Chapter 10—Fred and Nobby Investigate
The next thing the train Iron Girder hit was a landslide, warned in advance from some plucky kids. Moist was still over there negotiating with the linesmen in a hut.
Stoker Blake was unusually missing from upturned teatime. The other stokers and cleaners and the odd short-sighted wheel-tapper were having hearty lamb and vegetable stew, largely spilled on the floor by the sudden halt.
Vetinari slipped out from under his spy persona and was waiting inside Vimes' small, cramped, and above all, smelly quarters. It contained a standard bunk, blankets, a small chest, and bizarrely his favourite square of cardboard on the floor like a poor substitute for a rug.
And Vimes called him weird.
He investigated his trunk and found the usual cut-throat razor, lockpicks, spare clothing, spare ketchup bottle, swords, smaller weapons, and… his police badge.
It was the newer one Captain Carrot had issued for them all, not the pointy cheap thing Vimes wore with pride.
There were no tights, but a much-folded pair of pantaloons and a crumpled expensive shirt. The official helmet had trimmed plumes plucked out with gusto.
At the very bottom, there was a small unscrewed bottle of whisky, and no false panel. Vetinari idly wondered where Vimes kept his cash.
He was just replacing everything when the door thumped due to the lock. He closed the trunk, and unlocked the door. It was Fred Colon, who peered at him.
Fred Colon must of recognised him, because he immediately perspired fear-sweat.
"Sir!" shouted Stoker Blake quickly.
"Er," said Fred, frowning.
"Got locked in the room by Vimes, sir… uh, checking for clues!"
"Clues," repeated Fred. Nobby leaned into view, and the two leaned forward and glanced round the room.
"Could be under the mat," said Nobby, grinning. "Who are you?" He produced a pair of handcuffs.
Vetinari presented both wrists. Fred's eyes darted from him to Nobby and back again.
"Ah," said Vetinari, breaking character. He stepped back and sweated, which was easier with Fred Colon in the room, who shedded heat like a volcano.
Nobby, twirling the handcuffs in the corridor, was eclipsed by Fred, who shut the door.
"Sam told me who you are," spouted Colon. "He confided in us, but not Carrot and Nobby or Detritus."
"I see." Vetinari fiddled with his glove, and half-rolled it down to re-tie the bandage. "Well done," said Vetinari automatically. "I heard you were in the fight."
Colon heaved a sigh of relief. "We all were. The buggers came up through the floor. Nobby and me had a hard time trying to stop the Queen and Aeron from stabbing them all. All the dwarfs changed into soldiers like that." He clicked his fingers.
"I had the ones with micromail," said Vetinari. "It was easier to, uh, knock them off the footplate." He just in time remembered who he was talking to.
Colon said, "There's a dead body there they found with a poker skewered through it."
Vetinari said nothing apart from, "Hmm?"
"We found this weird corpse with its head stuck up in the roof the other day."
"That wasn't me," said Vetinari. "That was an… Ankh-Morpork-like suicide, playing with steam and fire."
"No," said Fred Colon firmly. "We just found it. Someone on board tried to hang themselves, and its head popped off after the rope shrunk."
"Ah," said Vetinari. "An incident I was unaware of. I do hope the men aren't working too hard."
"And Cheery," added Colon, "couldn't find Killer John Wagstaff at dinner two weeks after the job. He's supposed to be on board." Trembling, he gave Stoker Blake a keen look.
"I think he's in Skund, or had a very brief return from his holiday earlier on," said Vetinari carefully. Colon produced a notebook and wrote this down. He had an expression like, Leave Sam Vimes' room alone.
"All right," said Colon, looking a tiny bit pleased. "You can go now." He opened the door. Vetinari slunk out with his cap pulled low and his uninjured hand in his pocket.
Nobby slapped the handcuff on his injured hand instead.
The large poker had been cleaned, and the driver on duty gave him a dainty salute before Stoker Blake returned to work.
Vimes unexpectedly showed up, tired, grimy and beaming. He wrestled open a food packet.
"Today," he said, "I'm going to instruct you in the correct method of cooking sausages to produce the right amount of artery-clanging burnt crispy bits."
Stoker Blake swallowed down, My word, and said, "Alright."
Vimes winked at the driver, and brought out the ketchup and three sesame buns.
Fourteen minutes later, and Stoker Blake was tucking into an 'alright' sausage inna bun with green herby flecks and red plum bits. Vimes was holding two hotdogs with tongs and trying to burn them to a crisp. Stoker Blake refrained to add more coal. The flames were still productive enough to work the engine.
He worried. For once, he was slightly more injured than his current boyfriend. Usually, they were killed. In fact the gayer they were, the more likely. He suspected the Gods had a terrible secret sense of sin sometimes, and so did Narravitia.
Moist von Lipwig, on the other hand, looked a nervous wreck and needed a helping hand. Possibly, he was the new one under the limelight. His point of view certainly mattered to Dick Simnel, where previously it hit the Ankh-Morporkian public and The Times' audience.
Stoker—Vetinari gulped the last of the meal, and stood quickly, getting indigestion pains immediately. He pressed one hand to his belly, and with the other, intentionally stroked Vimes' arm.
Vimes dropped a hotdog into the furnace. "What?!" he said, turning to Vetinari. "Oh, you're injured."
"No," said Vetinari, dropping both arms to each side. "Um," he said and sat back down again. He glanced at the temperature gauge. The needle was slightly lower than work dictated.
He unscrewed his flask and offered coffee to Vimes as an apology. Vimes waved it away, and Vetinari poured out a cup. The liquid sloshed to the movement of the train. Goblins were crawling all over Iron Girder, attempting to repair her on the move for some technical reason, oh, he forgot. He wasn't an engineer, just a plain stoker.
Inside, deep inside, Vetinari grinned…
Vimes wondered, looking up and down his flaming hotdog. He gripped the third one for the driver in the tongs tightly. "There's another place they can attack us up ahead."
"You talk like I've never studied geography. I could teach you far more about the political aspects of the river trade than Captain Carrot could bore you about Bonk."
Vimes grunted. "Don't bother. This hotdog is not the same as your sausage. I got them to buy a pretty one for you. It was boar and had plums in it."
Vetinari was silent. His stomach gurgled uncomfortably.
Vimes continued, "It wasn't the boar, because I've got hotdogs from the same place. Perhaps the river trade over-ripened the plums, ah-er, Blake?" His tone was oddly unworried.
Inwardly, he gave up, and poured his cup of undrank coffee back into the flask. There was a beer bottle around here somewhere…
Stoker Blake felt with his good foot under the bench he sat on. The bottle toppled over with a clink and rolled back and forth.
Vimes asked, "Do the men piss into that?" He sounded like he was laughing. "Do you need a moment?" he added, cheerfully.
"No," he said. He scraped open the bottle lid using the bench. He drank some weak beer, and got out his handkerchief.
Stoker Blake belched, and attempted to replace the lid upon the bottle.
Vimes watched him. "The lid doesn't work like that." He sighed. "Tomorrow, I'm going to have to teach you how to cook something… organic, and, damn it, like one of Sybil's healthy smoothies. I think you're in the same trouble I had in Uberwald with the herby flecks."
"How," asked Stoker Blake, "is this supposed to go into a furnace?" He prodded the fruit. "I believe I may need sugar to caramelise it."
"We could make toffee," suggested Vimes, chuckling. He whipped out a potato masher. "We'll have to pulp the fruit first." He winked.
"Peel it," said Blake, handing over the oranges. There was a punnet of berries, and some lemons.
"Those are very popular for killing vampires," said Vimes happily. "Terrible places some of these hamlets. We had to initiate the tourist industry in one of them so Fred and Cheery could go shopping."
Vetinari stoked the fire rebelliously up to a crescendo on the gauge and shut the door. He plucked his way through the redcurrants, raspberries and elderberries, and ate a few.
He dusted off his hands and nodded imperceptibly. "I don't think our 'breakfast' is working today, Vimes. You can have the fruit back, gladly, unless you don't mind me handing them around the men like Moist von Lipwig and his pineapple hampers."
Vimes shrugged, peeling an orange for himself. "You can take the berries. Perhaps the chef will make the jam."
Vimes then said, "Have you heard anything?"
Vetinari leaned forward. "What about? Precisely!" As Vimes gestured, not mimed.
"No, no, no." Stoker Blake rubbed at the sweat beading around his neck and forehead.
Vimes stared, and stopped miming. "Is that a lovebite? It's not a vampi—?" He pinned Vetinari to the bench and checked, brushing away soot. He whistled under his breath. "You lucky, lucky bastard." He let go, and backed off.
Vetinari exhaled a breath he didn't know he'd been holding.
"Uhm, yes," he said, while mentally adding: I've been a lot more relaxed, haven't I?
Vimes smiled. "So that's why you're not bunking in with us. Who is it? A dwarf?"
Stoker Blake gently coughed, sounding as if he was full of blushing shyness under the soot.
Vimes went wide-eyed. "One of, one of the goblin girls?"
"No. One of the, one of the… people… on board." He examined his fingernails, full of grease and soot.
Vimes sat back. "After we lost Killer John Wagstaff, we've picked up three seamstresses, one camp follower boy, two washerwomen, another goblin, and a young clacks kid."
"However, I was not told about all the stowaways we've acquired." He gave Vimes a pointed look. "This is not a regular train ride. This is an entirely different type of mission."
"We drop most of them off somewhere decent," said Vimes. "Usually the next stop."
He leant over and patted Vetinari on the arm. "Well done," he said gruffly. "Good to know you've still got it in you."
Havelock Vetinari bit his lip to stop laughing.
Somewhere in the furnace, the lemon exploded.
Stoker Blake opened the furnace door, expecting tentacles or wizard hijinks, and found a lemon with fangs grinning back at him.
"Hoy! Hello!" said the lemon.
Vimes prodded it with the full-length poker. It was steel, however, not iron.
"Vampires dislike fire," said Stoker Blake carefully.
"I was made by Igor Up The Hill," explained the lemon. It started to sing, but the steel poker failed to join in, and so did the humans. "Oh dear, poor old dear," it said. "I was purchased by the wrong people."
Vimes flicked it out the furnace and onto the tracks. There was a brief jolt, and they left the singing fruit squished onto the rails.
With Morporkian survival instinct, they checked the remains of 'breakfast'.
Chapter 14—Bunk Beds
Fred Colon and Nobby Nobbs found Stoker Blake, a.k.a. Lord Vetinari, hanging onto Sam Vimes, and both of them were staggering against Iron Girder's natural sway.
Blake was holding a basket, and Vimes, as he passed, smelt of oranges.
He also looked like he'd been laughing, and Blake had been rumoured to have gotten drunk last night, but was always too blackened up to tell.
Something went 'clunk' inside of Fred. He watched them in the window's reflection as Vimes ushered Vetinari into his compact bedroom.
Nobby had turned round and was nudging Fred in the hip and sniggering.
Vetinari pushed Vimes down on his bed, and sat on him. The door was open and kept swinging to.
Sam Vimes shoved Havelock Vetinari off his legs and onto the bare mattress. There was a pile of fresh sheets atop his pillow, and his towels hadn't returned from the laundry. There had been too much blood, and the mattress was stained unfortunately rusty red.
Vetinari looked unimpressed, and moved closer to the wall away from where his leg and chest had bled.
Vimes stood up and locked the door. He went to his trunk and retrieved a bottle of Sybil's tonic, and, with an afterthought, a small potion jar.
He took a swig of the tonic, said, "One sip," to Vetinari and handed it over. He got it handed back, and Vetinari next investigated the potion.
"What's this?" he asked, as Vimes began to stuff his bare pillow into a new pillowcase.
"Put it on your hand," ordered Vimes. "It works better than the bandage you keep playing with." A speckly feather flew up and floated through the air.
Havelock said, "I've never done that in my life. Ah." More feathers arrived in the air as Vimes squashed the pillow in tight. He folded the flap down.
"Ah," repeated Havelock, thoroughly enjoying himself now. Vimes gave him a look. He flattened the pillow back into shape. The feather darts poked through.
"Er, the sheet next, I take it?" Havelock bounced off the bunk, causing the wood to creak loudly. He started trying not to grin. The last few weeks had been filled with wooden creaking bunks full of fun.
Vimes hugged his laundry to his chest, and in a very odd surreal moment for both of them, this not filled with amusing breakfasts and political defence and danger, unfolded the bed sheet and handed two corners of the far end to Havelock Vetinari.
Vimes had found out the man could cook in a boiling hot orange furnace without realising most of the stokers couldn't yet, but Vetinari couldn't cook. Most things came out burnt and crispy to Vimes' liking.
He now found out Vetinari knew, unlike most of the upper classes, how to operate a sheet. But Vetinari had also graduated: shaving himself, washing himself, and dressing himself, unlike the rest of Scoone Avenue inhabitants. Vimes wasn't sure about the latest, Moist von Lipwig; those suits came out too neatly done up.
Carrot must have been giving Vetinari discrete Care In The Community lessons. He even put the top sheet and woolly blanket on correctly, having spotted Vimes' slight leg twitch.
Havelock Vetinari bent over and smoothed the top blanket. Then he collapsed on the bunk again. Vimes put his laundry away, and as it was his bunk, sat on it.
Vimes tried to jolly both of them along. "Talking lemons, eh? What's next? You're all right, but I had the oranges."
Stoker Blake played with his bandage, smearing some of the ointment underneath. "Why did you manipulate me into," he said, "making your bed? I'm tired from the end of my shift. I have another shift later today as well." Because he was Stoker Blake, he yawned dramatically.
"I know. You take overtime all over the place. We're paying you to."
Vetinari stalked down towards his sleeping compartment. His boyfriend looked up, and wiped his glasses.
"You're late back. Something keep you?"
Vetinari hesitated. He thought about getting a speckly feather out of his pocket, and showing it to him. It would be the quietest way to split up. Iron Girder was fast approaching Ohulan Cutash.
He prepared a large bowl of lukewarm water outside, had a quick wash alone, and dived back in. He tugged the curtains together.
"Hwah? I was about to read a good book tonight, if you weren't back yet," he suggested. He leaned in for a kiss and came away with a soap sud tickling his nose. He wiped Stoker Blake's face, and kissed his earlobe. He took his cap off and mussed up his hair.