A Very Good Month for Fog

 

Meme Challenge: Colin Jeavons’ Birthday.

Because I am a FIRM believer in not crossing the line between actor and character, I made up a birthday for this particular character:

  • Brumaire: Month of Fog.
  • Day of the Service tree
  • English calendar: 19 November

The servicetree is not the one we know in North America, beautiful, impossibly tall and slender with snowball-blossoms in the lime-green light of spring sunlight. This is one of the rarest trees in the UK, but much-loved by its fans. Lestrade is more likely to know it by the common English name of Whitty Pear—whitty because of the shape of the pinnate (featherlike) leaves; they would look amusing to the English eye, and the “pear” because some of the species’ fruits are pear-shaped. A “garth” is an enclosure, so when Lestrade is standing in an apple-garth, he’s standing inside an enclosed cluster of fruit trees.

For perspective, this is also a tribute to whoever mentored Lestrade through the troubled era of the 1870’s…the unknown iron-clad officer who believed he could stand within the corruptions Scandals and stand clean if apart of his fellows. Lestrade was confident, but not in the way a bully is confident: whoever taught him the ropes on how to be a copper also knew the strength that lives within gentleness.

***

There were a few places where one could forget, if briefly, one lived in London. This place was as far as one could get and still claim the address. He couldn’t smell the Thames and that made him feel oddly disconnected. He couldn’t think of the city without the river.

Lestrade shivered inside the protection of his winter coat—it would do until Christmas—and watched the slow skiff of snow fall upon the dying gardens. Thousands of millions of minute grains of ice fell upon the wood and earth and remaining dry leaf.

Before long the estate would be covered in a thin blanket of gritty white.

He told himself it didn’t matter. Clues couldn’t be found if they never existed.

Whitty pears ringed the apple-garth; even they looked to shiver in the thin curtain of snow with their skeleton-leaves and last-clinging fruit. They weren’t the most practical thing to grow; he studied them a moment, thinking if he’d even seen the trees more than a few times in his life. They were pretty. The small red fruits clustered together on the brittle branches and he knew from childhood experience what would happen to the inside of his mouth if he bit down on one fresh off the tree: gritty as sand and sharp enough to draw the tongue up. Older brothers were a never-ending source of creativity when it came to showing a boy the way of the world.

Gloomy, he thought to himself. Just the time of the year and the dull cast to the sky. Too much snow. He wasn’t used to it. Too much snow; too much clammy damp with the snow. He could feel the rising fog coming in from the warmer territories. When it finally mixed with the cold here, it would be a freezing fog and worse than ever.

And that poor Constable had been out in it for half the day.

He lifted his hand in a silent command and they walked across the sleeping garden. Sad little bits of summer resisted burying: spiky green rosemary, struggling violas and hearts-ease grew low and half-tilting pots and outdoor crockery caught thin drifts against the bottom of the walls.

Constable Swann quivered blue inside his heavy wool coat, the wider-cut winter sleeves catching the snow even on the inside whenever he lifted his large hands. When he thought the Inspector wasn’t looking, he shook his arms as fastidiously as a two-yard-tall cat.

“Try putting the gloves on first.” Lestrade said at last. In this bitterly cold day, he wanted to feel pity for something that could feel it back.

“Sir?” Swann flushed awkwardly behind his thick collar.

“Try putting your gloves on first, and then your coat.” Lestrade put his own hands inside his pockets. They clenched coldly around his notebook and pencil. Behind them on the other side of the high brick wall and two acres’ pasture, the train whistled its way to south Wales. “It seals your wrists up from the outside.”

Swann thought about it. “Yes, sir.”

Poor youngster. They always spent their first year wobbling between absolute exhaustion and fretting about losing their position from the smallest infraction of rules—that didn’t count the horrors of fighting out their own space among the older, harder, and not-necessarily-good-influences.

The cold was sinking into the very earth around them, bending down the thin grassblades like fine hairs. Tiny ice-balls rattled and bounced over the tops of his shoes and he was grateful again for the extra price put into the leather. It had meant living on oven-baked cereal for a month, but how could he care now that he was finally warm?

“Nothing else of note, Constable?”

“No, sir.” Swann’s very tone of voice was apologetic. “Clear-cut, sir.”

“Clear-cut.” He repeated. “We can only hope so.”

Their soles crunched loudly over the tops of the brittle grass and occasional spots of exposed paving-stones. Behind them the fog was rolling down with the slight slope of the earth.

Before they could reach the heavy oak door, it opened from the inside. Cast iron hinges squeaked and shed rust-powder.

Chief Inspector Davids was tall enough that he had to fold himself down to get through most doorways built before King Henry VIII. They gave him space as he re-lengthened his long limbs beneath the folds of his coat and tailored trousers. Unfortunately the man had to take off his hat every time. He had to.  The taller Welsh Princes of the Hill had mixed with the Giants of Ulster and made something Very Tall Indeed.

In his youth, Davids had been known to battle through a riot without pause.  Now he couldn’t walk a Roman Mile without stopping to take a breath at the end. “My lungs are at a higher altitude,” he would say as he mopped his face.  When Lestrade was a green Constable he smiled to be joked with.  The older and wiser new Inspector was not smiling.

“There you are, gentlemen.” Davids smiled wryly from behind a face scored with weariness. Under the tin-coloured sky his skin was scarce darker. “We’re all finished up here.”

“I think we are too, sir.” Lestrade touched his brim out of deference, even if he wasn’t certain which loyalty pulled him the more: Davids his teacher, or Davids his dying friend.

“Constable, if you wouldn’t mind giving your friends a hand…”

Swann left eagerly to join his companions inside. Lestrade couldn’t blame him. The inside was a horror, but it was sheltered from the outside.

The little detective waited with slowly freezing feet as Davids closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The abnormality that made him so tall and strong in his youth was now the stamp of his growing weakness.

“Let’s take a walk, shall we?” The Chief asked the younger man.

Davids led them out of the crumbling garth and down the uneven road. The soft soil of the night before had frozen to glass and they minded each step.

It was absolutely silent. Nothing chirped or sang; there was no bark of a restless dog or even the sound of a faraway horse further down the road or in the stables outlying the land before one got to London. The train was gone like a ghost. Lestrade couldn’t begin to guess where the lines were if he hadn’t heard it the first time.

No sound but themselves…the crunch of ice and occasional wet sound of a heel-slip against the fog-kissed stones. And their breathing…

Lestrade burrowed into the muffler about his neck, hoping Davids would take the hint but he didn’t. Despite the air the Chief Inspector was refusing to protect his dwindling lungs. He was breathing light and shallow in concession to human weakness…but that was it.

They were gone a quarter-mile before Davids finally spoke. “The Missus gave me some of the sorbs. Good and ready, she said.” He pulled out a pocket-handkerchief wrapped delicately around a double-handful of small objects. “When was the last time you had one of these?”

“Years, I think.” Lestrade took the top one off the pile. “We’d blet them on a wooden plank.”

Davids made a sniffing sound that meant something amusing had just happened inside his brain.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

“You’d be getting a ha’penny back.” Davids told him. “Funny when you think of it…we can’t eat these things until they’re overripe and starting to get a little…alcoholic.”

“I can’t say this qualifies as imbibing on duty.” Lestrade let the small fruit dissolve on his tongue. It tasted as good as he remembered; sweet as one of those fancy dates in the market but hardly as expensive.

“It just strikes my funny bone that something has to be past ripe before it’s fit to eat.”

“That does sound funny.”

Davids put one in his own mouth. “What did you think?”

“Of the case?” Lestrade snorted to himself. “Why did they call us? Anyone could tell it was an accident.”

Davids chuckled lightly. “When an unpopular man dies, his enemies want to know they won’t be held responsible for it.”

“True enough.” Lestrade pulled his hands out of his pockets and rubbed at them through the thin leather. “I suppose it is part of being a public servant.”

“Too often our duties aren’t actually useful, dear fellow. They’re just…being a sugar-pill for the public.”

And Davids began to cough.

They kept walking. Lestrade stared at the frozen pebbly road the entire time, reminding himself that he had to mind his step; that the weather was turning dangerous, and night was falling.

“What weather, eh?” Davids gasped at last. His face was wet with sweat. He coughed one last time and pulled a metal flask from his pocket.

Lestrade wished it were brandy in that flask, and not medicine.

I am not ready for this, he thought for the thousandth time that year. I can’t be.

“You have to wonder about November.” Davids wiped his face with an icy sleeve and pulled tiny sips from the flask. “I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a single November that wasn’t carried to extremes.”

“No…I’d say you’re right.” Lestrade admitted. Davids had the right of it. It was a very good month for ice; for fog. For the passing over of lives…

…an unsurprising time for a man to step down from his office.

“You’re quiet, Geoff.”

“I’m out of sorts, I’m afraid.”

“I can tell, dear fellow. But is it something you can express?”

“I don’t know. This was your last case…I half-expected it to be something… bold…”

“And it wasn’t.”

Davids chuckled ruefully. “I can’t say I’m sorry. It is a wearying thing to have such a reputation. A difficult one.” His lips were bright red in the growing darkness, red like the high spots upon his cheeks. “This was only my nineteenth case in five weeks. I’m leaving just in time, I think.” He announced. “Before my fellows have to start carrying me.”

We would have carried you gladly. Lestrade did not trust himself to speak of such things.

“They used to call this the Blood-Month, you know.” Davids mused. “Sometimes you’ll still hear one of the very oldest people use it…the time of year to cull the cattle that couldn’t be fed through the winter…burn the fields and clear the pastures. And yet I never liked that name. I always liked the French word for November myself.” He looked at his protégé just as he looked up in curiosity. “They called it the Month of Fog. Fitting, isn’t it.”

“Yes.” Lestrade’s gaze had dropped again, studiously concentrating on his steps.

“You’ll come and see me?”

Lestrade coloured and swallowed hard. “Of course.” He strangled. “Of course I will.”

“Good.” A smile was his reward. “You’ll keep me up on the gossip, and I’ll be your consultant. How does that sound?”

“That sounds perfect.”

Death was walking between them, a slow, painful death that devoured the vitals from within, but it had not blocked them off yet. Davids was offering an extension to their relationship; from mentor to student to something more frail and enduring.

And Lestrade was glad. He was not ready to bury the man who had been like a father to him. Not yet.

“What a very good month for fog.” Davids commented in wonder. “Just wait until the morrow, Geoffrey. When you wake up, the world’s going to look like it’s been set in diamonds. Only a winter fog can do that, you know. Bloody inconvenient as hell for us right now, but tomorrow it will be a sight to behold, and too beautiful for us to hold a grudge because it incommodated us.” He chuckled; it rattled inside his chest. “Always makes me wish I’d taken up photography. It’s a frightful cold, a terrible fog…and it makes London beautiful for a few hours. What you’d call a conundrum.”

Lestrade felt something lift off his shoulders; he knew what he could say. “Something to make us think? A conundrum, is it? ?” He smiled.

“A conundrum.”

“One of your favourite words.”

“I know. Who will use it when I am gone?” Davids asked wistfully.

Lestrade laughed out loud. It shattered the cold-curdled air like a stone through glass. “I’ll give it to Gregson. He likes big words like that.”

Davids clapped him on the back. “Come on. There’s some hot tea waiting for us back at the station.”

 

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Published in: on October 20, 2016 at 4:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

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