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26.12.2018

Vimes slammed the Gooseberry down on the desk and picked up the small loaf of dwarf bread that for the last few years he"d used as a paperweight.

"Switch off or die," he growled.

"Now, I can see you"re slightly upset," said the imp, looking up at the looming loaf, "but could I ask you to look at things from my point of view? This is my job. This is what I am. I am, therefore I think. And I think we could get along famously if you would only read the manu- Please, no! I really could help you!"

[1] Vimes had got around to a Clean Desk policy. It was a Clean Floor strategy that eluded him at the moment.

Vimes hesitated in mid thump, and then carefully put down the loaf.

"How?" he said.

"You"ve been adding up the numbers wrong," said the imp. "You don"t always carry the tens."

"And how would you know that?" Vimes demanded. "You mutter to yourself," said the imp.

"You eavesdrop on me?"

"It"s my job! I can"t switch my ears off! I have to listen! That"s how I know about the appointments!"

Vimes picked up the Petty Cash report and glanced at the messy columns of figures. He prided himself on what he had, since infancy, called "sums: Yes, he knew he plodded a bit, but he got there in the end.

"You think you could do better?" he said.

"Let me out and give me a pencil!" said the imp. Vimes shrugged. It had been a strange day, after all. He opened the little cage door.

The imp was a very pale green and translucent, a creature made out of little more than coloured air, but it was able to grip the tiny pencil stub. It ran up and down the column of figures in the petty cash book and, Vimes was pleased to hear, it muttered to itself.

"It"s out by three dollars and five pence," it reported after a few seconds.

"That"s fine, then," said Vimes.

"But the money is not accounted for!"

"Oh yes it is," said Vimes. "It was stolen by Nobby Nobbs. It always is. He never steals more than four dollars fifty."

"Would you like me to make an appointment for a disciplinary interview?" said the imp, hopefully.

"Of course not. I"m signing it off now. Er, thank you. Can you add up the other dockets?"

The imp beamed. "Absolutely!"

Vimes left it scribbling happily and walked over to the window.

They don"t acknowledge our law and they undermine our city. That"s

not just a bunch of deep-downers here to keep their fellow dwarfs on the

straight and narrow. How far do those tunnels go? Dwarfs dig like crazy.

But why here? What are they looking for? As sure as any hell you choose,

there"s no treasure trove under this city, no sleeping dragon, no secret

kingdom. There"s just water and mud and darkness.

How far do they go? How much- Hold on, we know this, we know

this, don"t we? We know about numbers and figures in today"s

Watch…

"Imp?" he said, turning round. "Yes, Insert Name Here?"

"You see that big pile of paper in the corner?" said Vimes, pointing. "Somewhere in there are the gate guard reports for the past six months. Can you compare them with last week"s? Can you compare

the number of dunny wagons leaving the city?"

"Dunny Wagon Not Found in Root Dictionary. Searching Slang

Dictionary … mip … mip … mip … Dunny Wagon, n.: cart for

carrying night soil (see also Honey Wagon, Treacle Wagon,

Midnight Special, Gong Wagon and variants," said the imp.

"That"s right," said Vimes, who hadn"t heard the Midnight Special

one before. "Can you?"

"Ooh, yes!" said the imp. "Thank you for using the Dis-Organizer

Mark Five "Gooseberry" the most advanced-"

"Yeah, don"t mention it. Just look at the ones for the Hubwards

Gate. That"s closest to Treacle Street."

"Then I suggest you stand back, Insert Name Here," said the imp.

"Why?"

The imp leapt into the pile. There were some rustling noises, a couple of mice scampered out – and the pile exploded. Vimes backed away hurriedly as papers fountained into the air, borne aloft on a very pale green cloud.

Vimes had instigated record-keeping at the gates not because he had a huge interest in the results, but because it kept the lads on their toes. It wasn"t as if it was security duty. Ankh-Morpork was so wide open it was gaping. But the cart census was handy. It stopped watchmen falling asleep at their posts, and it gave them an excuse to be nosy.

You had to move soil. That was it. This was a city. If you were a long way from the river, the only way to do that was on a cart. Blast it, he thought, I should have asked the thing to see if there"s been any increase in stone and timber loads, too. Once you"ve dug a hole in mud, you"ve got to keep it open

The circling, swooping papers snapped back into piles. The green haze shrank with a faint zzzzp noise, and there was the little imp, ready to explode with pride.

"An extra one point one dunny carts a night over six months ago!" it announced. "Thank you, Insert Name Here! Cogito ergo sum, Insert Name Here. I exist, therefore I do sums!"

"Right, yes, thank you," said Vimes. Hmm. A bit more than one cart a night? They held a couple of tons, maximum. You couldn"t make much of that. Maybe people living near that gate had been really ill lately. But … what would he do, in the dwarfs" position?

He damn well wouldn"t send stuff out of the nearest gate, that"s what. Ye gods, if they were tunnelling in enough places, they could dump it anywhere.

"Imp, could you … Vimes paused. "Look, don"t you have some kind of a name?"

"Name, Insert Name Here?" said the imp, looking puzzled. "Oh, no. I am created by the dozen, Insert Name Here. A name would be a bit stupid, really."

"I"ll call you Gooseberry, then. So, Gooseberry, can you give me the same figures for every city gate? And also the numbers of timber and stone carts?"

"It will take some time, Insert Name Here, but yes! I should love to!"

"And while you"re about it, see if there were any reports of

subsidence. Walls falling down, houses cracking, that sort of thing?" "Certainly, Insert Name Here. You can rely on me, Insert Name

Here!"

"Snap to it, then!"

"Yes, Insert Name Here! Thank you, Insert Name Here. I think

much better outside the box, Insert Name Here!"

zzzzp. Paper started to fly.

Well, who"d have thought it? Vimes wondered. Maybe the

damned thing could be useful after all.

The speaking tube whistled. He unhooked it and said, "Vimes: "I"ve got the evening edition of the Times, sir," said the distant

voice of Sergeant Littlebottom. She sounded worried.

"Fine. Send it up."

"And there"s a couple of people here who want to see you, sir."

Now there was a guarded tone to her voice.

"And they can hear you?" said Vimes.

"That"s right, sir. Trolls. They insist on seeing you personally.

They say they have a message for you."

"Do they look like trouble?" "Every inch, sir." "I"m coming down."

Vimes hung up the tube. Trolls with a message. It was unlikely to

be an invitation to a literary lunch.

"Er … Gooseberry?" he said.

Once again the faint green blur coalesced into the beaming imp. "Found the figures, Insert Name Here. Just working on them!" it

said, and saluted.

"Good, but get back in the box, will you? We"re going out." "Certainly, Insert Name Here! Thank you for choosing the-" Vimes pushed the box into his pocket and went downstairs. The main office included not only the duty officer"s desk but also

half a dozen smaller ones, where watchmen sat when they had to do

the really tricky parts of police work, like punctuating a sentence

correctly. A lot of rooms and corridors opened on to it. A useful result of all this was that any action there attracted a lot of attention very quickly.

If the two trolls very conspicuously in the middle of the room had intended trouble, they"d picked a bad time. It was between shifts. Currently, they were trying without success to swagger whilst standing still, watched with deep suspicion by seven or eight officers of various shapes.

They"d brought it on themselves. They were baaad trolls. At least, they"d like everyone to think so. But they"d got it wrong. Vimes had seen bad trolls, and these didn"t come close. They"d tried. Oh, they"d tried. Lichen covered their heads and shoulders. Clan graffiti adorned their bodies; one of them had even had his arm carved, which must have hurt, for that stone cool troll look. Since wearing the traditional belt of human or dwarf skulls would have resulted in the wearer"s heels leaving a groove all the way to the nearest nick, and monkey skulls left the wearer liable to ambush by dwarfs with no grounding in forensic anthropology, these trolls- Vimes grinned. These boys had done the best they could with, oh dear, sheep and goat skulls. Well done, boys, that"s really scary.

It was depressing. The old-time bad trolls didn"t bother with all that stuff. They just beat you over the head with your own arm until you got the message.

"Well, gentlemen?" he said. "I"m Vimes."

The trolls exchanged glances through the mats of lichen, and one of them lost.

"Midder Chrysoprase he wanna see you," he said sulkily. "Is that so?" said Vimes.

"He wanna see you now," said the troll.

"Well, he knows where I live," said Vimes.

"Yeah. He does."

Three words, smacking into the silence like lead. It was the way the troll said them. A suicidal kind of way.

The silence was broken by the steely sound of bolts being shot home, followed by a click. The trolls turned. Sergeant Detritus was taking the key out of the lock of the Watch House"s big, thick double doors. Then he turned round and his heavy hands landed on the trolls" shoulders.

He sighed. "Boys," he said, "if dere was a PhD in bein" fick, youse wouldn"t be able to find a pencil."

The troll who"d uttered the not-very-veiled threat then made another mistake. It must have been terror that moved his arms, or dumb machismo. Surely no one with a functioning brain cell would have selected that moment to move their arms into what, for trolls, was the attack position.

Detritus"s fist moved in a blur, and the crack as it connected with the troll"s skull made the furniture rattle.

Vimes opened his mouth … and shut it again. Trollish was a very physical language. And you had to respect cultural traditions, didn"t you? It wasn"t only dwarfs who were allowed to have them, was it? Besides, you couldn"t crack a troll"s skull even with a hammer and chisel. And he threatened your family, his hind brain added. He had it coming

There was a twinge of pain from the wound on his hand, echoed by the stab of a headache. Oh hells. And Igor said the stuff would work!

The stricken troll rocked for a second or two, and then went over forwards in one rigid movement.

Detritus walked across to Vimes, kicking the recumbent figure en passant.

"Sorry about dat, sir," he said, and his hand clanged on his helmet as he saluted. "Dey got no manners."

"All right, that"s enough; said Vimes, and addressed the remaining, suddenly-very-alone messenger. "Why does Chrysoprase want to see me?"

"He wouldn"t tell der Brothers Fick that, would he. .." said Detritus, grinning horribly. There was no swagger left now.

"All I know is, it"s about der killin" o" the horug" mumbled the messenger, taking refuge in surliness. At the sound of the word the eyes of every watching dwarf narrowed further. It was a very bad word.

"Oh boy, oh boy, oh. .: Detritus hesitated.

"-boy," said Vimes out of the corner of his mouth.

"-boy!" said Detritus triumphantly. "You are makin" friends like

nobody"s business today!"

"Where"s the meeting?" said Vimes.

"Der Pork Futures Warehouse," said the troll. "You is to come alone. .: he paused, awareness of his position dawning on him, and added, "if you don"t mind.

"Go and tell your boss I might choose to wander that way, will

you?" said Vimes. "Now get out of here. Let him out, sergeant:

"An" take your rubbish home wid you!" Detritus roared.

He slammed the doors behind the troll, bent under the weight of

his fallen comrade.

"Okay," said Vimes, as tensions relaxed. "You heard the troll. A good citizen wants to help the Watch. I"ll go and see what he"s got to-"

His eye caught the front page of the Times, spread out on the desk. Oh, hell, he thought wearily. There we are, at a time like this, with a troll officer holding a dwarf with his feet off the ground.

"It"s a good picture of Detritus, sir," said Sergeant Littlebottom nervously.

""The Long Arm of The Law"," Vimes read aloud. "Is that supposed to be funny?"

"Probably it is to people who write headlines," said Cheery. "Hamcrusher Murdered; Vimes read. "Watch Investigating". "Where do they get this?" he said aloud. "Who tells them? Pretty

soon I"ll have to read the Times to find out what I"m doing today!"

He flung the paper back on the desk. "Anything important I need to know about right now?"

"Sergeant Colon says there"s been a robbery at the Royal-" Cheery began, but Vimes waved that away.

"More important than robberies, I mean," he said.

"Er, another two officers have quit since I sent you that note, sir," said Cheery. "Corporal Ringfounder and Constable Schist at Chittling Street. Both say it"s for, er, personal reasons, sir."

"Schist was a good officer," Detritus rumbled, shaking his head.

"Sounds like he decided to be a good troll instead," said Vimes. He was aware of a stirring behind him. He still had an audience. Oh well, time for the speech.

"I know it"s hard for dwarf and troll officers right now," he said to the room at large. "I know that giving one of your own kind a tap with your truncheon because he"s trying to kick you in the fork might feel like you"re siding with the enemy. It"s no fun for humans, either, but it"s worse for you. The badge seems a bit heavy now, right? You see your people looking at you and wondering whose side you"re on, yes? Well, you"re on the side of the people, which is where the law ought to be. All the people, I mean, who"re out there beyond the mob, who"re fearful and puzzled and scared to go out at night. Now, funnily enough, the idiots who"re out there right in front of you getting their self-defence in first are also the people, but since they don"t seem to remember that, well, you"re doing them a favour by cooling them off a bit. Hold on to that, and hold together. You think that you should stay at home to make sure your of mum is okay? What good would you be against a mob? Together, we can stop things going that far. This"ll go its course. I know we"re all being run ragged, but right now I need everyone I can get, and in return there will be jam tomorrow and free beer too. Maybe I"ll even be a little blind when I"m signing the overtime dockets, who knows. Got it? But I want you all, whatever, whoever you are, to know this: I"ve got no patience with idiots who"ll drag

a grudge across five hundred miles and a thousand years. This is Ankh-Morpork. It"s not Koom Valley. You know it"s going to be a bad night tonight. Well, I"ll be on duty. If you are too, then I"ll want to know that I can depend on you to watch my back as I"ll watch yours. If I can"t depend on you, I don"t want to see you near me. Any questions?"

There was an embarrassed silence, as there always is on such occasions. Then a hand went up. It belonged to a dwarf.

"Is it true a troll killed the grag?" he asked. There was a murmuring from the watchmen, and he went on, a little less timorously, "Well, he did ask."

"Captain Carrot is investigating," said Vimes. "At the moment we are still in the dark. But if indeed there has been a murder, then I will see that the murderer is brought to justice, no matter what size they are, what shape they are, who they are or where they may be. You have my guarantee on that. My personal guarantee. Is that acceptable?"

The general change in the atmosphere indicated that it was so. "Good," he said. "Now go out there and be coppers. Go on!"

The room emptied of all except those still labouring over the

knotty problem of where they should put the comma.

"Er, permission t"speak freely, sir?" said Detritus, knuckling

closer.

Vimes stared at him. When I first met you, you were chained to a wall like a watchdog and didn"t speak much beyond a grunt, he thought. Truly, the leopard can change his shorts.

"Yes, of course," he said.

"You ain"t serious, are you? You"re not going runnin" after a coprolite like Chrysoprase, sir?"

"What"s the worst he can do to me?"

"Rip off your head, grind you to mince and make soup from your bones, sir," said Detritus promptly. "An" if you was a troll, he"d have all your teeth knocked out an" make cufflinks out of "em."

"Why"d he choose to do that now? Do you think he"s looking for a war with us? That"s not his way. He"s hardly going to kill me by appointment, is he? He wants to talk to me. It"s got to be to do with the case. He might know something. I don"t dare not go. But I want you along. Scrounge up a squad, will you?"

A squad would be sensible, he admitted to himself. The streets were just too … nervous at the moment. He compromised with Detritus and a scratch band of whoever was doing nothing at the moment. That was one thing you could say about the Watch, it was representative. If you based your politics on what other people looked like, then you couldn"t claim the Watch was on the side of any shape. That was worth hanging on to.

It seemed quieter outside, not so many people on the streets as usual. That wasn"t a good sign. Ankh-Morpork could feel trouble ahead like spiders could feel tomorrow"s rain.

What was this?

The creature swam through a mind. It had seen thousands of minds since the universe began, but there was something strange about this one.

It looked like a city. Ghostly, wavering buildings appeared through a drizzle of midnight rain. Of course, no two minds were alike …

The creature was old, although it would be more accurate to say that it had existed for a long time. When, at the start of all things, the primordial clouds of mind had collapsed into gods and demons and souls of all levels, it had been among those who had never drifted close to a major accretion. So it had entered the universe aimlessly, without task or affiliation, a scrap of being blowing free, fitting in wherever it could, a sort of complicated thought looking for the right kind of mind.

Currently -that is to say, for the past ten thousand years or so -it had found work as a superstition.

And now it was in this strange, dark city. There was movement around it. The place was alive. And it rained.

For a moment, just then, it had sensed an open door, a spasm of rage it could use. But just as it leapt to take advantage, something invisible and strong had grabbed it and flung it away.

Strange.

With a flick of its tail, it disappeared into an alley.

The Pork Futures Warehouse was … one of those things, the sort that you get in a city that has lived with magic for too long. The occult reasoning, if such it could be called, was this: pork was an important commodity in the city. Future pork, possibly even pork as yet unborn, was routinely traded by the merchants. Therefore, it had to exist somewhere. And the Pork Futures Warehouse came into existence, icy cold within as the pork drifted backwards in time. It was a popular place for cold storage – and for trolls who wanted to think quickly.

Even here, away from the more troubled areas, the people on the streets were … watchful.

And now they watched Vimes and his motley squad pull up outside one of the warehouse doors.

"I reckon at least one of us should go in wid you," Detritus rumbled, as protective as a mother hen. "Chrysoprase won"t be alone, you can bet on dat: He unslung the Piecemaker, the crossbow he had personally built from a converted siege weapon, the multiple bolts of which tended to shatter in the air from the sheer stresses of acceleration. They could remove a door not simply from its frame

but also from the world of objects bigger than a matchstick. Its incredible inaccuracy was part of the Piecemaker"s charm. The rest of the squad very quickly got behind him.

"Only you, then, sergeant," said Vimes. "The rest of you, come in only if you hear screaming. Me screaming, that is: He hesitated, and then pulled out the Gooseberry, which was still humming to itself. "And no interruptions, understand?"

"Yes, Insert Name Here! Hmm hum hmm. .

Vimes pulled open the door. Dead, freezing air poured out around him. Thick frost crackled under his feet. Instantly, his breath twinkled in clouds.

He hated the Pork Futures Warehouse. The semi-transparent slabs of yet-to-be-meat hanging in the air, accumulating reality every day, made him shiver for reasons that had nothing to do with temperature. Sam Vimes considered crispy bacon to be a food group in its own right, and the sight of it travelling backwards in time turned his stomach the wrong way.

He took a few steps inside and looked around in the dank, chilly greyness.

"Commander Vimes," he announced, feeling a bit of a fool.

Here, away from the doors, freezing mist lay knee-high on the floor. Two trolls waded through it towards him. More lichen, he saw. More clan graffiti. More sheep skulls.

"Leave weapons here," one rumbled.

"Baaa!" said Vimes, striding between them.

There was a click behind him, and the faint song of steel wires under tension yet yearning to be free. Detritus had shouldered his bow.

"You can try takin" dis one off"f me if you like," he volunteered.

Vimes saw, further into the mist, a group of trolls. One or two of them looked like hired grunt. The others, though … He sighed. All Detritus needed to do was fire that thing in this direction and quite a lot of the organized crime in the city would suddenly be very

disorganized, as would be Vimes if he didn"t hit the floor in time. But he couldn"t allow that. There were rules here that went deeper than the law. Besides, a forty-foot hole in the warehouse wall would take some explaining.

Chrysoprase was sitting on a frost-crusted crate. You could always tell him in a crowd. He wore suits, when few trolls aspired to more than the odd scrap of leather. He even wore a tie, with a diamond pin. And today he had a fur coat round his shoulders. That had to be for show. Trolls liked low temperatures. They could think faster when their brains were cool. That"s why the meeting had been called here. Right, Vimes thought, trying to stop his teeth from chattering, when it"s my turn it"s going to be in a sauna.

"Mister Vimes! Good o" you to be comin"," said Chrysoprase jovially. "Dese gentlemen are all high-toned businessmen of my acquaintance. I "spect you can put names to faces."

"Yeah, the Breccia," said Vimes.

"Now den, Mister Vimes, you know dat don"t exist," said Chrysoprase innocently. "We just band together to further troll interests in der city via many charitable concerns. You could say we are community leaders. Dere"s no call for name callin"."

Community leaders, Vimes thought. There"d been a lot of talk about community leaders lately, as in "community leaders appealed for calm, a phrase the Times used so often that the printers probably left it set in type. Vimes wondered who they were, and how they were appointed and, sometimes, if "appealing for calm" meant winking and saying "Do not use those shiny new battle-axes in that cupboard over there … No, not that one, the other one." Hamcrusher had been a community leader.

"You said you wanted to talk to me alone," he said, nodding towards the shadowy figures. Some of them were hiding their faces.

"Dat is so. Oh, dese gennlemen behind me? Dey will be leavin" us now,, said Chrysoprase, waving a hand at them. "Dey"re just here so"s

you understand dat one troll, dat is yours truly, is speakin" for der many. An, at the same time, your good sergeant dere, my of frien" Detritus, is goin" outside for a smoke, would dat be der case? Dis conversation is between you an" me or it don"t happen."

Vimes turned and nodded to Detritus. Reluctantly, with a scowl at Chrysoprase, the sergeant withdrew. So did the trolls. Boots crunched over the frost, and then doors slammed shut.

Vimes and Chrysoprase looked at one another in literally frozen silence.

"I can hear your teeth chatterin"," said Chrysoprase. "Dis place jus" right for troll, but for you it freezes der brass monkey, right? Dat"s why I bringed dis fur coat: He shrugged it off and held it out. "Dere jus" you and me here, okay?"

Pride was one thing; not being able to feel your fingers was another. Vimes wrapped himself in the fine, warm fur.

"Good. Can"t talk to a man whose ear are froze, eh?" said Chrysoprase, pulling out a big cigar case. "Firstly, I am hearin" where one of my boys was disrespectful to you. I am hearin" how him suggestin" I am der kind of troll dat would get pers"nal, dat would raise a hand to your lovely lady an" your liddle boy who is growin" up so fine. Sometimes I am despairin" o" young trolls today. Dey show no respect Dey have no style. Dey lack finesse. If you are wanting a new rockery in your garden, just say der word."

"What? Just make sure I never clap eyes on him again," said Vimes shortly.

"Dat will not be a problem," said the troll. He indicated a small box, about a foot square, beside the crate. It was far too small to contain a whole troll.

Vimes tried to ignore it, but found this hard. "Was that all you wanted to see me for?" he said, trying to stop his imagination playing its home-made horrors across his inner eyeballs.

"Smokin, Mister Vimes?" Chrysoprase said, flipping open the case. "Der ones on der left is okay for humans. Finest kind."

"I"ve got my own," said Vimes, pulling out a battered packet. "What is this about? I"m a busy man."

Chrysoprase lit a silvery troll cigar and took a long pull. There was a smell like burning tin.

"Yeah, busy because dat of dwarf dies," he said, not looking at Vimes. "Well?"

"It was no troll done it," said Chrysoprase.

"How do you know?"

Now the troll looked directly at Vimes. "If it was, I would have foun" out by now. I bin askin" questions:

"So are we."

"I bin askin" questions more louder," said the troll. "I get lotsa answers. Sometimes I am gettin" answers to questions I ain"t even asked yet."

I bet you are, Vimes thought. I have to obey rules. "Why should you care who kills a dwarf?" he said.

"Mister Vimes! I am a honest citizen! It my public duty to care!" Chrysoprase watched Vimes"s face to see how this was playing, and grinned. "All this stoopid Koom Valley t"ing is bad for business. People are gettin" edgy, pokin" around, askin" questions. I am sittin" dere gettin" nervous. An" den I hear my of friend Mister Vimes is on der case and I am thinkin, that Mister Vimes, he may be very insensitive to the nu-unces of troll culture some times, but der man is straight as a arrow and dere are on him no flies. He will see where dis so-called troll left his club behind an" he is laughin" his head off, it is so see-through like glass! Some dwarf did it an" want to make der trolls look bad, Kew Eee Dee." He sat back.

"What club?" said Vimes quietly.

"What"s dat?"

"I haven"t mentioned a club. There was nothing in the paper about a troll club."

"Dear Mister Vimes, dat"s what der lawn ornaments is sayin"," said Chrysoprase.

"And dwarfs talk to you, do they?" said Vimes.

The troll looked thoughtfully at the roof, and blew out more smoke. "Eventually," he said. "But dat"s jus" detail. Jus" between you an" me, here an" now. We unnerstan" dese t"ings. It is clear as anyt"ing dat der crazy dwarfs had a fight, or der of dwarf died o" bein" alive too long, or-"

"-or you asked him a few questions?"

"No callin" for dat, Mister Vimes. Dat club is nothin" but a red dried swimmin" t"ing. Der dwarfs put it dere.

"Or a troll did the murder, dropped his club and ran," said Vimes. "Or he was clever, and thought: no one would believe a troll would be so stupid as to leave his club so if I do leave it, the dwarfs will get the blame."

"Hey, good job it so cold in here or I wouldn"t be followin" you!" laughed Chrysoprase. "But den I ask, a troll gets into a nest o" dem lousy deep-downers and lays out jus" one? No way, Jose, eh? He"d whack as many of "em as he could, thud, thud!"

He looked at Vimes"s puzzlement and sighed.

"See, any troll gettin" in dere, he"d be a mad troll to start with. You know how der kids are all wound up? People bin feeding dem that honour an" glory an" destiny stuff, that coprolite rots your brain faster"n Slab, faster even than Slide. From what I am hearin, the dwarf got knocked off for-rensic, all slick an" quiet. We don"t do dat, Mister Vimes. You played der game, you know it. Get a troll in der middle o" a load of dwarfs, he is like a fox in der….em fings wi" wings, layin" dem egg fings . .

"Fox in a henhouse?"

"Dat"s der- You know, fur, big ears-"

"Bunny?"

"Right! Bash one dwarf an" sneak out? No troll"d stop at one, Mister Vimes. It"s like you people an" peanuts. Der game got dat right."

"What"s this game?"

"You never played Thud?" Chrysoprase looked surprised.

"Oh, that. I don"t play games," said Vimes. "And on the subject of Slab, you do run the biggest pipeline. Just between you and me, here and now."

"Nah, I"m out o" dat whole t"ing," said Chrysoprase, waving his cigar dismissively. "You could say I am seein" der error o" my ways. From now on it"s clean livin" straight down der middle. Property an" financial services, dat is der way forward."

"Glad to hear it."

"Besides, der kids are movin" in," Chrysoprase went on. "Sediment"ry trash. And dey cuts Slab wi" bad sulphides an" cooks it up wi" ferric chloride an" crap like dat. You thought Slab was bad? You wait till you see Slide. Slab makes a troll go an" sit down to watch all der pretty colours, be no trouble to no one, nice and quiet. But Slide make him feel like him der biggest, strongest troll in der worl", don"t need sleep, don"t need food. After a few weeks, don"t need life. Dat ain"t for me."

"Yes, why kill your customers?" said Vimes.

"Low blow, Mister Vimes, low blow. Nah, der new kids, half der time dey on Slide theyselves. Too much fightin", too much of no respec"." He narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. "I know names an" places:

"It"s your duty as a good citizen to tell me, then," said Vimes. Ye gods, what does he think I am? But I want those names. Slide sounds nasty. Right now we need battle-crazy trolls like we need a hole in the head, which we"ll probably end up getting.

"Can"t tell you. Dat der problem," said Chrysoprase. "This ain"t der time. You know what"s happenin" out dere. If der stupid dwarfs want to fight we"ll need every troll. Dat"s what I sayin". I tellin" my people, give Vimes a chance. Be good citizens, not rockin" around der boat. People still listenin" to me an" my … associates. But not for much longer. I hope you on der case, Mister Vimes?"

"Captain Carrot is investigating right now," said Vimes.

Chrysoprase"s eyes narrowed again. "Carrot Ironfoundersson?" he said. "Der big dwarf? He a lovely boy, bright as a button, but to trolls dat won"t look so good, I tell you flat."

"It doesn"t look that good to dwarfs, if it comes to that," said Vimes. "But it"s my Watch. I"ll not be told who I put on what case."

"You trust him?" said Chrysoprase.

"Yes!"

"Okay, he a finker, he shiny. But … Ironfoundersson? Dwarf name. Dat a problem right dere. But der name Vimes … Dat name means a lot. Can"t be bribed, he once arrested the Patrician, not der sharpest knife in the drawer but honest like anyt"ing and he don"t stop diggin"." Chrysoprase caught Vimes"s expression. "Dat"s what dey say. I wishin" Vimes was on dis case, "cos him like me, bareknuckle boy, he get at der truth soon enough. And to him I say: no troll did dat t"ing, not like dat.

Forget that he"s talking street troll, Vimes told himself. That"s just to seem like a good ol troll. This is Chrysoprase. He beat out most of the old-style mobsters, who were pretty sharp players themselves, and he holds off the Thieves" Guild with one hand. And that"s without sitting in a pile of snow. You know he"s right. But … not the sharpest knife in the drawer? Thank you so very much!

But Captain Carrot was shiny, was he? Vimes"s mind always looked for connections, and came up with: "Who is Mr Shine?"

Chrysoprase was absolutely still, the only motion the greenish smoke spiralling up from the cigar. Then, when he spoke, his air was uncharacteristically jovial.

"Him? Oh, a story for kids. Kinda like a troll legend from der faroff days o" long ahead," he said. [1]

"Like a folk hero?"

"Yeah, that kinda t"ing. Kinda silly t"ing people talk about when times is tricky. Just a willie der wisp, not real. Dis is modern times."

[1] Troll lore says that living creatures actually move backwards through time. It"s complicated.

And that seemed to be that.

Vimes stood up. "All right, I"ve heard what you say," he said. "And now I"ve got a Watch to run."

Chrysoprase puffed his cigar and flicked the ash into the frost, where it sizzled. "You goin" back to der Watch House by way o" Turn Again Lane?" he said.

"No, that"s well out of-" Vimes stopped. There had been a hint of suggestion in the troll"s voice.

"Give my regard to der of lady at next door to der cake shop," said the troll.

"Er, I will, will I?" said Vimes, nonplussed. "Sergeant!"

The door at the far end opened with a bang and Detritus ran in, crossbow at the ready. Vimes, aware that one of the troll"s few faults was an inability to understand all the implications of the term "safety catch, fought down a dreadful urge to dive for the ground.

"Time"s comin" when we all got to know where we standin"," mused Chrysoprase, as if talking to the audience of ghostly pork. "An" who is standin" next to us."

As Vimes headed for the door the troll added: "Give der coat to your lady, Mister Vimes. Wi" my compliments."