Home > Snuff (Discworld #39)(7)

Snuff (Discworld #39)(7)
Terry Pratchett

It should not be possible to achieve the effect of alcohol in a drink without including alcohol, but among the skills that Willikins had learned, or possibly stolen, over the years was the ability to mix out of common household ingredients a totally soft drink that nevertheless had very nearly everything you wanted in alcohol. Tabasco, cucumber, ginger and chili were all in there somewhere and beyond that it was best not to ask too many questions.

Drink gloriously in hand, Vimes leaned back and said, “Staff okay, Willikins?”

Willikins lowered his voice. “Oh, they’re skimming stuff off the top, sir, but nothing more than usual in my experience. Everyone sneaks something, it’s the perk of the job and the way of the world.”

Vimes smiled at Willikins’ almost theatrically wooden expression and said loudly for the hidden listener, “A conscientious man, then, is he, Silver? I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Seems like a steady one to me, sir,” said the manservant, rolling his eyes toward heaven and pointing a finger to a small grille in the wall: the inlet to the fabled extractor, which no doubt needed a man behind the scenes to wind the clockwork, and would any butler worth his bulging stomach forgo an opportunity to keep tabs on what the new master was thinking? Would he hell.

It was perks, wasn’t it? Of course people here would be on the take. You didn’t need evidence. It was human nature. He had constantly suggested to Sybil—he wouldn’t have dared insist—that the place be closed down and sold to somebody who really wanted to live in what he had heard was a creaking, freezing pile that could have housed a regiment. She would not hear of it. She had warm childhood memories of the place, she said, of climbing trees and swimming and fishing in the river, and picking flowers and helping the gardeners and similar jolly rural enterprises that were, to Vimes, as remote as the moon, given that his adolescent preoccupations had had everything to do with just staying alive. You could fish in the River Ankh, provided you took care not to catch anything. In fact it was amazing what you could catch by just letting one drop of the Ankh pass your lips. And as for picnicking, well, in Ankh-Morpork when you were a kid sometimes you nicked and sometimes you picked, mostly at scabs.

It had been a long day and last night’s sleep in the inn had not been salubrious or restful, but before he got into the huge bed Vimes opened a window and stared out at the night. The wind was murmuring in the trees; Vimes mildly disapproved of trees, but Sybil liked them and that was that. Things that he didn’t care to know about rustled, whooped, gibbered and went inexplicably crazy in the darkness outside. He didn’t know what they were and hoped never to find out. What kind of noise was this for a man to go to sleep to?

He joined his wife in the bed, thrashing around for some time before he found her, and settled down. She had instructed him to leave the window open to get some allegedly glorious fresh air, and Vimes lay there miserably, straining his ears for the reassuring noises of a drunk going home, or arguing with the sedan-chair owner about the vomit on the cushions, and the occasional street fight, domestic disturbance or even piercing scream, all punctuated at intervals by the chiming of the city clocks, no two of which, famously, ever agreed; and the more subtle sounds, like the rumble of the honey wagons as Harry King’s night-soil collectors went about the business of business. And best of all was the cry of the night watchman at the end of the street: Twelve o’clock and all is well! It wasn’t so long ago that any man trying this would have had his bell, helmet and quite probably his boots stolen before the echoes had died away. But not anymore! No, indeedy! This was the modern Watch, Vimes’s Watch, and anyone who challenged the watchman on his rounds with malice aforethought would hear the whistle blow and very quickly learn that if anybody was going to be kicked around on the street, it wasn’t going to be a watchman. The duty watchmen always made a point of shouting the hour with theatrical clarity and amazing precision outside Number One Scoone Avenue, so that the commander would hear it. Now, Vimes stuck his head under an enormous pillow and tried not to hear the tremendous and disturbing lack of noise whose absence could wake a man up when he had learned to ignore a carefully timed sound every night for years.

But at five o’clock in the morning Mother Nature pressed a button and the world went mad: every blessed bird and animal and, by the sound of it, alligator vied with all the others to make itself heard. The cacophony took some time to get through to Vimes. The giant bed at least had an almost inexhaustible supply of pillows. Vimes was a great fan of pillows when away from his own bed. Not for him one or even two sad little bags of feathers as an afterthought to the bed—no! He liked pillows to burrow into and turn into some kind of soft fortress, leaving one hole for the oxygen supply.

The awful racket was dying down by the time he drifted up to the linen surface. Oh yes, he recalled, that was another bloody thing about the country. It started too damn early. The commander was, by custom, necessity and inclination a nighttime man, sometimes even an all-night man; alien to him was the concept of two seven o’clocks in one day. On the other hand, he could smell bacon, and a moment later two nervous young ladies entered the room carrying trays on complex metallic things which, unfolded, made it almost but not totally impossible to sit up and eat the breakfast they contained.

Vimes blinked. Things were looking up! Usually Sybil considered it her wifely duty to see to it that her husband lived forever, and was convinced that this happy state of affairs could be achieved by feeding him bowel-scouring nuts and grains and yogurt, which to Vimes’s mind was a type of cheese that wasn’t trying hard enough. Then there was the sad adulteration of his mid-morning bacon, lettuce and tomato snack. It was amazing but true that in this matter the watchmen were prepared to obey the boss’s wife to the letter and, if the boss yelled and stamped, which was perfectly understandable, nay forgivable, when a man was forbidden his mid-morning lump of charred pig, would refer him to the instructions given to them by his wife, in the certain knowledge that all threats of sacking were hollow and if carried out would be immediately rescinded.

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