Sam Vimes stood in the corridor to the cells, meditatively puffing on his small cigar. The two men - well man and zombie - from King's Way stood at attention waiting for his notice. "Corporal Easy, if I ask why my cells are full of rats am I going to regret it?"
"I think it's a safe bet, sir," the Corporal answered, poker faced.
Vimes sighed, "Give it to me anyway, Easy."
Point and Cosher had removed themselves from the scene long before the men - er, make that two men, two dwarfs, a zombie and a pictsie - from King's Way watch house arrived on the scene. However the affray they had started had by then assumed the dimensions of a full blown riot. The half-dozen coppers were badly outnumbered and their efforts to bring the situation under control unavailing - until the battling nobs had suddenly collapsed into so many fancy empty suits. Taken by surprise the watchmen had simply stood blankly in the sudden peace and quiet - until the first bewildered, be-wiskered nose had poked itself out from under a velvet morning coat.
Sam Vimes struggled, without complete success, to contain his hilarity. "Turned them into rats did she?"
Easy didn't even try to hide his grin. "Yessir. According to Miss Suzette they should turn back in an hour or so."
"In the nuddy?"
"Afraid so, sir."
Vimes swallowed a chortle. "Ahem! Right then, better see if you can round up some clothes for the sake of public decency, then notify their next of kin to come and bail them out. Tickets for the Patrician's court all around."
"Yessir!" Easy was clearly set to enjoy himself.
"Good work, Corporal," said Vimes, "And you too, Lance Constable."
Lance Constable Sir Chadwick Alverson snapped to, beaming all over his gray face. "Thank you, sir!"
Normally Sam Vimes had no use for Sirs - despite being one himself - and not much more for zombies but Alverson was a special case. Not even Vimes could help feeling a bit sorry for the man. Not so much because his partners had pushed him out, claiming that death - even if temporary - dissolved his connection with the mercantile firm of Pratt, Whitewall and Alverson, but because his wife of thirty three years had gone into strong hysterics every time she laid eyes on him.
"How's it going with Lady Alverson, Lance Constable?" Vimes asked sympathetically.
"She's adjusting, sir. She's let me move back into the house and sit with her in the mornings. My fault really, I shouldn't have kept popping in on her without warning like that, would have driven anybody to vapors."
"Very true," Vimes agreed. "Where is Miss Suzette now, Easy?"
"Up in your office, sir. I presumed you'd want to have a word with her."
"You presumed correctly, Corporal," Vimes started for the stair, then a thought struck: Young Easy was a good copper, a VERY good copper. He was what, twenty-five or so? Reasonably personable so far as Vimes could judge - he turned back. "Oh, Corporal, I want a guard set on my house. Lady Sybil and young Sam are all alone there most nights lately -" barring half a dozen servants ! " - and with all the unrest I'm sure she'd feel better knowing a watchman was at hand - take care of it yourself will you?"
"Glad to, sir."
Vimes mounted the spiral stone steps filled with the pleasant sensations of a man who has successfully completed a commission from his wife.
Marie-Suzette rose from the straight backed wooden chair as he entered. "Your Grace."
"Miss Suzette." He crossed to his desk and sat. "We seemed doomed to see a lot of each other."
"My desire to remain out of your Grace's notice has clearly died a-borning," she said ruefully.
Vimes rewarded her with one of his brief snorts of laughter and leaned back in his chair. "Why rats?"
She shrugged. "Rats are easy, your Grace. They're a lot like people, you know, all it takes is a little twitch of the morphic field."
"What I meant is why magic instead of talking them down like before." said Vimes.
"Oh." Marie-Suzette considered. "I guess I just felt witchy."
Vimes choked on his smoke. It took him a few minutes to recover. Marie-Suzette watched him hopefully. This interview seemed to be going much better than the last. She'd been right, attitude was the way to go.
Vimes mopped his eyes and re-lit his cigar. "You are a problem, Miss Suzette and I don't need any more problems."
"I'm very sorry, your Grace, but if you think I'm trouble just wait until the Soothsayer gets here!"
"Which is why I'm not buying a ticket and putting you on the next stage to Serap," he replied. "You also seem to be the solution to my other current problem - namely your countrymens' rumbles with the Pseudopolitans." He took a bit of cast brass from under his breastplate and extended it to her. "I'm enlisting you as a temporary special constable, Miss Suzette. This is not an offer, it's an order."
"Yes, your Grace," she said meekly, taking the badge, the glint of his eye telling her that this was not a moment for attitude.
"Specials get an allowance of five dollars a week," he continued, "which solves the problem of you making a living while in our fair city. Ask for Sergeant Littlebottom, she'll get you kitted out."
Marie-Suzette came to attention and saluted. "Yes, your Grace!"
"And it's not 'your Grace' it's Commander or sir."
Vimes froze, foot lifted and looked cautiously at the floor. Sure enough there was one of his gnome officers right in his path. He put his boot down carefully. "Sorry about that, Constable - Naethin isn't it?"
"Yes, sor. A word with you, sor?"
As there was nothing for the pictsie to jump up on Vimes lowered himself to a knee to put them at a more comfortable conversational distance. "What's on your mind, Naeithin?"
"'T'is my partner, sor, Constable Jolson. She hasn't been seen since the donnybrook Ankh-side."
"What," Vimes frowned. "You mean she hasn't reported in?"
"No, sor. I thought she'd turn up at King's Way but it's been three hours now and no sign of her."
"Gods! she couldn't have been turned into a rat could she?"
"Don't think so, sor. You see she was carried off before the uncanny lass showed up."
"Carried off?" Vimes blinked in shock, Precious Jolson was no featherweight!
"Yes, sor. Some lad, dressed - or undressed - as one of those Hublander heros slung her over his shoulder and carried her right out of yon affray. I thought she'd sort him out in short order - Precious being the great hulking lass she is, sor - but there's been no sign of her since and I'm becoming main worried."
Sam Vimes' countenance set in the grim lines that had earned him the name 'Old Stoneface'. Precious Jolson was surely a girl who could take care of herself, a fine copper too, but even the best occasionally got in over their head. "Did you recognize the man?"
The pictsies brow crinkled in thought. "He did seem a mite familiar, sor. Mind you all you Biggers look alike - begging your pardon, sor -"
"Granted," said Vimes.
"But I fancy I did see this particular one in the course of the dust up last nicht past. Precious subdued him in short order let me tell you -" he broke off, a look of alarm on his face.
The same thought had occurred to Sam Vimes. Perps were known to hold grudges. He scooped Naethin up in one hand and strode with him into the main office. "ATTENTION!" He had it instantly, coppers, complainants and offenders all freezing mid-motion, mid-word.
"Officer in trouble," Vimes continued, voice ringing loud in the sudden silence. "Last seen in Marbletown in company of a perp dressed as a Barbarian Hero. I want a sweep of the deosil warfs, the Drum and other known Barb hangouts. MOVE!"
Whether Precious was in trouble or not was a matter of dispute, she herself was in a very divided mind on the subject.
It had been a matter of moments before she got her breath back and began to kick and pound her kidnapper's muscular back with her fists. He took it for a bit before finally putting her down in some waterfront back alley.
She promptly gave him her best right to the jaw. He rocked back on his heels but quickly regained his balance and swept her into a big, wet, passionate kiss.
Precious Jolson had been kissed by a man before - if goodnight kisses from her father counted - but never, ever like this! Her head was spinning from lack of oxygen and unaccustomed emotions a condition the first words from his lips did nothing to cure:
"You are the most magnificent and beautiful woman on the disc! You must be mine!"
Precious gaped and sputtered and finally managed to blurt out the first words that came into her addled head; "What is your name?"