Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Cellar Collapses

There was only a moment like this: laughter, the tinkle-tinkle of glasses being gently tipped against one another, the murmur of chatting, the gentle knocking sound of hard-soled shoes against wood floors. Very quickly these happier sounds fell away. The tinkling and murmuring seemed to dissolve into the air; the laughter and the footsteps stopped outright.

Cat-tee? What are you doing?” Leaning on the toppled table and still holding her weapon, Cati threw a look over her shoulder. Only a few yards behind her, Emma was sitting up in her seat, no longer resting her hand in her hands. “You were just . . . what are you doing with a gun?” Something like understanding – but it couldn’t have been – came over Emma’s face as she looked at the patrons around her. Cati lowered her weapon a little and, following her friend's lead, took in the scene.

To Emma’s right, a man laid on the floor with his knees curled into his chest. A pool of blood was quickly spreading beneath him and he started to rock slightly on his side. Cati threw her gaze to her left, to the man who had been knocked onto the floor when Rashfal had thrown her. The joints in his legs had been strangely locked at right angles as if he had been sitting in a chair, but he was spread out flat now. His eyes were wide open but insensible; his pupils seemed as wide as pennies. There was another pool of blood just beginning to form underneath the back of his head.

Now there was sobbing. At the bottom of the staircase, the woman Cati had bumped into in her flight from Rashfal was pulling herself onto her hands and knees with the help of her companion. As she rose, her lips seemed to fall away in a torrent – blood poured from her broken nose and her smashed teeth. She clutched her ruined face. Her sobs came out as sputters and gurgles. She didn’t want to, but Cati could not help looking to the bathroom attendant. He was on the floor, leaning against the wall and pawing at his shoulder with a senseless look on his face. He was alive, but flabbergasted. None of these people could know what had happened in their midst. One second, they had been dining and drinking, laughing and enjoying the company of their peers; and in the next, they were a broken, ghastly mass of injury and pain.

Cati’s sense of responsibility had been lifted from her during her first moments among the be-stilled scenery. As the disastrous melee had worn on, it had slowly began to settle back into place on her narrow shoulders. Now, as the normal flow of events abruptly resumed, responsibility crashed down on her with staggering weight. She let her gun arm drop and she fell to her knees. Cati began to cry. “I did it . . .”

Emma rushed to her side and began to comfort her friend. “It’s alri–” Emma began, but it wasn’t.

The ragged crowd erupted into motion. The moment of collective astonishment at the suddenness of the carnage gave way into a cacophony of panicked screams, pleas for help, and alarmed outbursts. Some parts of the crowd began an uncoordinated shift to the stairway. Other individuals ran to the bar, or began lifting overturned furniture.
“He’s been shot!” someone screamed.
“My hands!”
“I can’t see! Call the police!”
“She needs water!”
“Everybody stay calm!” someone commanded, but no one obeyed.

Shocks of the grey-dressed man’s blonde hair protruded from between Thelonius’s knuckles. His eyes rolled up to meet Thel’s. “Okay. Let me go now,” he hissed.

The bathroom door swung open. “Mister White! Are you okay!” The second bathroom attendant, the one who had accepted the wizard’s sizable tip just minutes ago, had abandoned his post and his basket of towels. “Oh my God! What happened?” he asked Thelonius. “Here, let me help you with him,” he said as he knelt and moved to slip his hands under the wizard’s shoulders. “Was there some kind of earthquake?”

Clutching the saber in his hand, Henri looked to Thelonius, who had not yet released Mister White’s hair from his clutches. A fresh burden of responsibility had fallen upon their shoulders as well.

Mister White meant to snicker, but it came out a cough.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Stillness of the Hunter

The noise of the Cellar receded and disappeared in a “poof” as the front doors swung together and blew a gust of stale air out from the club.

The warmer air from inside circulated around Cati’s ankles. She huffed one last time and looked upward into the stars. On the verge of enjoying a restful breath of night air, she remembered her purse and removed a cigarette.
Henri was at her side holding a match. “Now what, mademoiselle?”
Cati leaned into the matchlight. “Do you think it’s safe to just go home?”
“I do not know.” Henri looked to Thelonius questioningly, but the reporter’s back was to them; he was looking at the interior of the club through the porthole on the front doors. Unencouraged, Henri asked Cati if she would require an escort.
“Oh!” Cati realized. “I had one! Should I tell her I’m leaving?”
Thelonius didn’t turn around. He said, “There’s something wrong.”
“What, did he follow us?”
“See for yourselves.” He stepped away from the tiny windows on the front doors.
Cati and Henri crept up and drew their faces near to the portholes. Inside, the breezeway, the coat room, and the Cellar’s ground floor ballroom, people stood around, striking cockish poses. A man was leaning over the counter at coat check, his hands behind his waist, peering after the attendant. In the breezeway, a woman was approaching him at an exaggerated trot. She stood on her right toe, with her left foot posed in the air ahead, extended almost as a dancer’s. She and the man, and everyone in the ballroom: they were hung in time. The effect was nearly photographic.
Cati pushed open the doors. “Hey! Hey you!” she called, as if upbraiding the Cellar’s patrons. Henri turned to the bouncer, who had been standing by quietly listening. Already assured in his heart of what to expect, Henri snapped his fingers in front of the bouncer’s nose.
Thelonius sized the bouncer up, and wondered just how to capture the scene on film. How does one photograph the act of standing still? Perhaps if he could take a series of pictures with Henri and Cati in them and simulate the passage of time . . . but just what would that be demonstrating? That a roomful of people could stand quietly as Henri and Cati danced among them? At least the wind is blowing, he thought. Then he remembered Rashfal.

The front doors were swinging again. They closed, separating Cati from the men. She tapped the coatless man on the shoulder, to no effect. Behind coat check, the attendant was holding coats apart with his gloved hands, frozen as the others were. “They’re all like this,” she murmured to herself softly. She couldn’t pull her eyes from these people – the old money, the nouveau riche, the descendants of nobility, the gifted young bankers and businessmen – all the people that her family had been mingling with for generations, all the people from whom she had failed to escape time and time again. Before her, a mass of living mannequins, just as she had always known. Finally! she felt like cheering – as though she had for once managed to transcend the stagnant worlds of her father and her husband, the dead foreign bloodlines, the weight of her inheritance and the demands of her ancestors. She smiled and let her hand dip into the man’s pocket. His wallet was there; she dropped it back in; it wasn’t fun this way.

A foul scent wafted in on the breeze, of rot, or of fluids repelled from the innards of an animal. Thelonius caught it and winced.
Henri saw his companion’s face wrinkle and, as if by mimesis, the scent appeared deep within his own nasal passages. It had snuck in. It burned a little and Henri thought to rub his eyes. He remembered a rule of thumb that had been meaningful to him once in a far away place, a truism that he had muttered to himself hundreds of times as a sick kind of reassurance: If you can smell it, you’re in it!
“Thelonius! – we are in danger! We must go back inside now!”
Thelonius would not have disagreed – but in an instant, the wind intensified – Henri saw the streetlights behind Thelonius pull like taffy and blurrily suggest movement – the lights stretched over Thelonius – no, more like something translucent and wet had been flung across points of light – Henri thought to compare it to observing the headlights of an oncoming car through a dirty windshield – it barreled into the reporter – Thelonius fell to the ground, the camera clattered against the cement - the wind turned up into the sky, refracting the lights of buildings' highest windows. The bouncer’s jacket had been disturbed.

Thelonius cursed as Henri crouched and scanned the air around them. Before he even bothered to get up, Thel checked his camera. Henri took note of a drip of blood, trailing from somewhere near Thelonius’ crown, underneath the brim of his hat. Henri pushed a door open. “There is no time! Come!”

(Upon realizing that the world had stopped around him, Thelonius was able to keep it together. Henri and Cati were not able to adjust as well to the realization. Henri has suffered -1 sanity and Cati -2. Due to a surprise attack by goodness-knows-what, Thelonius has suffered -1 hit point. Thelonius and Henri are in combat rounds – please declare your actions. Cati is not in combat yet, but could still act.

Corpus Clock and Chronophage conceived and designed by John Taylor, Stewart Huxley, Matthew Sanderson, and Alan Meeks. Image from A Blog to Read.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Going on Instinct

"Oh, God, I think he's seen me," Cati said. "Look, he's coming over here. I don't know, Henri. Ask the fella whatever you want. I don't know if it's going to make a difference now."

Thelonius forced himself to sit upright, his paranoid instincts forced him to quickly search the cramped studio apartment for … well … he didn’t know exactly what. He realized that he had been checking the surfaces for bugs, half expecting to find a swarm of the black crawly things massing out from beneath his ice box.

Once he had assured himself that he was indeed back in his apartment, he then realized that he was more than a little hungry, and thirsty. He rummaged through his cabinets and ice box, devouring the last remnants of bread, cheese, and pickles he found stashed away. He chased the meager meal down with what seemed like quarts of water.

Sated, he briefly thought of lying down and resting. No – he had to talk to Henri and Cati before the memories of what happened began to fade. He picked up the telephone, dialing first Henri’s shop and then Cati’s residence in an attempt to contact someone and warn them.

But would they believe him? Surely Henri would. The man must have experienced something similar the previous evening.

Thelonius tapped his foot anxiously against the dusty wooden floor as he waited for someone to answer the phone.

But no one did, not at Henri’s shop. Fine, he’d try Cati – her number was in the phone book. Three, four, five rings – Thelonius had just pulled the phone from his ear when he heard a tinny voice. “Hello?”

“Yes, hello. This is Thelonius Jones. I need to speak to Miss Predoviciu.”

Closer to his ear now, the voice was deeper and feminine; gruff, though, tired. “Miss has gone out for the evening.”

There was a dull metallic scrape in the kitchen. A pot had settled in a cabinet – perhaps, or perhaps something had shifted it. The sound would certainly have come from the cabinet next to the sink, for Thelonius didn’t have many pots and pans. But hadn’t he just checked in there?

“Vill you leave a message?” inquired Cati’s proxy, who was apparently of Transylvanian origin – or from one of those numerous Eastern European nationalities jockeying for their own state. Predoviciu – was that a Romanian name?

The pot shifted again. “Please wait just a second,” Thelonius replied.

He moved to the kitchen. Standing behind the cabinet door, he peeked inside. Nothing: two pots were stacked in a pan. They must have had been disturbed by his tired foragings. They must have, but Thel couldn't take his eye off the kitchen as he returned to the phone.

“Hello. Do you vant to leave a message?” repeated the voice.

Thelonius glanced sidelong at the cabinet speaking a bit distractedly, “Uh……I mean could you tell me where she has gone, if you do not mind. I am a friend of hers, and I have an important message I must relay to her as soon as possible.” Hopefully the housekeeper would reveal where Cati had gone. Thel suspected that the flapper was out at one of the various speakeasies about town.

Magda detected the hints of stress and sincerity in Thelonius' words; she recalled eavesdropping on some of the miss's phone calls and hearing the reporter's name; she was tired and annoyed. She sighed. "Miss went to SoHo."

There was silence. As if she had just committed a calculated sin for some greater purpose.

"Thank you, that's all I need," Thelonius finally replied. And it was. He was there in thirty minutes.

Cati would have taken a cab, so there would be no car to search for – as if that'd work. Thelonius would have to follow his instincts here. Those strange talents that were both cultivated and somehow innate all the way to his bones; Thelonius knew he could trust his nose. He parked the Nash behind one of the more up-and-up clubs, near a cluster of luxury autos. A Bugatti, a custom-bodied Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, a '24 Hispano-Suiza. A couple of young men in drivers' uniforms leaned casually against the Rolls. One of them let the driver's side door bear his weight as he leaned back and gazed skyward. He was that car's driver. The other man had, then, driven the cabriolet. The Bugatti had been driven by its owner most likely – after all, if you're going to have someone else at the wheel, why get a Bugatti? These were the sorts of things that instinct could reveal.

He went into the street. The upper crust was about. A tux and a night gown stepped into the Palace. No, not Cati's style; she might have had the money but probably didn't have the interest. Three women with bobbed hair and feathered headbands crossed the street onto Thelonius' block, and proceeded around the corner. Probably off to The Teepee Club, a gimmicky flapper dance hall. That was more Cati's speed, Thelonius thought. But too obvious; The Teepee Club was a fad, it'd be gone in a year. Where else was there? The Cellar. One block away. There was watery jazz, it catered to the upper class, there was booze in the basement. Its owner was in on an informal consortium of liquor vendors who had come to agreements with both the mob and the police. In exchange for monetary gifts, both authorities kept out of The Cellar. This much was an appreciated fact in the underworld currents. The establishment's special mixture of seediness, safety, and class would have attracted Miss Predoviciu. Perfect.

The bouncer was an old acquaintance, an informant from the voodoo case six months ago. He was more credulous of Thelonius than Thelonius had been of him – invisible bullets, indeed! – and so it was only too easy for the reporter to gain entry. He stepped inside the foyer, but before Thelonius could take in the dining and dancing arrangements of the main hall, he was jostled by a man in a leather coat and a cap. And shocked – when the man's elbow brushed his own, there was a brief flash. No, not like a flash of light, more like a flashing-out of reality: a quick flash-forward of the consciousness into the next moment with none of the normal seamlessness of the usual experience of time. When the reporter looked behind him, the man was out the door and in the street. He was short, dark-haired, thick, sweaty.

He jogged outside. The man had gotten into the driver's seat of a cab and was already pulling out. Thelonius had to resign himself to memorizing the license plate: NY 1923 153-512.

He went into the basement level, and immediately made out Henri's form, standing out in the best of ways, even in this crowd. Beside him, standing, was none other than Cati.

Thelonius began to move across the tearoom floor towards the groups, but he saw a third figure moving towards them. He paused, wisely taking the opportunity to assess the situation before interrupting. The man was tall, blondish, dressed all in grey. His clothing was cut in almost harsh lines that suited the man and made him seem statuesque, like a piece of architecture, a component of the skyline.

The man stepped directly up to the pair, as if homing in on them. Henri and Cati had only a moment to prepare themselves.

"Good evening, miss," he greeted Cati, and then turned his attention to Henri. "Sir." With no bashfulness, he examined Cati. "You look just stunning in that dress, would you care to step upstairs with me for a dance?"

Cati glanced about nervously, searching for her answer in the crowd. She caught sight of yet another familiar face near the stairs: Thelonius. His presence was slightly reassuring. But strange – how had he too come to this place at just the right moment? The blonde man put her ill at ease . . . but her allies were all around, and she was in a crowd.

(I by Teresa. II by Dan and dsolomon. III by dsolomon.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Cellar

Henri walked into the Cellar. Ostensibly a ballroom and restaurant, it was well-known that the Cellar's basement floor carried a stock of liquor appropriate to the tastes of upper class drinkers. What a dense crowd for a Tuesday night! If the police knew about the place – and they must have known – then they turned a blind eye to it. Possibly there were bribes involved, or perhaps the owner was somehow managing to function without the aid of the mob, or both. Henri would run into someone he knew here.

In a dark corner, Cati crouched over her "tea". It had been almost an hour and a half since she had met Emma upstairs and had dragged her into the basement, and Cati had remained mildly disconsolate about her strange encounter. Even if his anxious manner had undercut his ability to intimidate, there had been a real menace in the driver's eyes and words.

"I still don't get it, lady," Emma said as she released a puff of smoke. She languidly rocked her long-stemmed cigarette holder in her fingers. "The driver wanted to take you to a minstrel show, and then he cursed at you in Hungarian and missed the turn." With a bored expression on her face (which Cati knew to read as the first step in the fossilization process), Emma tapped her cigarette, expertly pitching her ash into the tray.

"Finally, he stared at you. You attract the weird ones. In fact," she tapped her ash again, compulsively, "a lot of weird things have been happening lately, and it's got me thinking what if there's a conspiracy? First that swami goes into a fit on stage, then Mags Whitcombe dies last week, and there was another girl, Milicent Beckinshire (I saw in the paper) who also died that night. Did you hear about that? Who knows who could be in on it? The Communists, the mob, the Turks! Hey!" Her tangent crumbled instantaneously. Emma lifted her head and sat up. "Speaking of which, isn't that your friend from the Audubon over there?" Her cigarette indicated a singularly spiffily dressed man sitting at a table on the other side of the floor. It was Henri.

"So you are being followed!" She was mostly joking. "Should we tell him the game's up?" she asked, smiling.

Cati was about to agree, but then she saw him, the taxi driver. For an instant, he had been coming down the stairs into the basement level, but another man, standing too high in the stairwell for Cati to see his face, put his hand on the driver's shoulder. They exchanged words, the driver nodded and turned back up the stairs.

The other man came down the stairs. His build was the opposite of the driver's, who was short and a little stocky. Instead, this fellow cut a figure as straight and as sharp as a skyscraper. His freshly pressed trousers and jacket, both the same granite-like grey, further suggested modernist architecture. He was generally attractive in that way that seemed to cut across the peculiar features of the many nations and countries that were now represented in New York City. At the bottom of the stairs, he removed his hat. He was fair, but not quite blonde.

"Cati, dear! You look a little frightened! You don't think that French guy's actually stalking you, do you?"

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Swami

He groaned a little as he rolled over to receive his visitors. He had lost weight. Once a rosy-cheeked and hale man, here - in the hospital bed without his turban and jewel, without the monkey and audience, of which he was in such easy and total command - Ramanuja presented a pallid and weary visage. Nevertheless, he looked many times better than he had upon his last meeting with the erstwhile investigators. Most of all, Cati appreciated the fact that he was free of the tubes and ghastly equipment.

As he recognized the trio, his eyebrows lifted and his limp mouth pulled into a little smile. "Hello!" he cheered (as cheerily as one might expect). "Our saviors have come to visit! Kindly sit and rest. We were just listening to the birds sing." Outside the cracked window, a pair of pigeons cooed sweetly to one another.

His eyes were slightly red, and his lips were dry and cracked. Looking to the window, he pushed himself up in bed. His list of woes was short, as described by Doctor Cherry: minor lacerations on the eyes, mouth, ears, and at various joints; a few bruises; severe dehydradation. "He'll should be fine by now," he had explained, "really. He's been chit-chatting with the police all afternoon."

The swami did not look fine. Without pulling his gaze away from the pigeons, pushed his lips out, as if puckering for a kiss, and reached for the glass of water on his nightstand. "We think that you, sir," he said deliberately and seriously to Thelonius, "do very well as you are, testing Maya rather than seeing through it." It seemed that even now he couldn't resist making such comments. But his tone of voice was wholly different from his grandiose stage character, and his words rang with all the more sincerity for it. Maya, then - the illusionary world of experience per Eastern religion - what of it? (The line between religion and the occult blurred often enough that Thel had cultivated an acquaintance with a fair number of 'strictly religious' practices in his time, from Jainas to snake-handlers. Maya was one of these concepts.)

Ramanuja replaced his glass, and pulled his blanket up to his shoulders, binding himself. "And, you, madam, have risen to the occasion most admirably. We know, for you saw what sorry is'tate we were in." He nodded sullenly towards Cati. "As have you, sir" - it was Henri's turn - "for we think that you have the most questions of all. Is that not what you all have come for?"

"The men who killed Margaret are unknown to us. Margaret was our pupil, we were her swami. We were very close, but it is not as some have suspected. I am very sorry for the Whitcombe family." Wrapped in his blanket, he looked like no monk or mystic. If he were only to put on a button down shirt and a normal pair of trousers, he could disappear right into the city crowds. He turned his face towards the window again. After a moment the swami said, "You will be wanting to ask better questions this time."

(Thel passed an occult check.)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Hyperboreans - in the New York Public Library

Hyperborea. A region beyond the North Wind, or the place where Boreas blew. The legend is associated with that of Apollo. For 19 years he returned to this land, each time at the moment when the stars had completed another revolution in the sky and had returned to their original positions. Each night between the vernal equinox and the rising of the Pleiades he could be heard singing appropriate hymns and accompanying himself on the lyre.

After Apollo had massacred the Cyclopes, who had manufactured the thunderbolt used by Zeus to kill Apollo's son, Asclepius, Apollo hid the arrow he had reserved for revenge in the great round temple dedicated to him which had been built in the center of the principal Hyporean city. Some said that this arrow, which was enormous, had flown there of its own accord before forming the constellation of Sagittarius in the sky. A Hyperborean named Abasis traveled throughout the entire world borne by this arrow; he did not need to eat as this wondrous arrow provided all the nourishment which he needed.

Legend relates back to the founders of the Hyperborean race a certain number of practices connected with the cult of Apollo. Leto was supposedly born in this land and then returned to Delos to bear her own children. The sacred objects pertaining to Apollo which were venerated at Delos were said to have come from the Hyperborean land. On this subject we defer to Herodotus who wrote that these sacred objects had been entrusted by the Hyperboreans to their neighbours the Scythians who travelled towards the west until they reached the shores of the Adriatic, and then journeyed to the south, passing from town to town. They travelled to Dodona and then to Carystos in Euboea, and eventually reached Delos via Tenos.

Their country was represented – particularly after the Classical period – as an ideal one with a mild climate, inhabited by people with happy temperaments – a Utopian land. There, apparently, the sun produced two crops each year; the inhabitants had civilized customs and lived in the fields and sacred groves to great ages. When the old people considered that they had had a good life they threw themselves joyously into the sea from a high cliff with the heads garlanded with flowers and found a happy end in the waves. The Hyperboreans had a knowledge of magic; they were said to be able to travel in the air and find hidden treasure. Pythagoras was said to be an incarnation of Hyperborean Apollo.

From: "Hyperboreans" in The Dictionary of Classical Mythology by Pablo Grivale. Translated by T.B. Hopkins-Nunsmouth. 1919.

(As of the evening of the 25th, Thelonius and Henri have access to this piece.

Text excerpted from "Hyperboreans" in The Dictionary of Classical Mythology by Pierre Grimal. Translated by A.R. Maxwell-Hyslop. Blackwell Publishing, 1996. Adapted by da solomon.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Police Business

The gunshots could scarcely have been surprising to the trio of erstwhile investigators, but nevertheless the resounding cracks of four distinct reports sent a shudder into each of their spines.

In a moment one of the police officers jogged from the front door. "You two" – he was pointing at Thelonius and Henri – "stay where you are!" He went directly to number 19, from which the song had been playing, and banged on the door with his fist. A final lyric flowed from the house to the outside world – I'm glad that you're sorry now . . . – and the door opened. Without wasting a second, the officer proclaimed that it was a matter of police business, and pushed his way inside.

In his moment of panic, the gunman had made the fatal mistake of firing at the officers. Though his shot had gone wild, the policemen had responded as one would expect and shot him down. It was a matter of minutes before the ambulance and two squad cars arrived, and all three, Thelonius, Cati, and Henri, were sequestered under separate streetlights. From their vantages on the curbsides, they watched groups of blue and white clad men rush into the house, and a few more minutes passed before two ambulance drivers carted Ramanuja and then another person into the ambulance. Ramanuja was clearly alive, lolling his shoulders about on the stretcher, but the other man – probably Gerloch – was likely dead now.

Shortly Delaney arrived on the scene and, after spending some time in Gerloch's home, set to personally taking statements from the dressmaker, the photographer, and the dilettante. Each one recounted a short version of the events in number 17 from his or her perspective and was summarily given a ride home. Seeing little use in interrogating a rabbit, Delaney saw fit to leave Peterchen in Henri's possession, and did not press any member of the trio too hard. Indeed, before opening his notebook to begin his official interview of Thelonius, he put his hand on the photographer's shoulder and said, "My bet's that when we do the work on that gun, we're going to find out that this is the fella who killed Margaret Whitcombe. Jones, I think that Indian monk owes the bunch of you his life."

III. 24 April, 1924
Henri awoke to the sound of the telephone ringing. Before he could muster the lucidity to fully open his eyes, his legs began the automatic process of taking him into the parlor to the phone. The world around him was still the same dim orange color as the inside of his eyelids when he pressed the receiver to his ear.

"Good morning, Mr. DuMonde. How are you feeling?" It was Delaney, and with a jolt Henri was taken back to the townhouse and to the blur of questions and police procedure that had taken place afterward. With these images in his mind, he opened his eyes fully and found that his own home looked strange to him, as though he had abandoned it long ago and was only now returning to it after an absence of years. Delaney congratulated Henri, and warned him: "No one's to say this is all wrapped up, so I don't want you types poking your noses into anymore trouble – and I already explained this to the young lady and Jones. That said," he continued, "I'm passing on a message from Mister Ramanuja. He'd like to thank you personally. Not for a few days, though – the docs're keeping him an eye on him. You might bring some flowers to him on the twenty-ninth, if you're that kind of guy. But my advice is to keep to the modest clothing business."

(For my purposes, please recount your character's statements to the police here. If you want to give the police anything, or tell them about any of your findings in particular, make it known here.

The next day is the 24th, and everybody receives a phone call from Delaney like the one above. He will be understandably very busy and unable to make time to answer queries, though he will leave his phone number with each of the characters, and a meeting could easily be set up with him for some later time.

Though the larger picture is still not entirely clear and Gerloch has been murdered, it is heartening to the investigators that they have had a hand in rescuing Ramanuja (and Peterchen, too). Sanity awards follow:
Thelonius: +4 sanity
Henri: +3 sanity
Cati: +2 sanity
Additional sanity awards will be made for both continuities shortly in the ooc blog.

This is also the end of the act. Skill awards follow:
Thelonius: +6 listen; + 5 German; +10! psychology; +3 spot hidden
Henri: +3 credit rating; +9 fast talk; +2 listen; +2 persuade; +1 sneak
Cati: +9 history; +6 listen; +8 locksmith; +6 spot hidden

I have, of course, been keeping track of your characters' skills, sanity, hit points, and everything. If you'd like to check your records against mine or just get an updated character sheet, let me know in an email.

At this point, we will have a short time skip. I had thought to conduct the whole thing as a gloss, but that seemed to me to be depriving you all of opportunities to investigate and conspire. So, during the skip, characters may contact one another, meet to discuss clues, or investigate things further through other routes. I suggest that phone contact between characters either be glossed over or composed via email, and that other actions – library research, building a rabbit hutch on one's veranda, dropping a line to an old friend in the department of Folklore at Columbia University, enrolling in a German course, or delivering a vial of ectoplasm to Spider – be initiated in your own blogs. Please feel free to ask me anything over email.

When you are ready to meet Ramanuja at St. Lawrence on the twenty-ninth, make a post to that effect in your own blog. When everyone has done so, we will pick up from there.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ashen Scraps

(in the ashes on the terrace, in German)

(in the ashes on the terrace, in German)

(in the ashes on the terrace, in English)

(in the ashes on the terrace, in English)

(in front of the dresser, in English)

(in the doorway, in English)

(Click on images for larger versions.)

Poor Things

Henri turned the knob and drew a long tense breath. He gave the door a little push and stepped to the side, almost hopping away. The door rattled as something clumsily bumped into its backside. It rattled once again as the poor creature – a dark-colored tabby cat – bolted past them and down the steps. It was immediately gone, without a wail or a scratch. Both men exhaled and looked at one another, as the cat crashed down the stairs, sliding into one landing after another.

There had been nothing dangerous or frightening at all.
Perhaps it had been missing its sand box. One could only hope.

From the vantage of the hallway, Henri could see a dresser. The mirror was set in a frame of ornate woodwork, from which hung an array of trinkets and charms. Rabbits' feet, pentagrams, horsehoes, crosses, and others adorned the frame; still more lay scattered about the counter, mixed with personal effects. Beyond this, opposite Henri and Thelonius' position in the hallway, was the open door to the third floor terrace. The city's evening-time sounds wafted in on the wind. Horns, children yelling, a dog barked. The soft coos of pigeons. Over the doorway hung an amulet depicting Santur, the multi-armed black sun.

In the light cast from the hallway, Henri and Thel could see that something more had been blown in from outside. On the floor near the far doorway, there were ashes. Closer to the dresser, a piece of paper, mostly burnt, lifted on the remnant breeze. Not entirely reassured by the quiet urban noise, Henri stepped into the bedroom and laid his hand on the light switch.

Cati, no calmer for her smoke break, pushed the kitchen door open and stepped back inside. She stood at the sink for a moment and wondered if she might water the bunny. Dominikus hadn't done it; that was sure.

She heard a sound from the stairwell, a thump. And then another, and another, a whole chorus of bangs and thumps and scampering feet coming down the stairs. Cati quickly recognized it as some frightened animal and, forgetting to close the kitchen door behind her, stepped into the back parlor.

It was a panicked cat. It leaped down the last flight and hit the wooden floor hard, skidding into the wall. Its feet kept grasping for the ground before it even as it fell on its side, and in a flash the cat had regained its traction. It darted right at Cati, who dodged to the side. The cat continued on through the kitchen, out into the backyard. From the parlor, Cati saw it pounce on the fence as though it were attacking prey. Digging its claws into the wooden slats, it threw itself up and over.

Its ears had been pressed back; its mouth had been open. Its eyes had been wide and wild.

Dominikus Gerloch was in bed, laying on top of the sheets. He was clothed in his bathrobe and socks, and his hair had dried into a nest. Gerloch's left arm was folded on his chest, and the other was stretched out onto the bed. In his hand there was a hypodermic needle. The plunger was depressed.

Gerloch's eyes were both reddened from dryness. His right eye was bloodied and stretched painfully around a speculum, but the other was also gaping. It quivered slightly in its socket. Though this eye lacked any apparent injuries, it seemed that it had been pried open by something more terrible than a tool of medical torture - by something it had seen. Gerloch stared ahead, but the rest of his slack face showed no terror or anguish.

Thelonius stepped to the bedside. On the nightstand there was a tiny bottle, just like the one that Delaney had shown him. It was empty and its cap was off, but the sign of the black sun was there. He put his ear to the insensible man's mouth, which was slightly open. "He's alive," Thelonius said.

Behind Thel, the man's closet door was slightly ajar. Inside, Henri could see a row of yellow robes hung on hooks. On the front side of the nearest one, there was embroidered a design. Despite his lack of familiarity with the occult, Henri could immediately decipher the five-pointed star in the embroidery as the mark of something having to do with magic, with witches, and with Satan.

The wind picked up again and drew a slight chill into the room. More ashes and another piece of burnt paper rolled into the bedroom from outside.

(Eye from Squished Frog.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Number 17

Cati had taken photographs of her party dress. They were developed now, and she had them with her. "Art pieces," she said disappointedly, as she handed them over to Thelonius and Henri. They captured the interplay of light and dark across the textured surfaces of the dress rather nicely. This much, Thelonius admitted. (Who'd have thought that the bird had an eye for photos like that?) But there was nothing more interesting to be seen in them – no faces – at least not now, not without time to study them. And so, having nothing very interesting to report on her own behalf, Cati offered to pay for a cab to 79th Street.

She tried to listen carefully to the narrative offered by her gentleman companions of their trip to Spider's shop. But the whole thing – the servant boy and the air of staged mysticism – seemed simply silly to Cati, especially when coupled with the sea of mumbo-jumbo terms, which only Thelonius appeared to really understand. Silly, compared to Mags – her poor sister Jacquie – Henri's friend – and, chances were, compared to the situation of the swami. On the ride to 79th Street, Cati's thoughts drifted to these somber topics.

When they arrived, the streetlights were already on, but there was yet enough natural light left to cloak their yellow, artificial luminance. The taxi coasted down the tree-lined boulevard. Henri recognized the street – a wealthy residential neighborhood, and he, of course, had clients here. Last time he had been here, it was on a house-call to the dressing room of the ever distressed, but perpetually generous, Sadie L. The street was unusually cluttered with parked cars, he thought: Cadillac 7-seaters, Buick 6-44s, several Nashes, a Bearcat. Perhaps there was a wedding at one of the adjoining homes, or maybe one of the budding societies that were constantly moving into these old townhouses – the New York Historical Society, the Manhattan Library Society, the Abstinence Society, the Society for Animal Welfare – was hosting a function.

The cab pulled into an opening in the chain of automobiles directly in front of number 17. A young couple hurried by, walking their schnauzer. Watching them, Cati stepped out of the passenger side front seat. As she alighted to the sideway, a thought crossed her mind. She marked it with an "Oh!" and Thelonius, getting out behind her, responded with a "Hm?"
"I need to pay." She bent over and leaned into the car, and handed the cabby a handful of bills. "And," she continued, "if Ramanuja" – she noted to herself that she had gotten the man's name right – "was picked up by a fake ambulance, then how did they know to come just when he was sick?"
From across the roof of the cab, Henri interpreted Cati's suggestion. "So there was a co-auteur – an accomplice?"
"- at the Audubon."
Thelonius threw his door shut and the cab pulled out. "A conspiracy against the swami? That, or a conspiracy with the swami."

The three of them stood in a row on the curb, facing the townhouse, backs to the empty parking spot. Behind the buildings, the sunlight was still just bright enough to stave off the deep blue of the nighttime city sky, to stain the skyline pink. Number 17 was castle-like, pointed, a hybrid of American Victorian and neo-Gothic elements. Henri fantasized, oh-so-briefly, that the setting sun and its train of pink folds might get stuck from the house's peak. There would be no sunrise, and in the dark morning, the police would find the sun hanging from the back porch, strangled in a loop of one of its own beams.

Enough of that. Henri's imaginative faculties were getting bored and looking for an outlet. Thelonius hadn't bothered to – or probably didn't have the time to – explain all the connections that he and Spider had made, and Henri's natural response had been to, well, just go along, to follow Thelonius as he traced the characters in this occult web. But now he was growing wary of the increasingly shadiness of the personages he was encountering. For all he knew, Dominik was a murderer. Really, he thought, Thelonius and the police were much better suited for this kind of thing.

But Cati's realization had cemented it – there was, in fact, some kind of connection between Ramanuja and the ambulance and this Gerloch and Mags and the ectoplasm, as Thelonius called it. Moreover, the missing piece of the puzzle was, for Henri, exactly the one piece that did not seem to be connected to the rest of it: Millie.

Poor Millie! – but what could she have possibly had to do with any of this? It was on a whim that she had even invited him to the show. No, Henri couldn't demonstrate the connection, but surely there was one. Maybe knowing that was good enough. And how! The intuition of the connection between this psychic and Millie's death was the lure that dragged Henri along. "Very well," he said, "We are here. Shall we see if M. Gerloch is around?" He looked up and down the street. A few drivers were leaning against the fancier cars. "There are people about, the police are not far."

Thelonius lead the way to the door. Things were clearer for him now, too. The mundane angle was right around the corner – just ask Gerloch the right question in the right way, and the love triangle or the shady accounting would be laid bare. The motive would come out, and the disappointing banality of it all would once again be reconfirmed.

Thelonius rang the doorbell anyway.
A car drove by, turned on its headlights as it passed the house, and disappeared around a corner.

Cati's fingers twitched and she called out, not too loudly. "Hello? Is there anybody home?" Impatient, she tried the knob, turned it, and pushed the door open before she knew it. Pausing only long enough to glance at her escorts' faces – but not long enough to register any disapproving or surprised expressions – Cati again called out. "Hello?"

From the vantage on the front porch, only the foyer could be seen. The wallpaper inside was slightly out of style, and beginning to peel a little at the edges closest to the front door. There were coat hangers, but no coats, and a little table adorned with knickknacks: a Bible, a candle holder for three sticks, and a paperweight cast in the shape of the compass-and-angle motif of the Masons. The rest of the house was dark. There was a light coming from a staircase towards the back of the first floor, at the end of the foyer hall. "Lights are on," Cati observed. "And, nobody's home," she decided.

(The map below is provided assuming that someone will go inside. Of course, no one is obligated to do so. Turning back and going to the police are perfectly reasonable things to do. Feel free to freely dictate the characters' movements and actions in the home. Each of the characters have been in a house like this before, and are generally acquainted with its layout. It is four stories tall, plus a basement. Descriptions of the rooms, also below, are not in-game until a character moves into those spaces. Don't forget to turn the lights on!

(I will intervene when someone moves past a red line as shown on the map, someone does something that requires a roll (i.e. reading a foreign language, riding a horse, etc.), or when a character's actions call for a deeper description, as when searching an area. 

(To avoid confusion, the marked areas are the garden, the basement, and the second floor.)

First Floor
The front parlor is furnished with two chairs, one of which matches a plush footstool. Beside this, there is a little table and a lamp. Next, there is a painting on a display easel. The painting is of a battle – robed and armored men clash in a wooded battlefield, with one figure on horseback rising above the rest. A vase with a few wilting flowers is on a stand near the window. There is a fireplace as well, and resting on the mantle is a white rabbit, mounted in a sitting position with a ticking stopwatch in its forepaws.

The centerpiece of the back parlor is a round table. A crystal ball rests in its center. There is a fireplace and a couch on opposite walls. There are no windows, but a pretty little electric chandelier hangs from the ceiling. A short stack of books on astrology and the tarot rest on a table in the corner, near the couch. Behind the couch there are several folded wooden chairs. Candlesticks rest lengthwise on the fireplace mantle.

The bathroom is clean and little used.

The pantry is stocked with staples, some canned vegetables, and a rack of wine. (Henri and Cati will realize that the basement would be a better place to keep this vintage.)

Clean and tidy, everything in the kitchen seems to be in its place. The cabinets are filled with spices, dishes, staples, utensils . . . all the things one would expect to find in a functional kitchen.

The courtyard contains only a coiled length of hose loosely attached to a dripping, rusted spigot, and a folding wooden chair. There is a set of steps that lead to the basement. There is a lock and a chain on the door to the basement.

Second Floor
Instead of a front bedroom, there is a library. There is a bay window, but the curtains are pulled. In the center of the room is another little round table like the one in the back parlor downstairs. On it is an empty cherry wood pipe, and what looks like a massive single volume encyclopedia, titled The Complete Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Clothe strips hang from its pages, marking important entries. Near this, a cushioned chair, very comfy looking. The walls are lined with shelves, which are in turn filled with books and various trinkets. The books cover a range of topics, but mostly seem to be about: Christianity, mythology, animal husbandry, education, German literature, English grammar, linguistics, and various occult topics (Thelonius recognizes works on Ariosophy, psychic phenomena, and Theosophy). There are stacks of well-worn composition notebooks stored in the lower shelves.

The back bedroom has been used, but is also empty of people. The bed is unmade, and the floor has been tracked with muddy shoeprints. The decoration here is plain, with only sparse use of color or embellishment, and nothing to offend most persons' tastes - Henri might guess that it is meant to be used as a guest bedroom, and it reminds Thel of a tidier version of home. From the rear window here, one can easily pull the curtains, look down into the courtyard, down the basement steps, and, in the light cast from the back parlor window, see the locked-and-chained basement door.Beyond the bedroom is a bathroom and a terrace. The bathroom is much the same as the one downstairs, but with the addition of a bathtub. The tub's feet - for it is a freestanding piece - are four iron claws, and, in case of emergency, the tub looks like it's ready to make its own way out of the house. Gathered around its drain is a film of grunge and dirt. There are toothpaste stains in the sink, shaved whiskers on the counter top, and - in the toilet, which has been left open - shorn locks of dark hair.

The terrace is empty except for a dusty, sun-bleached wicker table, an ashtray, and about two dozen extinguished cigarette butts (mostly in the ashtray). There are no chairs, and it seems like an uncomfortable spot to have a smoke. Looking down from the terrace into the backyard, one can see in the nearly extinguished sunlight that a tarp has been spread across the back righthand corner of the garden. Beneath it, there seems to be a cage for small animals.

The door to the closet is locked on the bedroom side, but open on the library side. The closet on the right is completely empty. The closet on the left is packed with boxes and piles of old, folded clothes.

Third Floor
The front bedroom is decorated similarly to the second floor bedroom: unfrilled, whites and pastel greens. The bed has apparently been moved, and there is a space on the floor where someone has lain out a comforter, some sheets, and a pillow. The curtains are pulled on the front window.

There are two closets near the front bedroom, which are standing open. The larger is a broom-closet, and the smaller is being used to store linens. In the broom-closet two unmatched suitcases, one red plaid and one brown, stick out and prevent the door from shutting all the way. There is also what looks like a doctor's satchel, and, resting on that, a . . . hat? It's been made from three or four strips of what might be stiffened animal hide.

To the left of the hallway closets, the bathroom door is cracked open, and the light is on. The door to the backroom is shut. The stairs continue upwards into the darkened penthouse.

(Layout and facade are from Manhattan Homes Inc. Parlor photo is from Photo Album and Biographical Sketch of Caroline Dunning Jones Woods (2003) by MJP Grundy. Bathtub photo is from "Choosing the Right Bathtub in Your Remodel" at Ritual hat is from the collection of the International Dunhuang Project, and is featured in "The Silk Road Project" by Valerie Hansen.)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Psychic and Businessman

(Image of crystal ball owned by Canadian Prime Minister MacKenzie King (1921-current) from Library and Archives Canada. "The Battle in the Teutonburg Forest, 9 AD" (1890) by H. Knackfuss, at theVarusschlacht Museum.)