Moriarty and the Massacre of Mammon
by Nyla Nox
Copyright © 2016 Nyla Nox
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
First Edition, 2016.
Published by Noxbox
This story begins in the summer of 1915, when one of its main characters was purported to have been a whole continent away from London. However, appearances can be deceptive and history looks a little different as preserved in the archives of Moriarty, ‘Napoleon of Crime’…
A certain insignificant private detective, whose fame is a soap bubble that will burst all too soon, took it upon himself to call me the ‘Napoleon of Crime’.
I spit on that.
It’s the kind of backhanded compliment the British upper classes excel at. Needless to say the little headline hogger is himself the product of those classes who, equally needless to say, admire him fervently and anticipate his final victory over me any time now. Ha!
Napoleon, firstly, is the arch villain of the British soul. Well, he is the arch villain of the whole of Europe but what do the British care about that? He is the British arch villain not because of the death and devastation he brought to millions through his wars and occupations. Most of these millions were not British. In fact, the most long lasting damage he did was to France herself where even now, Emmeline informs me, there is such a dire shortage of males that the population is steadily declining.
But the real reason why Napoleon has become the British arch villain is because he was defeated by them. Well, by them and many other nations, but that is rather swept under the carpet. Napoleon devastated Europe and was defeated by the British. That’s the national myth.
And that is exactly why the little detective compared me to him.
(Lest anyone question the legitimacy of my birth, I do hold a British passport. But then, I hold many such documents, issued by many nations…)
It is also a well-known fact that Napoleon was not only very short but also lacked a certain, shall we say, capability in the bedroom which, rumour has it, was the root cause of all his villainy. Just the kind of nasty insinuation I expect from the little detective. Ad hominem, always, in the end.
Of course, I am nothing like Napoleon, certainly not in appearance.
I am tall and thin. Not so very much unlike the detective himself.
And as for the intimated deficiencies in the bedroom – well, just let me say that I have bedded more women than most men I have met, and certainly a lot more than the detective himself who, now that I come to think of it, rather resembles the notorious French Emperor in that respect. Of course he will say that in his case, it is from choice. But unlike Napoleon, who tried most valiantly and persistently, it seems that the little detective chooses to avoid the company of women altogether, for what reason I do not know and refuse to speculate upon.
But if I am to be the arch villain, I will be the arch villain in my very own way, not cast in anyone else’s likeness. And unlike Napoleon whom I obviously resemble not at all, I will not be defeated.
The picture I am looking at is highly prized, both as a work of art and as a historic document. It fully deserves to be. If the artist was still alive, he would be highly prized and famous, too.
Alas, he rests now nameless in a muddy field – or whatever was left of him to rest after the shrapnel. He died for his country.
And he died for me.
1915, earlier in the year.
A glorious summer warms the brick and mortar bones of London, if not her fickle hearts, while just a few hundred miles away, over the Channel, the youth of a continent is being butchered in the trenches of a senseless war, run by incompetents over precisely nothing.
The population of this island is kept unaware of those facts. But I am not. I know.
Still, like most, I conduct my business as usual.
‘Five million’, says the familiar voice. ‘Five million. Best estimate.’
The plump white hand shuffles the papers in the pure white ledger. A burning red sunset falls into the small dark room in a certain part of London that shall have to remain nameless. Not even the forbidding phalanx of filing cabinets can exclude this glorious season. I congratulate myself on the foresight of switching to my summer wardrobe as I keep my gaze fixed on that hand.
‘Overall?’ I say, to the hand.
The fat fingers spread out to leaf through another sheet of figures. Neat, concise writing that will be legible for generations to come.
‘Yes’, I hear. ‘Both military and civilian deaths. Five million in twelve years of war.’ The fingers stop and I can feel that their owner is transfixing me with another glare.
Quickly I look up. Long practice has helped me to navigate right to the eyes without taking in the territory in between. The eyes are light blue, large and oval shaped. Because they protrude, they look perpetually startled, like a small child’s.
‘Thank you, Emmeline’, I say. For the creature I avoid looking at as much as I can is indeed female.
She nods. I lose focus for a moment and her many chins wobble into view.
‘It was an interesting task’, she volunteers. ‘The experts collected impressive evidence from very inadequate sources. After all, it is a hundred years since the Napoleonic wars have ended.’
I am wondering whether Emmeline has guessed my reasons for having her undertake this work, when she continues.
‘This present war will never surpass it’, she says with a calm certitude that infuriates me. I remember it all too well from my childhood.
Yes, loath as I am to admit it, Emmeline is my sister. She was left under my protection when we were orphaned, a long time ago, and although she was briefly married, she returned to me swiftly after her husband’s untimely demise. It is at moments like this one when I can’t help wondering why her own demise was not effected at the same time. Emmeline is very fortunate that I am in such perfect control of my emotions.
But right now my sister is one step ahead of me. She puts the white ledger away and waddles over to the large drawer in the corner. My anger subsides. I remember why I kept her.
Mine is a business that, by its very nature, precludes trust. And while I employ, of course, several sets of accountants of varying degrees of proficiency as well as secrecy, there is only one person who both knows and tells me the truth about our finances. And that person is Emmeline. She is utterly loyal. Well, her life depends on it.
Meanwhile, she has opened the new ledger and pushes it towards me. The room is almost dark now, and the perpetually burning gas light comes into its own, flickering over the page as if to highlight our predicament.
‘We must diversify, my dear James’, says Emmeline. It is not the first time I have heard such words from her and they irritate me more every time she utters them. My operations are already the most diversified in the kingdom. We cover the whole range from digestives to petty cash to tanks. We never shrink from innovation. Ours is not the kind of business that cannot rest on the laurels of yesteryear.
But Emmeline will not be stilled.
‘You don’t understand, dear brother’, she says, assuming a professorial air that ill becomes her, ‘your enterprise is threatened with imminent collapse under profit.’ She pauses, and waddles around her lectern to poke her finger in my direction. ‘Frankly, James, we no longer know where to stuff it.’
I stare at her, speechless for a moment.
‘Emmeline’, I then say slowly, ‘we have been over this many times. We are doing what we can. Tanks and artillery are being destroyed at an unexpected rate, you’ll be pleased to hear.’
‘But it is not enough’, my sister continues, unabashed.
‘Emmeline’, I say, ‘contain yourself. I know it is difficult for you…’
‘If only we could get at the War Loans themselves’ she says. ‘Those would gobble up the income from our unconventional operations with endless appetite.’
I cannot conceal a shudder. Emmeline is looking quite demented.
You were always such a dramatic child…’ I say mildly, and prepare to leave.
‘But now, just in the nick of time’, she continues, ‘and due to my cultivation of certain sources, an opportunity may present itself.’
‘I give you two minutes, dearest Emmeline’, I say. I sit down on one of the high accountants’ chairs on which I imagine she perches when I am not here. Since she was widowed, I have never seen her sit.
‘Of course you know the Bank of Mar. M’, she says. I incline my head in agreement. Who has not heard of The Other Mar. M, as I shall call him here? He is a giant of commerce (and fine arts connoisseur) both overseas and right here in London. And his operation is completely legal – which irks me greatly. Anyone would wash his money, all day long.
‘But what you may not know’, says Emmeline, ‘is that he is right now secretly in London, just until tomorrow night. Looking for investors.’ She pauses, breathing heavily. All that standing up can’t be good for her poor knees. ‘I have tried to arrange a rendezvous with him.’
‘You?’ I can’t help it, I burst out laughing.
Emmeline lowers her head. I have also never seen her cry.
Emmeline never leaves the house. She doesn’t have a key. Most of her correspondence is with obscure historians and other accountants which I allow, under strict supervision, of course. Most of them are under the impression that the E. M. they write to is male, anyway.
Most of her correspondence. Because, much as my sister would be baffled to provide for her very humblest needs outside these four walls, she has been able, through her friends in the more obscure branches of accountancy, to forge contacts that run through rarefied channels, channels that go all the way to the heart of the real seats of power in this modern world.
And it is these channels who have kept her abreast (and I shudder to think how much breast there may be under her liberty bodice – a garment I forbade when she was young but which she has sneaked in over the years – or perhaps there simply are not corsets to be had at her size) of this latest opportunity.
I easily hide my rising anticipation.
‘The rendezvous, dear James, was intended not for me but for you’, she says. ‘I merely tried to arrange it.’
‘When do you say this will be?’
Emmeline looks into her ledger. I see a dark red blush suffuse her cheeks.
‘I said I tried, my dear James’, she says. ‘But I failed. The Other Mr M will have nothing to do with us.’
So for all her superior airs and her secret channels, dearest Emmeline has failed. I feel a renewed vigour run through my veins.
I rise and approach. While Emmeline is still looking down, I take the opportunity to pat her hair. In the bright gas light I notice it is streaked with grey.
‘I will have to make my own arrangements then. Thank you for your help, dearest Emmeline’, I say with a slight bow. ‘I will let you know when I succeed.’
‘I will book it under recreation’, she answers and turns away.
‘Book yourself a box of those Belgian chocolates while you’re at it’, I say. ‘I know the Belgians still deliver, in spite of everything.’
From the doorway, already searching out the keys to the house in my pocket, so that I can lock her in again, I hear Emmeline mumble over the shuffling of her papers.
‘Five million’, I hear, ‘five million’. When I shoot her a glance over my shoulder, she is seemingly immersed in her figures.
But I am not deceived. We know each other all too well.
It is fascinating, as a certain self-styled private detective would say, that when people think of crime, they always think of the gory end, so to speak. Well, perhaps that is fitting when it comes to private or, as it invariably then turns out to be, amateur crime. The gory end IS the end, you might say.
But when it comes to professional crime, the part that is the real test of ingenuity is what to do with the proceeds.
In this, I find myself in a somewhat ironic position: I, Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, have been able to establish a organisation that operates completely outside the legal framework. And yet there is one institution that even I cannot avoid, and must bow to.
It is not the police (laughable thought!), nor the courts, nor the army and neither Kings, Queens or their new-fangled successors, elected Presidents, who control the world to such an extent that no one can escape them. No. The power that trumps everything is the power of the banks.
On my way to what may be considered my home, if not my residence, since I am unfortunately not able to indulge in officially residing anywhere for reasons of operational flexibility, I meet with two of my lieutenants who unobtrusively slip up to me in the street.
The part of London we are now entering is somewhat notorious and I believe has featured prominently in lurid tales of the unlikeliest kind, some of them even purporting to involve royalty, a royalty portrayed as corrupted and rotten to the core. Much as the British love their Kings and Princes, they love even more to see them brought down and dragged through the mud. It makes one wonder about the true nature of their patriotism.
I hear the puny detective boasts of having moved about around here in various different disguises, as an old tramp, a rich decadent, a washerwoman even (or was that the notorious Mr Toad?), always able to fool the uneducated and unsuspecting locals. Let me assure you, no one in the immediate neighbourhood of the establishment I am now approaching would fall for his schemes, not even for a minute. The livelihoods, if not the very lives of my locals depend on their sharpness of observation. And on my satisfaction with their services.
Walking and mingling unobtrusively with the population of London a large number of whom seems to have business here tonight, we discuss strategies. Time is not on our side.
In the first instance I, like Emmeline, will extend an invitation to the Eminent Banker, and mine will be a little more persuasive. But just in case that invitation is not readily accepted, I set in motion a second line of attack. Let’s add some of urgency to the dynamics of this transaction.
Popular imagination paints unconventional men of business as rough, harsh individuals, always ready to pounce, to strike and inflict physical harm.
But in reality an enterprise like mine has need of all sorts of different specialists. I wouldn’t expect dearest Emmeline to rush out and bury a knife in someone’s bosom (except perhaps her own – sometimes I have wondered what I will find up in that chamber once I unlock the door) and neither would I expect this of the young man who will carry out tonight’s offensive. Young Spencer’s weapon of choice is a delicate brush and the only trigger he is going to pull is that which operates his sophisticated photographic equipment.
The amount of negotiation necessary to attempt a meeting between me and the Eminent Banker visiting London would have defied all the ambassadors of all the powers now fighting it out on the bloody fields of Europe.
Needless to say, a direct approach, however persuasively conducted, leads us nowhere. The great man simply ignores us. My hapless contacts are regretful, dejected and increasingly agitated. I don’t blame them. It is never advantageous to fail me.
So, as the night progresses, we have to rely on the plan involving young Spencer and a team of extremely unobtrusive removal specialists.
Our efforts, I am happy to say, are rewarded with success, and within a reasonably short time period.
Our great banker is, of course, also a famous patron of the arts. His collection, housed in a room with red silk walls, is the envy of the world, and he is courted by art dealers wherever he goes.
A painting of the highest value, both artistic and monetary, depicting this world as a voluptuous garden resplendent with multi-layered colours, has just tonight become his newest, most precious property.
Until it mysteriously disappeared, an hour ago.
The telephone rings almost immediately. Negotiations, it seems, are suddenly forging ahead. All courtesy of our very fine Fine Arts Department. A well deserved salute to Young Spencer and his delicate brush!
Still, the lieutenants on the side of the Other Mr M seem to stall. I detect a certain rising hysteria on their part, combined with an inability to make decisions.
Are they reluctant to take it to the man up top?
Or is something more sinister afoot?
Sadly, we don’t have the luxury of time. Will I need to amplify the urgency? Will the thugs have to step in?
But just as I am about to aid the cogitation process with a fine French wine from a region well worth defending with the blood of a thousand men, my housekeeper, Mrs Mackenzie, enters with a note.
In this establishment whose address must alas be forever hidden from prying eyes, this is quite a rare occurrence and can only mean one thing: something has gone wrong in the House of Velvet.
The House of Velvet is yet another diversification in our wide spread portfolio and another one of the many profitable enterprises that have left us with our current embarrassment of riches.
Mrs Mackenzie has served me in various capacities over many years and knows exactly what I demand of her. Which includes that she, like all my lieutenants, resolve as many problems herself as she can.
So when she curtsies at the door, shaking the abundant locks of her expensive black wig (in spite of her age she insists on maintaining the luscious appearance that made her such an asset at the House of Velvet during her time of active service here), and extends the silver plate to me, I set the fine French wine back on the table and take that which is proffered.
It is a hastily sealed note without the name of a recipient on it – unless you count the large M sprawled all over the outside, executed in what is unmistakably an accountant’s hand, and one educated in this country.
I must hasten to add that it is exceedingly difficult to connect the House of Velvet, like all my other operations, back to me, a fact that even the ridiculous amateur detective has had to acknowledge numerous times. So it is not without a certain amount of reluctant admiration that I acknowledge the power and knowledge that is intimated by that large letter M as I carefully open the note.
Not that there is any danger to my person. This note would have been examined several times by those whose job it is to protect me.
Strange as it may seem, the contents of the letter make me smile. As the telephone rings again, I nod to Mrs Mackenzie to ignore the machine. This is something I will investigate myself.
The man who wrote the note with the big M on it was, I am certain, intimately and unobtrusively observed even before he entered our premises but his visit would have been entirely confidential. Mrs Mackenzie’s sumptuously decorated heart holds many secrets.
(Indeed I heard later that he chose our establishment not least because he felt he could be ensured of his personal safety from what he considered, at that time, his biggest threat: a group of militant pacifists who reportedly attempt to follow him wherever he goes.)
But now I give the word, and in a few moments we are rushing down the service stairs and then along the famous House of Velvet corridors, equipped with the thickest of carpets and drapes so that no sound can disturb those engaged in their velvety practices inside the rooms.
Finally, a tiny door is opened and we slip inside.
The House of Velvet, although as inconspicuous from the outside as money can make it, is, on the inside, luxuriously appointed to stimulate all the senses. Every room is designed to appeal to a different taste, but all are equal in lusciousness.
The room we have entered is in stark contrast to all this. It is unfurnished and so narrow that only the very slim can fit their frames into it with any degree of comfort. But comfort is not the main purpose here.
Unbeknownst to our clients, all the private rooms are separated by such slim and small passages and each of them is only equipped with one significant tool: the time honoured device of a small hole in the wall (two to a passage) and a subsequent tiny opening in the heavily damasked draperies inside the other room. The House of Velvet takes its reputation very seriously – and it has never been betrayed.
Mrs MacKenzie unlocks the chamber and we silently slink inside. I personally address myself to the view port in question.
I am obliged to stoop to bring my eye to the level of the hole – it was fitted to the size of our employees. But what I see makes it all very much worthwhile.
On the other side of the eyehole, in a suite with scarlet walls and elaborate dark violet decorations growing out of the upholstery like the flowers of evil, I behold the current client.
Well, I behold what I can see of him right now – which is his mighty backside.
A vast expanse of pale and soft skin, which makes the coarse black hairs sprouting around a certain unspeakable area stand out all the more.
The great man’s bottom is moving vigorously back and forth, more vigorously perhaps than those who only know him in his official capacity would have give him credit for. Accompanying this impressive physical feat is a deep, startling sound – perhaps the sound that a viewer would imagine when watching motion pictures of a rhinoceros charging across the great African savannah.
Mrs Mackenzie expresses concern about the continued wellbeing of the highly skilled employee buried somewhere underneath the famous banker (for it is of course him!) while I am more alarmed at the potential damage to the well built and expensive four poster bed that is now starting to contribute to the concert with a high pitched jingle.
I need not have worried. Both bed and girl are properties of quality and survive the encounter unharmed, but not before the illustrious chairman has tested their strength and endurance to the utmost, which takes a surprisingly long time, at least according to Mrs MacKenzie and her girls. I can not but be impressed with the sheer physical stamina of a physique that is so unappealing to behold.
By then I have long retreated to my own rooms at the top of the establishment and called upon my other lieutenants to expedite the next stage of our plan. As always, I retreat there alone. I take great care never to come into intimate contact with our employees. It is not good for my health and neither is it for theirs.
An unobtrusive little package is delivered which, upon inspection, demonstrates young Spencer’s artistry at its finest yet.
Well, a courteous note such as the one the Other Mr M sent me, deserves a courtesy in return.
I, likewise, fold a large sheet of paper and decorate the outside with a well formed letter. The same letter, of course. Inside I place the item that was delivered to me
At the appropriate moment, the small package is delivered to our indefatigable employee inside the room with those black rimmed flowers. She gracefully hands it to him.
Mrs MacKenzie, who is now manning the eyehole alone, reports much outrage and snorting of the rhinoceros kind.
The eminent banker apparently calls my message an offence to humanity. Well, we shall see.
And it is but a short time after he leaves the House of Velvet until the telephone rings again. It appears that the Other Mr M, although scandalised, has nevertheless understood my message very well and as a consequence I have become visible to him. Yes, the great man will now be pleased to make my acquaintance, and he will comply with my conditions.
It is also clear now why negotiations stalled before – the time he spent in the House of Velvet accounts for that. Ironically, he chose this exact time (and perhaps the fact that he was unobserved even by his closest advisers at the bank?) to send me his note.
Which just confirms that, in any business, it is always best to go directly to the top even if , in this case, the top may turn out to be a very hairy bottom.
And now, finally, I will no longer ride on the tailcoats of history.
I really do hope Emmeline gets her chocolate.
I awake the next morning with great gusto.
Before I make my way to the location, I just need to look after one small point of business and then…
The item inside my note, the item that moved the large mountain of the Other Mr M’s presence towards me was a small square of canvas, representing a cut from the picture that he had so fortuitously acquired and then so unaccountably lost yesterday.
I was correct in assuming that Mr M would respond it in the way others might react to the severed finger of an abducted relative. (Not that all relatives are solicitous that way, in the course of earlier business ventures I did encounter a few who never responded at all…)
I was also correct in predicting that he would, after consulting the very best experts, sworn to secrecy, realise that this little square of canvas was not vandalised from the original but part of the highly artistic homage superbly executed by our Fine Arts Department, and young Spencer in particular.
I must confess I am quite looking forward to the encounter.
It is a mystery to me why secret meetings are always supposed to happen in the dark. Surely the whole purpose of personal meetings is to illuminate the participants, to each other.
Another idea persistent in the .public mind seems to be that meetings involving the kind of unconventional business I am associated with tend to happen in derelict buildings, dirty, rainy streets or – who knows why – graveyards.
Graveyards are of no interest to me. They house those who are no longer able to provide me with profit. In addition they also tend to be unsavoury places, perilous to health and wellbeing. And if there is anything an unconventional businessman does not need it is additional perils to my health and wellbeing.
I have no means of knowing whether the Other Mr M would have consented to a meeting in a graveyard or derelict warehouse. Perhaps it would have a held a certain frisson to him after his sumptuous study, all clad in red Chinese silk, Pre-Raphaelites hanging on the walls, but I doubt that he would sacrifice business interests to a passing frisson.
The best place is of course the least expected, and least obvious. And where is the last place you would expect to encounter a Napoleon (of crime or otherwise)? Not on the battlefield nor in a palace, not on horseback (I detest horses and was among the first in Britain to purchase and maintain a fleet of automobiles – besides I have no need to try to appear taller) and not on a boat, ruling the waves.
Interestingly, the place I chose will afford both Mr M and myself the opportunity to blend in.
I find that a little exertion in the bedroom always clears my mind.
And the lady who exerts herself with me this noon time in an elegant bedroom, on a modern, well balanced bed, is well versed in the skills I have come to expect.
No doubt some women are beautiful, which I suppose means that they resemble the shapes represented in paintings. I have no interest in beauty. What I seek in the bedroom is not an art gallery. To me, it is all about the act itself, or acts, to be precise. A bedroom encounter with but a single act committed would hardly be worth the effort. All I ask is a certain equity of engagement. Which is why I now insist on ladies of at least a certain minimum age.
The lady I am possessing right now in the most intimate way also has another important asset. She is the owner (at least on paper) of a rather charming, and very secure, garden house set inside the grounds of an extensive and very comfortable residence that looks deceptively modest from the street.
For isn’t the location you would least expect to encounter a Napoleon a suburban garden, particularly at tea time? The tea, it goes without saying, being provided by a certain affiliated company that happens to be very much in my debt…
Today we are a little pressed for time, I admit, and so, with an eye on the clock, I must ask the lady to withdraw to her quarters and leave me to my toilette.
Fresh underwear has already been laid out and I can hear the maid in the adjoining dressing room, clanging water basins. When I was younger, I would have pounced on the maid, too, and it would not have mattered a jot what her age or appearance was. But now I am more focused on the meeting ahead.
As I get dressed, I bless the invention of modern underwear, the fashionable roomy, cool silk pants that barely go down to the knee, thoughtfully provided by the lady of the house who is an expert in matters of fashion. Like exertion of the intimate kind, physical comfort also increases the ability to think.
The flowers I can see through the bay window are large and colourful. They should be, considering the amount of money we spend on upkeep. I do know from my late mother that gardens are very deceptive, pretty on the surface, but in truth battlegrounds of ruthless selection and execution.
Like the House of Velvet, this house, too, is a house of business. But unlike the House of Velvet, the business of this house is the business of respectability. The lady of the house does sometimes receive male visitors, but never without female company, and she has a female companion living with her, a woman who excels at invisibility. Each to their skills…
The Other Mr M, I hear, was a little taken aback at the location I chose for our encounter and even more so by the request to include a respectable middle aged lady among his retinue, something that is apparently not customary in circles of High Finance. But he acceded. And now, an automobile with a driver has drawn up opposite our venue.
Two well-muscled gentlemen, dressed very unconvincingly as banking clerks, descend from it. One of them extends his arm inside the car and, yes, a middle aged, respectable looking lady follows him. All is well. I would not like this house to become unusable by acquiring even the slightest hint of ill report.
The second over-muscled ‘clerk’ discreetly scouts the area around the garden entrance and assorted bushes, presumably against the presence of those dangerous pacifists. Needless to say, he comes up short. We have no pacifists in this street.
And then it’s him. The Other Mr M slowly descends from the vehicle and crosses the affluent suburban road, looking straight ahead into the future.
I withdraw into the garden room at the back, outfitted in dark leather by my good lady’s late husband who used it as some kind of manly refuge, to await the great man’s arrival.
I hear a swell of voices at the other end of the long corridor. Then footsteps, firm and heavy. Only one set. He comes alone.
Then the footsteps stop. Abruptly.
I open the door to a suited back and a brief snort.
‘Mr M, I presume’, I say in a quiet voice which nevertheless has my visitor swivel around on his well shod heels.
He looks from me towards the painting that hangs on the wall opposite the door and has been hanging there since early this morning. It is a painting that shows, in extravagant colour and with a wild amount of artistic licence, a garden that is worth a huge amount of money. Or would be if there wasn’t, at the bottom, a small square cut out of the lavish flower paradise, thus ruining everything.
I clearly have been able to surprise him. Good. I don’t know how many advantages I will need in the upcoming negotiations.
The Other Mr M reaches into the pocket of his pants and produces the matching missile I sent him last night.
He tears it up in front of my eyes.
‘Let’s get real, Mr Moriarty’, he says. ‘I am not here for my pleasure.’
‘But the pleasure is very much mine’, I retort, and invite him inside with a polite bow.
It is always an interesting experience to meet, face to face, a man of whom one has only previously see the unclothed posterior.
I must admit that for a moment I was concerned that this unclothed posterior would perhaps turn out to be the better looking of the two, having been well apprised of the way his late father, the Robber Baron, used to conceal his huge, disfigured nose in all known pictures. But no. The Other Mr M, Junior, though not so Junior in age, looks only as commonly unattractive as befits his line of work and status in society.
He is portly though very well dressed indeed, and has a skull shape more usually associated with the farm labourer than with his squire, but his eyes are very sharp, darting all around the room.
‘Mr M’, I say, advancing towards him with outstretched hand, ‘welcome to my garden hut.’
He extends his hand, too, and shakes mine vigorously. The tiny hesitation I notice in his eyes just before the consummation of physical contact is that of a man who reminds himself that in the interest of business he is prepared to shake hands with anyone, even the devil himself. Of course his line of business avails him a wide circle of potential hand shakers, including the president of his own country.
‘Mr Moriarty’, he says, ‘since you went to such lengths to get me here, let us skip the preliminaries. I know that you have what I want. What is it that you want from me? A ransom?’
His voice comes as a bit of a shock. I am not used to the accent.
But then, again, that could work to my advantage. Mr M is out of place in this very English garden.
I invite him to sit with me in one of the deep armchairs that have been placed at an angle to the table, overlooking the garden.
The two tea cups are already filled, the liquid just at the right temperature. The tea pot promises more. It is also invisibly heated from underneath by a new contraption that will be sold, very much to the exclusion of its inventor, on the market, in a few months’ time.
Mr M pours his substantial weight into the seat and leans forward to look me straight in the eye.
He hasn’t spared a single look for the view.
‘Milk?’ I say.
‘And three sugars’, he answers.
I delicately pick up the tongs and slide them gently into his cup, taking care not to disturb the placid surface.
He lifts the cup, correctly, by its handle, keeping all four fingers rounded. His nose, inherited, like his vast fortune, from his father the robber baron (but in a much more palatable version), flares only slightly as he takes in the scent of the tea.
His skull may be that of a lumber jack and his posture that of the proverbial American adventurer but his upbringing owes much a well-bred mother.
He takes a polite sip, and looks at me over the rim. His bushy eyebrows make a strange contrast to the exquisite porcelain.
‘Mr M’, I say, ‘I, too, would have preferred a meeting preceded without so much unnecessary drama. I asked you here because I believe I am the answer to your current business predicament.’
‘Is that so’, he says, leaning back.
‘Yes’, I say. ‘Mr M, I believe we both have what the other wants.’
He folds his arms in the approved manner and stares at me.
I don’t stare back. On the contrary, I politely let my gaze travel around the room until it settles on my cup.
‘I believe that you are looking to make certain investments, Mr M’, I say, in a light conversational tone, ‘in the field of, shall we say, the technologies of conflict. And I have at my disposal a source of finance that is as vast as it is hitherto untapped.’
I can see a brief flash of recognition in those sharp eyes.
‘I am in a position to extend your operations not only now, but also for the foreseeable as well as the unforeseeable future.’
The eminent banker raises his formidable brows.
‘Well,’ he says, ‘we are interested in high volume opportunities only. Very high volume, you understand…’
‘And you need to act fast’, I say, ‘at least that is what my sources tell me…’
The eyebrows come down. A decision has been made.
‘It is true’, he says, ‘ the two Kaisers are running out of money.’
I nod. ‘I am quite familiar with the appearance of the powerful in my presence when they are running out of money’, I say. There is a sharp intake of breath as Mr M realises the full impact of this insult. I am implying that he is a servant of our enemy. But he does not rise to it.
‘And so are our own Allies’, he says.
Although he clearly does not have my advantage of having growing up in poverty and crime, he is not easily shaken.
‘So’, I say, ’the end of the war is imminent?’
Silence while we appraise each other.
‘It was only supposed to last six months’, he says. ‘It may last much longer. If…’
I raise my eyebrows, well aware that they are nowhere near as impressive as his.
‘There’s no war without money’, I say.
‘Well’, the other M says slowly, ‘I wouldn’t quite say that…’
The tinkle of thin walled porcelain as I refill our cups.
‘There are ways, Mr Moriarty’, Mr M continues, ‘of creating money where there was none before.’
‘A matter I have dedicated my life to’, I say. Moriarty Enterprises, after all, have never created or produced anything. All our transactions are based on the work and investment of others.
Maybe this time I will be able to provoke him.
But The Other Mr M shows his mettle by breaking out in a huge guffaw.
‘You crack me up, Moriarty’, he says. ‘And you are quite right, too. Because, while the Bank is very proficient at creating money from nothing in our own way, we do need assistance right now.’
‘Oh?’ I say. ‘Good luck.’ And lean back, arms crossed against him.
He smiles. ‘I come from a lucky family, Moriarty. The US President himself gave us a Christmas Present only two years ago that will pay for itself for generations to come.’
‘You are speaking, of course, of the establishment of the US Federal Bank’, I counter. I remember only too well how dear Emmeline droned on and on about it at the time, saying that it meant putting the regulation of the system into the hands of the robbers themselves.
‘Indeed’, he says. Is he condescending enough to be surprised that I am well informed? If so, he will find his response in my price.
‘Presidents are weak, and governments are weaker’, he says. ‘You only have to look at this war to see what I mean.’
I cannot help but nod. Did I not have the exact same thought only last night?
‘But’, he says, leaning forward so that I can count the pores on his skin, ‘before we go any further here, I need to know one thing from you.’
‘I fully understand’, I say.
I get up and lift the lower panel of the window that looks out into our own luscious and very real garden.
As I do so, the colourful view is suddenly obscured by even more vivid and spectacular colours – colours that can only be created by the imagination of the artist.
Mr M cannot help uttering a sudden gasp and executing what I believe is called a double take.
What we both see, at a just enough distance on the other side of the window to let the sun light it up magnificently, is of course the great painting that so mysteriously disappeared from his possession last night.
I signal and the picture travels up. It reveals a wholly intact canvas (no little squares missing!) and, at closer inspection, authentic signature.
Mr M satisfies himself of this and then sits back again.
At my signal, the picture gives again way to the real garden outside. The removal specialists are smooth that way.
‘Yes’, I say, ‘the answer is: you can trust me.’
Mr M looks at me curiously.
‘The picture will be going home with me,’ he says. It is not a question.
‘No matter what the outcome of this conversation’, I say. ‘Of course.’
Silence descends once more upon the room. Birds sing in the garden somewhere. It is somewhat idyllic, I must confess.
‘Now I know you run a very successful business here, Moriarty’, Mr M says after a while and a few deep gulps of tea. ‘But, you see, this war really will be over in another three months’ time if we don’t act’, he says, pulling his lumberjack face into mournful folds, ‘and what we need, no offence, is not a minor investment but a very very serious infusion of money.’
He reaches into his pocket. I stay calm. My men would have made sure he carries no weapon into the garden. And indeed, all he takes out is a fountain pen and a tiny note book. The pen works beautifully as he writes down a figure, tears out the page and pushes it towards me. Once again I get a chance to admire his fine English accountant’s hand.
In spite of my expectations I am still taken aback at the sum even he refrains from putting into words.
This is how much he thinks I can provide? Or is how much he thinks I am not able provide? Is this another insult from the pale bottomed banker?
‘So you see, Mr Moriarty’, he says. ‘ Unless you really are able to invest sums of this nature, I am afraid I will have to take advantage of your chivalry and leave with my precious painting. Right now.’
I lean back.
Straight talking is all very well when you are the one who does it. I need to reset the dynamics. It is Mr M who will be the borrower here.
‘It needs to be understood right now’, I say’, that this investment would necessitate a reasonable return. We are not simply looking to get rid of money.’
I turn my head and the lumberjack face is in complete repose. No clues there.
‘But there is no doubt, no doubt whatsoever that we would be able to fulfil the amounts you suggest.’
He nods. Like a lumberjack who has found a good tree.
‘Many times over.’
I open a ledger and push it towards him. Like dear Emmeline, he is a trained accountant. He will be able to understand it.
I can see it in his eyes.
‘Let this be decided now’, I say, ‘because, no matter what the outcome, I intend this meeting to be the only one of its kind.’
Mr M looks at me for a while.
‘I agree wholeheartedly’, he then says. ‘I too have no desire to repeat this experience, pleasant as it has been, of course.’ (And here he inclines his head towards me as well as making a sweeping gesture with his arms that seems to include the house, the garden, and, of course, his painting).
‘So, Mr Moriarty, here is my own question: how fast can you deliver?’
In other transactions, I have often been able to inspire a certain amount of, shall we say, cooperation, through the more aggressive aspects of my business. A certain ridiculous private detective, I believe, used to talk about the associates of my enterprise as an ‘army’. They are of course no such thing. They are freelance entrepreneurs.
But between the two of us, it is Mr M who controls an army, or in fact several.
A real army. The kind that bleeds the youth of many nations to death in the trenches of a godforsaken little country in the name of a war that has no real goal and can end only in the destruction of the world as we know it. Not that I am opposed to the destruction of the world as we know it. I have contributed to that destruction in my own small way.
Maybe the fact that both our names start with the same letter is not a mere whim of fate. As we sip our tea we haggle about price and percentage. We nibble on teacakes and thrash out a plan.
‘Wars destroy assets of all kinds’, I say, ‘Houses, horses, ships and men. ‘
‘During a war, Moriarty, no price is too high to go on fighting it’, he says. ‘Nations will borrow money at any cost, if they can still find a lender. Normal business practice is suspended. Well, for them. And after the war, those debts will have to be repaid. I intend to control the process every step of the way.’
Now this is certainly taking the long view. But surely Mr M surely exaggerates when he says that the nations who lose this war will be paying off reparations well into the next century (while this one has barely started…). However, it might be wise to anticipate and make provision for such payments to find a recipient after my own life span runs out.
‘And at the same time, the nations will need to buy everything they destroyed over and over again. No risk for the banks. Nations by their very nature, must survive and therefore will pay.’
The expensively maintained flowers glow deeply in the lengthening light of the waning afternoon. Mr M never has not looked at them even for the fraction of a second in his passionate exposition of the financials of modern warfare. In our negotiation, we fight over every inch of territory, every fraction of percentage points.
Just like the young men die in their thousands for an inch of the battlefield. Our hostess’ son is not one of them – a benevolent organisation has been able to provide a certificate of indispensability, valid for just exactly as long as the widow is useful to me.
‘You and I, Mr Moriarty’, the great banker says, ‘will win this war without firing a single shot.’
I nod as if in agreement. We set the price.
He reaches out and we shake hands. The tea cups tremble on their saucers.
This deal, like all deals, is based on mutual interest.
I am not so naïve that I trust Mr M never to turn against me. I am still on the ‘wrong side’ of everything, and our interests, while aligned right now, may well diverge in the future. I have therefore prepared a few small surprises for him on his way out.
But first I show him that I, for my part, am true to my word.
Which he sees the moment he passes through the door that I politely hold open.
For, on the wall of the corridor connecting the garden room to the house, hangs a certain priceless work of art that only yesterday transitioned into my sphere of commerce.
He stares at it in silence. I stand just behind him and say nothing.
‘My men will wrap it for you while you wait’, I say. ‘No trouble at all. No trouble.’
He raises his hand and gingerly touches the frame.
‘Thank you, Mr Moriarty’, he says.
We walk away together, towards the front door.
The lady of the house meets us just inside, together with her silent companion and with the lady Mr M’s bank kindly provided for this purpose. The spinster sister of a trusted clerk, I later hear. She might get her pick of elderly suitors at last with the dowry that was surely transferred to her account.
I assume the duties of the master of the house again, and open the door. Mr M’s ‘clerks’ who have been waiting here all along, move out first, then nod that all is clear.
‘So pleased to meet you, Mr M’, I say and shake his hand again.
The smile on his lumberjack face looks genuine as he opens his mouth to speak -
The shot of a rifle rings out. Surely the first time a shot has been heard in this neighbourhood.
Mr M screams and jumps back into the entrance.
I express both shock and bewilderment but compose myself immediately to come to his succour. But not before I have received a surreptitious nod from somewhere in the ornamental hedges that surround the front gardens of all these villas.
One of the ‘clerks’ storms off, the other turns to hold Mr M in a firm grip.
The widow is already at his side, offering medical assistance.
‘Thank you’, he manages to mumble, shaken but upright, ‘I believe – I believe I am alright…’
‘The anarchists!’ Mr M’s other ‘clerk’ grunts.
The banker and his party seem to think that this must be a sinister plot by Mr M’s persecutors, the aforementioned group of anarchists who object not only to his involvement in the war but the war itself, and have chosen to express their pacifism through a lethal gun attack. I express my extreme surprise that anarchists should have found their way to this respectable suburb.
I then dispatch my own men and quickly excuse the ladies who retreat to the living room.
Upon closer examination, we discover that the shot did indeed almost find its target. It hit close to the great banker’s groin but has only pierced the fabric of his heavy trousers. And, presumably, his heavy underpants beneath. If so, they have done a sterling job in protecting their master.
Of course the one who really did a sterling job here is the young sharp shooter who is long gone by the time I send my thugs after the ‘unknown’ attacker. I employ only the best and that young man has more than earned the exemption from the draft I was able to obtain for him. And which he knows would expire immediately on my demise. This young man would be a terrible waste in the war of bloody amateurs being waged in the trenches of Belgium. He could not make a difference even if his talents were recognized. The only people who can make a difference in this war by now are Mr M and myself.
I breathe in the soft summer air. Everything is so alive.
‘It seems you have brought your own enemy with you, Mr M’, I say. ‘Rest assured I will do whatever I can to protect you from now on.’
After a small hesitation, Mr M submits gracefully, if not even pleasurably, to the ministrations of my widowed mistress further inside the house. I leave him to it, for I have seen the flash of metal that signifies the safe retreat of the other shooter who really hit his target.
I will have a photograph of Mr M and myself, shaking hands companionably at this seemingly obscure but perfectly verifiable location. The bang of the revolver perfectly masked the smaller explosion from the camera hidden in the decorative hedge.
Of course Mr M was perfectly safe. I would not wish for anything to happen to him, and certainly not now. The photograph is just an insurance policy. Besides, I am a man in a vulnerable position. It is only right that Mr M should be reminded of his own vulnerability, too.
The photographer is also a gifted young man. He is of course no other than young Spencer himself who has been extremely busy these last 12 hours in the service of our enterprise. He should be rewarded. And he will be. His mother will get a handsome sum of money.
After Mr M and his entourage are safely seen off together with, of course, the valuable painting (his men have protected him from precisely nothing), I decide to spend the night. The widow is at first delighted, then almost overwhelmed by the intensity of my exertions and attendant demands in the bedroom. The invisible companion must be getting quite an earful.
The papers later report that Mr M was, indeed, attacked by an anarchist. In his own garden in New York, a city he never left all summer, according to the papers.
I take that as a confirmation of our business partnership.
And so we come to the famous photograph.
No, it is not of the Other Mr M in the widow’s garden. Although as it happens, that picture is also well known, albeit without the name of the photographer attached to it. A version of it was published in the New York Times a few days later, with a capture that suggested it was taken in New York, and it shows just the great banker himself. My own image was most skilfully erased. Thus the Other Mr M was able to perform the unenviable feat of being on both sides of the Atlantic at once.
It was a clever ruse, a true gesture of power, and one that I might have thought of myself.
However, I did not. The photograph that should have remained in my possession had wandered into his.
Young Spencer assured me with tears in his eyes that he had nothing to do with it. His mother implored me with tears in her eyes to believe him. But in that case, where is the negative? I gave them a day to produce it. They failed.
Young Spencer has even less chance of surviving the trenches than the young sharp shooter who has since become a regular member of my entourage. Unfortunately, however, after failing to safeguard this picture, whether through negligence or perhaps yielding to monetary persuasion, the artist and photographer was no longer able to avoid the draft and get the opportunity to fight for his country, like a patriot.
I let his mother keep the money. She will need it.
No, the very famous photograph whereof I speak now was not taken in the hot London summer of 1915.
It was taken in the trenches, only a few months later.
A line of soldiers marches against a cloudy horizon. They are tired and dirty, and their weapons damaged by battle. The picture is simply composed, but it says everything. Each of these young men is walking slowly to his death. And they know it.
Young Spencer did actually not die that day. He lived long enough to take this picture and the next, showing an improvised ‘splatter mask’ worn by those who ride our tanks, welded together in the field from metal sheets and body armour.
Young Spencer’s war photography has already acquired legendary status. I would not be surprised if the Other Mr M had at least a print hanging in his art gallery. Or perhaps he owns the negatives, too.
The negatives that were found, still undeveloped, on young Spencer’s body in a blood soaked trench only a week later.
He died for King and country.
Emmeline has no offspring while I have many children.
Not that I know any of them, personally.
Apart from my relationships with women like the suburban widow who know how to take care of themselves (and occasionally of others), I never sleep with a woman more than once. It’s a solid business principle for a man in my position, and it is also my personal inclination.
However, statistics would suggest that offspring must have intermittently resulted. In fact, my staff have been approached numerous times by women who were, in my opinion very misguidedly, trying to elicit paternal acknowledgment and in some cases even payment for their brood.
None was ever given.
Most of these ladies understood the hints they received and disappeared as best they could. A few were not so wise. They also disappeared, but perhaps rather more in the passive sense. It is most unwise to go up against the great Moriarty.
If a woman engages in relations, she knows she can get pregnant. That is her risk, not mine. If she takes that risk, she must pay for it. If she is smart, she can look at it as a long term investment…
That is entirely up to her. I am not involved.
Women have an inherent vulnerability.
Men do not.
Men do of course take risks of their own. Many fail. The strong succeed.
That’s all there is to it.
It has occurred to me that, in funding the prolongation of this war, the greatest war the world has ever seen, with deaths that will surely far outpace the Napoleonic accounts, I am quite probably also funding the deaths, the horrible and senseless deaths, of some of my own natural sons. Some of my sons are probably already too old to be in this war, some are too young. But some must be of the right age and disposition to be right there in the trenches, officers and foot soldiers of all ranks, firing and being fired at by the weapons procured and funded by Mr M’s operations. Which means they are being funded by me. (If any of my daughters are so bereft of femininity as to go to war, in the guise of nurses and what not, well, that is entirely their own fault and I have not a tear to shed for the well-deserved fate which will surely find them.)
What kind of father kills his own sons?
What kind of father doesn’t, is my answer.
I am writing this almost three years after my fateful meeting with the Other Mr M.
Reading my notes from that time, I cannot but smile at my naivety.
I thought then that the venture we collaborated on was impressive. And it was. It certainly exceeded everything I had done to date. But I really had no idea…
War, financially speaking, is unlike any other beast. Yes, there can be runs on the banks, there can be bubbles that burst and new economies that fly away. But war is the true a massacre of mammon.
The funds we channelled into Mr M’s business and the interest they accrued have grown exponentially, as have the numbers of the dead and crippled on the battlefields.
Among the young (and not so young) men who died were, inevitably, many of those who used to work as our associates in peace time. The nations may be bankrupting themselves but they still have the power to conscript and I cannot buy everyone out.
But unlike the rulers and nations who fight this war, my own intentions are not lethal. I merely accept the death of thousands as a necessary accompaniment to the greatest surge of profits this world has ever seen.
Ah – my sister informs me in a self-satisfied voice that those deaths are not in the thousands, or the tens of thousands. They are, in fact, in the millions which surely must be a world record.
The dead of this war that some have started to call the Great War, rank around the 15 million mark right now, after barely four years. According to Emmeline.
It appears that Napoleon has been left behind by history. Supplanted by his betters.
The Napoleonic wars are almost a century past
Is it perhaps a law of nature, that such grotesque bloodletting occurs only once in a century?
Up in the small dark room, surrounded by her ledgers, my sister contorts her face into what passes as a smile.
‘My dear James’, she says, giving my childhood name a most condescending inflection, ‘I hardly think so. This war may be coming to an end, but the next one is already being prepared.’
For the fraction of a second, I feel a shimmer of a shiver running down my spine.
Is this not enough?
Then I remember.
No, it is not enough.
It never will be.
The world has never seen such an increase of money, but that is not to say that there cannot be more. If this war has proven one thing, it is both the power and the innovation of finance.
My sister has returned to her ledgers. The white ones are now filling all her shelves, and are towering over her desk.
She moves to push her hair away from her cheek.
In the brilliant light of the new electric lamps which I have generously installed with some of my profits, I notice a slight difference in the familiar outline of her face.
Can this be?
I walk across to the other side of the room and ask a casual question about the quantification of civilian casualties. My sister looks up to answer. Yes, there can be no doubt.
For the first time in her adult life, my sister has lost weight.
‘Emmeline’, I say, ‘is it not time to partake of a few cakes?’
She shakes her head.
Still, her chins wobble.
But not quite so much as before.
‘By all means, James, go ahead’ she says. ‘But I choose to abstain.’
‘Why?’ I say.
And indeed, why, after all these years, would Emmeline suddenly wish to strive for a more pleasing form?
‘Are you sick?’
Again, that contortion of the face that could be a smile. I cannot help wondering what it will look like if she loses weight in earnest. My sister will never be a beauty, and besides, for suitors and a second marriage, it is far too late. But still, I wonder…
Of course there is provision for dear Emmeline in the event of my untimely death. Including the succession of ownership of that little key which will keep her locked away from the wider world forever.
‘I am not sick’, she says. ‘ But for the first time, I wish to prolong my life.’
‘Why would you wish to do that’, I say and I cannot keep the disgust out of my voice.
‘Because’, Emmeline says, quite impervious to my feelings, ‘I want to see the future.’
She smoothens out her white gown. Is it possible that she has taken to wearing white now all the time (although it surely is the most unflattering colour for a woman like her), to match those morbid white ledgers recording the casualties of war?
‘I want to see the war’, Emmeline says very seriously, ‘the war to come for which this one is a mere shadowy rehearsal, a feeble preliminary of quite limited proportions, the war to come which will encompass not just one continent but all of the earth. It will be the pinnacle of my profession.’
‘And what profession is that’, I say.
She takes her pen away from the page and looks at me straight.
‘The accountancy of death’, she says.
Nyla Nox is the author of the ‘Graveyards of the Banks’ trilogy. ‘Graveyards of the Banks 1 – I did it for the money’ available at Amazon [+ http://www.amazon.com/Graveyards-Banks-Midnights-Successful-Universe-ebook/dp/B00U7HRVNK+]
‘Graveyards of the Banks 2 – Monsters Arising’
‘Graveyards of the Banks 3 – Slaughterhouse Morning’ will come out in 2016.
Follow Nyla Nox on Facebook and twitter.
Moriarty, the 'Napoleon of Crime', is no longer satisfied with private enterprise. In the summer of 1915, he finds an opportunity to expand his business through a secret collaboration with 'The Other Mr M' by investing the profits of his criminal empire into financing the war. Both sides of the war. Together, Moriarty and the other Mr M prolong the war for another three years, with reparations being paid for another century. And a body count that goes into the millions... And all that without firing a single shot. The men of finance are safe. This dark but clever tale of plotting and counter-plotting villains, vulnerable young men and street-wise women is set in various parts of London, including a certain 'House of Velvet', a deceptively peaceful suburban garden, and the silent chamber of Emmeline, Moriarty's chief accountant. It also involves a famous work of art. But who is the mysterious 'Mr M'? Who, ultimately, has the upper hand in this most profitable of all deals? And what will happen when the war ends? Moriarty, by the way, has nothing but the deepest contempt for the 'insignificant detective' who introduced him to the world. And he is determined to beat Napoleon at his own game.