A minor incident in the life of several student Wizards.
Based on the information given in the New Discworld companion about Rag Week at Unseen University.
Set perhaps twenty to twenty-five years before the Present.
The group of student wizards stood on the Morpork bank of the river Ankh in slack-jawed horror. Normally anyone standing slack-jawed on the Morpork bank of the river Ankh staring dully into the middle distance is asking for it in one way or another, if only corrosion of the nasal sinuses.
"Bloody hell!" said Nathan Proboscis.
"Great God Offler on a crutch!" said Roderick Mackerel.
"Gnnnnnnn….." said Rincewind, jaw locked with terror.
"We only went and sodding bloody well did it." breathed Proboscis.
"Patrician Snapcase is going to be pissed!" said Hubert Pennysmart, shaking his head.
"These days, he normally is, isn't he?" asked Mackerel.
"Nnnngh!" said Rincewind.
The four student wizards looked out over Lower Broadway. Then they turned and looked down Upper Broadway, where the road split into Turnwise and Widdershins Broadway to accommodate the nearby Patrician's Palace, which squatted, toad-like and foreboding, in the centre.
"We're too near the Palace for remarks like that!" hissed Pennysmart. "And somebody in one of those upper windows is going to look out. And they'll bloody well see. And they'll wonder where it is and if that gaggle of shifty-looking student wizards might have had anything to do with it!"
"Let's get home." Proboscis decided. He surreptitiously secreted the grimoire back into his robes. "We can tell Rag Committee it's been done, and then we can put the ransom notes out."
As they turned to make their way along deniable side streets back to the University, there was the distant rattling of a cart and the clop of heels. They quickened their pace. Then there was a soggy splash, a dopplering scream, an affronted neighing, and the crash of milk-bottles, as the early morning milk cart stepped off Upper Broadway and onto a Brass Bridge that, in spite of all probability, was not there any more.
"Whoops!" said Mackerel, and the four students quickened their pace.
"Where do you think it went?" he asked.
"According to the book, it's in safe keeping somewhere." he said, reassuringly. "The spell has a built-in feature. It'll set the thing down in some default location in another dimension, in a desert perhaps, where not many people are going to get to see it Then when we want it back, we just do the spell in reverse. Easy-peasy!"
Noting that Rincewind, without having apparently accelerated, was some way in front of them, the three others ran to catch up. As they turned a corner, they heard the distant sound of Watch handbells, and quickened their pace.
Nevada, United States, September 1963.
Robert P. McCulloch spurred his horse on into the scrubby semi-desert. In the early morning coolness, he patted the water bottle at his hip. Vegas could be fun, but, a cowboy at heart and the descendent of cowboys, he preferred getting back to his roots, just a man and his horse against the elements.
McCulloch was fifty-two years old and had made his money first in oil and then by his invention of a machine so practical and simple that it revolutionised the lumberjacking, wood-cutting and grisly serial killing trades.
He was the man who had devised the first working chainsaw, and had gone on to earn a billion dollars from it. He had three factories making nothing other.
And now he was looking for something to spend some of those multi-millions on. He had a plan, an idea, for a model city, to make the desert green. Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada were his three states of choice as he looked around for a site. He also wanted something eye-catching, some central feature of note, to build his model city around, to give it instant heritage. He'd reminded the Paris municipal authority that the Eiffel Tower had only ever been meant as a temporary structure – indeed, it had been designed with ease of dismantling in mind. So was there anything to stop him buying it, dismantling it and rebuilding it in America?
In fact there had been. Good old fashioned French pride had been affronted that he'd even asked. He shook his head. What was this European attachment to old buildings? In America, we build as we need to for a purpose, and when neither the need nor the purpose apply any more, we knock 'em down and build other things.
He frowned, seeing something in the distance.
That sure as Hell wasn't there yesterday!
It was like a long, low, rectangle, standing on rounded arches, that in their turn were set on piers.
What the blue, blazing, hell…
It was a bridge, But linking nothing and spanning nothing, an utterly surreal structure in the middle of a desert.
There appeared to be some sort of heraldic animal on the parapet, repeated at intervals….McCulloch did something a cowboy does very rarely, which is to blink.
That's a goddam hippopotamus!
He rode slowly around it. On its piers, it seemed to be eight hundred feet long and over a hundred feet high. There was no obvious way to get onto the roadway part, as both ends hung seventy feet in the air, looking as if they had been cleanly cut.
While the early morning air had largely done its work, the greater part of the piers were coated in thick evil-looking sludgy muck which although it had formed a dry crust, was still obviously damp in the shaded part of the arches.
Wherever it came from, it hasn't been here for long. And those piers were under water – well, something liquid – until not long ago.
In uncharacteristic doubt, McCulloch wondered who, if anyone, he could talk to about this.
Hey guys, how long has that bridge been out there?
You wouldn't know who owns it…
He had a sudden metallic, tinny, taste in his mouth, which he put down to one of last night's martinis. He took a sip of water, and looked up at the bridge again.
An idea was forming in his mind…
"Right, gentlemen!" said Dinwiddie, who by consent was Treasurer of the Rag Week and responsible for collecting and banking the charity receipts that came in. It was only right: he could add up and maths interested him.
"So far this week, we've collected a massive twelve dollars and fifty pence for charity…."
"That's all?" asked Rincewind, who had recovered his voice.
"Well, we had to bail people out of Watch cells and pay minor fines incurred in the act of collecting." Dinwiddie said, mildly. "On top of that, we had to pay a Beggar's Guild tax, as is usual at Rag Week, as the Guild takes the point of view that student wizards walking up to people in the street and asking them for their money is rather infringing on their charter."
The student wizards of the Unseen University Rag Committee nodded soberly. Horace Worblehat let a long sad frown spread across his expressive face, but remained silent.
"So we of the Unseen University United Charitable Collection Committee…"
"U.U.U.C.C.C.", said Horace Worblehat, helpfully. He was a small-built serious-minded man who appeared to have slightly over-large arms and legs to fit his torso. He already assisted in the Library and was studying for a post-graduate diploma in Librarianship in Magical Space.
"Indeed, Horace, the "OOOK" for short. We of the UUUCCC are looking for other means of helping Rag Week turn a serious profit."
"Or else the Arch-Chancellor might go along with his threat of closing us down as a complete bloody nuisance!" said another committee wizard, gloomily.
"Ah." Said Nathan Proboscis. "We might be able to help you there…"
McCulloch rode back to the ranch in deep thought. He'd heard stories of strange things happening in the desert states of the USA. People abducted by little grey men, cattle mutilated, strange lights in the sky, and that business at Roswell that refused to lie down and die, where they were supposed to have a freezer full of the critters and one of their space craft.
Maybe they'd transported a bridge halfway around the world from somewhere in Europe and dumped it in a desert in Nevada for some purpose of their own. In which case the Europeans would have noticed. Wouldn't they? And it would be in the news. His mind raced. He had contacts in some of the bigger cities out there. Maybe he could ring round.
Constable Colon of the City Watch looked out over the empty space where one of the city's most important landmarks should be. In the background, he could hear Sergeant Quirke having a fit. The Bridge Theft had happened on his watch, in his patch, after all. Constable Vimes joined him.
"It's a bugger, isn't it?"
"Eight hundred tons of stone doesn't just get up and walk. And it's too big to hide under your coat. And what would somebody want it for?"
"They've got a river and no way of crossing it?" offered Fred. Vimes made a non-committal shrug.
"Just goes to show nothing's safe from crime" he said.
"Indeed, Sam. I've often speculated that our major civic landmarks need to be constantly guarded against theft. Maybe this is the proof."
The first posters went up, surreptitiously, later that morning.
We have gotte the Brasse Bridge! They proclaimed. We are Keeping Ytte Sayfe Andde We Wylle Returnne Ytte For A Consideration. Give your dollars generously to the Unsene University Ragge Week or You May Never See The Bridge Agayne!
Strangely enough, this caught the imagination of the citizenry of Ankh-Morpork and tickled a collective funny bone.(1) The collecting buckets were soon filling with pennies and sixpences and shillings and even the odd dollar.
But all good things must come to an end.
"Alright, you fellows" said Arch-chancellor Bewdesley, briskly, as he marched into the Rag Committee office, flanked by the Dean and the Senior Wrangler.
"How much did your stunt raise?"
The treasurer, Dinwiddie, stood up and said "At the current count, sir, one thousand two hundred and ten dollars fifty-seven pence."
The Arch-chancellor nodded.
"I've just come from a tryin' interview with Snapcase. He says he very generously will not press charges or make arrests, student pranks and all that, boys will be boys - provided you return the Brass Bridge to its original location at the earliest possible moment. Got that?
"I'm also bound to ask, out of professional curiosity – how did you do it?"
Proboscis stepped forward, head lowered.
"I found this old grimoire in the library, sir. Spells For The Concealment And Physical Relocation Of Large Buildings And Civil Engineering Landmarks. By David Coppermeadow(2), sir. We used the spell for trans-dimensional mobility."
"Coppermeadow's Amazing Architectural Ambulator." said the arch-chancellor, thoughtfully, reading the spell. He handed the grimoire back.
"Well, full marks for imagination, full marks for the best Rag Week ever. People'll be talking about this one in fifty or a hundred years time. You can't be faulted on that, lad. But I've got the Patrician and the Watch breathing down my neck. So - Can you put it back?"
He gave Proboscis a hard stare. The student wizard tried not to wilt.
"I rather think I can, sir. Will you permit?"
"So" said Robert P McCulloch. "There are no bridges missing from any major cities in Western Europe. Maybe the Commie zone? The Russians are goddam secretive and they would naturally want to hide it."
His private secretary nodded. "Shall I call Mr Winifred at the State Department, sir? They would be first to know of events behind the Iron Curtain."
"Do it. It might narrow the search if you could find out any major city or country that's identified with the hippopotamus. That thing out there has ornamental hippos on it. The Limeys do lions and unicorns, right? The Krauts have a thing for eagles. The French have a cockerel. See what I'm saying? Find me a country that has its national shield propped in between a pair of hippos and we're halfway there."
The idea he couldn't yet do anything about was still tickling at his brain. If not now, in 1963, then next year. Or the year after. Or the year after that.
Four student wizards chanted a response as the fifth read the active words of the spell. There was an octarine flash in the air.
Proboscis reeled back, suddenly tired.
"It should be back by now, sir."
And it was. The Brass Bridge, from its point of view, stayed where it always had been: it had just had a bit of a vacation in Nevada appreciating the crisp pared-back beauty of the desert. But Nevada had faded out, and the old familiar vista and smell of Ankh-Morpork had faded in around it.
The few people watching were quite impressed to see a bridge appear from nowhere. It was worth the ransom money they'd paid to the wizards.
Others grumbled that it was no sort of a show if they brought it back as quickly and easily as that, and anyway it must all have been done with mirrors or something. But some people will say that, even despite the physical evidence of several wrecked carts and coaches that had carelessly tried to drive over a bridge that wasn't there. (3) But then, some people are never satisfied.
McCulloch rode out again, all his enquiries as to missing bridges and bridge-like structures having drawn a blank.
His secretary and the ranch manager were following on in a Jeep. He could rely on both their discretions.
This was as well, because there was nothing to be seen when he returned to the place where he had seen the mysterious bridge. He'd half-expected this. However, his ranch manager was a thoughtful and observant man, as cowboys generally are.
"No, sir. I don't doubt something was here. Take a look at these depressions in the sand. They're evenly shaped and regular. Like something mighty big and heavy stood here and sat its weight down and made itself at home." He looked more closely. "And one other thing, sir. This here black mud that's appeared on top of the local sand. That's river mud, and there ain't no river for miles! Looks like something was standing here and it was covered in black mud, and the mud trickled down and done pooled at the base. It makes an un-natural straight line here, in line with the depression in the sand, as if that's where the thing stood that it dripped off of".
He sighed, and shook his head.
"Strange things happen in these parts at nights." he said. "Mighty peculiar things."
They took a few photographs(4), for the look of the thing, and then rode back.
The student wizards celebrated in the Mended Drum.
"Jolly decent of old Bewdesley to give most of us course credits for working that spell, wasn't it?"
"And we got a lot of cash for the UUUCCC!" agreed Dinwiddie.
"Oook!" said Horace Worblehat, correcting his pronunciation.
Rincewind, Mackerel and Pennysmart clinked glasses in a way that was dangerously close to quaffing. It had been a good few days.
18th April, 1968, London:
The Americam billionaire Robert P. McCulloch, widely viewed as eccentric, signed the cheque with a flourish. The Greater London Council was now richer by £2,480,000; the old London Bridge, first built in 1831, would now be meticulously dismantled, stone by stone, transported across the Atlantic, and rebuilt in the Arizona desert, close to the sight of McCulloch's proposed model city of Lake Havasu City. It would take three years to rebuild.
Asked where he'd got the idea from, McCulloch merely said it had come to him several years earlier while riding in the Nevada desert. A place where a man can think, you know? It just took a few years for the right opportunity to come along.
McCulloch died in 1977. Lake Havasu City, built on a man-made lake caused by the damming of the Colorado River, is today a thriving community of nearly 60,000 people in south-west Arizona. The horror movie (and inadvertent comedy) Pirhana was shot here.
(1) Or maybe it was the thought of the despised Patrician Snapcase rolling on the Oblong Office floor chewing the carpet in rage that appealed. Either way it was the best Rag Week ever in terms of cash raised.
(2) On Roundworld, conjuror and illusionist David Copperfield, who thought big, and "concealed" major landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids.
(3) There had been no fatalities, though, and savvy rivermen had extracted salvage fees for rescuing the horses.
(4) They never came out. It's a Well-Known Fact that photos taken of paranormal events never come out. In this case, residual magic fogged the prints, but they put it down to radioactivity from the bomb tests.
We are reliably told in the canon that UU students once stole the Brass Bridge as a prank, thus justifying Fred Colon's belief that large civic buildings and landmarks should be Guarded at all times.
Source of factual information about Robert P. McCulloch and the London Bridge: Wikepedia.