'We'll have a lot more room,' said Beti unfeelingly. 'C'mon, sarge, you know how to throw your weight around.'
'I ain't throwing my weight anywhere,' said Colon firmly. He was lying full length on the carpet, both hands gripping it as hard as possible. 'It's not natural, just a bit of broadloom between you and certain splash.' The Patrician looked down. 'We're not over water, sergeant.'
'I know what I meant, sir!'
'Can we slow down a bit?' said Beti. 'The breeze is invading my privacy, if you get my drift.' Lord Vetinari sighed. 'We're not going very fast as it is. I suspect this is a very old carpet.'
'There's a frayed bit here,' said Beti. 'Shut up,' said Colon. 'Look, I can poke my finger right through–'
'Notice how it kind of wobbles when you move?'
'Here, look, those palm trees down there look really small.'
'Nobby, you're scared of heights,' said Colon. 'I know you're scared of heights.'
'That's sexual stereotyping!'
'No, it's not!'
'Yes, it is! You'll be expecting me to break my ankle a lot and scream all the time next! It's my job to prove to you that a woman can be as good as a man!'
'Practically identical in your case, Nobby. You've caught too much sun, that's what it is. You are not female, Nobby!' Beti sniffed. 'That's just the sort of sexist remark I'd expect from you.'
'Well, you're not!'
'It's the principle of the thing.'
'Well, at least we now have transport,' said Lord Vetinari, his tone suggesting that the show was over. 'Unfortunately, I had no time to find out where the army is.'
'Ah! I can help you there, sir!' Colon tried to salute, and then made a grab for the carpet again. 'I found out by cunning, sir!'
'Yessir! It's at a place called... er... En al Sams la Laisa, sir.' The carpet drifted onwards for a moment, in silence. “'The Place where the Sun Shineth Not”?' said the Patrician. There was more silence. Colon was trying not to look at anyone. 'Is there a somewhere called Gebra?' said Nobby, sulkily. 'Yes, Be– corporal. There is.'
'They've gone there. Of course, you've only got a woman's word for it.'
'Well done, corporal. We shall head up the coast.' Lord Vetinari relaxed. In a busy and complex life he'd never met people quite like Nobby and Colon. They talked all the time yet there was something almost... restful about them. He watched the dusty horizon carefully as the ancient carpet curved around. Under his arm was the metal cylinder Leonard had made for him. Drastic times required drastic measures. 'Sir?' said Colon, his voice muffled by the carpet. 'Yes, sergeant?'
'I've got to know... How did you... you know... get the donkey down?'
'What? Just talking?'
'Yes, sergeant. Persuasion. And, admittedly, a sharp stick.'
'Ah! I knew–'
'The trick of getting donkeys down from minarets,' said the Patrician, as the desert unwound below them, 'is always to find that part of the donkey which seriously wishes to get down.' The wind had settled. The bird up on the cliffs had shut down for the night. All Vimes could hear was the sizzle of the little desert creatures. Then Ahmed's voice said: 'I am genuinely impressed, Sir Samuel.'
Vimes took a deep breath. 'You know, you really fooled me,' he said. “'May your loins be full of fruit.” That was a good one. I really thought you were just–' He stopped. But Ahmed continued: '–just another camel-driver with a towel on his head? Oh, dear. And you'd been doing so well up to now, Sir Samuel. The Prince was very impressed.'
'Oh, come on. You were all but making suggestive comments about melons. What was I supposed to think?'
'Don't fret, Sir Samuel. I consider it all a compliment. You can turn round. I wouldn't dream of harming you unless you do something... foolish.' Vimes turned. He could just make out a shape in the afterglow. 'You were admiring this place,' said Ahmed. 'Tacticus's men had it built when he tried to conquer Klatch. It's not really a city by today's standards, of course. It was really just making a point. “Here we are and here we stay,” as it were. And then the wind changed.'
'You murdered Snowy Slopes, didn't you?'
'The term is executed. I can show you the confession he signed beforehand.'
'Of his own free will?'
'More or less.'
'Let us say, I pointed out to him the alternatives to signing the confession. I was kind enough to leave you the pad. After all, I wanted to keep your interest. And don't look like that, Sir Samuel. I need you.'
'How can you tell how I look?'
'I can guess. The Assassins' Guild had a contract on him in any case. And by a happy chance I am Guild member.'
'You?' Vimes tried to bite down on the word. And then: why not him? Kids got sent a thousand miles to be taught in the Assassins' Guild school... 'Oh, yes. The best years of my life, they tell me. I was in Viper House. Up School! Up School! Right Up School!' He sighed like a prince and spat like a camel driver. 'If I shut my eyes I can still recall the taste of that peculiar custard we used to get on Mondays. Dear me, how it all comes back... I remember every soggy street. Does Mr Dibbler still sell his horrible sausages inna bun in Treacle Mine Road?'
'Still the same old Dibbler, eh?'
'Still the same sausages.'
'Once tasted, never forgotten.'
'No, don't move too quickly, Sir Samuel. Otherwise I'm afraid I shall be cutting your own throat. You don't trust me, and I don't trust you.'
'Why did you drag me here?'
'Drag you? I had to sabotage my own ship so you wouldn't lose me!'
'Yes, but... you... knew how I'd react.' Vimes's heart began to sink. Everyone knew how Sam Vimes would react... 'Yes. Would you like a cigarette, Sir Samuel?'
'I thought you sucked those damn cloves.'
'In Ankh–Morpork, yes. Always be a little bit foreign wherever you are, because everyone knows foreigners are a little bit stupid. Besides, these are rather good.'
'Fresh from the desert?'
'Hah! Yes, everyone knows Klatchian cigarettes are made from camel dung.' A match flared, and for a moment Vimes caught a glimpse of the hooked nose as Ahmed lit the cigarette for him. 'That is one area where, I regret to say, prejudice has some evidence on its side. No. these are all the way from Sumtri. An island where, it is said, the women have no souls. Personally, I doubt it.' Vimes could make out a hand, holding the packet. just for a moment he wondered if he could grab and 'How is your luck?' said Ahmed. 'Running out, I suspect.'
'Yes. A man should know the length of his luck. Shall I tell you how I know you are a good man, Sir Samuel?' In the light of the rising moon Vimes saw Ahmed produce a cigarette holder, insert one, and fight up almost fastidiously. 'Do tell.'
'After the attempt on the Prince's life I suspected everyone. But you suspected only your own people. You couldn't bring yourself to think the Klatchians might have done it. Because that'd fine you up with the likes of Sergeant Colon and all the rest of the Kiatchian-fags–are–made–of–camel– dung brigade.'
'Whose policeman are you?'
'I draw my pay, let us say, as the wali of Prince Cadram.'
'I shouldn't think he's very happy with you right now, then. You were supposed to be guarding his brother, weren't you?' So was I, Vimes thought. But what the hell... 'Yes. And we thought the same way, Sir Samuel. You thought it was your people, I thought it was mine. The difference is, I was right. Khufurah's death was plotted in Klatch.'
'Oh, really? That's what they wanted the Watch to think–'
'No, Sir Samuel. The important thing is what someone wanted you to think.'
'Really? Well, you've got that wrong. All the stuff with the glass and the sand on the floor, I saw through …that... straight... away...' His voice faded into silence. After a while Ahmed said, almost sympathetically, 'Yes, you did.'
'Oh, in some ways you were right. Ossie was paid in dollars, originally. And then, later on, someone broke in, making sure they dumped most of the glass outside, and swapped the money. And distributed the sand. I must say that I thought the sand was going a bit too far, too. No–one would be that stupid. But they wanted to make sure it looked like a bungled attempt.'
'Who was it?' said Vimes. 'Oh, a small–time thief. Bob–Bob Hardyoyo. He didn't even know why he was doing it, except that someone was willing to pay him. I commend your city, commander. For enough money, you can find someone to do anything.'
'Someone must have paid him.'
'A man he met in a pub.' Vimes nodded glumly. It was amazing how many people were prepared to do business with a man they'd met in a pub. 'I can believe that,' he said. 'You see, if even the redoubtable Commander Vimes, who is known even to some senior Klatchian politicians as an unbendingly honest and thorough man, if somewhat lacking in intelligence... if even he protested that it was done by his own people – well, the world is watching. The world would soon find out. Starting a war over a rock? Well... that sort of thing makes countries uneasy. They've all got rocks off their coast. But starting a war because some foreign dog had killed a man on a mission of peace... that, I think, the world would understand.'
'Lacking in intelligence?' said Vimes. 'Oh, don't be too depressed, commander. That business with the fire at the embassy. That was sheer bravery.'
'It was bloody terror!'
'Well, the dividing line is narrow. That was one thing I hadn't expected.' In the rolling, clicking snooker table of Vimes's mind the black ball hit a pocket. 'You had expected the fire, then?'
'The building should have been almost empty–, Vimes moved. Ahmed was lifted off his feet and slammed against a pillar, with both of Vimes's hands around his neck. 'That woman was trapped in there!'
'It... was... necessary!' said Ahmed hoarsely. 'There... had... to be a... diversion! His... life was... in danger, I had to get him out! I did... not know... about the... woman until too late... I give you my word...' Through the red veil of anger Vimes became aware of a prickle in the region of his stomach. He glanced down at the knife that had appeared magically in the other man's hand. 'Listen to me . . ' hissed Ahmed. 'Prince Cadram ordered his brother's death... What better way to demonstrate the... perfidy of the sausage–eaters.. killing a peace–maker...'
'His own brother? You expect me to believe that?'
'Messages were sent to... the embassy in code...'
'To the old ambassador? I don't believe that!' Ahmed stood quite still for a moment. 'No, you really don't, do you?' he said. 'Be generous, Sir Samuel. Truly treat all men equally. Allow Klatchians the right to be scheming bastards, hmm? In fact the ambassador is just a pompous idiot. Ankh–Morpork has no monopoly on them. But his deputy sees the messages first. He is... a young man of ambition...' Vimes relaxed his grip. 'Him? I thought he was shifty as soon as I saw him!'
'I suspect that you thought he was Klatchian as soon as you saw him, but I take your point.'
'And you could read this code, could you?'
'Oh, come now. Don't you read Vetinari' work upside down when you're standing in front of his desk? Besides, I am Prince Cadram's policeman. ..'
'So he's your boss, right?'
'Who is your boss, Sir Samuel? When push comes to shove?' The two men stood locked together. Ahmed's breath wheezed. Vimes stood back. 'These messages... you've got them?'
'Oh, yes. With his seal on them.' Ahmed rubbed his neck. 'Good grief. The originals? I'd have thought they'd be under lock and key.'