Amateur Night

Inspired, at least in part, by "Nanny Ogg's Cookbook"

In the late autumn evening in the shabby rented house in Old Cobblers, Maisie Nobbs rocked back in her chair. Alone, she reflected on her life and the people who had been part of it. Regard her home: a rundown terraced cottage in need of repair, one of twenty or thirty like it, with rent paid to the agent who pays it on to a distant landlord, who banks the money and does nothing to repair or improve his properties. So the exterior is shabby and in need of attention. She keeps the inside clean and neat, does Maisie: old but serviceable furniture, no carpet on the well-swept floorboards, but rugs where they are best suited. A fire burns in the grate: she sits facing this, looking at the line of iconographs on the mantelpiece, and living in her memories.

Sconner, her husband, in profile in an unaccustomed suit, his craggy brutal jaw out-thrust. Dead for twenty years, she both misses him like a missing tooth… and feels the places in her mouth with her tongue, from which teeth are missing. She pushes the bad memories out, and remembers the good times, right at the start when he was sober and tried to be a good husband. I miss you, Sconner. I miss you so much. She turns her attention to the picture of her son, in his Watch uniform. Such a good boy to me, Cecil. She has never got the knack of calling him Nobby. He sees me as often as he can and he pays my rent for me. Nobby Nobbs has a face only a mother can love, and she obliges.

Then she looks at the other iconograph, and her heart breaks again. Why did you have to go? Why don't I hear from you? Where are you now, and what are you doing?

The soundless cry rises like a prayer, although she doesn't realize she is praying. Perhaps tonight a God has heard it and might be moved to bring about a small miracle. Even if he is a seedy little God with five-o'clock shadow, hair greased back with too much brylcreem, stooped shoulders and a thin little 'tache. Not to mention the dog-end in the corner of his mouth.1 He is currently ligging, unobserved, in the psychic ether at the back of the Blue Cat Club in Ankh-Morpork.

Sally von Humpeding roared with laughter and called for more champagne. Angua briefly leant back against the bulk of troll constable Smoked Obsidian.

"Sorry, Smokie!"

"It am no problem, Sergeant"

"Smokie, we're off duty. This is choir practice. Call me Angua!"

Cheery Littlebottom took another quaff of her beer. Precious Jolson nervously rotated the small sherry in between her fingers, the schooner glass absurdly small in the hands of the biggest human policewoman in the Watch. The other bulky presence at the table rumbled

"This Is A Girls' Night Out, Is It?"

Sally had been on undercover duty at the Post Office. It had been her idea to invite Gladys, the resident female golem at the PO.

"It most certainly is, Gladys!" said Sally, then went back to explaining to the table how she'd brought about a bust that afternoon. The other two women at the table, who were in all respects legitimate and fully paid-up members of the Blue Cat Club, with every right to be there, leant forward attentively. In many more ways than one, they came from a different world.

"I have to say, it was jolly nice of you gels to invite me" proclaimed the other member of the Watch party. "When I asked what exactly it is that you all do on Choir nights to put Sam in such a mood the next day, I wasn't expecting Sally to say the best way to find out was to come along and see for myself!"

"It's a pleasure, Lady Sybil" Sally assured her, earnestly. Angua winced. At least it had got them all the use of the Ramkins' best coach for the evening, But Mr Vimes had whispered in her ear "You are going to see she arrives home safely, Angua." Leaving the other possibilities discreetly and emphatically unsaid. Bloody goddsdratted vampire.

"My coachman didn't want to come in." she said, puzzled. "I told him where we were going, and he said If it's all the same to you, m'lady, I'll wait in the coach. "

The champagne arrived; Sally slapped the scantily-clad waiter on the bum.

"Don't touch what you can't afford, luvvie" he said, and flounced off.

"Waste of effort there, Sally!" said Angua, somewhere behind a large Nancy's Ruin2.

"You never know. Nice bum like that, it's a bit of a waste if he isn't interested in girls. I could turn him. I bet I could!"

"Is This The Uncontrolled Sexual Predation That I Read About In The Times? Revelentia Flout Deplored It In Her Column."

"In this club?"

"If you're a pretty boy with a nice bum, of course you'll be predated upon in this club. It's only un-natural!"

There was a general chortle and delighted dirty laugh. Even Lady Sybil and Gladys joined in.

"Look, will you lot please behave?" Steffi Gibbet pleaded. She looked to her lover for support.

"Me and Alice signed you in as guests, remember? We're the ones who'll still be coming here after you're gone? So drop all the talk about perversion, predation and turning the waiters, please? The reputation you buggers have, you were lucky to get in here tonight!"

Alice Band soothed her lover's hair, fondly. "Relax, Steph! Mr Harris thought it would do no harm to have a table of Watchwomen in if he needed to shout for extra security. And you know how excited people can get on Amateur Night. He might need it yet. Seriously, though, you're probably the only heteros in the house tonight, so… play it discreet, hey?"

And the picture recedes back from a table of laughing women, more or less at ease in each other's company (although the Watch has just been warned about its collective behaviour by a Thief and an Assassin, which says much about Ankh-Morpork) to the shadows at the back of the club.

"Hi, Reg"

"Oh, hi, Bibby. Business call?"

"You know how it is. When there is drink to be poured and a party to be had, it's as good as a prayer to me. You here for the music?"

Reg, the God of Club Musicians, nodded, somberly. Bibulous, God of Drink and Partying, clapped him on the back, right between his thin stooped shoulderblades.

"Got an assignment." Bibulous said. "Fate and… Herself…. have asked me to do a good turn tonight. Apparently you've got to answer a prayer now and again, or these mortal buggers lose hope and don't bother. Throw 'em the occasional miracle, keep 'em hooked, as the Blind Man says!"

Reg nodded, took another drag on his cigarette, and coughed.

"Can't be doing you much good, old son. Now they've made Dunmanifestin a no-smoking zone for health and safety reasons, it's quite pathetic to see you and Anoia having to slope out the back door for a fag. Drink?"

Bibulous snapped his fingers. A very big gin appeared, floating in mid-air Reg took it, with mumbled thanks.

"It's a bit like old Ephebe in here" Bibulous reflected. "Say what you will about them, anywhere you go in space and time, the poofs know how to throw a party! There's nobody like them."

"Old Ephebe. Yeah. Right." said Reg, thinking about the dance where you formed a line and threw plates to a bazouki accompaniment. No middle eight, but tricky to get right all the same, all those twiddly bits and the faster and faster tempo. "They invented it, didn't they?"

"Yeah, both kinds. Couple of classic Sapphists on that table over there, look." He nudged Reg and indicated Alice and Steffi. "They're definitely into the Ephebian island lifestyle, aren't they?3"

"So we're here for a miracle, right?" Reg shuffled his feet, aware he was wraing a suit that had seen many better days.

"It's a magic night, me old son!"

"I don't see nothing wrong with it." Smoked Obsidian, Smokie to the Watch, rumbled, quaffing on her molten-suphur-onna-rocks. "Back home, right, you sometimes get a boy troll, his head fixed different, nutting wrong with dat, just different, he decide he like other boy trolls more than he does girls. He might hit lucky, meet another boy troll who think same way, they become groohahahaha together. Their choice, we respect dat. Other boy trolls think One less chasing der women, so long as he doesn't try to lift my loincloth, I is happy wit dat. No scree on my nose. Groohahahah have respect in troll society, dey often become our shamans, what you call dem, priests, intercede wit der Gods. Very important trolls, dem."

"Are there any… girl trolls like that?" Alice Band asked, fascinated. Smokie shrugged. " It happen. Girl I knew, Germanium, she was oologroohahahah. Dat mean…"

"I think we can guess"

"One day, troll with no manners goes up to her and says, I tink I know why you oologroohahahah. You not met right troll boy yet, troll like me, I fix your head."

"Oh, don't I know THAT story!" said Alice.

"Germania, she say You no-good troll, go away and learn manners! And she kick him up der loincloth and his eyes cross and he learn not to annoy oologroohahahah again, as dey is fighters".

The table shrieked with laughter, provoking uneasy looks and disapproving stares from neighbours.

Then the house lights dimmed, the natty and slightly manic little compere stepped out onto the stage, and the house hushed. Amateur Night was just beginning….

Backstage, the performers were gathered in the Green Room, in the nerves-and-nicotine fug of those about to Entertain. The reason why the Watchwomen had prevailed upon Alice and Steffi to get them guest tickets was nervously smoking a dog-end, and thinking "I'm on third. There's nothin' to worry about. They loved me here the last couple of times. Didn't that puffy little compere say I was a truly remarkable act? And in my own special way, unforgettable? Those are good reviews, those are! And remember the round of applause you got? Just get out there, kid, and knock 'em dead!"

He looked around the room. Nah. Nah. Nothing special. That one might give me bother, though. OK, he's in stage costume and makeup, but why does….he…. look so familiar?"

The presence of Reg, God of Club Musicians, moved silently through the performers, respecting their air of nervous anxiety and desire to break into the big time. It was as good as a prayer to him…

"Gentlemen! And… ladies. If you are the sort of ladies I think you are, and to be in the Blue Cat Club you must be, I would not like to be the goddess Anoia tonight, as even she would have a hell of a job unsticking you from each other later on tonight! Even though she IS the Goddess of fingers that get stuck in drawers…" The drummer made a boom-boom!

"Welcome, welcome, welcome to Amateur Night at the Blue Cat Club, where I would like to say the finest new talent in Ankh-Morpork will be performing for your pleasure and delight tonight." He paused. "That is, I really would like to say the finest new talent in Ankh-Morpork will be performing for your pleasure and delight tonight." As an aside, he stage-whispered "I only wish I could. Instead, the first on stage tonight is Trogg the Psychotic, a man who when he was last up before the Patrician, was given the choice of six months in the Tanty, or an experimental course of therapy with one of those new psychoanalysts. I'm happy to say he chose the therapy, and we have Doctor Miles Wading-Bird4 to thank, and remember that name, ladies and gentleman, Doctor Miles Wading-Bird, who suggested Trogg needed to get in touch with his feminine side. So he came here, to volunteer his talents.

"Ladies and gentlemen, a great big warm Blue Cat hand upon the entrance of… Trogg the Psychotic!"

To applause, the first perfomer lumbered up on stage. By the standards of Morporkian drag, he wasn't all that badly turned out. A pale blue evening gown and reasonably well-applied makeup, spoilt only by the hairy chest, luxuriant black beard, and the fact he was a clear six feet seven. The horned helmet was a courtesy detail.

The pit band struck up, and Trogg managed to get in on the right beat with

Once I was afraid, I was petrified … bloody lie, if you ask me, I've never bin afraid in my life!

And that was the high spot of his performance. He stumbled through the rest of I shall persist!, staying approximately to the beat and even managing a few clumsy dance steps, and fought the song at least to a score-draw. After a second or two's hesitation, the crowd decided it loved a trier, and gave him a wild ovation. Flushing, Trogg took a bow, of sorts, and stomped off into the wings.

"Wasn't he sweet?" said the little compere. "And now! For all you embankments and holders-back-of-water out there! A magic act! Thrown out of the Guild of Conjurors for public indecency… The Great Suspendia and her – his assistant, Suzie!"

The conjurer was a woman dressed as a man, right down to the false moustache. His assistant was female all through, twittering about the stage in leotard and feathered hairdress and spangled legs that to Steffi Gibbet's eyes were a long, long, excuse for edificeering.

We could do something like that, Allie! A Drag King5 act for parties, what do you say?

It's alright for you, Steffi. . I'm a teacher. Somebody might notice!

The magicians were applauded politely off the stage, and the little compère minced on again.

Backstage, the star performer nipped out his smoke, and tucked the dogend behind his ear. As he made his way to the wings, he very clearly head a voice saying "Knock 'em dead, Cecil!"

Thanks, mate" he said automatically, then thought "Cecil? No-one's called me that in years…" but the sardonic voice of the house compère called him inexorably forwards.

"And now. On her last couple of appearances here, she has by popular acclaim won once and come a very creditable second. A truly… unforgettable… act! Ladies and gentlemen, once seen, I guarantee you, she is never forgotten! " An aside: "However hard you try!.. Ladies, gentlemen! I give you! Take her away… Noberta! Slack!"

The Watchwomen's table got to their feet and stamped and cheered. This was the reason why they were here.

The undisputed star of the night sidled on, blinking in the limelight.

"Seems like I've got the fan club here tonight!" The star blew a kiss.

More cheering and shrieking.

"Strummin' my face with his fingers… singin' my life with his word…Killin' me softly with his song…killing me softly… with his song…." 6

To say the crowd was stunned into silence was an understatement. A whisper of "Him? But he's a little tit…" was swiftly hushed.

Noberta was… a vision. Admittedly a vision summoned up by a jaded Angel who'd eaten some bad ambrosia, but still a vision. In a well-fitted evening gown which unfortunately had been fitted to the body of Nobby Nobbs, and split to the waist, which unfortunately revealed only the left leg of Nobby Nobbs. Who, Angua saw with amused horror, was still wearing his Watch boots. Who the Hells introduced Nobby to the concept of drag in the first place, she wondered, hearing Lady Sybil murmur "oh my gracious…" in the background. He's taken to it like a fish to… eedificeering.

The crowd were getting into the spirit of the thing now, and, in true Ankh-Morporkian style, were clapping along to the beat. And getting into the joke.

Noberta finished to a standing ovation, roars, shrieks, and high-decibel Watchwomen, who included Lady Sybil, a Thief and an Assassin who'd seen the joke too. He bowed, and left the stage. He was called back on for a second standing ovation.

In the psychic background, Reg wiped the divine sweat from his brow, having inspired the pit band to their faultless best: up on the stage, Bibulous was subliminally psyching up the audience to that second standing ovation. The two gods met each other's eyes, nodded, and went to stage-side to confer.

"This is what She wants, is it?" Reg asked. "We play out one of the old, old, gambits here, give 'em a story to tell?"

"Got it, Reginald, got it." said Bibulous. "Place like this, right, plenty of priests are members. What they see here tonight is something for the sermon next holyday. Gets bums on pews, gets belief up, the Blind Man gives us his hearty thanks back at HQ. Can't fail. Now for the next stage".

Meanwhile, Noberta had sidled through the crowd to the Watchwomen's table. She took a dog-end from behind her ear and lit up.

"Din't go too bad, I think" she said.

"Jolly well done, Nobby!" said Lady Sybil, approvingly, from behind a tall multi-coloured glass. "I can safely say you entertained us all! So this one's the Hissy Fit, then, Sally? It looks like a jolly large amount of care and attention went into making it!"

"And the next one on the cocktail menu is the Whoops Duckie, Lady Sybil" Sally said, with a completely straight face.

Angua sighed. She could see a promising career as a Lance-Constable in the River Police, with all that it implied in terms of frequent impromptu B.A.T.H.s, creeping closer and closer… she chose to focus on a nearer problem.

"Nobby… the footwear?"

"Most comfortable set I got, miss!" he said.

"Well, yes, but for a drag act to be really convincing, Nobby, you have to cover all the small details, and maybe consider sacrificing a little comfort for accuracy. High-heeled strappy sandals, maybe. Like these."

Angua hoisted a leg above table height, drawing not only Nobby's complete attention, but that of the Assassin and the Thief.

"They are lovely, Angua!" sighed Steffi, admiring Angua's exposed leg and foot.

"Where did you get those?" asked Alice. They look like Boggi's, to me?"

"Really femme, Angua!" called Sally. "That's what being in the Watch does for a woman's muscle-tone, Allie! All the running and walking, you can't beat it!"

Angua reddened slightly, but allowed Alice Band to trace a finger along the fine leatherwork of her sandals. She put up with the occasional slip of a fingertip onto the skin of her bare foot as a courtesy detail.

"Let's go shoe-shopping some time!" Alice suggested. "Three or four of us and a stop for coffee somewhere. It'll be fun!"

Angua hastily agreed, noting the Assassin was also swaying slightly, and withdrew her foot and leg.

The next few competitors came and went. The Watch table grew drunker and rowdier.

"I Believe I Am Getting Drunk. Thish Ish A Pleasurable Experience!"

How can she be getting drunk? Angua goggled. She's a Golem, for gossakes… they can't eat or drink anything!

"And THISH one's a Sailor's Lifebelt? Ooh my…"

River Police, here I come…. Why do I have to be senior ranking Watchwoman on a night out?

A petulant voice whined above the general background noise, nearby.

"Dré! What are you doing? They're dykes! They'll eat us alive! "

"Hi girls!"

"André!!" the Watch girls called back. Angua uncovered her eyes.

"Hi André, pull up a pouffe!" called Sally. "Oh, I see you brought one with you…"

Andre joined the table, taken slightly aback to see a slightly skiffy Lady Sybil smiling back at him.

"Don't ask" Angua said, wearily. Inspector André Loudweather of the Cable Street Particulars, the only out-gay Watchman, combined his Watch work with being a musical producer at the Opera House. His friend Julian was well-known to the Watch, and accepted at social functions calling for André Loudweather and Partner.

At least he out-ranks me Angua thought. Just perhaps I can dump it all on him if Lady Sybil has to be poured back home, and run…

"Loved your act, Nobby" André said, affably. "But they say you've got competition. This last act tonight is something very special indeed, out of Fourecks".

"We'll see, sir. Second place again should do me fine, anyway. It's still fifty dollars"

André looked around him, at ease, but still slightly disbelieving of the presence of a very disinhibited Lady Sybil, who was whooping with laughter at the punchline of a very dirty joke being told by Sally von Humpeding. He nodded to acknowledge Precious, Smokie, and Cheery, and Angua gave him the introduction to Alice and Steffi.

"They were kind enough to book us in as guests, sir. I hope they're not regretting it."

Next him , Jules was about as much at ease as a sheep at a wolves' night out: Angua, who had filed the but they're dykes comment for leisurely revenge later, grinned reassuringly at him, which didn't help.

"No, not at all!" Alice said, her face flushed with drink. "It's not often I get a chance to let my hair down. If I went on a night out with the teaching faculty at work, this is the last place we'd go Although I freely admit it'd do that stuffed-up prissy little madam, Johanna Smith-Rhodes, a world of good! Then again, the last thing we'd do is have a night out together. Be too busy watching each others' backs. For the best place to stick a knife."

"Ah. You teach at the Assassins' School, I believe?"

"For my multiple sins, as my reverend father the Bishop would have said." Alice detected a hint of slur in her voice. Better watch that. The Assassin is the master of what he eats and drinks. He courts failure if he allows what he eats and drinks to become the master of him. Oh, stuff that. I'm not a "him". Have another drink, Alice Band.

Steffi grinned. "I know you. You nicked Slasher Boggis on a technicality the other week!"

"He was technically breaking into the Royal Art Gallery with the technical intention of stealing a picture. The Patrician's getting very keen on tightening up the security in that place, after the Koom Valley panorama went missing7. And then there was the unfortunate business with Cosmo Lavish and the Vetinari portrait8. Just a shame Boggis had mislaid his Thieves' Licence, so as far as we were concerned it was un-licenced theft. You might care to put the word around, miss? On Patrician's orders, the Art Gallery is now off-bounds to the Thieves' Guild?"

"Yes, he mislaid his licence in a drawer at the Cable Street Particulars and they weren't able to find it for a week" mused Steffi. "Funny, that".

André smiled. "Filing error, unfortunately. New Custody Officer booking people into the cells, the possessions of a prisoner get lost in the system, mistakes happen. I think we understand each other, miss. Can I buy the next round?"

There were strident cries of "André, André!" and "André's our man!" , as he called a waiter over.

And then the compère was on stage again, signaling for quiet.

"And to bring Amateur Night to a close tonight. We have a new talent just off the boat from faraway Fourecks. New into Ankh-Morpork, a veteran of the stage of the Bugarup Working Mens' Club circuit, fresh from a residency at the upmarket Dingo's Kidney pleasure lounge in Worralorrasurfa… we present…. Erra Leea!"

Nobby knew he'd lost first place the moment she started singing. The drag was perfectly applied. The costume fit, the halter-neck gave way to an expanse of flawless bare back, the front of the dress was padded out with just enough restraint to suggest a well-proportioned woman, the legs were long and impeccably shaves and set off with flashing dress sandals, the wig was impeccably coiffed, and the body was sensationally feminine in a boyish sort of way. The only clue to it not being a woman was a well-formed adam's apple and a certain huskiness to the voice. And there was something tantalizingly familiar about her nostrils…

She sang I should be so lucky, and was called back to encore on Spinnin' Around, and finally a slow ballad called Especially for You.

The essence of Reg, God of Club Musicians, slipped out of the body of the pit orchestra's conductor.

Yee-ow, what a gig! He exclaimed. Smokin'! Beside him, the conductor emerged, blinking, from a dream of musical excellence, to discover it had come true. Alas, he would come close a few times but he would never, ever, perform so well again, to his secret sorrow. But just once, the music had played him, and that would be a consolation right down to the moment of his meeting with Death.

Erra Leea sashayed through the tables, fending off handshakes, attempts at hugs, and accepting congratulations with modest shrugs. He was almost certain of what he had to do next, but why was it being whispered in his ear with such urgency?

Arriving at the Watch table, he nodded pleasantly to André, and, as if being prompted, said "You might be able to fix up a contract for me?" Precious and Cheery amicably made room for the star, which by not-quite co-incidence meant he was sitting next to Nobby.

"Well done, mate" Nobby said, philosophically. "You deserved to win"

"That's what I always liked about you, Cecil." Erra Leea said. "You might have done some rough things, but there was never, ever, a nasty bone in your body."

Nobby sat bolt-upright. He looked Erra in the nose. Those flared, delicate, nostrils.

"How's Mum?" Erra prompted.

Nobby's mouth dropped open.

"Errol?"

Erra gave him a gentle punch on the shoulder.

"Your big brother's back, Cecil. It's been a long time."

Unobserved in the ethereal plane, two Gods shook hands.

She'd won, of course. Noberta Slack had to be satisfied with the $50 second place, and Trogg the Psychotic had launched into a long tearful acceptance speech over his $25 third prize which lasted until Mr Harris had requested the services of Gladys and Smokie to take an arm each and carry him bodily away.

There was one last thing that needed to be done to seal the night, and the Watchwomen and their friends looked blearily down at a table almost totally obscured by tinsel, feather boas, party poppers, empty champagne bottles and glasses, scrunched-up-and-cried-into-tissues, the obligatory lost shoe9, and other debris.

Angua sniffed back a tear: it had even got to her. She was aware her mascara was a ruined smear across her cheeks, but the tale of the two long-lost brothers meeting again after so long – well, you had to cry a bit, didn't you? Even if one of them was Nobby. Jules, one of Hugo the hairdresser's chief stylists, was still overcome by sobs, poor love.

Lady Sybil, a little unsteady on her feet, with three multicolour boas draped around her, called "Right, you gels, I'll get the coach! Jolly nice of you to provide complimentary champagne, mr Harris!"

"My greatest pleasure, Lady Sybil! It does you good sometimes to have a liitle weepie, doesn't it?"

Sybil, supported as eptly as she could by Alice the Assassin, began making her stately, swaying, way out of the club, like a battleship that had been persuaded to ascend its slipway. Angua had a minor palpitation about how Mr Vimes would receive that bit of news, but reasoned that she didn't need to tell him everything. Besides:-

"You were at Quirm College too, Alice? How nice! Did you have Miss Stamp for History, or were you after her time?"

No, best leave the Ladies Who Organise to organize each other. Besides, there wasn't a contract out on Lady Sybil: the Assassins' Guild wouldn't be so stupid.

"Catching a lift?" Bibulous said to Reg. "We may as well, if the party's moving on!"

Steffi, riding in the fresh air on top of the Ramkin coach, had boggled at exactly how many Watchwomen, Assassins, best gay friends, and general liggers, could fit inside it. Sybil had called to the coachmen "It'll be a long night, I'm afraid, but you're both on overtime as of now!" and received a deferential touched forelock.. Girlish shrieks came from inside the coach. And the Watchwomen were just as strident.

"Nice night, isn't it!" the vampire constable called, cheerily. She was keeping station with the coach and flying just alongside to clear her head a bit, roughly parallel with Steffi. At ground level, the troll and the Golem were effortlessly trotting along on either side as additional deterrent to any night hazards they might meet. Steffi considered, and re-sheathed her boot-knife: if nothing else, the driver and mate had all the look of men specially selected by Willikins to keep trouble well away from Her Ladyship. She briefly reflected on the fate of the last thief who'd tried to do Ramkin Manor (bad news travels fast) and relaxed.

"Are all your nights out like this?" Steffi asked.

"Well..usually we stay out later." the vampire reflected. "Looks like we're here. The Shades."

Angua knocked on the door, in dead silence.

"Who's there?" the old lady's voice quavered. "I'll have you know my son's in the Watch!"

"Maisie? Mrs Nobbs? We are the Watch. I'm Sergeant Angua. You know me. Nobby's with us. And… someone else you should meet."

"S'right, mum" Nobby mumbled.

The door opened. Maisie Nobbs, slightly bewildered, looked out into a ring of expectant faces. Errol, who had changed back into more male clothes, stepped forwards.

"Hi, mum. It's been a long time"

"Errol?"

Mother and son embraced.

"You've come back! I always knew you would!"

People still talk about the impromptu street party in Old Cobblers that celebrated the return of Errol Nobbs. It was riotous without breaking too many things, it was lively, the drink never seemed to run out, and as Nobby said, it had a certain myffic quality to it.

Angua, though she'd been very drunk by then, remembered odd little bits: Errol explaining to them that " I had to go, mum, Cec… Sconner was disappointed that I could never be the son he wanted. He took it out in body language. I got the hint. I was a puff, I was a homo, I was a ladyboy, just a big girl, there was no way a queer like that could ever be his son. I know I ran, but it was the only way to stay alive. He'd have killed me, sooner or later. I just hope you can forgive me. You had to stay, after all."

"I got the picture. The one you sent from Sto Helit" Maisie said. She showed off the picture of her eldest son, although unrecognizable as a boy, dressed as he was to play the role of Lady Eugenia in The Importance of Being Early. The picture showed, if anything, a gorgeous well-dressed society woman. Errol smiled.

"That's how I made my living. Vitoller's Players had a vacancy for an actress, and when Mr Tomjon saw how convincing I looked..".

"And then you ended up in Fourecks." Nobby said.

"The ship taking us between engagements foundered. We got washed ashore. And as you know, at the time things could get into Fourecks but they couldn't get out again. I couldn't even send messages. I couldn't tell you where I was. Then I realized. Drag acts there are something different. They're tolerated. You wouldn't think so among all those bluff beer-drinking ockers and men's men, but they are. That and acting. That's how I made my living until the Wet came, and we realized you could actually leave the bloody place again".

Errol took another drink. "And I'm home. I hear you named a dragon after me?"

"Oh, yes!" said Sybil. "Nobby's idea, really. I've been trying to breed back into the line, I think I'm almost there. With your permission, can I register the pedigree as Ramkin's Errol St John Wormsborough Nobbs?"

"Be my guest!"

Elsewhere on a different plane, Bibulous wiped a tear out of his eye.

"We're nearly done here, Reg."

"Drink's running low again, though"

The god of Wine and Partying extended a nonchalant finger and called a few more crates of beer and champagne into being. As an afterthought, a few packets of peanuts and bags of crisps floated down.

"That'll do 'em for another hour or so. Love to stay, but the Blind Man's going to be impatient for a report. Coming, Reg?"

"Might as well"

And the two Gods returned to Dunmanifestin…

**********************************

Angua woke up in her own bed at Mrs Cake's, fully dressed and with a thumping headache. She felt unfamiliar things on her feet. Boots? Button-down boots?

Then she remembered, with a groan. At some point… she'd been drunk enough to swap shoes with the Assassin, hadn't she? The girl Steffi had passed out with a blissful look on her face, and they'd laid her down with a blanket over her and a pillow under her head. Cheery had said she'd keep an eye out. Good old Cheery, always the sensible one. And then she'd got into the back of the coach with Alice and they'd compared shoe sizes… Angua, deciding to tease and be naughty, had lifted her feet into Alice's lap so she could see to unfasten the straps on her sandals, the ones she'd admired in the club, giving her a long long I dare-you stare, and she took a damn long time about doing it , too. Assassins aren't usually so clumsy. Hands everywhere. And then Alice had offered Angua her own feet… they'd swapped footwear, and then from nowhere the touchy-feely had moved to faces and lips… especially lips… for quite some time. Although Angua had vague…and pleasant! Aargh! memories of the exploring hand moving down her shoulder and inside her dress…

Angua groaned. And she'd enjoyed it, too! Sally had banged on the side of the coach: "Carrot's here! Really, he is! Night Watch patrol seeing what the noise is!" She and Alice had got out of the coach by opposite side doors.

It had probably been Carrot who'd got her home… and Angua realized, not the least of her problems involved the fact she was wearing Assassin's shoes. Stylish, yes. A certain grace and elegance. And lots of concealed weaponry. Could she get them off without losing any fingers?

"I'd say that went off jolly well, Sam" Sybil said, brightly, over breakfast. "I must do that more often!"

Sam Vimes groaned. She drank her way right down the cocktail list at Harris's! How can she sit there eating a full breakfast after maybe two hours' sleep?

"And I know what you're going to say, Sam. But Alice Band's an old girl at the Quirm School. Assassin or not, she's on the dinner party invitation list! I think young Susan Sto Helit, too. Touch base with a few old girls from after my time."

Sam winced.

"And is there anything at all you could do for young Errol? Nobby's a first-class watchman. You always said he's in a league of his own. His brother could have talents, too!"

Sam sighed. It was going to be a long day.

The Ramkin coach had clattered into the courtyard of the Assassins' Guild in the early hours to make one of its final drops, imperiously bypassing the gate guard, although the Honourable Justin Truscott-Montefiore could have sworn a skirt had lifted and a very small but obvious bottom had been derisively presented to him through the window, with an amused voice saying "Cheery! You'll blush at the memory when you're sober!"

Stippler, the veteran porter, had said "Leave it to me, sir" and had gone to see what the commotion was. Sensing it was best left to Stippler's experience, Justin held back, hearing

"Here, you! Do you think you own the bloody place?"

And the imperious reply

"Well, my good man, if you want the single most obvious answer, it can only be "yes"."

Justin blanched: Lady Sybil Ramkin. Who did. Well, the freehold, at least. Leave it to Stippler, then.

"We're delivering a lady back home, and that's all you need to know! Now which is Tump House?"

"Just over here, ma'am. If you park just here, that's the staff stairway. I heard Miss Band was out at a party. Taken too much to drink, has she?"

"Don't be impertinent, mr Stippler!" said the low commanding voice that, in Tump House at least, and in many a classroom, was All Of The Law.

There was a pause.

"Err… what have you got on your feet, ma'am?"

"Normal graceful and elegant footwear as befits a female Assassin going about her lawful business, Mr Stippler. And I would thank you not to stare!"

"Stippler, my good man, I would be grateful if this visit were to be kept discreet. I know my husband also values your discretion."

There was a distant tinkling, as of monies being exchanged.

"I think that will do nicely, ma'am, Lady Ramkin."

"Can you find your way home from here, m'dear? Thank you for a perfect night, Alice!"

"You too, Sybil!"

The coach left. Justin was relieved there was no mooning this time.

Stippler returned. "Faculty business, sir. Keeps the nobility out late, and some things you don't inquire about."

Justin exhaled.

"Least said, soonest mended, Mr Stippler!"

"That's the spirit, lad. Sir." he hastily amended.

In her room, Alice let the world spin a few times. No lessons before eleven, she thought. Time to get a little sleep in and look lively tomorrow.

She emptied her pockets of all the little accessories that she'd secreted out of her boots before swapping shoes with Angua. They dropped onto the bedside table with a variety of metallic tinkles. Hmm, can't remember if I told her or not. Should be OK so long as she's careful. I did disable the mechanism that activates the blades in the heels? Can't remember. But these sandals do look so good and they feel so light! I'm sure there's scope for just a few improvements? A garroting cord hidden in the straps? Mmmm, she is such a good kisser!

Alice Band eventually dozed, remembering a Good Night.

1 I'm thinking Blue Öyster Cult keyboards man Allan Lanier, in the video of "Joan Crawford". See here on YouTube… .com/watch?v=bHzIG_iZRWY Is he not Reg, God of Club Musicians?

2 A cocktail. Think pink Pimms with added vodka, with maybe just a splash of lemonade for flavour.

3 The poetess Sappho, who lived on the Greek island of Lesbos, earned herself and her native island a sort of immortality through her same-sex amours. There must be a Discworld analogue…

4 A wading bird can also be a Crane….any Frasier fans out there?

5 The classic Drag King act is of course the portrayal of Laurel and Hardy by lesbian couple Beryl Reid and Susannah York in the gay club depicted in The Killing of Sister George.

6 On Roundworld, Roberta Flack, of course. Killing me softly was her greatest hit single.

7 Thud!

8 Making Money

9 There's always one, and it's always a right shoe. Strange but true.