Even Andy was frozen. No one had ever seen Trev like it, not old Trev. Even the Dollies knew Trev was smart. Trev was slick. Trev wasn't the sort to commit suicide by yelling at a bunch of men who were already tensed for a fight.

The luckless Algernon, with Trev's rage baking his face, managed, 'But, like... he's a Dimmer... '

'Who are yer? You're a bloody fool, that's what you are!' screamed Trev.

He rounded on the others, finger shaking. 'Who are yer? Who are yer? Nuffin! You're rubbish! You're all shite!'

He jabbed the finger at Nutt. 'And him? He made stuff. He knew things. And he'd never seen a game before today! He was only wearing the strip to fit in!'

'Don't you worry, Trev, mate,' Andy hissed and raised his cutlass menacingly. 'There's going to be a bloody war about this!' But Trev was suddenly in his face like a wasp.

'You what? You are mental! You just don't get it, do you?'

'I can see helmets, Andy,' said Jumbo urgently.

'Me? What did I do?'

'As much as the stupid Stollops. Dimmers and Dollies? I hope the gods shit thin shit on both of you!'

'They're getting really close, Andy.'


The Stollop boys, who were not altogether dumb, were already leaving. People in football strip were criss-crossing the city. The Watch couldn't chase everyone. But, well, belting some bloke who then bled a lot and stopped breathing, well, that was tantamount to murder, and the Old Sam could develop quite a turn of speed in those circumstances.

Andy shook a furious finger at Trev. 'It's a hard life in the Shove when you're a dumb chuff with no mates.'

'This ain't the Shove!'

'Better wake up, kid. It's all Shove.'

The Posse left at speed, although Jumbo turned for a moment to mouth 'sorry'. They weren't the only ones hurrying off. The street people were all for a free cabaret, but this one might have associated difficulties: for example the asking of dangerous metaphysical questions such as 'Did you see anything?' and similar. It was all very well for the Watch to say 'the innocent have nothing to fear', but what was that all about? Who cared about the innocent and their problems when the Watch were on their way?

Trev knelt by the cooling body of the late Nutt.

And now for the first time in a minute, it seemed to Trev, he started to breathe again. He had stopped when he had raged at Andy 'cos if you talked like that to Andy you were dead anyway, so why waste your breath?

There were things you had to do, weren't there? Weren't you supposed to keep banging on the chest to, like, show the broken heart how to beat again? But he didn't know how, and you didn't need much smarts to know that it was not a good idea to try to learn with the Watch on the way. It would not give a good first impression.

That was why, when two watchmen turned up at speed, Trev was walking unsteadily towards them with Nutt in his arms. He was relieved to see that in charge was Constable Haddock: at least he was one of the ones who asked questions first. Behind him, and eclipsing most of the scenery, was Troll officer Bluejohn, who could clear a whole street just by walking down the centre of it.

'Can you help me get him to the Lady Sybil, Mister Haddock? He's very heavy,' said Trev.

Constable Haddock pulled the sodden shirt aside, and made a sad little clicking sound. With experience comes familiarity.

'Morgue's closer, lad.'


Haddock nodded. 'You're Dave Likely's son, aren't you?'

'I don't have to tell you!'

'No, 'cos I'm right,' said Constable Haddock evenly. 'Okay, Trev. Bluejohn here will take this man, who I expect you have never seen before in your life, and we'll both run to keep up. There was a decent thunderstorm the night before last. He might be lucky. And so might you.'

'I never did it!'

' 'course not. And now... let's see who's fastest at running, shall we? The hospital first.'

'I want to stay with him,' said Trev, as Bluejohn's huge hand gently cradled Nutt.

'No, lad,' said Haddock. 'You stay with me.'

It didn't stop with Constable Haddock. It never did. Everyone called him Kipper, and his calm unspoken message that since we're all in this together, why make it hard for one another often worked, but sooner or later you'd be handed over to a senior copper who manufactured hard, in a little room with another copper at the door. And this one had been working double shifts, by the look of her.

'I'm Sergeant Angua, sir, and I hope you are not in trouble.' She opened a notebook and smoothed down the page.

'Shall we go through the motions? You told Constable Haddock that you saw a fight going on and when you got there all the big boys had run away and, amazingly, you found your workmate, Mister Nutts, bleeding to death. Well, I bet I can name all the big boys, every last one of them. I wonder why can't you? And what, Trevor Likely, is this about?' She flicked a black-and-white enamel token across the table, and by luck or judgement its pin stuck in the wood a few inches from Trev's hand.

The unofficial motto of the Lady Sybil Free Hospital was 'Not everybody dies'. It was true that, subsequent to the founding of the Lady Sybil, the chances of death from at least some causes in the city were quite amazingly reduced. Its surgeons were even known to wash their hands before operating as well as after. But moving through its white corridors now was a figure who knew, from personal experience, that the unofficial motto was, in reality, entirely mistaken.

Death stood by the well-scrubbed slab and looked down. MISTER NUTT? WELL, THIS IS A SURPRISE, said Death, reaching into his robe. LET ME SEE WHAT I HAVE HERE.


'I can't see you,' said Nutt.


'I'm dying, then,' said Nutt.

'YES. DYING AND THEN AGAIN LIVING. He fished out a life-timer from his robe and watched as the sand fell upwards. SEE YOU LATER, MISTER NUTT. I FEAR THAT YOU WILL HAVE AN INTERESTING LIFE.

'A Dolly favour on a good Dimmer boy? Gods bless my soul, I say, what can this be about? And you know what? I will find out. It's all a matter of shoving.'

Trev said nothing. He was out of options. Besides, he had seen the sergeant before, and she always seemed to be looking at his throat.

'Constable Haddock tells me the Igor's on duty down at the Lady Sybil. I hope he's got a heart in his vats that'll fit your friend, I really do,' she said. 'But it'll still be a murder case, even if he comes walking in here tomorrow. Lord Vetinari's rules: if it takes an Igor to bring you back, you were dead. Briefly dead, it's true, which is why the murderer will be briefly hanged. A quarter of a second usually does it.'

'I didn't touch 'im!'

'I know. But you have to keep solid with your mates, right? Jumbo and, of course, Carter, and, oh yes, Andy Shank, your mates, who aren't here. Look, you are not under arrest¨Cyet¨Cyou are helping the Watch with their inquiries. That means you can use the privy, if you're feeling brave. If you're feeling suicidal, use the canteen. But if you try to run off I will hunt you down.' She sniffed and added, 'Like a dog. Understand?'

'Can't I go and see how Nutt is gettin' on?'

'No. Kipper's still down there now. That's Constable Haddock to you.'

'Everyone calls him Kipper.'

'Maybe, but not when it's you talking to me.' The sergeant twirled the favour around on the table in an absent-minded way. 'Has Mister Nutt got any next of kin? That means relatives.'

'I know what it means. He talks about people in Uberwald. That's all I know,' Trev lied instinctively. Saying that someone had spent his youth chained to an anvil was not going to help here. 'He gets on all right with the other guys in the vats.'

'How come he's in there?'

'We never ask. There's usually some bad story.'

'Anyone ever ask you?'

He stared at her. That was coppers for you. They came over all friendly, and just when you dropped your guard they stuck a pickaxe in your brain.

'Was that an official copper question, or were you just bein' nosy?'

'Coppers are never nosy, Mister Likely. However, sometimes we ask tangential questions.'

'So it wasn't official?'

'Not really... '

'Then shove it where the sun does not shine.'

Sergant Angua smiled a copper's smile. 'You've got no card in your hand that you dare play, and you come out with something like that. From Andy, yes, I'd expect it, but Kipper says you're smart. How smart does someone have to be to be as stupid as you?'

There was a tentative knock at the door and then a watchman put his head around it. Someone was shouting in the background in a large, authoritative voice. ' - I mean, you deal with this sort of thing all the time, don't you? For heavens' sake, it's not that hard - '

'Yes, Nobby?'

'We've got a bit of a situation, sarge. That stiff that went to the Lady Sibyl? Doctor Lawn's here and he says the man's got up and gone home!'

'Did they get an Igor to look at him?'

'Yes. Sort of... er... '

The watchman was elbowed out of the way by an expansive man in a long green rubber robe who was clearly trying to balance angry and friendly at the same time. He was tailed by Constable Haddock, who was clearly trying to mollify him, and definitely failing.

'Look, we try to help, all right?' said Doctor Lawn. 'You people say you've got a murder case and I'll pull old Igor off his slab and hang the overtime. But you tell Sam Vimes from me that I'd like him to send his boys down when they're not busy for a bit of first-aid tuition, to wit, the difference between dead and sleeping. It's a fine line sometimes, but it's generally possible to spot the clues. The profession has always tended to consider walking about to be among the more reliable, although in this city we've learned to look on that as just a very good start. But when we pulled back the sheet he sat up and asked Igor if he had a sandwich, which is generally conclusive. Apart from a fever, he was fine. Strong heartbeat, which suggests he's got one. Not a scratch on him, but he could certainly do with a good dinner. He must have been hungry because he ate the sandwich Igor made for him. On the subject of dinners, frankly I could do with mine!'

'You let him go?' said Sergeant Angua, horrified.

'Of course! I can't keep a man in hospital for being inconveniently alive!'

She turned to Constable Haddock. 'And you let him go, Kipper?'

'It looked like a case of doctor's orders, sarge,' said Haddock, giving Trev a wretched look.

'He was covered in blood! He was really messed up!' Trev exploded.

'A prank, then?' Angua tried.

'I'd have sworn there wasn't a heartbeat, Sergeant,' Haddock volunteered. 'Maybe he's one of those monks from the Hub that do the hocus-pocus stuff.'

'Then someone has been wasting Watch time,' said Angua, glaring at Trev.

He spotted that one for the desperate throw it was. 'What would be in it for me?' he said. 'Do you think I want to be here?'

Constable Haddock cleared his throat. 'It's match night, sarge. The desk is heaving and there are supporters roaming around all over the place and someone's been feeding them a lot of rumours. We're stretched, that's all I'm saying. We've had a couple of big shouts already. And he did walk away, after all.'

'Not a problem for me,' said the doctor. 'Came in horizontal, went out upright. It's the preferred way. And I've got to get back, sergeant. We're going to have a busy night, too.'

The sergeant looked for someone to shout at, and there was Trev.

'You! Trev Likely. This one's down to you! Go and find your chum. And if there's any more trouble, there'll be... trouble. Is that clear?'

'Twice, sarge.' He couldn't resist it, he just couldn't, not even with the cold sweat rolling down his spine. But he felt light... uplifted... released. But some people just can't respect an epiphany when you're having one. It's not a cop skill.

'It's sergeant to you, Likely! Here!'

Trev managed to catch the favour as it was skimmed across the room.

'Thanks, sarge!'

'Get out!'

He got out, and was half expecting the shadowy shape that stepped up to him when he was clear of the building. There was a faint odour in the grey air. Well, at least it wasn't Andy. He could do without Andy right now.

'Yes, Carter?' he said to the fog.

'How did you know it was me?'

Trev sighed. 'I guessed.' He started to walk fast.

'Andy'll want to know what you said.'

'Don't worry, it's sorted.'

'Sorted! How?' Carter, always a bit overweight, had to scurry to keep up.

'Not going to tell you.' Oh, the joy of the moment.

'But can I tell him we're in the clear?'

'It's all sorted! Done and dusted! I blew it out. It's fixed. All gone away. It never happened.'

'Are you sure?' said Carter. 'He was pretty busted up.'

'Hey, what can I tell you?' Trev flung out his arms and twirled a pirouette. 'I'm Trev Likely!'

'Well, that's firm, then. Hey, I bet Andy'll let you back in the Posse now. That would be great, eh?'

'Do you know what Nutt thought the Posse was called, Carter?'

'No. What?'

Trev told him.

'Well, that's - ' Carter began, but Trev interrupted.

'It's funny, Carter. It's funny, and sort of sad and hopeless. It really is.' Trev stopped walking so abruptly that Carter collided with him. 'And here's a tip: Carter the Farter isn't gonna take you anywhere. And that goes for the Fartmeister, too. Trust me.'

'But everybody calls me Carter the Farter,' the Fartmeister wailed.

'Punch the next one who does. See a doctor. Cut down on carbohydrates. Keep out of confined spaces. Use aftershave,' said Trev, speeding up again.

'Where are you going, Trev?'

'I'm gettin' out of the Shove!' Trev called over his shoulder.

Carter looked around desperately. 'What Shove?'

'Haven't you heard? It's all Shove!'

Trev wondered if he glowed as he trotted through the fog. Things were going to be different. As soon as Smeems got in, he'd go and see him about a better job or something...

A figure appeared out of the mist ahead of him. This was something of an achievement since the figure was a head shorter than him.

'Mithter Likely?' it said.

'Who's askin'?' said Trev and added, 'What's askin'?'

The figure sighed. 'I underthtand that you are a friend of the gentleman rethently admitted to the hothpital,' it said.

'What's that to you?'

'Quite a lot,' said the figure. 'May I athk if you know very much about the gentleman?'

'I don't have to talk to you,' said Trev. 'Everything's been fixed, okay?'

'Would that thith wath the cathe,' said the figure. 'I have to talk to you. My name ith Igor.'

'You know, I had a feelin' about that. Are you the one who made the sandwich for Nutt?' asked Trev.

'Yeth. Tuna, thpaghetti and jam, with thprinkleth. My thignature dith. Do you know anything about hith background?'

'Not a thing, mister.'


'Look. In the vats you stir up tallow, not the past, okay? You just don't, right? I know he's had some bad times, an' that's all I'm telling you.'

'I thought tho,' said Igor. 'I believe he cometh from Uberwald. Thome thtrange and dangerouth thingth come from Uberwald.'

'This might sound a stupid question, but do you come from Uberwald, by any chance?' said Trev.

'Thinth you athk, yeth,' said Igor.

Trev hesitated. You saw Igors around occasionally. The only thing most people knew was that they could stitch you up even better than the Watch and did strange things in cellars and only tended to come out much when there were thunderstorms.

'I think your friend may be very dangerouth,' said Igor.

Trev tried to picture Nutt as dangerous. It was quite hard until you remembered a throw that knocked down a whole goal post half a street away. He wished he didn't.

'Why should I listen to you? How do I know you are not dangerous?' he said.

'Oh, I am,' said Igor, 'believe me. And Uberwald containth thingth that I would not want to meet.'

'I am not gonna listen to you,' said Trev. 'And you are pretty hard to understand in any case.'

'Ith he thubject to thtrange moodth?' Igor ploughed on. 'Doth he get into a rage? Do you know anything about hith eating habitth?'

'Yes, he likes apple pies,' said Trev. 'What're you on about?'

'I can thee you are great friendth,' said Igor. 'I am thorry that I have trethpathed on your time.' 'Trethpathed' hanging in the air considerably added to the water drops hanging in the fog. 'I will give you thome advith. When you need me, jutht thcream. I regret that you will find it very eathy to thcream.' The figure turned and instantly vanished into the mist.

And Igors moved about oddly, Trev remembered. And you never saw one at a football game...

He noticed that last thought go past. What had he tried to tell himself? That someone who did not watch football was not a real person? He couldn't think of a proper answer. He was amazed that he had even asked the question. Things were changing.

Glenda arrived in the Night Kitchen with Juliet sworn to silence, and beneficently gave Mildred and Mrs Hedges the rest of the night off. That suited them both very well, as it always does, and a little favour had been done there that she could call upon when necessary.

She took her coat off and rolled up her sleeves. She felt at home in the Night Kitchen, in charge, in control. Behind black iron ranges she could defy the world.

'All right,' she said to the subdued Juliet. 'We weren't there today. Today did not happen. You were here helping me clean the ovens. I'll see you get some overtime so your dad won't suspect. Okay? Have you got that?'

'Yes, Glenda.'

'And while we're here we'll make a start on the pies for tomorrow night. It'll be nice to get ahead of ourselves, right?'

Juliet said nothing.

'Say "Yes, Glenda",' Glenda prompted.

'Yes, Glenda.'

'Go and chop some pork, then. Being busy takes your mind off things, that's what I always say.'

'Yes, Glenda, that's what you always say,' said Juliet.

An inflection caught Glenda's ear, and worried her a little. 'Do I always say that? When?'

'Every day when you come in and put your apron on, Glenda.'

'Mother used to say that,' said Glenda, and tried to shake the thought out of her head. 'And she was right, of course! Hard work never hurt anybody!' And she tried to unthink the treacherous thought: except her. Pies, she thought. You can rely on pies. Pies don't give you grief.

'I fink that Trev likes me,' Juliet muttered. 'He don't give me funny looks like the other boys. He looks like a little puppy.'

'You want to watch out for that look, my girl.'

'I fink I luvim, Glendy.'

Wild boar, thought Glenda, and apricots. There's some left in the cool room. And we've got mutton pies with a choice of tracklements... always popular. So... pork pies, I think, and there's some decent oysters in the pump room, so they'll do for the wet pie. I'll do Sea Pie and the anchovies look good, so there's always room for a Stargazey or two, even though I feel sorry for the little fishes, but right now I'll bake some blind pastries so that - 'What did you say?'

'I luvim.'

'You can't!'

'He saved my life!'

'That's no basis for a relationship! A polite thank you would have sufficed!'

'I've got a feelin' about him!'

'That's just silly!'

'Well? Silly's not bad, is it?'

'Now you listen to me, young - Oh, hello, Mister Ottomy.'

It is in the way of the Ottomies all around the worlds to look as if they have been built out of the worst parts of two men and to be annoyingly hushen-footed on thick red rubber soles, all the better to peep and pry. And they always assume that a free cup of tea is theirs by right.

'What a day, miss, what a day! Were you at the match?' he enquired, glancing from Glenda to Juliet.

'Been cleaning the ovens,' said Glenda briskly.

'Yes, today didn't happen,' Juliet added, and giggled. Glenda hated giggling.

Ottomy looked around slowly and without embarrassment, noting the absence of dirt, discarded gloves, cloths -

'And we've only just finished getting everything all neat and tidy,' Glenda snarled. 'Would you like a cup of tea, Mister Ottomy? And then you can tell us all about the game.'

It has been said that crowds are stupid, but mostly they are simply confused, since as an eyewitness the average person is as reliable as a meringue lifejacket. It became obvious, as Ottomy went on, that nobody had any clear idea about anything other than that some bloke threw a goal from halfway down the street, and even then only maybe.

'But, funny thing,' Ottomy went on, as Glenda metaphorically let out a breath, 'while we was in the Shove, I could've sworn I saw your lovely assistant here chatting to a lad in the Dimmer strip... '

'No law against that!' Glenda said. 'Anyway, she was here, cleaning the ovens.' It was clumsy, but she hated people like him, who lived for the exercise of third-hand authority and loved every little bit of power they could grab. He'd seen more than he'd told her, that was certain, and wanted her to wriggle. And out of the corner of her mind, she could feel him looking at their coats. Their wet coats.

'I thought you didn't go to the football, Mister Ottomy?'

'Ah, well, there you have it. The pointies wanted to go and watch a game, and me and Mister Nobbs had to go with them in case they got breathed on by ordinary people. Blimey, you wouldn't believe it! Tutting and complaining and taking notes, like they owned the street. They're up to something, you mark my words.'

Glenda didn't like the word 'pointies', although it was a good description. Coming from Ottomy, though, it was an invitation to greasy conspiracy. But however you baked it, wizards were nobs, people who mattered, the movers and the shakers: and when people like that got interested in the doings of people who by definition did not matter, little people were about to be shaken, and shook.

'Vetinari doesn't like football,' she said.

'Well, o'course, they're all in it together,' said Ottomy, tapping his nose. This caused a small lump of dried matter to shoot from his other nostril into his tea. Glenda had a brief struggle with her conscience over whether to point this out, but won.

'I thought you should know this, on account of how people up in the Sisters look up to you,' said Ottomy. 'I remember your mum. She was a saint, that woman. Always had a helping hand for everyone.' Yes, and didn't they grab, said Glenda to herself. She was lucky to die with all her fingers.

Ottomy drained his mug and plonked it on the table with a sigh. 'Can't stand around here all day, eh?'

'Yes, I'm sure you've got lots of other places to stand.'

Ottomy paused at the entrance arch, and turned to grin at Juliet.

'A girl the spit and image of you, I'd swear it. With a Dimmer boy. Amazing. You must have one of those double gangers. Well, it'll have to remain a mystery, as the man said when he found something that would have to remain a mystery. Toodle-oo - '

He stopped dead rather than walk into the silvery knife that Glenda was holding in a not totally threatening way quite close to his throat. She had the satisfaction of seeing his Adam's apple pop back up and down again like a sick yoyo.

'Sorry about that,' she said, lowering it. 'I've always got a knife in my hand these days. We've been doing the pork. Very much like human flesh, pork, or so they say.' She put her spare hand across his shoulders and said, 'Probably not a good idea, spreading silly rumours, Mister Ottomy. You know how people can be so funny about that sort of thing. Nice of you to drop by and if you happen to be going past tomorrow I'll see that you get a pie. Do excuse us. I have a lot of chopping up to do.'

He left at speed. Glenda, her heart pounding, looked at Juliet; her mouth made a perfect O.

'What? What?'

'I fort you was goin' to stab 'im!'

'I just happened to be holding a knife. You are holding a knife. We hold knives. This is a kitchen.'

'D'you fink he's goin' to tell?'

'He doesn't really know anything.' Eight inches, she thought. That's as big as you can make a pie without a dish. How many pies could I make out of a weasel like Ottomy? The big mincer would make it easy. Ribcages and skulls must be a problem, though. Probably better, on the whole, to stick to pork.

But the thought blazed away at the back of her mind, never to become action but unfamiliar, exciting and oddly liberating.

What were the wizards doing at the game? Making notes about what? A puzzle to think about.

In the meantime, they were in a world of pies. Juliet could work quite well at repetitive jobs when she put her mind to it, and she had a meticulousness often found in people who were not very clever. Occasionally she sniffed, not a good thing when you are making pie filling. She was probably thinking about Trev, and pasting him, in her beautiful and not very overcrowded head, into one of those glittery dreams sold by Bu-bubble and other junk, where all you had to do to be famous was just 'be yourself'. Ha! While Glenda had always known what she wanted. She worked long, poorly paid hours to get it, and here it was: her own kitchen, and power, more or less... over pies! A moment ago you were daydreaming of turning a man into pies!

Why are you so angry all the time? What went wrong? I'll tell you what went wrong! When you got there, there was no there there. You wanted to see Quirm from an open carriage while a nice young man drank champagne out of your slipper, but you never did, because they were a funny lot in Quirm, and you couldn't trust the water, and how did that champagne thing work, anyway? Didn't it drip out? What would happen if your toe trouble played up again... ? So you never did. Never will.

'I never said Trev's a bad lad,' she said aloud. 'Not a gentleman, needs a slap to teach him manners and he takes life a good deal too easily, but he could make something of himself if he had reason to put his mind to it.'

Juliet did not seem to be listening, but you never could tell.

'It's just the football. You're on different sides. It won't work,' Glenda finished.

'S'posing I went and supported the Dimmers?'

A day ago that would have sounded like some kind of sacrilege; now it just presented a huge problem.

'For a start, your dad wouldn't speak to you ever again. Or your brothers.'

'They don't now, much, anyway, except to ask when their grub is goin' to be ready. D'you know, today was the first time I ever saw the ball up close? And you know what? It weren't worth it. Hey, and they're goin' to have a fashion show on at Shatta tomorrow. Why don't we go?'

'Never heard of it,' Glenda snorted.

'It's a dwarf store.'

'That sounds right. I can't imagine humans naming anything like that. You'd be hostage to the first misprint.'

'We could go. Might be fun.' Juliet waved a tattered copy of Bu-bubble. 'And the new micromails are going to be really good and soft, and don't chafe, it says here, plus, horned helmets are making a return after too long in obs... curi... tea. Where's that? And there's this mat... in... a tomorrow.'

'Yes, but we're not the kind of women who go to fashion shows, Jules.'

'You're not. Why am I not?'

'Well, because... Well, I wouldn't know what to wear.' Glenda was getting desperate now.

'That's why you should go to fashion shows,' said Juliet smugly.

Glenda opened her mouth to snap a reply, and thought: it's not about boys and it's not about football. It's safe.

'All right. I suppose it might be fun. Look, we've done a woman's job this evening. I'll take you home now and do my chores and come back. Your dad might be worrying.'

'He'll be in the pub,' said Juliet accurately.

'Well, he would be worrying if he wasn't,' said Glenda.

She wanted some time to herself with her feet up. It hadn't just been a long day, it had been a long and deep one as well. She needed some time for things to settle.

'And we'll take a chair, how about that?'

'They're very expensive!'

'Well, you're only young once, that's what I say.'

'I never heard you say that before.'

Several troll chairs were waiting outside the university. They were expensive at fivepence for the ride, but the seats in panniers round the carrier's neck were much more comfy than the slats on the buses. Of course, it was posh, and curtains twitched and lips pursed. That was the strange thing about the street: if you were born there, people didn't like it if you started not to fit in. Granny had called it 'getting ideas above your station'. It was letting the side up.

She opened Juliet's door for her because the girl always fumbled with the lock, and watched it shut.

Only then did she open her own front door, which was as patched and peeling as the other one. She'd hardly taken her coat off when there was a hammering on the weatherbeaten woodwork. She flung it open to find Mr Stollop, Juliet's father, one fist still raised and a little cloud of powdered paint flecks settling around him.

'Heard you come in, Glendy,' he said. 'What's this all about?'

His other huge hand rose, holding a crisp off-white envelope. You didn't see many of these in Dolly Sisters.

'It's called a letter,' said Glenda.

The man held it out imploringly and now she noticed the large letter V on the dreaded government stamp, guaranteed to spread fear and despondency among those with taxes yet to pay.

'It's his lordship writing to me!' said Mr Stollop in distress. 'Why'd he want to go and write to me? I haven't done nothing!'

'Have you thought about opening it?' said Glenda. 'That's generally how we find out what's in letters.'

There was another of those imploring looks. In Dolly Sisters reading and writing was soft indoor work that was best left to the women. Real work required broad backs, strong arms and calloused hands. Mr Stollop absolutely fitted the bill. He was captain of the Dollies and in one match had bitten an ear off three men. She sighed and took the letter from a hand which she noticed was slightly trembling and slit it open with her thumbnail.

'It says here, Mister Stollop,' she said, and the man winced. 'Yes. That would be you,' Glenda added.

'Is there anything about taxes or anything?' he said.

'Not that I can see. He writes that "I would greatly appreciate your company at a dinner I am proposing to hold at Unseen University at eight o'clock Wednesday evening to discuss the future of the famous game foot-the-ball. I will be pleased to welcome you as the captain of the Dolly Sisters team."'

'Why has he picked on me?' Stollop demanded.

'He says,' said Glenda, 'because you're the captain.'

'Yes, but why me?'

'Maybe he's invited all the team captains,' Glenda volunteered. 'You could send a lad round with a white scarf and check, couldn't you?'

'Yeah, but supposing it's just me,' said Stollop again, determined to plumb the horror to its depths.

Glenda had a bright idea. 'Well then, Mister Stollop, it would look like the captain of the Dolly Sisters is the only one important enough to discuss the future of football with the ruler himself.'

Stollop didn't square his shoulders because he wore them permanently squared, but with a muscular nudge he managed to achieve the effect of cubed. 'Hah, he's got that one right!' he roared.

Glenda sighed inwardly. The man was strong, but his muscles were melting into fat. She knew his knees hurt. She knew he got out of breath rather quickly these days and in the presence of something he couldn't bully, punch or kick, Mr Stollop was entirely at a loss. Down by his sides his hands flexed and unflexed themselves as they tried to do his thinking for him.

'What's this all about?'

'I don't know, Mister Stollop.'

He shifted his weight. 'Er, would it be about that Dimmer boy that got himself hurt today, d'you think?'

Could be anyone, thought Glenda as cold dread blossomed. It's not as though it doesn't happen every week. It doesn't have to be either of them. It will be, of course, I know it, but I don't know it, can't possibly know it, and if I repeat that long enough it might all never have happened.

Got himself hurt, thought Glenda in the roar of panic. That quite likely means he happened to be standing in the wrong place in the wrong strip, which is tantamount to a self-inflicted wound. He got himself killed.

'My lads came in and said it was out in the street. That's what they just heard. He got killed, that's what they heard.'

'They didn't see anything?'

'That's right, they didn't see a thing.'

'But they were doing a lot of listening?'

That one went over Stollop's head without even bothering to climb.

❮ ❯

Most Popular