‘Did you know that more than two thousand, four hundred and ninety individual dwarfs and trolls can be identified by armour or body markings in the original picture? It drove Rascal quite mad, poor fellow. It took him sixteen years to complete!’
‘That’s nothing,’ said Nobby cheerfully. ‘Fred here hasn’t finished painting his kitchen yet, and he started twenty years ago!’
‘He said the government hushed it up.’
‘Yeah, but your mate Dave says the government always hushes things up, Nobby,’ said Fred.
‘Well, they do.’
‘Except he always gets to hear about ‘em, and he never gets hushed up,’ said Fred.
‘I know you like to point the finger of scoff, sarge, but there’s a lot goes on that we don’t know about.’
‘Like what, exactly?’ Colon retorted. ‘Name me one thing that’s going on that you don’t know about. There — you can’t, can you?’
Fred grunted his disdain for a mere fact of geography. ‘War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?’ he said.
‘Dunno, sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?’
‘Absol— Well, okay.’
‘Defending yourself from a totalitarian aggressor?’
‘All right, I’ll grant you that, but—’
‘Saving civilization against a horde of—’
‘It doesn’t do any good in the long run is what I’m saying, Nobby, if you’d listen for five seconds together,’ said Fred Colon sharply.
‘Yeah, but in the long run what does, sarge?’
‘Didn’t know what’d hit ‘em, eh?’ said Vimes.
Detritus looked mildly offended at this. ‘Oh no, sir,’ he said, ‘I made sure they knew I hit ‘em.’
Coffee was only a way of stealing time that should by rights belong to your slightly older self.
‘I shall make sure the Low King is at least aware of your presence.’
‘Don’t worry, he’ll find out soon enough,’ growled Vimes. ‘Oh yes.’
‘I have no doubt he will. He has his agents in our city, just as I have in his. So I will do him the courtesy of telling him formally what he will in any case know. That is called politics, Vimes. It is a thing we try to do in the government.’
‘But … spies? I thought we were chums with the Low King!’
‘Of course we are,’ said Vetinari. ‘And the more we know about each other, the friendlier we shall remain. We’d hardly bother to spy on our enemies. What would be the point?’
When he forced open his eyes he saw pale stars above him, and had once again the sensation that there was someone else present.
He turned his head, wincing at the stab of pain, and saw a small but brightly lit folding chair on the sand. A robed figure was reclining in it, reading a book. A scythe was stuck in the sand beside it.
A white skeletal hand turned a page.
‘You’ll be Death, then?’ said Vimes, after a while.
AH, MISTER VIMES, ASTUTE AS EVER. GOT IT IN ONE, said Death, shutting the book on his finger to keep the place.
‘I’ve seen you before.’
I HAVE WALKED WITH YOU MANY TIMES, MISTER VIMES.
‘And this is it, is it?’
HAS IT NEVER STRUCK YOU THAT THE CONCEPT OF A WRITTEN NARRATIVE IS SOMETHING STRANGE? said Death.
Vimes could tell when people were trying to avoid something they really didn’t want to say, and it was happening here.
‘Is it?’ he insisted. ‘Is this it? This time I die?’
‘Could be? What sort of answer is that?’ said Vimes.
A VERY ACCURATE ONE. YOU SEE, YOU ARE HAVING A NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCE, WHICH INESCAPABLY MEANS THAT I MUST UNDERGO A NEAR VIMES EXPERIENCE. DON’T MIND ME. CARRY ON WITH WHATEVER YOU WERE DOING. I HAVE A BOOK.