There's a moment right around shift change when Pseudopolis Yard almost passes for a normal work environment. The first living being to arrive puts the kettle on for a morning cuppa while the duty officer finishes off a brief report of the previous night's events. Patrolmen gear up in the locker room, chatting idly about plans for the upcoming long weekend pushed through by the Merchant's Guild. Nominally, the civic holiday honours the unification of Ankh and Morpork during the Century of the Platypus. In reality, the civic holiday honours the separation of Consumers and Their Money during the Century of the Useless-but-Fascinating Trinkets.
On a good day, this period of normality lasts approximately ten minutes. Nobby tried to time it once, but lost the precise value when a troll sleeping off a bad batch of Slab threw up on him, dissolving a section of his breastplate, the rug, and the floor underneath.
Still, the day-to-day operations of the Watch follow a routine of sorts. Carrot typically arrives about an hour before Vimes to screen the paperwork perpetually threatening to consume the Commander's desk. Whenever Vimes is out of town for any longer than 48 hours, Carrot makes a hearty attempt at organizing it into categorical piles that might help with its completion. To date, these systems have been based on the department (traffic/theft), the purpose (financial/procedural), and the involved party (officer/politican/criminal, with a separate pile for the individuals occupying more than one category.) In every case, this has resulted in Vimes immediately resorting the stacks into two piles: Bullshit and Not Bullshit. A piece of paper once made it into the Not Bullshit pile accidentally. It was a receipt for takeaway curry.
Nobby turns up while Carrot is adding the overnight paperwork to the largest of the piles, which serves as an in tray. "Coupla messages, Captain. Lord Selachii protests the closure of Broad Way rimwards of the Palace fer the Unification Day parade, Mr. Gimlet wantsa appeal the night patrols to cut down on fightin' because they're also cuttin' down on customers, Mr. Vimes is taking the day off, and Archchancellor Ridcully apologizes fer the Incident in Sator Square yesterday."
"What was that, Nobby?"
"Y'know, the thing where everyone developed mind-reading powers fer about five minutes?"
"That must have been quite the experience, I'm sure it resolved a few misunderstandings."
"And ended a few marriages," Nobbs mumbles under his breath.
"What was the thing before that, though?"
"Mr. Vimes is taking the day off. He sent a pigeon."
Slowly, Carrot sets the paperwork down. "That was the one. Can you get Angua, Fred, and -- yes, I think, all of the sergeants. Call them in if you need to, please. I want everyone downstairs in ten minutes."
When most of the Watch is assembled in the hall downstairs, Carrot gestures to Nobbs. "Could you repeat the message again?"
"Mr. Vimes is taking the day off," Nobbs says dutifully. "He sent a pigeon."
Carrot looks over to the corner where the sergeants are assembled, and watches their confusion morph into understanding. The assembled officers erupt in a flurry of hierarchical panic, the worried Corporals calming the worried Lance Corporals calming the worried Constables calming the already-calm Lance-Constables, who are too confused to know that they should be worried.
After a minute Carrot clears his throat, bringing the susurrus to a halt. He catches Angua's eye, who nods. "Alright, listen up!" she says. "I want runners sent to Dr Lawn, the Assassins' Guild, the Thieves' Guild, the Seamstressess' Guild, and the Palace--"
"--Constables, you're going to air the uniforms on patrol this morning, keep your eyes and ears open--" Colon follows up.
"--Reg, call in der Specials, see if dey've heard anything," Detritus finishes.
"Sorry, all this because the Commander is taking the day off? Couldn't he just be having a bit of a lie in?" one of the officers asks.
Colon drops a heavy hand on the man's shoulder, sharing an aggrieved look with the rest of the sergeants. "Sorry, Carrot. Lance Constable Harris is new around here."
Vimes' impromptu "vacation" is a closely guarded secret.
Naturally, it is common knowledge within the hour.
William de Worde turns up with a notebook shortly after, edging his way past an outgoing patrol in the doorway of the Watch House, notebook out and quill poised before he pulls up to a stop in front of Carrot. "Captain, would you care to comment on the rumour that Duke Vimes has been kidnapped by the members of the Bonk Syndicate who are displeased with his latest diplomatic visit?"
Carrot being Carrot, there is a standing rule against his speaking to the press regarding any rumour in particular. It is well known that as talented as the Captain is excellent at public relations, he is equally abysmal at public deception. With a growl disguised as a cough, Angua straights up from a casual lean against the duty officer's desk and crosses the room to intercept de Worde.
"The Watch has no comment at this time."
"What about the related rumour that Duke Vimes has been kidnapped by members of the Bonk Watch who are extremely pleased with his latest diplomatic visit?"
With a grimace of barely-contained-aggression the man himself would be pleased with, she says, "Inquiries are proceeding."
Lord Downey does not fidget in the visitor's chair of the Oblong Office. Nerves are something that happen to other people.
And yet --.
Vetinari leans in and rests his elbows on the edge of the desk, steepling his fingers under his chin.
Downey reviews a mental list of recent inhumations. Two distributors of illicit substances, one merchant, and one man with an unfortunate tendency towards violence in the presence of alcohol.
"It has been some time since I reviewed Guild law," Vetinari says at last.
"My Lord?" Downey says blankly. Neutrality is the safest response until the subject of today's discussion becomes clear. They are both aware that Vetinari wrote half of the founding charter from the ground up, employing a precision of language that Mr. Slant himself would appreciate.
"I believe that Guild law requires written notice be given if a contract is taken out of abeyance and returned to active status."
It is folly to imagine that the temperature of the room drops several degrees, though Downey has observed the clock with a rhythm disorder in the anteroom. Perhaps it is greater folly to assume that Vetinari would not give the Oblong Office the same treatment.
"That is correct, my Lord."
"And significant modifications to the charter require a formal notification to my office. Drumknott, have we received such a notice?"
"We have not, my Lord."
"No modification have been proposed, and thus no notice given," Downey clarifies. "Does this have something to do with Commander Vimes' absence?"
Vetinari smiles. With conscious intent, Downey forces himself to be still. Nerves are something that happen to other people, but reflexes are something that have to be controlled.
Dibbler didn't get to be the fine purveyor of sausages-onna-stick he is today without learning how to keep his ear to the ground. Not literally, not with the fragrant flora of the Ankh being in such good health, but metaphorically.
The Thieves are worried.
When Vimes is unhappy -- 'unhappy' being a blanket term that encompasses anger, concern, confusion, and frustration -- he tends to spread it around with a shovel. When his officers are unhappy, they tend to plant seeds and set up shop for long-term grounds maintenance. There is nothing more stubborn, more unforgiving, or more persistent than a Watch officer protecting their own.
Protect and serve comes from Commander Vimes, and so it comes back to Commander Vimes, too.
So the Thieves are worried. And at the end of the day, Vimes is a nosy, suspicious bastard, but he's a local boy through and through. Born and raised in Cockbill Street, a right to walk the Shades derived from coming up through the Shades. Uncorruptable by nobs and beggars alike.
He is their nosy, suspicious bastard.
Willikins opens the door to find a large contingent of heavily armed Watchmen setting up shop in the driveway. Behind Dorfl and Igor, Cheery hovers out by the street, paddles ready to signal the nearest clacks tower. Deep indentations in the yard suggest Detritus and his colleagues have circled around the back of the house.
"I take it you wish to see Sir?" he says calmly.
"I have brought my thupplieth," Igor says.
"Blink If You Require Assistance," Dorfl says. After a minute, one of the the red lights in the impassive clay face flickers.
"Is that Dorfl?" a voice calls from behind him, and Lady Sybil appears over her shoulder, opening the door wide to welcome their visitors.
"Oh, no," she sighs. "I thought this might happen. Please come on in."
"Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, that's my boy!"
On one side of the room, His Grace the Duke of Ankh, Commander Sir Samuel Vimes kneels on the floor, arms outstretched and ready to leap at a moment's notice. He does not appear to be injured, kidnapped, restrained, distressed, or coerced in any way. On the other side of the room, Young Sam wobbles on two unsteady feet, taking one careful step after the other, closing the gap between him and his father.
When Young Sam gets within range, Vimes scoops him up with a whoop, eliciting a squeal from the boy before he is deposited on the other side of the room and encouraged to try again.
Carrot rubs a hand along the back of his neck, the tips of his ears rapidly turning bright red to match his hair. "Sir," he says politely.
"There was a misunderstanding this morning."
"Is that why half the Yard is in my living room?"
"Sort of, sir. You see--."
"Sam Vimes, you've gone to work with bruised ribs, a cracked skull, and severe internal bleeding," Sybil cuts in. "You worked two shifts last month with a hundred degree fever before Igor slipped something in your tea and Carrot brought you home. Never in your life have you taken a vacation day--"
"On the way back from Uberwald we --," Sam protests. Sybil raises an eyebrow, and he sighs. "Yes, dear."
"I told you that taking the day off would scare the living daylights out of them."
"Young Sam took his first steps this morning," Sybil says by way of explanation. "Just as Sam was leaving the house."
"Ah," Carrot says, as if that explains everything. It kind of does. The only thing Vimes takes more seriously than his duty is his son, and if forced to choose between them, then Ankh-Morpork is out of luck.
When Reg Shoe sews the much-loved stuffed animal named Bear back together, he wins a fan for life. Young Sam's high pitched giggle goes a long way towards smoothing over his father's reaction to what amounts to armed invasion of his domestic life.
Three months later, Vimes doesn't turn up for the morning meeting. The clacks message reads "I won't be in today, Young Sam is sick."
They send Igor up to the house anyways, just to be safe.
Six months later, they receive a note with the message "I've accepted a position in Sto Lat and am resigning effective immediately."
The wax seal on the letter is embossed with the ring they had made special in the Street of Cunning Artificers for just this circumstance. It bears the text 177, Vimes' badge number. The signature on the letter matches a reference word for word, and is hand delivered by Willikins.
They send an army.