The headline in the Ankh Morpork Times read: 'Intrepid Times Reporter Saves the City'. But that was last summer, and I couldn't tell the whole story, the Patrician wouldn't let me, citing good relations with Klatch.
Now, however, he has allowed me to tell the full version of the events that occurred that hot summer.
My name is Sacharissa Cripslock, and I am the chief reporter for the Ankh Morpork Times. At least, I am Miss Cripslock when I am reporting. At home, and when young men come to flirt with me, and tell me things, I am Mrs de Worde, married to William de Worde and co-owner of the Ankh-Morpork Times.
I've been with the Times for the two years, since its inception. I have honed my reporting instincts and added them to my feminine intuition. This time, both were telling me that something was going on in the city.
Something not right. All those barrels, for instance.
I blush to think how naïve I was when I first started at the Times.
There was Harry King, aka 'The King of the Golden River' "But," I said to William, "there is no Golden River around here, only the Ankh, and it's certainly not golden!" William had to explain to me exactly what the Golden River consisted of.
"Oh! I see. You mean it's a river of…"
"Yes", William said, nodding his head
Then there were the seamstresses. I had a dress that needed mending, and I casually mentioned William that I was going to take it to Mrs Palm and have her girls mend it.
William looked up sharply.
"They're not exactly seamstresses, Sacharissa. They entertain men."
"I see. I assume they sing, tell them stories, juggle, and play the piano, do they? So, when do they have time to do the sewing?" I enquired
William gave me a very old-fashioned look.
"They don't actually do ANY sewing, darling" and he explained exactly what they DID do.
I was shocked, and horrified… and fascinated!
"Take your dress to Granny Pound in Borbogymic street. She'll fix it for you. She's a real seamstress!"
But, as I said, that was two years ago. Now I'm a street wise, hard-nosed lady reporter!
I suppose it all really started with the series of articles that William was proposing to run in the paper. It was originally entitled: 'The Comestibles and Bibulous Establishments of Ankh Morpork: A Survey.' I took one look at that, crossed it out and wrote 'The Ankh-Morpork Good Food and Drink Guide'
"Yes," William agreed, "it's a snappier title" He's very sweet really.
We advertised for people to help us write the reports and were inundated. At least, until we explained that we would only pay for the write up, not the food or the drink. That was at the writer's own expense. But still there were still a few who agreed to those terms, and we started the series.
I thought I ought to do my bit, and maybe visit a few taverns, and eating places and write what I thought of them.
I didn't tell William, as I felt sure he would not approve of a lady drinking alone in a tavern. But whilst I am a lady, I am also a reporter.
When I showed William the results of my research, he was horrified
"Let me get this straight, Sacharissa," His eyes widening as he read my report. "You went alone into…." and here he consulted my notes again, "The Broken Gibbet, The Three Ferrets, and the Evil Angel, and you had a drink in each of them"
"Well, yes. I had to see what the ale was like. But I only drank half pints," I countered
"And you weren't molested?"
"Well, there were some gentlemen who came up to me, and made suggestions that no lady should ever hear from a gentleman"
"Oh no," William closed his eyes "what did you do?"
"I gave them my sweetest smile, crooked my finger, and told them to come closer. Then I kneed them in the groin!"
"Ye gods, Sacharissa!"
It must have been about this time I noticed things associated with the taverns. Specifically, how many very large barrels of ale were entering the city, many of which seemed to have Klatchians driving the wagons, which was very unusual in Ankh-Morpork.
I tackled William on the subject after dinner. A time when he was at his most amenable. At least, I tried to….
"William, I need to talk to you about something. It's these barrels..."
"Oh no, Sacharissa, not again. Not another of your fancies. Last time you told everyone that there was a tiger loose in the city
"Well, yes, but…"
"It was a CAT, Sacharissa, a cat"
"Yes. I know, but it was a VERY large cat, and it had stripes, and it left those huge paw prints"
"People went in fear for weeks, men and women went about in groups, children were kept indoors. Then the werewolf in the watch tracked its paw prints and found a large striped tabby cat. Remember that?"
Well, yes, but…"
Then there was the affair of the dragon. You told the Watch that the dragon was back, and on the roof of the Tower of Art.
Yes, I know, but I…"
"Turned out some of the students at the Unseen University had kidnapped one of Sybil Ramkin's swamp dragons, and chained it up at the top of the tower in Rag Week
"Yes, but it looked really big from where I was standing"
"It was two feet long, Sacharissa. Commander Vimes mobilised the whole of the Watch, and surrounded the tower with armed watchmen, only to find it was one of his wife's swamp dragons. Then someone told him who started the rumour. Luckily, I heard he was headed for the Times and, if you remember, I packed you off to Pseudopolis. When Commander Vimes arrived, he was incandescent with rage. I truly believe that, if he had found you, he would have strangled you on the spot!
"William!" I stamped my foot
"Those incidents were two years ago, and, I admit, I was rather naïve. But now I'm not, William, and I'm trying to tell you something"
He got up out of his chair, came across to where I was sitting, put his arms around me and kissed my neck
"I know you are, darling, but couldn't it wait. Couldn't we… you know"
"No, William, I want to talk to you"
William nuzzled my neck.
I gave him what he calls my saucy grin, and murmured, "Well, perhaps later. Now go and sit down. I want you to be serious"
When William was, somewhat reluctantly, seated, I said, "have you ever noticed how many barrels of beer and wine come into the city each day?"
"No, dear, not really. But it's probably lots. After all, there's the dwarf beer from Uberwald. Then there's that wine that sticks your glass to the table from Ephebe and there's the Amber Necktie from Fourecks. That comes in barrels, but the glassblowers here make the distinctive necktie bottles, so they bottle it here. And don't forget Jim Bearhugger's stuff, that's bottled here too, and…."
"Shut up and listen!"
"I know about all of those. It's the beer from Klatch I'm interested in "
"Ah, yes. I thought I heard that they'd recently opened up a brewery over in Klatch, or nearby "
"But I thought that alcohol was banned there, William. It's against their religion, or something"
"Well, it is, now you come to mention it. But I expect the Seriph must have OK'd it. Maybe he needs the revenue"
"It's not that. I see several wagons a day, full of large barrels of beer, trundling down Broadway, all driven by Klatchians. And each one has one of those black robed soldiers on it. You know, the ones with the huge curved swords. Aren't those the Seriph's family's personal bodyguards?"
"Yes dear, I believe so. That does sound strange, but It's probably that the Seriph doesn't want anyone stealing his beer. He knows what Ankh-Morpork is like"
"Well, all right, but where does it go?"
"What do you mean, where does it go? It goes into the taverns"
"But that's just it. That's my point. It doesn't. I can't find a single tavern that stocks, or sells, Klatchian beer, and I've asked our Food and Drink article people to ask around, and they can't find anywhere that sells it, either. So where does it go?"
"Well, I'm not surprised it's not being sold. Coming from Klatch it probably tastes like camel pi…"
William saw the look I gave him
"I mean, it's probably undrinkable" he went on, "Or, maybe they're stock piling it. Then they'll flood the market with cheap Klatchian beer, and put the other breweries out of business"
"I wouldn't bother with it if I were you… Anyway, you mentioned earlier that we might…"
I grinned at him…..
But I couldn't let it go. The mystery of the barrels of Klatchian beer nagged at me. Every time I went out, it seemed one of their wagons, laden with huge barrels, would trundle past me.
I wandered down to the Hubward gate, where the wagons came in. Nobby Nobbs was on gate duty. There was a rumour that he had a certificate attesting to the fact that he was a member of the human race, although no one seemed very sure which part of the human race he belonged to.
William was certain he was the Watch's werewolf. But I wasn't convinced. Somehow, I felt Sergeant Angua fitted the bill. It was the way she stared at your throat when she thought you weren't looking.
"Hello Miss Sacharissa. Are you reportering today?"
"Hello Nobby. Sort of. Have you noticed those Klatchian wagons that are coming through?"
"I'll say, Miss, just recently there's been loads of them, full of Klatchian wallop.
"Yes Nobby, but have you seen any for sale in any of the taverns?"
Nobby's face, already a sight to behold, screwed up with the effort of thinking
"Can't say I have, Miss, can't say I have. Why?"
"Oh, I just think it's funny that all this beer is coming into Ankh Morpork, and none of it seems to be for sale"
"Well Miss, it's from Klatch innit, see. Probably tastes like cat's pi…, I mean, it's probably not very nice to drink"
"Yes, OK, Nobby, I'm sure you're right"
"By the way Miss, we all like your paper down at the Watch house"
"Oh, thank you, Nobby, that's kind of you to mention it"
"Yes miss, it's the only paper we use in the privy. Mister Vimes insists on it. He says it makes really good ars…"
"Yes. Thank you, Nobby. I get the idea!"
"Right you are, Miss Sacharissa. Mind how you go!"
Privy paper indeed!
Undrinkable beer though, that really didn't seem to fit the bill.
There was one way to find out. I would follow one of the wagons and see where it went. That might give me a clue as to what was going on.
Almost on cue, a large cart laden with huge barrels and driven by Klatchians rolled past me. I let it get around twenty yards past me, then began to follow it. Fortunately, the oxen weren't moving very fast, as I had previously found that, with a heavy skirt, several layers of petticoats, bloomers and a bum roll, it was almost impossible to run.
The black clad guard kept looking round. At first, he didn't see me. But the next time he zeroed in on me. I immediately stopped and peered intently in a shop window until I sensed he was no longer looking at me. Then, to my instant mortification, I realized that the shop specialized in trusses, worn by very realistic dummies. Two elderly ladies gave me very funny looks as they passed by. Then one made a remark to the other and they both turned and looked at me. I felt my face grow red.
I crossed over to the other side of the road and set off in pursuit of the wagon. But this time the black clad guard immediately zeroed in on me. I saw him speak to the driver and the cart came to a halt. Holding my gaze, he stalked across to me, holding his huge curved sword in his hand
"Are you following us "? he demanded
"No, certainly not! I'm..I'm just shopping"
He stuck his face in mine and I was enveloped in his bad breath
"I don't believe you, bint. If I think you are poking your infidel nose into Klatch business, I'll separate your pretty head from your... "and here he grinned a broken toothed grin, and leered at my chest. "Curvy body. Stay away bint!"
And with that, and before I could formulate a suitable put down, he strode back to the wagon, said something to the driver and the wagon carried on. He turned to make sure I wasn't following.
I tried with two more wagons after that, but the black clad guards quickly made eye contact and I gave up, chagrined. I would have to find another way of finding out where they went.
But a bit of luck came my way as I walked on, trailing the last wagon at a distance. It came to a halt in a traffic jam. As I walked past it something made me suddenly dart out of the crowd and rap my knuckles on one of the huge barrels then, just as the guard stiffened, and began to turn around, I merged back into the crowd.
That was odd, very odd.
I mean why would you?
What was the point?
But it explained why no Klatchian beer was being sold. The barrel I had rapped my knuckles against had been empty!
I was hot, and my feet ached. I thought I would visit the one person in Ankh-Morpork who would give me a sympathetic hearing. My friend Lady Sybil Ramkin. I hailed a passing cab and said, "the Ramkin place, please" and sat back.
It didn't take long. I alighted outside the 'Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons', Sybil's place. I fished for my purse in my shoulder bag and gave the cabbie a dollar.
"Keep the change"
"Fanks Miss. Ere' you're that reporter lady, int cha"?
"Yes" I started to get my note book out, in case there might be a human-interest story here.
"Yeah, that's right. Yore Miss Sack a somefin. You're the one wot fort she saw a dragon on the Tower of Art, an' ole Vimsey, he surrounded the place, only to find out it was one of his missis's pet dragons. Did we laff! Even the 'orse 'ere had a laff over that one!
I gave him my basilisk stare
"Yeah, well" he said, sheepishly, "no offence meant, lady"
"Don't you have somewhere to be, cabbie" I said icily
He turned the cab round and set off down the road
"Lout!" I called out, when he was safely out of earshot
I rang the old iron bell pull at the side of the huge gates. After a few moments one of Sybil's stable girls opened the gate
"Hello Miss Sacharissa. Sybil's just finished feeding the dragons. I think she's up at the house.
I plodded up the drive and rang the doorbell. The door was answered by Willikins, the Ramkin butler.
"Ah, Miss Sacharissa, "he broke into a smile, "do come in. Her Ladyship is in the drawing room. Follow me, and I'll announce you".
Willikins opened a door and said, "Miss Sacharissa Cripslock to see you, my Lady"
"Hello, Sacharissa, come on in"
"Sybil, why does he always announce me, like I'm the Duchess of Quirm, or something?"
"Don't you know, you being a savvy reporter lady?"
"Willikins really admires you. You really didn't know?"
"No, I had no idea."
"Well, you have made a conquest there."
"I'm sure I didn't mean to"
"Oh Sacharissa, you don't have to mean to, you just have to be you"
"Now what can't wait that you have to come as see me a day early. We usually meet tomorrow"
It was true that Sybil and I had a weekly meeting. We got on well together, and spent the time gossiping. Mainly about men's failings: laziness, fecklessness, miserableness and general male idiocy. Specifically, we moaned about our husbands. Then tried to figure out why we still loved them so much.
But Sybil also gave me the latest gossip from the rich set of Ankh-Morpork. I was invited to some of the posh 'do's', on the understanding that I wrote them up, and spelled everybody's name correctly. Because, as Sybil and I used to chorus together, 'Names sell papers'
As 'Penelope de Posh' I wrote the Society Column, which, ostensibly, was all about the doings of the upper class set, but in reality was a scurrilous gossip column.
Sybil was my informer.
As Ankh-Morpork's richest woman, she was invited to every posh 'do'. And, my word, could Sybil gossip! She fed me shameless and outrageous rumours.
In fact, I had to tone some of them down, and, of course, carefully (but not too carefully) disguise who the latest gossip referred to.
For instance, the other day I wrote that: 'a certain lady of my acquaintance had bought a pig farm. When asked why, she said,
"I've spent thirty years married to my pig of a husband, so I feel supremely qualified to undertake some pig husbandry" '
There was sequel to this. At breakfast her husband said, "Look at this. Some blithering idiot of a woman has bought a pig farm. I ask you". Then he looked up from the paper
"I don't know her, do I?"
"No dear", the lady replied, "you have no idea who she is"
"Thought not" said the husband and went back to reading his paper.
Of course, the identity of Penelope de Posh was a closely guarded secret. There had been much speculation as to her identity over the years.
I explained to Sybil my concerns with the barrels. I also told her I thought that the barrels were empty, which seemed to make no sense to me. But I reckoned that, with our combined logic and female intuition, we could tease out some answers to this conundrum. Two heads (especially when they are female) are better than one.
"But why empty barrels? "I said "Why not get them made here. It's a long way from Klatch"
"Well, if they are empty, they obviously intend to fill them with something, and if they are up to no good and ordered, say, one hundred large barrels from our local coopers, people would talk, and Vetinari would almost certainly start asking awkward questions."
"Whereas, there are hundreds of barrels of beer, wines and spirits coming into the city every day, so no one (except you, my dear) would smell a rat.
"Yes, I'm sure you're right Sybil. I've been thinking about where they might cache them. You either put them all together, so you'd need a large warehouse, or you cache them all over the City. So, if one stash is discovered, you've still got the rest."
"You've got me thinking now, Sacharissa. I was at Lady Selachii's soiree last night, and I heard Mr Slant, the lawyer, say that someone was buying up large amounts of Ankh-Morpork real estate. Buying it on both sides of the river, through intermediaries. Full prices paid, no quibbling, and no questions asked. They just wanted the keys to be handed over, didn't seem to care about the paperwork"
"What's more, I know where one of these houses is. It's a large house off Pallant Street, No. 27. It used to belong to Mrs Trumper, but she died last year. It must have cost a packet, though, it's got running water, and its own stable yard."
"Might be worth a look, Sacharissa. Discreetly, of course"
"I think you're right, Sybil. Thanks, I'll have to see what can be done"
"Now, Sybil, any gossip for the Penelope de Posh column?"
"Well, have you heard of the Marquis of Carabina? He's at all the posh 'do's' these days, says he comes from Tsort, although no one seems to have heard of him. Tall, good looking, and he appears to be very pleasant…"
"I don't know. I just get the impression he's got a lot of rage bottled up. I think he'd slit our throats as soon as look at us!"
"Is that what the rest of society thinks?"
"Lord no, the debutants and some of the older married women are busy making sheep's eyes at him…silly bitches!"
"Also, he seems very friendly with Lord Scrote"
"Oh, that's not good, Sybil. Isn't he the one who's always banging on about something called 'Climate Change?' Something about the rainfall in the mountains. He tried to get us to write an article on it. But when we checked, we thought it was bunk"
"Yes, it's all rubbish of course, but what can you expect for a man who murdered his wife"
"What? You never told me that, Sybil"
"Didn't I? Well, you can't use it in your column, it's all hearsay. Originally, he was Henry Scrote, handyman and plumber. Somehow, he persuaded Lady Mariana de Picolo, thirty years his senior, to marry him. Then, eighteen months later she's dead, possibly poisoned. But no one could prove anything, and he's inherited her fortune. He bought himself a peerage and became Lord Scrote. He's another one who thinks Vetinari is too soft. Scrote wants to hang anyone who disagrees with him. Thinks he'd make a good ruler. A thoroughly bad lot".
"Anyway, as I said, he and this Marquis of Carabina, are as thick as thieves, which is another bad mark against the Marquis".
There were things that I didn't know at the time. They only emerged later, as William and I tried to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. This is one of them.
The Patrician sat at his desk, in the Oblong Office surrounded by neat piles of paper, methodically working his way through them, when there was a knock at the door
Drumknott, the Patrician's secretary, entered holding a long roll of paper.
"We've just received a Clacks from our agent in Klatch, sir. When I decoded it, I thought you ought to see it. It's a bit long though"
"Just give me the gist, then, Drumknott"
"It seems that Prince Rashid and his bodyguards have gone missing"
"Yes, sir. The Seriph is telling everyone that he has gone to a retreat in the desert, to meditate on mending his ways. But according to our agent, they have no idea where he is""
"He's the second son, isn't he? The wild one"
"That's right, sir. Prince Nazeem is the crown prince, from the Seriph's first wife. Steady, sensible lad. The one we hope will succeed when the Seriph is no longer with us. Prince Rashid is the son of the second wife…"
"Yes sir, she's our agent. We planted her on the Seriph in the hope that he would marry her, which he did. She's actually Morkporkian, although the Seriph thinks she came from Ephebe"
"How's she taking his disappearance?"
"She's terrified that he will do something stupid, and has asked us to keep an eye out for him"
"Well, if he's Klatchian, he should be fairly easy to spot. Not many Klatchians in the City."
"it might not be as easy as you think, sir. With his mother being from here, he doesn't look as if he's from Klatch. He could easily pass as someone from Tsort, or Ephebe. Anyway, I don't think he'll turn up here, sir"
"Oh, and why's that?"
"According to his mother, he hates us like poison. Apparently, he fell under the previous Vizier, El-Haroun's spell when he was young"
"Ah yes, El-Haroun. The Seriph separated him from his head, didn't he?"
"If you remember, sir, the Seriph suffered a bout of 'food poisoning'. There were rumours that El-Haroun and Prince Rashid were behind that bout of 'food poisoning'. But nothing was ever proved, and the Seriph chose to ignore the rumours. But while the Seriph was incapacitated El-Haroun took over the reins of power, and suddenly we had Klatchian incursions right along our borders. That eventually led to that messy two-week war with Klatch. Then the Seriph recovered, and put a stop to it, and put a stop to the Vizier at the same time."
"It is said Prince Rashid somehow managed to blame us for the death of the Vizier."
"That de Worde boy, what was his name Ralph? Raymond? He was killed in that skirmish, wasn't he?"
"It was Rupert, sir. The bloody fool thought that if you waved your sword, yelled and charged at them, Johnny Klatchian would cut and run. He led his section and charged overwhelming Klatchian odds."
He and his whole section were cut to pieces. No survivors. It left Lord de Worde a bitter man"
"Still, there's the second son, Drumnott. Even if William doesn't exactly see eye to eye with his father. He and that pretty wife of his, are making a real success of the Times."
"Indeed, they are, sir. Indeed, they are…"
It was quite late when I got back to the Times office. William wanted to know where I had been all day. So, I told him I was chasing up a story, and visiting Sybil. Now I needed to write the Penelope de Posh column, and would he leave me alone to get on with it, please.
"You haven't forgotten we've got the next-door neighbours coming in for drinks tonight, have you?
"Of course not, William" (Tonight? Damn! I thought it was Thursday!)
In the end, the visit from the neighbours went well. Later that night we all trooped out into the garden and admired the fireworks lighting up the sky over Troll Town.
"Must be a birthday" William said
"How do they get those rockets to go so high?" I wondered
George, our next-door neighbour, who thinks he's an expert on everything, said, "It's the alchemists No 1 powder. It's a mixture of sulphur, saltpetre, and charcoal. If you set a match to it, it explodes. They fill the bottom of the rocket tube with it, light a fuse and up it goes"
Then he and William began to talk about the dwarfs using the stuff for blasting or something. It sounded boring, so I stopped listening and watched the fireworks. I really liked the ones that exploded like dandelion puffballs in the sky.
I woke up in the middle of the night, and it hit me.
"William, William wake up!"
"Hmmm?…whzzat?… Oh yes! C'm here, darling" he said, reaching for me
"No William! William! Let go of my…..…..let go of me!"
William subsided, grumbling "Wha' time is it anyway?"
I heard the scritch and flare of a match being struck as William lit the bedside candle
He leaned over and consulted the pocket watch lying on the table
"Ye Gods, it's three-thirty in the morning. Are you out of your mind Sacharissa? Can't it wait till the morning?"
"No! Tell me what Graham said about the dwarfs mining with that No 1 powder"
"What? You want to know about dwarf mining techniques at three-thirty in the morning?" He fell back against the pillow.
"Just tell me what he said, please, William" and I stroked his chest
William looked down at my hand and then up at me with a calculating look
"And if I do?"
"Well, who knows what might happen?" I smiled
"All right then. It appears that if the dwarfs hit a really stubborn rock face, they carve a hole into it, fill a small barrel with No1 powder up to the brim, seal it tightly, and attach a fuse. Then they light the fuse and run. The explosion brings down the rock face and they all go back to mining"
"Is that what you wanted to know?"
"Yes, thank you, William"
"OK then." William reached for me. Only this time I didn't tell him to let go of my….of me.
The next morning, over breakfast, I told William what I thought was going on.
"Now, William, imagine you want to take over Ankh-Morpork. You bring in a load of large empty barrels. You fill them with No1 powder and place them, oh, say, under the Patrician's palace, next to the Watch houses, under the Assassins Guild, in fact anywhere you think might give you trouble or organize a resistance. Then, at a pre-arranged time, probably in the middle of the night, you get your agents to light the fuses.
The next morning we'd all be running around like headless chickens. Then an army, who have been waiting just down the road, come to offer us 'Humanitarian Aid'. Only now we're occupied!"
"Do you have a single shred of evidence for this, Sacharissa?"
"Well, No. But you can see how it all fits with the empty barrels. I'm positive this is what's going on. You have to go and speak to Commander Vimes, before it's too late!"
"Sacharissa, if I go into Commander Vimes's and my first words are: 'Sacharissa thinks, or Sacharissa believes'…..You know that truncheon he keeps on his desk where it says he's bound to keep the peace. I think he'd use it on me for an unnatural purpose!"
"Very well then, I'll go myself!"
"You will do no such thing, Sacharissa de Worde. If he'd do that to me, I shudder to think what he'd do to you"
"He wouldn't dare! I'm a lady! And I'm a friend of his wife!"
"Don't be too sure. After the tiger and the dragon incidents, I'm not sure he'd be able to hang on to his temper!"
"Besides, sweetheart, you have no proof, not a shred. Get some of that, and we'll both go and see Commander Vimes"
"Right, I will!" I said and stormed out of the house
I had various tasks in mind that would eventually lead up to an appointment to view no 27 Pallant Street. An unscheduled appointment.
The first was an appointment with a certain Mr Bert Cartwright, known to his associates as Burglar Bert. I met him in the lounge of the Rose and Crown, one of Ankh–Morpork's more salubrious hotels, and spent a very interesting two hours with him, including being instructed in certain techniques, and acquiring an implement passed to me under the table.
My next stop was a gentleman's outfitters. They seemed quite surprised when I wanted to try on my purchases. In fact, the manager stood guard outside the changing room door in case some male inadvertently attempted to enter. I think he thought that I was one of those 'modern women' who wear trousers in order to ride those new-fangled bi-cycle machines that had begun to appear on our streets. Then on to a shoe shop, Boffo's Joke and Fancy-Dress Emporium, and, finally, an apothecary. After that, I was all set. I wended my way home to stash my purchases in my wardrobe. Cab to the Office, to join my husband in writing some copy, and getting the next edition of the Times out.
Later that evening William and I sat by the fire reading. The minutes crawled by on leaden feet, until, at last, William said, "I'm for bed"
"I tell you what darling, I'll make us some cocoa before bedtime"
"Good idea, sweetheart"
In the kitchen I poured the cocoa into mugs, then pulled out the twist of paper I had bought at the apothecary's and concealed in my bodice. Carefully, I tipped the powder into William's mug and stirred it well.
"Here you are darling"
About halfway down the mug, William's eyes began to close
"You know what, I think I'll go up. I can't seem to keep my eyes open"
I wasn't surprised. The apothecary told me it was a potent sleeping draught
I gave William half an hour then went up. He was lying on his back, snoring great, rattling, lost, snores.
I sat on the edge of the bed, leaned over and put my hand on his chest
"I'm sorry darling, but you wouldn't let me do what I have to do, and if you woke up in the middle of the night, and I wasn't there, you'd worry."
With any luck, and if things went to plan, I would be in my nightie, and tucked up in bed next to William by the morning.
I fetched my purchases from the wardrobe. I stripped down to my camisole and bloomers and put on the extra-large size, navy blue, man's shirt I had bought. Men's shirts are cut to lie flat across the chest, but we women are of a different shape and some of us are more of a different shape than others. I had to buy an extra-large shirt so I could get the buttons done up. And that's another thing. Men's shirts button up on the other side to blouses. It felt strange. The sleeves reached down to my knees and I spent a long time rolling them up.
I pulled out the dark blue trousers and put a bloomer clad leg into each trouser and pulled them up. The were tight around my hips, being cut for a man. I struggled and fumbled with the fly buttons. I have no idea how you men cope if you're caught short, or need to go urgently.
The sensible shoes and socks came next
Finally, I pinned my blonde hair up, and wrapped the black scarf, pirate style, around my head hiding my hair.
I emptied my shoulder bag into my bedside table drawer, and placed Bert's implement in it together with a 'Boffo's Burglar Mask' for my face
I was all set.
As I walked across town to Pallant Street (I didn't dare use a cab. The cabbie would certainly remember a woman, dressed as a man, hailing him at this time of night!)
The enormity of what was about to do struck me. I was going to knowingly break-in and enter a private property. What if it all went wrong and I was caught, and the Watch called?
Ice trickled down my spine. I could see myself dressed as I was in Commander Vimes' office, with William there as well. Neither of them understanding why I was doing this, and me probably ending up in jail, a disgrace to my husband.
Earlier in the day I had walked past no 27 and talked to Bert about breaking in. He'd actually 'done over' the house once and told me there were ground floor sash windows that could be jemmied open. But he warned me it might be noisy, as the window lock broke. Then he'd passed me the burglar's jemmy under the table.
Putting on my burglar's mask, I slipped from shadow to shadow up the drive to No 27. Then I circled the house. It was occupied. Light was leaking out around the heavily curtained windows. Finally, I selected a ground floor sash window at the rear. I am five foot six and the window was quite high for me. I cast around and found an old crate to stand on. I gritted my teeth and began to lever the window up getting ready to run if it made too much noise. To my surprise, the window slid up easily. Someone had forgotten to lock it.
I tried to climb in the window. But, er..I have very full, er..fronts, and… and I had a problem getting them over the window ledge.
Unbeknownst to me, across the road, a figure emerged from the shadow of a chimney pot. It resembled several badly packed sandbags, wrapped in an orange threadbare carpet, with long arms. It stared at me as I tried to crawl over the window ledge
"Ook?" it said
I pulled the curtains aside and tumbled into the room. Mindful of what Bert had told me, I carefully closed the window. Then I looked around
No! This was not right; this was not right at all!
The centre of the room was filled with small barrels. There must have been fifty of them, with a walkway all around the edge. At the end of the room, stood a table, and on this were three of the small barrels. Above them was a water pipe with three spigots, slowly filling the barrels with water.
No large barrels. No alchemist's No 1 powder.
I felt like crying... What was going on? I had felt sure I was right, but now…
Just then, the door to the room opened. I dodged behind the barrels and crouched down.
I heard two male voices. One I recognized. It was the whiney treble of Lord Scrote. The other had a foreign accent. I peered between the barrels. The other man was tall, and dressed like an Ankh-Morpork dandy. The Marquis of Carabina. I'd bet my bottom dollar.
Scrote was saying "Could you just run through the plan again, your Excellency, just so I get the details clear.
There was an exasperated sigh
"Very well then, for the umpteenth time. At eight o clock on the summer solstice, two days from now. The hottest, and longest day of the year, my men will shut the sluice valves the dwarfs have installed in Happy Valley. I calculate that, although there will be some residual water in the streams feeding the City, by midday every tap, and well in Ankh-Morpork will be dry. With me so far Scrote?"
"Yes Excellency. But what if the dwarfs that installed the sluice valves talk. You can't trust the little buggers!"
"Don't worry. When they finished, we had a little party with dwarf beer …poisoned dwarf beer. They are packed into three large barrels, and on a ship to Klatch. Except they will be getting off in a deep part of the ocean"
"Now we will give the city a day or two to sweat, and complain to Vetinari, who will be powerless to do anything. Then, during the night, my men will haul the large barrels to strategic locations. You will go to Sartor Square at ten o clock and tell the crowd you predicted that this would happen. It's 'Climate Change'. But you can save the city. You have arranged for there to be free water, available to all."
"But you'll tell them, it's time for Vetinari to go and make way for someone with foresight, like yourself. Within a week you'll be the Patrician and I will be able to tell my father, the Seriph, that I, I mean we, control Ankh-Morpork. And that I should be the crown prince, not the milksop Nazeem!"
"Yes. Good. But why are we filling all these small barrels. Why not have the big ones in here?"
"Because, my dear Scrote, a large barrel of water weighs over a ton. We might get them in, but we'd never get them out. Six of these small barrels fills a large one, and we have been filling the large barrels, already laden on the wagons, for some weeks, now. When the time comes, my men will just roll them off the carts, heave them upright and people can dip their drinking vessels into them."
"That's brilliant! A genius of a plan your Excellency. You've thought of everything"
"Well, I just wanted to check with the guards that everything was going according to plan. It all seems good, so let us depart"
I heard the door close.
It was water, not No1 powder they were going to use.
I gave them half an hour then clambered out of the window.
Two brawny black clad arms wrapped themselves around me. "Well, well, well. What have we here? An Assassin? Let's get you inside and have a good look at you." The accent was Klatchian
I was held off the ground and carried kicking and screaming into the house.
My mask and scarf were pulled off me and the two guards stared at me. Then one said "I know her. She's the bint that tried to follow my cart, the infidel bitch. What do we do with her, Achmed"? He leered at my chest.
"If you kill me, I'll be missed, and questions asked and then you'll be in trouble!"
The looked at each other and laughed
"Hey Achmed, couldn't we…?"
"Best not. We need to tell the boss. You know that attic room. Lock her in there. It's got bars on the window."
"Come on, infidel bitch!". I was dragged up three flights of stairs and thrust into an attic room. The guard leered at me, "I'll ask the boss if, before we kill you, I can have some fun with you bint!"
"You disgust me!" I spat at him.
He raised his hand to hit me, but changed his mind, "You'll pay for that, bint!"
The door slammed and I heard the key turn in the lock.
Oh gods! It had all gone wrong. Now I would be happy to be in Commander Vimes' office with William. At least it would mean I was alive.
I went to the window and, with some effort, managed to raise the lower sash part. It meant I could shout for help. But the house was at the end of a long drive, and I didn't think it would be of any use. There was a drainpipe quite close that I thought I could climb down. I pulled on the bars, yanking at them and shaking them, sobbing with the effort. They were solid.
I was still holding on to them, with tears streaming down my face, when two hands that looked as if they were wearing leather gloves appeared on the window ledge. Then a face like a coconut, with big brown eyes peered over the windowsill.
"Oook?" it said
I stifled a scream. Then took a second look
"You're the librarian at the Unseen University, aren't you"?
"Do you think you could rescue me please; I would be very grateful"
I stood back. The Librarian curled his feet around the window ledge and took hold of the bars. With one enormous heave he ripped all the bars loose and flung them into the bushes
Then he crooked his finger at me. I climbed onto the window ledge. I looked down, and my head swam. It was a very long way to the ground. Suddenly, he curled his arm around my waist and launched both of us into space. I was too frightened to scream. He flung one arm out and grabbed the drainpipe and, still holding me tight with one arm, climbed down to the ground.
I stood there. On the ground and in one piece. On an impulse, I flung my arms around him and gave him a great smacking kiss on the cheek. When I let go, he looked up at me and slowly raised his hand to his cheek. Then he gave a huge grin and bounded off, going,
I spent a moment watching him disappear, then I ran down the nearest back alley. I made my way home via a circuitous route, dodging down back alleys, lurking in shadows, and darting across open spaces. I was terrified that the Marquis would send his black warriors after me. If he could kill me before I could tell anyone what I had seen and heard, then his plan was safe.
Consequently, it was just getting light when I arrived home, and charged up the stairs into our bedroom. William was sleeping on his side, breathing softly. I thought the sleeping draught had probably worn off my now. I shook him.
"William William! wake up!"
"Eh, what?" he rolled over and blearily opened his eyes
Suddenly, he shot bolt upright "Who the hells are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom!"
He focused. "Sacharissa? Is that you?"
"Yes, William, and I know what's going on"
I gave him an edited version of my night. I told him I had crouched below an open window at No. 27, peeped in, and heard the conversation. I omitted to tell him that I had burgled the place, been captured, banged up in an attic room, and rescued by an orangutan.
When I had finished, I said, "well, what do you think? Why are you looking at me like that, William?"
"Is that a man's shirt your wearing"
"And are those men's trousers?"
I looked down "Yes, why?"
"It's just that you look very, very, fetching in that outfit. Er…, do you think when we next, you know…. you could maybe see your way to…"
"Give me strength! William, we need to get down to the Watch's HQ and let them know what's going on. NOW GET DRESSED AND GET A MOVE ON!"
There was a dwarf on the desk in Pseudopolis Yard, the Watch's HQ.
William said "It's very important we speak to Captain Carrot"
We had agreed that I would tell my story to Captain Carrot, and see how it was received, before we tackled Commander Vimes.
"You do realize what time it is, do you?"
"It's a case of life and death. Now please fetch him"
Ten minutes later, dressed in a leather jerkin with leather trousers, Captain Carrot appeared
Mr de Worde, Miss Cripslock, or should I call you Mrs de Worde? What on earth are you wearing?"
"It's my reporter's undercover disguise"
" Oh... Er, jolly good"
"Captain is there somewhere we can speak privately?"
"Well, the canteen will be empty at this time in the morning. Follow me."
The canteen was dark, had hard chairs, and smelled of sweat, fried food, and armour polish.
We sat around a table
"My wife has something to tell you Captain"
Captain Carrot looked expectantly at me
I gave him the (edited) version of my night's doings.
"What do you think, Captain?" WiIliam enquired
"I think that you've just very neatly tied up several loose ends that were puzzling us. I have no doubt that every word is true."
"Now, if you will excuse me for a minute, I need to organize a raid on No.27 Pallant Street, get someone to wake up Mr Slant, and get the rest of the addresses off him, then we can raid those too, and I need Commander Vimes in here. Please wait. I'll see you get some breakfast"
Half an hour (and no breakfast) later, we heard Commander Vimes stomp up the stairs to his office and yell for Captain Carrot. Carrot came and collected us
"I think it might be better, given your previous history, Miss Sacharissa, if I go in first and lay some ground-work," he said as we climbed the stairs. He indicated two chairs outside Commander Vimes' office. Then tapped on the door and went in.
William and I looked at the chairs, looked at each other, then shamelessly put our ears to the door.
Carrot mumbled something. There was an explosion from inside the office.
"That stupid bitch! What is she blithering on about now? Last time it was dragons, and the time before it was that damn tiger"
I felt my face go red
Carrot mumbled a lengthy explanation.
"So, you think she's on to something, do you? Well, all right, wheel, her in.
Carrot said something
" What? BOTH of them? Oh, all right, both of them, then."
Carrot ushered us in to Commander Vimes' office
Vimes skewered me with a look, then did a double take. "What in blazes are you wearing, Miss Cripslock?"
"Reporter's undercover disguise, Commander"
"Oh….Go on then, tell me the story"
I gave him the story from the empty barrels up to crouching beneath the window.
"It all fits, sir" said Carrot. "the dwarfs mining in happy valley. Prince Rashid disappearing. Lord Scrote and his Climate Change spiel. It all fits"
"Yes, I'm inclined to agree with you, Captain Carrot. Very well then, you've ordered the raids, let's see what we get"
Commander Vimes looked at me.
I gave him my sweetest smile.
"So, this time you don't think I'm a silly bitch, then?"
"Listening at keyholes is a very bad habit, Miss Cripslock. But, to answer your question. No. This time I don't think you're a silly bitch"
Captain Carrot said "Shall we go?"
As I walked out the door, I gave Commander Vimes a look that said, 'you owe me a big one, this time, Commander Vimes'.
A guard came up to Carrot and whispered something
"Could you both come down to the canteen, please. I've got something to show you"
As we entered the canteen, I saw my shoulder bag and the jemmy lying on the table
William piped up, "oh that looks like your shoulder bag, dear"
"Is this your shoulder bag Miss Cripslock?" Captain Carrot enquired.
"I don't know Captain. Does it contain my lipstick, powder compact, comb, mascara, eye liner, blusher brush, a bottle of Je'Taime perfume, a pocket mirror, a ball of string, scissors, safety pins, plasters, a note book, and several pencils and (I felt my face go red) a spare pair of bloomers?" (Why did I admit to that?)
Carrot looked down and smiled "No, ma'am"
"Then it can't be mine, can it?"
(Memo to self: Buy an identical bag, p.d.q)
"All right. Do you recognize this, then, Miss Cripslock?"
I peered at the jemmy "No, Captain, what is it?"
"It's a jemmy, Miss Cripslock. Burglars use it to force windows open"
"Really? Goodness me!" (picture of innocence)
"It was found in that bag Miss Cripslock"
"Well, I can assure you, Captain Carrot, I am not in the habit of transporting burglarious implements in my shoulder bag"
"Carrot sighed, "No, I thought not"
"May we go now?" William said
"Yes of course, you're free to go, Mr de Worde"
I followed William to the door. Then I turned and looked at Captain Carrot. He gave me the most enormous wink, and I gave him my sauciest smile!
We hotfooted it over to the Times office, routed Otto Chriek out of the cellar and told him to get over to No 27, Pallant Street with his iconograph and take pictures. Then he should see if he could find out where any of the other houses were, and iconograph them.
William and I argued over the headline. I wanted the one I told you about at the start of this account. But William wanted to keep the Watch sweet. So, eventually we settled on:
WATCH SAVES CITY FROM DRYING OUT
Assisted by the Times intrepid reporter, Sacharissa Cripslock
Well, OK. I agreed. But I still like the other headline better!
Over the next few days Captain Carrot would pop into the Times office and keep us abreast of the investigation. We, in turn, informed our readers. The tale gripped Ankh-Morpork.
When Sergeant Colon went on gate duty at the Hubward gate, he was regaled by tales from the people living above. Around two-thirty in the morning a group of black clad Klatchians surrounding a posh coach, demanded the gate be opened. The people living above have got used to doing this, so they opened the gate and the group headed off into the night.
I thought that as soon as my escape was discovered, rather than chasing me, The Marquis of Carabina decided to cut and run.
A week later, Lord Scrote was discovered trying to board the Ephebe Flyer, dressed as a washer woman. I asked what would happen to him. Captain Carrot said that Mr Vimes thought that he would be making the intimate acquaintance of several dozen large, black scorpions, and good luck to him!
As for Prince Rashid, aka the Marquis of Carabina, he, and his bodyguard had vanished (again).
The Patrician visited the Seriph of Al Kahli and showed him Lord Scrote's signed confession. I heard that the writing was very jiggly. But, as someone said, it's probably difficult to hold a pen steady when you have the tip of a red-hot poker inserted in your fundament.
The Seriph proclaimed that he had disowned and disinherited Prince Rashid. Anyone found aiding him would be executed as a traitor. And he stopped his pocket money.
I fancy that's the last we'll hear of him.
Two weeks later, we were told that the Patrician had decided that it was too dangerous to leave the sluice valves in operation and had contracted with some dwarfs to blow the valves up using the No 1 powder. We all trooped up to Happy Valley with Otto and witnessed some very spectacular explosions. Otto's colour iconographs were spectacular as well
The Patrician requested that we tell the public not to use their wells or taps for a week, while the explosion debris was flushed through the system. Also, to inform them that there would be large barrels of fresh water available, free, at strategic locations.
About a month later, Detritus, the troll, loomed in the Times office doorway
"Der Patrician will see you both now"
William and I looked at each other. Now what?
"Now?" enquired William
"Dat's what he said"
So, there was nothing for it, but to trail along after Detritus to the Patrician's Palace. Drumknott was waiting for us and showed us into the Oblong Office and closed the door.
The Patrician stood up as we entered
"Ah Mr and Mrs de Worde, or should I say Miss Cripslock? I shrugged.
There was nothing on his desk but a scroll and a small, oblong black box
"I have asked you over because I feel it is my duty to convey my thanks and the City's thanks to you, Miss Cripslock. You averted what could have been a very nasty situation.
You may not be aware, but there is an award that the City makes to its citizens who, in the terms of the citation: ' have gone above and beyond their duty as a citizen, and have put their lives in peril in order to render meritorious service to the City' It seems to me that that is exactly what you have done Miss Cripslock. So, I have pleasure in awarding you the Ahkh- Morpork Medal for Valour."
The Patrician took up the box and opened it.
There was a purple silk ribbon attached to a five-pointed star in gold, with a diamond at each point of the star. In the centre, in sliver, was the inscription: 'For Valour'
"It's beautiful" I breathed
"As it needs to be pinned to your er.. bosom, Miss Cripslock, I thought it prudent to let your husband do that"
William dutifully pinned it to my bosom. Then he kissed me, "I'm so proud of you"
"I am also minded to award you the Freedom of the City. He handed me a scroll.
"What does that mean?" asked William
"Well," said the Patrician, "it means you can drive your flock of sheep, or herd of cows through the City without let or hindrance"
"I'm afraid there is no 'and. ' That's it. It was instituted rather a long time ago. Anyway, thank you for attending. Please don't let me detain you" With that he reached into a drawer, pulled out a sheaf of papers, and began to read.
William and I, clutching my scroll, tiptoed to the door, and let ourselves out.
As we left the Palace, we encountered Commander Vimes.
"I see the Patrician has given you the award. "He held out his hand, "I know I've said some harsh things about you, Miss Cripslock. There were times when, If I could have found, you I might have done some harsh things to you. But you have earned my respect, and the City is right to be proud of you"
"Why thank you, Commander." I shook his offered hand. Then, on impulse, I leaned forward and kissed his cheek.
Holding hands, William and I stepped out into the Ankh-Morpork sunlight
"You know, Sacharissa, I don't think I've ever seen Commander Vimes blush before!"