Patients Wearing Thin - Part 2
If you haven't already, you would probably make more sense of things if you read Part 1 first.
"If I’m going to be doing anything in the way of helping to deliver this baby, I need to have a look so I know how you’re progressing. The pains aren’t the only thing. I don’t work so great blind. You can certainly opt to have this baby unassisted if nothing goes wrong, or we can call a midwife... in most cases, things go fine and all you do is make sure you don’t drop the baby, maybe give them a welcome smack and clean things up a little. To be honest, I don’t know what most dwarfs do, but I don’t think they often need serious medical intervention. All I know is I never met a dwarf who gave their profession as midwife, and it’s not as though lady dwarfs discuss options in the streets, even here. Up in the Ramtops your outside options are usually the local witch-slash-midwife and in Uberwald, I suspect it’s the local Igor, but only when things go really bad. Maybe an Igorina in some of the more forward-thinking corners. I have no idea what they do in Llamedos. Keep in mind, most of the dwarfs I know personally are great at discussing the finer points of getting the cuffs on as quickly as possible or the best way to cut off a suspect running up King’s Way. Not so much with birthing techniques. On the extremely rare occasions I’ve done this for other dwarfs, they weren’t so interested in telling me exactly why they chose our fine establishment."
"How extremely rare?" Grapnel asked suspiciously.
"The whole hospital has had maybe five. I’m the only repeat offender I know of for sitting in on two. That’s just because Doctor Lawn was meeting with a vendor when the second one got here and there wasn’t exactly time to go get him to help me out. Cheery saw Igorina and me for her checkups, not that there was much to them. I usually just took her vitals and weighed and measured. Igorina was her fallback option for delivery. I know Cheery’s mum and dad came to visit when it got close to her time and stayed for a while. Maybe that’s the usual way of it. "
"It is," she said in an extremely small voice, staring at the peaks in the starched sheet that represented her feet.
"Oh. I’m sorry."
"Why would you be sorry?"
"For being a poor substitute, I suppose."
"Had they gone really bad?"
"Had what gone really bad?"
"The ones that came in."
"The ones that came here to get help with the babies? Fairly bad. They all turned out more or less all right, though. Dislocating a baby’s shoulder with the forceps is rather small potatoes compared to the alternative."
"Latatian for ‘tongs’. Although, really, even the new and improved versions look more like big, curved sculpted paddles with funny aspirations and a hinge. Or something you would use to serve salad. Doctors like to give everything Latatian names or Latatian derivatives, like ‘mallet’. They’ll tell you it’s because of Sceptum, the founder of modern medicine, but really, I think it’s mostly to keep people from being too alarmed when they hear you’re about to literally go at them hammer and tongs. By the time they’ve finished wondering what a forceps is, you’re finished."
 Sceptum also famously said, "Am I going to get paid for this?", which may be the most modern thing he ever did for medicine.
"Why would you need tongs?"
"Sometimes babies just get hung up in a bad position or they’re a bit too big or they try to come out backwards or feet first. And some mothers get in a bad way by the time they need to really push and can’t help much, especially if the labor goes on a long time or they lose a lot of blood. To quote Doctor Lawn’s favorite saying when he’s lecturing on the subject, giving birth is not like shelling peas. Er... My mother and I are quite literally the textbook case when it comes to forceps and prolonged labor combined with bad positioning, large baby, heavy hemorrhaging, late stage anemia, severe exhaustion, failure to progress and shoulder dystocia. I suppose you could say things definitely went Rimwards fast there at the end. It’s a bit weird to sit in on group lectures detailing exactly how you came into the world. But no odder, I expect, than knowing the classroom you’re sitting in is located in a building named after your mother, and all of the above might not be there if the story in the lecture hadn’t gone the way it did. If it’s any consolation, let me point out again that we’re talking about five dwarfs in a city of millions."
"What if he doesn’t even want to talk to me? Sergeant Littlebottom left a long time ago."
"He wanted to marry you not that long ago, didn’t he? There’s a lot of traffic this time of day. You have to go halfway down Kickleberry Street before you even hit Tenth Egg."
"Maybe he’s changed his mind. Because I...changed mine."
"We are here and this is now. And right here, right now, you can’t do thing one about the state of his mind, just yours," He waited a few beats. "Or as my mother would say, stop flapping around uselessly like a big girl’s blouse." There was a weak twitch of the mouth under the beard that might have been a suppressed smile. "How about I promise that this is not going to be at all painful. At worst it will be only mildly embarrassing, and that’s a better offer than you’re going to get on the rest of the experience."
"I am continuing to bear in mind that you own an axe and know how to use it. Outright lying would not be in my best interest."
"What do I have to do?"
"Basically, lie there and be looked at, though it does help make things easier on me if you can draw your knees up, scoot down closer to the edge of the table and not laugh yourself sick at the sight of me putting the thin rubber gloves on," Young Sam replied, fishing a couple out of a crock on the counter, pulling them on. "And the easier it is on me, the quicker it’s over and done with." There was the usual awkward shuffling and repositioning, followed by a performance that would not have been out of place at the All World Championships Ceiling Inspection Finals for several moments. "You can stop holding your breath, now, I’m done. Sheet’s back down, everything looks completely fine so-"
There was a noise not unlike the persistent trickling of a kitchen pump after the handle has stopped as a thin stream dripped onto the floor. "What is that? I... I mean..." The dwarf flushed bright red again.
"Your bag of waters just broke, it’s fine, that’s supposed to happen. Nothing to be embarrassed about. Sorry, I should have warned you that was coming eventually. This is a one towel job, dwarfs evidently don’t need much in the way of amniotic fluid for cushioning. By comparison, humans are a regular tidal wave. Believe me, I’ve been on the actual receiving end of far worse than that. More times than I care to count," Young Sam said, grabbing a couple of towels, handing one to Grapnel. "You might leak a bit for a while. After I get things mopped up, we can put the other towel under you. It’s completely clear. That’s another good sign. No excessive bleeding and the baby’s not in any apparent distress."
"How can you tell? About the distress?"
"You probably don’t want to know, and I have a big mouth," Young Sam said, putting the sodden towel into the laundry hamper.
"Maybe I could do with something else to worry about," Grapnel snapped. He couldn’t help but notice the anxious checking of the clock.
"Let’s leave it at what I found out at age six, which is ‘fish do not get out of the trout stream to go to the lavatory’. Neither do unborn babies and that can be a sign of distress. The average person would be amazed how much farming and medicine have in common."
"Such as? I can’t say I’ve had much experience of either."
"Well, for a start, they’re both quite often about sex, having babies and poo. Though not necessarily in that order. And the metaphor doesn’t stop working when you get away from the animal husbandry, either. Pretty much any kind of farming is about sex, babies and poo."
The astonished look he got in return was a picture worth framing. "You’re going to tell me the vegetables and fruit and things get up to... to... shenanigans in the fields, next? Get away."
"I spent an instructive and eye-opening day in the orchards when we were on holiday in the country once, following the old gardener that went around with a little camel hair brush and very carefully transplanted pollen from this particular tree to that particular tree to get a better tasting apple a decade down the line. When you get right down to it, fruit is nothing but a way to make babies, since they’re mostly a clever if tasty way to distribute seeds. I certainly never looked at apples and apple orchards quite the same way again. So there’s your sex, babies, and the fertilizer generally involves poo. I’m convinced that if Ponder Stibbons up at the University ever nails down his Theory of Everything, it’s still going to boil down to sex, babies and poo," Young Sam said with a shrug. "Possibly with something about turtles thrown in there somewhere for good measure, but probably only for reason of the previous three."
"Well, there’s something-" Grapnel began, then sucked in her breath sharply and screwed up her face in pain.
Young Sam timed silently until she relaxed. "They’re getting closer and lasting longer. The good news is that means things are moving along. The bad news is that means things are moving along. So you might keep your word fairly short when he arrives."
"You mean if he arrives," Grapnel said grimly.
"It’s heavy traffic this time of day. I’m sure if there were a major snag, Cheery would have sent word by now. If we haven’t heard anything by twenty minutes from now, I’ll see what I can find out. They could have walked back by that time."
The knock came well after Emma had already gone home, and it was all Young Sam could do not to race to the door to the hall. The expected quantity of dwarf in the hall was short by two thirds. "Please tell me you have got company," Young Sam hissed.
"Around the corner. Bashfullsson’s having a word with him, after having a word with his parents earlier," Cheery replied. "And don’t think I didn’t have a time finding Bashfullsson. I had to put several of the street squad on that. He’s only got to read the ceremony and do the paperwork but you try running down a particular grag on short notice."
"He’s not trying to back out, is he? I thought dwarfs had a thing about responsibilities."
"Dwarf parents also have a thing about not having their children show up with unexpected spouses and babies before they’re ready. He’s nervous and scared. He’s only just in his eighties. She’s still in her seventies. Got a pretty level head on his shoulders for that age and his parents were definitely willing enough a few months ago, but he wasn’t going to be supporting a family right away, then. Let me put it this way... there are humans in this city perfectly happy to have their teenager get married, particularly if it’s not because someone’s dress is getting tight and the parents have had a quiet word with everyone, yes?" Young Sam nodded. "Now, imagine how spare your parents would have gone if you just showed up out of the blue with a wife and baby a couple of years ago, unannounced. Oh, and she’s only just this side of legal. That might give you an idea of how big a shock that is for them even with a bit of forewarning. Dwarfs have a thing about getting established before starting a family, too."
"I see. I do not think there would be enough spare in the world for how spare they would have gone," Young Sam said woodenly.
"Exactly. There’s still going to be a bit of cursing, that’s for sure, and dwarfish is a good language to be annoyed in. I think his parents will come around from the shock soon enough, though," Cheery murmured as Bashfullsson and a rather nervous looking dwarf still clad in a cloth apron with a wealth of pockets holding small tools such as hammers, tweezers and screwdrivers, ranging from the delicate to the downright tiny, rounded the corner.
"You must be Boddony? Good," Young Sam said in response to the anemic nod, "Grapnel wants to have a word with you first. I don’t want to alarm you, but I would get right down to the brass tacks pretty quickly if I were you."
 Irony and metaphor is lost on some people. For dwarfs, irony and metaphor have generally been blindfolded, tied together at the wrists and ankles, twirled around a dozen times and shoved out the back of a speeding cart in the middle of a dark, unfamiliar forest without a map or compass.
"Talk fast and say what you’ve got to say or Bashfullsson here is going to have to take a speed reading course," Young Sam explained, steering him toward the door. "I hope it’s a short ceremony," he added in Bashfullsson’s direction after the door had snicked shut.
The grag stepped forward and looked up, hands amicably tucked behind his back. The lack of the typical axe and clang most dwarfs sported made him look almost somberly dressed. Young Sam had the curious sensation of being studied intently by a neatly trimmed brown beard and the top of a helmet for a few moments before the dwarf looked further up, revealing bright eyes and an equally neat little smile that gave him the air of being faintly amused at something he wasn’t inclined to be in a hurry to share. Bashfullsson rocked back on his heels slightly. "You’re the Commander’s lad. There was less of you to look up at last I saw you. Are you half as impatient as the Commander is about getting the job done when it’s important?"
 Like bling, only louder. Also, noisier.
Young Sam considered this carefully, watching Cheery’s expression over the top of Bashfullson’s helmet. "Not... unless I have to be. People who might be dying usually don’t appreciate you taking your sweet time, but it doesn’t do to rush some things. However, in this case, there’s a baby being impatient enough for all of us put together, and while I get the feeling you’ll happily backdate what amounts to a marriage license, I’m guessing you’re not going to be as flexible about post-dating or even fudging the time a little on a birth certificate. And that it wouldn’t matter even if you were. Because they would know. And that’s important."
Bashfullsson looked pleased as a schoolmaster. "You pick up on clues like a policeman, at least. Don’t worry, I shall read extremely fast, Doctor."
One eyebrow went up slightly at the use of the little-used title. "Or I just know when to call in an extremely good cultural advisor, because you can’t know everything," Young Sam said, pointing to Cheery.
"Diplomatic, too," Bashfullson said approvingly. "That would be your mother. And if you’ve got her ability to negotiate a trade deal, the local medical supply companies are probably complaining that you’re beggaring them."
"I appeal straight to a higher authority. I still get her to talk to them on the rare occasions when old Mossy can’t get them to budge."
"Fighting dirty. You are your father’s son, too, then. I think there’s our cue," the grag said, inclining his head at the opening door.
"Cheery? Coming?" Young Sam said while turning on his heel.
"Right behind you," Cheery replied.
"I was afraid this might be a solo job, so I already set up the rolling cart with a basin of hot water, gloves and some towels. If you need to wash your hands, the tap over there is hooked up directly to the boilers. If you use it, be sure to turn on the cold water tap, too. They get blistering hot. In a pinch, you can scald the instruments in it," Young Sam explained, pulling the cart in the corner over beside the stool and table once more.
Bashfullsson paused in opening a small, leather bound book that he had slipped out of a pocket. "Must use a ton of coal..." he marvelled.
Young Sam ducked to peer under the sheet. "Not directly. My mother breeds dragons and helps run the Sunshine Sanctuary. They have to eat coal anyway and happy dragons flame. The unhappy ones go boom. Does them good to be useful and have a change of scenery. You do the algebra. No offense, but I would prefer you do the algebra after the reading, because the baby’s probably about to crown. You’re dilated all the way, won’t be long at all now." Seeing the blank look from the grag, he added, "Read extremely fast, the baby’s just short of the finish line. And stay up at the head of the table." With a start, the grag flipped the pages and began reading something that sounded like a symphony duet composed for a cat with a severe hairball problem and gravel pile. "It’s crowded enough already down this end. Cheery, at worst, I might need some more towels or the instrument tray. The instrument tray is in the cabinet on the left, they’re wrapped in towels soaked in rubbing alcohol. Towels are on the right. Don’t push just yet."
"And what am I supposed to do?" Boddony ventured over the headlong, breathless recitation of the grag.
"Traditionally, fathers often like to wear a hole in the carpet somewhere nearby. In this case, maybe we could settle for holding the hand Cheery hasn’t already got hold of and being encouraging and mostly out of the way. Maybe even being useful. Do a little propping. Okay, bear down. Easy does it, like we talked about earlier. Save some strength. Incidentally, what’s the point where that had better be done?" Young Sam asked, jerking his head in the direction of Bashfullsson.
"First breath," Cheery supplied.
"Can I suggest either reading faster or pushing slower, then? I doubt this is going to take two minutes. Actually, ease up just a second and take a few breaths."
"I really feel like I need to push..."
"I can appreciate that, but I need to get a couple of things organized, first, and let’s just say this stage is something you would be better off not to rush. It’s usually better to just let things... happen. This is not breaking down a locked and barricaded door. It’s more a slow and steady wins the race situation."
"But it hurts..."
"I’m given to understand it hurts a lot worse if you try to force it too fast and, say, I have to stitch you up, and I’ll say no more. Less than a minute, I promise. Take deep breaths and try to relax as much as you can. Easier said than done, I know, but you want to let your body adjust first." Young Sam unrolled one of the white towels on the rolling cart.
"What’s that?" Grapnel asked.
"A rubber bulb to suction the mouth and nose so the baby has an easier time getting its first breath, a clamp for the cord and scissors to cut it with. Don’t worry, I think you’re going to be just fine without having to haul out any of the really scary clanky things out of the cabinet. Actually, I think you could bear down a little now." There was a brief pause. "Head’s out. Rest just a second and let me use the bulb, then you can push as hard as you like as far as I’m concerned. Is the officiant just about done?"
Bashfullsson nodded without pausing in his reading, blurted out a hurried sentence, then slammed the pages shut. "Done."
Young Sam put the bulb back. "Congratulations, I hope you’re both very happy together. Now push and I can say it again," he added. Grapnel bore down, gripping the hands clasped in hers tightly. Shortly thereafter, there was a wet, choking cry that changed up through the gears to spirited, ear-splitting, indignant howling. "Congratulations, you’ve got a healthy baby boy."
"You’re sure?" Boddony asked anxiously, peering over the sheet to watch the baby being rubbed down with a towel.
"About the boy part or the healthy part? The boy part is pretty obvious, even total amateurs with no training can usually get that one right. And they make sure you can count up to ten before they let you start the medical training."
"He’s fine?" Grapnel insisted.
"He’s got the prescribed number of standard equipment, no more, no less. Ten fingers, ten toes, two of everything you want two of... and all attached in the right places. Give me a second to get him wrapped up and he’s yours, free and clear. And then you can check my counting skills. It doesn’t matter how many times I do this, most new mothers and fathers do."
Young Sam turned the key in the lock of the clinic door and checked the knob before dropping the bundle of keys into a trouser pocket and taking a deep breath of the night air. He suddenly felt bone weary and the owner of a head full of cotton wool. "So... what happens now?"
"They stay the night with his parents, take the letter you wrote to Morecombe, talk to the estate agent, get sorted about what they want to do from there and get on with doing it. And I promised to go inform her uncle after all of this was over."
"And how’s that likely to go, Cheery?" he said.
"She’s been gone several hours. She told him she was just going to the apothecary a few streets over, didn’t even mention the clinic or the hospital. Either he’s so relieved I’m not there to inform him that she’s dead that he’s grateful and in a really forgiving mood, or he starts thinking of her as dead because that’s better than being what they consider a disgrace," Cheery replied softly. "At best, you see, he’s going to chalk her up as going against her family’s wishes by not being a grag, even if he accepts she is married and the mother of one extremely legitimate baby. That’s to say nothing of the fact that anyone outside the family knows she’s... well... a she. That’s... probably not going to sit well. For a while, anyway."
Young Sam stuck his lower lip out and blew upward in exaggerated fashion. "D'hrarak."
"Share a cab? They’ll all be packing it in, soon. I’m too tired to walk home. Besides, Kipper’s down at the end of the street and I would hate for him to have to follow me all that way." He put his hands in his trouser pockets and idly jangled the keys as they walked past a parked cab toward the corner of the building, turning it in search of a different cab.
"What makes you think he would follow you all that way?" Cheery asked innocently.
"Whoever is patrolling the Nonesuch beat near the Ankh bridge is going to be at the other end by the time I get there. I may not be in the Watch, but I still grew up on it. I do notice how the timing of the beats always seem to sort of conveniently coincide with my way home. And how there’s always a watchman on this street or the cross street no matter what time I get off. Also, Detritus and his delicate surreptition stick out a mile, not that this is a bad thing, entirely. Only an utter idiot with a death wish would look sideways at someone Detritus was following, and news like Detritus gets around fast, even among newcomers. I did actually pay attention during all those how to put off being dead lessons. What makes you think Dad and Willikins didn’t throw in a lesson or three on dirty fighting and standard equipment?" He pulled the heavy bundle of keys out, flipped them around and let them dangle from the thick, smooth metal loops around all four fingers before slipping them back into the pocket. "I got a fairly good grounding in anatomy long before I decided on medicine. Now I know how a knee is put together and how to take one apart. Bit of a shame it’s so much easier to take one apart. All you need is a boot and a rudimentary understanding of physics. And even Nobby knows never to take the first cab you see. You want some company when you talk to her uncle?"
"No, he’ll be polite. He just won’t be friendly. Let’s just say he probably won’t invite me in for tea and a bun or shake my hand. You’ve been on duty longer than I have, go up Scoone Avenue first," Cheery added this last to the nearly-nodding cab driver sitting a few feet behind a nearly-nodding horse.
"And how do you know that?"
"Because you passed presenting a ‘good example’ and headed into ‘horrible warning’ about an hour ago."
"Thanks. I got called in to look at a patient in a bad way at the crack of dawn. Spring flu’s left us on a skeleton crew." He held open the cab door for Cheery, then clambered in after her. "If I snore... let me. Shove me out when we pass the house."
"There’s a plate in the kitchen if you care to eat something. The Commander and her ladyship are in the drawing room," Willikins said, taking his coat.
Young Sam winced slightly at the thought of cutlery. "I could probably just about work a sandwich and a banana. I’m not so sure about the banana."
Willikins deftly reached into his own jacket pocket and handed over a yellow, lightly freckled banana. "Would chicken be acceptable for the sandwich?"
Young Sam goggled at the banana for a moment before starting to peel it. "Willikins, if you reach in the other pocket and pull out a chicken sandwich, I’m going to be convinced I’m still in the carriage home and dreaming."
"Nonsense. The sandwich is in the cold room. I could take it up on a tray if you prefer to dine in your room. Milk? Tea?"
"Just milk, please. Yes to the tray. Thank you."
"Besides, if I had the sandwich in my pocket, there wouldn’t be room for the pint of milk," Willikins said, pushing the ice cold bottle into Young Sam’s free hand on his way past to the kitchen.
Young Sam wandered to the doorway of the drawing room. "Just checking. Am I actually standing here, eating a banana and drinking milk?"
His father peered at him over the top of the evening paper. "The eating and drinking aren’t in doubt. You’re swaying a bit, lad, but I’ll even allow you the standing. Barely."
His mother put her lap desk and a pile of papers down on the floor by her feet. "When was the last time you had any proper sleep? That’s the second day in a row you’ve been called in early. Did you even eat lunch? There’s a plate from dinner if you’re hungry."
"Willikins is taking a sandwich up. I don’t trust myself to work cutlery right now. I got something from the hospital canteen. Tuna salad. I think. Smelled fishy, anyway. And an apple and orange, which actually smelled of apple and orange. I’m pretty sure Cheery can attest I snored at least three quarters of the ride home. By the way, I stole Cheery for part of today."
"Any particular reason you’re pinching my officers?"
"Because there was a complicated dwarf thing and I needed help. It’s not as though I have any colleagues I can ask even on a good day. Gender politics and dwarf law," he added by way of explanation.
"Enough said," his father allowed.
"Also, it probably didn’t hurt that Cheery’s a mum now. I’m finding about half of life’s problems that end up in the clinic could very likely be headed off if only someone’s mum had been listened to in the first place."
"Oh? And what sort of great wisdom should they be listening to?" his mother asked with a smile.
"In one case, ‘Stop putting things up your nose, already. Either it goes in and it comes out and that’s it, or it ends in tears.’ would be favorite. And some days I think ‘You should be totally sure before you decide to be a doctor. Keep in mind a lot of days are more about cleaning up the mess than curing anything.’ might have borne repeating a few dozen more times," Young Sam complained.
"I told you it’s a lot like being a mum, only the hours are better. File that away for the next time you’re tempted to complain. Bad day?" Sybil asked.
"Not so much bad as long and messy and understaffed. On the other hand, I learned something useful and helped neaten up a mess somewhat, so it definitely wasn’t a waste. And filing... that reminds me... are you two going upstairs soon?"
"Likely won’t be too long. Why?" His father folded up the Times.
"If you are, I’ve got something to throw in the fireplace. Burnt paper. Sorry." Young Sam unbuttoned the top of his shirt, reached down it and pulled out a thin manila folder with all of one sheet in it. He crossed the room and tossed it between the guttering logs. Catching the looks on their faces, he explained, "Technically, I’m releasing patient records exactly as requested. The patient just requested I release them over a fire. I’m not only allowed to do that, I’m required to, by guild law. Members must, upon request by the patient, release copies of all patient records within a reasonable period of time as requested. Besides, Cheery suggested it."
"Let me guess. That’s the only copy?" His father pointed. "Was, anyway. Fudging it afterward wasn’t enough?"
"This one was sort of fudge-proof by definition, Dad. I was advised to lose the paperwork. That’s about all I can say. I’m going to eat my sandwich and go to bed, assuming I can find it." He kissed his mother on the cheek, then offered his own. "G’night, Mum." He snuck a quick peck onto his father’s cheek as he went by. "Don’t threaten to arrest me. I swear I put Cheery back mostly undamaged when I was finished, hardly know she was missing, and what I just did was totally not illegal. Or even unethical. It’s just the sort of thing lawyers usually advise you not to do."
One eyebrow, the one with the faded white scar that extended through the middle and down below the eye, raised at the mention of lawyers. "That’s a definite point in favor of it, then. Good night. Maybe you could try actually sleeping through it this time, eh?"
"Do my best. Good night, love you," Young Sam called over his shoulder on the way out the door.
Sam Vimes reached over and laid a hand on Lady Sybil’s knee. "I keep telling myself at least he works a job where he’s usually the one holding any sharp things and no one is trying to get him down and kick him in the unmentionables on a regular basis."
"Is it working at all?" she asked, putting her hand over his.
"Right up until I want to yell at him to go to bed at a decent hour or he’s going to stunt his growth, which is what my grandmother used to say when I tried to get out of going to bed. Then I have to bite my tongue. Hard to fault the lad for working too hard when most young idiots his age are out drinking themselves sick, drawing bad graffiti, fighting each other and running from the Watch. And at least if he were doing the graffiti, the graffiti would be anatomically accurate and the spelling would be correct, which is more than I can say for most of it."
"Takes after his father." She leaned out and looked at the blackened scraps of folder in the grate. "Particularly the way he does his paperwork."
"So... let me get this straight... you would not be able to help the Watch with their inquiries for the sake of patient confidentiality? You would let a bank robber get off completely Feegle free?" Sam Vimes scowled as they made their way up the sidewalk through the after-lunch crowds, while Young Sam cradled a full, steaming cup close to his chest.
"Er... it depends. Is this theoretical bank robber theoretically obviously a theoretical bank robber? I mean, is he or she wearing the official theoretical bank robbing uniform, Dad? How am I supposed to know in the first place? Aside from being bitten in the arse by a guard dog or getting caught by a moonlighting watchman that gets a little heavy handed with the truncheon or trips him on the way to the cells, there’s not much in the way of well known occupational ailments for theoretical bank robbers. It’s not like they get theoretical bank robber’s elbow," Young Sam argued, trying to keep a straight face and failing miserably.
"Be serious. What if it’s a Tanty offense? I mean, hypothetically, he stabbed a watchman."
"Most of the time that means the hypothetical watchman’s just going to be theoretically cussing them from the other side of the trauma room, Dad, because if he got close enough to stab, he was close enough to nick and any watchman worth the name is going to nick him good and hard at that point."
"I’m serious, there’s nothing in guild rules that allow you to, or better yet, require doctors let the Watch know you suspect a crime’s taken place? Wait, I need to stop in here," he added, darting up a couple of shallow stone steps and pushing a shop door open, setting the bell to jangling.
"Are we talking domestic disturbances, now? We encourage them to file charges if we suspect a wife or a kid’s living in a house with really dangerous doors or stairs. We’ve also been known to give some of the doors a pretty spirited talking to on the quiet and threaten to find some new uses for some of the more alarming looking tools or, say, favors owed by people in the Watch. Igorina left one needing to wring out his socks and pour out his shoes by the time she drew him a mental picture about what she could do to a flight of stairs with a clamp. But we can’t force anything, Dad, any more than you can." He paused and took in the contents of the shop. "Jewellery? Was this one incredibly colossal bacon sandwich you snuck?"
"Be there in a minute!" a muffled voice from the back called out.
"No hurry! And you hush, I bet I eat better than you do, these days, all that coffee you’re drinking can’t be any good for you. I dropped your mother’s bracelet off to be fixed the other day. And no, domestics are a whole other mess. Let’s say it’s a citizen murdered, even the Times knows there was a struggle and someone shows up with a probable defensive wound that fits."
"Have you got a search warrant or arrest warrant, yet?"
"Let’s say no."
"Not sure I can just call you up and hold him for you under current guild rules. Maybe I could sort of nonchalantly step outside and invite the pair on the Goose Gate beat inside for a chat if he’s still bleeding all over the waiting room. That’s open for discovery and the waiting room is a public place. No expectation of privacy. And it’s not like I’m drinking the straight Klatchian stuff. Dad?" Young Sam fingered one of the jewelled axes hanging on the far wall. "You and Mum own this building?"
"The whole block, I think. You watch that stuff, my lad, or you’re going to be so awake you’re seeing next Tuesday from the other side with all the mental filters off. And what good does that do us if you’re not even in that day or the paper hasn’t printed it yet? Why did you ask about the building?"
"Just thought I might know who was renting it is all. Don’t pretend something like that wouldn’t be on the short range towers and across the city before the paper got finished taking notes. You could have it on the big tower and in Sto Lat before they even got the presses started up. Anyone on exchange with Quirm would be on it before the ink was dry." He sighed. "Anyone treating your hypothetical murderer would probably trip over half the Watch on the way to get the bandages and sutures. I suppose I could bring up an amendment at the next guild meeting. Something along the lines of allowing for the breaking of patient confidentiality without repercussion in the interest of reporting suspected offenses to the Watch at the discretion of any medical personnel involved in treatment. You know most of them will be perfectly happy to do that and people are happier if they think it’s their choice. The ones too ornery to do it are going to be twice as ornery if you try to make them. Possibly we can start with Tanty-level offenses and expand it later. Does that make you happy? Happier, anyway?"
The door to the back opened and a familiar dwarf stepped through, leaving it ajar. "Less annoyed," Vimes conceded. "I left a bracelet here to be repaired with someone else. Should be under-"
"Vimes. I know, I’ll fetch it from the safe in the back room," Grapnel said, flashing Young Sam a brief look before stepping back through the door. A few moments later, the dwarf laid a small velvet box on the counter, top off. "Have a look at it and see if it’s been repaired to your liking."
"Nice shop, sir, I didn’t even know it was here. I particularly like the pocketknife display," Young Sam volunteered. "I could probably use a new pocketknife. The wee scout model’s a bit on the small side these days and there are a million and one uses for a good pocketknife."
"Stay away from them until after your birthday, then. It looks good as new to me, if not better. How much do I owe you?" Vimes said, reaching for his wallet.
"On the house," Grapnel said, waving it away. "You don’t owe a thing."
"What? But it’s got all tiny fiddly bits on. Had to have taken hours of squinting," Vimes protested.
"You let us have this place rent free to get established. I think it’s the least we can do."
"Cost of materials, at least," Vimes insisted, obviously a little taken aback at the rare sight of a dwarf in trade refusing payment.
"Won’t hear of it. Keep us in mind next time and maybe come back to look at the knives. I’ll charge what it’s worth then."
Young Sam stepped over and prodded his elbow as Grapnel closed the lid and pushed the box across the glass counter. "I wouldn’t argue, Dad. Go on out, I’ll be with you in a minute." Seeing the questioning look, he added, "I’m going to pick you out a lovely necklace and I want it to be a surprise." Vimes shook his head, tucked the velvet box into one pocket, pulled a small snuff box out of another and stepped out the door, setting the bell tinkling again. Young Sam watched his father settle shoulder blades against the corner of the brickwork near the doorway and fairly melt into the shadow around it. "Actually, now he’s out there, I wouldn’t mind asking what the pocket watch chains go for, he scratches the hell out of his even when he’s in dress uniform... oh, there are tags. How much extra for the engraving? The sign says to inquire about that."
"A dollar. Sir?"
"Always assume a dwarf in trousers is to be addressed as ‘sir’ or ‘mister’ until corrected. I’m fairly sure Lady Deidre Waggon included that in the last edition. I notice you didn’t correct me."
"Well, no, I don’t, but he’s your father, I figured..." Grapnel trailed off in confusion.
"It’s actually none of his business unless he’s got a warrant or you decide to make it his business, remember? Not that he probably hasn’t spotted it on his own, he’s the one taught me what to look for first and he’s extremely good at it. He tends to make a game of it, same way he tries to figure out what everyone is guilty of. He’s had a lot of practice and coppers are naturally nosy. But that’s a totally different thing than me telling him he’s right. I see there is room for a bassinet and playpen in the back. How are things?" There was a pause. "Sorry, doctors are naturally nosy, too. Or maybe it’s just Vimeses that are naturally nosy. I’m not just being polite, I actually want to know."
"We fixed up the rooms in the basement. We’re building up a fairly decent trade here, already. Good foot and carriage traffic from up Goose Gate way. Rent’s more than reasonable even after it goes into effect and I hear the landlord keeps things up. Shop’s in good repair, just needed a good sweeping. Boddony’s family gave us the money to get some inventory together. Mine... still aren’t speaking to any of us but at least the last letter I sent hasn’t come back Return to Sender yet. Weather’s been unseasonably chilly, maybe they’re burning them. Or maybe I wear them down sooner or later and they open one." Grapnel added a little shrug and a sad smile. "Parents."
"Parents," Young Sam agreed. "Mine’s currently slightly miffed at me because I didn’t hypothetically turn in a theoretical bank robber right away. Or the other way around." Young Sam took a sip from the steaming paper cup in his hand. "Baby still incredibly cute?"
"I’m biased." She still looked pleased.
"So are most grandparents, so there’s still hope. Or maybe you decide to start correcting people eventually. Maybe they come around a little at a time and you decide to start correcting people. Maybe it’s a case of my grandfather’s axe."
"How do you even know that saying?"
"I’ve heard Cheery use it plenty. Even my dad uses it, sometimes. I really will come back and look at the watch chains when I’ve got time. He won’t want anything too pompous, but the fob with the royal hippos, the ankh and the morpork on it is extraordinarily good work. Any possibility of, say, a custom job about the same size or a little bigger that looks like the old style copper’s badge, number 177? He would wear that if I get it for him."
"Get us an iconograph to work from and we can do it."
Young Sam extended a hand across the counter. "I’ll do that. Hopefully your family business does well enough that you can consider passing it on."
Grapnel completed the handshake. "I might encourage him to go to medical school instead."
"Fair enough. At this rate, he might be our first. I should be heading back to the hospital. I’m just supposed to be playing hooky from rounds long enough to have lunch with Dad. I should collect him off your front stoop there before he starts giving unsuspecting old ladies heart attacks by saying hello from the shadows or he gets buttonholed by a concerned citizen. Lovely job on Mum’s bracelet. You can’t even tell it was repaired."
"That’s the point." There was the noise of a fussing baby from the bassinet in the back. "I have to go check on the boss," Grapnel said, pushing the door behind the counter open.
"Me, too," Young Sam said, pushing the front door open. "Dad, let’s go. I hope you’ll be very pleased with the pink princess cut diamond we’ve just decided on. Very dainty. I’m thinking of trying to convince the patrician to reinstate fancy helmet plumes and bright pink dress tights to go with it, too."
Young Sam fell into step alongside. "I thought it was, but you didn’t even have the decency to crack a smile."
"I don’t want to accidentally encourage you. And don’t you ever give me a hard time about Watch coffee being sludge again when you’re drinking that stuff they have to perk through a steam engine and usually serve in those dollhouse cups. How is it not eating straight through the paper?"
"Look, we’ve all got our vices. Mine’s coffee. I figure as long as my heart isn’t actually trying to pound its way out of my chest, I’m probably fine. Anyway, it’s got possibly one tiny speck of Klatchian roast in the whole lot. The rest of it’s Quirmian roast, and you drink that stuff at Harga’s. I’m betting he hasn’t cleaned the coffee urn or even changed the grounds since before I was born. Have you ever tried this?"
"I’ve had their regular coffee. It hasn’t got any character. It’s love in a canoe coffee. That stuff’s just asking for trouble, though. Especially when you’re drinking that much of it."
"If by ‘character’ you mean a decades-old patina on the inside of the coffee urn, sure. If you want bitter enough to dissolve the spoon, it’s not the place."
"I do not need fancy coffee."
"You’re just afraid you might have to admit you actually like fancy coffee. Fancy, nobby, elitist, stuck up, coffee-snob coffee that looks down on good, honest, solid, working class proletariat coffee that’s been boiled in a boot. His Grace or Sir Samuel might like fancy coffee, and that’s just not going to sit well with the Blackboard Monitor. One of the former might be forced to steeple their fingers and pontificate on the merits of fancy coffee. The Commander and Sarge probably aren’t going to like liking fancy coffee either. Then the boy from Cockbill Street is going to be forced to weigh in on this sooner or later. We might even be forced to drag the Duchess and Mister Vimes into the middle of it just to moderate."
"I think that fancy coffee’s going to your brain. I’m sorry you have to keep dragging all of me into the middle of your unfortunate coffee problem." The corners of his mouth had begun to twitch by now.
"Liking fancy coffee is practically as bad as liking plumes and gold braid. Look, if you want to feel sorry for someone, feel sorry for me and Mum. We have to live with all of these people and sometimes it gets a little crowded and you almost need a scorecard to keep track. Let’s not get too high and mighty about my tastes. I’ve eaten myself literally sick off of things that came off of street vendor carts, remember. I will refrain from pointing out that you stood there and let me and paid for things onna stick, to boot. I think they can revoke your parenting license for that. I’ve also eaten wild snails and, okay, fine, Harga’s does the best egg, soss, bacon and a fried slice even though I’m fairly sure the fat and some of the brown crunchy bits in the pan are old enough to vote in Ephebe. I’m not much on their coffee, though. You want to know why I really drink this stuff? Because it’s got more staying awake bang for your dollar and it’s not so bitter that you have to put four spoons of sugar in it just to stand it. It’s just strong. You also don’t have to stand around ages while they brew a fresh pot. That’s the sort of thing you learn to appreciate when they introduce you to double shifts. The patients get kind of stroppy if you start snoring out loud in the middle of their procedures when you’re supposed to be in charge. On the other hand, I’ve also cultivated the ability to fall asleep just about any-" Young Sam pulled up short as a harsh siren sounded from several blocks away. "That’s the Trauma siren. If they got forewarning enough to put on the siren, the Watch is sending it in and doing the transport. Hope it’s not a uniform."
"Haven’t caught wind of an ‘all officers’, so, not likely. Bluejohn’s on up ahead at the main intersection. Probably to handle the traffic when they bring it through. There... the transport is on Short Street, don’t know which end, yet, headed toward... Ettercap Street," Vimes elaborated, eyeing the top of one of the short range towers.
"Here, I’m on call. Drink it or pour it out, it’s all the same to me. If I really leg it, I can probably beat them by a minute or two. If I’m lucky, I can catch the butcher’s wagon as it comes through the next intersection over and hitch a couple of blocks, if not, I can cut across up by Spiteful Sisters. It’s quicker."
"They do a regular delivery about this time every weekday up at the charity school cafeteria. Started about a month ago. Bye, Dad. See you at dinner." Young Sam turned and ran toward the intersection, elbows pumping, picking up speed when Bluejohn stepped out into traffic and waved him through.
"Oh! I see Bluejohn’s already got this one covered! Was that Young Sam?" Cheery shouted over the din of the siren from a few feet behind Vimes.
Vimes nodded. "I guess running all that track and cross country with the Watch School paid off!" He lowered his voice somewhat as Cheery stopped alongside him. "You know, sometimes I think it’s a shame to waste being able to run like that, being able to read without moving your lips, having neat handwriting and knowing every shortcut in the city on someone who is not a sergeant," Vimes said, jerking his head up the street toward the figure veering to cut across an alley, still accelerating. "Then I remind myself it’s indoor work with a mostly clear set of ethical codes where you almost always want people alive when you’ve finished with them. And a wealth of opportunities for exciting clinical trials and probably very little asking yourself in the dead of night if you’re getting too good at thinking like the common cold. What’s he running to beat?"
"I heard it was Detritus with a pedestrian versus runaway cart. Report I got was that he lucked out and it’s probably only ruined his chances for a professional ballet career or upped his odds in a backside-kicking contest if they get him there fast. Crushed his leg between the cart load and a wall. Would have been a lot worse for more than his leg if Detritus hadn’t slowed down the cart as it went by."
Vimes made a face and winced. "As in there wouldn’t have been enough left to pick up and run in?" He absentmindedly took a sip from the cup in his hand, made a different face, bent and very carefully and deliberately poured the contents into the gutter.
There was a pause in the crowd chatter as Bluejohn blocked the intersection again and Detritus thundered through it. "Sir?" Cheery prompted.
Vimes peered into the empty cup. "Maybe it’s just as well the lad never seriously wanted to be in the Watch."
"I think he would have managed just fine if he had wanted. Doctors have to make rough decisions and deal with gray area," Cheery pointed out. "I suspect it’s also very hard to completely stop being a doctor just because you’re technically off duty, too. The only difference is there isn’t much in the way of a uniform, unless you count the rubber apron."
"He couldn’t have managed much on this coffee. Let’s go get some proper Watch coffee, wait an hour and see if they’ve gotten the pedestrian out of the surgery." The distant siren wound down into silence. "Cheery, do you ever think about whether you want Rhys going into the Watch?"
"Recruiting a bit early aren’t you, sir?" Cheery said lightly, falling into that rhythmic, easy walk commonly known as proceeding.
"I’m serious. Ever think about it?"
"I don’t know that I would object. It’s a job you can be proud of having. Good pension and time off, you get well trained and get decent equipment now. There are people with knives, but it is Ankh Morpork, so there are always people with knives. Equal opportunities for advancement, fellow watchmen always have your back, we prod a considerable amount of buttock and we’ve got a wonderful medical scheme nowadays, even if you’re afraid of Igor. And there are other things besides Street. He might like alchemy and want to go into Forensics. Maybe he develops a talent for self-defense and does some training at the Watch Academy. Or likes accounting and becomes an Inspector. Maybe he likes theater and ends up going into the Cable Street Particulars for undercover work. Or he takes to structural engineering and goes into mining and doesn’t want a thing to do with the Watch. As long as he’s happy doing something he can be proud of, I suppose, that should make me happy." She drew a deep breath. "If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll put off worrying about what he wants to do until after we’ve covered teething and potty training, Mister Vimes. Or at least until after the coffee. Besides, Young Sam makes a good doctor because he puts his mind to it and works hard at it, and somebody who cares about the Lady Sybil and can look at the bigger picture is going to have to keep the hospital and the clinic and the medical school going after Doctor Lawn. He’s good with people. He can have a shout at them or jolly them along if they need it like any good sergeant. He hasn’t wasted what the Watch taught him. Medicine’s all sort of about clues and forensics and interrogation, too, isn’t it? I imagine he would have made a fine watchman of some sort if he had wanted to put his mind to it and work hard at it."
"Willikins had me half convinced the lad might want to be a wizard some day, when he was about six or seven. Or Archchancellor. Mustrum and Sybil don’t come from that different a background, you know. Ridcully shouts a lot and prefers the country and likes to shoot things and gets up early to jog in the courtyard for his health. Sybil’s dad evidently shouted a lot and liked to shoot things and preferred the country. Young Sam... okay, not so much with the shooting things, but he wanted to dissect everything unfortunate enough to die anywhere within three miles. He still loves going out to Ramkin Hall. And runs. For fun."
"I could point out somewhere else he might have picked up the love of running. Ponder Stibbons does most of the natural philosophy up at the University and he’s often a one wizard show. I can’t really see Young Sam being content with a job where you mostly aspire to eating big dinners and having the biggest pointy hat and beard and being the shoutiest while totally avoiding teaching the students. Can’t see him liking having to sit around, twiddling your thumbs while you wait ages between battling things with tentacles, either. Not with you two as parents. He’s more the up and doing every day type, and he can hardly stop himself from explaining how things work when there’s someone around to listen. Most things work out how they’re supposed to. I wouldn’t worry about it one way or the other, sir. We are here and this is now, like Washpot always says," she added with a shrug.
"In that case, I think I’ll take some very sage advice someone recently gave me about the wisdom of listening to someone’s mum and not worry about it one way or the other. And go get a decent cup of coffee. The lad may know medicine but he knows bugger all about coffee."
Bit Of A Cold Fish
Heavily inspired by Snuff but set some years after all the current City Watch books.
Part 1 at [link]
I also can't shake the idea that him becoming a doctor would just be so... right, somehow. Like, it would be the perfect way to be involved in something important to his parents and useful to society without pointlessly shoehorning him into a role in the Watch that's likely already filled. Yet, it still makes use of about a million skills he would probably have picked up from being around the extended family of the Watch and/or inherited/learned from his parents.
And Cheery, man. Any excuse to write the awesomeness that is Cheery.
I find it interesting how in every single fanfiction I found about a grown-up Sam, he's always a doctor. I agree with you on every point here. It just seems right. The hints in the book are quite strong, especially because of his interest in biology. Or rather his interest in how poo works. XD Which will later on probably go on to other areas of biology.
Absolutely. She's one of my favourites. That's another fact I love about your fic.
Also, the idea of Vimes, who seems to have at least slightly reformed his dietary tendencies by Snuff, fussing at his son for the way he eats was too good to pass up.