The Grape Harvest

 

Today is Colin Jeavons’ birthday. Now while I could have made up another Lestrade-fic, I chose instead to take on his other, less-known role as one of the most alarming Professors ever to grace the screen. Played with “chilling authority” by Davies, Jeavons made a Moriarty on the little-known show, The Baker Street Boys. While Moriarty never encountered Sherlock Holmes in front of the children, he did confront Dr. Watson and it was quite the showdown of wills. Perhaps someday I’ll get to see it the full episode.

I answered a meme-monster by going to the French Republican Calendar on wikipedia and looked up the meme prompts for October 20:

  • Season: Vendémiaire (Grape Harvest)
  • Day: Orge (barley)
  • Numerical day of the calendar: 29

 

One really needed to pay for the experts.

The professor toyed with the notion of just turning his back on the window and not looking out, but everyone else was watching the divers at work and he knew the arithmetic of standing apart.

Amateurs.

Below them the Thames swirled, filthy from the recent sewage and whatever the autumn rains at the headwaters had pulled down.

He shook his head as the brokers murmured and flowed about him. He was a small man, but the set of his shoulders and the glimmer in his eyes discouraged one from coming too close.

The water stirred and the river-police began shouting. They swarmed like ants with less the efficiency and clustered about the pumping-station.

The body emerged in sections, like the raising of a boat.

“Terrible thing.” Someone was saying. He looked; it was the old book-seller, here to ply his trade among the merchants’ elite. A barely-read copy of CROMWELL’S ECONOMICS hovered in a spidery claw. The book was cleaner than its vendor.

“That it is.” His beefy customer agreed. “Vamberry was a good sort. The best wine-merchant you’d ever think to see.”

He was a drooling fool, the professor thought. And he sold you all that wine at a loss because he needed those barrels to hide other things. The world’s better off without him and you think he’s a good man because he was cheap to your pockets.

But he remained silent, as always. Here was a place of business, and here it was sensible to mingle with the masses even if they hadn’t the collective sense of a flock of geese. At least the geese knew where and how to fly for the winter.

They stepped aside as he passed; the sharp grey eyes of the bookseller seeming to linger on him. Well he would have to find another customer for his wares.

The professor was a spare man, and not obtrusive in the room. He threaded obediently closer to the window like everyone else, a cool-faced overly calm man with measured speech and an even more measuring gaze. Outside of his tutoring room he was far from the warm, friendly numerical adviser his students recognized. The reason for this was simple: numbers were his humanity. He loved them with a passion few could fathom, and he learned early on that no one else cared about them the way he did.

No one else, not even Moran, could understand him. If he told anyone that numbers had their own personality, that the number nine made a perfect square or that the recitation of the Fibonacci Sequence never went far because the hilarity of the numbers made him laugh helplessly…they wouldn’t understand and they would at best nod without comprehension. Between himself and the comforting world of numbers, he built a sheltering wall.

The wall was imperfect in his youth; the slight fog of apartness and his business dealings had cost him his educational post but he was older now, less prone to mistakes and certainly less innocent.

“Excuse me, sir.”

Below them Vamberry’s soggy remains were being stretched out on the wet cobbles; a police surgeon waited nearby. He thought he recognized a few of the faces among the police although he rarely encountered that particular branch.

He turned his head from the monotonous scene and looked upon his broker. “Yes, Mr. Higgens?”

Higgens touched a gloved hand to his waxed mustache. “The shares have been finalized. Are you certain you wish to trade?”

The professor wished brokers looked to the numbers behind the numbers; the stories they would find would be illuminating. And they would at least reduce his need to answer questions.

“I do, Mr. Higgens.”

“Then all we need is your signature.”

They crossed the carpet together, with the space opening up as more people realised they could see more of Vamberry’s corpse.

A shame it hadn’t been Moran in charge, he thought. Vamberry wouldn’t have been found within a hundred miles of London.

Higgens produced a full quire of paper; multiple copies of each and the waiting document to seal. His secretary pulled out a chair for the professor first and then his superior.

“Not many people are seeking to trade in the corn shares now.” Higgens noted. It was his way of confessing the curiosity was about to expire him. “They’re all caught up in the grape harvests.”

He thought of telling the man the truth. That with Krakatoa bursting the volcanic ash into the atmosphere would affect the climate and pinch the crops. Long-season corn would be rendered obsolete save in a few isolated pockets of the world. Only cool-season corn like barley, rye, and spelt would remain stable.

But then, if the man only knew his history, he would already know from the examples of the world.

From small events come large changes.

He once calculated the necessary drop in temperature to bring about the next Ice Age.

Seven degrees.

That was all.

If the world cooled off by seven degrees they would be back to the wintry wastes.

He chose to say nothing again. The man didn’t understand…couldn’t understand. There was no equal among him that would fathom his thoughts. Another stone within the wall.

“Excellent, sir.” Higgens was useful in his lack of imagination. He even believed the story that his client had been given the bulk of his shares by a considerate relative. He gestured and the secretary briefly vanished; with a flourish he opened a locked drawer and pulled out his japanned tin of sealing-wax.

He had to admit, he enjoyed this part of business. Higgens was so punctual in his movements, and if they shared something besides the client-broker relationship, it was the satisfaction of a job well done. Higgens folded the papers over in the appropriate dimensions, and held out a neatly trimmed stick of wax. Not a speck of candle-soot marred the bright red wax. It melted in the heat of the lamp-light by drops, and he swiftly transferred the drops to a cooling puddle. One press of the seal and the job was finished.

“I sincerely wish you well, Professor.” Higgens informed him gracefully. “Just as I am certain the Crown is appreciative of your support.”

He smiled at that. “No doubt, Mr. Higgens.” He agreed softly.

“Truly, sir. We do not have as many purchased shares in the Company interests like we used to. I suppose the new generation is too caught up in the temptations of striking out solitary into the world.” He sighed and grew momentarily regretful. “Now that Mr. Vamberry is gone, you are my last such farseeing client.”

“Then I hope you find more.”

Higgens nodded mournfully, and they looked up at the arrival of the secretary. He bore a tray and two glasses with a bottle. It was the last part of Higgens’ ritual, the conclusion of it all.

“It would have been more fitting if this had been one of Mr. Vamberry’s bottles.” Higgens regretted as the wine was poured. “But a Chenin from 1829 can hardly be rejected.”

Moriarty felt a moment of relief and quashed it. “I’m sure he would appreciate your thoughtfulness.” He was determined to never, ever touch his lips to anything with Vamberry’s name to it ever again. For the sake of his own sanity and acumen.

Higgens sighed and they swirled the pale liquid against the thin glass. The wine painted the sides a delicate yellow; grapes from the south. The vintage reminded him of a field of barley-straw under the sun. Assuming there would be much sun this year. His calculations were against it. “The man had a hand with the wine.”

“That he most certainly did.” His client agreed evenly.

“I still cannot believe he is dead.” Higgens sipped at the same time as Moriarty; the flavours mingled dry as chalk with a hint of spiciness. “Who would wish to kill Vamberry?”

“Perhaps a business venture gone wrong.” Moriarty offered evenly. “A wine-merchant’s clientele can be a…temperamental lot.” He took a second sip, appreciating the second rush of flavours. “A client might have found disagreement with the quality of one of his barrels…that might be all it took for all we know.”

“That is true. Wine-merchants are a flighty lot.” Higgens agreed.

.”But they do have their uses.”  Across the table, Professor Moriarty smiled.

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