The Graduation Class – 17

Emmanuelle crawled wearily into her bed, pulled the covers over her head, and stayed there for nearly three days, responding to the shock of the day's events with a sort of healing catatonia. She emerged only to perform brief and necessary bodily functions, plunging back into sleep afterwards.

On the third day, she awoke, suddenly wide awake, sniffed the air, then the soiled week-old bedlinen, then herself, and wrinkled her face in disgust. Mes Dieux, I'd better clean myself up. Too many Morporkians suspect Quirmians are dirty brutes who believe soap is just a strange-tasting form of cheese. Why am I suddenly proving them right, miserable slut and sloven that I have become?

She bundled up the dirty linen for the laundress to collect. How she would actually pay the laundress was a different thing, but at least this would only become an issue after she had received a supply of fresh clean laundry.

She felt an itch niggling at her, and remembered. Eh bien, time for the good Doctor Lawn's miraculous lotion. Better burn this foul underwear, it will be contaminated.

A small and very satisfying fire later, she was in a long, hot, bath, soaking out stress and shaving her legs, which she thought would be the easy job compared to shaving….The good Gods gave us bodily hair for a reason! she rebelled. I only shave my legs because it makes wearing stockings easier. Why is it with Morporkians that they prefer their women plucked and bald, like a trussed chicken? And how do you shave that most hard to reach place without giving yourself a clitorectomy? Thank goodness this is only to make the medicine more efficacious, and I can allow it to regrow as nature intended!

Some experimentation, a mirror propped up just so, and several folded towels to elevate the part of the body she was working on, together with the safety razor she used on her legs… lots of foamy soap, and some tentative strokes with the razor.

Lesbians do this to each other all the time. she reminded herself. Apparently it adds to the pleasure. She shrugged. These lesbians are crazy. But I can see the point of having a close friend, close enough to be willing to do this for you. At least she'd be able – and willing - to get in close so she might see straight!

Afterwards, she felt more like a newly-plucked chicken than ever. She examined the ruin of her pubic hair sadly, and considered it made her look like a little girl. She pondered briefly on the darker motivations of some men who insisted their women shaved down there, as if it were theirs to command, and resolved that when all this was over, she would let it grow back and would never, ever, touch it with a blade again. A couple of little nicks, but inevitable when working at arm's reach with only the reflection in a mirror to guide you. Now: this wonderful salve of the Doctor's. To be applied liberally to the infected area with a cotton wool pad. Very well: she upended the bottle and allowed the purple lotion to soak into a pad, and then applied it to her newly shaven area, extending the treatment a little outwards in every direction in case the dirty things tried to run away from it.

At first she felt an almost pleasurable warmth, and then…

Ai, ai, ai! It burns! This is worse than Chrysoprase and the acid! She sniffed the air: l'alcool absolut. Pure alcohol. Applied to sensitive skin, some of the most sensitive of all on a woman's body, and torture in the cuts!

Emmanuelle found herself rolling on the floor, legs bent up in a foetal position, tears streaming down her face, trying to fan cool air over the burning skin. I will never, never, have sex with a man again! she thought. I will become a nun. I will live a clean life. Just let this pain stop!

Through the discomfort, she giggled hysterically, trying to visualize how it must look to an imaginary observer. A grown woman, rolling on the floor in agony with her intimate womanhood on fire… some God must be watching this and laughing, it's their sort of humour.

When the fiery irritation receded, Emmanuelle discovered the lotion had stained her skin purple, everywhere it had touched. She took this as a courtesy detail. A dotted "i" or a crossed "t" on the luck she had been enjoying of late.

The card that arrived at the door confirmed her sinking feeling. It was a guest pass for the Cavern Club with a note saying "dinner at Eihgt, hUman foOd serVed. C."

Good. After the medication she was in a mood to kill somebody else, on the grounds that it would make her stronger. She wondered who the Troll had in his sights.

Emmanuelle dressed to discreetly impress, trying to ignore the hungry protests echoing up from an empty stomach. At least I will get a free dinner out of this, she thought, making her face up. Having made a decision, she was now calm and resolved to follow it through, wherever it led, even though it meant using her skills to actually kill people. Even though trained by her father to handle all sorts of swords in combat, even though she had fought many bouts in the practice arena and other less formal arenas, even though her skills had been praised by masters, even though she had wounded people, sometimes deliberately so that they would remember her name and learn not to pick fights with her, one thing was missing from her CV.

Up until now she had never actually killed anybody.

She hailed a cab. Another drain on her fast-dwindling resources, but walking through this city at night could provoke complications, hopefully of a non-lethal variety. She just wanted to get the evening over with.

A large troll splatter was waiting at the door: she showed him her invitation. The troll nodded, and said "Here, you!" to the driver. Adding "Mr Chrysophrase said for me to fac-ill-it-eight this lady in any way." She watched the driver pale at the implications.

"How much her fare? Mr Chrysoprase said she his trusted associate, and he not want her out of pocket in any way."

Well, it's not bad so far. she thought, as she was discreetly escorted inside the Cavern Club. A private dining booth had been set aside for her, and she gratefully ate alone, putting aside misgivings as to the quality of human food prepared by trolls. It really wasn't bad, and the Überwaldean hock she selected off the wine list complemented the meal perfectly. Goodness knows, it made the floor show bearable: a troll dance troupe was murdering the Quirmian danse aux Apachés, which should be a combination of menace, greasy sexuality, and slick dance moves set in the criminal underworld. Here, it exuded criminal menace and suppressed violence, but was danced by trolls: the ritual face-slapping part of the dance left, to her eyes, something to be desired.

After eating, a troll came to her table to whisper "Mr Chrysoprase will see you now". She followed him to a private office lower in the building.

The Troll was sitting behind a desk, again having his neck massaged by the seamstress Dolomita.

"Emmanuelle!" he boomed. "Take a seat!"

She sat, and waited for her instructions. The big troll leant forward slightly.

"I have a little job for you." he said, matter-of-factly. "I am distressed at the behaviour of a human associate, a man I thought I could trust, who assure me his handshake is his bond. He agree to look after a sum of money for me and to make sure it, what der word, made clean and sparkling new when I come to use it. For dis service, his bank charge me five t'ousand in each hunnerd t'ousand. I trust him, I deposit two million in his bank so dat it can be made clean, so dat der Watch cannot trace it back to der places and people from whence it came."

Chrysoprase took a swig of his drink, a steaming brimstone-smelling troll cocktail in an insulated mug.

"He assure me his bank can do to money what you humans do to der dirty bedsheets. Wash it, make it clean again, so dere no trace left of what you were doin' in der bed last week"

"Laundering?" said Emmanuelle, intrigued.

"Dat der word! Him my money-laundererer. We agree he take five t'ousand in every hunnerd for his trouble. Dat total of one hunnerd t'ousand in two million. Dat fair, we all have to live. But now he get money in his bank, he change der rules and der gentleman's agreement and demands ten t'ousand in every hunnerd. He knows if I order bank to be raided and get my money dat way, der Watch will suspect me first. He also think Chrysoprase is ordinary ignorant troll, can only count one-two-many – lots. But DIS troll, he can count all der way to two million. And he upset at lack of respect! "

Chrysoprase pounded a fist on the table, making things leap and bounce.

"Which is where you come in. Dese the details on dis man. I want him to have one of dem experiences where Death very near, but him not to be able to come back afterward. It worth fifteen t'ousand dollar of your debt. "

"How soon do you wish there to be an outcome?" Emmanuelle inquired, keeping her voice level.

"I trust you. You look around, maybe ask about der man, but discreetly, make your plans, do der deed. I know you not disappoint!"

Emmanuelle left in a courtesy cab, her head full of plans and ideas.

The target was one of the Greenyham brothers, who were very senior executives in the Commercial Bank of Ankh-Morpork. Emmanuelle noted that Sileas Greenyham had a profitable second business in looking after large sums of money for the criminal underworld, either keeping it safe while its owner was unavoidably detained elsewhere, or laundering it for eventual return to circulation as clean, untraceable, banker's drafts or deeds. For both types of service, he charged between 5-10% of the capital, and other bank executives were keen to condone this strictly illegal banking service because of the sheer amount of money it brought into the vaults.

Greenyham lived in a penthouse above the bank, and it was noted that the security guard consisted, as seemed to be the invariable case, of moonlighting Watchmen and ex-soldiers, some of pensionable age, and a handful of directly retained Bank staff.

Très bien, she thought, My fear would be of a retained Assassin acting as security consultant. But they seem to want to buy cheap security by relying on casual labour, and even that not of the highest human quality.

A plan began to take shape. Emmanuelle lit a Sobranie and inhaled gratefully.

The next day, she had lunch with old friends at the Gamblers' Guild. For old times' sake, she deposited five dollars as a spread-bet against the next date and time of the Alchemists' Guild blowing up, then kissed her lunch dates warmly on both cheeks. She walked into lunch with Doc Pseudopolis on one arm, and Scrote Jones on the other, appreciating their friendship and concern for her, part of the international brotherhood (and in this case sisterhood) of gamblers, cardsharps and those who live on their wits.

Conversation was lively, three old friends who had not seen each other for a while. Emmanuelle relaxed and appreciated their company, deflecting worried questions about their having heard she was in trouble.

These two men I like. Both nearer fifty than forty. One has grown older in an interestingly louche, degenerate way. He is thin and wiry with the eyes of the long-time gambler. The lines in his face are exciting rather than old. They speak of a delicious frisson of danger, a man living on the edge, the sort of lifelong bad boy who women fall for, the dangerous untameable bastard, except he has always been mine and never behaved like a bastard to me. [1] He even holds a cigarette with sophisticated confidence. But mes Dieux, he has a name like Scrote Jones? The other also has lines in his face, but has lost much hair. Where one looks sophisticatedly degenerate, he looks just seedy and middle-aged. His tragedy is that I could never want to sleep with him as much as I want to with the other. Yet he too is a loyal and dear friend. And he has the romantic name, Doc Pseudopolis!

Emmie, you should have told us." Scrote Jones said, reproachfully. "you're a Guild member, what else is a Guild for?"

"I didn't want to worry you" she said, shrugging.

"Between us we could have paid off Chrysophrase" Doc said, concern in his voice.

"But yes, with the money you have set aside for a decent retirement, when the reflexes and the judgement are not what they were! I could not have accepted that. I got myself into trouble, it was up to me to get myself out of it. Fait accompli. "

She shrugged.

"I could see you working as a Seamstress" Scrote said, reflectively. He was a realist: he knew that if all he could ever attain was a part-share in the affections of this extraordinary woman, he'd be grateful for that, and not force for an exclusivity she could never give to any one man.

"You'd be good at it. Give you five years, and Rosie herself would be looking over her shoulder at the competition. I can see you in her job eventually! But working for Chrysoprase? Be careful, girl! You don't know what you're getting into!"

Doc and Scrote got her into a game of poker that lasted for the rest of the afternoon. Emmanuelle, strongly suspecting that they were holding back and favouring her, left the table nearly three hundred dollars better off, thankful for having the problem of immeiate spending money eased.

She said goodye to Scrote Jones, who looked at her sadly and said "That cussed streak of independence in you is going to be the death of you, girl!"

"I know." she said, softly.

"But there's no changing you, girl." He paused. "I wouldn't have it any other way!" They kissed.

"Stay alive, Emmmanuelle!" the gambler's gambler advised her. He watched her go with what she thought was a wistful sadness in his eyes.


Silyeas Greenyham shouted a boisterous goodbye to his drinking and dining cronies as he let himself back into the bank at ten. His family had been executives and major shareholders at the Commercial Bank for generations. An exclusive education and an arrogant self-belief in his right to be a man who dictated policy and made money as of right, rather than any real intelligence, had got him to the top. That same self-assured arrogance had convinced him he could cheat Chrysoprase and go back on a deal, with impunity.

Guards saluted him as he progressed up the stairs to the penthouse, his natural home. To Greenyham, who divided the world into three parts (2), this was only right and natural.

It was only natural that Rosie Palm had sent him a girl, too. She was waiting in the bedroom, demure, almost naked but for a black see-through peignoir, passively waiting for him, just as he liked them. He leered, and began to undress, removing his trousers. He roughly and coarsely suggested she come over here and kneel in front of him. He grabbed her breasts and squeezed, without finesse or regard for causing discomfort. Then he stiffened and his eyes widened with horror and realisation.

Enmmanuelle knew enough to leave the knife in between his ribs until he was dead, so as to minimise the blood flow. She half-dragged the body to the bed, covered it, retrieved her knife and said Dormez bien, crapaud!, both incensed and relieved that he'd grabbed at her embonpoint like that. The outrage had been enough to give her right hand the final impetus it needed to drive the short stabbing dagger into his chest.

Stepping to the door of the suite, she hooked the cardboard sign over the handle that said Strictly Do Not Disturb! and locked the door behind her. She then methodically cleaned her knife, and then used the sumptuous bathroom to clean any splashes of blood off her body. Remembering, she left near the body that one small thing Chrysoprase had asked she left there - a Caroc card, the Ten of Swords, depicting a corpse face-down, floating in a river with ten daggers in its back. She bagged up the peignoir for disposal elsewhere, such a shame, and leisuredly dressed in street clothes. This included a cloak with a hood, but she took good care to offer the guards the opportunity to notice a low-cut revealing front. That way, when asked tomorrow, they'd remember her breasts far more clearly than her face. She added to the illusion by placing a large false brown mole high on her left breast - in her experience, men noticed intimate freckles - and, satisfied, she left the apartment not quite an hour after Greenyham had returned. That felt like long enough for an oaf of his stamp.

The guards escorted her to the street: affecting a coarse Morporkian accent, Emmanuelle joked with them, as a seamstress might, and dissappeared into the dark. She took good care to be seen leaving in a direction completely opposite to that in which she lived. Several blocks away, she hailed a cab. Inside, she relaxed. It was done. Her first killing for the troll. And so easy, so dispassionate.


Over the following months, she commited six more killings for Chrysoprase. She know she was a "favoured business associate" when he started sending her gifts of cash - "bonus payments" - over and above the repayment of her debts. This enabled her to live a lifestyle she liked, and she wondered if she could make a career of killing for money. Around this time, she noted there were more gargoyles than she remembered living around her apartment. She also had a suspicion, she hoped a paranoid one, that Assassins she met in the streets were looking at her as if memorising her face for attention later.

Chrysoprase called her to a conference one night. He was on his own in the office - no Dolomita - and welcomed her warmly.

"Dat job you did in der restaurant! Dat was classy, wit' der crossbow concealed in der violin! I tell you, a lot of der criminal fraternity in dis town, they is going to worry if der musician comes up to them wit' der violin case and opens it up! (3) And der best of it is, dey all knows it come from me, so Chrysoprase get der reputation for bein' creative and stylish as well as mean. You did well, my friend!"

"It was necessary" Emmanuelle said. "The Watch are beginning to look for a serial killer who uses only bladed weapons and uses them well. Changing my approach will confuse them"

"Der Black Widow, they is calling you." mused the troll. He sighed. "I have to tell you dat dis is der last job you need to do for me. After dis, you is paid off your debt. You can do what you choose then, go away, or carry on working for me if you want to. I will be sorry to lose you!"

Emmanuelle read only truth in the troll's words. She smiled, with some warmth.

"It may be the best, I think, if I left. The Watch is suspicious. They use gargoyles as Watchmen, do they not? And I hear from friends that the Assassins' Guild is rounding up unlicenced killers who are giving them competition. I do you this last assignment, then perhaps I leave for Genua or Brindisi."

"Der Guild is being persistent. And I hear people who kill for money are dissappearing from der streets. You know they took der Marriage Guidance Counsellor?"

"There was such a person?"

"Until der Assassins found her, dere was. So it may be wise if you left. But dis one last job. I want you to kill a troll."

"A TROLL?" she almost shrieked.

"A troll" her boss confirmed. "Listen, it easier than you think. I show you. And I show you dis because I trust you"

To her surprise, the massive troll knelt in front of her and submissively bent his head forwards.

"Feel down der back of de neck. What you find?"

"Rock. Bone" Her fingers probed. Then stopped. It felt like a massive wart, about the size of her palm, under the skin. Slighltly softer to the touch than the surrounding tissue.

"Careful. I taking der risk you might kill me. If dat your wish, I can't stop you. But I don't believe you will."

"Dat you are touching is exposed nerve tissue. Clever doctors call it a ganglion. A very hard blow just dere will kill a troll stone-dead. It der weak point for us. Troll-woman who know how to stroke it in der right way, it also erroneous zone for us. Dolomita, she good!"

"Erogenous, perhaps" Emmannuelle murmured., stroking gently: it was like a huge mis-shaped star, with a central body and radiating arms.

"If two male trolls have fight, it strictly forbidden to hit der killing spot." Chrysophrase continued, as her fingers explored it. "It only ever allowed in fights to der death."

"Could a human kill a troll by punching here?" she asked. "Or do we need to use a hammer or a club?"

"Human strength, on its own, maybe just knock troll out." Chrysophrase said. "Maybe wit' hammer you kill. A sword can do it, split or sever der nerve connections."

The troll rumbled and got to his feet. "I won't ask you to do what Dolamita does. No offence, you is not my type!"

"None taken" Emmanuelle assured him, taking the folder on her latest client. Mes Dieux! Was he sounding me out for inter-species sex just then? It becomes crazier!


A few nights later, a figure in black waited, lying on a lintel above a doorway, merged with her surroundings and totally motionless. She waited, cradling the sledgehammer. I will only get one shot at this! she thought, and prayed for accuracy.

They rumbled in below her, a group of trolls. She moved, silently and without hurry, to her feet. She readied the long-armed sledgehammer, peering to recognise the target. He, a former hench-troll who has chosen to go renegade and ignore the will of Chrysoprase, is below. Like his former master, he apes human suits and jewellry.

Emmanuelle allowed her knees to flex and her arms to take the strain, as if playing croquet. She flexed the weight of the hammer upwards. Then judging the moment correct, allowed it to pendulum down and forward, contacting the back of the troll's neck with an audible crack of shattering rock.

She heard the avalanche noise of the fallen client, but the inexorable truth of Newton's Third Law - for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction - propelled her forward and over the edge of the building. She rolled in the air, bounced off another troll's head, and, just about landing on her feet, was running for dear life into the dark.

Behind her, troll voices started shouting "Assassin! All in black! Him went dat way!" and she knew the hunt was up. She also knew that trolls can work up a very fast lumber when they have to. So she ran, hoping she had outsidstanced her pursuers... Oh, no!

A large troll shape loomed up in the alley. There was something familar about it. The pattern of scars on its chest...

Troll and Woman stood, facing and scrutinising each other, as if trying to remember a recent meeting.

"Miss?" it said. "You remember me? Substrate?"

The troll Chrysoprase had been torturing that day.

Emmanuelle stopped, uncertainly. "I remember" she said.

"So do I" said Substrate. "Dem trolls, dey kill you if dey catch you. Happy for you you has met a troll who owe you a favour. You beg Chysophrase to save my life. He tell me to remember you, and dat I owe you. So now I save yours. You is Assassin. Dat means you can climb. You want get up on rooftop where no troll follow."

Emmanuelle looked up. The wall seemed impossibly sheer for its first twelve feet or so. Then the troll picked her up .

"Can you grab that windowsill up dere?" and half-lifted, half threw her. Emmmanuelle scrambled for handholds and found herself still and silent while below, a troll voice called "human not come down here, we wastin' time!", followed by receding footfalls.

She muttered her thanks for the right troll at the right time, and swiftly worked the window catch to gain entry, leaping onto the room.

A man and a woman sat up in bed, staring at the black-clad presumed Assassin who has just entered. She thought swiftly.

"Reste tranquille, mon ami. Stay silent, and it is possible her husband shall not get to hear of this!"

"But I am her husband!"

"Ah. then apologies. I must have entered the wrong farce." She ran out of the bedroom, favouring the indoor route to the roof. At least it was better lit and it had stairs. She ran upstairs, recognising that she was in a hotel, deciding to spread panic and confusion as she went to make life more difficult for any pursuing trolls who might even now be hammering down the front door. kicking on doors, shouting "FIRE!" and above all moving upwards, she found, eventually, a service stair to the roof. here, in the blesed dark, she crouched and listened.

The high yodelling call of a gargoyle nearby, answered by one further away. Running feet and Watch whistles in the street.

Non d'un nom. You escape one peril, another takes its place. She ran several roofs away from the Watchmen, but the gargoyle calls followed her. She paused and listened.

"She's got to be here somewhere, Sergeant. That was Downspout."

Vimes.

"She did get Pitchblende, sir. Him one mean troll and der street a litle cleaner for him dead."

Detritus.

"I still want to get her, sergeant. Ideally before the Assassins' Guild do. Are the other foot patrols in place? With a bit of luck we can isolate her to one or two rooftops. "

She felt a cold chill. Where was she? Short Street and Heroes' Street. Where were there no gargoyles, where she could lose their trail? Perhaps the river, perhaps the Patrician's Palace grounds. She tuned towards Small Gods and Attic Bee Street. Where the other pursuers made their presence felt.

Two or three black-clad figures rose up in front of her. Blackened steel glistened in the starlight.

"Eh bien, mes amis!" she muttered, drawing her own sword. "A l'outrance!" Ahe leapt forward, scattering them, and swords clashed. But outside popular fiction, one can only hold off three, then four, then five, for so long.

Good though she was, she was outnumbered, being forced ever backwards, towards the river and Filigree Street.

A few despairing, almost suicidal, roof-jumps left the Assassins stranded, and she waved her sword at them in triumph. Then more Assasins appeared. It occured to Emmanuelle that they were steering her, herding her, in the direction they wanted her to take. But the roaring of blood in her ears and the exulatation of sword-fighting by night was preventing her from seeing clearly. Or she would have realised exactly why she was being steered back toawards Filigree Street, and one rooftop in particular, where a dozen or so black figures appeared to take up the pursuit, fresh, untired, black-clad figures.

Forced to the very edge of the roof, she glanced down. Balcony. A still figure on guard. Who must be alseep, idiot, not to have noticed the clamour up here. Once on that balcony I can escape on the ground. Then I only have the Watch to deal with. Nom de tous nommes, this is not my night!

Sheathing her sword, she waved a mocking farewell at her attackers, blew them a kiss, then leapt for the balcony, some ten feet below her. She landed on a dressmakers' dummy wearing the black cloak, breaking it in two. Leaping to her feet, she saw the doors were open to the room beyond. It was dark. She tentatively went in, feeling her way in the dark. The doors closed behind her and an oil lamp flared into life. She went for her sword.

"You are Emmannuelle-Marie Lapoignard Les Deux-Epées? Please be seated."

More oil lamps were lit. She could see the walls were lined with Assassins. With crossbows. With a sigh of resignation, she resheathed her sword and sat.

"I am Doctor Downey, master of the Guild. This is my associate Lady T'Malia. We have a certain proposition to make to you."...

Emmanuelle eventually signed. She wondered if this was more or less civilised and sophisticated than the threat of acid.

And now the four were complete.


[1] On Roundworld, she might be describing French cinema's eternal bad boy, Serge Gainsborough.

(2) Himself, at the top. His business associates, in the next level down. Then everybody else.

(3) In a sub-theme about organised crime in Ankh-Morpork, I HAD to find room for the Roundworld cliché about the murder weapon in the violin case... it obviously couldn't be a gonne, so why not make it a violin?