The kid looked like a safe bet, though. Not yet twenty, if he was any judge, and from the look on his face fresh off the coach, too. Come to the see the big city, had he?
Carcer stepped out into the street and tapped the boy on the shoulder.
“You lost, Mister?” he said, grinning his friendliest grin.
“No,” said the kid.
Carcer threw an arm around his shoulders, ignoring the lad’s glare. “You sure look it,” he said, guiding him into the alley. “C’mon, I ain’t gonna bite…”
And then they were around the corner, and before he’d got the knife out of his boot the kid had produced one of his own—albeit less surgical—from the depths of a black sleeve. It was only now that he noticed the boy’s eyes, weirdly colored with pupils too small and a grayish haze over the right one like a grimy windowpane.
“Did you really expect me to fall for that?” he said as he leapt out of the other man’s range. “I can’t imagine how you’d get such an idea.” He moved back in, and if he’d been a fraction of a second slower Carcer would’ve lost his knife and his hand. The boy smiled, like a friendly shark, and a second knife appeared in his other hand. “This is Ankh-Morpork, Mister. We know better.”
He lunged forward again, but this time Carcer moved, too; by the time each man realized what the other was doing, it was too late to dodge.
Halfway down God Street, Lance-Constable Jarvis turned to Corporal Defoe.
“Did you hear that?” he said.
“Hear what?” said Defoe.
“Sounded like a voice,” said Jarvis. He pointed to the mouth of an alley some yards ahead. “In there. And then a sort of thump.” And then, because he hadn’t been in the city very long, he added, “Is that weird?”
“I doubt it,” said Defoe. “Guild business, I’d bet—Thieves or Seamstresses or what have you.”
There was a clang from the alley as a row of dustbins fell over, and someone shouted.
“…but we might as well check up on ‘em,” said Defoe, veering towards the source of the noise. “Just in case, like.”
They stepped into the alley, crossbows at the ready.
“All right, what’s goin’ on here?” said Defoe.
If it was Guild business, it certainly wasn’t the Thieves’ or the Seamstresses’*. It could almost have been the Assassins’—the younger man was certainly dressed the part—but while they might carry daggers over their hearts he doubted very many carried theirs in them. It didn’t seem to be doing the boy any harm, though; he’d just slammed a knife of his own into the other man’s shoulder when the watchmen had turned up.
And both men had frozen right there, without a sound or a movement or anything you’d expect from a man who by all rights ought to be spraying blood like the Palace’s less explosive fountains. Instead the one who’d just been stabbed looked over at the men at the end of the alley, smiled, yanked the knife back out—he still didn’t bleed—and bolted off in the other direction.
The other one watched him go, then turned to Jarvis and Defoe.
“Oh, dear,” he said, giggling. “Now I’ll have to catch him.” With the grin still on his face, he crumpled to the ground.
Jarvis looked at Defoe again. “That was weird, right?”
“Son,” said Defoe, shaking his head, “I don’t think there’s words for what that was.”
*Well, probably not the Seamstresses’. You could never be quite sure, with them.
Teatime would rather have held onto the body a little longer; he’d looked like himself again in it, more or less, and gods knew when he would get that opportunity again. But he’d have a hard enough time catching up to the man like this, when he didn’t have to look out for such inconveniences as people and buildings and he wasn’t hampered by the physical limitations of the unfortunate student’s scrawny legs. Besides, it had probably gotten the watchmen off his trail. They couldn’t just leave the corpse behind, could they? They’d seen a man die right in front of them, by all appearances murdered. And they couldn’t go chasing after a dangerous criminal without backup. So they’d take the body back to the Watch house first, and by the time the manhunt was underway it wouldn’t be Teatime’s problem anymore.
But it was still his problem now, and as he caught sight of the man again he realized that he wasn’t entirely sure how he was going to solve it. It was easy enough to follow him incorporeally, but you still needed a body if you wanted to do anything else.
When he saw why the man had stopped, he didn’t worry about that any more.
Teatime leaned against the wall (it worked if you didn’t think about it) and watched. Any passing medium would’ve noticed his smile, although given what else was going on in the alley that was probably the last thing she’d have noticed.
The man was good, at least when he wasn’t dealing with zombie Assassins. And who could blame him for struggling with that? He was rather inelegant, of course, but Teatime of all people wasn’t going to find fault in that; it was nice, in a way, to know that he wasn’t the only one in the world who took pleasure in a thorough inhumation. It was a shame, really—the whole city was full of people willing to make inventive use of dagger and crossbow and occasionally spoon, but not a one did the job just for the love of it. He couldn’t work with people like that, not properly; you pushed them too far and even the money couldn’t keep them on your side. The last time he’d tried he’d ended up…well, eventually he’d ended up here. Someone who was having fun, though—why, you’d practically have to pay him to stop! It would be such a waste to dispose of someone like that right away. Anyone who could enjoy the ripping and the stabbing and especially the blood would be far too useful, and more importantly far too fun, to squander on petty vengeance.
So, when the old woman had stopped moving and the man had sheathed his knives and begun to walk away, Teatime moved in and slipped the corpse on over his ghostly shoulders. He stood up, as quietly as he could under the circumstances, and approached the man as he would a sleeping client. He tapped him on the shoulder.
The man spun round and saw the mangled face of the woman he’d just killed smiling up at him. His jaw dropped, his eyebrows knitted together, and after a moment he said, “What the bloody hell do you want?”
Teatime held out a blood-soaked, partially fingerless hand.
“I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced,” he said in a voice even he didn’t recognize. “Teatime, Jonathan Teatime. Do pronounce it correctly, will you?” His smile widened. “I’m dreadfully sorry about my appearance, but my usual body is…elsewhere.”
The man looked him over. He’d never seen the old woman before in his life—for once that wasn’t a lie—and at the same time he could tell, even with the gashes across her face, that she was definitely the same woman he’d dragged into the alley five minutes ago.
The bloody face turned upward, smiling in amused impatience, and looked him in the eye.
Two pinhole pupils, ringed with yellow and blurry on one side, looked back.
Carcer hadn’t liked the idea at all, at least at first. The kid was no wee Vimesy, all fuzzy ideals and hero worship; if he’d ever been corruptible somebody else’d had that fun a long time before. And he wasn’t trustworthy, what with the body-hopping and the way he talked around every question you asked him. But what else was he supposed to do with the lad? Even if you chopped him up and fed him to the dogs it’d only be a matter of time before he’d find a new body and do you ten times worse, and you wouldn’t get to come back. So he’d gone along with it, at least for now.
Besides, what was really important now was getting out of the city before those watchmen reported back to Pseudopolis Yard. What plans he’d already got would just have to wait until this had blown over.
“You could try to fight back,” Teatime said reproachfully when he’d explained that last part. “Persecuted innocents win nine times out of ten, you know.”
Carcer considered this. He was certainly persecuted, wasn’t he? And you couldn’t get much more innocent, at least for somebody born on the edge of the Shades. But all the same…well, all that really depended on how you defined it, didn’t it? For all he knew the laws of the universe were just as forgiving as the city’s, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to put his unlife in its hands until he was sure he knew how they’d shape it.
“Ain’t gonna work,” he said aloud. He pulled the last knife out from under the mattress and laid it down beside the others. “And I know, ‘cause I tried last time. Anyway, this is easier.”
“I suppose.” The boy tied off the bandage around his ribs and examined his handiwork. He and Mister Dun had spent several valuable minutes hunting this body, and it had been rather difficult to wrest it away from its owner unscathed; the last thing he wanted was to do it further damage. Perhaps he’d find something to sew it up with later. He picked up the shirt he had been wearing before, gauging the size of the bloodstains.
“You’ve got more than one shirt, have you?” he said. He thought for a moment, and added, “Clean, please.”
“Dunno,” said Carcer, still groping for something under the bed.
Someone did, though he was a rather smaller someone than Teatime’s new friend. He’d said he had a brother, hadn’t he? It fit, anyway, and there weren’t any inconvenient stains on it, and that was all that really mattered.
Carcer shoved the sock full of money into yet another pocket, alongside the purse he’d taken from the old woman—it was impressive, really, how much he could fit into a perfectly normal-looking coat—and finally looked back over at the kid.
“Know where we can get a cart at this time of day?”
As a matter of fact, he did, and he’d even offered to drive it. And then, when they’d stopped at the little apothecary’s in Wixon’s Alley, he’d agreed to go inside in place of Carcer, and he did the same at the even smaller and grubbier armorer’s around the corner. No sense in sending anyone else running to the Yard, right? And it was Teatime who turned round on the box when they’d got to Quirm Street and asked where, exactly, the two of them were going.
“Ever been to Sto Lat?” said Carcer.