"And how is the investigation of the theft at the Fool's Guild progressing?"
"We're getting there, sir."
"Ah." Vetinari frowned slightly and looked down at his paperwork. Then just as quickly as it'd appeared, the frown was gone and Vetinari was giving Vimes a warm smile.
Vimes took a step backwards.
"Vimes, I need to ask a favour of you."
Oh Gods… Vimes fought the urge to run screaming from the room in anticipation of exactly what that favour would entail, took a deep breath and tried not to look too scared. "Sir?"
Vetinari picked up the piece of paper he'd glanced at and handed it to Vimes. "I need to you attend this meeting."
As Vimes read the paper, Vetinari said, "Ordinarily, I wouldn't ask such a thing of you, Vimes, but it would be a good show of solidarity and would certainly engender good feeling within the community at large--"
Vetinari blinked. "Excuse me?"
"I said no."
"I see. Why not? It's a perfectly reasonable request."
"Reasonable? This?" Vimes spluttered. "How exactly is this reasonable?"
"You've attended meetings of a similar nature before, have you not?"
"That was different!"
"I don't see how," said Vetinari calmly. "The principle is exactly the same. Just promise to be a good boy and not to do it again and so on. Besides, if promising that was going to be a problem then I'm sure I would've found out about it by now."
"Then you do it."
"I already have." Vetinari sighed. "Unfortunately it didn't have quite the desired effect."
"Oh." Suddenly Vimes realised exactly how and why the newest rumours about Vetinari had started. He felt a small pang of sympathy for the man, but it quickly disappeared when he remembered what he was being asked to do. "I don't care. I'm not doing it."
"Not even as a favour to a friend?"
"What? Friend?" Vimes frowned. "You think we're fri--" He stopped as Vetinari's eyes narrowed.
"Are you saying we're not friends, Vimes?"
"Yes—I mean, no—I mean…" Vimes paused and tried to collect his racing thoughts. He clutched at one randomly. "You're my boss."
"Ah. So by the same reasoning you would not consider Sergeant Colon your friend? Or Captain Carrot?"
"That's different, we've known each other for years."
"So have we."
"Yes, but that's different--"
"We've even saved each other's lives on a number of occasions, have we not?"
"Well, yes, but--"
"And if that isn't a good solid basis for a friendship, what is?"
How about liking the person you're friends with? "I don't really have a lot of time for friends, sir…" said Vimes slowly. He gave Vetinari an apologetic smile. "What with the job and all…"
"Nonsense. If I can manage it while running an entire city, you certainly can while telling a few watchmen where to go." said Vetinari. "Unless you're finding your workload too heavy, of course."
"No, it's fine--"
"Because if you'd prefer I could always arrange to have it lightened considerably."
"No!" Vimes took a deep breath and fought down the urge to leap over the desk and choke that infuriating little smile right off Vetinari's face. "I mean, it's not the work situation..."
"So what is it? Do you find my company that disagreeable?"
"How honestly do you want me to answer that, sir?"
Vetinari looked down at his paperwork once more and coughed. "The only reason I mentioned it is because of something your wife said, Vimes."
"She said that she thought it would be a good idea for the two of us to become friends."
"Yes, I believe she even used the words 'good friends'. And to that end, she's invited me to come to your house for dinner this evening." Vetinari looked up allowing Vimes to see the huge grin that now dominated the man's face.
Vimes began to swear his breath.
"Of course, it'd only be fair for me to extend an invitation of my own. You're free tomorrow night, aren't you, Vi--Sam?" Vetinari glanced at Drumknott, who looked down at his clipboard and nodded. "Yes, of course you are."
The swearing became slightly more audible.
"She even mentioned something about inviting me to yours for Hogswatch dinner."
As Vimes struggled to control his breathing and the lights that were now dancing in front of his eyes, and tried not to succumb to the stroke that was rapidly coming his way if the Patrician kept this up, his mind came up with an ever more disturbing series of images: Vetinari at his house. Sitting on his furniture. Eating his food. Oh no, he's going to end up living above the coach house and having Young Sam calling him 'Uncle Have', isn't he…?
Vetinari pulled a catalogue out of a desk drawer and flipped it open to the men's section. "Speaking of which, what would you like for Hogswatch, Sam?"
"Tell me, would you prefer something to have, or something to do?" Vetinari gave him the warm smile again. "Something to do, definitely. You're such an active man in certain respects, after all."
"Sam, is something wrong?"
"I…I'll do it."
"The, um, thing. The meeting," said Vimes hoarsely. "I'll go."
Vetinari stared at him for a minute, smile still firmly fixed in place. "Capital. Drumknott?"
The secretary stood to attention. "My lord?"
"My appointments diary, please."
Drumknott handed the diary to Vetinari, who keeping his eyes fixed on Vimes' panic-stricken face, opened it to today's date and said: "My goodness, it appears I've forgotten about that meeting I have with the Genuan ambassador tonight. How remiss of me."
"Would you like me to cancel it, my lord?"
"No, no. The city comes first, after all." Vetinari's smile widened slightly. "I do apologise, Vimes, but it appears I shan't be able to dine with you tonight after all. Please pass my apologies on to your wife."
Vimes gave a huge sigh of relief and tried not to look too happy. "Oh, what a rel—shame, sir."
"Quite. Of course it means that you'll have tonight free for that other meeting, doesn't it?"
"Oh. Yes. Great."
Vetinari had been right, after all. It practically was the same, except for one thing; the same anxious little smiles, that same look in everyone's eyes, that one that screamed 'I'm fine because you're fine, and you are fine, aren't you? Right? Right?' He stood up and cleared his throat nervously.
"My name is Sam."
"Hello Sam," chorused the rest of the group.
"I've been b-total for 52 years now--"