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Fifteen Dollars

Chapter Text

Adora Belle Dearheart had fallen ill with a particularly rough case of bronchitis. It had been a particularly cold spring, and she’d had to spend more of it than usual outdoors, running a mass inspection of the urban clacks network, including the new clacks towers that had been built within five miles of the city bounds. Adora Belle was not the sort to delegate often, and personally seeing to all the towers had cost her a lot of energy. On doctors’ orders, she was to stay home till she felt better, and then for two more days after that, to avoid strenuous activity, and not to have any cigarettes. The last part was tricky. The illness already made her tired, achy, and irritable, and the temporary withdrawal was compounding the effect. As was the boredom.

“I’ll go mad without work,” she confessed to her husband.

“Don’t go too mad,” Moist said, and gave her a peck on the cheek before leaving for work.

He worked in the palace these days. Not as the Patrician, of course, because that was Mr Ironfoundersson, and would be for the next five years. Moist was Deputy Patrician, one of the new offices that had been created seven weeks ago during the Great Restructuring before Vetinari stepped down, presumably to get some decent rest for the first time in over thirty years. When asked by the paper why the office of Patrician had been split into two offices, Vetinari had answered that it was for humane reasons, and when asked how he’d been managing to do it all by himself, he’d smiled bleakly and declined further comment.

There were also some cabinet ministers now, for good measure. Adora Belle wasn’t sure what they did. She had ample time to find out, she supposed, since she was confined to the house.

But first, a nap. A nap would feel good. Not here in the chair by the entryway, though. She’d get up and go to bed upstairs. Or to the couch in the living room. In just a second. In just a second after she’d finished shutting her eyes.

Forty minutes later, Adora Belle awoke blearily to the sound of the newspaper paper hitting the door. She retrieved the paper and sat down in the living room to read it. It had apparently been a slow news day. There was a piece on a new trade deal between Vanglemesht and Nef, and how this would affect Ankh-Morpork (it wouldn’t). There was a piece on the Urban Survival Scouts, and how gang membership had very slightly decreased since the Scouts’ foundation. There were some letters to the editor, one of which was written by a curmudgeonly dentist, complaining about the layout of the current exhibit in the metallurgy museum. There were more human interest stories than usual. One of them, no longer than ninety words, featured an iconograph of the now-retired Lord Vetinari on holiday. He was in a black long-sleeved high-necked swim shirt, relaxing in a hot spring in–she read the caption–Nothingfjord. He looked a couple years younger already. Good for him.

Adora left the paper out on the coffee table and wandered into the study to practice darts.

Slightly after noon, she wandered into the kitchen to help the cook, Mr Hackles, cut onions for a soup. Ordinarily, Mr Hackles would have objected, but the prospect of the mistress of the house being bored out of her skin seemed more troublesome to him than the mistress of the house helping out in the kitchen.

The sound of a rhythmic thwacking next door distracted her from her vegetable chopping.

It wasn’t coming from the Vimeses’ home, which was to the left of Adora Belle’s. It would have been of no interest if it had been coming from the Vimeses’, since they had to mend the dragon pens pretty much every fortnight.

The thwacking was coming from the other side. She’d thought that the 183 Scoone Avenue house was empty. It had been for sale for ages. Perhaps someone was trying to break in. That would be exciting to watch!

She excused herself from the kitchen and strode over to a window. The ‘For Sale’ sign was gone. A small flock of rental goats were munching the overgrown lawn down to size. Amidst the huge, sprawling rhododendrons stood a small man in a short-sleeved shirt, clipping the bushes with a thick pair of pruning shears.

///

“And that man was Mr Drumknott,” she told Moist.

“‘Surprisingly buff’ doesn’t sound like Mr Drumknott,” Moist said politely.

Adora Belle rolled her eyes.

“Well, no,” she said, “that’s why it’s surprising.”

Moist scooted forward and rearranged one of the sofa cushions more comfortably.

“I’m not sure he’s in the city, though,” Moist said. “It could be someone else who looks like him. I was under the impression that he’d also gone abroad on holiday.”

“Well he’s–”

She raised a finger, had a small, unpleasant-sounding coughing fit into a black cotton handkerchief, breathed deeply for a few seconds, and said.

“Well he’s–.”

“Bless you,” Moist said.

“Don’t interrupt me,” Adora Belle continued. “I was saying he’s next door now.”

“Drumknott came back early to buy himself a house on Scoone Avenue? The palace’s pension plan is generous, but I don’t think quite it’s that generous.”

“Ah,” said Adora Belle, “that is where my theory begins. Follow me.”

She led him into the study, where she’d taken down the painting of a placid river scene that hung on the wall over Moist’s desk and had replaced it with a corkboard. On this corkboard was a diagram made of pushpins, index cards, and newspaper clippings. Some off the pins were linked to each other by black yarn.[1]

“Okay,” said Moist, and gently placed the back of his hand on her forehead to check for fever.

Adora Bell placed the back of her hand on his forehead a little less gently.

“Spike!” he said, “Ow!”

“You listen to me,” she said. “It actually all makes perfect sense. Drumknott’s not on holiday. Possibly, he never went on holiday. What I do know is that he’s living right next door to us! And he’s living with Vetinari, who isn’t on holiday either.”

“Let’s not speculate about Vetinari’s private life,” said Moist. “Plus, don’t people say he has a vampire lady-friend in Uberwald?”

Adora Belle waved her hand.

“That’s purely rumour, but I find it fascinating that you’re implying that it’s okay to speculate as long as your speculations are heterosexual.”

“I never said that!” he protested. “Don’t put words in my mouth!”

“Let’s move on to figure two,” she said, ignoring him.

“What was figure one?”

“Figure one was the clerk sighting next door, which I’ve represented here.”

Adora Belle indicated a drawing she’d done on the back of an index card. Graphic design had never been her passion, so the rhododendron bush was represented by a green blob with smaller pink squiggles inside it, and Mr Drumknott was represented by a stick figure. One of its arms was holding a pair of pruning shears and the other arm was helpfully labelled “jacked.” It wore a pair of round glasses and its dark hair was perfectly parted down the centre.

“That’s him, all right,” said Moist.

“Figure two is this clipping from today’s Times,” she said.

“Which says that Vetinari’s on holiday in Nothingfjord.”

“Ah, but take a closer look at the picture,” Adora Belle explained. “Look at the sign on the left, behind his shoulder.”

“I’m looking.”

“It says ‘renne nicht’!”

“What’s strange about putting a ‘don’t run’ sign in a thermal spring?”

“It’s funny that the sign is in Überwaldian when he’s allegedly in Nothingfjord, hmm?” she asked.

“They speak–”

“I know you’re going to say that they speak Überwaldian in Nothingfjord too, but it’s only the second official language, and by law, things have to be posted in both Überwaldian and Fjaroese.”

“But there could be a ‘don’t run’ sign in Fjaroese outside of frame,” Moist heard himself saying.

“Yes, we could invent an invisible sign in Fjaroese to make it fit the public narrative,” huffed Adora Belle, “or we could accept that it was in fact taken two years ago, in Überwald, when Lord Vetinari was in Überwald for–”

Here she picked up a pencil from Moist’s pot of sundry office utensils, which had been pilfered from other offices over the years, and jabbed the eraser end at another newspaper clipping.

“The G7a summit!”

Gods, thought Moist, I knew she’d get bored, but I didn’t expect it to be this bad. She’s really gone ‘round the bend now. Also, we really need to stop hoarding old newspapers.

“So, you’re saying the iconograph is actually two years old?” he asked faintly.

“Precisely. Look at the hair. Can we talk about the hair? We’ve got to. Ask me about the hair.”

Moist sighed. He knew, or at least hoped that she’d be back to normal in a few days. In the interim, there was nothing to do but wait it out.

“Go on,” he said wearily.

“Compare the hair, Moist,” Adora Belle said calmly, “compare the hair here with the hair in this iconograph.”

With the same pencil, she pointed out a picture clipped from the article about the new Patrician. The picture showed Lord Vetinari handing Carrot Ironfoundersson and Moist von Lipwig the purely symbolic Keys and Spare Keys of Ankh-Morpork.

“His hair’s lighter in this one than in the more recent one,” Moist was forced to conclude.

“The alleged more recent one,” Adora Belle clarified. “But yes.”

“He could have dyed it, though,” said Moist. “You told me once you thought he dyed his hair.”

“I’m not inclined to believe that anymore,” said Adora Belle firmly.

“Oh,” he said, “Okay.”

It was hard to argue with that.

Adora Belle’s eyes narrowed.

“You don’t believe any of this,” she said.

“No,” he admitted, “because it’s absolutely insane. It’s unhinged. You seem to be enjoying yourself, which is nice, but you haven’t actually proven anything.”

Her face went almost aggressively blank. Moist reflected for a second that he ought to have phrased it less condescendingly.

“Fifteen dollars,” said Adora Belle.

“Fifteen dollars?”

“Yes. Let’s bet fifteen dollars on it. If I’m right, and I can prove that our new neighbours are who I say they are, you cough up. If I’m wrong and you can prove the contrary–”

Here she was beset by another coughing fit. It was full of unpleasant, phlegmy noises. Adora Belle sat down in the chair and groaned. When she breathed, it sounded slightly wheezy.

“Hate this,” she muttered. “Gods. Hate getting sick.”

“Many people would agree with you,” Moist said.

Adora Belle scowled.

“Look, Moist, is the bet on or not?”

In his previous line of work, before he had been press-ganged into becoming an honest, civic-minded individual, he had learned many useful guidelines for life. One of these was: don’t make a bet unless you’re certain you’ll win it. Adora Belle’s confidence in her assertions would have made his certainty flicker if she hadn’t been talking such rot. He thought to himself that it wouldn’t be very nice to take advantage of his wife’s illness-induced boredom to win fifteen dollars and the satisfaction of being right. But that was his second thought. His first thought had been: make it twenty.

“Sure,” he said.

 

[1] Adora Belle didn't knit but went through phases of convincing herself that she did, which is why she kept yarn around. Mostly, she liked holding knitting needles. Something about them called to her. She felt the same calling towards stiletto heels.