It took some explaining, but the core of it, as far as Nutt could understand it, was this: All football teams in the city were rated by Dimwell in proportion to their closeness, physical, psychological or general gut feeling, to the hated Dolly Sisters. It had just evolved that way. If you went to a match between two other teams, you automatically, according to some complex and ever-changing ready-reckoner of love and hate, cheered the team most nearly allied to your native turf or, more accurately, cobbles.

'Do you see what I mean?' Trev finished.

'I have committed what you said to memory, Mister Trev.'

'Oh Brutha, an' I'll bet you 'ave, at that. And it's just Trev when we're not at work, right? We shout together, right?' He punched Nutt playfully on the arm.

'Why did you do that, Mister Trev?' said Nutt. His eyes, almost the only part of him visible, looked hurt. 'You struck me!'

'That wasn't me hitting you, Gobbo! That was just a friendly punch! Big difference! Don't you know that? It's a little tap on the arm, to show we're mates. Go on, do it to me. Go on.' Trev winked.

... You will be polite and, most of all, you will never raise your hand in anger to anyone...

But this wasn't like that, was it? Nutt asked himself. Trev was his friend. This was friendly. A friend thing. He punched the friendly arm.

'That was a punch?' said Trev. 'You call that a punch? A girl could punch better'n that! How come you're still alive with a weedy punch like that? Go on, try a proper punch!'

Nutt did.

Be one of the crowd? It went against everything a wizard stood for, and a wizard would not stand for anything if he could sit down for it, but even sitting down, you had to stand out. There were, of course, times when a robe got in the way, especially when a wizard was working in his forge, creating a magic metal or mobiloid glass or any of those other little exercises in practical magic where not setting fire to yourself is a happy bonus, so every wizard had some leather trousers and a stained, rotted-by-acid shirt. It was the shared dirty little secret, not very secret, but ingrained with deep-down dirt.

Advertisement..

Ridcully sighed. His colleagues had aimed for the look of the common man, but had only a hazy grasp of what the common man looked like these days, and now they were sniggering and looking at one another and saying things like 'Cor blimey, don't you scrub down well, as it were, my ol' mate.' Beside them, and looking extremely embarrassed, were two of the university's bledlows, not knowing what to do with their feet and wishing that they were having a quiet smoke somewhere in the warm.

'Gentlemen,' Ridcully began, and then with a gleam in his eye added, 'or should I say, fellow workers by hand and brain, this afternoon we - Yes, Senior Wrangler?'

'Are we, in point of fact, workers? This is a university, after all,' said the Senior Wrangler.

'I agree with the Senior Wrangler,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes. 'Under university statute we are specifically forbidden to engage, other than within college precincts, in any magic above level four, unless specifically asked to do so by the civil power or, under clause three, we really want to. We are acting as place holders, and as such, forbidden from working.'

'Would you accept "slackers by hand and brain"?' said Ridcully, always happy to see how far he could go.

'Slackers by hand and brain by statute,' said the Senior Wrangler primly.

Ridcully gave up. He could do this all day, but life couldn't be all fun.

'That being settled, then, I must tell you that I have asked the stalwart Mister Frankly Ottomy and Mister Alf Nobbs to join us in this little escapade. Mister Nobbs says that since we are not wearing football favours we should not attract unwanted attention.'

The wizards nodded nervously at the bledlows. They were, of course, merely employees of the university, while the wizards were, well, were the university, weren't they? After all, a university was not just about bricks and mortar, it was about people, specifically wizards. But to a man, the bledlows scared them.

They were all hefty men with a look of having been carved out of bacon. And they were all descendants of, and practically identical to, those men who had chased those wizards¨Cyounger and more limber, and it was amazing how fast you could run with a couple of bledlows behind you¨Cthrough the foggy night-time streets. If caught, said bledlows, who took enormous pleasure in the prosecution of the university's private laws and idiosyncratic rules, would then drag you before the Archchancellor on a charge of Attempting to Become Rascally Drunk. That was preferable to fighting back, when the bledlows were widely believed to take the opportunity for a little class warfare. That was years ago, but even now the unexpected sight of a bledlow caused sullen, shameful terror to flow down the spines of men who had acquired more letters after their names than a game of Scrabble.

Mr Ottomy, recognizing this, leered and touched the brim of his uniform cap. 'Afternoon, gents,' he said. 'Don't you worry about a thing. Me and Alf here will see you right. We'd better get movin', though, they bully off in half an hour.'

The Senior Wrangler would not have been the Senior Wrangler if he did not hate the sound of silence. As they shuffled out of the back door, wincing at the unfamiliar chafing of trouser upon knee, he turned to Mr Nobbs and said, 'Nobbs... that's not a common name. Tell me, Alf, are you by any chance related to the famous Corporal Nobby Nobbs of the Watch?'

Mr Nobbs took it well, Ridcully thought, given the clumsy lack of protocol.

'Nosir!'

'Ah, a distant branch of the name, then... '

'Nosir! Different tree!'

In the greyness of her front room, Glenda looked at the suitcase, and despaired. She'd done her best with brown boot polish, week after week, but it had been bought from a shonky shop and the cardboard under the leather-ish exterior was beginning to show through. Her customers never seemed to notice, but she did, even when it was out of sight.

It was a secret part of a secret life that she lived for an hour or two on her half-day off once a week, and maybe a little longer if today's cold calls worked out.

She looked at her face in the mirror, and said in a voice that was full of jaunt: 'We all know the problem of underarm defoliation. It is so hard, isn't it, to keep the lichens healthy... But,' she flourished a green and blue container with a golden stopper, 'one spray with Verdant Spring will keep those crevices moist and forest fresh all day long... '

She faltered, because it really wasn't her. She couldn't do jaunty. The stuff was a dollar a bottle! Who could afford that? Well, a lot of troll ladies, that's who, but Mr Stronginthearm said it was okay because they had the money, and anyway it did let the moss grow. She'd said all right, but a dollar for a fancy bottle of water with some plant food in it was a bit steep. And he'd said you are Selling the Dream.

And they bought it. That was the worrying part. They bought it and recommended it to their friends. The city had discovered the Heavy Dollar now. She'd read about it in the paper. There had always been trolls around, doing the heavy lifting and generally being there in the background if not being the actual background itself. But now they were raising families and running businesses, moving on and up and buying things, and that made them people at last. And so you got other people like Mr Stronginthearm, a dwarf, selling beauty products to Miss and Mrs Troll, via ladies like Glenda, a human, because although dwarfs and trolls were officially great chums these days, because of something called the Koom Valley Accord, that sort of thing only meant much to the sort of people who signed treaties. Even the most well-intentioned dwarf would not walk down some of the roads along which Glenda, every week, dragged her nasty, semi-cardboard case, Selling the Dream. It got her out of the house and paid for the little treats. There was money to put away for a rainy day. Mr Stronginthearm had the knack of coming up with new ideas, too. Who would have thought that lady trolls would go for fake-tan lotion? It sold. Everything sold. The Dream sold, and it was shallow and expensive and made her feel cheap. It -

Her ever-straining ears caught the sound of next door's front door opening very slowly. Ha! Juliet jumped as Glenda suddenly loomed beside her.

'Off somewhere?'

'Gonna watch the game, ain't I?'

Glenda glanced up the street. A figure was disappearing rapidly around the corner. She grinned a grim grin.

'Oh yes. Good idea. I wasn't doing anything. Just wait while I fetch my scarf, will you?' To herself she added, You just keep walking, Johnny!

With a thump that caused pigeons to explode away like a detonating daisy, the Librarian landed on his chosen rooftop.

He liked football. Something about the shouting and the fighting appealed to his ancestral memories. And this was fascinating, because, strictly speaking, his ancestors had been blamelessly engaged for centuries as upstanding corn and feed merchants and, moreover, were allergic to heights.

He sat down on the parapet with his feet over the edge, and his nostrils flared as he snuffed up the scents rising from below.

It is said that the onlooker sees most of the game. But the Librarian could smell as well, and the game, seen from outside, was humanity. Not a day went past without his thanking the magical accident that had moved him a few little genes away from it. Apes had it worked out. No ape would philosophize, 'The mountain is, and is not.' They would think, 'The banana is. I will eat the banana. There is no banana. I want another banana.'

He peeled one now, in a preoccupied way, while watching the evolving tableau below. Not only does said onlooker see most of the game, he might even see more than one game.

This street was indeed a crescent, which would probably have an effect on tactics if the players had any truck with such high-flown concepts.

People were pouring in from either end and also from a couple of alleyways. Mostly they were male-extremely so. The women fell into two categories: those who had been tugged there by the ties of blood or prospective matrimony (after which they could stop pretending that this bloody mess was in any way engrossing), and a number of elderly women of a 'sweet old lady' construction, who bawled indiscriminately, in a rising cloud of lavender and peppermint, screams of 'Get 'im dahn an' kick 'im inna nuts!' and similar exhortations.

And there was another smell now, one he'd learned to recognize but could not quite fathom. It was the smell of Nutt. Tangled with it were the smells of tallow, cheap soap and shonky-shop clothing that the ape part of him categorized as belonging to 'Tin Flinging Man'. He had been just another servant in the maze of the university, but now he was a friend of Nutt, and Nutt was important. He was also wrong. He had no place in the world, but he was in it, and the world was becoming aware of him soon enough.

The Librarian knew all about this sort of thing. There had been no space in the fabric of reality marked 'simian librarian' until he'd been dropped into one, and the ripples had made his life a very strange one.

Ah, another scent was riding the gentle updraught. It was easy: Screaming Banana Pie Woman. The Librarian liked her. Oh, she had screamed and run away the first time she'd seen him. They all did. But she had come back, and she'd smelled ashamed. She also respected the primacy of words, and, as a primate, so did he. And sometimes she baked him a banana pie, which was a kind act. The Librarian was not very familiar with love, which had always struck him as a bit ethereal and soppy, but kindness, on the other hand, was practical. You knew where you were with kindness, especially if you were holding a pie it had just given you. She was a friend of Nutt, too. Nutt made friends easily for someone who had come from nowhere. Interesting...

The Librarian, despite appearances, liked order. Books about cabbages went on the Brassica shelves, (blit) UUSSFY890¨C9046 (antiblit1.1), although obviously Mr Cauliflower's Big Adventure would be better placed in UUSS J3.2 (>blit) 9, while The Tau of Cabbage would certainly be a candidate for UUSS (blit+) 60-sp55-o9-hl (blit). To anyone familiar with a seven-dimensional library system in blit dimensional space it was as clear as daylight, if you remembered to keep your eye on the blit.

Ah, and here came his fellow wizards, walking awkwardly in the chafing trousers and trying so hard not to stand out in a crowd that they would have stood out even more if the rest of the crowd had been the least bit interested.

Nobody noticed. It was enthralling and exciting at the same time, Ridcully concluded. Normally the pointy hat, robe and staff cleared the way faster than a troll with an axe.

They were being pushed! And shoved! But it was not as unpleasant as the words suggested. There were moderate pressures on all sides as people poured in behind, as though the wizards were standing chest deep in the sea, and were swaying and shifting to the slow rhythm of the tide.

'My goodness,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. 'Is this football? It's a bit dull, isn't it?'

'Pies were mentioned,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes, craning his neck.

'People are still coming in, guv,' said Ottomy.

'But however do we see things?'

'Depends on the Shove, guv. Usually people near the action shout out.'

'Ah, I see a pie seller,' said the Chair of Indefinite Studies. He took a couple of steps forward, there was a random shift and sway in the crowd, and he vanished.

'How is it now, Mister Trev?' said Nutt, as people surged around them.

'Hurts like buggery, excuse my Klatchian,' muttered Trev, clutching his injured arm to his coat. 'Are you sure you weren't holding a hammer?'

'No hammer, Mister Trev. I'm sorry, but you did ask me - '

'I know, I know. Where did you learn to punch like that?'

'Never learned, Mister Trev. I must never raise my hand to another person! But you went on so, and - '

'I mean, you're so skinny!'

'Long bones, Mister Trev, long muscles. I really am very sorry!'

'My fault, Gobbo, I didn't know your own strength - ' Suddenly Trev shot forward, cannoning into Nutt.

'Where've you been, my man?' said the person who had just slapped him hard on the back. 'We said to meet at the eel-pie stall!'

Now the speaker looked at Nutt and his eyes narrowed. 'And who's this stranger who thinks he's one of us?'

He did not exactly glare at Nutt, but there was a definite sense of a weighing in the balance, and on unfriendly scales.

Trev brushed himself off, looking uncharacteristically embarrassed. 'Hi, Andy. Er, this is Nutt. He works for me.'

'What as? A bog brush?' said Andy. There was laughter from the group behind him. Andy always got a laugh. It was the first thing you noticed, after the glint in his eye.

'Andy's dad is captain of Dimwell, Gobbo.'

'Pleased to meet you, sir,' said Nutt, extending a hand.

'Ooo, pleased to meet you, sir,' Andy mimicked, and Trev grimaced as a calloused hand the size of a plate grasped Nutt's cheese-straw fingers.

'He's got hands like a girl,' Andy observed, taking a grip.

'Mister Trev has been telling me wonderful things about the Dimmers, sir,' said Nutt. Andy grunted. Trev saw his knuckles whiten with effort while Nutt chattered. 'The camaraderie of the sport must be a wonderful thing.'

'Yeah, right,' Andy grunted, finally managing to pull his hand away, his face full of angry puzzlement.

'And this is my mate, Maxie,' said Trev quickly, 'and this is Carter the Farter - '

'It's Fartmeister now,' said Carter.

'Yeah, right. And this is Jumbo. You want to watch out for him. He's a thief. Jumbo can pick a lock faster than you can pick your nose.'

The said Jumbo held up a small bronze badge. 'Guild, of course,' he said. 'They nail your ears to the door else.'

'You mean you break the law for a living?' said Nutt, horrified.

'Ain't you ever heard of the Thieves' Guild?' said Andy.

'Gobbo's new,' said Trev protectively. 'Hasn't got out much. He's a goblin, from the high country.'

'Coming down here, taking our jobs, yeah?' said Carter.

'Like, how often do you do a hand's turn?' said Trev.

'Well, I might want to one day.'

'Milking the cows when they come home?' said Andy. This got another laugh, on cue. And that was the introductions sorted out, to Nutt's surprise. He'd been expecting chicken theft to be mentioned. Instead, Carter pulled a couple of tin cans out of a pocket and tossed them to Nutt and Trev.

'Did a few hours' unloading down the docks, didn't I?' he said defensively, as though a bit of casual labour was some kind of offence. 'This come off a boat from Fourecks.'

Jumbo fished in his pocket again and pulled out someone else's watch.

'Game on in five minutes,' he declared. 'Let's shove... er, if that's all right with you, Andy?'

Andy nodded. Jumbo looked relieved. It was always important that things were all right with Andy. And Andy was still watching Nutt as a cat watches an unexpectedly cheeky mouse, while massaging his hand.

Mr Ottomy cleared his throat, causing his red Adam's apple to bob up and down like an indecisive sunset. Shouting in public, yes, he liked that, he was good at that. Speaking in public, now, that was a different kettle of humiliation.

'Well, er, gents, what we will have here is your actual football, what is basically about the Shove, which is what you gentlemen will be doing soon - '

'I thought we watched two groups of players vie with one another to get the ball in the opponents' goal?'

'Could be, sir, could very much be,' the bledlow conceded, 'but in the streets, see, your actual supporters on both sides try and endeavour to shorten the length of the field, as it were, depending on the flow of play, so to speak.'

'Like living walls, d'y'mean?' said Ridcully.

'That style of thing, sir, yes, sir,' said Ottomy loyally.

'What about the goals?'

'Oh, they're allowed to move the goals, too.'

'Sorry?' said Ponder. 'The spectators can move the goals?'

'You have put your finger firmly on it, sir.'

'But that's sheer anarchy! It's a mess!'

'Some of the old boys do say the game has gone downhill, sir, that is true.'

'Downhill, into and out through the bottom of the world, I'd say.'

'Good one to play with magic, though,' said Dr Hix. 'Well worth a try.'

'A word to the wise, sir,' said Ottomy with unwitting accuracy, 'but you'd be wearing your guts for garters if you tried it with some of the types who play these days. They take it seriously.'

'Mister Ottomy, I'm sure none of my blokes wear garters - ' Ridcully stopped and listened to Ponder Stibbons's whispered interjection and continued, 'well, possibly one, two at most, and it would be a very dull world if we were all the same, that's what I say.' He looked around and shrugged. 'So, this is football, is it? Rather a wizened shell of a game, yes? I, for one, don't want to stand around all day in the rain while other people have all the fun. Let's go and find the ball, gentlemen. We are wizards. That must count for something.'

'I thought we were blokes now,' said the Lecturer in Recent Runes.

'Same thing,' said Ridcully, straining to see over the heads of the crowd.

'Surely not!'

'Well,' said Ridcully, 'isn't a bloke someone who likes drinking with his mates and without the company of women? Anyway, I'm fed up with this. Form up behind me, nevertheless. We're going to see some football.'

The progress of the wizards astonished Ottomy and Nobbs, who had hitherto seen them as fluffy plump creatures quite divorced from real life. But to get to be a senior wizard and stay there called for deep reserves of determination, viciousness and the sugared arrogance that is the mark of every true gentleman, as in 'Oh, was that your foot? I'm so terribly sorry.'

And, of course, there was Dr Hix, a good man to have in a tight spot because he was (by college statute) an officially bad person, in accordance with UU's happy grasp of the inevitable.

A less mature organization than UU might have taken the view that the way forward would be to hunt such renegades down, at great risk and expense. UU, on the other hand, had given Hix and his team a department and a budget and a career structure, and also the chance to go out into dark caves occasionally and throw fireballs at unofficial evil wizards; it all worked rather well so long as nobody pointed out that the Department of Post-Mortem Communications was really, when you got right down to it, just a politer form of necromancy, wasn't it?

And so Dr Hix was now tolerated as a useful, if slightly irritating member of the Council largely because he was allowed (by statute) to say some of the naughty things that the other wizards would really have liked to say themselves. Someone with a widow's peak, a skull ring, a sinister staff and a black robe was expected to spread a little evil around the place, although university statute had redefined acceptable evil in this case as being inconveniences on a par with shoelaces tied together or a brief attack of groinal itch. It wasn't the most satisfactory of arrangements, but it was in the best UU tradition: Hix occupied, amiably, a niche that might otherwise be occupied by someone who really got off on the whole mouldering corpses and peeled skulls thing. Admittedly, he was always giving fellow wizards free tickets to the various amateur dramatic productions he was obsessively involved with, but, on balance, they agreed, taking one thing with another, this was still better than peeled skulls.

For Hix, a crowd like this was too good to waste. Not only was there a plethora of bootlaces to be expertly tied together, but there were an awful lot of pockets as well. He always had some flyers for the next production in his robe, and it wasn't the same as picking pockets. Quite the reverse. He stuffed them into any he could find.

The day was all a mystery to Nutt, and it stayed a mystery, becoming a little more mysterious with every passing minute. In the distance a whistle was blown and somewhere in this moving, jostling, crushing and in most cases drinking mob of people there was a game going on, apparently. He had to take Trev's word for it. There were Oos and Aahs in the distance and the crowd ebbed and flowed in response. Trev and his chums, who called themselves, as far as Nutt could make out over the din, the Dimwell Massive Pussy, took advantage of every temporary space to move nearer and nearer to the mysterious game, holding their ground when the press went against them and pushing hard when an eddy went their way. Push, sway, shove... and something in this spoke to Nutt. It came up through the soles of his feet and the palms of his hands, and slid into his brain with a beguiling subtlety, warming him, stripping him away from himself and leaving him no more than a beating part of the living, moving thing around him.

A chant came past. It had started somewhere at the other end of the game and, whatever it had been once, it was now just four syllables of roar, from hundreds of people and many gallons of beer. As it faded, it took the warm, belonging feeling away with it, leaving a hole.

Nutt looked into the eyes of Trev.

'Happened to you, did it?' Trev said. 'That was quick.'

'It was - ' Nutt began.

'I know. We don't talk about it,' said Trev flatly.

'But it spoke to me without - '

'We don't talk about it, okay? Not that sort of thing. Look! They're being pushed back. It's opening up! Let's shove!'

And Nutt was good at shoving... very good. Under his inexorable pressure people slid or gently spun out of the way, their hobnailed boots scraping on the stones as, short of an alternative, the owners were rolled and squeezed alongside Nutt and Trev and deposited behind them, somewhat dizzy, bewildered and angry.

Now, though, there was a frantic tugging at Nutt's belt.

'Stop pushing!' Trev shouted. 'We've left the others behind!'

'In fact my progress is now hindered by a pease pudding and chowder stand. I have been doing my best, Mister Trev, but it has really been slowing me down,' said Nutt over his shoulder, 'and also Miss Glenda. Hello, Miss Glenda.'

Trev glanced behind him. There was a fight going on back there, and he could hear Andy's battle cry. There was generally a fight going on around Andy, and if there wasn't, he started one. But you had to like Andy, because... well, you just had to. He - Glenda was up ahead? Surely that meant that she would be there too?'

There was a commotion further on and a vaguely oblong thing, wrapped now in tatters of cloth, rose up in the air and fell back, to cheers and catcalls from the crowd. Trev had been right up to the game face many times before. It was no big deal. He'd seen the ball dozens of times.

But how long had Nutt been pushing a pudding stall in front of him like a snowplough? Oh my, Trev thought, I've found a player! How can 'e do it? He looks half-starved all the time!

In the absence of any way round in the press of people, Trev scrambled between Nutt's legs, and for a moment looked down an avenue of coat hems, boots and, right in front of him, a pair of legs that were considerably more attractive than those of Nutt. He surfaced a few inches away from the milky-blue eyes of Juliet. She did not look surprised; surprise is an instant thing, and by the time Juliet could register surprise, she generally wasn't. Glenda, on the other hand, was the kind of person who instantly whacks surprise on the meat slab of indignation and hammers it into fury, and as their gazes locked and metaphorical bluebirds cleared their throats for the big number, she appeared between them and demanded: 'What the hells were you doing down there, Trevor Likely?'

The bluebirds evaporated.

'What are you doin' up front here?' said Trev. It wasn't repartee, but it was the best he could do now, with his heart pounding.

'We got shoved,' growled Glenda. 'You lot were shoving us!'

'Me? I never did!' said Trev indignantly. 'It was - ' He hesitated. Nutt? Look at him standing there all nervous and skinny, like he's never had a good meal in his life. I wouldn't believe me, and I am me. 'It was them behind,' he said lamely.

'Trolls with big boots on, were they?' said Glenda, her voice all vinegar. 'We'd be in the game if it wasn't for Mister Nutt here, holding you all back!'

The unfairness of this took Trev aback, but he decided to stay there rather than argue with Glenda. Nutt could do no wrong in her eyes, and Trev could do no right, which he couldn't contest, but rather felt should be amended to 'never did any serious wrong'.

But there was Juliet, smiling at him. When Glenda looked away to talk to Nutt she slipped something into his hand and then turned her back on him as if nothing had happened.

Trev opened his hand, heart pounding, and there was a little enamel badge in black and white, the colours of the hated enemy. It was still warm from Her hand.

He closed his hand quickly and looked around to see if anyone had spotted this betrayal of all that was good and true, i.e. the good name of Dimwell. Supposing he got knocked down by a troll and one of the lads found it on him! Supposing Andy found it on him!

But it was a gift from Her! He put it into his pocket and rammed it down to the bottom. This was going to be really difficult, and Trev was not a man who liked problems in his life.

The owner of the pudding stand, having enterprisingly sold a number of portions to passing trade during its journey, strolled up to Trev and offered him a bag of hot pease.

'Tough mate you got there,' he said. 'Some kind of troll, is he?'

'Not troll. Goblin,' said Trev, as the sounds of the strife drew nearer.

'I thought they were little buggers - ?'

'This one isn't,' said Trev, wishing the man would go away.

There was a sudden, localized silence. The kind of noise made by people who are holding their breath. He looked up and saw the ball, for the second time in the game.

There was a core of ash wood in there somewhere, then a leather skin and finally dozens of layers of cloth for grip, and it was dropping with pinpoint inevitability towards the beautiful, dreamy head of Juliet. Trev dived at her without a moment's thought, dragging her under the cart as the ball thumped on to the cobbles where She had been gracing the world with Her presence.

Many things went through Trev's mind as the ball hit the ground. She was in his arms, even if She was complaining about getting mud on her coat. He had probably saved Her life, which from a romantic point of view was money in the bank, and - oh, yes. Dimmer or Dolly, if one of the hardcore posses found out about this the next thing to go through his head would be a boot.

She giggled.

'Shush!' he managed. 'Not a good idea if you'd rather not know how you would look with that beautiful hair shaved off!'

Trev peeped out from under the stall, and attracted no attention at all.

This is because Nutt had picked up the ball and was turning it over and over in his hands with a frown on what was visible of, if you were kind, his face.

'Is this all it is?' he said to a bewildered Glenda. 'A most inappropriate ending to a pleasant social gathering with interesting canap¨¦s! Where is this wretched thing supposed to be, then?'

Glenda, hypnotized by the sight, pointed a wavering finger in the general direction of down the street.

'There's a big pole? Painted white... well, spattered with red at the bottom... '

'Oh yes, I see it. Well, in that case, I'll - Look, will you men please stop pushing?' Nutt added to the crowd, who were craning to see.

'But there's no way you'll ever get it there!' Glenda yelled. 'Just put it down and come away!'

Trev heard a grunt from Nutt and absolute silence from the rest of the world. Oh, no, he thought. Really no. It must be more than, what, a hundred and fifty yards to that goal, and those things fly like a bucket. There is no way that he could -

A distant pock broke the breathless silence, which healed itself instantly.

Trev peered over a shoulder as the sixty-foot goal post gave up its battle with termites, rot, weather, gravity and Nutt, and fell into its own base in a cloud of dust. He was so astonished that he hardly noticed Juliet standing up next to him.

'Is that a kind of, like, sign?' said Juliet, who believed in such things.

At that moment, Trev believed in pointing a finger towards the other side of the street and shouting, 'He went that way!' and then hauling Juliet upright and butting Nutt in the stomach. 'Let's go!' he added. He couldn't do anything about Glenda, but that would not matter; while he held Juliet's hand Glenda would follow him like a homing vulture. People were trying to run towards the hidden goal; others were making for the apparent location of the long-distance scorer. Trev pointed in a random direction and yelled, 'He went down there! Big man with a black hat!' Confusion always helped, when it wasn't yours; when it was time for a hue and cry, make sure who was hue.

They halted a few alleys away. There was still a commotion far off, but a city crowd is easier to get lost in than a forest.

'Look, perhaps I should go back and apologize,' Nutt began. 'I could make a new pole quite easily.'

'I hate to tell you this, Gobbo, but I think you might have upset the kind of people who don't listen to apologies,' said Trev. 'Keep moving, everyone.'

'Why might they be upset?'

'Well, Mister Nutt, first, you are not supposed to score a goal when it is not your game, and anyway you are a watcher, not a player,' said Glenda. 'And second, a shot like that gets right up people's noses. You could have killed someone!'

'No, Miss Glenda, I assure you I could not. I deliberately aimed at the pole.'

'So? That doesn't mean you were sure to hit it!'

'Er, I have to say it does, Miss Glenda,' he mumbled.

'How did you do it? You took the pole to bits! They don't grow on trees! You'll get us all into trouble!'

'Why can't he be a player?' said Juliet, staring at her reflection in a window.

'What?' said Glenda.

'Bloody hell,' said Trev. 'With him on the team you wouldn't need a team!'

'That'd save a lot of trouble, then,' said Juliet.

'So you say,' said Glenda, 'and where would be the fun in that? That wouldn't be football any more - '

'We are being watched,' said Nutt. 'I am sorry to interrupt you.'

Trev glanced around. The street was busy, but mostly with its own affairs. 'There's no one interested, Gobbo. We're well away.'

'I can feel it on my skin,' Nutt insisted.

'What, through all that wool?' said Glenda.

He turned round, soulful eyes on her. 'Yes,' he said, and remembered Ladyship testing him on that. It had seemed like a game at the time.

He glanced up and a large head drew back quickly from a parapet. There was a very faint smell of bananas. Ah, that one. He was nice. Nutt saw him sometimes, going hand over hand along the pipes.

'You ought to get 'er home,' said Trev to Glenda.

Glenda shuddered. 'Not a good idea. Old Stollop'll ask her what she saw at the game.'

'Well?'

'She'll tell him. And who she saw - '

'Can't she lie?'

'Not in the way you can, Trev. She's just no good at making stuff up. Look, let's get back to the university. We all work there, and I often go in to catch up. We'll go directly now and you two go back the long way. We never saw one another, right? And for heavens' sake don't let him do anything silly!'

'Excuse me, Miss Glenda,' said Nutt meekly.

'Yes, what?'

'Which of us were you addressing?'

'I have let you down,' said Nutt, as they strolled through the post-match crowds. At least, Trev ambled; Nutt moved with a strange gait that suggested there was something wrong with his pelvis.

'Nah, it's fixable,' said Trev. 'Everything is fixable. I'm a fixer, me. What did anybody really see? Just a bloke in Dimmer kit. There's thousands of us. Don't worry. Er, how come you're so tough, Gobbo? You spent your life lifting weights, or what?'

'You are correct in your surmise, Mister Trev. Before I was born I did indeed use to lift weights. I was only a child then, of course.'

They strolled on and after a while Trev said, 'Could you say that again? It's got stuck in my head. Actually, I think part of it's stickin' out of my ear.'

'Ah, yes. Perhaps I have confused you. There was a time when my mind was full of darkness. Then Brother Oats helped me to the light, and I was born.'

'Oh, religion stuff.'

'But here I am. You asked why I am strong? When I lived in the dark of the forge, I used to lift weights. The tongs at first, and then the little hammer and then the biggest hammer, and then one day I could lift the anvil. That was a good day. It was a little freedom.'

'Why was it so important to lift the anvil?'

'I was chained to the anvil.'

They walked on in silence again until Trev, picking each word with care, said, 'I guess things must be sort of tough in the high country?'

'It is not so bad now, I think.'

'Makes you count your blessin's, that sort of thing.'

'The presence of a certain lady, Mister Trev?'

'Yes, since you ask. I think about 'er all the time! I really like 'er! But she's a Dolly!' A small group of supporters turned to glance at them, and he lowered his voice to a hiss. 'She's got brothers with fists the size of a bull's arse!'

'I have read, Mister Trev, that love laughs at locksmiths.'

'Really? And what does it do when it's been smacked in the face by a bull's arse?'

'The poets are not forthcoming in that respect, Mister Trev.'

'Besides,' said Trev, 'locksmiths tend to be quiet blokes, you know? Careful and patient and that. Like you. I reckon you could get away with a bit of a joke. You must 'ave met girls. I mean, you're no oil painting, that's a fact, but they like a posh voice. I bet you 'ad them eatin' out of your 'and... well, after you'd washed it, obviously.'

Nutt hesitated. There had been Ladyship, of course, and Miss Healstether, neither of whom fitted easily into the category of 'girl'. Of course, there were the Little Sisters, who were certainly young and apparently female but it had to be said looked rather like intelligent chickens, and certainly weren't seen at their best when you watched them feeding¨Cbut once again, 'girls' did not seem the right word.

'I have not met many girls,' he volunteered.

'There's Glenda. She's taken a real shine to you. Watch out, though, she'll run your life for you if you let her. It's what she does. She does it to everyone.'

'You two have a history, I think,' said Nutt.

'You are a sharp one, aren't you? Quiet and sharp. Like a knife. Yeah, I suppose it was a history. I wanted it to be more of a geography, but she kept slappin' my hand.' Trev paused to search for any flicker in Nutt's face. 'That was a joke,' he added, without much hope.

'Thank you for telling me, Mister Trev. I will decipher it later.'

Trev sighed. 'But I ain't like that any more, and Juliet... well, I'd crawl a mile over broken glass just to hold 'er 'and, no funny business.'

'Writing a poem is often the way to the intended's heart,' said Nutt.

Trev brightened. 'Ah, I'm good with words. If I wrote 'er a letter, you could give it to 'er, right? If I write it on posh paper, something like, let's see... "I think you are really fit. How about a date? No hanky panky, promise. Luv, Trev." How does that sound?'

'The soul of it is pure and noble, Mister Trev. But, ah, if I could assist in some way... ?'

'It needs longer words, right? And more sort of curly language?' said Trev.

But Nutt was not paying attention.

'Sounds lovely to me,' said a voice above Trev's head. 'Who do you know what can read, smart boy?'

There was this to be said about the Stollop brothers: they weren't Andy. It was, in the great scheme of things, not a huge difference when you couldn't see for blood but, in short, Stollops knew that force had always worked, and so had never bothered to try anything else, whereas Andy was a stone-cold psychopath who had a following only because it was safer than being in front of him. He could be quite charming when the frantically oscillating mood swing took him; that was the best time to run. As for the Stollops, it would not take long for a researcher to realize that Juliet was the brains of the family outfit. One advantage from Trev's viewpoint was that they thought they were clever, because no one had ever told them otherwise.

'Ha, Mister so-called Trev,' said Billy Stollop, prodding Trev with a finger like a hippopotamus sausage. 'You full o' smarts, you tell us who broke the goal, right?'

'I was in the Shove, Billy. Didn't see a thing.'

'He gonna play for the Dimmers?' Billy persisted.

'Billy, not even your dad at his best could throw the ball half as far as everyone is saying. You know it, right? You couldn't do it. I'm hearing that the Angels' post just fell apart and someone made up a story. Would I lie to you, Billy?' Trev could make up lies that were very nearly truths.

'Yeah, 'cos you're a Dimmer.'

'All right, you got me, I'll come clean,' said Trev, holding out his hands. 'Respect and all that, Billy... It was Nutt here that threw that ball. That's my last offer.'

'I ought to smack your 'ead off for that,' said Billy, sneering at Nutt. 'That kid don't look like he could even lift the ball.'

And then a voice behind Trev said, 'Why, Billy, have they let you out without your collar on?'

Nutt heard Trev mutter, 'Oh gods, and I was doing so well,' under his breath, and then his friend turned and said, 'It's a free street, Andy. No 'arm in passin' the time, eh?'

'The Dollies killed your ol' man, Trev. Ain't you got no shame?'

The rest of the Massive Posse was standing behind Andy, their expressions a mix of defiance and the realization that, once again, they were going to be dragged into something. They were out in the main streets now. The Watch was not inclined to get involved in alley scuffles, but out in the open they had to do something in case the taxpayers complained, and since tired coppers didn't like having to do something, they did it good and hard, so with any luck they wouldn't have to do it again any time soon.

'What do you know about all this they're saying about a Dimmer man and a Dolly tart holding hands in the Shove?' Andy demanded. He put a heavy hand on Trev's shoulder. 'Come on, you're smart, you always know everything before anyone else.'

'Tart?' That was Billy; it was a long way from his ears to his brain. 'There's not a girl in Dolly Sisters who'd look at you poxy lot!'

'Ah, so that's where we got it from!' said Carter the Farter. This struck Nutt as inflammatory in the circumstances. Perhaps, he thought, the ritual is that childish insults shall be exchanged until both sides feel fully justified in attacking, just as Dr Vonmausberger noted in Ritual Aggression in Pubescent Rats.

But Andy had fished his short cutlass out of his shirt. It was a nasty little weapon, alien to the true spirit of foot-the-ball, which generally smiled indulgently on things that bruised, scared, fractured and, okay, worst case, heat of the moment and so on, blinded. But then came Andy, who had issues. And once you had someone like Andy around you, you got other Andys around too, and every kid who might otherwise have gone to a match with a pair of brass knuckles for bravado noticeably clanked when he walked, and needed to be helped up if he fell over.

Now, weapons were being loosened here, too.

'Careful now, everyone,' Trev cautioned, stepping back and waving his empty hands in a conciliatory way. 'This is a busy street, okay? If the Old Sam catch you fightin', they'll be down on you with big, big truncheons and they'll beat you until you 'onk your breakfast, 'cos for why? 'cos they hate you, 'cos you're making paperwork for 'em and keepin' 'em out of the doughnut shop.'

He stepped back a little further. 'And then on account of you damagin' their weapons with your 'eads they'll run you down to the Tanty for a nice night in the Tank. Been there? Was it so much fun you want to go back again?'

He noted with satisfaction the looks of dismayed recollection on the faces of all except Nutt, who couldn't have any idea, and Andy, who was brother to the Tank. But even Andy was not inclined to go up against the Sam. Kill just one of them, and Vetinari would give you one chance to see if you could stand on air.

They relaxed a little, but not too much. All it took in these sphincter-taut circumstances was one idiot...

As it happened, one very clever person was able to do the job, when Nutt turned to Algernon, the youngest Stollop, and said cheerfully, 'Do you know, sir, that your situation here is very similar to that described by Vonmausberger in his treatise on his experiment with rats?'

At this point, Algernon, after one second of what passed for Algernon as thought, whacked him hard with his club. Algernon was a big boy.

Trev managed to grab his friend before he hit the cobbles. The club had hit Nutt square in the chest and torn the ancient sweater open. Blood was soaking through the stitches.

'What did you 'ave to go and 'it him for, you bloody fool?' Trev said to Algernon, agreed even by his brothers to be as thick as elephant soup. 'He wasn't doin' a thing. What was that all about, eh?' He sprang to his feet and before Algernon could move Trev had ripped his own shirt off and was ministering to Nutt, trying to staunch the wound. He came back up again after half a minute and flung the sodden shirt at Algernon. 'There's no heartbeat, you moron! What did he ever do to you?'



❮ ❯

Most Popular