Filigree street, on the Morpork shore of the Ankh, was a rather downscale neighborhood of warehouses and workshops, nor did the presence of the infamous Mended Drum do anything to elevate the ambience of the area. A coach and four rattled along the cobbles reining to halt before an old brick warehouse. A husky footman hopped down and handed out a lady in silk and lace with lavender plumes waving on her hat. Normally such a vision would attract a certain kind of attention in this part of town, footman and coachman not-withstanding, but those so inclined took note of the address and hastily passed on.
An open gate led to a cramped yard with a planked over well in a corner and a rickety wooden stair climbing the wall. At the top was an unpainted door. The lady knocked.
After a moment it was opened by a small, twitchy ferret of a man unconvincingly dressed in the livery of a gentleman's gentleman and surrounded by almost visible clouds of expensive scent. He jumped a little at the sight of the caller. "Oh! Oh, miss, it's you."
"That's right, Lonely," (1) the lady answered tranquilly. "My brother is in?"
The little man squirmed in his fancy clothes. "Uh, yes...that is...well..yes," he stuttered as the lady caller calmly brushed by him into the long room.
It was not the sort of room one expected to find in an old warehouse on the Morpork shore. The walls were covered with stamped leather of a rich claret red, the ceiling rafters painted with designs in red, green and gold like a reflection of the deep, soft Klatchian carpets below. The furniture was uniformly fine, valuable antique pieces mingling with expensively comfortable modern chairs and sofas.
Lonely pattered after the lady. "Mr. Sim? It's Miss Sallie, Mr. Sim."
"So I heard," said a deep leather chair before the hearth. A man rose from it book in hand to regard Sallie Brass, nee Vimes, with a certain disfavor. It would have been immediately clear to any observer unaware of the fact - as Lonely was not - that the two were near relatives. Neither was tall, both were rather broad in body and in face and yet despite abundant flesh there was something elusively granitic about the latter, especially in the gentleman's case. His eyes were gray, and bleak and empty as a Sektober sky.
"What do you want, Sal?"
She took a small square of engraved pasteboard from her purse and handed it to him. "You're coming to dinner at my house tomorrow night."
"The hell I am!"
Sallie ignored the eruption. "We're meeting Sam's intended. Be there by seven if you please."
"Sallie, I am about the last person Sam wants to see -"
"Sybil is to be introduced to the family. You are part of the family. Besides, Miss Green needs more material."
"No excuses, Sim!"
Brother and sister glared at each other. A pair of Vimes giving each other the eye is indeed a fearsome sight. Lonely looked away trembling. The unobservant frequently mistook Sallie Brass's matronly plumpness and fair coloring as signs of a soft and yielding nature, but it was not a mistake her own brother was likely to make.
'Stoney' Sim might be the most dangerous man in all of Ankh-Morpork, but he knew very well who the most dangerous women were. And he knew much, much better than to cross any of them. "Yes, Sallie," he said resignedly.
"Good boy." She turned to go. "See you tomorrow, Sim."
Sam Vimes couldn't stand the icy silence inside the coach one more minute.
"I'm sorry, Sybil."
"It's a fine coat, really. Practical as well as handsome. And I expect you're right about the silk stocking and shoes too," he continued a little desperately. "But I'm not a gentleman, Sybil -"
She turned to him, big tears standing in her eyes reflecting the pale early evening light. "But you are, Sam!. The finest I've ever known. A truly noble man -" her voice broke and she sniffled, groping for her pocket handkerchief.
The heat Sam was feeling had nothing to do with Ankh-Morpork's baking summer temperature. His ears were practically lambent. Oh gods! He swallowed the lump in his throat and managed to say, "I don't know how to be a gentleman, or noble, but I'll do my best for you, sweetheart." He was rewarded by a big, damp smile and a grip that almost crushed his hand.
Sybil couldn't have done worse. So he'd just have to be better.
No. 13 Brookless lane was a tall, white house in neo-Imperial style with four stories of windows framed by elaborate moldings and the dormers of a garret floor peeking out between the gargoyles perched on the roof balustrade. Half the double leafed front door opened at Sam's knock to reveal Sallie's butler.
Crawley was a very tall, colorless individual with broad bent shoulders and mournful eyes set in a long cadaverous face. His butler's livery hung on him like a shroud. Sam had always wondered a bit about Crawley. There was something not quite human about him, or maybe not quite alive. But he didn't smell like a Zombie and no Vampire would stoop to being a butler. (2)
"Good evening, Captain Vimes," he said in a voice like yawning tomb. "Good evening, my lady."
Sam's fussing over the new coat and silk stockings had made the couple fashionably late. All four sisters, with their husbands, were waiting in the blue drawing room. Sallie came forward towing Mr. Brass behind her.
"Sam, you're looking halfway respectable for once. Well done, Sybil! This is my husband Dermot."
He smiled and bowed over Sybil's hand. Dermot Brass was not a talker. Mr. Hobbs, Mr. Camphor and Professor Pratt were all introduced in quick succession and then -:
"And last but far from least this is Miss Green, Sybil."
Sam stared in stricken horror as Annise Green shook hands with Sybil, smiling gently and blinking up at the taller woman with large, nearsighted eyes. Annise never wore her spectacles with evening dress.
How could he have been so stupid? Of course Annise was here. She'd been governess to Sukey and Sallie's children for donkey's years. He liked Annise, she was sweet and shy and all those other things his sisters weren't. He thought of her as member of the family - they all did - but once upon a time she'd come close to becoming a literal member of the family - by marriage.
Sybil comparing notes with his sisters was bad enough. Chatting up the most serious of his old girlfriends - and thank the gods the only one she was ever likely to meet! - was almost too grisly to contemplate. Oh well, Sam thought gloomily, at least things couldn't get worse!
The drawing room door opened on Crawley. "Mr. Simon Vimes," he announced lugubriously.
Sam Vimes' eyes closed. Things had just gotten worse.
The exigencies of formal dining meant that Sam was seated at Sallie's right hand at the other end of the table from Sybil. It also meant that Annise was sitting directly across from her on Dermot's left.
"Don't look so worried," Simon said softly from his own place opposite Sam's. "Our Miss Green is the soul of discretion."
Sam glared ferociously at his elder brother. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Simon nodded gently towards Sallie.
She turned a dangerously sweet smile on her youngest sibling. "Samuel Justyce Vimes, are you telling me who I can ask to my own house?"
Sam gulped. "No, Sallie."
"Good. Now eat your dinner and behave yourself - and that goes for you too, Simon."
"Yes'm." Both men gave full attention to their soup.
The ladies, including of course Sybil, departed after desert to take coffee in the drawing room leaving the men to their cigars and after-dinner port. The highly cultured citizens of Quirm and Genua consider this a barbaric custom. However Ank-Morporkian women don't care to be stifled with cigar smoke and bored stiff by sporting news or shop talk, and their men prefer not to hear about the misdeeds of servants or obstetrical disasters, meaning both sexes find a brief separation restful.
Hobbs, Camphor and Pratt promptly moved up to Mr. Brass's end of the table leaving the two Vimes isolated at the foot.
"Look, Sammy, this wasn't my idea," Simon said earnestly. "I'd just as soon as given it a miss but you know our girls."
Sam nodded gloomily, he did indeed. There was a pause. "Still a thief?"
Simon raised his eyebrows. "Still a copper?"
"Okay, point taken."
Simon changed the subject. "That's quite a woman you've got yourself there."
"I know." unaccountably Sam's gloom deepened. "She thinks I'm wonderful."
"So - slightly delusional then?"
In spite of himself, Sam grinned. "Yeah. She thinks swamp dragons are cute too."
Sam took the cigar out of his mouth, swallowed a swig of water and popped it back in. "Why, Sim, for gods' sakes why?"
His brother's face went cold and still. "Because I was sick of being poor!"
"That's no -"
"It was different for you, Sammy," Simon interrupted. "You don't remember when Da was alive. You don't remember Twitcher Street, having good clothes and enough to eat. And you sure don't remember losing it all!"
At the far end of the table brothers-in-law shot brief glances in their direction then hunched closer together, pretending not to hear. They'd all been married to Vimeses long enough to know better then to get involved when two disagreed.
"You don't remember the first year or two on Cockbill Street trying to survive on a dollar a week and whatever pennies we kids could bring in," Simon continued with quiet passion, his voice a stream of concentrated bitterness that could have corroded stainless steel. "You don't remember anything but poverty, Sam. Maybe you were lucky, you adjusted to it. I didn't. Sukey and Sallie didn't. And gods know Mam never did!"
There was another silence. A long one.
Then: "I remember selling flowers with you and Sallie," Sam offered.
Simon smiled. "That mournful little face of yours was worth another tuppence at least. Do you remember me teaching you to snitch things from barrows?"
"Yes." Sam grimaced. "And I sure as hell remember the tanning Saul gave us both when he found out!"
Simon laughed. "So do I." He sobered. "But Saul was right about thieving from our own kind. You might say he was the one who put me on the track to high class crime."
"I don't think he would have liked that any better," said Sam. "If Saul hadn't been lost at sea -"
"I doubt it would have made any difference, little brother," Simon said quietly, shrugged. "Why not steal from them that has it? It's not like they got it by deserving it. Sheer luck, Sam - or cheating - that's what separates the haves from have-nots."
"Da wouldn't have agreed with that," Sam answered. "Or Saul."
"Da was a good man. So was Saul," Simon said flatly. "I'm not. I make no bones about it, Sammy. I'm not nice, I'm not honorable and I'm not decent."
"Like I am?" Sam's face twisted. "I'm no better than you inside, Sim, I know that, but I don't let it out." Honesty compelled him to add: "Or at least not much."
"Well I did let it out, Sammy, and it's far, far to late to rein it in," Simon said quietly. "But there's worse than me, little brother. Much worse. And it takes one like themselves to keep them off decent folk."
"Assuming there are any in this town," said Sam.
Simon cracked a brief grin. "Well there's your Sybil for one." He nodded towards the head of the table, "and them for three more."
Mr. Camphor stopped pretending not to hear. "What did you call us, Sim?"
"Decent men," he replied.
The Vimes brothers' four brothers-in-law exchanged looks. Tom Hobbs snorted, "That's a fine thing to say about your own sisters' husbands! Now, if you two think you can manage to be civil to each other it's high time that we joined the ladies."
1. How many readers know where I got Lonely from?
2. Crawley too may strike readers of Charles Addams as slightly familiar.