s being awfully squeamish about it.”

“Then maybe Cholmondley does the actual construction, and Lemming just supplies the parts,” Sam said stubbornly. “It’s got to be them, Hettie. This is the first break I’ve had in this case, and I know it’s the right one.”

“Or you’re getting a bit desperate, and any lead will do,” Hettie said.

Sam deflated. Hettie had good instincts-- better than Sam’s, most of the time, for Sam usually had to rely on deduction and fact; his instincts frequently led him in entirely the wrong direction. He would have to check Mr. Cholmondley’s alibis against the list of missing parts, see if he and Mr. Lemming had solid alibis on the same nights. But if Hettie really thought they weren’t the Rag-and-Bone Men, Sam was afraid she was probably right.

“Fine. But if their alibis don’t hold up--”

“You’ll feel a lot worse if you arrest them for it, and another patchwork man turns up,” Hettie said. “You know that.”

“Yeah, but not as bad as I’ll feel if I let them go and another patchwork man turns up,” Sam said. “But fine, fine. We’ll see what I can get out of him.”

Sam let himself back into Interrogation One. Mr. Cholmondley looked up at Sam sharply at the sound of the door. His eyes were red-rimmed.

“It really was a stupid idea,” he said, “and I’m really, really sorry. But I didn’t steal anything from the hospital.”

“Let’s say I believe you,” Sam said. “I still want to hear everything you know about the missing parts. And I want to know your whereabouts for every date on this list.”

Mr. Cholmondley sagged with relief. “Certainly, officer. More than happy to oblige.”

Sam scowled down at his list. Hettie might be right, but he didn’t have to be happy about it. And if these two weren’t the Rag-and-Bone Man, Sam was no closer to finding him than he’d been before.

As Mr. Cholmondley prattled on, and Sam took careful notes, there was a part of his brain that wasn’t paying attention. It was the part that was trying to think like the suspect, trying to put himself in the culprit’s shoes and work out what he’d do next. Ordinarily, Sam wasn’t bad at this-- he’d gotten top marks in Profiling, back in school, and he’d solved his first murder case by carefully working out the killer’s motives, assembling a profile, and finding someone who matched it. But here he had no apparent motive, which was bloody frustrating.

Mad scientists didn’t have to have logical motives, of course; that was what made them mad. You didn’t end up in a castle in Uberwald, shrieking laughter at a bunch of bubbling tubes while your Igor got the lightning rod ready if you were entirely in possession of your faculties.

Sam absently jotted down ties to uberwald? on the edge of his notes. He was going to have to work up a proper profile, even without a motive-- there was nothing for it.

“Um, officer? Is that all? Can I go?” Mr. Cholmondley had finished recounting all the hospital gossip he could remember, as well as given a thorough accounting of his movements.

Sam frowned at him. “Not yet, I’m afraid. You did attempt to rob a grave, and the law rather frowns on that sort of thing.” But the man looked so stricken that Sam relented a little. “You helped a bit with an ongoing investigation, though. That’ll help your case.”

Mr. Cholmondley sighed. “I don’t suppose it would help if I mentioned that my father is very influential...?”

“No. It wouldn’t.”

“Right. Right. Of course. Sorry.”

Sam handed off the grave-robbers to a lance-constable and headed upstairs to the squadroom, spreading his notes around him. So what profile could he come up with? Well, the Rag-and-Bone Man probably had some education, if he worked at the hospital; he was medically trained, if not surgically trained. In fact, scratch surgical training-- his early attempts were too clumsy for a surgeon. He was learning as he went, and he’d started by stealing parts he hadn’t thought would be missed-- hence the initial grave robbing. Once he’d determined that he couldn’t do really good work with old parts, he’d turned to stealing from the hospital-- but if he was highly placed enough at the hospital, he would have done that from the start without fear of discovery. So he wasn’t someone really high up in the hospital hierarchy.

He might be from Uberwald, or have some links to Uberwald, although this veered uncomfortably close to ethnic profiling, which Sam was aware was not the best idea.*

What did he want, though? That was the million-dollar question. To cheat death? To create life? Why do it this way? Why do it at all?

Sam stared down at his notes. Well, this was getting him nowhere. Time to turn in, perhaps. A night’s sleep wouldn’t make the Rag-and-Bone Man’s motives any clearer, but it would certainly make Sam’s head hurt less. He swept the paperwork into a pile, and headed for home.

At the newsstands Sam passed along the way, there were sober crowds gathering; Lord Vetinari wasn’t doing very well. One more thing to worry about, then. Sam tried to put it out of his mind. He had enough on his plate, already.

*Although in Ankh-Morpork it was possible to profile to a certain degree without being accused of discrimination. If your victim had axe marks on his knees, the Watch probably wasn’t going to start looking for suspects in Quarry Lane.

***

Gordon and Sam had been friends since the age of four, and best friends for nearly as long. They’d come up through school together, spent most of their time together, shared an intensely embarrassing crush on Captain Angua at the age of thirteen together. Sam didn’t suppose there was anyone in the world who knew him as well as Gordon did.

Which was why it was upsetting that Gordon hadn’t noticed Sam keeping a secret from him.

Sam sat in their flat, reading reports, and watched Gordon putter around the kitchen. It occurred to him that Gordon’s inattention might not have anything to do with Sam, but might in fact be something wrong with Gordon himself. He had been awfully quiet this last week or so.

“Is everything all right with you and Hettie?” Sam asked, and Gordon looked up from the spice rack, surprised.

“Yes,” he said, “we’re fine. I think we’re fine, anyway. Has she said something to you?”

“No, no,” Sam waved this away. “I was just wondering-- you’ve seemed a bit down, and I know I’ve been distracted, so I wanted to be sure it wasn’t that.”

“Oh.” Gordon looked around distractedly. “Where did I put...”

“On your head,” Sam said, and Gordon retrieved his spectacles.

“Things are fine with Hettie,” Gordon said. “Things are great with Hettie, sometimes I still pinch myself because I can’t actually believe how great they are. My mum, on the other hand...”

“She can’t disapprove of Hettie,” Sam said, shocked. “She loves Hettie. I think she might like Hettie better than you.”

“It’s not that,” Gordon said. “She’s been ill again, and she won’t listen when I tell her to take it seriously. She think you can cure anything with hot mustard and a flannel, and I just don’t think that’s going to cut it this time.”

Sam thought about Gordon’s mum for a minute. “Right,” he said. “And she won’t go to the Free Hospital, because she doesn’t want to be a bother--”

“--and because people on the street would talk,” Gordon said. “You’ve got it.”

Gordon had grown up in Cockbill Street. And Sam knew all about Cockbill Street...

Every year, Sam and his dad went to Cockbill Street. It was a ritual that had begun before Sam's memory, and continued unbroken into the present. Every year, as a child, he'd been fussed over by pinched-faced women, who then conferred in hushed tones with Sam's dad while Sam played football with a pack of ragged children. Every year he brought a new football, and every year he left without it, and often without his jacket and shoes as well. And the pinched-faced women, over the months that followed, got things like jobs, scholarships and doctor's visits for their children, loans, and other things that absolutely were not charity, because Cockbill Street people didn't take charity. But from a Cockbill Street lad who'd done well for himself, there were things they could take without calling them charity that they might not take from someone else.

Gordon had been one of those charity pupils. He’d gone to the Watch School on scholarship, and ended up best friends with the son of the man who’d sponsored him. It had been awkward, sometimes, when they were younger, but the two of them had it more or less sorted out by now. Gordon didn’t give Sam a hard time about going to nobby parties, and Sam didn’t try to pay more than his share of the rent.

It meant Sam had someone he could talk to about the troublesome parts of being born rich and privileged, who didn’t say he was whining or discount how he felt. That was no small thing, for Sam. And Gordon had a friend who knew where he came from, and didn’t make a fuss about it.

But apparently Sam had been too wrapped up in his own troubles to notice Gordon’s, and that made him feel like a bad friend. “I’m sorry, mate,” he said. “Been so tied up with this case and all that I didn’t realize you were in a bad way.”

“It’s all right,” Gordon said. “I know you’ve been busy with the case, and I haven’t much wanted to talk about it.” He grinned at Sam. “Anyway, Hettie tells me you’ve been a bit busy outside of work, as well. How’s it been going with this girl?”

“Er,” said Sam. “Well. I may have backed myself into a bit of a corner there.”

Sam told Gordon about the mess he was in with Meg. When he was done, Gordon sat back and whistled.

“Golly, Sam,” he said. “You’ve done some stupid things before because of the Viscount, but I think this takes the prize.”

“I know,” Sam said. “It was really, really dumb of me. But I’ve done it, and now I’m in this mess, and I’ve no idea how to get out of it. I don’t know that this is something you can break gently to a girl.”

“Not really,” Gordon said. “What can you say-- ‘incidentally, Meg, have I mentioned Ramkin is actually my middle name? Oh, my last name, you ask? Well, you may have heard it around the city, once or twice or on the hospital you work at, but don’t be alarmed-- I’m actually very well-adjusted, all things considered.’”

Sam laughed. “I may try that, actually. It can’t be worse than any of the ways I’ve thought of to tell her.”

He nearly did it, too. Meg came over that night for dinner, and while she looked through his notes on the Rag-and-Bone Man case (Sam had more or less abandoned confidentiality in favor of taking all the help he could get), the words were on the tip of his tongue. Meg, there’s something I ought to tell you. That was all he needed to say. Start there, and the rest was inevitable. He gathered up all the wherewithal he could, sat up straight, and said, “Meg--”

“Sam, there’s something funny about this picture,” she said, holding up an iconograph of the patchwork woman. Sam sagged back against the davenport, momentum arrested. “I didn’t get a long enough look at her before, but I could swear she looks familiar.”

“Huh.” Sam examined the picture. He’d thought that too, hadn’t he? His confession forgotten, he shuffled through his memory, trying to place the face. “You’re right, Meg. I thought so too, but it’s not... quite right, is it?”

“No! It’s like, like-- a bad drawing of someone you know. Approximate, but not enough to identify as the subject.” Meg frowned at the picture, trying to jog her own memory.

“But it’s someone we’ve both seen, which has to be significant. If it were just me it could be anybody, I know people all over the city, but, well--” Sam shrugged apologetically “--you don’t know that many people here yet.”

“Then it’s someone at the hospital,” Meg said. “But we knew that, already, didn’t we?”

“Well, we knew the monster-maker was,” Sam said, picking up speed; he was starting to put pieces together. “But it never occurred to me that he was trying to make someone specific a new body; I just figured he was using whatever brain was handy. If that’s not the case, if it was someone he knew, then that gives me a hook, a motive. That makes it personal.

“I think you’re on to something,” Meg said, her face alight with interest. “But how do we work out whose brain it was?”

“That,” said Sam, “is the part of coppering I’m really good at. I might not be much for breaking up gang wars, or moonlight chases across the rooftops--”

“Do you get those often?” Meg asked.

“Not really,” Sam said, not wanting to be distracted, “but even if I’m not much for those flashy sorts of things, what I’m absolutely aces at is paperwork.

Meg laughed at that, and for the next little while Sam didn’t think about the Rag-and-Bone Man at all.

***

What it came down to, in the end, was lists. Sam had a list of people who’d been found with parts missing and a list of people who’d died at the hospital. All he had to do was compare them-- who didn’t appear to have had anything else taken? One of them must have been the brain donor.

During the period that the patchwork woman was being made, six women died in hospital who weren’t on Arni’s list. Two died of old age, one died in childbirth, one in a traffic accident, and the last two of illnesses. Sam struck the accident victim off his list-- the death certificate said “head trauma”-- and looked over the remaining five.

Maud Morrison, Elberta Fowler, Hagar Worship-Om-with-Prayer-and-Keen-Reasoning, Sophronia Lessup, and Bissonomy Atwell. One of them had died, and lived again, and died again. One of them had some link to the Rag-and-Bone Man, and would, with any luck, lead Sam to the person who’d stolen her brain.

First, though, was the tricky part.

Sam visited Mrs. Morrison and Mrs. Fowler’s families the next morning. Mrs. Morrison’s family was quite kind and terribly accommodating, right up until he explained what he wanted to do.

“Dig her up? You can’t want to dig the poor thing up, she’s been dead for weeks,” her daughter protested. “Whatever would you want to do that for?”

“I’m investigating a case involving the hospital,” Sam explained. “Mrs. Morrison died during the period I’m examining. It’s just a precaution, but of course I’d need your permission to do anything.”

“What sort of case is it, then?” piped up a grandchild. “Was there a robbery? Did someone hide the loot at the hospital, and it got stashed in a body, and--”

“Edwin!” snapped his mother. “Hush up. The corporal doesn’t want to hear that dreadful rubbish.” But she looked as though the idea didn’t seem too far-fetched.

“Nothing like that, ma’am,” Sam assured her. “I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation, but I can assure you it’s not that. There’s just... a bit of an accounting problem, and the hospital’s not been terribly cooperative so I’m looking into it myself.”

“Well, all right,” she said doubtfully. “The family’s not going to like it, I can tell you. But I suppose it won’t bother Mother-- it’s not as though she’s there to mind.”

Mrs. Fowler’s family was quite kind too, and seemed genuinely unhappy that they weren’t able to help. But they’d had their grandmother cremated, unfortunately, and her ashes scattered on the Ankh.

“It was what she would have wanted, you know,” he was informed by one of her many relatives. “She worked down the docks for ages, said she was never at home far from water.”

“Mind you, I think she would have quite liked being scattered on the actual ocean,” another relative noted. “Seeing as how it’s quite a bit cleaner. She was always one for cleanliness, our gran.”

The relatives fell to squabbling over this point, and Sam excused himself with a sinking feeling. No way to know if she was the donor, then. Unless it turned out to be none of the remaining three, in which case process of elimination was his friend.

As for Mrs. Worship-Om-with-Prayer-and-Keen-Reasoning, well. Sam met with her husband, a harried, hollow-eyed man with an infant in a sling that wouldn’t stop crying, and found he couldn’t quite bring himself to ask. He resolved to come back if the other two didn’t pan out, but “Can we dig up your wife’s body and make sure she’s still got a brain?” was not a question he could ask the man in any sort of good conscience.

Sam got the exhumation report from Igor on Mrs. Morrison: all brains present and accounted for. So no luck there. That left Sophronia Lessup and Bissonomy Atwell, both of whose families took some convincing. Both were young women who’d died of long and chronic illnesses-- a lung condition in Sophronia’s case, a weak heart for Bissonomy. Either one could have been the Rag-and-Bone Man’s victim.

Talking their families round was tricky, but Sam managed it. Then it was just a matter of getting the graves dug up, and letting Igor examine the bodies. It took a few days, during which Sam hardly had any worry to spare for the upcoming Cotillion, only days away, or the trouble with Meg. But it was done eventually, and Igor came to him with the report.

“It’th Mith Lethup,” Igor said. “No quethtion. It wath cleverly done-- I could hardly thee where he’d thewn up the thcalp again-- but her brain’th clean gone. She’th the victim.”

Sam pulled out the picture of Sophronia Lessup he’d gotten from her family, and compared it to the iconograph of the patchwork woman. Now that he knew to look for it, he could see how similar the two faces were, how the Rag-and-Bone Man had modeled his creation after Sophronia. The girl posing in the studio portrait was lively and bright-eyed, despite her thin frame and pallor, nothing like the cold composed face of the patchwork woman, but the resemblance was still there.

Sam had met Sophronia when he was alive, he realized. He remembered the girl wheezing in her wheelchair, still able to make smart remarks despite being a week or less from death. He’d liked that girl. And now she was dead twice over, had been turned into a monster and ended the strange half-life she’d been given by throwing herself into the black water.

I’ll work out who did this to you, Sam promised the picture. And there’ll be hell to pay once I do. I swear.

Finding out who Sophronia’s doctors had been wasn’t easy-- the hospital still wasn’t cooperating-- but eventually he got a list. One name in particular jumped out at him.

Dr. Henry Dussel had treated Sophronia throughout her long illness. He’d still been touchy on the subject of her death, weeks after it happened. And Meg thought he’d been sweet on his patient...

Sam headed down to Forensics. “Igor,” he said, “could you ask the hospital Igors if they know anything about a fellow named Henry Dussel? I’ve got a bit of a feeling about him.”

Igor frowned. “Düthel? I know that name. You said Heinrich Düthel?”

“No, Henry. Why?”

“Well, my thecond couthin Igor worked for a Heinrich Düthel back in Uberwald. He wath a chemitht, not a thurgeon, but he thertainly wathn’t the thanest thientist an Igor ever worked for.”

Sam tried not to let his excitement show on his face. This could be a coincidence, or it could be the best lead he’d gotten yet. “How long ago was this?”

“Oh, twenty yearth at leatht. Düthel Manor burned to the ground when an exthperiment got out of hand. Funny how that alwayth theemth to happen, ithn’t it?”

“Yes, I can’t imagine why,” Sam answered absently, hardly listening.

It took a lot of digging at the Public Records office, but eventually Sam found it. Ingrid Düssel had come to the city twenty-two years ago, her infant son Heinrich in tow, and settled in a flat in Dolly Sisters. Little Heinrich had become Henry, lost the umlaut, and grown up to become a doctor just like his dad. His mum must have been proud. She’d died last year-- Sam found the obituary-- and perhaps that was what had sent her son over the edge, set off his mad quest to conquer death?

Sam had shaken hands with the man. He’d seemed quite normal, if perhaps wound a little tight. But if Sam was right, there was something very wrong with Henry Dussel.

***

At the hospital, Sam pulled Meg aside into a quiet corner. The other doctors she was with looked amused as they walked away, and it occurred to Sam that they thought the two off them were sneaking off for a quick snog-- and when Meg’s face fell after Sam whispered “It’s Henry Dussel. I think it’s got to be,” he realized that she’d maybe been thinking the same thing.

Sam would quite like to have pulled Meg aside for a quick snog, but his life was not so lucky as that. Meg recovered quickly, anyway, her eyes going wide as she processed what Sam was saying. “You’re sure?” she whispered back.

“He was Sophronia Lessup’s doctor, and it’s her brain he used to make the patchwork woman,” Sam said. “Now I’ve just got to catch him in the act.”

“You can’t just arrest him?”

“Not and keep him arrested,” Sam said. “Unless he confessed straightaway, which hardly anyone ever does*, I’d need more proof than I’ve got to hold him. What I really need to do is find his laboratory.”

“And how do you plan to do that?” Meg asked, keeping her voice low.

“Put a tail on him, and hope he’s not too observant,” Sam said. “Or, if he is, hope he gets scared and slips up. That works, sometimes.”

“What can I do to help, then?” Meg asked. “I can keep an eye on him while he’s here, at least.”

“If you can do it without putting yourself in danger, I’d appreciate it,” Sam said. “But be careful, and don’t let him notice you. I don’t know how dangerous he is to the living.”

“Right,” Meg said, and nodded, determined. “On another note entirely, I was wondering-- are you busy this weekend?”

“Er,” Sam said. Saturday was the Cotillion. “I’ve got a family thing on Saturday, but--”

“Oh, that’s fine,” Meg said, all in a rush. “I’m busy then, too. But maybe lunch, the next day?”

“That’d be nice,” Sam said, and in the end they did manage some snogging, after all.

*Criminals can be so inconsiderate.

***

Sam’s attempts at tailing Henry weren’t terribly successful. He hardly ever even left the hospital, sometimes even spending the night there, and when he did leave he went straight back to his flat. He seemed to live a near-monastic life. No real friends at the hospital, no socializing, no hobbies. Unless you counted stitchery as a hobby, which Sam frankly didn’t.

“But he wasn’t always like that,” Meg told him over lunch at the hospital canteen. “I’ve asked around, and apparently it’s only in the last year or so that he’s got so standoffish. He used to be quite sociable, if maybe a little awkward.”

“That fits, I think,” Sam said. “His mum died last year, and I think that must be what’s set him off. Trying to stop Death, and all that.”

But if Henry was trying to turn back Death, he wasn't doing it anywhere Sam could see. Worse, the hospital administration noticed that Sam was essentially stalking one of their doctors, and complained to Captain Angua.

“You can’t take me off the case,” Sam pleaded with her. “I’m this close to cracking it, I know I am.”

“I’m not taking you off the case,” Angua said, and Sam sagged with relief before she went on. “You’ve got to stay away from the hospital, though.”

“How am I supposed to catch my prime suspect in the act if I can’t go near the place he’s stealing from?” Sam demanded.

“I don’t like it either, but they’re quite upset about you hanging round, bothering their staff. They said-- well, not in so many words, but they said that if there are body parts being stolen, they’ll handle it internally. Which means it’s not Watch business.”

“Like hell it’s not! Captain, they’re covering for a dangerous lunatic. He’s already turned one poor girl into a monster and driven her to kill herself. What’ll he do next?”

“You’ll have to work that out while staying away from the hospital,” Angua told him. “I am sorry, Sam.”

Sam stormed out, fists clenched, and spent the whole walk home too angry to notice much of anything, even the crowds gathered for the latest on His Lordship’s health. He slammed his way into the apartment and past a surprised-looking Gordon and Hettie, who’d been on the sofa snogging and hadn’t even had time to spring apart guiltily, and threw himself down on his own bed like he was a teenager having a snit.

Part of him knew he wasn’t acting his age, but he was bloody frustrated. Why was the hospital covering for Henry? Did he have some kind of hold over the higher-ups? Did they, ye gods, approve of his work, and want to see it continue? Was it a conspiracy? How far did it go?

And the damn, damn Cotillion was the next day. “Perfect,” Sam muttered, and put a pillow over his head. “Just perfect.”

***

Sam fidgeted in his stiff, uncomfortable formal clothes, feeling mildly strangled by his own neckcloth. It was damned frustrating being stuck at the Cotillion while Henry was on the loose, doing the gods knew what. But stuck he was, standing here at the foot of the stairs with a bunch of other posh young men in monkey suits, waiting for the posh young women to be announced and make their introductory glide down the grand staircase.

“Lady Clarissa Venturi, escorted by the Hon. Thomas de Worde,” droned the majordomo.

They were saving the Crown Princess for last, which meant Sam got to stand and wait longer than anyone, watching the couples swirling about on the dance floor and the waiters circling with their trays of drinks. Off to one side, Lord Vetinari sat, looking frail, with Dad and Mr. Lipwig and a few others gathered protectively around him. He hadn’t been expected to attend, not really, and Sam wouldn’t be surprised if he left soon.

Finally, it was Sam’s turn to face the music. The crowd hushed as the second-to-last of the girls descended the staircase in a cloud of skirts, looking like some sort of pink-tinted meringue. The majordomo cleared his throat. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he began. “It is my honor and privilege to announce Her Royal Highness, Crown Princess Esmerelda Margaret Note Spelling of Lancre!” The room broke into polite applause. At the top of the stairs, a figure in a pale green dress appeared.

She wore her dark curly hair pinned up, with a circlet of pearls to dress it. Her gown really was a flattering color, Sam noticed as she approached him, and nothing like what the other girls were wearing-- sort of a soft sage green, quite like the dress Meg had worn to the theater...

Sam looked the Crown Princess full in the face for the first time, and did a double take. “Meg?” he hissed under his breath. “What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?” she hissed back, trying to keep a smile on her face for the watching crowd. Someone snapped an iconograph. She took Sam’s arm with the air of one acting on automatic. “My escort’s supposed to be the Viscount of something-or-other!”

“No, the Viscount’s escorting the Crown Princess--” Sam began, and then the penny dropped. “Oh. Oh.” Despite himself, he began to laugh. “You’re the Crown Princess?”

“Well,” she said, with the air of one admitting to something uncomfortable, “yes. I am. I know I should have told you, I just--”

“--didn’t want to scare you off? Well, I know how that feels. I think we’ve both been a bit stupid, Meg.”

“What do you mean?” But comprehension was dawning for Meg, too. As Sam led her out for their first dance, she covered her mouth to hide a chuckle. “So that means-- you’re the Viscount? You’re Sam Vimes, the Younger?”

“I’m afraid so. I really wanted to tell you, honestly I did. I was just--”

“--scared,” Meg finished for him. “Well, I’d be bloody furious if I hadn’t done the same thing myself.”

“And I can hardly hold it against you,” Sam said. Then something else that had been niggling at the back of his brain finally registered with the frontal lobes. “Also-- Note Spelling?”

Meg winced. “We have very specific naming traditions in Lancre,” she said. “Mum’s apologized for it about a thousand times, but I seem to be stuck with it. I’m better off than poor Get That Chicken Out of Here Jones, at any rate.”

“Ah,” said Sam. “Well, I suppose we ought to talk about this. Properly, I mean. But maybe not here.”

“I rather think you’re right,” Meg said. “But not just now, no. You’re not a bad dancer, you know.” And for the first time, Sam turned his feet off autopilot and let himself enjoy the party.

It had to be explained, of course: why Sam and Meg already knew each other, and how. Sam was quite nervous, introducing Meg to his parents, and more nervous still explaining how they’d deceived one another. But they weren’t as upset as he’d feared. Mum only said, “Oh, Sam,” but her eyes were twinkling, and Dad laughed outright. Even Lord Vetinari nearly chuckled.

“And you know,” Sam confided to Meg, later, “I think Dad’s going to spend enough time laughing about it that it’ll take him a while to get upset about his son dating a Princess.”

“Are we, then? Dating, I mean,” Meg said, and her cheeks turned pink. “I mean. I’d quite like to be.”

“Me too,” Sam said, and beamed stupidly at her for the next couple of dances. Then he remembered that he’d been banned from the hospital, and the grin fell off his face.

“What’s wrong?” Meg asked.

“I’d forgot-- I can’t visit you at the hospital anymore. The higher-ups don’t like me breathing down Henry’s neck,” Sam said. “So I’m to keep away. I’m starting to think they know what he’s up to, and they approve.”

“Well, I can try to keep tabs on him while I’m there,” Meg said, “but it’s a bit tricky. He disappears for hours at a time, and nobody seems to know where he goes.”

"He's not leaving the hospital," Sam said, shaking his head. "I'd know it if he was. But he's obviously got access to his lab, because parts are still going missing."

A waiter circled past, carrying a tray of nibbly things on toothpicks. Sam reached out for one, then froze with it halfway to his mouth. "Meg," he said slowly, half afraid the idea would evaporate if he looked at it too closely, "what if Henry's lab is in the hospital?"

Meg frowned. “I think I’d have noticed, Sam.”

“No, I mean-- hidden somewhere. Or underground. There’s loads of basement space that doesn’t get used, and all the under-city beneath that. He could be getting to his lab without ever setting foot outside the hospital at ground level!”

“You’re right,” Meg said, her eyes wide. “If that’s where he’s going when he disappears, how would anyone know?”

“They wouldn’t,” Sam said. “but now we do. I’ve got to get over there, Meg. To hell with the higher-ups, this has got to be why they banned me in the first place! Must have made them nervous, knowing I was standing right on top of Henry’s lab.”

“You really think they know what Henry’s doing?” Meg asked.

“Someone must, or he wouldn’t be getting away with it,” Sam said.

“I just can’t imagine anyone at the hospital going along with-- with that,” Meg said. “I mean, I know most people there. They’d be horrified if they knew what Henry was up to.”

“It only takes one not being horrified, and here we are,” Sam said. “I’ve got to get into the hospital, Meg. Tonight, if I can.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Do you just want an excuse to cut out of the Cotillion early?”

“No! Well, yes, that too. But body parts have been disappearing faster and faster, these last few weeks. Whatever Henry’s next project is, he wants it done soon, and I need to stop him sooner.”

“All right,” Meg said, and bit her lip. “I think I can get you in. We’ll have to be careful, though.”

Sam grinned at her. “I think I can manage that. Want to get out of here?”

***

They stopped off to change out of their party clothes, because they would have been damned conspicious wandering the hospital in the middle of the night in tails and a formal gown. Plus, Sam just felt more sure of himself in uniform, and Meg said she wasn’t going to try to do anything strenuous in the corset her dress called for.

Meg let Sam in the back door of the hospital, through an entrance that was meant for doctors only. The nighttime hospital wasn’t anything like empty, though it was much quieter than it was in the day. There was still a full complement of night-shift doctors and nurses, and Meg and Sam had to duck into more than one broom cupboard to keep out of sight.

“This would be a lot more fun if we weren’t on the trail of a madman,” Meg sighed, the second time she found herself wedged in between Sam and a bucketful of mops.

“I know what you mean,” Sam said, with feeling.

Meg led him down to the morgue, which was empty of live people at this time of night. “And not that many dead people, either,” Meg said, perusing a clipboard by the door. “Only three drawers occupied tonight. Hm. That’s odd.”

“What?” Sam asked.

“There’s three drawers occupied, but four latched shut. This one--” she tapped a drawer on the end of the row-- “should be empty.”

“Let’s find out if it is, then.” Sam flipped the latch back, and pulled on the polished metal door. It swung open with a creak, revealing... nothing but an empty drawer.

“Just an oversight, I suppose,” Meg said, peering down the length of the drawer.

“Guess so,” Sam said dubiously, and reached into the drawer to feel around the edges, where he couldn’t see. He felt something, like a switch or a catch, and caught at it with his fingers.

Something went click, and a section of wall next to the drawers swung open. Meg’s mouth fell open, too. They stared at the door in the wall, which revealed a flight of stairs, going down into the darkness.

“How did you do that?” she asked.

Sam shrugged. “When one thing isn’t quite right, other things that aren’t quite right are often that way on purpose. And things are really quite wrong, in this hospital.”

“I’m beginning to agree,” said Meg. “Should we go down there?”

We shouldn’t,” Sam said. “But I will. You wait up here.”

Meg snorted inelegantly. “Like hell I will,” she said. “I’m not letting you go down there alone!”

“I’m a copper,” Sam pointed out. “It’s my job to do this sort of thing. You’re a doctor; it’s your job to patch me up when someone roughs me up because I’d been doing this sort of thing.”

“Mm. Persuasive, but no,” Meg said. “I’m coming with you, and that’s that. You can’t actually stop me, and anyway this is my bloody hospital.”

Sam thought about pointing out that, technically, it was his mum’s bloody hospital, but decided that probably wouldn’t fly. “Stay behind me, at least,” he said, “and run for it if I tell you to.”

Sam lit a candle, and Meg lit one too, and the two of them began to creep cautiously down the steps. They were stone steps, and the masonry looked relatively new, but at the bottom of the long flight they came to another, narrower stairway, and this one looked much older.

“We’re well under the city, now,” Sam said. “There aren’t a lot of dwarfs in this part of the city, so they haven’t excavated very deep round here. Or at least I thought they hadn’t.”

“Someone obviously did,” Meg said. The stairs ended at a corridor. “Left or right?” Meg asked.

“I think there’s a light that way,” Sam said, pointing right, so right they went.

For a few steps, at least. There was, indeed, a light at the end of the corridor, and it was growing brighter-- until, abruptly, it went dim, as if a shape had moved to stand in front of it. And then a figure stepped out into the corridor-- a looming, lurching figure, backlit and hard to make out in the dim light, and Sam cursed himself for looking at the candle and ruining his night-vision.

“Meg, remember when I said you should run when I tell you to?” he said, trying to keep his voice low and steady. The approaching figure didn’t move fast, but it had an awful sort of inevitability to it. One got the sense that there was very little that would slow it down, and not much at all that would stop it.

“Yes, Sam?”

“Well, in a minute we’re going to find out if it’s time for you to run.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Something that’s probably not going to work.”

He unhooked his badge from his belt, held it aloft, and said in a loud, firm voice, “Stop, in the name of the law!”

The figure didn’t stop. “Run!” Sam shouted at Meg, and he launched himself at the dark figure, and Meg screamed, and then everything went black.

***

Sam came to with his head throbbing, to the sound of Meg getting very, very angry at someone. His mouth tasted like old socks, and he couldn’t seem to move.

“--completely mad, Henry! You’ve got to stop this, and let--us-- go!”

Sam blinked, his vision swimming, and lifted his head. He was tied to a chair, and a few feet away so was Meg. They were in a windowless, damp stone room, and two patchwork men stood impassively by the single door. A shrouded body lay on a nearby table, with a tray of medical implements beside it.

In front of them, pacing back and forth, was Henry Dussel.

“You’re awake,” he said to Sam, pausing in his circuit. “Why have you been following me? How’d you get down here?”

“Well,” Sam said, a little blearily, “I had this mad idea that you were stealing body parts from the hospital and making patchwork people out of them. Any idea where I might have got that notion?”

Henry scowled down at him, his handsome face marred with anger. His usually-neat hair was mussed, falling in his eyes. “You’ll ruin everything. I can’t let you interfere!”

“Interfere with what?” Sam tested the rope around his wrists experimentally. Damn, but it was tight. Meg was glaring daggers at Henry.

“That’s none of your concern,” Henry snapped at him.

“Sam!” Meg hissed at him. But all Sam’s attention was on Henry.

“It’s damn well my concern, I’m an officer of the law. The Palace has very strong feelings about kidnapping coppers, you know. It won’t go easy for you if you don’t let me go.”

“The Palace!” Henry laughed, a short strangled sound. “If the Palace knew what I was doing, they’d thank me. You’ll see. But I can’t let you interfere tonight. I’m sorry, I really am--” and the funny thing was, he did look genuinely pained, “--but this is too important.”

That was when Sam noticed that Meg was slumped over in her chair, eyes closed, breathing slow. “Meg?” he said, and when she didn’t answer, his voice rose. “Meg, are you all right? I swear, if you’ve hurt her--”

Henry knelt to press two fingers to Meg’s throat. “Pulse is thready,” he said. “She must have fainted. Better get her upstairs.” He untied her from the chair, leaving her hands and feet bound, and swung her up into his arms. Sam rocked violently against his own ropes, but he didn’t budge.

“You put her down!” he shouted, but Henry ignored him. He crossed the room, and handed Meg over to one of the patchwork men with surprising gentleness.

“Take her upstairs and put her in Sophronia’s room,” he said, speaking slowly and clearly. “And be sure to lock the door. I’ll be up in a minute to check on her.”

He turned back to Sam. “If you hurt her--” Sam warned, which he was aware probably ranked near No. 1 on the Empty Threats All-Time Top Ten.

“Hurt Miss Garlick? I would never.” Henry seemed genuinely wounded at the very suggestion. “But I need you two out of the way for now. I’m sorry, I really am, but it’s all for the best. You’ll see.”

And with that he swept out of the room, followed by the other patchwork man. Sam was left alone.

Well, almost alone. A rat had crept out of a crack in the stone wall, and was edging towards Sam. In fact, it seemed to be picking up speed as it approached. It was a brown rat, quite big, with a long fat pink tail, and Sam jumped in startlement when it climbed up the side of his chair in one swift scurry, and began gnawing on his ropes.

“Um. Hello,” he ventured. “Are you one of those talking rats? Do you know Officer Freshgreen?” The rat only squeaked in reply, and went back to gnawing.

It took a few minutes, but soon Sam was free. The rat ran to the door and paused there, squeaking insistently. Sam followed it out the door, up a flight of dank stone steps, and to a sturdy new door set into the old wall, its bright wood incongruous against the crumbling stone. Then it paused for a moment before scurrying off.

After another brief pause, Sam heard a voice from the other side of the door. “Sam?” Meg asked.

“Meg! Are you all right? How do I get you out of here?” He tried the door, but it was locked tight.

“I’ve already tried that, Sam. Henry’s got the key. You’re going to have to go after him.”

“Well, it would be a bit easier if I knew where he was headed. And what was going on with that rat?”

“I Borrowed the rat. Couldn’t think of anything else to do. I’ll Borrow another one and come back downstairs with you, if you like. Maybe we can find something there.”

“Wait. Wait. I though Borrowing was some kind of advanced witch thing? You never said you could do that.”

“I’m a bit of a natural at it, actually. But I don’t want to be a witch, so it doesn’t come up much. Sam, we’ve got no time to talk about this. Henry’s probably on his way to steal someone’s brain as we speak.”

“Right. Right, of course. Well, whatever’s on the slab down there is probably the recipient. Let’s go find out.”

A moment later, another rat eeled out of a crack in the wall and scurried off back down the stairs. Sam followed it into Henry’s lab. The lab, now he thought about it, was awfully well-outfitted: it had gaslights, loads of equipment, heavy furniture that couldn’t have been moved in there by Henry alone. “Someone’s been funding you, haven’t they, Henry?” Sam murmured to himself.

But that was something to think about later. Now there was the body on the slab; somewhere in the city, there was a brain Henry wanted to make it complete. Sam twitched back the covering sheet, and recoiled in horror.

It wasn’t that the patchwork body was badly-made. On the contrary, it was a masterpiece compared to Henry’s early work, and an improvement even over Sophronia. The stitching was so fine as to be nearly invisible, the pieces so well-fitted that the face was a much better match for its original than Sophronia’s had been. None of that was the problem.

The problem-- and it was a big one-- was that the face was that of Lord Vetinari.

“Oh, gods,” Sam said, low and fervent. “Is that what all this has been about?” Now Henry’s nonsense about the Palace thanking him slotted into place. He meant to give the Patrician a new lease on life.

“Meg, he said to the rat, “I’ve got to get out of here. He’s going to the Palace, he means to steal Lord Vetinari’s brain. We’ve got to catch up to him. Can you find us a way back up to the hospital?”

The rat chittered, and ran for the door. Sam followed. It was a bit weird, following a rat through the hush of the nighttime hospital, but he tried to put it out of his mind. He had bigger things to worry about. Like finding Henry.

He’d be heading for the Palace, surely. The Cotillion was long over by now, and his Lordship would be back there, perhaps in bed already, perhaps reading over reports and files. Security on the Palace was tight, but if Henry had well-placed backers, which Sam suspected he did, he might know a way through. And no one would be expecting an attempt on Lord Vetinari’s life, not with the man dying already.

Although-- it wasn’t an attempt on his life, was it? It was precisely the opposite of that. Henry was a madman, but in his twisted way he was trying to save the Patrician, not kill him. And Sam had to try to make sure the man had a chance to die in peace.

“Meg, we’ve got to get to the palace,” he told the rat as he came to the front doors of the hospital. It squeaked agreement at him. “Can you keep up?”

In response, the rat scurried away. A moment later, a pigeon fluttered up. “Right,” said Sam. “Time to run.”

Sam was good at running. Watchmen had to be; if you got a stitch in your side after the first hundred yards you’d never catch anybody. The Watch School fielded quite an impressive track and field team, and regularly ran competing schools right into the ground. Sam had won several medals and a small trophy in the long-distance categories, and he’d kept in practice since his school days.

The run from Goosegate to the Palace was longer than he’d done in a while, but it wasn’t more than he could handle. Henry would have to move slowly with his patchwork men in tow, and keep to the shadows, but no one would stop a running Watchman. He could get there before Henry made his move, he knew it.

It started to rain. Sam didn’t slow down, and the streets cleared a little, which made it easier for him to keep up a decent speed. The pigeon kept pace with him easily. Sam passed a couple of other coppers on patrol, no one he knew well, but he slowed down long enough to shout “Call an All Hands for the Palace!” at them. He saw them start to run in the opposite direction, towards the nearest Watch House, before they were out of sight.

It was a straight shot up Attic Bee Street, which became Short Street and then hit Broad Way. Sam’s feet pounded on the cobbles, splashing through the newly-formed puddles and dodging pedestrians and carts. His brain was working entirely independently of his feet. How would he find Henry, once he got to the palace? Where would he try to get in? The Cotillion was long over, and the Patrician would be in his rooms, the doctors dismissed, the man himself asleep or poring over paperwork by candlelight. Who had Henry’s backers bribed, to give their man a way into the Palace?

At the corner with Broad Way, Sam slowed, and came to a stop as he approached the Palace gates. Henry hadn’t come this way; there were guards here, wearing Palace livery. “You all right, Corporal?” one of them asked as Sam jogged up to the gate.

“Someone’s going to make an attempt on the Patrician’s life tonight,” Sam said, trying not to pant. “You’ve got to make sure he can’t get in.”

The guards exchanged a look “What, now?” one of them asked. “They’ve left it a bit late, haven’t they?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Sam said. “Not got time to explain. Just make sure there’s a lot of guards on the Patrician tonight. Tell everyone you can.”

“If you say so,” the other guard said doubtfully. “Where are you going, then?”

“Where the man I’m chasing has probably gone,” Sam said. “Round the back.”

He took off into a run again, round the side of the Palace, looking for Henry. The pigeon fluttered after him, at first, before flying away. This time, a little dog trotted up out of the shadows.

“That you, Meg?” Sam asked. “Any idea where Henry’s gone?”

“Mister, it’s bloody weird having your girlfriend in my head,” said the dog. “But yeah, I reckon the bloke you’re looking for en’t far off. He’s gone up to the roof.”

“Right,” Sam said, and took off running again. “Any chance you’ve got a sandwich about your person?” the dog called after him. “And your girlfriend says look for a drainpipe!”

Sam found one, and shinned up it despite its rain-slick surface. The bricks gave decent footholds, at least; Henry was a fit lad, and would have had no trouble either. And indeed, when Sam poked his head up above the edge of the roof, he saw Henry and two hulking figures that had to be his patchwork men, standing round a skylight.

Sam scrambled up onto the slanting roof, trying to keep low. He crept from chimneystack to semaphore shutter, keeping out of Henry’s line of sight, until he was only a dozen feet away. Then he stepped out into the open, and said as simply as he could, “Henry Dussel, you’re under arrest.”

Henry turned, face slack with surprise. The patchwork men looked at Sam, too, but he could read no expression in their mismatched faces. “You’re that watchman,” Henry said. “How’d you get loose?”

“I’ll ask the questions, thank you,” Sam said. “You’re under arrest, did I mention? For theft, and grave desecration, and if I can find something in the penal code about turning perfectly nice girls into monsters and driving them to their deaths I’ll do you for that too.”

“What are you talking about?” Henry said.

“Sophronia,” Sam said, and noticed how Henry flinched at the name. “Or didn’t you know? She threw herself off the Brass Bridge rather than go on in that body you made her.”

Now Henry’s face twisted with anger. “That’s a lie,” he snarled. “She didn’t want to stay with me, she ran away, but she would never have done that!”

“I saw her do it,” Sam said. “I saw her fished out of the river again. I figured out who she was before you made her into a monster.”

“Stop calling her that!” Henry snapped. “I tried to save Sophronia! Just like I’m going to save the Patrician.”

“No, you’re not!” Sam said, nearly shouting now. “Because you’re under arrest!”

“But I’m not doing anything wrong,” Henry said, and the scary thing was that Sam could tell the man believed that. “I’m trying to save lives! I’m a doctor! That’s my job!”

“You can’t save everyone, Henry!” Sam said, desperate to make the man understand. “Everybody dies, and where would we be if they didn’t?”

“Not everyone, it wouldn’t be everyone,” Henry said, as if that made it more sensible. “Just-- just people we need, people the city can’t do without. Important people. Don’t you understand?”

Sam did, and the idea filled him with a red rage. He’d never understood why Dad didn’t like vampires, not really-- all the ones he knew were perfectly nice people. Back in Uberwald, sure, they were parasites, living off the b-word and oppressing the peasantry, but in the city they just did their best to get along.

But this? This was worse than vampires. The rich and powerful, living forever off the very bodies of common people? It made Sam’s gorge rise, made him want to launch himself at Henry and throttle the man. The idea of Henry getting his hands on Lord Vetinari, on Mr. Lipwig, on Dad--

“Like hell,” Sam breathed, and threw himself at Henry Dussel.

The two of them grappled, the rain making it hard to get any purchase. Henry was taller and broader than Sam, but he didn’t know how to fight, not really, and Sam had got an A in Dirty Fighting at school*. What’s more, he’d got loads of extracurricular tuition at home, and he’d inherited the Vimes Elbow.

Said elbow made contact with Henry’s kidneys, and the man doubled over, wheezing. Sam stood over him, fists up, ready to strike again. “It’s over, Henry,” he said, and wiped rain out of his eyes. “I’m not letting this happen.”

That was when Henry’s patchwork man tackled Sam from behind. It was ghastly strong, nearly squeezing the life out of Sam before he managed to wriggle free, and it didn’t seem to feel pain at all. It lunged at him clumsily, and Sam dodged the blow, his feet slipping on the tiles of the roof.

Henry looked over at his second patchwork man, standing sentry in the rain, its blank gaze staring at nothing. “What are you waiting for?” he wheezed. “Get him!”

The patchwork man stared at Henry for a long moment, and then something seemed to spark in its dull eyes. It lumbered into motion, lurching towards Sam and the other patchwork man. Sam backed away warily, trying to keep out of reach of them both. They were strong, but they were slow, and if he could just be quick enough, then maybe he could get out of this alive.

“Call them off, Henry!” he shouted. “This is mad, you’ve got to stop!”

“I can’t!” he shouted back. “This is too important, you’ve got to understand! I’m sorry, I really am!”

The second patchwork man was little more than an arm’s length away from Sam now. It stopped, and looked at Sam, and looked at the other patchwork man, and stood still for a long moment.

“Please don’t do this,” Sam said.

The second patchwork man seemed to come to a decision. It moved with surprising speed, this, time, faster than Sam had seen the creatures move before, as fast as Sophronia launching herself off the side of the Brass Bridge. It hit the other patchwork man with the force of an Underground train, its momentum carrying them both over the edge of the roof and into the empty air. In the blink of an eye, they were both gone, and it was only Sam and Henry on the roof.

“What-- I don’t-- I don’t understand,” Henry panted, still winded from his fight with Sam.

Sam stood over him, and wondered how Henry still didn’t get it. “They don’t want what you’re offering, Henry,” he said, almost kindly. “No one does. It’s not a real life you’re giving them.”

The other guards came, then, and the real world descended back upon Sam, the world where people didn’t make patchwork monsters or try to cheat Death or steal the Patrician’s brain. Henry was handcuffed and taken away, still raving, and someone got Sam a dry blanket and a warm cup of cocoa. Commander Carrot was woken up from a sound sleep to hear the story, and a fleet of Watchmen descended on the hospital, ignoring the protests of the Board and the administrators. Forensics descended upon Henry’s lab, and, thankfully, someone got the key to Sophronia’s room off of Henry.

When Meg was let out, she looked pale and hollow-eyed in the gaslight. She nearly threw herself at Sam, and he at her, and they didn’t let go of each other for a long while. Sam caught a glimpse of the room she’d been locked in, over her shoulder: it was neat and pretty and filled with books and pictures. Henry had wanted Sophronia to be comfortable, after all.

“I feel like I’ve been sharing space with a ghost,” she said, shivering a little in Sam’s arms. “That poor girl. He would have kept her down here for who knows how long...”

“Well, he didn’t,” Sam said. “She got out. On her own terms, I suppose.”

*Actually called “Practical Self Defense,” but this was the Watch School, after all.

***

The next morning, Sam found himself with an unexpected summons to the palace. When he got there, he found Meg already in the waiting room, wringing her hands. “I don’t know why he called me,” she said. “You did all the work, really. You were brilliant.”

“You were brilliant, too,” Sam said, and drew her in for a kiss. They were interrupted by a minute throat-clearing sound from Drumknott, the Patrician’s secretary, who was much too staid and proper to have anything like a facial expression in response to a couple of young people canoodling in the Palace. Canoodling was what he would’ve called it, too.

Drumknott ushered them, not to the Patrician’s office, but to his private rooms, where they found Lord Vetinari sitting propped up by pillows in bed with a scree of paperwork spread out before him on the coverlet.

“Ah, young Vimes,” he said. “And Your Royal Highness. I understand that I have you two to thank for thwarting... a rather unusual attempt on my life.”

“I’d been working the case for a while, Your Lordship. Just glad to have it cracked,” Sam said.

“I was just helping Sam, really,” said Meg.

“All the same,” said Lord Vetinari. “I have, on several occasions, had the opportunity to thank your father for saving my life, you know. But now I find myself in the curious position of thanking you for saving my death.”

Sam shrugged. “Just doing my job, sir.”

“Of course, of course. Still. One likes to maintain tradition, as best one can.”

Sam exchanged a glance with Meg. He could see the same question in her eyes that he knew was in his own. “Sir,” he began, not really sure how to ask it, “if Henry Dussel hadn’t been, well, quite so mad-- that is to say, if he’d come to you in the daytime, instead of trying to sneak like a thief in the night-- well, I suppose I was wondering, really, if you would have--”

“I would not,” Lord Vetinari said calmly. “I have every intention of dying, you know, for all that I’m being inconveniently slow about it. My plans for the city do not involve being forced to linger on in some sort of dreadful half-life, all because no one can bear to see me go. If I have done my job at all correctly, the city will thrive and flourish long after I have ceased to be.”

“Right,” said Sam. “Well. Good.”

“I’m glad to hear that, too,” Meg said.

“And I am glad to relieve your minds on that account. Now, I am sure you are two very busy young people, and do you know, I myself feel up to a game of chess. Drumknott will see you out.”

Outside the Palace, Sam put his arm around Meg and smiled. “I’ve got some loose ends to tie up,” he said, “but after that, how do you feel about lunch?”

“Lunch sounds lovely,” Meg said. “How about the Painted Garden?”

“I think I can manage that,” Sam said.

***

“Ah. That’s check, and mate. My game, I do believe.” Lord Vetinari stood up from the chessboard, looking pleased.

NOT BAD. YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN BETTER AT CHESS THAN ME, THOUGH.

“You flatter me. I don’t suppose this means I, ah, get a little more time?”

I’M AFRAID NOT. I HAVE ALREADY GIVEN YOU THAT.

His Lordship looked back down at the chair that faced the chessboard, and what was sitting in it. “Oh. Oh, I see.”

The room around them was fading fast. Stars winked into existence in the night sky overhead. In the distance, at the far end of the desert, mountains loomed.

“There was never enough time for it all, you know. I had so many plans... Ah, well. It’s not for me to worry about anymore, is it?”

NO. IT ISN’T.

With his hands in his pockets, and a surprisingly cheerful swing in his step, Havelock Vetinari set off across the desert.

***

In the end, it wasn’t so very difficult: it was all down to paperwork, and Sam was good at paperwork. They hadn’t wanted to put their names to it, of course, but money left a trail, and Sam followed it doggedly back to its source.

He couldn’t touch them, not really; they’d done nothing illegal themselves. But he could damn well put the fear of the law in them, and he took the first chance he had to do just that.

Sam hated nobby parties, but he went to this one willingly. He watched the crowd ebb and flow, the little knots of people breaking and reforming, people circling by the new Patrician to congratulate Lord Lipwig and Mrs. Dearheart-Lipwig. When three men went into the smoking-parlor together he followed them, excusing himself so abruptly that he cut Aggie off mid-sentence.

In the smoking-parlor the gaslights were dim, and the high-backed chairs formed wings that hid their occupants from view. He knew them, nonetheless; but their names didn’t matter. “Gentlemen,” Sam said, his voice controlled.

“Ah, young Vimes. Didn’t know you smoked,” one of the old men said.

“I don’t, actually,” Sam said lightly. “But I’ve been looking for a chance to talk to you. I’ve been speaking to Henry Dussel, you see.”

There was a pause. “You must forgive me,” said a voice out of one of the chairs, “but I don’t think I’m familiar with that name.”

“You don’t? How odd,” said Sam. “Seeing as how you funded him, and supplied him, and told the hospital to look the other way while he robbed it blind. Literally, considering he took several pairs of eyeballs.”

“Mr. Vimes--” began one of the old men.

“That’s Corporal, thank you,” Sam said. “And I’ve got nothing I can arrest you for, of course. That’s privilege for you. You’ve bought your safety. But I just wanted to know-- why?”

After a long silence, one of them spoke. “He offered us... an alternative.”

“To what?”

“To the unknown. A chance to preserve the status quo.”

Sam saw them for what they were, then: querulous, fearful old men, scared of tomorrow and what it might bring. Terrified of change. Nothing more, in fact, than old fools shivering in the dark, for all their wealth and power.

“And if he’d offered it to you? A chance to live forever? Would you have taken what you would have forced on Lord Vetinari?”

“We only thought of the good of the city,” one of them protested feebly. Sam nearly snarled.

“That’s the last thing you thought of, the very last! This city thrives on change, and it’s the last thing you want! You’re only scared of the dark. Well, I can tell you, if you’d taken what Henry was offering, you wouldn’t have liked it. Sophronia Lessup threw herself off a bridge rather than take Henry’s bargain.”

“Who?” one of the old men asked.

“Read the paper tomorrow. I’m pretty sure it’ll be front-page news,” Sam said, and turned on his heel to leave. There was nothing more to be said. But there would be justice, if Sam had anything to do with it.

Back outside, among the low murmur of the crowd, Meg took his arm. “All right, Sam?” she asked, her eyes concerned.

“Not quite,” Sam said. “But I suppose I will be.” He leaned in to kiss her, heedless of the crowd. An iconograph flashed, turning the backs of Sam’s eyelids red for a moment.

“Oh, dear,” Meg said when they parted. “I think we’re going to be in the papers.” The iconographer was already scurrying off with his scoop, too fast for Sam to catch him in the crowded party.

“Only the society pages, though,” Sam said. “And honestly, I don’t give a damn about them.”