"I said, was he insane, Sarge?"
"He asked you to shoot at people who weren't shooting back," growled Vimes, striding forward. "That makes him insane, wouldn't you say?"
"They are throwing stones, Sarge," said Colon.
"So? Stay out of range. They'll get tired before we do."
(To make sense of this, see part I, "'Cos they torture people," for background and introduction.)
Using his memories of a history which hasn't happened yet, "John Keel" has prevented one riot so far, and arrested an agent of Captain Swing's secret police force, the un-uniformed Unmentionables, whom he caught violating curfew, he's stopped the practice of taking bribes to let prisoners go, and so far he's managed not to get either himself or himself killed. (It makes sense, it's a time-travel story. Read the first entry.)
So far so good.
That means things are going to get a hell of a lot worse. --Fast.
Did I mention that multiple murderer and cop killer Carcer has been given a job by Findtheewell Swing, who takes a scientific
view of crime, and interrogation, too?
This is happening, he thought but it didn't happen before. Not exactly like this. This time, the Morphic street mob did a runner. They weren't ambushed in their meeting. There wasn't a fight. The sight of all those coppers must've scared them rigid. They weren't much anyway, just sloganeers and skivers and me-too-ists, the people who crowd behind the poor slob who's the spokesman, shouting "yea, right," and leg it up an alley when the law gets rough. But some had died in the ambush, and some fought back, and one thing led, as always, to another. Except, this time, there was no ambush, because some thick sergeant made too much noise...
Two different presents. One past, one future...
I don't know what's going to happen next.
However, I've got a damn good idea.
"Well done, lads," he said, standing up. "You finish trapping us inside and I'll go and tell the old man what's happening."
He heard the puzzled muttering behind him as he climbed the stairs.
Captain Tilden was sitting at his desk, staring at the wall. Vimes coughed loudly, and saluted.
"Had a bit of--" he began, and Tilden turned his ashen face to him. He looked as though he had seen a ghost, and it had been in the mirror.
"You've heard the news, too?"
"The riot up at Dolly Sisters," said Tilden. "It was only a couple of hours ago."
I'm too close, Vimes thought, as the words sank in. All those things were just names, it all seemed to happen at once. Dolly Sisters, yeah. They were a right mob of hotheads up there...
"The lieutenant of the Day Watch called in one of the regiments," said Tilden. "Which he was duly authorized to do. Of course."
"Which one?" said Vimes, for the look of the thing. The name was in the history books, after all.
"Lord Venturi's Medium Dragoons, Sergeant. My old regiment."
That's right, thought Vimes. And cavalry are highly trained at civilian crowd control. Everyone knows that.
"And, er, there were some, er, accidental deaths..."
Vimes felt sorry for the man. In truth, it was never proven that anyone had given an order to ride people down, but did it matter? Horses pushing, and people unable to get away because of the press of people behind them...it was too easy for small children to lose grip of a hand...
What will happen over the next few days, however, will flow exponentially from that overreaction on the part of the government.
"But, in fairness, missiles were thrown at the officers, and one soldier was badly injured," said Tilden, as if reading the words off a card.
That's all right, then? Vimes thought.
"What kind of missiles, sir?"
"Fruit, I gather. Although there may have been some stones as well." Vimes realized that Tilden's hand was shaking. "The riot was over the price of bread, I understand."
No. The protest was over the price of bread, said Vimes's inner voice. The riot was what happens when you have panicking people trapped between idiots on horseback and other idiots shouting "yeah, right!" and trying to push forward, and the whole thing in the charge of a fool advised by a maniac with a steel rule.
"The feeling of the palace," said Tilden slowly, is that revolutionary elements may attack the Watch Houses."
"Really, sir? Why?"
"It's the sort of thing they do," said Tilden.
"As a matter of fact, sir, the men are putting up shutters and--"
"Do whatever you feel is necessary, Sergeant," said Tilden, waving a hand with a scrawled letter in it. "We are told we must be mindful of the curfew regulations. That has been underlined."
Vimes paused. He'd bitten back the first answer. He contented himself with "Very well, sir," and left.
The man wasn't a bad man, he knew; he must have been badly affected by the news to give such a stupid, dangerous order. "Do whatever you feel is necessary." Give an order like that to a man who's liable to panic when he sees a bunch of people waving their fists and you got the Dolly Sisters Massacre.
If this sounds equally like a) the Boston Massacre, the real version not the schoolbook one, b) the Falluja Massacres of April 2003, and c) the "Peterloo" Massacre (over a Universal Suffrage/Wheat Prices Protest, that led to the founding of the Guardian) in 1819 - well, that's because history is a spiral path, as JRR Tolkien once described it: things go around and come around but not in the same place and the same way every cycle.
He walked back down the stairs. The squad was standing around looking nervous.
"Prisoner in the cells?" said Vimes.
Corporal Colon nodded. "Yessir. Sarge, Snouty says that up at Dolly Sisters--"
"I know. Now here's what I feel is necessary. Take the shutters down, unbar the door, leave it open, and light all the lamps. Why isn't the blue lamp over the door lit?"
"Dunno, Sarge.But what if--"
"Get it lit, Corporal. And then you and Waddy go and stand guard outside, where you can bee seen. YOu're friendly-looking local lads. Take your bells, but, and I want to make this very clear, no swords, right?"
"No swords?" Colon burst out. "But what if a bloody great mob comes round the corner and I'm not armed?"
Vimes reached him in two swift strides and stood nose to nose.
"And if you have got a sword, what will you do, eh? Against a bloody great mob? What do you want 'em to see? Now what I want 'em to see is Fatty Colon, decent lad, not too bright, I knew 'is dad, an' there's ol' Waddy, he drinks in my pub. 'Cos if they just see a couple of men in uniform with swords you'll be in trouble, and if you draw those swords you'll be in real trouble, and if by any chance, Corporal, you draw swords tonight without my order and survive, then you'll wish you hadn't done either, because you'll have to face me, see? And then you'll know what trouble is, 'cos everything up until then will look like a bleedin' day at the soddin' seaside. Understand?"
Fred Colon goggled at him. There was no other word for it.
"Don't let my sugary-sweet tones lead you to believe that I'm not damn well giving you orders," said Vimes, turning away.
One reason Sam Vimes has the confidence to not overreact is that he is from this sleazy, desperately poor side of town. He understands the dynamics of it at gutter level.
Ankh-Morpork these days wasn't really a city, not when the chips were down. Places like Dolly Sisters and Nap Hill and Seven Sleepers had been villages once, before they were absorbed by the urban sprawl. On some level, they still held themselves separate. As for the rest...well, once you got off the main streets it was all down to neighborhoods. People didn't move around much. When tension was high, you relied on your mates and your family. Whatever was going down, you tried to make sure wasn't going down your street. It wasn't revolution. It was quite the reverse. It was defending your doorstep.
They were building a barricade in Whalebone Lane. It wasn't a particularly good one, made up mostly of overturned market stalls, a small cart, and quite a lot of household furniture, but it was a Symbol...
You will remember that Captain Tilden, for all his psychologically-sheltered background, has begun to dimly grasp the fact that there are such things as legitimate conflicts of loyalty. Earlier, we have also learned that
Tilden had never quite left the army behind. Still, Vimes retained a soft spot for the old man. He'd been a successful soldier, as these things went; he'd generally been on the winning side, and had killed more of the enemy by good if dull tactics than of his own men by bad but exciting ones. He'd been, in his own way, kind and reasonably fair; the men of the Watch had run rings around him, without him ever noticing.
Because of this excess of conscience, which is mistaken for a lack of nerve and grit, Captain Tilden is shortly thereafter replaced by a younger man, Lord Rust, who is not one of those aristocrats who believes in noblesse oblige or any of that sort of liberal tripe.
He is also, as we shall see, not very intelligent:
"You certainly don't look like officer material to me
"Nosir. Thank you, sir." Good old Rust. Good young Rust. The same unthinking rudeness masquerading as blunt speaking, the same stiff-neckedness, the same petty malice.
Any sergeant worth his salt could see how to make use of that.
--but that won't stop him from getting people killed doing stupid things, like ordering frontal assaults on fortified positions.
The new captain looked up. Oh, good grief, Vimes thought. It's bloody Rust this time round! And it was indeed the Hon. Ronald Rust, the gods' gift to the enemy, any enemy, and a walking encouragement to desertion.
The Rust family had produced great soldiers, by the undemanding standards of "Deduct Your Own Casualties From Those Of The Enemy, And If The Answer Is A Positive Sum, It Was A Glorious Victory" school of applied warfare. But Rust's lack of any kind of military grasp was matched only by his high opinion of the talent he, in fact, possessed only in negative amounts.
But Vimes already remembers this from the future, from when they tried to invade Klatch and the Guardsmen were activated and sent off to fight the towelheads that time - time paradoxes at work again.
It hadn't been Rust last time. He vaguely remembered some other dim captain. All these little changes...what would they add up to?
I bet he's only just been made a captain, thought Vimes. Just think of the lives I could save by accidentally cutting off his head now. Look at those blue eyes. Look at that stupid curly mustache. And he's only going to get worse.
But sometimes knowing how things go isn't enough to stop people from getting killed anyway, if the odds are bad enough.
The badge was important. Yes. It was shield-shaped. For protection. He'd thought about that, in the long nights in the darkness. It protected him from The Beast, because the beast was waiting in the darkness of his head.
He'd killed werewolves with his bare hands. He'd been mad with terror, but The Beast had been there inside, giving him strength...
Who knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men? A copper, that's who. After ten years, you thought you'd seen it all, but the shadows always dished up more. You saw how close men lived to The Beast. You found that people like Carcer were not mad. They were incredibly sane. They were simply men wihtout a shield. They'd looked at the world and realized that all the rules didn't have to apply to them, not if they didn't want them to. They weren't fooled by all the little stories. They shook hands with The Beast.
But he, Sam Vimes, had stuck by the badge, except for that time when even that hadn't been enough and he'd stuck by the bottle instead...
He felt as if he'd stuck by the bottle now. The world was spinning. Where was the law? Who was it protecting from what? The city was run by a madman and his shadowy chums, so where was the law?
Coppers liked to say that people shouldn't take the law into their own hands, and they thought they knew what that meant. But they were thinking about peaceful times, and men who went around to sort out a neighbor with a club because his dog had crapped once too often on their doorstep. But at times like these, who did the law belong to? If it shouldn't be in the hands of the people, where the hell should it be? People who knew better? Then you got Winder and his pals, and how good was that?
So -- why stick your neck out? What makes it worth it, when nothing is clear-cut, except that you're going to get hurt for doing the right thing - if it even is the right thing?
That left Ned Coates. He crossed his arms.
"You're all bloody mad," he said.
"We could use you, Ned," said Vimes.
"I don't want to die," said Ned, "and I don't intend to. This is stupid. There's not a dozen of you. What can you do? All that stuff about 'keeping the peace' - it's rubbish, lads. Coppers do what they're told by the men in charge. It's always like that. What'll you do when the new captain comes in, eh? And who're you doing this for? The people? They attacked the other houses, and what's the Night Watch ever done to hurt them?"
"Nothing," said Vimes.
"There you are, then."
"I mean the Watch did nothing, and that's what hurt them," said Vimes.
"What could you do, then? Arrest Winder?"
Vimes felt he was building a bridge of matchsticks over a yawning abyss, and now he could feeel the chilly winds below him.
He'd arrested Vetinari, back in the future. Admittedly the man had walked free, after what passed for the due process of law, but the City Watch had bee-- was going to be big enough and strong enough and well-connected enough to actually arrest the ruler of the city. How had they ever got to that stage? How had he even dreamed that a bunch of coppers could slam the cell door on the boss?
Well, perhaps it had started here. Lance Constable Vimes was watching him intently.
"Of course we can't," he said, "but we ought to be able to. Maybe one day we will. If we can't then the law isn't the law, it's just a way of keeping people down."
...to be continued...