++++++++ Drumknott seemed so boring to me until I came up with this story. He's not just the Patrician's flunky anymore! ++++++++++

(Usual disclaimers: Characters and settings belong to Terry Pratchett).

Chapter 1: "Rufus Drumknott, at your service."

            Rufus Drumknott had nothing against naked women.

He really didn't. If a woman wanted to disrobe in front of him, the private secretary to the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, more power to her. It didn't faze him in the least. Except…

Except when said nakedness occurred in his office during working hours. This could cause problems, seeing as his office was in the Palace and the Palace was a hive of clerks, servants, diplomats, messengers, guards, guild leaders and lords who, when they couldn't find the Patrician, found Drumknott.

Take Angela. She was a maid in the turnwise wing of the Palace. One moment she was asking for a day off to visit her sick grandmother; the next, her black and white dress was on the floor. This sort of thing happened to Drumknott all the time.

"Please get dressed, Angela," he said, sighing.

"Are you sure?"

"Quite sure. We don't want you catching cold." He helped her straighten the ruffles and escorted her out of his office. When the door closed, he slumped into his chair. The world was so unjust. He'd spent the entire year cultivating a reputation for homosexuality but it still hadn't stopped the women. Always finding reasons to drop by. Always leaving little presents in his room or sweets in his office. Just last month he'd paid the stable boy to allow him to kiss him in view of the Palace's biggest gossip, Mrs. Fitch, the laundress. She didn't take the bait.

"A go-getting young man, if you know what I mean," she'd said to the maids. Wink, wink.

It was quite frustrating. To his knowledge, Drumknott hadn't done anything to earn this reputation. He wasn't handsome. Everything about him was neutral; his hair could've been brown or blond, his eyes green or blue. He wasn't well built and didn't get enough sun. He dressed in brown frock coats and paid some attention to his hygiene and that, for whatever reason, seemed to be enough.

He'd once asked the cook's assistant, while helping her tighten the laces of her corset, what it was about him that made women so…friendly.

"You've got a way about you," was all she would say.

A way. Drumknott sighed again and sunk down deeper in his chair. He was nothing less than cursed. Any man would love to have women hide under his desk or ambush him in secluded hallways. He'd tried to love it; O gods, how he'd tried. But it had all seemed so dissatisfying. He'd wanted nothing better than to be left to his work, which he'd always performed with utter accuracy, efficiency and discretion.

Until it happened.

It was an official visit. Drumknott trailed a few steps behind the Patrician Lord Vetinari – supreme ruler of the city -- as they passed through the double doors of Pseudopolis Yard. The headquarters of the City Watch wasn't expecting them. The watchman on the front desk had his feet up and was smoking a crushed cigarette, which at the sight of the Patrician he promptly swallowed.

"Welcome…(gag)…your Lordship," said Corporal Nobby Nobbs. "We wasn't tol' about—"

"Never mind," said the Patrician with a bland smile. "Could you kindly tell me which way is the commander's office?"

            "He's out, your Lordship."

            "Pity. I should like to see his office anyway."

            Nobby scrambled out of his chair. "I think he keeps it locked when he ain't there, sir."

            "How interesting. Drumknott, you may remain here. Corporal, please lead the way."

            Drumknott was normally a very patient man. Waiting was a snap. In the course of his work, he'd waited in some of Ankh-Morpork's least comfortable hallways, foyers, alleys and waiting rooms. Pseudopolis Yard had benches. This was luxury.

            He sat and waited.

            The front door opened and several Watchmen strolled in.

            "Nobby's off the job again," said Corporal Reg Shoe, zombie.

            "Dis is a nice day. Maybe he went for a stroll," said Sergeant Detritus, troll and advanced thinker.

            "Nah, bet he nipped off for a bit of shut eye," said Reg.

            The third watchman rummaged around on the desk. Drumknott had casually watched them all because there was nothing more interesting going on at the moment. But his breath suddenly caught in his throat. Something about the third watchman's hair…perhaps not silk, but…surely a well cared for wool? He increased the grip on his leather satchel and looked on as the third watchman stood on tiptoe and leaned over the desk, revealing the top edge of a pair of high heeled boots. The boots were spotless and tipped with metal. They reached to the knees and…

The watchman found a small stack of papers.

            "So many new forms these days. I can barely keep up with them."

            That voice! Drumknott let the satchel slide out of his hand. The voice was like…rainbows. Chocolates. Hummingbirds. He wasn't exactly sure what hummingbirds sounded like, he was a city man after all, but they had to be as sweet as that voice. He stared at the pink lipstick on the watchman's lips, the cut of the skirt that appeared to be made of tiny linked pieces of metal, the gold studs that flashed in both ears. An angel. A Vision…

            "Excuse me, do you need something?"

            She speaks!

            Drumknott hastened to his feet and bowed. "Rufus Drumknott, at your service, miss."

            Something made Reg Shoe snicker.

            Drumknott addressed The Vision. "And you are…?"

            "Corporal Cheery Littlebottom." Cheery waited for Drumknott's face to flicker with amusement. It didn't. It was too busy being happily stunned.

            "A lovely name," he said. "Lovely." His voice trailed off. He knew he should say something else, anything to keep The Vision from going away. "I'm here with the Patrician," he said quickly. "I'm his secretary."

            All three watchmen straightened up then. "What's the Patrician doing here?" asked Reg.

            Drumknott didn't take his eyes off Cheery. "I'm not sure, actually," he said. He did know, but it was millennia ago when he'd been briefed, and what did these little things matter when she was here…

            Cheery was a dwarf and she was female. The gender of dwarves was not usually obvious due to the dwarfish refusal to practice any kind of sexual socialization. Everyone wore beards, everyone carried axes, everyone was supposed to sing songs about gold. Romance in dwarfish was a tentative thing. Cheery, on the other hand, had been banned from several dwarf bars for openly wearing cosmetics and shortening her skirt to above the knee.

She was accustomed to being stared at. Not only by dwarves but humans as well. Ankh-Morpork had the largest dwarf population outside of the home country of Uberwald, but there were still plenty of people who never came in daily contact with dwarves. When they did, they sometimes felt the need to stare. Especially at one wearing eye shadow. Cheery had been in the city long enough to find this irritating.

            "Why are you staring at me, Mr. Drumknott?"

            Drumknott seemed to shake himself. He sputtered a moment, trying to think of something to say. "I was…I just… I don't mean to be rude, but…"

            "It does seem rude." Cheery put her fists on her hips. Drumknott's knees turned to water. "Maybe you don't like my lipstick?"

            "No, I mean, yes…It's…perfect…"

            "Some dwarves don't like my boots," said Cheery. "The heels, I mean."

            "They're truly…marvelous, Miss Littlebottom."



She looked up with suspicion at Drumknott. She had to look up at pretty much everyone because she was barely four feet tall. "Some people think it's strange that I braid ribbons into my beard," she said. Her eyes narrowed a bit. "Do you think that's strange?"

"Gods forbid! The ribbons show off your lipstick superbly. And…er…" 

Cheery looked over at Reg, who'd quietly laughed so hard that his arm had fallen off. Detritus stared as if the conversation was way over his seven-foot tall head. Which it was. Cheery sighed.

"I have to get back to work."

"Of course, Corporal," said Drumknott. "But perhaps I could ask—"

"Ah, Drumknott, we're finished here." The Patrician descended the last two steps slowly, Nobby Nobbs close -- but not too close -- behind. Lord Vetinari had a stack of papers under his arm that he hadn't had when he went upstairs. "Good afternoon…" His gaze ran from zombie to troll to dwarf. "…men. Crime fighting going well today?"

"Yes, sah!" said Detritus, who saluted with a loud ching.

"Excellent. Carry on. Drumknott, you seem to have dropped your satchel."

Drumknott scrambled to pick it up. "Sorry, sir."

The Patrician nodded at the Watchmen and turned to go. Drumknott looked helplessly at Cheery, who frowned at him. He imagined his heart ripped beating from his chest and crushed under those high, steel-tipped heels. Head hanging, he followed the Patrician out.

That had been three unbearable weeks ago.

Since then, the women in the Palace had acted like they could sense the change in Drumknott. It was uncanny. They flocked and fluttered and whispered and giggled behind their hands and lingered too long in his rooms. Angela was just the latest in a line of unwanted visits that ended with an embarrassing show of skin. They were just trying to cheer him up, they said.

His efforts to get Cheery to notice him were failures. Anonymous flowers. Chocolates. The choicest rats delivered on sticks tied with red ribbon… Whatever it was he had that drove human women to disrobe in his presence didn't seem to work on dwarves. Every time he found an excuse to drop by Pseudopolis Yard, Cheery was either not there or insisted she had too much work to do to talk to him. She had her own room for performing experiments in the new field of forensic policing. Drumknott tried to learn about it, to Take an Interest, but the facts slid out of his mind like water.

It began to affect his work. That morning, the Patrician had said to him, "I think, Drumknott, that we need to have a little talk. About 4 o'clock."

It was 3:57.

            Drumknott slid out of his chair, took a notebook and pencil on the slim chance that the Patrician wanted to dictate a letter instead of fire him, and dragged his leaden legs into the hallway.