It is a truth universally acknowledged that a text in possession of more than a passing reference to a certain literary work that shall not be named, must begin with the phrase 'It is a truth universally acknowledged'.
"Do you know what never stops being funny?" said a voice over the tinkling of the small bell Sergeant Colon had installed on the gateway, as if the front hall of Pseudopolis Yard were a place that served coffee instead of a place that served warrants.
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that an author in possession of a single bestselling novel must be in want of a self-referential quote from random strangers?" said Sergeant Angua.
"That," said the voice flatly, or rather its owner, whom Vimes was surprised to realize he recognized.
Angua grinned. "Just a hunch."
Jane Gordon rested the small briefcase she was carrying on the counter. "Of course, they all believe they're wildly intelligent," she said, unclasping the case and beginning to rummage through it. "'It is a universally acknowledged truth that it is sunny today!' 'It is a universally acknowledged truth that this sausage would go very well with a dollop of mustard!' 'It is a universally acknowledged truth that your next novel should be about fishermen, and if you could call one of them Chelton, perhaps.'" Gordon finally pulled out a notebook and stylus from her case. "It is a universally acknowledged truth that they can all kiss my bum. Oh, hello there, Your Grace."
Vimes narrowed his eyes at Angua, who obligingly refrained from laughing. Out loud.
"Commander Vimes, here in the Watch house, please," he said. "Ms. Gordon. I'm sure Lady Vimes would have informed me had she known you were in town." It was as polite a way to say What are you doing in my Watch house? as any, he supposed, or at least one Sybil would approve of.
"Oh, there'll be time to call upon her yet," said Gordon. "I plan to be here for a while."
"I'm researching for my next novel. There is only so much inspiration one can draw from the country, bonnets and cabbage fields and frills and whatnot. But the city," she said. There was a glimmer in her eye. "The city is a cauldron of ideas, waiting for the right cook with a big enough spoon to ladle them out. And I, Commander—" she twirled her stylus with a little flourish—"have a rather big spoon."
It wasn't that Vimes felt uncomfortable around humans of the female persuasion who brandished about large phallic instruments that were not Watch-sanctioned weaponry. It was that he really disliked reporters snooping around his backyard.
"The city's out there," he said, nodding at the gates. "You can look around all you like."
"Long's you don't litter," added the moldy potted plant by the wall, who was, upon second glance, Corporal Nobbs.
"As long as you don't litter," agreed Vimes.
"As always I appreciate your suggestions, Commander, but I do think I'll stay here for a while first," said Gordon. The way she turned the Commander of the Watch's words into mere advice reminded Vimes of Vetinari; using a turn of phrase to script her own reality.
Vimes sighed. "Look, you're not going to write a book about coppers, are you? The last thing I need is a bunch of romantic boys from the Ramtops enlisting because they think it's all passion and danger and sweaty chests and femme fa-talls, ending up in drunken bar fights every night because keeping the peace by monitoring traffic is too damn boring. "
Angua raised an eyebrow. "Oh, I don't know," she said, twisting the ring on her finger. "Some of those boys turn out all right."
She did have a point, but Captain Carrot was something of an exception; not only because he genuinely believed in the importance of road speed regulation enforcement, but because he found the parking ticket form infinitely fascinating, and made them infinitely fascinating to whoever read them in turn.
"I draw my inspiration from life, Commander," said Gordon. "If I do end up writing a novel about the bravery of your transportation officers, it's because there's gallantry even in harnessing a gallop."
"Oh, well put," said Nobby, standing just a bit taller. Being Nobby, he still didn't quite reach the ledge of the counter.
"Their bravery, however, it yet to be seen," she said, and turned to Angua. "Where are my boys?"
"Cheery's fetching them from their barracks," said Angua. "They should be right along."
"My boys?" Vimes said sharply. He had given up trying to control the possessive impulse that took over him whenever someone referred to his Watchpeople as theirs. These days, he was resigned to simply be annoyed with it.
Gordon brightened. "I suppose in a way you're to thank for this as well! I am referring to our dear friends and neighbors, suitors of my sisters, who, upon our decision to give up our lives of leisure and become women of trade, decided—or at least received heavy hints which compelled them to act—to go into the professions as well. No longer useless gentlemen, they are now—"
"Gentlecops?" suggested Angua.
Gordon's eyes lit up, and she scribbled in her notebook. "Excellent word, indeed," she said.
"So we have gentlemen in the Watch now, do we," Vimes said.
"You remember them, sir," said Angua. "Joined about two weeks ago, the one with the hair and the one with the crop? The incident with the owls?"
Oh, damn. The incident with the owls. "Something with a dong?" Vimes recalled. Angua choked. "Dongley and Barfy?"
"Dingley and Barcy, sir," Angua corrected, still coughing.
"And here they are now!" said Gordon, smiling brightly as Cheery escorted two Lance-Constables into the hall. All three of them were suspiciously red-faced, until they spotted Vimes, at which point Dangley and Barfer paled. "How are you?" Gordon said warmly. "How is civic duty life treating you, where have you come from, what were you doing, tell me everything."
"Er," said Dangles stiffly. "It's. Good?"
"We've just come—" began Barny, and blushed furiously. "We've just been practicing our swordwork—" he turned even redder—"at the er, there was a courtyard, we were definitely not found sharing a barracks in the afternoon by Sergeant Littlebottom is what we were not. Life in the force is excellent thankyou."
Dingley elbowed him hard. Barcy bit his lip. Cheery's beard was still hiding her flush, but also, Vimes suspected as her shoulders began shaking, a very carefully bitten off laugh. Angua wasn't even trying to hide her smirk.
Vimes sighed. These sort of things were not uncommon, after all. He supposed Sybil would be the one to break the news to Lady Gordon that her daughters' suitors were no longer actively suiting. Or, well, not her daughters, at least.
Sergeant Colon's gate bell tinkled again as someone entered Pseudopolis Yard. A woman in a red and green checkered shirt marched in, waving a piece of paper and a very large stick. "I would like to appeal this parking ticket, please," she stated, and then blinked. "Jane?"
Gordon nearly dropped her stylus. "Hermione? What on earth are you doing here?"
"Selling lumber," Hermione said. "Or at least trying to. Until I got this ticket here, for parking my cart in a perfectly legal parking space." She waved the piece of paper again. "It was a legal spot, I've got witnesses!"
"Here, I can take a look," said Dingle-Dongs, presumably trying to be helpful.
Hermione handed him the ticket. "This is the same kind of discrimination they have up in the mountains," she said darkly. "See a woman park, give her a ticket."
"It is a truth universally acknowledged," said Nobby, "that when a woman—" Hermione knobbed him on the head with her stick.
"Oh, thank you," said Jane. "You and your wood were always handy to have around. Now let's see about this ticket, eh?"
Dingles, ticket clutched in his hand, had turned into an impressive shade of red. "Er, sir. Sirs. I'm not exactly sure how to, er."
"Let me see that," Angua said, taking the slip from the boy. A moment later she started to snicker. "Sir," she said, passing Vimes the note. "You should probably see this."
Vimes studied the note. He didn't even have to recognize Captain Carrot's unique calligraphy to know it was his; the indiscriminate distribution of punctuation would have been more than enough. The detailed illustration was just a bonus.
Twenty Forth December Year, of the Rat
Subjekt: Illegal Parking of Carraige Contayning Cargo on Citie Avenue
This cart was found parked on, the sidewalk of Treacle Mine Road at 7:40AM on the Morning of December twentyfourth, carrying twenty-five Logs of Lumber perpendicular to the Surface of, the wagon, against Ankh-Morpork City Ordeinence 22.214.171.124.888 in accordance with which; a Pinus may only be bound in the Horizontal position whilft in transit and when transit interruptus, so as to ensure the safety of all paffers-by and also not to Poke any'ones eyes out.
Fyne: $100 at Five Dollars per erect Pinus.
Signed, Captain Carrot IronFoundersson, Ankh-Morpork Citie Watch
Carrot's anatomically correct diagram of twenty five erect Pinuses appeared to be extremely well researched. Apparently Carrot knew a lot about botany.
Vimes calmly folded the note and made sure to school his features into a calm expression before speaking. "Perpendicular, without a single mistake," he remarked to Angua. "That's impressive."
Angua nodded. "He has his moments."
"Well, Ms. Gordon," Vimes said, turning to Hermione. "I leave you at the hands of these—" gentlecops, he was about to say, before remembering to switch back to, "Lance-Constables. I'm sure you'll be able to sort it all out with them."
Dangling looked mildly annoyed at the notion; Barfy looked mildly terrified. But they were young officers of the Watch, and they would have to learn how to stand up to fierce women carrying large sticks at some point. It should be a good exercise. Vimes hoped they would escape from it uninjured.
"And you are staying here?" Vimes asked Jane.
Jane nodded. "For now," she said. "Do send my love to Sybil." She gazed at her sister intently, watched the introductions taking place.
"Harold Dingley," said Dingley.
"Ronald Barcy," said Barcy.
"Hermione Gordon," said Gordon.
Jane turned over the page and started scribbling. "For now," she said again. "I feel there's a story here to be told."