"I know why you're here, of course," the Patrician said to his dearest friend.
Vimes kept his face hard. He had to. Going soft now—well.
"Even Mr. Fusspot is gone, you know. He's next to Wuffles. I hate to think of what the city will come to once…once I join them."
Vimes nodded, once.
"I daresay certain individuals will throw quite a banquet. And the Assassin's Guild will have to retire the bond they've had on me. You could build quite a new mansion, you know, if you took them my head. They wouldn't believe anything else."
"I like the house I have," Sam Vimes said gruffly. He could do it right now—the Patrician wasn't watching him that hard, for once. In fact, the thin man hadn't watched him carefully for years.
That he knew of.
Vetinari continued. "You'll have to watch Lipvig carefully, but Captain Carrot is highly suspicious of the man no matter how the devil tries to charm him. No sense of humor, even for a dwarf. Then again, the goblins don't have any either, and they still adore Lipvig. No accounting for taste, I suppose."
If he stood up quite rapidly, Vimes knew he could overpower the increasingly frail man sitting across the desk. And it had to be done. There had been…Incidents. Lipvig had been covering for the older man for almost a year, and taking the blame for things which he shouldn't. Granted, the fellow was up to other mischief, so it evened out—but still.
The Patrician looked absentminded. But that could also be a trick, one that far too many people had been fooled by in the past. Vimes feared it was for real, now.
"Do you know, the Post Office doesn't ask me to decode bad addresses any more…" His friend now looked sad. "I suppose I shouldn't have sent that elephant to Genua. Or all those books to Lancre…"
"Nobody doubts your ability, sir," Vimes said.
"Well, they should." The other man looked into his tea. "So, why are you really here? I mean, I know it, I just want to see if you'll admit it."
Vimes sighed. "I am here as Blackboard Monitor."
The other man smiled wryly. "Lipvig would be much better at it, you know. I would be out of this world and into the next without a care. Although everyone would still know he did it, of course. And that's why you're here, so for once he's considered innocent of something. I always fancied an axe, you know. There's something so final about it. And it would be in your family's tradition."
Vimes tried not to think of the one he'd borrowed from the Armory and had left outside the door. The guards had been quite amazed to see it, and equally amazed at the excuse he'd tried to use—'Patrician interested in seeing a family heirloom'.
"I do hope you weren't expecting to use just your hands. I still have some old reflexes, and Lady Sybill would be quite unhappy to see you damaged." The Patrician took another sip of tea. "But then, I'm sure you have something else in mind."
Vimes hoped he did, too. The window wasn't high enough above the ground to make fatality certain, even if he could throw his old friend out without losing various body parts in the process. He took a deep breath. "If you really want an axe…"
"Oh, don't be silly. I just enjoy teasing you." The older man drained the cup. "I…part of me knows something is wrong. But there has never been a retired ruler of this city before. Well, except for the one who left, said he would throw a party till he died, and everyone was still too afraid of him and hoped he meant it. I don't know too many people who could manage total debauchery for two years, and I've never enjoyed such affairs myself." The Patrician took a deep breath, and then looked startled. "I wondered when the damn stuff would work…"
He fell over. Vimes caught him, and let him down easily. He was careful. Even as the smell of death slowly oozed from bowels and bladder, it would not be beyond the Patrician to fake both and surprise someone who thought he was dead. He placed his old friend on the couch.
There was something to be said for the axe.
Sam reached for the cup, poured the remainder of the contents into the slops bucket carefully hidden in a cabinet, and cleaned the cup with his handkerchief. He probably ought to burn it, though leaving it around in the dragon barn would probably have the results he wanted.
It was very quiet in the room. Sam heard only his breathing, now. He covered Vetinari with a quilt. For such a thin man, the Patrician never felt the cold, but he certainly did now.
After a couple of moments, he leaned out the front door. "The Patrician wishes to see Lipvig and Captain Carrot. Oh, yes, and his secretary."
The fussy little man arrived first. Vimes sat him down on the floor, so he wouldn't go running off with any silly ideas about rousing the palace. Once a policeman, always a policeman, he thought. "And be quiet," he said in his best you'll be seeing the inside of a cell for a couple of months if you try me voice.
Lipvig was next. His darting, clever eyes took in the situation too damn quickly, although he was intelligent enough to join the secretary on the floor without being told, his face deathly pale. Vimes liked the other man's sharp brain, though it often caused more trouble than it was worth without someone like Vetinari to rein him in.
Captain Carrot was last. He simply stood silently. That was also good. In the past, the man had sometimes briskly walked to conclusions, especially when it came to Lipvig.
Vimes closed the door and spoke in a soft voice. "Vetinari died this last hour without a hand being laid on him, or having someone else plan it. But now we have to keep the city safe. It is…it is going to be different, to not have a war over who is going to be the new ruler, and I would like to keep it that way."
Carrot nodded soberly. And then he walked over to Lipvig and helped the man stand up again. His usual distaste for the fellow had left his face, as well. "It has to be one of us," the young man said.
"Yes. And I don't want it to be me." Vimes was quite certain of that.
"But you are the only one everyone could agree on," Lipvig said.
"Till they saw how I ruled. Then they would all agree on someone else," Vimes said tersely.
"Lady Sybill could always move her dragon sanctuary to the palace," Lipvig said, clearly trying to be humorous.
Or was he? Sam couldn't tell this time.
"I don't want it either!" Carrot said, his voice thick with grief.
Both of them looked at Lipvig, whose eyes went wide with terror. "Oh, no, you don't! My neck has been stretched already, thank you, don't need another rope around it."
Vimes suddenly noticed that Carrot was beginning to show a few white hairs among the red. When had that happened? He could manage Lipvig, he believed, but he knew how much gray was in his hair, too. It was really up to the younger man now.
"There is a lot about this city that I still don't understand," Carrot said slowly, looking at Lipvig. "But you get things done. People don't know what you're going to be up to next. You don't know what you're going to be up to next. That keeps the Guilds guessing, the way he used to. But this last year, people have been afraid because he wasn't, wasn't right some of the time. You didn't say anything about it, though. You kept quiet and let me believe that you were being um, well, you."
Lipvig looked out the window, and muttered something about hangmen and angels that made no sense, unless you knew how the Patrician thought.
"Why did you sell the right for people to put their names on bricks at the railroad station?" Carrot asked. "They're just bricks. It feels wrong to walk on names."
"Goblins need a school, and nobody wants them at the usual ones," Lipvig said. "Harry King said he'd go in for half, but I had to figure out how to raise the rest."
"You could have just asked the Patrician for the money," Sam said. "He might have just written a draft for it. Or you could have sold one or two of those golems you have buried out there somewhere, or roped in the bank or post office for it."
"But…that's not playing by the rules!" Lipvig said, a startled look on his face. "Anybody could have done that. It was amazing, that people would pay to have their names walked on. Spike lined up the teachers once the money came rolling in."
"So. What would you do if you sat at this desk? Bearing in mind that you'll be watched by me, and by then by Captain Carrot?" Sam asked.
Lipvig looked as if he were going to throw up. Vimes smiled to himself. This was not the usual reaction of a potential tyrant. He remembered Luponse and his assertion that he was going to run the city right.
"Try not to die the first year. Or the second. Soak the rich for my personal hobbies."
Well, that was unusually blunt and quite possibly truthful. "What do you mean by personal hobbies?" Captain Carrot asked.
"Silly things like keeping the streets clean, not letting groups of people kill each other more often than necessary, and wondering which new group of people are going to settle in and end up working for Harry King." Lipvig stared at the desk as if it was going to start charging on its legs and trample him. "Oh, yes, and keep the wizards out of things, but make them think they're in charge. Same for the bloody aristos. And the Guilds. Make all of them think I'm the only person who loves them in this mad city. Oh, yes, and try to see to it that Spike doesn't kill anybody because some high nosed bitch looks down at her."
Vimes blinked. That seemed like a practical list. Especially the item about Spike. "I think Lady Sybill can help with that last one," he said. The Patrician hadn't had a wife to worry about, but he wasn't about to suggest divorce. Not in Spike's truly excellent hearing. The woman looked at Lipvig the way Sybill sometimes looked at an extraordinarily recalcitrant dragon—or him, for that matter—'yes, he could use a bit more housetraining, but he's mine.'
Carrot nodded—reluctantly, but it was still a nod and not a quick draw of his sword, followed rapidly by a head on the floor.
The secretary coughed, and looked distressed. Vimes beckoned him over. "We need to see Vetinari's files," he said.
The poor fellow went over to a cabinet and unlocked it.
It was empty.
"He kept all his files in his head," Lipvig said. "Now. let's see yours."
Those were somewhat more extensive, and Vimes knew he would spend too much time looking through them—but both he and Carrot would need to right away, just to make sure their new compatriot didn't make any adjustments prior to them being properly viewed.
He turned to Lipvig again. "So, what is the first thing we should do first?"
"A big funeral. As fancy as they come. And his ashes should be planted with those two idiot dogs."
"Why not just bury him there?" Carrot asked.
"He was good friends with that ah, woman in Uberwald, wasn't he? Didn't I spend months with no sleep trying to get the railway done so he could go see her more often? I'm sure there were other reasons, but that one was the one he told me." Lipvig looked grim.
Ah. Sam hadn't thought of Lady Margoletta, and the sort of favor she might do for a dear friend. "I'll send her a message on the clacks, then. She'll want to be here for it." And, he thought, perhaps it would be a very good idea to bring in that axe. Soon.
They began discussing other things, then. Vimes thought Lipvig would be all right as long as someone watched him carefully. Spike would be the best candidate, since she had already suffered once from Lipvig's misplaced sense of ethics, and would be closer than either he or Captain Carrot could manage.
But he and Carrot would also do what they could to protect the man—surviving the next year or two would be difficult for any new ruler of this city, never mind one who wasn't known for bloody-mindedness.
Lipvig approached the desk. The top drawer slid open easily, and nothing exciting sprang out. However, the con artist used a handkerchief to handle everything and looked ready to jump, which seemed wise, all things considered.
There were three sealed envelopes, labeled 1, 2 and 3. Lipvig snorted. "I think I know this one, but I'm going to open them all anyway." He did so, with great caution and avoidance of paper cuts.
"What do they say?" Carrot asked.
"The first one says, 'blame everything on me, and promise to change it.'. The second one says, 'Completely reorganize all the departments and the people who are most visible, but keep the ones you really need.'" Then he snorted.
"And the third one?" Sam asked, though he thought he could guess.
"Prepare three envelopes."
By now, the guards outside the door were becoming quite restless, judging by the audible shuffling feet. It was time for their shift change. The secretary sighed. "Someone has to announce it," he said.
Vimes nodded. "Might as well be you." They would need to keep the fellow for a few months as a sign of continuity, and then pension him off, perhaps to Sto Helit or some other distant place. Perhaps Lady Margoletta would keep the fellow around out of sentiment towards his former master.
Then he realized that far distant was harder to find these days with the railways. Well, no matter. He had been ready to make an erasure today, and had the matter resolved for him. Plus, anyone working for the Patrician had to have some intelligence; perhaps the man would take off on his own.
He could hear the news going around, as the usual street noise began to increase. Then he realized he should have called in that de Worde man along with Carrot and Lipvig. He would know what the sorry bluebloods would try.
Carrot and Lipvig went off by themselves—with any luck, they would sink several pints together and discover that both grieved for the man now lying on the couch.
While the guards were fussing over shift change, and two of them were weeping over the Patrician's death, Vimes quietly brought the axe into the office. He tried to ignore the tears dripping down his own cheeks as he put a rolled up cloak under the Patrician's head and neck. No sense getting the couch too stained.
The head came off easily. Vimes breathed easier now; Lady Margoletta could be here as early as tomorrow—well, tomorrow night. No sense in taking chances, as Vetinari and the vampire had been together any number of times, and he didn't especially want to explain the sudden regime change to a newly-risen creature of the night. He shuddered at the thought of Ankh-Morpork being in the hands of a senile vampire. The clear-thinking ones were bad enough.
He carefully cleaned the edge of the axe on the hem of the cloak, and set the weapon down on the other side the desk. His hands shook.
Then Vimes glanced up at the portrait of his ancestor. No wonder the axe had been so eager—no doubt it had been a long time since it had taken a king.
He wrapped cloth around the Patrician so he would still look natural. Sam looked at the chair behind the desk and shuddered. No. Not for him. Once he had sat in it, he would think of all kinds of reasons to stay there, and both Lipvig and Carrot would let him.
Vimes left the office, the tears on his face beginning to dry. It was probably a mistake to leave the place empty, but he couldn't stand it any longer.
Sybill and Young Sam were waiting for him at the house. His wife insisted that he take a hot bath and have a cigar first, and then tell her everything, though he knew that she had heard.
But she listened to him anyway, even the parts that nobody had seen him do. She held his hands when they shook.
And then Sybill said, "You and the other two have to go back and stay there. Or someone else will move in there tonight, even with the Patrician still on the couch. I will go with you, though Young Sam will stay here tonight with Emma. It would be a good idea if Ms. Spike and Angua were there, too. That's one thing all three of you have that poor Havelock never allowed himself, and I think it's a strength, not a weakness."
Vimes agreed. In an hour or so, the wake was on. The six of them, not counting Vetinari (now in the hands of the ladies who did such things) were in the office, along with the secretary, who was rapidly becoming drunk. Sam was sort of happy he wasn't a drinking man any more, but wished he dared. Perhaps when this was all over?
And then Lipvig said, "Here, the goblins gave me this to drink a couple of times…"
Sybill mouthed no.
But it turned out be a good thing Sam had left the axe in the office when some alternative political leaders came calling that night…
Two days Lady Margoletta said to Vimes, "All this was unnecessary, you know. We both knew what was wrong, and I never would have forced him to exist that way." She bowed her head. "I wish I had come earlier, Commander."
"What do you mean?" Sam was immediately suspicious.
"Every man should die in the arms of someone who loves him."
Vimes remember the way the Patrician had pitched forward, and how he'd caught him. He swallowed. "He did, my lady. He did."