Saturday, January 23, 2010

Breaks for the Broken


Thelonius nodded his head and let his weight settle into the crook of Henri’s arm. He lost his rigidity and finally, thankfully, after holding onto a world newly filled with pain and terrors, let himself black out.

Passing willfully into unconsciousness was an uncharacteristic concession for Jones. He was a man who prided himself on his skepticism. Remaining skeptical, he knew, was more a matter of skill and practice than disposition. Maintaining such constant levels of doubt required alertness, active critical faculties, and a great amount of energy. Thelonius was no psychoanalyst, but he knew something about the human mind and the way it directed its energies. It wanted belief, it wanted to accept the situation. Only when the mind was presented with a world that was founded on certitude could it effectively set about solving the problems posed by that world. This was why it was so simple for so many people to accept the most outlandish beliefs: That moral degeneration was just the way of the world. That families could be anything but dysfunctional. That there was a kind, fatherly divinity guiding the faithful. That there was forgiveness for lingering sins. That a ragged jerk from Chicago could make it in New York.

Thel’s dedication to skepticism might have gone a long way towards explaining why, despite his talents, he had never gone very far as a reporter, let along as a reporter of occult circumstances and the unknown. He had never allowed himself to accept the world or his city as it was, as it was presented to him. He couldn’t just write the story. He had to pry it open. New York City – after London, the second biggest city in the world – was a city built on dreams, or so went the cliché, and as such it was a disorderly pile of dislocated desires. Thelonius was attracted to the darker fantasies of the metropolis’s residents, and it was his prerogative to dissemble each of them. Like a physicist, he reduced them into their smallest, most rational elements, forestalling belief until he could grasp each of a dream’s tiniest components. In a way, he was a mechanic of fantasies, taking them apart and putting them back together in a new way, in a way that made sense.

Then one of those fantasies refused to be dissembled. It had reached out from the pile of New York fantasies, grabbed Thel by the nape of his neck, and tried to dissemble him.

He had hung on for that moment for so long. Passing out – relaxing his alertness and doubt, finally allowing his skeptical faculties to enter a state of quietude – was the least Thelonius could do. He knew it was okay to let his eyes close, to let his consciousness go grey. He deserved a break.


People came to New York in search of new lives, wasn’t that the story? Not just immigrants, but Americans too. Americans and foreigners alike, anyone who wasn’t born in the city, shared a kind of faith – a faith that here, with a hard work, they’d find something new and worthwhile. A few newcomers found their ways into New York City by following paths paved with their own ambitions. They fled from nothing, and good for them. Many others were leaving behind poverty. Others fled countries ruined by misgovernment, corruption, warfare, famine. Henri had seen something of that – abroad, but also in the faces of the city’s destitute. The suffering of New York City was a chimera pieced together by the woes of millions of people from thousands of lands. A few were refugees of another kind, leaving behind adversities of an intangible or personal nature. They were all, in some way, Henri’s people, though he couldn’t always bring himself to admit it. Henri had achieved some repute here, and his station
– success earned with his own creativity and labor, a real American dream -
afforded him some social insulation, which separated him from majority of immigrants, wherever their origins. He made his ladies beautiful, and they made him who he was: Monsieur Henri.

“He’s going to live,” Doctor Cherry had said, “There will be scarring. Some internal damage, perhaps. He will have to stay here for a some time; a few weeks at minimum.” That was the lucky part, and a relief to Henri – sadly, it was already easy for Henri to believe that a man could survive injuries such as the ones Thelonius had suffered. The misadventure of Henri’s association with Thelonius, as young as it was, was drawing energy away from Henri’s work, from his ladies, and from everything that Henri had worked hard to earn these past few years. When Cherry had asked, “Mister DuMonde: what happened to Mister Jones?” Henri had been forced to struggle for an answer. He had settled for a lie, and told the doctor that it had been an accident.

The doctor had taken his arm gently, insistently, and pulled Henri to the side of the corridor. “Sir, you’re not being completely honest.” Henri was not ashamed of his lie, for often lying or padding the truth was simply the socially correct thing to do, and he was certainly not harming anyone by avoiding the defiant truth of monsters and wizards. Yet, dishonesty has a way of compounding itself, and the greater untruths upon which most persons’ lives are founded tend to slither out and build connections with all of the peripheral fibs that accumulate during one’s time.

Henri was acutely aware of the precariousness of piling lies upon lies, and this was why he had answered the doctor’s question with a sharp, “Oui, but – it is better that you do not know everything.” Henri’s tone towards the doctor had been slightly paternal, overtly annoyed, and very serious. He was exhausted. He had felt his left eye quiver in its socket, and had caught himself wondering if the doctor had seen it shaking.

Maybe he had. Doctor Cherry had swallowed and given Henri a long look before he said, “Okay,” and relaxed his grip on Henri’s arm. “I don’t know what you people – that swami and the rest of you – are playing at. It’s exacting a toll on your health, to be sure. In my opinion, you should take some time off from it. From everything. You look tired.”

Henri had broken from Cherry’s gaze to turn his eyes back down the hallway towards Thelonius’s room. Henri felt tired. But a break would have meant leaving his business in the hands of his assistants – or closing it down altogether – for a couple of weeks. Now, sitting by Thelonius’s side, fondling the tri-folded pamphlet that Cherry had given him, Henri wondered if that wouldn’t be enough to kill his New York dream. He did, after all, work in the world of fashion, and fashion was nothing if not ephemeral. To abandon it for two weeks might cost him more than money.


There was a knock at the door. It opened just enough for a man to peek his head in.

“Captain Delaney,” Henri said wearily, none too enthused about the police officer’s arrival. He forced the pamphlet back into his pocket.
Before Henri could begin to explain Thel’s condition, Delaney cut him off. “I already know. Listen.” He clutched his hat and another manila envelope. “It was the mob,” he said, looking over his shoulder. “Can I sit down?”
Henri directed Delaney to the chair at the foot of Thel’s bed.

“A mob hit,” the captain explained as he came in. “Louie Two-Piece was in there and now he’s dead.” His eyes narrowed as he talked, and he shut the door. “Do I believe that anybody – anybody – as gunning for Two-Piece? Maybe. He was a shithead, pardon my language.” His hair was mussed and his collar was showing signs of sweat stains. “Now, do I believe that anybody might murder the guy by gouging his eye out with a bottle of Perrier and then walking away just to let him bleed to death? No, but that’s how it was delivered to me. Signed, stamped, and delivered. Two-Piece was still kicking when I got there. Kicking and screaming about his eye. Goddamned sloppy job if it was a hit!”

Henri could scarcely imagine how the man had fallen so as to jam a water bottle into his eye socket. Just as difficult to grasp was why Delaney, the politely overbearing officer from the 33rd precinct, the very man who had met them after the debacle at Gerloch’s home, was letting Henri have such easy access to what was surely guarded police business

Delaney sat down. “But it wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. There were a dozen other injuries. Bullets in the wall, but only one guy was shot. A bus boy, or someone – just a kid – who’d want to shoot him?” Against his will, Henri thought of Cati, and wondered what she was doing. Delaney continued. “Between you and me and him,” he said, jabbing thumb at Thelonius’s resting body, “I know that you know that we three know a lot more than we’re supposed to know. But you know a lot more than I do – I think. I can’t put it together. And maybe I should keep it that way.” Delaney bit the corner of his pale lip and bowed his head. “Maybe I don’t need to know.”

“But. I saw the scene. I saw the two of yous and that pretty European bird leaving the scene.” Delaney lifted his face and chopped the air with his hand as he spoke. It sounded to Henri as if he might be getting ready to scold him. “Just happened to be around, you know. So. Where is the girl?” He paused for a second, but Henri had no immediate answer for him.

Truthfully, the dressmaker did not know where Cati and Emma had gone; he and Jones had lost them in the crowd escaping The Cellar the night before. Henri thought that they had been with the tuxedoed doctor. Henri shrugged.

Delaney grunted. “I hope you didn’t get her into more trouble than she can handle.” He was no longer squinting. His pale, scolding eyes were bearing down on Henri. “Nobody inside saw anything.” His gaze wandered as he recollected the testimonies of the patrons. “One second they’re sitting around having their drinks – oh, that’s old news in the department by the way, no one’s surprised – and the next second, everything’s come to pieces and they’re all torn and bleeding. That’s the story I kept getting. Before the chief passed word that we oughtta see to other cases. But –” he sighed “– it’s not for nothing that I have this badge. Two people died last night. Look at Thelonius! He looks like he took a sledge hammer in his face!”

True enough. Thel’s wounds looked even worse now that they had dried and were partially covered with rust-soaked bandages. His nose had needed straightening. Both of his lips were split. Two teeth had come out. His face was one spreading purple-black bruise. One eye was covered with a patch, and the other seemed sealed with a crust of dried tears and blood. That was only the external wounds. Cherry had indicated that there were internal injuries as well.

“I don’t like laying off. Just look at this. It’s atrocious. But there’s not going to be any investigation, if you follow me. Because maybe The Cellar is beyond the pale.” Delaney shook his head. “I saw the wreck. There were marks . . . look, was there –” Delaney drew breath. “Was there an animal in The Cellar? I mean, somethin’ big, like a bear. Is that what did this to Jones? If it was an animal, why didn’t anyone see it?”
Henri didn’t answer.
“Damn it,” Delaney sighed, shaking his head again. “Damn.”

Henri watched him remove the manila envelope from beneath his hat.
“This –” Delaney switched the folder from his left to his right hand by way of a shrug “– would just sit in a box in a locker if I didn’t pull it up. It was in a jacket in the bathroom. No ID on the jacket – light grey, cotton, nice material, designer label. The sort of thing a man with some taste might notice, Mister DuMonde. There was a mess of candles and marks in a stall too. A knife with an engraved handle. You remember any of this? Hookum, Jones’s especiality. The department took some photos, but I have a feeling you don’t need any of those.”

All this time, he had been fidgeting with the envelope. He handed it to Henri. “I thought Jones could figure it out. But, uh – ”

“No, you can give it to me.” It was Thelonius. Henri was not sure how long he had been awake and listening to the conversation, but he was thankful that the reporter could join them now and help them decide on a course of action.

Delaney visibly relaxed. “Nice of you to finally join us, Jones. Happy to see you’re not in a coma.”

(Thelonius, Henri, and Captain Delaney are sitting in a room on the third floor of St. Lawrence’s Hospital, where Ramanuja was or is. It is about eight o’clock in the morning, the day after the ruckus at The Cellar. The date is 30 April, 1924, and it’s about ten o’clock in the morning.

Thelonius’s hit points are seriously reduced. His total is currently 5 hit points. Cherry’s recommendation is three weeks bed rest under medical supervision. Given continuous medical care, the prognosis is good, and his hit points will recover fully. Thelonius feels like he might be able to push it and leave the hospital before that, but that would also incur physical consequences for him, which would include and go beyond a reduced rate of hit point recovery.

Henri’s body is in much better shape. His hit points are at their full value of 12 hit points again, but the wear of the supernatural upon his mind is significant. He is wise enough to know that he should seriously consider Dr. Cherry’s suggestion and seek some psychiatric help. He does not need to go to the sanitarium recommended by Cherry, but it would be easier to maintain face that way than it would if he checked into an institution inside the city.

To help clarify your options for action, I can make the following suggestions, which would be obvious to your player characters: Neither continuing the conversation with Delaney nor checking in on Ramanuja would require leaving the hospital. Finding Cati might be a little more difficult, but could start with a phone call. Tracking down Mr. White or Spider makes good sense for different reasons, but will probably require going out into the city. Over longer periods of time, such as those required for physical and mental recovery, studying clues, experimenting with the astral state, and even attempting to learn the procedures and recitations outlined in the various documents that Henri and Thelonius have procured over the course of their tribulations might be productive.

Thelonius currently has Cati’s vial in his jacket.

Please see the out of game blog for posting awards and xp.)


da solomon said...

(The brochure that Cherry gave Henri is here.)

Thelonius Jones said...

Theonius spoke slowly with his eyes closed, articulating carefully around his swollen lips.

"I would like to see the folder," he wheezed out, opening his eyes and turning his head slightly to look over to Henri.

The reporter turned his attention back to Delaney.

"This was caused by a man. The man in that grey suit. Nevermind how it happened, it is certain that he was the cause. When we learn more, we will share it with you."

Thelonius didn't want to verbalize what he remembered. How time in the club seemed to stop. How the man in grey....summoned...Rashfal. How Rashfal was clearly not a man.

He continued speaking to Delaney, "Thank you for following up, and for bringing us that." He nodded at the folder.

"While it is fresh, I would like to give you a description of the man in grey. Henri can fill in details as well. I suggest, however, that you do not simply seek him out and try and arrest him. My physical condition alone should be enough to prove that he is formidable. We need to be prepared. Perhaps the contents of the folder will help."

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

Henri pulled his chair a little closer to Jones' bed. He opened the envelope and slid its contents into his hands. He held things so that Jones could see them easily without sitting up, but so Henri could look as well.

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius scanned the document, occasionally asking Henri to shift the paper in one direction or another.

"It is some form of German, an archaic dialect I'm guessing. I will need a library to fully translate it, but I do see some things right off."

He paused, spending a few minutes scanning the text, darting from section to section.

"The drawing here," He indicated the inscribed pentagram, "And this phrase here - the Demon will fly - shows me that this describes some sort of ritual. I recognize the word God, and there is a reference to Taurus of the Zodiac. The short phrases here are likely an invocation, given the capitalized proper nouns used in abundance."

He looked up at Henri, then over to the Captain. "Delaney, I believe that man in grey was a self proclaimed mystic and this document may be one of his mystic rituals."

He swiveled his eyes to Henri, trying to capture the man's glance as he spoke.

"Our man may have thought he was summoning a Demon. The name Rashfal, was what he called it I believe. However, this document could just as easily be a work of fiction, as I see the name Carcossa, which I recall as being the name of a fictional city from a fellow journalist's writings. "

He paused, waiting for reactions from the two men.

Monsieur Henri DuMonde said...

"Mon ami, it is no work of fiction. I know what happened. I do not know what it was he did call, but he called something and it was not a bear or a wild dog, or a mafioso evil man, non. He may not know what he did, but he did do it."

A shiver ran down Henri's spine, making his shudder. Suddenly he did not want even to hold the vile paper in his hand. He set it down in Jones' lap, atop the pale, hospital blanket.

da solomon said...

Thank you for following up, and thank you for bringing us that,” Thelonius said.

“It’s . . . nothing.” Delaney regarded the yellowed page from the corner of his eye. “It would just sit around at the station,” he explained brusquely, waving it off. He took a breath and continued, “Yeah, you do that. Give me a description of this man in grey. Did he give you his name?”

Thelonius drew a verbal picture of the villain and Henri interjected with his own impressions of the man. The detective took notes on a coffee-stained napkin he had been carrying in his chest pocket like a handkerchief.

When Henri and Thelonius turned the topic of discussion to the recovered formula, the Captain quit writing. Squinting, he looked to Thelonius and asked, “You think this is . . . a real mystical ritual or some such?” He paused for almost an entire breath. “Of course you would, Jones!” he concluded, once again taking Thelonius for something other than the hard-boiled skeptic he tried to be. “And you, Mister DuMonde, you agree? So what happens? I say these magic words and a big six from Carcossa comes and rips everything apart for me? From Carcossa? Is that Italian?

“Let’s just suppose that this man – what was that name? – really does have an invisible thug at his beck and call. I’m crazy to say it, but okay, maybe even a demon.” His voice fell into a near-whisper, but remained emphatic. “It destroyed that downstairs room single-handedly, and no one saw a thing!” Delaney fiddled with his hat. “Jones, I have to ask, why were you there? It’s got something to do with Gerloch, doesn’t it? And that Margaret Whitcombe lady, too. What’s going on here? What am I supposed to do?”

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius closed his eyes.

"Captain Delaney, I did not say that this ritual summoned an invisible demon, those were your words."

He opened his eyes, looking up at the police officer.

"However, this writing IS a ritual of some sort, there is no mistaking the telltale signs. I have yet to encounter a magic ritual that actually worked."

He closed his eyes, his words trailing off. Was this an authentic demon summoning ritual? Rashfal felt real enough. And what about the apparent ability for the man in grey to stop time?

Thelonius pushed such thoughts away.

"Captain, you could see if you can find a lead on the man that Henri and I described. I would check in the known occult circles, the dilletante crowd if you will. This man clearly hobnobbed with the rich and powerful. Surely someone would remember him being at the club that evening."

da solomon said...

Delaney chuckled. "‘Bear’ was my word, demons were your idea. But it doesn’t matter. Invisible bears, demons, hitmen from Carcossa, they don’t make any difference to me. There’s something strange happening. There was the Mags Whitcombe case, then there was the Gerloch affair, and now there’s this. Whitcombe and Gerloch were definitely linked, but from where I stand the thread connecting The Cellar to those events is you two and that girl."

The detective folded his napkin back into his pocket and got up from his seat. "Be sure, I’ll find out who this man is. But if there’s anything you want to tell me before I go . . . What will you do, Jones? Should I have a couple of the boys sent to watch you?"

Thelonius Jones said...

Thelonius slowly moved his head from side to side, wincing against the pain.

"No. I wouldn't want to trouble New York's Finest. I'm going to recover first, then do my own research. Don't worry Delaney, I'll let you know if I discover any leads. Then you can bring the boys in blue in."

He was going to go with Henri to talk to the Swami, but Thelonius didn't want to let Delaney in on that for fear of the captain tagging along.

da solomon said...

(The next post takes us to a point after Delaney has left, and it assumes that one or both characters go to speak to Ramanuja. Ramanuja's room is directly above Thelonius’s.

If you like, conversation between Henri and Thelonius can continue in this post while characters engage in actions in subsequent scenes. For anything beyond conversation in Thel’s room (with or without Delaney) please direct action to an entry in your player blog.

The next scene is "Transitions", and it involves Ramanuja. It’s been a long time, so here are the links to the PCs’ past encounters with the swami and related material:

- The Swami - Revelations at Saint Lawrence's.

- Before Their Very Eyes! -
This reporter saw it all!

- News: 23 April 1924 - Millicent Beckinshire, age 24, deceased.

- The Curtain - Backstage at the Audubon.

- The Show - That fateful night!

Also, I fixed the links in the text of "Breaks for the Broken", so now you can go back and re-read past encounters with Cherry or Delaney.

Finally, this is in the newspaper: "Gangster Shot Down")