Well, that went better than I thought it would!

Commander Sam Vimes leant back in his chair and exhaled. After poaching Pessimal from the Patrician's staff, he had not been looking forward to Vetinari's formal response. Even now, he was certain that the Patrician had some sort of appropriate cerebral vengeance prepared for him – the damn thing was, he was never quite sure what form it would take. You were never sure with Vetinari.

Vimes recognised it as one of those moments where you're waiting for the second shoe to fall, with the added refinement that you're not even sure you heard the first go.

Still, that discussion with Vetinari concerning the report Pessimal had submitted could not, on the face of it, have gone better. Vimes and Carrot had reviewed the main points with Vetinari – and Pessimal had been both fair and had shown a keen insight into policing – and discussed what could be done in those areas where everyone was in agreement about the need for improvement.

"Handling and processing of paperwork, for instance, Sir Samuel. Drumknott here is still very upset about the regrettable incident where Sergeant Colon was left in charge and ended up burning everything rather than read it, are you not, Drumknott?"

The Patrician's secretary had shuddered, with expressive feeling, at the crime of violence against innocent filing.

"That is where we need more literate officers, sir" Carrot had agreed. "Not all that many officers have the ability to read and understand often quite complex documents, and on top of that we're out on the beat doing the job, and we can't always find the time. So it piles up."

"Generally on Sir Samuel's desk" Vetinari observed. "Which is why I believe Pessimal will be a sterling addition to the Watch, and your plan to use him as Watch Adjutant is a sound and practical one. Everything filters through Pessimal, who then provides you with a digest of the most important things. I approve of that. However, I doubt anything can be done about the general low standard of literacy and numeracy in the Watch without reforming the entire system of education in this city. And although I have been discussing a few ideas with the Teachers' Guild, the benefits of any structural change will necessarily take twenty or thirty years to filter through to you. Not a great deal of use when you need the help now."

Vetinari steepled his fingers.

"What I propose to do, Sir Samuel, is to give you a second clerical officer in addition to Pessimal. The person I have in mind comes to the Palace with the very best of references and an impeccable, completely irreproachable, background. However, Drumknott has been hard put to find this person a position within the Palace secretariat which is consistent with their particular talents and abilities."

"Alas, sir." Drumknott emphasised. Vimes looked at him suspiciously. Did a hint of recent pain and discomfort just flash across Drumknott's face, or am I imagining it?

"I want to keep a person of such undoubtable skills and talents fairly close to hand and see they get a position commensurate with their abilities. Which is why I propose that the candidate works for the Watch and is charged with establishing a filing and indexing system for you. Call it a database, if you will. This then releases you to fight crime while your administrative needs are being met by suitably qualified and experienced people."

"That sounds very generous and fair, sir" Carrot said, whilst Vimes' more cynical mind wondered Where's the catch?

He still wondered that, sitting in the office, drawing on a cigar and enjoying a quiet five minutes. Vetinari had made a very generous offer which on the face of it would be a great help to the Watch. But there would be a sting in the tail, there had to be. Especially after Pessimal.

There was a knock on the door.

"Come in , Carrot".

Carrot Ironfoundersson looked a little less self-assured and confident than usual.

Another row with Angua, Vimes wondered?

"Sir. The new clerical assistant is here. The one the Patrician recommended to us."

"Bring him in, Carrot."

"Her, sir. It's a her."

Samuel Vimes had encountered many things in his police career. Fire-breathing dragons. Trolls encrusted with lichen. Dwarfen axes at close quarters. Fifty-foot tentacled monstrosities from the Dungeon Dimensions, which he'd evaded only to find a herd of a thousand elephants encroaching on the city. (1) Flying coaches. An entire Klatchian army.

But nothing was so menacing and intimidating as the person who marched into his office from behind Carrot, as if she (he looked again. It was undeniably a "she") had every right to do so.

Vimes blinked.

The she-creature looked down her nose at him, through half-moon spectacles, in a manner that wordlessly declared she'd seen better clinging to the sole of her shoe after a walk through the gutter. Even Carrot looked diminished standing next to her.

"Take a seat, Mrs…?"

"Miss!" she corrected him, with another laser glare.

"Miss Fluorine Maccalariat. I am to be your civilian clerk, I believe!"

Vimes considered.

"Oh, yes. But I thought your family worked for the Post Office?"

"My mother, Miss Iodine Maccalariat, currently holds that position. As we believe there can never be more than one Maccalariat at any Post Office branch, the rest of the family are doing such suitable work as we can until such time as Mr von Lipwig chooses to re-open the branches for us."

Her self-confidence is astounding.thought Vimes. I get the distinct impression the family believes the Post Office exists for them. I wonder if I can get her in uniform out on the beat?

"Lord Vetinari emphasises I am to be excused your usual probation period and time spent in uniform. He emphasises I am a civilian assistant and my duties are purely to work in support of the Watch."

She thoughtfully extracted a handkerchief from her sleeve and inspected it. Vimes suppressed a shudder.

"We have, of course, applied for Post Office jobs, as is befitting to our family tradition. Mr von Lipwig has us all on a shortlist so that we may be assigned to Branch offices as they are reopened around the City. Mr von Lipwig is a firm believer that there should be a Maccalariat in every branch. But until then, he referred us all to the Palace with flattering references and letters of introduction, so that His Lordship might avail himself of our services."

I bet Vetinari loved that, Vimes reflected. And now he's passing them on, like lumps of Agatean fireclay with burning fuses in, at a game of Pass the Parcel.

"He referred my sister Chlorine to that nice mr de Worde at the Times, when they needed a receptionist at the front desk. My other sister Bromine is currently working as a medical receptionist for Doctor Lawn at the Free Hospital, and takes very great delight in discouraging malingerers and layabouts. (2) "

"I'm sure." said Vimes, weakly.

"And my daughter Phosgene is settling into a career as a junior manager at the Commercial Bank, dealing with delinquent accounts. We have great hopes for her!"

"Indeed." Vimes managed. "Your duties will consist of…"

"Taking the disgusting disorganised sprawling great heaps of paper about this building and turning them into well-ordered and accessible files." she completed he sentence for him.

"And to work with dear A.E. on the ongoing paperwork and filing that the Watch attracts." She paused, and said, wistfully "Such a dear man, A.E. you know he courted me for a while?"

Vimes' head spun. He put the image of A.E. Pessimal's secret love life and the object of his affections firmly out of his head, and said

"Well, you've got the duties down pat. Perhaps a tour of the building?"

Things went from bad to worse.

"You mean…. Commander…. That you only have one set of showers? For both sexes? That will not do!" Her words rang around Pseudopolis Yard in the same way a sergeant-major's word of command echoes around a drill square.

She glared at him as if accusing him of condoning sexual depravity on a regular basis.

"Well…yes… but the men know better than to hang around if Sergeant Angua or Sally or Precious want to use them…"

"There are issues of decency here, Commander! Propriety!"

Vimes gave in.

"Carrot, get a few quotes, would you?"

"A second shower room and all the trimmings, sir. Will do."

Vimes decided not to mention the ongoing problems with peepholes drilled down from the floor above.

"And who cleans the lavatories and showers?"

"That would be Brick, our odd-job troll and janitor. Useful lad. Sergeant Detritus' boy.."

"A male troll? In female toilets?"

"Best sort, ma'am" Carrot said, helpfully.

"I must insist on a female cleaner for female-only areas of the building!"

Vimes decided not to mention the shared locker-rooms at this point. Or any point.

Eventually the horrible interview was over and Miss Maccalariat said she would graciously start work the next morning, on the proviso that the shower arrangements were amended and a lady cleaner was engaged.

Vimes called his senior officer to a conference.

"I've got to employ her. I've already agreed with Vetinari.. But… ideas, anyone?"

"Mrs Hardiman's free, sir." Carrot said. "Lives on Lobclout Alley. She's looking for a light cleaning job."

"Employ her. Get those plumbers' quotes about the new shower room. But what do we do about her?"

Angua grinned. "We couldput the heat on Mr von Lipwig, sir. Gentle pressure to get him to open up some Post Office branches and take his staff back in house"

"Good. Creative thinking."

"And you never know, sir. We might even get a decent filing system out of it."

Things carried on going worse the next day.

Miss Maccalariat set herself up in the anteroom to Vimes' office, positioning her desk so that anyone who intended to see Vimes had to go through her first. She also commandeered several large, hitherto unused, rooms on the same floor, as her filing and archiving department. As shelving and racking started to arrive from Dratley's Office Furniture Department, she took it upon herself to give otherwise unoccupied Watchmen some gainful employment by carrying it all up three flights of stairs for her. Brick (3), the janitor and odd-job person, normally a genial and friendly young troll, was almost permanently employed in setting up shelving for her, to the detriment of his other jobs. By the end of the first day, he looked fit to seriously test the troll-proof security of Evidence Locker Number Many-Lots (4), where Detritus stored troll street drugs reclaimed from their former owners.

And there were other things, too.

Vimes had a snatch-squad ready to go at a side door of the Yard. At the sound of a whistle, they were to make their way out by the parallel roads of Butts Street and Brewer Street and converge on an address in between the two so as to apprehend persons believed to be dealing in contraband imports from Agatea.

"We're looking for jade. Gold, and… pillow books". Vimes said. The city didn't mind pornography imports from countries with different moralities; it sustained a thriving Seamstresses' Guild, after all, and the usual gamut of related activities. What the city did mind was not being able to levy a honest rate of tax on such imports, taking the point of view that all pleasures came at a price.

"Timing is everything. I want everyone in place quickly and quietly for one final rush to completely shut down the warehouse before they get a chance to burn any evidence. And nobody escapes, got that? We book 'em all."

This was what made Vimes feel alive: this was policing. This made all the bloody paperwork worthwhile. He smiled, feeling happy to be alive. Then he heard the familiar "Haaar…UM!" cough behind him. He sighed, and his shoulders sagged slightly.

"Yes, Miss Maccalariat? Keep it brief, would you. Only you've picked an inconvenient time…"

"Commander Vimes! I really must insist on going through these reports with you and discussing several ambiguities and inconsistencies which have arisen. I have a list, here…"

She brandished a large sheet of paper as if it were a broadsword.

"But I'm just about to lead a raid, Miss Maccalariat. Can it wait?"

"Now, please, Commander! Or I'll be seriously behind on my work, which will not do!"

"Vimes hadn't felt this way since primary school. The old Dame, gin-soaked harridan though she was, had a similar sort of voice with the same sort of harmonics that called for instant obedience. He felt seven again."

"I'll lead the raid, sir" Carrot said, loyally. "You follow us on when you're ready."

There was a snickering, quickly suppressed, from the squad. Wearily, Vimes nodded acquiescence and watched them go.

An hour later he arrived at the scene of the bust to find Carrot supervising the last of the prisoners into a lock-up, and yellow-and-black CITY WATCH! DO NOTTE CROSSE THYSE LINE! tape everywhere.

"Sorry you missed it, sir. It went like clockwork!"

Vimes grimaced.

It was Carrot's turn to face the music a day or two later. Fluorine Maccalariat gate-crashed a senior officers' meeting to complain that if she was to make any sense at all of notes and reports, it began at the top.

"There are five lots of handwriting here belonging to senior officers, and I have to say this is the untidiest and most illegible of the lot. Whose is it, please?"

Vimes raised a weary finger.

"Commander, you really must set an example in these things! It would make my job so much easier!" She glared disapprovingly at him. "And whose is this?" She read an example from a Forensic report. Cheerry Littlebottom raised a hand.

"Please can you explain the long scientific terms? Otherwise they're just so much gibberish. And THIS."

She read an extract from one of Carrot's reports.

"Young man, commas are NOT loaded into a crossbow and fired at random onto the paper! Now listen to me. In a spoken discourse pause the comma is a punctuation device inserted into the text at that moment where the speaker might pause for a momentary breath full stop. The full stop is the point where, light breath and comma, the speaker pauses for a deeper breath, light breath and comma, following a longer statement unpunctuated by the need to take breath full stop and deep breath! In between are the two intermediate states where a slightly longer breath is called for, deeper breath and semi-colon; firstly the gap between two clauses, and secondly the pause between two subordinate clauses of a paragraph full colon and deeper breath: you may think of them as a series of progressively longer pauses or intervals of length one, two, three, and four beats respectively.

Punctuation on the page, when done properly, simply seeks to replicate the natural flow and rhythm of spoken discourse. I hope that is clearly understood?"

Carrot's face shone with honest perplexity.

If she can get him to put commas in the right places, thought Vimes, the world is truly changed.

Sergeant Pessimal quietly said "Perhaps you could relax your standards a little, Fluorine? I know I had to re-examine mine when I joined the Watch. This is a completely different world, after all."

Her eyes and voice softened a little. "I understand what you're saying, dear A.E,. but what would the world be like without recognised standards and people who seek to exemplify them?"

Carrot, Littlebottom and Angua all turned on the change in tone and the "dear", to look at Pessimal, who sat mildly at one end of the table. Vimes suppressed a grin.

"Anyway, Commander, lady…ladies… and gentlemen, that's my piece said, for the moment. You might wish to review he filing completed so far, Commander. I'm fairly thoroughly completed on A and B and shell files are set up for the rest."

She withdrew. Angua waited until she could smell her receding down the corridor… that horrible horrible floral essence. Mainly lavender, and artificial lavender at that… and then said, with a delighted smile, " Dear A.E. . Do tell us everything! What are you holding back?"

"Yes!" said Cheery. "You dropped the old witch a gentle hint and she took it and left. What magic have you got in there. A.E.?"

Sergeant Pessimal smiled a thin weak smile, unabashed.

"Well… have you ever wondered where little Maccalariats come from? In her way she's quite lovely, isn't she?"

Angua's mouth dropped open with the sudden horrific realisation. Somebodyhad to … the Maccalariats had been here for generations… they had children…. Some male at some time must have… they were born for office management, as if they were bred for it… so were the Pessimals, born to office work and administration…. Oh ye gods, no no no, it's like Igors, they're bred to it and have been for generations… but some trains of thought are too horrible to ride to the terminus.

"How many brothers do you have, A.E.?" asked Vimes.

"Four, sir. A.A., A.B., A.C., and A.D. I'm the youngest."

"Well, yes you wouldbe." Vimes said, thoughtfully. "And Miss Maccalariat mentioned a daughter called Phosgene?"

Angua looked at A. with renewed horror. Surely… not…

"We are related, sir, yes".

A wave of horror passed round the table. Seemingly oblivious to it, Pessimal continued:

"My niece Phosgene. Miss Maccalariat is married to my brother A.B. Alas, she preferred him over me."

"And… A.B. is still alive? She didn't bite his head off and eat it at the end of the wedding night?" Vimes inquired.

"Very droll, sir. Very droll indeed. No, they remain happily married. The convention, as always, is that we retain our maiden names. Any daughters are brought up as Maccalariats and any sons as Pessimals. It's not mandatory that our families intermarry and very many of us remain single or even find spouses elsewhere, but we do find it gratifying that the line breeds true."

Everyone went quiet for a moment, lost in their own thoughts.

I bet only Pessimal is having happy ones, Vimes reflected, closing his eyes and shuddering inwardly.

"OK" Vimes said, finally. "As you seem to have the knack, A.E., I'm appointing you as Watch liaison with Maccalariat. Any points she has to raise, any ideas, any comments, any requests, go through you first. You have authority to say "yes" if it keeps her out of my hair, but anything likely to run into more than three noughts goes to me for approval."

"Sir, perhaps she could be kept busy reviewing the Widows and Orphans fund accounts. You know you keep meaning to get that on a less ad-hoc basis, and one day you'll find the time." Carrot suggested.

"Good idea!" Vimes said, hoping he wouldn't come to regret it.

The W&O fund was one of those things that had grown from very small beginnings, back in the old days when Vimes had subsidised three widows and one orphan from his own meagre pay. Only payments in from the City and deductions from individual Watchmen's pay were properly accounted for: these were supplemented by informal and inadvertent donations from the Assassins' Guild and backed by that damned seven million a year in unearned income he got purely by being married to Lady Sybil, a sum which hung around the neck of his proletarian consciousness like a large dead albatross.

Payments out were the problem: Vimes knew that Watch widows were generally honest, to a given value of honesty, and he was fairly sure none of them tried to cheat the system. By arrangement, a widow could turn up at the Yard on the third Thursday of the month and be paid her allowance, including agreed amounts for dependents, and have her name ticked off a list. Any widow could also approach the Fund for one-off big expenses, like new furniture or clothes for the kids. It all seemed to work, in a hazy sort of way, but Pessimal had pointed out that it all needed to be seen to be honest and above-board, which meant keeping absolutely spotless regular accounts. Vimes just hadn't been able to find the time for it. Now he had just the right person….

Miss Maccalariat accepted her new task with enthusiasm, and it kept her quiet for a good three days, during which time Vimes and Carrot were able to get on with normal policing. The only little sour note was when Lance-Corporal Sally von Humpeding grinned toothily at her on the way in and called a cheery "'Morning, Florrie!" at her.

Miss Maccalariat had glared at the vampire constable and dragged her back by sheer force of will, pointing out in no uncertain terms that "Good Morning, Miss Maccalariat!" would be the only approved salutation. Do you understand, young lady?

Sally had mumbled incoherent apology, and reached reassuringly for the phial of emergency b-vord she carried on a string around her neck.

A minute or two more, Angua, and I swear I would have crumbled! Sally had said later. I just wanted to make sure the b… the stuff… was there in a nice thin easily breakable sterile glass phial, just in case…

Well, you can't say you've not been told, can you?

Oh, be sympathetic, Angua!

You could always put the bite on her. Isn't that supposed to make people more docile and manageable?

Ha! For one thing, we're choosy. I wouldn't be able to taste her blood for vinegar! And for another, we're not suicidal. What's the betting she'd end up making me a copy of her?

Then on the fourth day, she swept into the office.

"Sir Samuel! I have discovered a fraud involving the Widows and Orphans' Fund. These are my findings!"

"OK. Who's involved?"

"One Corporal Nobbs. You will see from the report and figures I have prepared!"

Vimes' heart sank. Nobby. He reached for the speaking tube.

"Send Nobbs up, would you? Thank you."

They waited in silence until footsteps sidled down the corridor.

"Come in, Nobby".

Nobbs stepped in, looking furtive. His eyes widened on seeing Miss Maccalariat.

"So this is the culprit!" she announced.

Vimes raised a hand.

"Miss Maccalariat? If you don't mind. I'd like this stage of he investigation to be informal. Just me and corporal Nobbs, if you don't mind. Leaving. Now. I assure you that if the allegations are substantiated, he will be punished for it under Watch rules and accepted custom. Thank you."

Vimes waited for her to leave, and then said, bluntly,

"Nobby, to save me having to actually read this bloody report of hers, you tell me exactly how you're fiddling the Widows and Orphans' Fund? No wriggling. "

Nobby sidled on the spot.

"Well, sir, it's like this…"

A confession emerged.

"So you've got the W&O Fund paying your mother's rent? And bunging her five dollars a week in subsistence money, too."

"She is a widow, sir" Nobby said, stolidly looking ahead of him.

"Well, yes, Nobby. But I'm wondering exactly how far you've grasped the essential membership criteria of a Watch widows and orphans fund. The little sticking point here, and I can see it being something of a a sticking point should she demand I run you before Vetinari for theft and fraud, is that your mother, lovely lady though Maisie is, is not a Watchman's widow. In fact, your father, Sconner Nobbs, lost his life through misadventure in that he fell off a third-storey roof from which he was engaged in removing the lead at the time. Complications set in and he died a week later."

"He did once consider joining the Watch, sir. Once. When he was sober."

"But I still can't see any way in which he would qualify his widow for a Watch widow's pension, Nobby. There's he sticking point. And I see your mother is also the dependent to whom you have chosen to pay your orphan's compensation money.

"You are claiming money as an orphan. And having it paid on your behalf to your named dependent. Your mother. Do you see anything wrong with this picture, Nobby? Nothing out of place, any little detail that's wrong?"

""Well sir, being an orphan's only a matter of time, and after Sconner died I'm halfway there. Why wait?"

Vimes took a deep breath.

"It stops here, Nobby. You'll have to find some other way for Maisie to pay her rent. And in return I'll keep the Maccalariat woman off your back. Now get out of my sight."


Vimes contemplated for a moment or two, than rang for Pessimal.

"Mr Vimes?"

"A.E., there must be some sort of, I don't know, central record in this city, saying which landlords own which streets and properties."

"I believe you mean the Land Registry at the Palace, sir."

"That's the bunny. I want to know which bloodsucking parasitical bastard leech owns Old Cobblers. Run-down cottages, never had a moment's work done to them since they were built, I bet they belong to that smug bastard Rust or that fat self-satisfied oily little shit Selachii. Some slum landlord who's happy to squeeze them for every penny they've got in rent but who's nowhere to be found when there's a leak in the roof. Get me a name, please, A.E. Then I can negotiate to buy the street. Or at least one house on it."


"I feel a need to be kind to an old lady who, unavoidably, suddenly has to pay her own rent again. Don't ask".

Pessimal left, looking puzzled, and Vimes formed two questions for Maccalariat. How much closely followed by If he makes good the losses to the Fund, will you agree to drop charges?

Nobbs was going to cost him, but Vimes earned – got - that Gods-damned seven million a year, and some things.. it's because in a funny sort of way he's worth it. You couldn't put a price on thirty years of almost-loyal service.

Vimes saw that conversation was muted in the canteen, It was replaced by the uncertain sounds of Watchmen trying to self-censor for expletives and to follow hazily remembered principles of table etiquette.

Sighing, he saw the reason: Miss Maccalariat sitting in state over a sandwich and a fancy cake, a napkin and doyley laid out just so, with a little sprig of parsley on the bread and an immaculate side-salad. Pessimal was sitting with her, the only man in the canteen who looked at his ease, and delicately pouring tea from a pot. From a pot?

Vimes registered the mute appeal from the Watchmen – you've got to do something about her, sir, she's driving us all Bursar! – nodded, and left. He could hear the work on the new shower room coming up to meet him from downstairs, and reflected that Mrs Hardiman, at least, was a find – the place had never looked cleaner.

He received the answer he sought the next day. At the senior offices' meeting, when they got to the "any other business" stage, Pessimal cleared his throat and reminded Vimes:

"You asked me to clear up an issue of land ownership for you, sir. Old Cobblers."

"Oh yes. And the name of the money-grubbing tenant-squeezing parasitical bastard is…?"

Pessimal looked uneasy.

"Go on, Pessimal"

"It's the Duke of Ankh, sir." Pessimal said, eventually.

Angua and Colon tried to conceal their grins.

"Formerly part of the Ramkin family estate, your Grace, but signed over to you on marriage".

Vimes fought back the red-faced furious embarrassment. At least it made some things easier, and it held open possibilities for the future.

"OK, A.E. Send a message out to tell Slant he's got an appointment with me, would you? To do with drawing up freehold deeds for no. 22 Old Cobblers and gifting them to the occupant, a Mrs Maisie Nobbs. And get a builder to go round there and make estimates for all work needing to be done to get the house liveable. I might have more work for the right man in the future. Bills to me. "

Vimes turned and looked round the table.

"I can't help being a landlord." He said. "But I'm buggered if I'm going to be a slum landlord. There's room for a new approach here. A.E., get a full listing of all residential properties that are either in my name or Lady Sybil's, would you? It's time I surveyed my estates and put this seven million a year to good use."

"Right away, your Grace."

There will be a Chapter two, or an extension of this document, when I see more clearly how it finishes, and how Vimes gets rid of his Maccalariat problem. Hopefully there is enough of a story here to entertain and amuse as it stands!

Footnotes and observations:-

(1) See Moving Pictures. The way I see it, somebodyhad to do traffic control on those thousand elephants Dibbler ordered when they arrived in the City. And as Vimes remarked, coppers always get the muckiest jobs.

(2)For non-British people, especially Americans: it is true that we have a socialised healthcare system where most medical services (except dentistry) are free on demand. But a staple of the British NHS doctors' surgery is, famously, the ferocious medical receptionist you need to get past so as to be able to see a doctor at all. Her attitude is one of saving her doctor from the burden of being bothered by a horrible NHS-resource consuming malingerer like you. Some people choose to either die or get better on their own.

(3)At the end of Thud!, Brick was being considered for a Watch position. Unfortunately he failed the entrance exam for Troll officers (Question One: What am your name?{ Dis worth ten points)), which left Vimes with a tricky decision. In the end, wanting to keep Detritus' adopted son off the streets, Vimes had created the Janitor role for him, where he could be kept off Class-S drugs (4) and under Watch tutelage.

(4) OK, on our world they're Class A drugs.

4 Number Seven