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.)


Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius held up a hand, silently asking his companions to pause their activities. He beckoned them closer with a crook of his finger.

"We should be clear on the fiction that we are adopting for this visit," He said, is a whisper that was difficult for even his companions to hear.

"All indications point to the fact that this Gerloch is likely a believer in the supremacy of the Aryan race as evidenced by the 'for the blonde and the manly' epithet on his business card. "

Thelonius paused, looking between Henri and Cati to make sure they understood.

"If there is any way we can play on those sympathies, I believe we will be more successful in gaining the man's trust. As far as out parts go, I was invited along by the two of you given my interest in the occult. Have you decided upon your fictitious reasons for visiting this man?"

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"He says on his carte he is a wizard, yes?" Henri said. "Maybe we can say that the young Mademoiselle and I wish to marry, but her father does not approve. We want a spell to change his mind. It is very soigne--tidy, non?. We are young and strong and handsome. I am blond. He would want us to have babies, would he not?"

Teresa said...

"Well, except that I'm not," Cati said, pulling her cloche hat further down over her short-cropped brunette hair. "Otherwise, that idea suits me just fine."

Without waiting for further approval, she walked into the front hallway. She turned back to look at the two men. "Well, whaddya waiting for?"

Cati walked forward purposefully, calling out again, "Hello? Anyone home?"

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius followed the brash young woman into the house.

He peeked into each room as he passed by, looking for anything unusual that might catch his eye.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri followed the others in. He too kept his eyes open, looking in particular for anything that might speak to him of Millie. It was her death and her death alone that made him doubt all this magic business was just hokum.

Teresa said...

Cati continued toward the foyer. She paused in the doorway of the front parlor and glanced in.

"This fella needs a new decorator," she commented to her companions. "Look at that crazy rabbit clock. Who puts these things in their home?"

Cati stopped at the foyer and, turning on the light there, looked at the items collected on the table. She peered closely at the Masonic symbol resting there.

She moved on to the back parlor, unaware of where the others were behind her. Turning on the light, she looked around the room. She saw the crystal ball in the center of the room and walked up to the table it sat on. She reached for it, but she stopped herself, her hand hovering ever so slightly above it.

"What are we looking for anyway, Jones?" Cati asked.

da solomon said...

Thelonius peered into the study. Opposite the fireplace and the mounted rabbit, there was a painting of a battle between Imperial soldiers and Germanic tribesmen. He guessed that the figure on the horse was probably Arminius, a German chieftain responsible for setting in motion the events that would establish the northward boundary of the Roman Imperium for most of its existence.

Cati was in the know about different kinds of things, and had seen other prints of this less popular work before. Indifferent to it, she was instead attracted to the crystal ball in the back room. She waved her fingers over it. "What are we looking for anyway, Jones?" she called to Thelonius.

As if in answer to her inquiry, there was a soft thump from upstairs, near the back of the house - like a door gently shutting. Henri looked towards the stairway, where the lights were already on, and then to Cati and Thelonius, who were examining the crystal ball and the knickknacks in the foyer, respectively. They had not heard it.

(That's a history for Thel and a listen for Henri.)

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"There is someone upstairs," Henri said to the others in a low voice. "I heard the moving about."

He turned and started climbing the stairs.

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius nodded silently, watching as Henri moved up the stairs. He tried to follow, moving slowly so as not to make any noise.

da solomon said...

Henri and then Thelonius head up the stairs as quietly as possible. Despite his best efforts, the stairs creak beneath Thel's weight. With every groan, the muscles in his back and his jaw tighten. He has the feeling that he is not meant to be here and that whatever noise he makes could bring down upon him consequences - of what sort? He doesn't know. Henri looks over his shoulder at Thelonius - by shear luck, the dressmaker's own ascent has been completely silent.

Cati rests her hand lightly on the table in the back parlor and watches them, listening to the stairs' complaints. She glances at the crystal ball and mulls her next move.

Reaching the top of the stairs, the men enter upon an entirely darkened floor. The only light being shed is from the stairwell, which is undecorated except for yellowish wallpaper bearing tiny faded-blue floral designs. Henri can make out the light switch in the hallway - but then again, the lights are already on upstairs . . .

(As you can see from the new map in the updated main post, the only red line on this floor is at the steps to the third floor. So, for any action other than going to the third floor, please make as much use of my descriptions (also in the main post) as you like in your own comments. As before, I will intervene when a character's action calls for it, or when called upon to do so.)

Teresa said...

Cati walked to the bottom of the stairs and watched the two men ascend to the second floor. She wasn't quite sure what they were going after, since she hadn't heard a thing.

She reached into her purse and felt the cool metal cylinder tucked beneath her lipstick case and an empty flask.

"I hope at least one of you is heeled," she whispered after them.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri gives a glance over his shoulder at M. Jones. With a shrug he tilts his head toward the continuing stairs, hoping to indicate that he feels they may as well ascend.

He continues on, not pausing on the second floor, toward the lit third floor. If Jones is more curious about the second floor, so be it. Henri wants to see if anyone's home upstairs.

He continues to try to be quiet as he goes up, despite the creaks Jones has stirred up.

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius pauses at the second floor landing, but as Henri continues to ascend, he waves at the Frenchman to halt.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri pauses, looks over his shoulder at Jones. He nods and steps back down to Jones' side.

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius whispers to Henri, "I don't know if it is a good idea for you to go up there alone. I am not as light on my feet as you seem to be."

He paused, holding back a smile at the unintended pun.

"Is there a way you could sneak upstairs to get a look without being seen? Assuming that there is anyone up there that is."

Teresa said...

"Amateurs," Cati muttered to herself as the men's footsteps creaked and groaned against the floorboards.

She needed a cigarette. She had no idea what the others were up to, she had walked into a stranger's house completely uninvited, and she needed a cigarette.

Cati wandered through the rear of the house. She passed through the kitchen and realized that she hadn't eaten all day. Curious about what a so-called-wizard keeps in his cabinets, she peeked inside before moving on.

She went out into the garden, shutting the door quietly behind her.

da solomon said...

It appeared that the so-called wizard kept his cabinets well stocked with a variety of grains and lentils, as well as an array of what Cati took to be cooking utensils. She might have been impressed by the collection of gears, screens, and handles if only she had any clue as to what most of the utensils did – neither cooking nor wizardry were really among Cati's hobbies.

She stepped into the garden, and immediately pulled out her cigarette case. Though the daylight had not entirely faded, Gerloch's – a wizard's name if there ever was one - backyard was cloaked in the shadows of the surrounding buildings, and darker than she had expected. Cati plugged a cigarette into the long stem filter she carried in her purse at all times, and turned to strike her match against the wall. As she did so, she noticed that three stories above her, there was a light on. She drew the flame to the cigarette with her breath.

She began to exhale, and pulled the match away to shake it out -

There was a sound behind her – something scratched at wood.

Slowly, she lifted her match and turned around.

In the back corner of the garden – which was less a garden than some poorly laid steppingstones and patches of crabgrass – there was a wooden structure covered with a tarp of dark cloth. It was a cage of some kind, for its entire front side was wire mess.

Something moved, again, inside it.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"I will try," Henri whispered to Jones, apparently oblivious of any humor in the man's comments. "You look on this floor, yes?"

Henri turned back and moved to creep up the stairs, trying his best to be quiet and keep himself from being seen by anyone who might be on the third floor.

da solomon said...

Henri crept up the stairs as quietly as possible. It was so much harder now that he was actually thinking about it and trying to move without making the steps creak. He moved on his tiptoes, tried to feel for bumps under the carpeted steps before putting his weight onto them - but he was no cat burglar.

When he reached the top step at the third floor, his arrival was announced with a long, loud creak. Below, in the hallway of the second floor, Thelonius heard the creak noise, and briefly felt something like satisfaction.

Henri froze. He didn't know why he froze - maybe Thelonius had put the heebies jeebies on him - but he instinctively desired to be silent in that moment. Looking up, he saw that the lights where not on in the stairwell to the penthouse. Suddenly conscious of the open penthouse door above him, Henri felt that he should not bring attention to himself, not in this house, not on these stairs. He didn't move a muscle for fear of producing an even louder, longer groan as he lifted his foot from the offending plank.

Crash! - the door to the back bedroom thumped loudly against its frame as something, someone, was trying to push it open . . . or throwing something into it . . .

Henri didn't jump at the sound, but his shoulders tightened, his fists formed themselves into balls, and he shifted his weight on the steps. The floor didn't creak as he stepped back from the door.

And again, a thump, and a rattle . . . something, someone was inside the room . . . trying to come through the door . . . trying to get out . . . it couldn't turn the knob.

Should he move away? He was facing the door now - behind him the open front bedroom was dark, and to his left, the door to the bathroom was cracked, allowing light to shine through. From beneath the back bedroom door, Henri could see light shining.

(Thelonius will also hear the noise, but not Cati, who is outside. Red-lined areas on the third floor are everything except the front bedroom and the hallway closets, see map in main post.)

Teresa said...

Cati gasped and dropped her cigarette. She tried to get a better look at the cage, but her match was burning down. She waved it out and reached into her purse for another one.

Lighting a second match, she moved closer to the structure in the corner. She tried to make out what was inside.

She hoped it was a dog. Or one of those exotic animals people liked to keep. Like a monkey, maybe, or a leopard.

Cati stopped a few feet from the cage and reached the match forward, hoping it would help her see what was inside.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri eyed the back bedroom door nervously. But surely it could stand against the attempts of what he assumed was an animal of some kind; a dog he expected.

Henri crept toward the front bedroom and when he saw it, picked up the strange hat-like object to examine it more closely.

Thelonius Jones said...

Hearing the knocking, Thelonius moved quickly up the stairs whispering, "Henri!"

He had his camera at the ready, in case something noteworthy were to happen.

Upon reaching the top of the stairs, he joined Henri in the front bedroom.

"Find something?" He asked in a hoarse whisper

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri held the hat out toward Jones, thinking it looked rather like something worn for a ritual and hoping Jones would understand it better than he.

"There's some kind of animal in the back bedroom, I think," he said. "I was afraid to open the door in case it was un chien du garde, the dog who guards."

da solomon said...

When Henri first touched the hat – and it was only his broad familiarity with apparel that had allowed him to identify it as such – what had struck him was how soft it was. The five or six hide strips of which it consisted were indeed stiff – otherwise how could such a haphazardly sewn piece stay together? – but they were not unpleasant to the touch. About a 6 and 1/2, Henri thought. A bit small. Though hides and skins were not in his usual repertoire, he felt that the material must have come from some small game animal, though not a rabbit or anything commonly used in haberdashery.

Cati bent down low to peer into the cage, her match ahead of her. It was a box with three sides, built so that it would fit into a corner. Even to Cati, who knew nothing about carpentry, the cage looked looked unstable, like whatever was in it could escape if only it rocked the box hard enough. The cage would topple, the mildewed wood would buckle, the nails would break free, and everything – critter and all – would come spilling out.

There was no food in the structure, but on the ground, Cati now saw the remnants of some long-dried vegetables. The weak little flame flickered. It lit the inside of the structure. Cati saw a little metal bowl, turned on its side and completely dry. She saw a pile of scraps in one corner – paper, wood shavings, tiny round droppings. Pellets from some small animal. She came closer to the cage. The pile shivered.

As he extended the hat to Thelonius, Henri passed it through the light from the stairwell. There was an imperfection, he noticed, on the inside surface of one of the strips that made up the piece's crown. He drew the hat back to his face, intending to just hold it for a moment longer, to satisfy his curiosity, and to pass it on.

"My God!" he exclaimed softly, and quickly pressed the hat into Thel's hands.

Thel took it. He had never seen anything like it and was completely lost as to its use – though "ritual" seemed like a fair enough guess, given the occupation of the man in whose home they had found it. He looked back to Henri quizzically.

Henri blinked, his mouth open. "I think . . . I think there is . . ." He stuttered. "I think it's a knuckle!"

(Henri and Thelonius both passed sanity checks.)

Thelonius Jones said...

Dropping the hat back on the table, Thelonius picked up the camera to snap a picture of the grisly flesh 'hat', "Human sacrifice has long been a part of the dark occult circles," He said, scowling as the Leica's bulb flashed briefly with light.

"This grisly token shows us the kind of man we are dealing with. C'mon Henri. We need to see what's in that back bedroom. Maybe it's not a dog after all, but a poor victim in need of our assistance."

He glanced over at the man, trying to gauge if he had the stomach for possibly even grislier revelations.

"Let's spare Miss Predoviscu the unsavory details of our find. No sense in upsetting her sensibilities."

Teresa said...

Cati was glad that no one had been witness to the fact that she'd been afraid of what was probably a bunny. Funny, the cage had looked larger from the other side of the garden — the fading light had played tricks on her eyes, apparently.

She went back to where she'd dropped her cigarette. It had burned out, so she simply reinserted it into its holder and lit it again. She kept an eye on the cage, even though she knew there was nothing to be afraid of. She also wondered if the creature needed something to drink — and if the ASPCA needed to be alerted to an owner who was clearly neglecting his pet.

Then she turned to go back inside.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri was pale, but he set his lips in a determined line. He would not panic, despite having touched cured human skin. He would not. He swallowed once. Then he took a deep breath and nodded.

"Yes," he said. "Let's see if we can help anyone who needs it."

He took another deep breath and turned to walk to the door of the back bedroom. He paused at the door, listened to hear if the creature inside was still trying to get out, and then reached for the knob.

(ooc: if the door opens toward him, he will open it and step behind it, gesturing for Thel to follow him, in case it is an animal and just wants to flee. if it opens in, he'll flick it open and then step aside as best he can.)

da solomon said...

(New posts, "Poor Things" and "Ashen Scraps".)