Wednesday, January 21, 2009

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.)


Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"I do hate to call another ambulance after the first one," Henri said, starting to gather up the partially burnt papers, "but surely we must, yes?"

Feeling strangely separate from the horrible suffering on the bed, he looked out the window to see if he could tell where the papers were coming from.

Thelonius Jones said...

"I am not so sure."

Thelonius bent over to examine Gerloch's unconscious form.

"It looks as if the Occult community has discovered a new drug."

He picked up the vial and mentally compared it to the one he had sen at the police station.

"Evidently people are convinced that this substance, when injected into the body, provides some sort of Occult illumination. However, as you can see, it is likely just another intoxicant like Opium. Mystics have been using drugs to induce trances since the beginning of time."

He tossed Henri the empty vial.

"I'm guessing that our Swami was a user as well. Perhaps the drug is as addictive as Opium, and he suffered a withdrawal fit while on stage. someone with the resources to own an ambulance could also have the medical knowledge necessary to manufacture a drug..."

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"But his eye," Henri said, looking over his shoulder at Jones. "He cannot have wanted to do that to his eye, could he?"

da solomon said...

Gerloch was a tall, thin man. Except for his hair, which must have had dried after he lost consciousness, he appeared well-kept. His fingernails were short and free of dirt and his face was clean-shaven. While the so-called mage was no paragon of comeliness, he was certainly as blonde-haired and blue-eyed as any Aryan aficiando could want to be.

From the vantage of the window, Henri could see that there was a large pile of ash on the terrace. The scorch marks on the brick indicated that the fire had been set towards the center of the area. Since then, however, the wind the had blown its remnants into a corner near the door. Henri could see that the fire had not done its trick entirely, and that there were several sheets of half-burned paper among the debris.

Thelonius Jones said...

"I am at a loss to explain why someone would do such a thing with his eyes, but given that the man is lying on his back, with syringe in hand, it does not look as if he were forced into this position."

Thelonius paused, taking another look at Gerloch's eyes.

"Self mutilation is not unknown among the Occult community. It appears as if he...or someone...wanted to make sure that his eyes remained open despite the stupefying effect of the drug."

Thelonius framed the comatose man within the lens of his Leica and snapped a shot, careful to include the syringe and night table in his grisly photographic composition.

"What are on those papers?" He asked the Frenchman. "Anything of interest?"

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"They seem to be a rédaction on translations or editions of some text... poetry maybe? Someone has tried to burn them all outside. That makes me think they are trés important."

Henri handed the three papers in his hand to Jones so he could examine them. Henri stepped out onto the terrace to gather the other partially burnt pages.

"Papers are not important and one throws them on the fireplace," Henri said over his shoulder to Jones, "or simply puts them in the waste. One does not build a special fire on le balcon."

da solomon said...

On the terrace, Henri sifted gently through the ashes.

With but a few seconds of searching, he recovered seven more burnt sheets. Two bore English text, and the other five were in German (not shown). Henri could see that there had been much more that was now irretrievably lost to the fire.

(A slight edit has been made to the post text to clarify the condition of Gerloch's eyes.)

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius reviewed the ashen papers, lining each one up and taking a photograph after perusing the text.

"This seems like a comparison of Russian mysticism with counterparts in the Aryan mythology."

He examined the new pieces that Henri found on the terrace (photographing them as well).

"Yes, I suspect this is part of a larger manuscript. A book perhaps. The small fragment strikes me as a series of alchemical processes. Perhaps the occultists have discovered a new drug by following a recipe from an ancient book."

Thelonius began quietly searching the room, in hopes of finding anything else related to Gerloch's occultism, or the disappearance of the Swami.

Teresa said...

Cati decided it was time to find out what the fellas were doing. It had been pretty quiet, except for the frightened cat, so she had no idea what — or who — they might have found.

Still feeling a little spooked, she went up the stairs. She paused at the second floor, but thought she heard voices coming from the next landing, so she continued upward.

There was a light coming from the back room, and she could hear Henri's and Jones' voices. She also saw there was a light coming from what she assumed was the bathroom. Thinking a trip to the powder room was not a bad idea, she moved quickly and quietly along the hallway and pushed the bathroom door open.

da solomon said...

Now, this was interesting to Thelonius. He was honestly intrigued. This story wouldn't need any elaboration at all – it was the genuine article.

Of course, the motives behind the crime were probably all the same typically human drives - love, greed, avarice - but the stuff and substance of the affair was undeniably the occult. This still left the question: Were these men really onto something? The substance in question, was it anything more than a new 'drug'? Or would it soon find its way into society, where it would take on all the seedy mundaneness of marijuana and opium?

With hypotheses whirring in his mind, Thel had excitedly taken the scripts from Henri - and to good end too. Though the burns had done their damage and Gerloch's handwriting was, anyway, idiosyncratic, Thelonius could comprehend a good deal of the burnt fragments' German content. Of the five fragments, he felt that he could gather the gist of four of them, but the meaning of the fifth eluded him. The language was too specialized, and the constructions didn't make sense as they appeared on the broken page. He could try again later.

After completing the process of photographically documenting the scraps, he gave them back to Henri. As he began poking around the room, opening drawers, and checking under the bed, he communicated the gist of the German fragments to Henri.

As Henri and Thel looked over the rescued papers, Cati slipped into the third floor bathroom.

Immediately, she lost the urge to use the toilet. Directly in front of her, the shallow sink basin was positively filled with bile and vomit – and something more.

As though stirred into it, swirls of the substance she had seen leaking from the swami – "ectoplasm" – shimmered amongst the vile strands of mucous and undigested food.

"Oh my God!" Cati exclaimed. She clamped a hand over her mouth. "What is that?"

Hitherto unaware of the young dilettante's presence, Henri and Thelonius turned towards the hallway. Henri moved first to the door, and Thel behind him.

"Mademoiselle?" Henri asked, halfway in the hall and slightly uncertain as to whether or not open the door.

"Someone upchucked in here!" she answered from inside. "That stuff –"

"Mein Gott! Ich habe so viele Hände!" Thel halted in the doorway and, Lycra first, slowly turned around.

Gerloch was sitting straight up in bed. Arms limp at his sides, speculum hanging awkwardly from his eyelids, he barked, "Ich sehe euch!"

Thelonius felt his will melt a little. The man's voice sounded dry and forced.

Henri dodged back into the bedroom and Cati, all too eager to flee the bathroom, squeezed into the doorway behind him.

Henri gaped, "He's –"

"Shit!" Cati gasped. "What are you guys doing in here?"

"Drei, fünf - nein, ihr seit sieben," the man on the bed continued. "Wir sind sieben!" With increasing urgency, the words fell from his lips, but the rest of his face remained slack. "Sie ist hier mit mir. Ich sehe es - ein Auto-Unfall. Ein Mißgeschick." Henri did not understand the man entirely, but he had heard enough German in his life to know that Gerloch, eyes pried open by artifices both physical and psychological, was talking about a woman and a car accident as though he were watching it. "Sie ist mit mir dreifach! Ich bade darin. Es sollte nicht geschehen sein!"

Gerloch paused. His mouth hung open. Thel started, "Ich heiße mit –"

"Hört zu!" Cati cringed at the sudden order, and shrunk behind Henri. She felt him shivering. "Ihr habt keine Zeit! Er kommt! Drei Jahre, Tage - nein, Minuten. Es gibt so viele . . . Hände, Entfalten, Gesichter, Münder, umzingeln . . . drei Minuten! Ihr habt keine Zeit!"

Thelonius understood now that he was bearing witness to something like channeling, or at least a drug-induced trance. He raised his camera.

"Peterchen Haase hat den Spiegel! Hilf ihm! Unten! Hilf ihm! Peterchen hat den Spiegel!"

Henri found his voice. "What is he saying?"

Never tearing his eyes or his lens away from the sight, Thelonius answered Henri. "Someone needs help. Wer, Dominikus?"

"Laß ihn es nicht bekommen! Hilf dem Mann! - hilf Peter! - hilf mir!" Gerloch's head tilted to one side. It slowly fell. "So viele Hände und Entfalten . . ."


"Nur sieben von uns!" He fell back against the headboard. The handle of the speculum bounced on his face. His eye socket began to bleed.

(Thelonius passed a few German checks. The fragments that Thelonius can read have been posted. Also, in this order: Thel failed a SAN check (-1 sanity), Henri failed a SAN check (-2 sanity), Cati passed a SAN check, Henri passed an idea roll, Henri passed another SAN check (so he wasn't doubly stricken after his realization).)

Thelonius Jones said...

"Evidently we have three minutes until Gerlock thinks someone is coming. He says that we must help Peter Rabbit downstairs....who has the mirror. He wants us to help Peter...and not let 'him' whoever 'he' is get it...presumably the mirror."

He turned to Cati, "Did you notice any mirror downstairs...or any rabbit motif anywhere?"

"Evidently he thinks he..we are with a woman who has had an auto accident. his really three her plus him plus us makes seven....according to his ranting. He sees us as a group of seven."

Teresa said...

"Um, well, there was that rabbit with the clock in the front parlor," Cati said. She was slightly wide-eyed and looked a little stunned. "And, well, there's a rabbit in a hunch in the garden... I think. I didn't actually see it.

"But who's coming? And what does a rabbit have to do with Mags and the swami?"

Thelonius Jones said...

"I do not know, I am only translating his ravings. I suspect there is something hidden near the rabbit and the mirror. We should go check the clock..and possibly the hutch."

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"With us? A woman in a car accident? Not Millie. Does he think Millie's here?"

Henri shook his head, as if to dislodge the thought.

"No, of course not. She cannot be manifestement. I saw no mirror, but the mademoiselle is right, the rabbit clock. Let us see."

Henri turned and headed toward the stairs.

da solomon said...

Henri rushed towards the steps, down the steps. He flew through the parlor and went to the mantle. The rabbit clock - or really, just a rabbit holding a stop watch. There was no mirror to be seen here - in fact he had seen no mirrors except for the one at Gerloch's dresser, perhaps those in the bathrooms. On a hunch, he checked the fireplace first - there was nothing there, not even ash. The stuffed rabbit stared ahead with its glass eyes, not entirely unlike its owners'. The open stopwatch it held in its forepaws ticked . . . ticked . . . ticked. There was nothing obvious here.

Cati was right behind him on the stairwell. "I'll check the hutch!" She darted through the kitchen and into the garden once again.

There it was. The sky was darkened now, and she felt only slightly less apprehensive about approaching the cage, but she did. The hatch was on the right side of the structure, near the quivering pile of shavings and shredded newspaper.

"Hilf dem Mann . . . hilf Peterchen . . . hilf mir . . ." Gerloch mumbled as Thelonius began to follow the others. "Help the man - help little Peter - help me," he had said. It gave Thel a moment's pause.

Teresa said...

Still unsure of what she would find inside, Cati pulled on the cage's door. She reached in and, with two nervous but adept fingers, pulled at the towel quickly and yanked her hand out of the cage — in case the rabbit planned to bite her. Or in case it wasn't a rabbit after all.

da solomon said...

Cati whipped the towel back, flinging mildewed wood shavings and filthy bits of newspaper as she did. The hutch's occupant - a dusky brown rabbit - scrambled and fled to the far corner of the space. It sat there and twitched, nervously eying Cati.

It didn't look horrible. It did look scared, maybe even thirsty.

In the near corner, beneath where the scraps were, something caught Cati' eye. There were three of them wedged in between the seams of the boards: three little bottles like the one Thelonius had described. Inside each, something like mercury - like the vomit, like Ramanuja's ectoplasm - shimmered.

da solomon said...

(Cati passed a spot hidden check.)

Teresa said...

"I can't believe I've been scared of a bunny this whole time," Cati said. Then she called out, "Fellas! I think I've got Peter Rabbit here — and he's got some of that ectoplasm."

She picked up the rabbit and turned to see where the others were.

Thelonius Jones said...

At the sound of Cati's holler, Thelonius jogged back through the house to the rabbit hutch.

"Ectoplasm? Where?" He asked the young woman, then upon seeing the vials he arched an eyebrow in thought.

"That say the least."

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri went to Cati as well.

"How sweet," he said, looking at the rabbit. "Shall we take him away? Make him safe?"

He looked at the bottles of "ectoplasm."

"Is it the drug, and the swami he took it too and it made him sick, yes?"

Teresa said...

"Now seriously, fellas, what does this bunny have to do with that man upstairs?" Cati asked, holding the slightly dirty rabbit between her hands and floating it around in the air. "Does it have some kind of magic powers we don't know about? And do we really need to protect it from someone?"

da solomon said...

". . . and the swami he took it too and it made him sick, yes?" The question made sense in terms of Thel's drug theory. It was a good theory - it drew all the bits at hand into an almost comprehensible whole.

Except for one thing. On the smallest scrap of paper, the two entries at the top of the list had been "expulsion" and "extraction". Where from, "expelled" and "extracted"? From the rabbit? Hadn't one of the papers in German, the general of sense of which Thelonius had indicated to Henri while they were still upstairs, indicated that the conspirators had been prepared to try the process out on animals first? Perhaps this was a magic rabbit, after all . . .

Something clicked. What if there were other . . . guinea pigs? The thought made Henri shudder, and he remembered: Ramanuja was still missing. Surely, the swami had been here.

It was likely that the animal did need some aid, or at least some water. But in light of the missing swami the question seemed more moral, and less practical.

(Henri had an idea roll.)

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"I do not know. Perhaps they experimented upon this rabbit," Henri said. "It should have water and perhaps food. Do we leave now because the drugged man said someone is coming or do we go back inside? I think the swami, he was maybe an experiment too, like little Pierre Lapin here."

He turned to Jones.

"The German said nothing more? No places? No times?"

Thelonius Jones said...

The reporter shook his head, his dirty brown fedora sticking tightly to his narrow, sweaty head.

"He said nothing else. Perhaps those papers you found will provide a clue. We can cross reference the Russian and Aryan occult references, and see if it sheds any light."

Teresa said...

"Don't we only have a few minutes?" Cati asked. "How much time is left now?"

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"Three minutes altogether to save Pierre and the mirror," Henri said. "And we have not found the mirror."

He looked back toward the house.

"Perhaps we have a minute or a minute and half?"

da solomon said...

The answer to Henri's query came from the front door, which squealed as it opened and shook the house as it slammed closed. Perhaps Gerloch's sense of time had been skewed?

A voice hailed the master. "Nikus! We hafta talk." It wasn't a German accent - he was someone from the city. He was here.

No one called out in reply. At that moment, Thelonius, Cati, and Henri were in the backyard. Cati was still clutching the rabbit - she had felt its heart jump when the door slammed. She crouched slightly and angled her body into the kitchen doorway, where she could peek through the house. Behind her, the men quietly jockeyed for space to see over her. Caution was the unspoken rule.

At first there was nothing to see. "Listen, Nikus, Bull's not mad anymore. Water under the bridge. He made a mistake and we're sorry for it." He came into view. He was tall, dark-featured and snub-nosed, possibly black Irish. His hair was slicked back and, though he was calling out, his eyes seemed but halfway open, as though he might fall asleep on the spot. Henri recognized him.

In the man's hand, there was a revolver. "You hear me? I know you're there. The girl was a mistake, and he wants me to fix things."

He headed towards the stairs.

(The group is in the garden, just beyond the doorway to the kitchen. They have not been seen.)

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"'The girl,'" Henri whispered. "Millie. We must go. Is there a way out not through the house? I don't know what Pierre here has to do with this, but let's get him out of here."

da solomon said...

(The back garden has a high wall around it that could be climbed with a moderate show of athleticism. That route would lead into an alley. Also, remembering other townhouses like these, the characters can guess that it may be possible to scale the wall near the patio by the basement, which can be accessed through the back parlor on the first floor. That route would probably lead onto the patio of the house next door. If things were to get really desperate, then one might be able to go to the penthouse terrace (4th floor, above Gerloch's bedroom), and cross to another house's roof. Finally, there's always hiding.

FYI, the man did shut the front door behind him.)

Teresa said...

"I don't know how easy it would be to get out of here without that fella noticing us," Cati said. "Besides, what about the one in bed upstairs? And what about those vials?"

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri reached into the cage and pulled the bottles from the bottom of the rabbit hutch.

"We are not taking Pierre away as he asked?"

da solomon said...

The man began to climb the steps, pistol drawn. He made no effort to quiet his footfalls and, in fact, spoke loudly to Gerloch. "'Nikus, you here? Bull's . . . very sorry. I'm . . . very sorry. It was a terrible mistake. And we're sorry about the . . . mess downstairs. I promise to take care of him soon. We promise not to make anymore mistakes . . ."

He was now far enough up the stairs that he wouldn't see anyone moving through the ground floor. If anyone wanted to dart through the house to escape, this was the moment.

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius gave a silent wave for his companions to follow as he made his way through the house to the front door.

He tried to quietly open the door, again urgently waving for Henri and Cati to exit.

Teresa said...

"Did you hear that?" Cati asked. "The 'mess downstairs'? What if this fella's involved in the swami's disappearance? What if the swami is here somewhere?"

She held out the rabbit to Henri and handed it to him. "Take it. I don't see the point in saving a bunny," she said.

"If we're going to go do something dangerous, one of us ought to be prepared." Reaching into her purse, she pulled out her little derringer pistol.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri tucked the rabbit into his vest against his heart. He looked with surprise at Cati's gun. He shrugged and followed Jones, hoping that Cati would follow as well.

da solomon said...

Thelonius began to move across the hardwood floor, very carefully minding his steps. As he tiptoed into the foyer, he felt a board bow under his foot. He paused. He knew what would come next.

Exactingly, almost painfully, He lifted his foot from the offending plank: it was as though the whole house groaned. Henri and Cati froze; Thel gritted his teeth. They listened.

In the stark quiet that followed, the trio heard the man with the gun resume speaking to Gerloch. Henri and Cati were best situated to hear the man's speech, but the distance muffled his words words. He'd be upon Gerloch very soon. Indistinctly, Henri thought he could already hear Gerloch's Germanic babble, as if beckoning to the man with the gun.

Cati hesitated in the kitchen. Whispering her misgivings to Henri, she passed the rabbit to him. Henri, who at any rate shared Thel's sensibility for escape, accepted the new ward. The rabbit squinted tiredly as it was tucked to his chest. Henri felt it kick a little against his ribs.

Though Henri could not manage to avoid upsetting the house's floorboards as he walked and though Thelonius could do nothing to prevent the internal workings of the doorknob from grinding against one another as he turned it, these tiny mishaps magnified by tension seemed to be of little actual consequence. With the front door open, the men could now appreciate the passing of the sunlight.

In the house, Cati was alone with the gunman and the probable lunatic.

da solomon said...

(Henri, who is most familiar with the area knows that, if needed, the police station is a short jog from number 17 - about two blocks.)

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"You think we should get the police before the mademoiselle is killed or kills someone? The station is close," Henri said. He pointed. "Two blocks that way. We can say we went for business and this man arrived and was threatening."

Thelonius Jones said...

"I think that the young woman is playing a dangerous game. These occultists are deadly serious and they will kill if they think their secrets are being compromised."

He looked back at the door, then over to Henri.

"Okay, you go get the police. and put the rabbit someplace safe, will ya? I'll stay here in case things get out of hand. I don't know what I'll do exactly, but..."

He trailed off, shrugging his shoulders as he turned and cocked an ear against the slightly ajar door, straining to hear what was going on inside.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri nodded and headed off at a jog toward the police station. He found the cop on duty.

"There is trouble at number 17 79th. We are go to get a fortune telling and a man comes in. He seems dangerous. My mademoiselle is still there. I fear for her. Si'l vous plait you will go?"

Henri hoped the flush he got from the run makes him appear more afraid than he feels. He wanted to appear frantic with worry and, as usual, a slightly stupid, harmless foreigner.

(ooc: I'm going to be computerless for an unknown amount of time--this baby needs repairs. Sorry.)

da solomon said...

There were three cops in the front lobby when Henri arrived, standing around in their frocks and talking over coffee and donuts. A pot-bellied patrolman was recounting a story to the others.

"No foolin', I saw the genuine article: The real Bobbed-Haired Bandit!"

" - I heard dat when Gray an' Casey caught 'er, dey were real nice about it. 'Sorry about yer baby last Saturday,' Casey says."

"A real classy fella. Good reflection on the force -"

"An' hot tomata', she's a looker!"

"She looks taller in the papers."

"No tellin' what dames'll do these days!"

When Henri burst in, they were taken aback at his hurried explanation.

"Madamo-" started one, quizzically.

"His lady's in trouble!" explained the pot-bellied fellow. He quickly sat his coffee down and turned to Henri. "Take us there!"

And with that, the three cops and Henri started out the door and towards number 17.

(It will take some time for Henri to arrive at the station, fetch the police, and return with them. In the meantime, and while Deborah's computer is getting repaired, events will continue at the house.)

Teresa said...

Gripping her pistol in her hand, Cati crept through the back of the house and went out into the courtyard. She stood at the top of the stairs for a moment, took a deep breath, and walked down.

da solomon said...

One step. Two, three. She was in the tiny courtyard now. Really, it wasn't much. Certainly it wasn't big enough to host anything like the gatherings that came to Cati's mind when she heard the word, 'courtyard.' Before her the basement door, chained and locked. Was there really anything down there? The gunman, whom Cati could only assume was intent on murder, seemed to think so.

The old lock gave way easily to Cati's deft picking – oh, what can't a girl do with a bent paper clip and two bobby pins! It had been a long time since she had tried anything like opening a lock, and it was somewhat satisfying to know that she still had the knack.

The night sky was above her, but how much darker was the stairwell below her. Cati paused, listening intently for any sign of life in the basement – or, for that matter, any clue to the status of the man with the revolver. Her Derringer and the single bullet it held was only a small comfort.

There was sound: water dripping into a puddle or a sink, clothing shifting or rubbing, what might have been a sigh. Quietly Cati closed the basement door behind her and crept down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs she paused – just a second spared – to allow her eyes to adjust to the darkness


More than a breath, but not quite a word, the source of the noise was only a few feet away, somewhere in front of her. The room was full of the dim forms of bulky furniture. A table was the in the middle of the room.


She aimed her gun towards the noise, towards the table. She could wait no longer. Half-blind, Cati slid her feet from the last stair and found the wall with her free hand. She reached forward into the dark, hoping to find a cord and a light bulb – and she did. Her jaw tightened, and she pulled the chain.

Maybe it was just his nose for trouble. Maybe what he had said to Delaney about helping a damsel in distress was truer than he had thought at the time. But now the dame's predicament was her own damn fault.

Whatever the case was, Thelonius couldn't tear himself away from the front door. It wasn't in him to just leave Miss Predoviciu there in the house by herself – and besides, something could yet happen. On the other hand he didn't have the chutzpah – or stupidity – to go back inside.

He could still hear the traces of voices upstairs. If he had to guess (and why not?), Gerloch was rambling at the gunman now. The gunman's own voice was louder, and Thelonius could make out snippets of his words. He tone was no longer facetiously imploring; he was demanding something. Thelonius had a good idea what that was.

There wasn't a sound from Cati. Curious, gutsy, a decent photographer, and apparently very, very quiet – she might make a good photojournalist herself. If she lived long enough . . .

Cati's mouth opened as though to gasp, but no sound came from her throat. Poor Ramanuja.

His face was obscured by a veritable array of thin brown tubes bound into bunches of four, which were extended into his nose, his mouth, his ears. One tube led to the corner of each one of his eyes, which were fastened shut with black tape. Another bundle of three or four was tucked under each of his arms pits, and all the tubes converged upon a boxlike machine sitting on a nearby stand. It was about the size of a breadbox, and featureless save for three gauges, three knobs, and three red lights, arranged in rows of like, one above the other. From that machine ran three tubes leading to another contraption on its own stand. This one was composed of three cylinders held together in a frame, each one topped by what appeared to be mechanical diaphragms.

Happily the machines were turned off at the moment. All the gauges rested at zero, the lights were not on, and the diaphragms sagged into the cylinders. Cati did not want to see those diaphragms plunging up and down, raising and lowering the levels of whatever liquid they were drawing from, or pumping into, the swami's body.

Leather belts were wrapped around Ramanuja's hands, feet, and forehead, securing him tightly to the metal tabletop. His turban lay in a pile on the floor with his outer coat; his shirt was unbuttoned on his chest; his pants were undone and open; but his shoes were still on his feet and laced. He looked exhausted, dehydrated, and scarcely half-alive. Though the machines, the tubing, and the table all appeared vaguely medical in nature, Ramanuja had obviously received little actual medical treatment, and the basement was hardly sterile. It was damp and well stocked with all the normal detritus one casts into their basement or attic: old mops and brooms, pails, piles of blankets, a moth-eaten hunting trophy. The stag's mouth and eyes were open as if it was even now panting as it tried to outrun the hunter.


He uncurled his fingers, as if waving at her.

It was almost too much for Cati to bear. Her knees weakened, her hands begin to shake. So much can happen in a day.

(Thel passed a listen. Cati passed a locksmith check and two sneaks, but failed a sanity check. -2 sanity.)

da solomon said...

Pigeons fluttered. Somewhere a driver honked a horn. A lapdog barked once. One of Gerloch's neighbors was playing Who's Sorry Now? on a phonograph. There was laughter from across the street. The city moved on oblivious to the happenings at number 17.

Just like a friend
I tried to warn you somehow

In so far as anyone can be truly capable of it, Thelonius strained to listen. He held his breath and tried to block out the sounds of the city around him. Yet, as he strained, the song - that distant, scratched recording - impinged upon his hearing and seemed to exhaust his attentive abilities.

You had your way
Now you must pay

He could tell that Gerloch had ceased babbling. There had been no gunshot, nor any other noise. Likewise, there was no sign of the gunman and nothing from Cati.

Dammit! What was she doing down there? Where were the police?

Teresa said...

Cati wiped her left palm on her skirt, then took her pistol in that hand so she could dry her right palm. Holding the derringer at the ready once more, she walked closer to the swami.

"Oh, shit," she muttered under her breath. "Oh, shit."

Cati looked at the all the tubing, bewildered. She touched Ramanuja gingerly on the shoulder. "Are you okay? I mean, I can see that you're not in great shape. But who did this to you? Well, obviously, that crazy man upstairs did. But why? What's the purpose of all this? And why you? Why Mags?" She paused in her barrage of unanswered questions to grip the swami's shoulder. "Can you hear me? Can you respond at all?

"Are you okay?"

da solomon said...

The song continued in the house next door.

. . . now you must pay
I'm glad that you're sorry now

Like a piece of the song or a sound accidentally reproduced in the record, Thelonius heard Cati's voice echoing from the basement. "Are you okay?" She had found someone down there.

right to the end
just like a friend . . .

Just at that moment, through the crack of the open door, Thelonius heard the man's footfalls coming down the stairs, and in a hurry.

Ramanuja uttered that one mock-syllable to Cati through his mouthful of tubes, "ungh". How could he breath? Could she pull the tubes from him without injuring him? It was best not to - but how could she help?

Then she heard them - the footsteps on the main stairs. The gunman was coming, and Cati knew that she was out of time.

The policemen were not content to jog. They ran down the block, and Henri followed as best as he could with dirty little Peterchen in his vest.
Ahead he could see Thelonius standing at the door to number 17.

(We'll consider ourselves to be in combat rounds now. Henri and the police can be at the house in two rounds. Thelonius and Cati have actions; the gunman will enter Thel's view through the door this round.)

Thelonius Jones said...

Where the Hell are the coppers?

Thelonius silently wondered as he heard the gunman hustling down the stairs. He knew that Cati was in danger of being discovered, so he did the first thing he could think of to distract the gunman from going down to the basement.

He pulled open the front door and snapped a photograph.

Then, hoping that the gunman would follow, he began to run away, towards the street.

Teresa said...

Cati looked for a suitable piece of furniture and ducked behind it. She gripped her pistol in her sweaty hand. It had been a long time since she'd fired a gun, and she wasn't entirely sure she'd want to fire one now. Shooting rats was not exactly the same as shooting a person — even if this one was merely a very large rat.

da solomon said...

Taking cover behind an all but cast-out desk, Cati crouched and listened.

She traced the quick thumps of footsteps down the stairs, onto the floor above her - her fingers clenched the tiny gun even more tightly - and . . . he stopped, said something. Cati heard a sound of hard soles sliding above her. The footfalls resumed, but now they were headed towards the front door, outside.

He was escaping!



The man stopped in his tracks. His face, ever calm turned towards Thelonius. The gunman's mouth opened as if to utter a curse - but he found no use for one and instead raised his gun.

"You - stop!"

When Thelonius did not do anything of the kind, the gunman could do nothing but follow.

(Thelonius is in the street, where Henri and the police officers are almost upon him. The gunman will be in the front door at the beginning of the round. One more action from everybody!)

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"Peter is getting away!" Henri cried, in hopes it would distract the gunman. After all, the German had felt it was important that 'peter rabbit'—whether it was this rabbit or not—should get away. Henri hadn't felt the lack of a gun so keenly since the War.

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius high tailed it into the street. Upon seeing Henri and the police, he made a beeline for them hoping to get behind some sort of cover before the gunman took another shot.

da solomon said...

The gunman made it as far as the front door before his eyes ran from the photographer to the blue uniforms charging towards him.

Finally his calm demeanor broke. His eyes widened in fear, and he bore his teeth in a wide grimace. The expression on his face might have been articulated many different ways, but the most obvious was, "Crap! I'm jailbait!"

Rather than aggravating things by trying to shoot his way out of the situation, he quickly ducked back inside the house, pulling the door shut behind him.

Seeing this, the pot-bellied officer, who had been moving with admirable speed for his bulk, directed one of the two other cops, a spry young officer, to get around to the alley. In the meantime he and the other officer ran to the door.

In the basement, Cati remained hidden. She crouched behind the desk and closed her eyes to better visualize the happenings above her. The gunman had made it to the door, had stopped, and now was running back into the house, across the first floor, towards the backyard. His footfalls faded into the garden.

Then the front door - it must have been shut and locked - rattled. Someone was ramming it, slamming their body into it. It must be the cops! For once, Cati was grateful that the bulls had come to crash the party.

Creeping carefully around the desk, past Ramanuja, and up the stairs, Cati paused before opening the door to the courtyard. With a final great crash, the police officers managed to break in with their shoulders.

Cati knew that she was safe. She locked the safety, replaced the gun in her purse, and opened the basement door. It would be better, she thought, to draw their attention to her than to surprise them.

"Hey, over here! This guy needs help!," she called out. Taking heart, she came fully into the courtyard, from which point she could see the two policemen who had come in through the front door. The larger of the two pointed in her direction, and ran on towards the backyard, still chasing the gunman, who must have made it over the fence by now. The other dashed in Cati's direction.

"Miss, you alright?"
"Yeah," she replied. She pointed to the basement, "But he's not."
The policeman gave her a puzzled look, then turned to go down into the basement.
"Hey - take a deep breath first," Cati warned. "And there's another guy upstairs."

The officer walked down the stairs, .38 drawn. I should get one of those, Cati thought as she regarded her Derringer.

Just a moment later, Cati heard him swear. "Mother Mary what's goin' on here?"

There were four shots from the alley.

(Action wraps up in the next post, but feel free to continue actions here freely until that's up.)

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri stepped into the house behind the police. When he saw Cati he swept her into his arms, careful not to squash the rabbit still in his vest.

"I told them we were sweethearts, yes?" he muttered quietly in her ear. "And we came for the fortune telling. When we are looking for the magicien we hear the other man come in. I fear you are in danger and rush for the police. That is the story,yes?"

He then drew back, arms now around her loosely.

"Grâce à Dieu you are well, my darling," he cried.

Teresa said...

Cati returned the embrace and put on a wide smile. "Yes, I'm fine. Thank goodness you brought the police." She added quietly to him, "I wasn't really interested in shooting at that fella myself!"