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Boy Trouble

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Suddenly, someone smashed through the door. A girl, about Angua's age, maybe younger, stumbled around, catching at the furniture, closely followed by lots more girls around the same age, all with similar vacant expressions and outfits that suggested they were quite chilly. A lot of them had placards around their necks that said 'Thys [perſon/being/creature] may [drive/coax/cajole] a [cart/boat/skeletal white horſe] within the city of Ankh-Morpork if they're not a bloody idiot about it", and there was a passable attempt at Commander Vimes' signature at the bottom. They were also wearing large hats. After a moment they looked up, realised they were in Biers, and headed back into the night.

"I don't understand it," Cheery said, waving a hand in their general direction as they disappeared.

"It's the done thing, nowadays," Angua said, gloomily. "It's called a... pheasant night, or something."

"A pleasant night?" Adora Belle said. "It didn't look very pleasant."

Angua shrugged. "Beats me. You're supposed to do it the night before you get married."

"Why would you do that?"

"Wear placards and hats?"

"No, get married," said Adora Belle. "Why would you want to bind yourself to some… man. What am I even saying, man. Some boy."

"Moist causing you trouble?" Angua said, raising her eyebrows.

"Keeps asking me to marry him," Adora Belle said, irritated. "As if I'd marry him when he's..."

"When he's what?" Angua said, sharply, and Adora Belle seemed to remember, suddenly, that she was at a table with the Watch.

"When he's a shiftless, grubby-behind-the-ears, miserable little oik," she said, smoothly, and then groaned.

"I thought you liked him," Cheery said.

"She does," said Sally, suddenly waking up in her grimy corner of the table. "You should hear what she says about people she doesn't like."

"But you've got him," Cheery went on, wistfully. "You've got him and he's got you. I don't have... well, it's hard, what with me being a female dwarf."

Angua looked up. "It is? I would have thought it would be easier."

Cheery shook her head. "Dwarves are difficult," she said, carefully. "Because if I meet a male dwarf, one who knows there are female dwarves but is still a male dwarf, do you know what I mean? He wants me to be all female."

"But you are..." Angua began, and stopped.

"I mean, he looks at human women and then thinks I can't drink as much as ale as him, or I can't chase criminals, or, I don't know, set up my own mine when I'm old. And if it's a male dwarf who doesn't think dwarves should be female, he doesn't look at me." Cheery sighed. "I wrote to my mum and dad, and they tried to give my name to a marriage broker, back home. But he just laughed at them."

Angua sighed. "Boys."

"Yuck," Cheery agreed, and went up to order another drink.

"What about you, Sally?" Adora Belle asked, suddenly. "Do you have boy trouble, too?"

"Er," Sally said, as Cherry sat back down. "Um. I don't, er. I don't really like boys."

"What do you like, then?" Cheery asked.

"Cheery," Adora Belle said, "she means she likes..."

"I mean, dwarves like dwarves, usually," Cheery went on. "But it varies. Captain Carrot's a dwarf, and he likes humans."

Angua raised her eyebrows. "Carrot! Carrot likes everyone. Everyone likes Carrot. That's just how Carrot is. I'm just..."

"What?" Adora Belle asked, uncharacteristically gently.

"Just the someone he likes a bit more than everyone else." Angua groaned again and put her head in her hands. "I'm sorry, I've probably been drinking."

"You're not going to marry him, are you?" Adora Belle asked, sternly.

"I don't think so," Angua said. "Well. Not soon. And I wouldn't have one of those" – she waved her hands around – "things. With the funny hats and the pheasants."

"I don't know." Cheery still sounded wistful. "It looked like it was fun, getting dressed up like that."

"We could get dressed up without that," Sally put in, suddenly. "We could go somewhere, without Moist or Carrot. And without marrying anyone either. We could go to the Kit Kat Club. We could, you know. Go dancing. We could invite the other women in the Watch, too. Make it a kind of group outing. Or even hold a kind of a dance for ourselves."

There was a pause while they thought about that.

"Commander Vimes would go spare," Angua said, finally.

"What difference would that make? He wouldn't even have to know!" Adora Belle was very emphatic when it came to men offering an opinion.

"Oh, I know," Angua said. "I didn't mean that was a reason not to do it. I was merely observing. The fact. That Commander Vimes will go spare."

"We could get dressed up?" Cheery said, as though coming out of a happy dream of sequins and a nice evening clutch axe-bag. "I'd like that. I wish there were balls at the Palace, like there used to be; we're the Watch, we might be invited, sometimes."

"There's a song about it," Angua said, wearily. "The Patrician has no balls at all."

"We could ask Lady Sybil to help, as well," Cheery went on. "And maybe some of the other dwarves in the Watch, the ones who are like me."

Suddenly, someone smashed through the door. He stumbled around and staggered at the furniture, but this time he had a knife.

*

 

When the women of the Watch departed early off their shifts one night the following week, Commander Vimes did not go spare; Lady Sybil had looked at him in a funny way and he had said, "Yes, dear," and stayed at home for the first time to look after Young Sam.

"It's not like he had any legitimate complaint to make, after all," Lady Sybil said as they all filed in; they were in the old lemonade factory near Pseudopolis Yard, and there was a great deal of crepe paper bedecking the rafters. "I heard that you all acquitted yourselves very well in that knife fight at Biers."

"We just happened to be there," Cheery explained. "I'm in forensics, I haven't arrested anyone in ages. But it's amazing how it comes back to you," she added, thoughtfully.

"And Ms. Dearheart," Sybil continued, "it's been so long since a citizens' arrest has been successfully made in Ankh-Morpork, I believe the Patrician had to send over to the university library for the paperwork. You should be proud of yourself."

Adora Belle grinned. "You never know, I might sign up."

"And Angua, Sally, how beautiful you look in your gowns," Sybil said. "It makes one feel quite dowdy in comparison."

Angua, resplendent in her very favourite red dress, grinned to herself; Lady Sybil rarely looked dowdy, even in the habitual tweed. She suspected that Cheery and Sally had gone shopping together – at any rate, there was a lot of pink tulle in evidence. And it was amazing how much better vampires and werewolves got along when there were whole tables covered in white tablecloths and champagne flutes. And waiters, too, Angua thought, smiling with a kind of idiotic happiness, and those little things on plates with salmon and parsley, and a band – two trolls, a human, a dwarf, and a lot of drums – and even trolls to walk you home at night when you were tipsy and didn't want to have to arrest everyone who bothered you on the way.

"Tell me again," Sacharissa was saying. "It's a morale-boosting event for" – scribble, scribble, went the pencil on the page – "the women, sorry, the unappreciated, overworked women of the Watch, who" – scribble – "keep the city safe for the citizenry."

Angua was thinking she'd never heard anyone say "citizenry" out loud before, but before she could say anything, Lady Sybil drew herself impressively and said, "Ms. Cripslock, why don't you put that notebook away?"

"Lady Sybil, the freedom of the press," Sacharissa began, but Lady Sybil took her by the hand and led her to the door, and Angua could hear her saying, "You know, there's probably a pretty dress in a cupboard over at the house that would be just your size..."

"Good," Cheery said, as they disappeared. "I don't want anyone working tonight. I think it should all be about fun. And," she added, looking firm, "no boy trouble. No big burly dwarves trying to drink me under the table or tell me I shouldn't be wearing this." She motioned at the layers of pink and the sequinned axe-clutch.

"No chance of that." Angua grinned. "The band's an all-female outfit from Tin Pan Alley. And there is one man here, but that's-"

"Everyone!" shouted a familiar voice, wielding an iconograph. "The fermented dairy product of your choice, please!"

By the time they had got Otto out of the carpet, the party was in full swing.

*

 

It made a very good front page. A roaring success, Angua thought with satisfaction; she'd had a lovely night out, and made a few friends, and Cheery had seemed properly comfortable for the first time in ages; there had been a collection for the Golem Trust afterwards, and Angua was sure she'd seen Sally exchanging private words with a pretty lance-constable from Dolly Sisters. Lady Sybil had made sure that no one disturbed them all evening.

Commander Vimes said he could live without going to the privy under a gigantic framed headline that said "THE SECRET POLICEMAN'S BALL", but you couldn't have everything in life.