Out of it all Juliet exploded, throwing herself at Glenda and flinging her arms around her neck.

'She wants me to do it again!' she panted. 'She says I could go to Quirm and Genua, even! She says she'll pay me more if I don't work for no one else and the world is an oyster. I never knew that.'

'But you've already got a steady job in the kitchen... ' said Glenda, only three-quarters of her way into consciousness. Later, more often than she liked, she remembered saying those words while the applause thundered all around them.

There was a gentle pressure on her shoulder, and here was one of the interchangeable young women with a tray. 'Madame sends her compliments, miss, and would like to invite you and Miss Juliet to join her in her private boudoir.'

'That's nice of her, but I think we should be getting - A boudoir, you say?'

'Oh yes. And would you like another drink? It's a celebration, after all.'

Glenda looked around at the chattering, laughing and, above all, drinking crowd. The place felt like an oven.

'All right, but not that sherry, thank you all the same. Have you got something very cold and fizzy?'

'Why, yes, miss. Lots.' The girl produced a large bottle and expertly filled a tall fluted glass with, apparently, bubbles. When Glenda drank it, the bubbles filled her, too.

'Mm, quite nice,' she ventured. 'A bit like lemonade grown up.'

'That's how Madame drinks it, certainly.'

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'Er, this boudoir,' Glenda tried, following the girl rather unsteadily. 'How big is it?'

'Oh, pretty large, I think. There must be about forty people in there already.'

'Really? That's a big boudoir.' Well, thank goodness, Glenda thought. That at least is sorted out. They really ought to put proper explanations in these novels.

She had never been sure, given that she had no idea what sort of thing a boudoir was, what sort of thing you would find in it when you did. She found that it contained people, heat and flowers-not flowers in bunches, but in pillars and towering stacks, filling most of the air with clouds of sticky perfume while the people below filled the rest of it with words, tightly packed. No one could possibly hear what they were saying, Glenda told herself, but perhaps that wasn't important. Perhaps what was important was being there to be seen to say it.

The crowd parted, and she saw Juliet, still in the glittering outfit, still in the beard... being there. Salamanders were flashing on and off, which meant people with iconographs, didn't it? The trashy papers were full of people glittering for the picture. She had no time for them. What made it worse was that her disapproval mattered not a fig to anyone. The people glittered anyway. And here was Juliet, glittering most of all.

'I think I could do with a little fresh air,' she mumbled.

Her guide led her gently to an unobtrusive doorway. 'Restrooms through here, ma'am.' And they were¨Cexcept that the long, carefully lit room was like some kind of fairy tale, all velvet and drapes. Fifteen surprised visions of Glenda stared at her from as many mirrors. It was overpowering enough to make her sit down in a very expensive bendy-legged chair that turned out to be very restful, too...

When she jerked awake, she staggered out, got lost in a dark world of smelly passages choked with packing cases and finally blundered into a very large room indeed. It was more like a cavern; at the far end were a pair of double doors, probably ashamed to let in a grey light which did not so much illuminate as accuse. Another chaos of empty clothes racks and packing cases was scattered around the floor. In one place, water had dripped from the roof, and a puddle had formed on the stone, soaking some cardboard.

'There they are, in there with their glitter and their finery, and it's all muck and rubbish round the back, right, dear?' said a voice in the dark. 'You look like a lady who can spot a metaphor when she stares it in the face.'

'Something like that,' muttered Glenda. 'Who's doing the asking?'

An orange light glowed and faded in the gloom. Someone was smoking a cigarette in the shadows.

'It's the same all over, love. If there was an award for the arse end of things, there'd be a real bloody squabble for first place. I've seen a few palaces in my time and they're all the same: turrets and banners in the front, maids' bedrooms and water pipes round the back. Fancy a top-up? Can't be walking around here with an empty glass, you'll stand out.'

The cooler air was making her feel better. She still had a glass in her hand. 'What is this stuff?'

'Well, if this was any other party it'd probably be the cheapest fizzing wine you could strain through a sock, but Madame won't stint. It's the real stuff. Champagne.'

'What? I thought only nobby people drank that!'

'No, just people with money, love. Sometimes it's the same thing.'

She looked closer, and gasped. 'What? Are you Pepe?'

'That's me, love.'

'But you're not all... all... ' She waved her hands frantically.

'Off duty, love. Don't have to worry about... ' He waved his hands equally frantically. 'I've got a bottle here of our very own. Care to join me?'

'Well, I ought to be getting back in there - '

'Why? To fuss around her like an old hen? Leave her be, love. She's a duck who's just found water.'

Pepe looked taller in this gloom. Maybe it was the language and the lack of flapping. And, of course, anyone next to Madame Sharn would look small. He was willowy, though, like someone made of sinews.

'But anything could happen to her!'

Pepe's grin gleamed. 'Yes! But probably won't. My word, she sold micromail for us, and no mistake. Told Madame I had a good feeling. She's got a great career in front of her.'

'No, she's got a good, steady job in the Night Kitchen, with me,' said Glenda. 'It might not be big money, but it'll turn up every week. On the nail, and she won't lose it if someone prettier comes along.'

'Dolly Sisters, right? Sounds like the Botney Street area,' said Pepe. 'I'm sure of it. Not too bad, as I recall. I didn't get beaten up much down there, but at the end of the day they're all crab buckets.'

Glenda was taken aback. She'd expected anger or condescension, not this sharp little grin.

'You know a lot about our city for a dwarf from Uberwald, I must say.'

'No, love, I know a lot about Uberwald for a boy from Lobbin Clout,' said Pepe smoothly. 'Old Cheese Alley, to be precise. Local lad, me. Wasn't always a dwarf, you know. I just joined.'

'What? Can you do that?'

'Well, it's not like they advertised. But yeah, if you know the right people. And Madame knew the right people, ha, knew quite a lot about the right people. It wasn't hard. I've got to believe in a few things, there's a few observances, and of course I have to keep off the old booze - ' He smiled as her glance pinned the glass in his hand, and went on: 'Too quick, love, I was going to add "when I'm working", and good job too. It doesn't matter if you are shoring up the mine roof or riveting a bodice, being a piss artist is bloody stupid. And the moral of all this is, you have to grab life or drop back into the crab bucket.'

'Oh yes, that's all very well to say,' Glenda snapped, wondering what crabs had got to do with anything. 'But in real life people have responsibilities. We don't have shiny jobs with lots of money, but they are real jobs doing things that people need! I'd be ashamed of myself, selling boots at four hundred dollars a go, which only rich people can afford. What's the point of that?'

'Well, you must admit that it makes rich people less rich,' said the chocolate voice of Madame behind her. Like many large people, she could move as quietly as the balloon she resembled. 'That's a good start, isn't it? And it goes to wages for the miners and the smiths. It all goes around, they tell me.'

She sat down heavily on a packing case, glass in hand. 'Well, we've got most of them out now,' she said, fumbling in her capacious breastplate with her spare hand and pulling out a thick wad of paper.

'The big names want to be in on this and everyone wants it exclusively and we're going to need another forge. Tomorrow I'll go and see the bank.' She paused to dip into her metal bodice again. 'As a dwarf I was raised in the faith that gold is the one true currency,' she said, counting out some crisp notes, 'but I have to admit this stuff is a lot warmer. That's fifty dollars for Juliet, twenty-five from me and twenty-five from the champagne, which is feeling happy. Juliet said to give it to you to look after.'

'Miss Glenda thinks that we'll lead her treasure into a lifetime of worthless sin and depravity,' said Pepe.

'Well, that's a thought,' said Madame, 'but I can't remember when I last had some depravity.'

'Tuesday,' said Pepe.

'A whole box of chocolates is not depraved. Besides, you slid out the card between the layers, which confused me. I did not intend to eat the bottom layer. I did not want the bottom layer. It was practically assault.'

Pepe coughed. 'We're scaring the normal lady, love.'

Madame smiled. 'Glenda, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking we're a couple of louche evil clowns who booze away in a world of smoke and mirrors. Well, that's fairly accurate right now, but today was the end of a year's hard work, you see.'

And you bicker like an old married couple, Glenda thought. Her head was aching. She'd tried a rat fruit, that was the trouble, she was sure of it.

'In the morning I'm going to show these orders to the manager of the Royal Bank and ask him for a lot of money. If he trusts us, can you? We need Juliet. She just... sparkles.'

And you two are holding hands. Tightly. Something soft snapped inside Glenda.

'All right, look,' she said. 'It's like this. Jools is going to come back home with me tonight, to get her head straight. Tomorrow... well, we'll see.'

'We can't ask for more than that. Can we?' said Madame, patting Glenda on the knee. 'You know, Juliet thinks the world of you. She said she'd need you to say yes. She was telling all the society ladies about your pies.'

'She's been talking to society ladies?' said Glenda in astonishment laced with trepidation and tinted with wonder.

'Certainly. They all wanted a close look at the micromail, and she just chatted away, cheery as you like. I don't think anyone ever said "Wotcher!" to them in their lives before.'

'Oh no! I'm sorry!'

'Why be? They were rather taken by it. And apparently you can bake pickled onions into a pie so that they stay crunchy?'

'She told them that?'

'Oh, yes. I gather that they all intend to get their cooks to try it out.'

'Hah. They'll never find the way!' said Glenda with satisfaction.

'So Jools says.'

'We... generally call her Juliet,' said Glenda.

'She told us to call her Jools,' said Madame. 'Is there a problem?'

'Well, er, not really a problem,' Glenda began wretchedly.

'That's good, then,' said Madame, who clearly knew when not to notice subtleties. 'Now let's prise her away from her new friends, and you can see to it that she gets a good night's sleep.'

There was laughter, and the girls helping with the show streamed out into the clammy place that was the midwife to beauty. Juliet was among them, and with the loudest laugh. She broke away when she saw Glenda and gave her another hug. 'Oh, Glendy, isn't this great? It's like a fairy story!'

'Yes, well, it might be,' said Glenda, 'but they don't all have happy endings. Just you remember you have a good job now, with prospects and regular leftovers to take home. That's not to be lightly thrown away.'

'No, it should be hurled with great force,' said Pepe. 'I mean, what is this? Emberella? The wand has been waved, the court is cheering, a score of handsome princes are waiting to sign up for just a sniff of her slipper, and you want her to go back to work making pumpkins?'

He looked at their blank faces. 'All right, perhaps that came out a little confused, but surely you can follow the seam? This is a big chance! As big as it gets. A way out of the bucket!'

'I think we'll go home now,' said Glenda primly. 'Come along, Jools.'

'See,' said Pepe, when they had gone, 'it's a crab bucket.'

Madame peered into a bottle to see if, against all probability, one glassful yet remained. 'Did you know she more or less raised the kid? Jools will do what she says.'

'What a waste,' said Pepe. 'Don't take the world by storm, stay here and make pies? You think that's a life?'

'Someone has to make pies,' Madame said, with an infuriating calm reasonableness.

'Oh, pur-lease! Not her. Let it not be her. And for leftovers? Oh no!'

Madame picked up another empty bottle. She knew it was empty because it was in the vicinity of Pepe at the end of a long day, but she examined it anyway because thirst springs eternal.

'Hmm. It might not come to that,' she said. 'I have a feeling that Miss Glenda is just about to start thinking. There's a powerful mind behind that rather sad cloak and those awful shoes. Today might be its lucky day.'

Ridcully strode through the corridors of Unseen University with his robes flapping confidently behind him. He had a big stride and Ponder had to run in a semi-crabwise fashion to keep up with him, his clipboard clutched protectively to his chest. 'You know we did agree that it wasn't to be used for purposes other than pure research, Archchancellor. You actually signed the edict.'

'Did I? I don't remember that, Stibbons.'

'I remember it most distinctly, sir. It was just after the case of Mister Floribunda.'

'Which one was he?' said Ridcully, still striding purposefully ahead.

'He was the one who felt a little peckish and asked the Cabinet for a bacon sandwich to see what would happen.'

'I thought that anything taken out of the Cabinet had to be returned in 14.14 hours recurring?'

'Yes, sir. That is the case, but the Cabinet appears to have strange rules that we do not fully understand. In any case, Mister Floribunda's defence was that he thought the fourteen-hour rule didn't apply to bacon sandwiches. Nor did he tell anybody and so the students on his floor were only alerted when they heard the screams some fourteen hours later.'

'Correct me if I'm wrong,' said Ridcully, still covering the flagstones at an impressive rate, 'but would it not have been digested by that point?'

'Yes, sir. But it still went back to the Cabinet, of its own accord, you might say. That was quite an interesting discovery. We did not know that could happen.'

Ridcully stopped and Ponder bumped into him. 'What exactly did happen to him?'

'You wouldn't want me to draw a picture, sir. However, the good news is that he will soon be out of the wheelchair. In fact, I gather he's already walking quite well with a stick. How we discipline him is, of course, up to you, sir. The file is on your desk, as are, indeed, a considerable number of other documents.'

Ridcully strode off again. 'He did it to see what would happen, did he?' he said cheerfully.

'So he said, sir,' said Ponder.

'And this was against my express orders, was it?'

'Yes, absolutely definitely, sir,' said Ponder, who knew his Archchancellor and already had an inkling of how this one was going to end. 'And so therefore, sir, I must insist that he - ' He walked into Ridcully again because the man had stopped outside a large door on which was a bright red notice saying, 'No Item To Be Removed From This Room Without The Express Permission Of The Archchancellor. Signed Ponder Stibbons pp Mustrum Ridcully.'

'You signed this one for me?' Ridcully said.

'Yes, sir. You were busy at the time and we had agreed on this one.'

'Yes, of course, but I don't think that you should pp just like that. Remember what that young lady said about the UU.'

Ponder produced a large key and opened the door. 'May I also remind you, Archchancellor, that we agreed a moratorium on the use of the Cabinet of Curiosity until we had cleaned up some of the residual magic in the building. We still don't seem to have got rid of the squid.'

'Did we agree, Mister Stibbons,' said Ridcully, turning around sharply, 'or did you agree with yourself pp me, as it were?'

'Well, er, I think I understood the spirit of your thinking, sir.'

'Well, this is the spirit of pure research,' said Ridcully. 'It's research into how we can hope to save our cheeseboard. Many would say there could be no greater goal. As for young Floribunda... '

'Yes, sir?' said Ponder wearily.

'Promote him. Whatever level he is, move him up one.'

'I think that'll send the wrong kind of signal,' Ponder tried.

'On the contrary, Mister Stibbons. It will send exactly the right message to the student body.'

'But he disobeyed an express order, may I point out?'

'That's right. He showed independent thinking and a certain amount of pluck, and in the course of so doing added valuable data to our understanding of the Cabinet.'

'But he might have destroyed the whole university, sir.'

'Right, in which case he would have been vigorously disciplined, if we'd been able to find anything left of him. But he didn't and he was lucky and we need lucky wizards. Promote him, on the direct order of me, not pp'd at all. Incidentally, how loud were his screams?'

'As a matter of fact, Archchancellor, the first one was so heartfelt that it kept going long after he'd run out of breath and apparently adopted an independent existence. Residual magic again. We've had to lock it in one of the cellars.'

'Did he actually say what the bacon sandwich was like?'

'Coming or leaving, sir?' said Ponder.

'Only coming, I think,' said Ridcully. 'I do have a vivid imagination after all.'

'He said it was the most delightful bacon sandwich he'd ever eaten. It was the bacon sandwich that you dream of when you hear the words bacon sandwich and never, ever quite get.'

'With brown sauce?' said Ridcully.

'Of course. Apparently, it was the bacon sandwich to end all bacon sandwiches.'

'It nearly did, for him, but isn't that what you already know about the Cabinet? That it always delivers a perfect specimen?'

'Actually, we know very little for certain,' said Ponder. 'What we do know is that it will hold nothing too large to fit inside a cube measuring 14.14 inches recurring on a side, that it will cease working if, we now know, a non-organic object is not replaced in it in 14.14 hours recurring, and that none of its contents are pink, although we do not know why this should be.'

'But bacon is definitely organic, Mister Stibbons,' said Ridcully.

Ponder sighed. 'Yes, sir, we don't know why that is either.'

The Archchancellor took pity on him. 'Perhaps it was one of those very crispy ones,' he suggested kindly. 'The kind that you can break between your fingers. I like that in a bacon sandwich.'

The door swung open and there it was. Small, in the centre of a very large room...

The Cabinet of Curiosity.

'Do you think this is wise?' said Ponder.

'Of course not,' said Ridcully. 'Now find me a football.'

On one wall was a white mask, such as one might wear to a carnival. Ponder turned towards it. 'Hex. Please find me a ball suitable for the game of football.'

'That mask is new?' said Ridcully. 'I thought Hex's voice travelled in blit space?'

'Yes, sir. It just comes out of the air, sir. But somehow, well, it feels better to have something to talk to.'

'What shape football do you require?' said Hex, his voice as smooth as clarified butter. 'Oval or spherical?'

'Spherical,' said Ponder.

Instantly the Cabinet shook.

The thing had always worried Ridcully. It looked too smug, for a start. It seemed to be saying: You don't know what you are doing. You use me as a kind of lucky dip and I bet you have never thought of how many dangerous things can fit into a fourteen-inch cube. In fact, Ridcully had thought about that, often at three in the morning, and never went into the room without a couple of sub-critical spells in his pocket just in case. And then there was Nutt... Well, hope for the best and prepare for the worst, that was the UU way.

A drawer slid out and went on sliding until it reached the wall and presumably continued to slide into some other hospitable set of dimensions, because it never turned up outside the room, no matter how often you looked.

'Very smooth today,' he observed, as another drawer rose up from under the floor and sprouted a further drawer exactly the same size as itself which began to move purposefully towards the far wall.

'Yes. The lads at Brazeneck have come up with a new algorithm for handling wave spaces in higher-level blit. It speeds up something like the Cabinet by getting on for 2,000 Drinkies.'

Ridcully frowned. 'Did you just make that up?'

'No, sir. Charlie Drinkie came up with it at Brazeneck. It's a shorter way of saying 15,000 iterations to the first negative blit. And it's a lot easier to remember.'

'So people you know at Brazeneck send you stuff?' said Ridcully.

'Oh, yes,' said Ponder.

'For free?'

'Of course, sir,' said Ponder, looking surprised. 'The free sharing of information is central to the pursuit of natural philosophy.'

'And so you tell them things, do you?'

Ponder sighed. 'Yes, of course.'

'I don't think I approve of that,' said Ridcully. 'I'm all for the free sharing of information, provided it's them sharing their information with us.'

'Yes, sir, but I think we're rather hampered by the meaning of the word "sharing".'

'Nevertheless,' Ridcully began and stopped. A sound so quiet that they had barely noticed it had stopped. The Cabinet of Curiosity had folded itself up and was once again just a piece of wooden furniture in the centre of the room, but as they looked at it its two front doors opened and a brown ball dropped on to the floor and bounced with a sound like gloing! Ridcully marched over and picked it up, turning it in his hands.

'Interesting,' he said, slamming it towards the floor. It bounced up past his head, but he was quick enough to catch it on the way down. 'Remarkable,' he said. 'What do you think of this, Stibbons?' He flicked the ball into the air and kicked it hard across the room. It came back towards Ponder, who, to his own amazement, caught it.

'Seems to have a life of its own.' Ponder dropped it on to the floor and tried a kick.

It flew.

Ponder Stibbons was the quintessential, all-time holder of the one-hundred-metre note from his auntie, which also asked for him to be excused all sporting activities on account of his athlete's ear, erratic stigmatism, a grumbling nose and a revolving spleen. By his own admission, he would rather run ten miles, leap a five-bar gate and climb a big hill than engage in any athletic activity.

The ball sang to him. It sang gloing!

A few minutes later, he and Ridcully walked back to the Great Hall, occasionally bouncing the ball on the flagstones. There was something about the sound of gloing! that made you want to hear it again.

'You know, Ponder, I think you've been doing it all wrong. There are more things in Heaven and Disc than are dreamed of in our philosophies.'

'I expect so, sir. I don't have many things in my philosophies.'

'It's all about the ball,' said Ridcully, slamming it down hard on the flagstones again and catching it. 'Tomorrow, we'll bring it here and see what happens. You gave the ball a mighty kick, Mister Stibbons, and yet you are, by your own admission, a wet and a weed.'

'Yes, sir, and a wuss, and I am proud of the appellation. I'd better remind you, Archchancellor, that the thing mustn't spend too long outside the Cabinet.'

Gloing!

'But we could make a copy, couldn't we?' said Ridcully. 'It's only leather stitched together, probably protecting a bladder of some sort. I bet any decent craftsman could make another one for us.'

'What, now?'

'The lights never go off on the Street of Cunning Artificers.'

By now, they were back in the Great Hall and Ridcully looked around until his gaze lighted on two figures pushing a trolley laden with candles. 'You lads, to me!' he shouted. They stopped pushing the trolley and walked over to him. 'Mister Stibbons here would like you to run an errand for him. It's of considerable importance. Who are you?'

'Trevor Likely, guv.'

'Nutt, Archchancellor.'

Ridcully's eyes narrowed. 'Yes... Nutt,' he said, and thought about the spells in his pocket. 'The candle dribbler, yes? Well, you can make yourselves useful. Over to you, Mister Stibbons.'

Ponder Stibbons held out the ball. 'Have you any idea what this is?'

Nutt took it out of his hands and bounced it on the tiles a couple of times.

Gloing! Gloing!

'Yes. It appears to be a simple sphere, although technically I believe it to be, in actual fact, a truncated icosahedron, made by stitching together a number of pentagons and hexagons of tough leather, and stitching means holes and holes let the air leak... Ah, there is lacing just here, you see? There must be some internal bladder¨Canimal, probably. A balloon, as it were, for lightness and elasticity, encapsulated by leather, simple and elegant.' He handed the ball back to Ponder, who was open-mouthed.

'Do you know everything, Mister Nutt?' he said with the sarcasm of a born pedagogue.

Nutt's reply was concentrated and there was a lengthy pause before he said, 'I'm not sure about a lot of the detail, sir.'

Ponder heard a snigger behind him and felt himself redden. He'd been cheeked, by a dribbler, even if Nutt was the most incontinently erudite one he'd ever encountered.

'Do you know where a copy of this may be made?' said Ridcully loudly.

'I expect so,' said Nutt. 'I believe dwarf rubber will be our friend here.'

'There's plenty of dwarfs up at Old Cobblers who could knock one up, guv,' said Trev. 'They're good at this sort of thing, but they'd want paying, they always want paying. Nuffin's on credit when you're dealing with a dwarf.'

'Give these young gentlemen twenty-five dollars, Mister Stibbons, will you?'

'That's a lot of money, Archchancellor.'

'Yes, well, dwarfs, while the salt of the earth, don't have much of a grasp of small numbers and I want this in a hurry. I'm sure I can trust Mister Likely and Mister Nutt with the money, can't I?' He said it jovially, but there was an edge to his voice. Trev, at least, got the message very quickly; a wizard could trust you because of the hellish future he could unleash on you if his trust was betrayed.

'You can certainly trust us, guv.'

'Yes, I thought I could,' said Ridcully.

When they had gone, Ponder Stibbons said, 'You're entrusting them with twenty-five dollars?'

'Yes, indeed,' said Ridcully cheerfully. 'It will be interesting to see the outcome.'

'Nevertheless, sir, I have to say that it was an unwise move.'

'Thank you for your input, Mister Stibbons, but may I gently remind you who is the guv around here?'

Glenda and Juliet took a trolley bus home, another huge extravagance but, of course, Glenda was carrying more money than she had ever seen at one go. She had stuffed the notes into her bodice, ¨¤ la Madame, and it seemed to generate a heat of its own. You were safe on a troll. Anyone wanting to mug a troll would have to use a building on a stick.

Juliet was quiet. This puzzled Glenda; she had expected her to bubble like a fountain full of soap flakes. The silence was unnerving.

'Look. I know it was a lot of fun,' Glenda said, 'but showing off clothes isn't like a real job, is it?' No. Real jobs pay a lot less, she thought.

Where had that come from? Jools hadn't opened her mouth and the troll was still covered in mountain lichen and had a single-syllable vocabulary. It came from me, she thought. This is about dreams, isn't it? She is a dream. I dare say the micromail is good stuff, but she made it sparkle. And what can I say? You help in the kitchen. You are useful and helpful, at least when you're not daydreaming, but you don't know how to keep accounts or plan a weekly menu. What would you do without me? How would you get on away from here, in foreign parts where folks are so odd?

'I'll have to open a bank account for you,' she said aloud. 'It'll be our little secret, all right? It'll be a nice little nest egg for you.'

'And if Dad don't know I've got the money he won't get it off me and piss it against the wall,' said Juliet, glancing up at the solemn, impassive face of the troll. If Glenda had known how to say 'Pas devant le troll' she would have done so. But it was true: Mr Stollop commanded that all family earnings were pooled, with him holding the pool, which was then pooled with his friends in the bar of the Turkey & Vegetables, and ultimately pooled again in the reeking alley behind it.

She settled for: 'I wouldn't put it quite like that.'

Gloing! Gloing!

The new ball was magic, that's what it was. It bounced back to Trev's waiting hand as if by its own free will. For two pins he'd risk kicking it, but he and Nutt and the ball were already picking up a trail of curious street urchins such that he would be guaranteed never to see it again.

'Are you really sure you know 'ow it works?' he said to Nutt.

'Oh, yes, Mister Trev. It's a lot simpler than it looks, although the polyhedrons will need some work, but overall - '

A hand landed on Trev's shoulder. 'Well, now. Trev Likely,' said Andy. 'And his little pet, harder to kill than a cockroach, by all accounts. Something's going on, ain't it, Trev? And you're going to tell me what it is. Here, what's that you're holding?'

'Not today, Andy,' said Trev, backing away. 'You're lucky you didn't end up in the Tanty with Mister One Drop measurin' you up for a hemp collar.'

'Me?' said Andy innocently. 'I didn't do a thing! Can't blame me for what a thicko Stollop does, but something is going on with the football, ain't it? Vetinari wants to muck it about.'

'Just leave it alone, will you?' said Trev.

There was more than the usual gang behind Andy. The Stollop brothers had sensibly spared the streets their presence lately, but people like Andy could always find followers. Like they said, it was better to be beside Andy than in front of him. And with Andy you never knew just when he was -

The cutlass was out in one movement. That was Andy. Whatever it was inside that held back the primeval rage could flick off just like that. And here came the blade with Trev's future written on it in very short words. And it stopped in mid air and Nutt's voice said, 'I believe I could squeeze with enough pressure, Andy, to make your bones grind and flow. There are twenty-seven bones in the human hand. I truly believe that I could make every one of them useless with the slightest extra pressure. However, I would like to give you a chance to revise your current intentions.'

Andy's face was a mix of colours: a white that was almost blue and a rage that was almost crimson. He was trying to pull away and Nutt stood calmly and was completely immoveable. 'Get 'im!' Andy hissed at the world in general.

'Could I regretfully remind you gentlemen that I have another hand?' said Nutt.

He must have squeezed because Andy yelped as his hand ground against the weapon's handle.

Trev knew all too well that Andy did not have friends, he had followers. They were looking at their stricken leader and they were looking at Nutt, and they could see very clearly not only that Nutt had a spare hand, but what he was capable of doing with it. They did not move.

'Very well,' said Nutt. 'Perhaps this has been nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding. I am about to release my grip just enough for you to drop the cutlass, Mister Andy, please.'

There was another intake of breath from Andy as the cutlass landed on the stones.

'Now, if you would excuse us, Mister Trev and I are going to walk away.'

'Take the bloody cutlass! Don't leave the cutlass on the ground,' said Trev.

'I am sure Mister Andy would not come after us,' said Nutt.

'Are you bloody mad?' said Trev. He reached down, snatched up the cutlass and said, 'Let 'im go and let's get a move on.'

'Very well,' said Nutt. He must have squeezed a little harder because now Andy slumped to his knees.

Trev pulled Nutt away and towed him through the permanent city crowd. 'That's Andy!' he said, hurrying them along. 'You don't expect logic with Andy. You don't expect him to "learn the error of his ways". Don't look for any sense when Andy's after you. Got that? Don't try talkin' to 'im as if 'e's a human being. Now, keep up with me.'

Dwarf shops were doing well these days, largely because they understood the first rule of merchandising, which is this: I have got goods for sale and the customer has got money. I should have the money and, regrettably, that involves the customer having my goods. To this end, therefore, I will not say 'The one in the window is the last one we have, and we can't sell it to you, because if we did no one would know we have them for sale', or 'We'll probably have some more on Wednesday', or 'We just can't keep them on the shelves', or 'I'm fed up with telling people there's no demand for them' I will make a sale by any means short of physical violence, because without one I am a waste of space.

Glang Snorrisson lived by this rule, but he didn't like people much, an affliction that affects many who have to deal with the general public over a long period, and the two people on the other side of his counter were making him edgy. One was small and looked harmless, but something so deep down in Glang's psyche that it was probably stuffed in his genes was making him nervous. The other intru - customer was not much more than a boy and therefore likely to commit a crime any moment.

Glang dealt with the situation by not understanding anything they said and uttering silly insults in his native tongue. There was hardly a risk. Only the Watch learned Dwarfish, and it came as a surprise when the worryingly harmless one said, in better Llamedos Dwarfish than Glang himself spoke these days: 'Such incivility to the amiable stranger shames your beard and erases the writings of Tak, ancient merchant.'

'What did you say to him?' Trev asked, as Glang spluttered out apologies.

'Oh, just a traditional greeting,' said Nutt. 'Could you pass me the ball, please?' He took the football and bounced it on the floor.

Gloing!

'I suspect you might know the trick of making brimstoned rubber?'

'That was my... my grandfather's name,' Glang stuttered.

'Ah, a good omen,' said Trev quickly. He caught the ball and batted it down again.

Gloing!

'I can cut out and stitch the outer cover if you will work on the bladder,' said Nutt, 'and we will pay you fifteen dollars and allow you a licence to make as many more as you wish.'

'You'll make a fortune,' said Trev encouragingly.

Gloing! Gloing! went the ball, and Trev added, 'That'd be a university licence, too. No one would dare mess with it.'

'How come you know about brimstoned rubber?' said Glang. He had the look about him of someone who knows that he is outnumbered but will go down fighting.

'Because King Rhys of the dwarfs presented a dress of brimstoned rubber and leather to Lady Margolotta six months ago, and I'm pretty sure I understand the principle.'

'Her? The Dark Lady? She can kill people with a thought!'

'She is my friend,' said Nutt calmly, 'and I will help you.'

Glenda wasn't quite sure why she tipped the troll tuppence. He was elderly and slow, but his upholstery was well kept and he had twin umbrellas and it was no fun for trolls to come this far, because the kid gangs would have graffitied them to the waist by the time they got out of there.

She felt hidden eyes on her as she walked up to her door, and it didn't matter.

'All right,' she said to Juliet. 'Have a night off, okay?'

'I'll go back to work with you,' said Juliet, to her surprise. 'We need the money and I can't tell Dad about the fifty dollars, can I?'

There was a small collision of expectations in Glenda's head as Juliet went on: 'You're right, it's a steady job and I want to keep it an' I'm so fick I'd prob'ly muck up the other one. I mean, it was fun and all that, but then, I thought, well, you always gave me good advice, an' I remembered that time you kicked Greasy Damien in the goolies so hard when he was messin' me around, he walked bent double for a week. Besides, if I go away with them it means leaving the street, and Dad and the lads. That's really scary. An' you said be careful about fairy stories, and you're right, half the time it's goblins. An' I don't know how I'd get on without you puttin' me right. You are solid, you are. I can't remember you not bein' around, and when one of the girls sniggered about your old coat I told her you work very hard.'

Glenda thought, I used to be able to read you like a book¨Cone with big colourful pages and not many words. And now I can't. What's happening? You're agreeing with me and I ought to feel smug about it, but I don't. I feel bad about it, and I don't know why, and that hurts.

'Maybe you ought to sleep on it,' she suggested.

'No, I'd mess it up, I know I would.'

'Do you feel all right?' Something inside Glenda was shouting at her.

'I'm okay,' said Juliet. 'Oh, it was fun and that, but it's for nobby girls, not me. It's all glitter, nuffin' you can hold. But a pie's a pie, right? Solid! Besides, who'd look after Dad and the lads?'

No, no, no, screamed Glenda's voice in her own head, not that! I didn't want that. Oh, didn't I? Then what did I think I was doing, passing on all that old toot? She looks to me, and I've gone and given her a good example! Why? Because I wanted to protect her. She's so... vulnerable. Oh dear, I've taught her to be me, and I've even made a bad mess of that chore!

'All right, then, you can head back with me.'

'Will we see the banquet? Our dad has been fretting about the banquet. He reckons Lord Vetinari is going to have everyone murdered.'

'Does he do that a lot?'

'Yes, but it gets hushed up, our dad says.'

'There's going to be hundreds of people there. That would need a lot of hush.' And if I don't like what I hear, there won't be enough hush in all the world, she thought.

Trev mooched aimlessly around the shop while Nutt and the dwarf put their heads together over the ball. For some reason there was a faint scrabbling on the roof. It sounded like claws. Just a bird, he told himself. Even Andy wouldn't come in through the roof. There was another pressing matter. This place would have a privy, wouldn't it? There was at least a back door and that would inevitably lead to a back alley and, well, what is a back alley for except for sleeping tramps and the call of nature? Possibly in the same place if you were feeling cruel.



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