Beware the Odd Angles

Ghost Jackal Kill

PCs Present: Scott Drake, Ruby Khan

Events: Ruby contacted at AMORC by one Ida Turner, reporter, who is investigating the mysterious death of Paul Collins, former stage magician. Miss Turner had a scrap of language she needed translated and hoped the erudite Rosicrucians could help. Although Ruby drew a blank as to what the language might have been, she and her client Mr. Drake were drawn into the investigation.

Along the way, they crossed paths with one Samuel D. Hammett, an ex-detective also investigating Collins’s ichor-covered demise. Ultimately, little was turned up apart from two new corpses: the hapless owner of Mawley’s Bookstore and Miss Turner herself!

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The Auction

PCs Present: Scott Drake, Ruby Khan, Father Rienolf, Karl van Weer

Events: What starts as an innocent auction of esoteric and occult paraphernalia turns deadly when one of the items up for bid is stolen in an elaborate heist that leaves one of Ausperg Auction House’s employees in bloody pieces. The team, as interested in tracking down the Brass Head as they are in solving the crime, shadow the likeliest suspect, one Klaus Hunderprest. The investigation culminates with the pacifisitic van Weer shanking Hunderprest in the guts, Ruby nearly getting dragged away by ape-like men in black robes, Scott nearly going insane, and Father Reinolf dynamiting Hunderprest’s sepulchral digs. Hunderprest is “disappeared” and the Brass Head is recovered and placed in Drakes “Vault of Doom” in his penthouse apartment.

Also of note: the acquisition of several occult items at the auction, including old tomes and the infamous Blood Ankh, and the introduction of Miss Daphne Bell, who earned van Weer’s undying affection (unrequited, unfortunately).

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Statue of the Sorcerer (Part I)

PCs Present: Scott Drake, Ruby Khan, Father Rienolf, Dr. Alvin Yee, The Professor

Events: Half-a-year after collaborating on the Paul Collins case, Sam Hammett seeks out Scott and Ruby for help on another puzzler. A former associate of his at the Pinkertons, Louis Schwartzvogel, has turned up dead – struck by lightning from a clear night sky – in the course of investigating a case of academic plagiarism at the behest of one John Niall, Professor of Medieval Studies at Brown University. Professor Niall believed Claud Worlsman, a resident of the Bay Area, copied the former’s article on homunculi.

Scott, Ruby, and Father Rienolf called in the services of Dr. Yee, the medical examiner who received Schwartzvogel’s body at the city morgue, as well as the University of California’s Professor of Paleo-linguistics for help in deciphering the cryptic clue found on Schwartzvogel’s body. After discovering that Worlsman was owner of the publishing company that put out the plagiarized article, and that he ran something called the Theologosophical Society, the group decided to infiltrate the Society in an attempt to get closer to Worlsman.

They discovered that Daphne Bell was a member as well, and their connection to her got them introduced to Worlsman, a handsome and charismatic man in his early 30s. Their interview went well, and Worlsman invited the group to attend a special seminar at his winery, El Profondo Ranch, in Mill Valley.

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Statue of the Sorcerer (Part II)

PCs Present: Ruby Khan, Father Rienolf, Dr. Alvin Yee, Simon Bailey

Events: Due to increasing paranoia and agoraphobia, Scott Drake elected to remain behind and direct operations from his penthouse. He did take it upon himself to have his redoubtable secretary Ginger write to the publishers of two books linked to the Schwartzvogel investigation of Worlsman. The day before the group was due to head off to the seminar, they received a reply from the publishers: the copies of the manuscripts of both books were destroyed in the 1906 fire. They did find references to the books’ author, Leontov, in another of their books, a journal of an English socialite living in St. Petersburg in the 1830s.

Many interesting details were gleaned from the journals, chief among them that Leontov was close friends with a fellow hussar, one Klaus Wurtzman. Leontov and Wurtzman eventually had a falling-out and Leontov was murdered by a gang of Mongolian toughs many suspected were in the employ of Wurtzman.

Armed with this information, the group headed for the seminar. En route, they made acquaintance of Simon Bailey, young scion of a well-to-do family import-export business. At the two-day seminar, the group heard further elaborations on supposed attempts by Atlantean “Ancient Magi” to contact humanity, and during the overnight everyone experienced visions of a strange creature that looked not unlike a human-sized sea cucumber proclaiming a prophecy. Only Father Rienolf, resisting the narcotic-laced salad dressing from dinner, discerned the creature for what it was: a man in a rubber costume!

Despite Rienolf’s revelations, everyone played it cool and managed to impress Worlsman with tales of their “visions.” They picked up an invite to a follow-up seminar the next week. In the meantime, they were able to successfully coax Professor Niall out to the West Coast with promises of an all-expenses paid trip and lodging in a luxurious suite at the St. Francis. The Professor was due to arrive the day the second seminar wrapped up.

Traveling back to El Profondo, the group found Worlsman and his acolytes in a state of high dudgeon, with much talk of “the stars coming right” for a ceremony to “lift the veil” on the barrier between Earth and the Ancient Magi. Suspicious, the group broke into Worlsman’s private quarters and found evidence that seemed to confirm their worst fears: the Worlsman was Wurtzman, and apparently well over a hundred years old! They then broke into the Worlsman mausoleum located on the ranch grounds and made a startling discovery in one of the coffins: a man-like creature covered with scars, deformed from dozens of injuries, staring at them with pitifully conscious eyes. It was too much for Mr. Bailey and his fragile constitution, and he fainted dead away at the sight. Father Rienolf, meanwhile, reached for his dynamite…

A charge was set and the group ran for it (after reviving Simon, of course). Although they escaped immediate detection, Worlsman obviously knew something was up. That night he led a strange ceremony in the cellar of the ranch house, and the next morning announced a gathering to complete the ritual at the newly-constructed stone tower outside the ranch. There, he accused one of the acolytes of vandalism and desecration of his family tomb. Before the group could react, however, another student stepped forth, condemning Worlsman as a vampire and robber of souls. The student then pulled a gun and fired five shots point blank at Worlsman.

Everyone hit the deck at the sound of gunfire, but when they looked up Worlsman was still standing, smiling serenely, as the student made a run for it.

“The young man was obviously unable to cope with the knowledge to which be was being given the key. Clearly mentally deranged. After all, who but a madman would try to shot someone with a gun full of blanks?”

Rienolf and Bailey exchanged worried looks – as veterans of combat situations, both had seen guns fired in anger before, and neither thought that gun looked or sounded like it was shooting blanks…

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Statue of the Sorcerer (Part III)

PCs Present: Ruby Khan, Father Rienolf, Simon Bailey, The Professor

[Writing this from two-week-old memory, so I’m sure there’ll be some gaps or innacuracies. If anyone catches something that I missed or goofed up on, just drop me a line or leave a comment and I’ll make the necessary correction(s).]

Events: We picked things up after last session’s cliffhanger ending—Worlsman surviving five point-blank gunshots—with the group wondering how to proceed against a seemingly immortal, unkillable foe. After the shooting Worlsman dismissed everyone, saying the ceremony would be ready for completion in a week’s time and to return then.

Upon arriving back in the City and rendezvousing at Scott Drake’s penthouse, the group was greeted with further bad news: Professor Niall had been delayed and would not be arriving for three more days. This message had been conveyed by Air Mail, along with a sealed envelope, which Professor Niall instructed the group to take to the law offices of Coutts and Winthrop while they were waiting for his arrival.

After a quick background check on the law firm (seemingly on the up and up), the group headed over the following afternoon and made the acquaintance of one Randolph Coutts, Esq. He opened the sealed envelope in their presence and, after a quick read, informed them that Professor Niall had sent permission for the group to access the Zebulon Pharr collection.

No one had heard of the collection before, but they trusted Professor Niall to send them in the right direction and so piled in to Mr. Coutts’ Packard sedan and headed down Market Street for the Ferry Building. There they took the same ferry across the Golden Gate that had brought them to El Profondo Ranch, but upon arriving in Sausalito the car took a different route, through Muir Woods and down towards the Pacific Coast.

The Zebulon Pharr collection was housed in an immaculate Mission-style mansion overlooking the ocean. Inside was housed the personal library of famed 19th-century anthropologist Zebulon Pharr. As the afternoon waned, the group pored over Pharr’s personal notebooks, looking for clues about Worlsman. They didn’t find anything directly connected to Worlsman, but they did find a reference to a ceremonial robe that matched the type Worlsman had worn at the last ceremony. Tracking back from this, they found the robe was connected to the worship of deity venerated by certain decadent shamans and medicine men along the West Coast, known as “The Father of Earthquakes, Shudde M’ell, greatest of the Walkers Beneath, or Chthonians!” A note had been added in the margin—at a later date, presumably, for it was in ink: “Merciful heaven, can it be? Do they walk beneath our city streets and we know it not? I fear we have but felt Him stirring in his sleep. Let us pray that no-one wakes Him or we shall perish utterly. 1906.”

They also found notes from the several months in the 1860s that Pharr spent with a local medicine man named Coyote Runs Backward, who was increasingly concerned about the return to the region of someone called “He Who Casts No Shadow,” a name which could be translated both as “The Soulless One” or “The Deathless One.” Coyote Runs Backward seemed to fear this person’s ability to talk to “the walkers beneath,” who he said could “eat up a whole tribe.”

Their researches at the Pharr collection were not done yet, however. As darkness gathered outside, Mr. Coutts, acting on instructions in Niall’s letter, took the group to a fireproof safe set into the wall of the main library. From within the safe he withdrew an ancient book that looked to be at least 500 years old. It was written in Latin, so Father Rienolf did the honors of reading the passage Niall had indicated should be consulted:

“Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key andguardian ofthe gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where they shall break through again. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once, They shall soon rule where man rules now. They wait patient and potent, for here shall they reign again.”

Reading the passage left Father Rienolf sweating and shaken, and everyone repaired to the parlor for drinks before heading home.

The following day, Simon, acting on evidence he’d seen at the ranch, called in a tip to the Marin County sheriff’s office that El Profondo was running a bootleg winery operation. He also saw to acquiring a shipment of grenades Father Rienolf had arranged through the Bailey Import-Export Company.

The next day, Ruby began to hatch a plan to return to El Profondo and do some snooping [can’t remember the exact reason…any help?]. She hired two Pinkerton agents to accompany her on a nighttime infiltration that evening. They took the ferry and drove out to El Profondo, parking on the far side of the vineyards. The loud whirr of Worlsman’s jacuzzi cooling machines provided ample cover for their infiltration through the vineyards. The breeze created by the machines overhead caused the vines to wave in a eerie fashion, but it was nothing to when, about halfway through the vineyards, Ruby—second in the file making its way up a path between the rows of vines—was sprayed with warm blood!

The headless body of the Pinkerton who had been taking point could just be seen in the shadowy moonlight. Squinting through the gloom, Ruby could make out the deadly trap: one of the jacuzzi machines had been inverted so that its spinning propeller blade was right about head level! Unwilling to continue, Ruby and the other detective retreated with the body of their luckless companion.

Ruby arrived back at the St. Francis Hotel, her clothes stained with blood. She related the tale of her aborted attempt to sneak into the Worlsman complex, and the group resolved to try again all together, this time with the stated intention of returning to Worlsman’s crypt to see if Father Riefnolf’s dynamite had done its job.

The next morning, the group noted with dismay a small article in the Chronicle about a raid on the El Profondo Ranch vineyards that had failed to turn up any evidence of illegal wine making. Clearly Worlsman had the local authorities in his pocket. Around noon, Professor Niall arrived at the St. Francis by taxi from the Ferry Building and immediately set to work getting up to speed with the group. His manner was crisp and impatient, not bothering with petty formalities or trivial conversation.

Niall had brought a copy of the scholarly journal De Magistri Draconi in which his original article on homunculi had appeared.

“Your correspondence gave me great cause for concern,” Niall explained. “My article, based on a passage in the Malleus Maleficarum, examined how a sorcerer could create a sort of reverse voodoo doll in which all the harm that befell the enchanter would be transfered to his simulacrum. I believe the article struck too close to home for Worlsman’s comfort, and he republished my article with telling changes made to the conclusion. Had he not panicked in such a way, he would never have drawn attention to himself,” Niall added with a wry grin.

The group then went on to tell Niall about Worlsman’s preparations at El Profondo.

“It is as I feared,” Niall said. “Based on what you told me in your telegram, I feared Worlsman was working to contact Yog-Sothoth. It sounds to me like his aims are far more drastic than I had dared imagine.”

The group then told Niall about their attempted dynamiting of Worlsman’s homunculus.

“A worthy attempt,” said Niall, “but perhaps futile. If you destroyed the simulacrum, then Worlsman can never be killed. But I do not think that’s possible. I think only the creator of such a creature can truly destroy it.”

“So we have to get Worlsman to destroy his own homunculus?” came the incredulous question.

“It’s a tall order, I admit,” said Niall sadly.

“Too bad we can’t get the homunculus to go after Worlsman,” Drake piped up from a darkened corner.

“Of course!” Niall exclaimed, slapping his forehead. “From the mouths of babes…”

Niall then dispatched Ruby into the city to gather a laundry list of strange alchemical and occult devices and ingredients.

Niall’s news only redoubled the group’s resolve to discover the fate of the homunculus. That night they departed once again for El Profondo. Father Rienolf made sure to bring plenty of dynamite.

Forewarned by Ruby, the group was able to sneak through the vineyards without falling victim to the inverted jaccuzzi machines, which were distributed all over the grounds. Theorizing that the vibration of the machines might also be serving some purpose to do with contacting the underground chthonians, Rienolf made sure to rig several jaccuzzis with time bombs set to blow an hour before dawn.

The group then proceeded to the Worlsman family crypt. This time, after hopping the fence, they found the crypt doors locked. Ruby made short work of the lock, however, and soon they were descending once again into the dark crypt. They found evidence of the explosion on the walls in the form of smoke and shrapnel damage, but all the coffins were intact and in the same positions as last time they were there.

This time the group went about opening the four coffins set in niches before addressing the central coffin. The two coffins labeled with the names of Worlsman’s deceased mother and grandmother did indeed contain moldering corpses, but the two coffins labeled with the names of Worlsman’s father and grandfather contained only bricks wrapped in canvas.

The central coffin was then opened; the simulacrum was there, unharmed by the dynamite but bearing five fresh bullet wounds in its torso. It appeared Niall was right! The group took the carpet they’d brought along to help in scaling the spiked fence and wrapped the simulacrum up. They then snuck back to the car with the body in the carpet, loading it in the trunk and making a beeline back to San Francisco.

Arriving back at the hotel well after midnight, the group found Niall in his room on the 12th floor. Sweating and a bit wild-eyed, Niall invited them in. There they found that he’d rolled the carpeting back and pushed his bed against the wall in order to draw a pentagram on the floor. In the center of the pentagram sat a glass phial and two scroll tubes. The group triumphantly revealed its prize, unrolling the simulacrum from the carpet onto the floor of Niall’s room.

The professor was impressed with the group’s resourcefulness.

“Well done!” said Niall. “I can now show you in person what the powder in the glass phial is for.”

With that, Niall retrieved the container, uncorked it, and sprinkled a golden dust over the homunculus. The dust seemed drawn to the creature’s skin like a magnet and, upon contact, was quickly absorbed.

“This is a rough approximation of an ancient Egyptian alchemical formula known as the Dust of Osiris,” Niall explained. “The true formula has been lost, and I have spent many years attempting to reconstruct it. In its pure form, the Dust is said to bring animation back to the dead; since our friend here is actually half-alive, hopefully this corrupted formula will suffice.”

Niall then took one of the scroll tubes and withdrew a parchment square.

“This is a Square of Saturn. It is similar to the Square of Mars Worlsman used to kill the detective I hired, but it is a square of uniting.”

He then placed the square on the homunculus’s chest, where it seemed to glue itself to the creature’s flesh. The numbers in the magic square began to glow slightly.

“The trick, then, will be to slip the other square onto Worlsman’s person. Do it as close as you can to the time of the ceremony, when Worlsman will be most distracted and least likely to counter the square’s magic.

So tasked, the group took the following day to rest up before embarking once again for El Profondo and the final ceremony. Arriving at the ranch mid-morning the next day, they found the grounds a beehive of activity. Father Rienolf noted with satisfaction the gaps in the vineyards where once had stood jacuzzi machines. Whatever wreckage was left had been cleared away by this point, but obviously his bombs had gone off as planned. The group also noted the stone tower near the ranch house had been completed and now stood about 30 feet high.

In the trunk of their car the group had brought their luggage. Scrunched up in the largest steamer trunk was Worlsman’s simulacrum; Niall had explained that once the Square of Saturn was placed on Worlsman, the homunculus would come to life and attempt to unite with its master. The closer the creature was to the sorcerer when this happened, the better.

The group met up with Daphne Bell, who directed them to their rooms and informed them that the ceremony was due to take place that night after dark. They were to spend the day practicing their mantras in their rooms, as Mr. Worlsman would be down in the cellar once again engaged in preparations of his own.

The group split up at this point. Ruby and Professor Wood returned to Worlsman’s private office to see if they could find anything else of interest. Returning to the safe behind the portrait of Wurtzman, Ruby correctly deduced the alphabetical combination: Y-O-G-S-O-T-H-O-T-H. Inside the safe she found the deeds and titles to Worlsman’s ranch and residence in the city as well as the two Leontov books stolen from the Civic Center library. She took everything while Professor Wood tried to set a booby trap in the safe with one of Rienolf’s grenades. He instead nearly succeeded in blowing himself up, and the two burglars beat a hasty retreat.

Meanwhile, out on the grounds, Father Rienolf stole around, setting more time bombs…

Father Rienolf’s Theme

Meeting back in their quarters, the group waited out the remainder of the day, going over their plans for that evening…

Summoned by a bell, the group headed downstairs after sunset, meeting up with other Society members, all of whom were whispering excitedly about the night’s coming events. Simon had hoped to slip the Square of Saturn into Worlsman’s robes but didn’t find the right opportunity. Having received their own robes, the group and other participants followed Worlsman and Miss Bell out to the stone tower. The grounds were lit by torches held by Worlsman’s inscrutable guards and the sorcerer turned to address the assembled crowd. With a mad gleam in his eyes, he began to speak: “Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall rule where man rules now. Yonder city shall be one with Kadath in the cold waste, but its passing shall procure their coming!”

As Worlsman turned to ascend the tower, Father Rienolf rushed forward, initiating the group’s “Plan B”—Rienolf had the Square of Saturn concealed in the palm of his hand, and he caught Worlsman in a hearty embrace.

“My lord! We will follow! Thank you for the revelations you have brought us!” Rienolf cried, pretending to sob in ecstasy. Worlsman gingerly extracted himself from Rienolf’s bear hug, clearly checking his revulsion. Instead, he forced an ingratiating smile and patted Rienolf on the shoulder and turned back for the tower. The group all saw, much to their delight, the Square stuck to Worlsman’s back, right between the shoulder blades, glowing softly.

The other Society members began their ritual chants as Worlsman reached the top of the tower. The sorcerer began to intone a terrifying chant as an icy wind sprang up out of nowhere. A ragged cloud began to coalesce above the tower as the group glanced around nervously. Then, above the wind and Worlsman’s unearthly chanting, they heard screams of alarm. The homunculus was emerging from the darkness! It was surrounded by glowing motes of light, the square on its chest glowing radiantly.

As if on cue, Rienolf’s bombs began to go off, painting the dark grounds with orange fiery light. Simon rushed forward, pretending to scream as well and disrupting the ceremony further. Worlsman, sensing something was wrong, looked down and saw the homunculus beginning to ascend the stairs of the tower.

“No! It cannot be! Not now!” he screamed. “Yog-Sothoth! Save me! NOOOO!”

The homunculus had reached the top of the tower and moved to embrace Worlsman. As soon as they touched, there was a terrific flash of light and the group saw a figure crumble to dust atop the tower and another plunge to the ground. Rushing forward, they saw what appeared to be the homunculus but wearing Worlsman’s garb. The creature that had once been Worlsman now lay dead at last.

The wind had died as soon as Worlsman hit the ground, but was now replaced by a low, insistent rumbling and distant chanting that seemed to be coming up from the very ground! The group high-tailed it for their car, Professor Wood scooping Daphne Bell up and hoisting her over his massive shoulders. As a tremendous crashing, rending sound reverberated behind them, Rienolf peeled rubber and drove at breakneck speeds along the winding roads leading away from El Profondo, none of the passengers daring to look back [party poopers!].

Strangely low-key stories in the paper the next few days reported on the apparent complete destruction of El Profondo ranch by what appeared to be a highly localized seismic event. Daphne Bell returned to her family in Pennsylvania, swearing off the occult for good. Ruby began the process of transferring ownership of the Worlsman Residence at 206 Hyde St. to her name and the group heaved a collective sigh, knowing that they saved the city of San Francisco and quite possibly the world from a terrible fate.

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Mr. Corbitt

PCs Present: Father Rienolf, Simon Bailey, Doris the Philologist, Professor Wood

Events: A quick summary of the salient events follows—full write-up to come later this week.

  • Party has established weekly get-togethers at Ruby’s new home to enjoy Sunday afternoon tea.
  • Party mystified by one remaining oddity from Worlsman’s time as owner: ceiling board with impression of child-sized footprint in the wood. Closer inspection reveals the footprint is pressed into the hard oak, as if the wood had been as soft as butter. With Ruby’s permission, the board is torn out and removed.
  • Professor Wood spots kindly across-the-street neighbor Mr. Corbitt engaged in suspicious shenanigans. The group spends the following week looking into this supposedly grandfatherly figure, finding out about the death of a wife in childbirth 12 years ago, the death of his father on a trip to India 14 years ago, and the madness of the nurse who attended Corbitt’s wife in childbirth. The group has reason to believe Corbitt’s wife may have had twins and that Corbitt has been raising the one that survived.
  • Following week, Doris (Ruby’s neighbor who has been joining in the tea parties) decides to go snoop around when Coribitt departs for his weekly afternoon drive. She initially finds little to be suspicious of in the backyard or in the house.
  • Father Rienolf joins Doris and they head down to the basement. There they find an extensive lab/surgery and are confronted by a strange creature made out of stiched-together body parts: the head of a woman with arms attached at each ear and a leg sewn to the neck stump. Father Rienolf loses it completely when the Thing launches itself at him and the monstrosity nearly escapes onto the street.
  • The Thing is dispatched when Simon and Professor Wood come running from across the street having seen signs of commotion in the house. Simon takes the Thing out with a well-placed bullet from his Luger (splattering intestines rather than gray matter from the Thing’s cranium) and the group immediately decide to burn the house down.
  • They first retrieve Corbitt’s journals and book collection. Corbitt arrives back shortly after the fire department pulls up and collapses into hysterics, screaming about “my baby!”
  • The house is a wreck, but a week later men claiming to be from the Bureau of Investigation show up and have the entire premises torn down, even digging up the foundation of the house. Their cover is that Coritt was growing opium in his greenhouse. The men who spoke with Ruby flashed government credentials, but were also wearing strange lapel pins in the shape of green triangles. Neither Doris nor Professor Wood could find any significance, occult or otherwise, attached to this symbol.
  • Professor Wood spends a couple days reading through Corbitt’s journals, confirming the group’s suspicions of his nefarious deeds. Doris and Father Rienolf both take one of the tomes from Corbitt’s shelf and begin attempting to understand revelations contained within…
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Beyond the Edges (Part I)

PCs Present: Father Rienolf, Simon Bailey, Doris the Philologist, Ruby Khan

Events: The action picked up on a cold, rainy day shortly after Christmas. It had been about six months since the group’s last encounter with the Weird, and now they found themselves once again called together on the 13th floor of the St. Francis Hotel in the penthouse suite of Scott Drake.

Drake had redecorated since last they’d seen him. His suite, once lavishly decorated in the latest modernist styles, was now almost completely barren, the walls painted a stark hospital white. Furniture had been reduced to a functional stainless steel desk and simple wire-frame chairs. On Drake’s table sat a well-read copy of Homer’s The Iliad. The Vault of Doom sat quietly in a corner.

Drake explained that he’d brought the group together based on the good work they did saving Daphne Bell from the clutches of the Theologosophical Society. Drake had a friend, a banker who had helped the Drake family acquire their share in the St. Francis, who was having trouble with his ingenue daughter and needed discrete and private help. If the group was interested, a meeting with this Mr. Whitman could be arranged and further details furnished at that time. The group indicated that they were indeed interested, and were provided with an address in the Financial District.

Catching a trolley down Market St., they arrived at Whitman’s offices on Montgomery Street shortly after lunch. There they were met by Whitman’s officious functionary, Mr. Fairbanks, who informed them that the job paid $25 a day per person plus expenses. All expenses had to be carefully accounted for and backed up with appropriate receipts. In addition, there was a $300 bonus if the job was concluded in a week or less.

Agreeing to these terms, the group was taken inside a spacious office that offered a rainy view of the Bay. Standing at the picture window but looking at his pocket watch was an older man with a bristle moustache and pinkish complexion. This as Mr. Whitman, and he bypassed small-talk and pleasantries entirely, getting right down to business.

His youngest daughter, Clarisse, age 18, has been an increasing thorn in the family’s side, falling in with “the wrong sort”—and now she’s gone missing. His goal is to get her back before she gets into serious trouble. Mr. Whitman explained what he meant by the wrong sort: artists, writers, poets, and other non-productive leeches on society’s dark underbelly. He only had one lead: reports that Clarisse had been seen frequenting some of the “French restaurants” on Ellis Street. He also provided a picture.

1922eveninggown

The group wanted more info, so Mr. Whitman arranged a meeting with his wife at the family estate in Pacific Heights later that afternoon. By the time they arrived at the palatial estate on Greenwich Street, the rain had eased up and the group took in the magnificent view of the Presidio and the Golden Gate. The door bell was answered by a reedy, stooped butler, who took the group into a parlor. They waited for twenty minutes before the butler reappeared and led them to a richly-appointed drawing room. There they found Mrs. Whitman and the family’s other daughter, Louise, age 20. Mrs. Whitman was smoking a cigarette on the end of a long ivory holder and carried herself in an imperious and commanding manner that contrasted markedly with Louise, who was dressed in a frumpy dress and kept her eyes firmly fixed on the floor the whole meeting.

Fortunately, the group all made their Credit Rating rolls and, after tea and cookies, Mrs. Whitman opened up about what a troublesome child Clarisse was, “not like our obedient, thoughtful Louise.” She talked on and on about Clarisse’s nighttime escapades, sneaking out and sometimes not returning for days. She had been missing five days this last time before they began to worry something was seriously wrong.

As Mrs. Whitman was in flow, Ruby kept an eye on Louise. She sensed the young lady had much to say but dared not open up in front of Mother. During a lull in the conversation, it was suggested that Ruby and Doris go take a look at Clarisse’s room. “Louise can show us the way,” said Ruby. Mrs. Whitman was hesitant at first, wanting to go up and “tidy” Clarisse’s room first, but she was convinced of the importance of leaving the room untouched for fear of disturbing important evidence.

Once out of earshot, as Louise led Ruby and Doris upstairs, she opened up about Clarisse. She revealed her jealousy of her sister’s adventures. She also offered that she was pretty sure her sister was seeing an artist named Johnny. Upstairs in Clarisse’s room, Ruby and Doris uncovered quite a bit. Of particular note was the bag Doris found hidden under Clarisse’s mattress: it contained several ounces of Patna opium. Ruby, using the old “rub a pencil on the pad of paper” trick, uncovered the impression of a love letter written to this “Johnny” fellow. The letter contained a reference to Johnny’s art receiving a recent drubbing in the press. It also contained a dark reference to “unsavory hobos” menacing her as she tried to catch a cab outside his residence.

The group re-convened and interviewed the butler, Phelps. He revealed that he’d always been particularly fond of Clarisse, as she was the only one in the family who treated him as a real human being. He overlooked her nightly escapades, but didn’t have any further information to offer on “Johnny” or where Clarisse went. He did, however, hand the group a desk key and told them to look in the desk in Mr. Whitman’s study.

In the drawer, they found a letter from Scott Drake informing Whitman that he had a group of associates in mind to help with Clarisse’s disappearance. They also found a pistol, a box of bullets, and an envelope. In the envelope, they found a letter addressed to Mr. Whitman along with several pictures of Clarisse posing nude in what was obviously a rundown hotel room. The letter was a blackmail attempt to the tune of $10,000 in exchange for copies and negatives of the photos…or else they’d be going to the press instead.

The next day the group set to work. Father Rienolf called the school Clarisse was enrolled at (a Catholic girls’ academy), getting an earful from the head nun about the trouble Clarisse had caused at school and her slipping grades. The other group members hit up various newspaper archives, uncovering articles about a certain Jonathan Colbert, who had an exhibition scheduled to premiere at the Palace of Fine Arts…and a subsequent article from a week later reporting Colbert’s art being taken down due to widespread public shock and outrage over his subject matter.

These articles provided two new leads: Colbert’s mentor from art school, and the fact he’d shown at a gallery in North Beach. A visit to the Palace of Fine Arts turned up the fact that the gallery in question was the Russian Gallery on Francisco Street. Meanwhile, a visit to the campus of the California School of Fine Arts brought an interview with Professor Nicolas Robinson, Colbert’s mentor. Robinson explained that Colbert had been painting mostly landscapes—and that is the subject matter Robinson thought Colbert would be exhibiting—but had lately turned to painting nudes of the prostitutes of Ellis Street. On the professor’s advice, the investigators also visited the malt shop across the street, where a bit of canvassing turned up one of Colbert’s former flames. It transpired that young Johnny had a reputation as a ladies’ man and went through girlfriends like others went through tissue paper.

This particular former flame, Jane, like Professor Robinson never wanted to see Colbert again. She did report that the last time she saw him, a couple months ago, he seemed drastically different—bitter and perhaps not well physically. He also talked about a growing interest in painting subjects based on American Indian culture.

At the Russian Gallery, Simon and Ruby met the elderly Russian owner, a wizened old woman named Irina, who explained Colbert’s exhibition there had also been taken down due to public outrage. She took the duo back to look at Colbert’s paintings, which were indeed nudes of prostitutes. Simon cut a check for several of the paintings and Irina showed them one final painting of Colbert’s. She explained that particular piece came down before the rest as it made visitors ill when they looked at it.

The painting was of an extremely elderly Indian wearing a bear skin over his head. The painting did indeed have an unsettling quality, like the old man’s eyes were following the viewer as they moved around the room. The background of the painting appeared to be sickly-hued spheres of various sizes. Ruby’s anthropological studies revealed the subject to be a member of the Rumsen tribe’s Grizzly Bear shamans, an outcast sect that was finally suppressed by the Spanish in the 18th century.

That evening, as the rain picked up again, the group hit up the “French restaurants” on Ellis Street. A uniquely San Francisco phenomenon, these were indeed restaurants offering French cuisine on the ground floor. Back alley entrances offered direct and discreet access to the second floors, which contained brothels. Waitresses at these establishments often served double duty on the first and second floors.

Clarisse’s photo was shown around, but didn’t draw any leads. Discouraged, the group was making its way up the filthy, rain-slicked Ellis Street when their attention was drawn by a commotion in an alley. Turning on his electric torch, Father Rienolf saw a group of hobos armed with pipes and boards savagely beating something on the ground. They did not respond to the light or to the priest’s shouts. Several shots fired over the gang’s heads from the Father’s pistol finally broke them up. As they scuttled off into the darkness, everyone noted their vacant, expressionless eyes, their hollow mouths that seemed like pits of darkness, and the fact their skin seemed cast into permanent shadow even while under the direct beam of the flashlight.

What they left in their wake was a stray dog, limping and whimpering on broken legs, intestines hanging from a ruptured abdomen. Rienolf put the poor wretch out of its misery before the group fled the scene, police sirens wailing in the distance.

Repeated visits to Ellis Street on subsequent nights finally brought the group to a joint called La Petit Prince. There they made the acquaintance of a Pinkerton by the name of Mack Hornsby, who was on the trail of another missing ingenue conquest of Colbert’s, Bridget Reece, daughter of a wealthy Bay Area property owner. The group’s presence also brought the attention of the establishment’s owner, Parker Biggs. (That’s right: Mr. Biggs. Sheesh.)

Simon decided to take the heat off the group by asking Mr. Biggs to show him upstairs to partake of the restaurant’s other services. On their way up, Simon noted two men leaving a room at the far end of the second-floor hall. Before heading into his private room, Simon asked Biggs about the two men. Biggs explained the two men rented the room Simon had seen them exiting. As Biggs talked, Simon noticed Biggs’s left hand bore the same shadowy cast the hobos in the alley had been covered with.

Inside his private quarters, Simon spent his allotted half-hour questioning “Stella” about comings and goings at La Petit Prince. She told Simon that the two men who rented the room were known as Johnny and Andy. She also said they often took women up there with them, and dimly remembered Clarisse being among their company up until maybe a week ago.

Returning from his assignation upstairs, Simon was able to convince Mr. Biggs to allow the group to check out the rented room on the pretext of wishing to rent one themselves. Entering the room, they found an attractive, nude woman unconscious on a bed. It was Bridget, Mr. Hornsby’s case, and, after bringing her around, he quickly ushered her away after draping his coat over her. The group recognized the bed as the same one Clarisse had posed on in the blackmail photos. Ruby spotted a crumpled scrap of paper bearing three addresses. Two had been crossed off; the third was an address a couple blocks down on Geary.

The group hustled over there in the pouring rain, finding a low-rent apartment building. The scrap of paper also bore an apartment number for a unit on the fifth floor. The group hoofed it up the stairs (the lift was perpetually out of order) and arrived at the door in time to overhear a blazing row coming from within. Two men were arguing vociferously about “the money” and issues of trust.

The group broke down the door. One of the men tried to make for the window but Rienolf shot him in the shoulder. The other man, a remarkably handsome young man obviously gone recently to seed, simply put his hands up. This was Jonathan Colbert, their quarry. The apartment was a complete wreck, strewn with garbage and dirty dishes. A rotting rat carcass behind the broken-down couch gave the room the sickly-sweet odor of death. In the room’s Franklin stove, Ruby found remnants of a book that had been set alight. There was enough unburned paper to make out the title: The Rumsen Grizzly Bear Shamans.

In Colbert’s room, the group found sketches; mostly nudes, but several pieces were similar to the finished painting of the shaman at the Russian Gallery, all bearing titles like “My Nightmare I” and “My Nightmare II”. There was also a sketch of thousands of spheres and circles entitled “Yog Sothoth”. There was also a note Clarisse had sent to Jonathan about a week prior. In it, she described finally being accosted by a group of hobos and having to fight them off; they had left a “dark stain” on her arm that she was going to go home and wash off.

The group then set to interrogating Colbert and his associate. Colbert readily admitted that he hadn’t seen Clarisse in a week or so, but couldn’t be bothered. She had been in a bad way the last time he’d seen her and he’d lost interest in her anyway. As he talked, several group members noted Colbert’s irises, which seemed almost totally black.

The group forced Colbert and his associate to lead them to the place he’d last seen Clarisse. This turned out to be a vacant lot strewn with the wreckage of a demolished house. The group began searching the shadowed nooks and crannies of the ruins. It didn’t take long to find Clarisse, looking half-starved and haggard, her clothes torn and her skin in shadow. As Father Rienolf approached her offering a kind hand, she began to scream at the top of her lungs. Within seconds, dozens of hobos began to emerge from the ruins, from side alleys, even from the sewars. They converged on the group and the screaming Clarisse. Colbert hit the dirt, but his assistant made a run for it. He disappeared under an assault of fists and boards.

Rienolf quickly distributed every weapon and explosive he kept on his person, which was a considerable amount. As the hobos converged, the group opened fire. Gunshots and explosions tore the rainy night, and the group made a bum’s rush (no pun intended) through the weakest point in the mob. They made it out, all their clothes torn and rustled from being grabbed at by the screaming horde. They all bore dark marks where the bums had grabbed them.

The group took Colbert to the home of his father, Professor Harold Colbert, a specialist in medieval symbolism at Jesuit College. The elder Colbert was quite distressed by his son’s condition but seemed strangely unsurprised by the group’s story. He scribed a strange, curvilinear pentagram on Jonathan’s hand and said a few words under his breath. There was a snapping sound and the smell of ozone and the pentagram seemed to glow icy blue for a half-second. The Professor explained that Jonathan was a carrier for a disease known colloquially as the Black Madness and that he would now no longer be a threat to those around him.

Professor Colbert explained that there had been several outbreaks of the Black Madness in the Tenderloin since the late 1880s at least. Those afflicted with the disease had always died of malnutrition and dehydration as they sank into a catatonic stupor.

The group, clearly infected with the Madness themselves, began to panic. They kidnapped Professor Colbert and brought him and his son back to Ruby’s townhouse. They were convinced Professor Colbert knew how to cure them, and threatened him with infection if he wouldn’t help them. They ended up infecting him anyway. They put in a call to Scott Drake and told him what was happening. Drake recalled hearing a story from a friend in the Royal Air Service who had lived in Melbourne, Australia for a time and had personally witnessed an outbreak of the Black Madness there as well.

The group spent the next day trying to decide what to do. They were slowly losing their grip on reality, finding their vision increasingly blurred, their hearing increasingly dampened. They returned to the ruins where they’d found Clarisse but found no evidence of habitation. They even went down into the sewars, but apart from finding some filthy bedding they found no hobos or sign of Clarisse.

By the time they returned home, Doris was almost completely blind and deaf. She’d also been driven insane by what was happening, and spent all her time collecting soap from around Ruby’s house so she could “wash the dirt off”—the shadows now covered nearly her entire body. Ruby and Simon, meanwhile, calmly made out their wills, arranging for the disbursement of their estates and Simon’s business concerns. Father Rienolf, for his part, had paid a visit to Drake’s penthouse and retrieved the Brass Head.

Back at Ruby’s, he poured burning blood over the head and the head’s eyelids flipped open, revealing human eyes within. The articulated mouth spoke, offering to answer any question the petitioner might have. Rienolf asked the Head what could be done to cure the Black Madness. The Head replied that those infected “must cross over.” When this proved to be an unsatisfactory answer, the head offered to teach Rienolf an incantation that could be used to defeat Yog-Sothoth. Rienolf readily agreed.

A half-hour later he had learned the spell and he intoned it. As he finished, the head cracked open along its riveted seams and a strange creature that looked like a cat-sized mass of mucous crawled out using its numerous slimy tentacles. As Rienolf looked on in horrified fascination, the thing’s tentacles lashed out and wrapped themselves around Rienolf’s throat. Simon pulled a gun and fired at the thing, but the bullet literally bounced off, embedding itself in the parlor wainscoting. Before the horrified eyes of his compatriots, Father Rienolf was strangled to death by the Thing from the Head. As the life died in Rienolf’s eyes, the Thing scurried away, disappearing through an open window.

Simon and Professor Colbert both ran out the front door in a panic as Ruby sat down at her couch, calmly awaiting what fate had in store for her…

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