The room was silent, aside from the whisper soft shuffling of paper.1 Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, was reviewing his incoming correspondence. Drumknott had helpfully brought him, carefully organized2, the clacks messages and post from that morning. Before long, yet another noise was added to the milieu. That being the distinctive, methodical, scratch of a pen nib on paper, as he composed responses. After doing this for some time, he set his stack of replies carefully to one side of his desk. "Drumknott?"
"Yes, my lord?"
"Would I be correct in assuming that Commander Vimes is waiting for our appointment?"4
"Yes, my lord. I believe he has been waiting for twenty minutes."
Vetinari nodded. "Good. Send him in in five minutes."
"Very good, my lord. Will that be all?"
"Yes, for now. But when the commander leaves, make sure my next appointment sees him."
"Of course, my lord."
As Drumknott slipped out of the office, Vetinari steepled his fingers and waited.
1 And the strangely irregular ticking of a clock on the wall, but that was just standard background noise in the Oblong Office. Even the little dog curled up underneath a chair was being silent.
2 The organization was certainly necessary. A missive from the Lady Margolotta was certainly going to be higher on the stack than the idiosyncratically spelled and nigh-illegibly scrawled note from 'Rikrd Gren' concerning 'yer honrz obveus nid fer mor cabidj in the palis'.3
3 Unless he was in particularly high dudgeon about Margolotta's latest move in their continuing game of Thud. Drumknott planned accordingly.
4 If Lord Vetinari asked a question beginning with 'Would I be correct in assuming', the answer would inevitably be 'Yes', of course, but there's a routine to these things.
His Grace, His Excellency, the Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes, entered the office some five minutes later and gave Vetinari a sharp salute before standing at attention.
"Ah, your grace, I trust I didn't keep you waiting too long?"1
Vimes opened his mouth to say something. Vetinari looked at him calmly. Whatever he was going to say managed to morph itself into a "No, sir."2
The patrician simply arched an eyebrow and nodded. "Very good, commander. Now, I know you're a busy man, so I will make this conversation brief."
Vimes's nod managed to convey 'I know at least one way you could have made it almost half an hour shorter already' without nearly as many words involved. Nevertheless, Vetinari pressed onward. "I am given to understand, commander, that the Watch has been investigating a string of seemingly-related murders?"
"Well, sir, they're definitely related. The murderer's leaving a calling card at the scene of all his crimes."
"One would think that would make it eminently easier to find him," Vetinari replied blandly.
"It's copper-speak, sir. Just a detail that he leaves behind to prove it's him."
"How colorful. What would the 'calling card' be in this case, then?"
Vimes frowned, his thoughts on the matter painted quite plainly on his face.3 "He's leaving a pile of oats next to all of the bodies."
"Yes, sir. Perfectly good ones, too, from what we can tell. At least, the mice and rats that always start on them before we can get there don't seem to be having any problems."
"On the oats, or the bodies?"
"How interesting. I also understand that you've requested that the Times not give out some salient information about the case?"
"We don't want the thing about the oats to get out, sir. Copycat crimes might spring up, and that would make it harder to track down the guy. Or he might move to corn or barley or something."
"Indeed. I would hate to have your investigation hindered in any way. Perhaps I shall send a note along to Mr. de Worde.
Vimes shrugged. "I'm not sure that's necessary."
"Nonsense. I always do rather enjoy the opportunity to facilitate the use of the Press to help the city. It is an important cog in the great machine, after all."5
"If you say so, sir."
"My thoughts exactly. So how is the investigation going?"
"We're working on tracking down the source of the oats. Sniffing out the trail, so to speak.6 Calling cards like that almost always help find the culprit."
"A capital plan, Vimes, if I do say so myself. Which, of course, I do, or you wouldn't have heard it. After all, there are only so many sources of whole grain in the city. I have every confidence in your ability to find the person or persons responsible and any and all accomplices."
"Thank you, sir." Commander Vimes shifted a bit, then, in that way he had that indicated in no uncertain terms that he wished he could get back to work.7
"At any rate, I have the update I needed. Be sure to keep me abreast of the situation as the investigation proceeds. I look forward to seeing what it turns up." He reached over to a corner of his desk and grabbed a file. "Don't let me detain you, commander. And say a brief hello to Mr. Lipwig on your way out."
Vimes nodded and saluted one more time before leaving.
1 If Lord Vetinari asked a question beginning with 'I trust', the response would inevitably be agreement, of course, but, again. Routine.
2 The tone of that 'No, sir', however, didn't manage to make the switch in time, the appropriate one for the situation possibly getting held up in customs.
3 They were something along the lines of 'Murder is one thing but being showy about it is ridiculous, and once the criminal gets caught, he will learn what I think about that. Within, of course, the boundaries of the law, or what would be the point?' The commander had some rather eloquent, if rough-shod, expressions.
4 This could be considered forensic analysis. Sort of.
5 Other important cogs in the great machine that was Ankh-Morpork included the guilds, the Watch, the postal service, the mint, the nosy widow women, the stray animals, the food, and, of course, the smell. Vetinari himself was in no way a cog. He was the engineer.
6 In this particular instance, 'so to speak' could more accurately be rendered as 'literally'. There were advantages to having a werewolf on the force.
7 Feet that were used to patrolling city streets got more than a bit itchy when subjected to more or less anything but. Vimes's feet itched quite a bit in that way. Doing paperwork, staying home, and, gods forbid, partaking in recreational activities.
In very short order, the aforementioned Mr. Lipwig, Moist von Lipwig, to be exact, entered the office, glancing back uneasily over his shoulder in the direction Vimes had exited. It made him look for all the world like a man with a guilty conscience instead of the man who had held some of the most respectable positions in the city.1
"Ah, Mr. Lipwig," Vetinari said, snapping the other man's attention back to him. "A pleasure to see you again. I trust everything is going smoothly at the bank?"
"Excellent, excellent. I'm certainly pleased to hear that. And so, I'm sure, is Mr. Fusspot." At the mention of his name, the dog underneath the Patrician's chair perked up for the first time since he arrived. And then wagged his tail at Moist.3
"Well, wouldn't want to disappoint the boss, I guess."
"Of course not, Mr. Lipwig. Of course not. All indications are that you've done it again, and it couldn't be more heartening. You have a singular gift for taking untrusted and unused institutions and turning them into something respected and even beloved.4 You're breathing new life into them, I must say."
And just like that, Moist's expression took on a look that could best be described as hunted. Which was, amusingly enough, never a look he was once spied with when he was actually being hunted.5 "Thank you..?"
"I just wanted to update you on a new development. As you're so highly integrated into the city's financial underpinnings, you should certainly be kept 'in the know', as they say."
"All right. What is it?"
"Mr. Creaser, the city's taxmaster, is going to be retiring. Very soon."
"Is that so?" Moist asked.6
"Indeed. And I would be very obliged if you were to assist in finding a replacement."
"Of course. It seems to me that you would be rather familiar with the qualities that make someone adept at inducing people to give someone else a sizable quantity of money that they would much prefer to keep while still remaining well-liked. I can't imagine why."
Moist von Lipwig closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and, in lieu of running, asked one simple question. "When would I have to start?"
Vetinari smiled. Mr. Lipwig was obviously getting the hang of this.
1 Of course, he was both. However, the guilty conscience was vestigial. He probably felt more guilty about his clean conscience.
2 He knew the routine, obviously.
3 They were pals, after all, especially to the mind of Mr. Fusspot, the Disc's smallest bank chairman. But not the hairiest. That distinction went to one of his Uberwaldian counterparts.
4 That gift seemed to mirror Moist's own life, at late.
5 Or, rather, when one of his various pseudonyms were being hunted. Slight difference.
6 His tone, on the other hand, asked nothing. His tone knew exactly how this conversation was going to end up and was already working out how best to tell Adora.