In the Previous Installment, the PCs:
- Did Not Inherit a Vast Fortune
- Discovered a Mysterious Letter
- Extorted Funds
- Drank to Excess
- Explored the City of Endon
|The Poor Boys of London|
The PCs are:
Electric Wizard and heir to the Shambledrake estate... which was discovered, last session, to be bankrupt.
Illusionist. Tom's friend and boon companion. Slightly amoral but deeply practical.
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College, in debt to Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl and in trouble because of it.
Brawler. Aged relative of the Shambledrakes, Agnes is a serial monogamist, outliving a stack of husbands (by any means necessary). "Aunt Aggy" is carrying on a lively correspondence with Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl.
Dr. Augustus Hartwell
Biomancer. A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", Augustus wants to overturn Endon's stuffy and outdated medical notions. Dr. Hartwell's player couldn't attend this session.
Potion Wizard, cook, and former brewer to the Shambledrake family. Lizzy is filled with middle-class ambition.
Side Note: Urban games sometimes feel like a plate of spaghetti. Every player and NPC has their own timeline and plot, and they intersect and weave through each other. The default assumption is that the group is split. The GM needs to work hard to keep everyone colliding. It helps if players (like mine) are aware of this and set up their own collisions.
Jonty instructed the local knocker-upper to wake him very early, then retired for a few fitful hours of sleep in his tiny lodging-house room. Well before sunrise, to the drumbeat of dried peas on his wax-paper-coated window, Jonty slid out of bed, slid into his coat, and skittered down to the street. The note from Snedge burned in his pocket.
By midnight, he had to bring a girl from 59 Sonper Lane to 88 Hasselby Court. A kidnapping. A crime. Jonty wanted all the information he could get ahead of time. His dawn excursion took him to Sonper Lane, where he nonchalantly inspected the house numbers.
59 Sonper Lane appeared to be one of several rooms above a tailor's shop. "Sew Divine" was locked at this hour, so Jonty bought two baked apples from a baked apple-seller, asked about neighborhood news, and gently tried to figure out who "Aggy" was. The apple-seller knew of her, but, possibly thinking Jonty was a debt collector, was reticent. Jonty did learn that "Aggy" was a "woman of mature years", which surprised him.
Back at Loxdon College, Tom and Haze slouched out of bed in Nedalward Hall. Haze was suffering from his first ever post-opium morning, while Tom was weighted down with grief (both for a lost uncle and a lost legacy) and bafflement.
Guffy Chesterton, a fellow student, commiserated with Tom for a few moments, then slipped an unlit match into a hole in Tom's coat. Evidently, Guffy had mistaken Tom's mood for anxiety over the Apprentice Test.
The pair went off to class, discussing their various predicaments all the while.
Lizzy woke up, changed the apartment with Dr. Hartwell for the day, and set off to find a job. After checking the newspapers, she remembered that the "upper crust" of Endon wouldn't advertise for a cook in such a vulgar way. That lawyer, Cheetham, might know of someone, or at least point her in the right direction.
As she stepped into the lower reception room of Dewey Cheetham and Howe, a firm blue-clad arm gripped her shoulder. "Hold it miss! You're under arrest." A Copper loomed out of the shadows.
"What for?" Lizzy said, as feigned bafflement was replaced by actual bafflement. She hadn't done anything she needed to conceal.
"What for the decapitous murder of Mr. Cheetham, miss."
"But I didn't kill Mr. Cheetham!"
"A likely story. You'd better come upstairs and see the Sergeant."
Lizzy was gently propelled up the stairs. All the offices but one were closed, but, behind the haggard form of a Sergeant, Lizzy could see a corner of Cheetham's desk. She peered over the Copper's shoulder.
Mr. Cheetham, or at least a body that looked a lot like him, was seated behind his desk. His head was missing, and a huge fan of red-brown blood stained the wall behind him. Lizzy threw up theatrically, aiming mostly at a wastepaper basket but slightly at the Constable.
The Coppers switched from suspicion to concern, and located a glass of water and a clean handkerchief for the cook, who hammed it up for all she was worth. "You are not really under arrest miss," the Constable said. "I just said that to see if you would run. You are, err..."
"Voluntarily assisting the police with our inquiries," the Sergeant said, wearily.
"That, yes. Now how did you know Mr. Cheetham?"
Lizzy explained the whole story. The will reading, the total lack of funds to distribute, the angry creditors, the chance meeting with the other attendees, their names and professions, and the visit to the Unicorn Arms. "Where we spent all night," she said.
"Hrm. We will have to investigate your alibibi," the Constable said, "as well as those other alibibis. I do not like the sounds of them."
"But Constable, you said Cheetham was killed just around midnight," Lizzy added gently. "We were all..."
"Like I said, we will investigate these alibibis. Now, will you please accompany me to the station where we can take down your testiphonicals in the proper way?"
"Purely voluntary," the Sergeant added, wincing at the Constable's pronunciation.
"Of course," Lizzy said, smiling, and resting her arm on the Constable's.
"Now tell me," she said, as they reached the street, "is Constable your real name?"
"No miss," he said, "it is my rank. My name is Constable Riley."
"Do you have a cook at this station house of yours, Constable Riley?"
"Bah, if you can call her a cook, miss. Some of the things she produces aren't fit to be looked at, let alone angested."
"How interesting," Lizzy said.
Haze met with Jonty after his first class. The pair discussed Jonty's predicament and kidnapping plans.
"If you have time," Jonty asked, "could you slip by this address and see if you can locate any more information on this... 'Aggy' person?"
Haze considered it. Blackmail material was always useful, especially when it came to exam time. He didn't have to commit the crime. "Of course."
Aggy. The name bothered him. Haze wandered down to Sonper Lane. After browsing Sew Divine, peering at potential clues, and trying not to spend any money on new rainbow-coloured gloves, he turned to leave, only to see Agnes in the street buying a newspaper.
"Haze!" she said cheerfully. "What brings you to this area?"
"Oh, the, err, tailor's," Haze said, pointing. "Do you live around here?"
"Oh, hereabouts," Agnes said, with a vagueness born of decades of intrigue and caution. One never knew...
"Nice enough neighborhood," Haze squeaked, then strode off at high speed.
"What a peculiar young man," Agnes said, watching him retreat. "I must keep an eye on him."
Walking briskly back to the college, Haze almost ran into Lizzy and Constable Riley.
"Haze!" Lizzy said.
"Right," the Constable said, pointing at the skittish student. "You are not under arrest but we are investigating your alibibi."
"My what?" Haze said.
"Cheetham was murdered!" Lizzy hissed. "Decapitated in his office! Apparently he was working late. Sent all the staff home. And someone cut off his head. They still haven't found it!"
"Those are police secrets, miss," Constable Riley chided, "and not to be shared with persons of dubious felonicity."
"Haze was with me all evening, Constable, as I've said. Check at the Unicorn Arms! They'll remember us."
"Be that as it may, you are not to leave the city until your alibibi has been verified."
Haze shrugged, then strode off. Once out of sight, he broke into a sprint.
Haze burst into Jonty's tiny office, flinging the door open dramatically "Tom's Aunt Agnes is the Aggy we have to kidnap and Cheetham the lawyer's been murdered!"
Jonty, pinned against the wall by the irate college porter, made a gurgling sound.
"What's this about a kidnapping an' a murder," the porter said. "Killed my horse and you've killed again, eh Prof. Earl?"
"Didn't kill the horse! Didn't kill anyone!" Jonty spluttered.
"Horses cost money. You flogged that horse to death. Marks all over her back. That'll come out of my budget," the porter complained. "She was only 27. Yeeears of working life still in her."
"That horse was half-dead," Haze protested.
"And now she's all-dead. You stay out of it, unless you've got more coins than your dear Professor."
Haze shrugged. Jonty fumbled in his pocket, produced 5 silver pieces, and handed them to the porter.
"This won't buy a horse," the porter said.
"It'll buy a 27-year-old horse," Jonty retorted.
"Well, so be it," the porter muttered, then slipped out the door.
Jonty collapsed into the chair that occupied most of the floor space. He beckoned Haze over. "What's this about Agnes?"
"She's Aggy. Tom always calls her Aunt Aggy. And she lives in or near Sonper lane. Should have seen it before. She's up to something, I can feel it."
Jonty went pale. His pending criminal lifestyle was taking its toll. Memories of Agnes' prowess with a reinforced handbag didn't help.
Side Note: "Handbag by Louis Vuitton?" "No, by Mike Tyson."
"And what's this about a murder?"
"Cheetham, the lawyer. Someone decapitated him. Stole the head. Lizzy's been arrested."
"Gods and devils! She'll throw us to the wolves!"
"Didn't seem like it. We've all got an alibi. We were all together... for the most part. So if we all stick together..."
"Right. Now, let's decide what to do about this kidnapping plot."
"And if you'll sign here... Thank you. Congratulations on your new position, Miss Ramchander."
"It will be an honour to work with the police," Lizzy said, tying on her new white apron. The coup had been bloodless. One look at the state of the kitchen, and a slightly crumpled letter of recommendation from the Shambledrakes (and a backup note from Dr. Hartwell), and she had a new job. Position as station cook didn't pay much, but it did come with a scullery maid, a nice stable income, all the ham sandwiches she could pilfer, and, more importantly, access to the Coppers.
Agnes left her history class and, newspaper tucked under her arm, strode across campus. Jonty, who had paced for a quarter of an hour outside the classroom, intercepted her. Haze and Tom waited behind him.
"Agnes," he said, "I have something I wish to communicate to you. I..."
"Terribly sorry," Agnes said, pointing at a section of the newspaper, "I have an appointment. Some other time. Oh hello Tom!"
"Hello Aunt Aggy," Tom said. Jonty had briefed him on the looming criminal enterprise.
"Now run along boys and study. Aunty has to go meet some people."
Jonty had only caught a glimpse of the advertisement. Something about an orphanage. "Get me a copy of the Daily Sentinel," he said to Haze.
Jonty boiled with nervous energy and took off in the opposite direction. "Students", he hissed to himself.
"Professor Tallerand?" Agnes said, tapping on a labelled door.
Anges stepped into a magnificent office. The skeleton of a cameleopard dominated the room. Its neck was swept down, supporting, with the aid of some brass rods, a writing desk. Prof. Tallerand, tenured in Biomancy, put down a leatherbound book, and examined Agnes' card.
"I wish to inquire about participation in experimental biomancy."
"Mrs... Nona. You understand that such experiments are quite dangerous. Some women of... limited means and advanced years, who cannot rely on family or charity, might see them as an alternative to self-destruction, but I...
"Oh, not for me," Agnes said.
"Oh? I'm not sure I..."
"In the near future, I will have... access to some orphans. An almost unlimited supply of them. If a legal framework could be invented..."
"Mrs. Nona, that would not be entirely legal."
"Well, no, but I am sure that can be overlooked. Would such an arrangement appeal?"
"To a remunerative degree?"
"To a very remunerative degree, yes. Of course, that is only in theory."
"Of course. Good day, Professor Tallerand."
Agnes stepped out of the office, then checked the newspaper again. "St. Longstand's Orphanage seeks a Night Warden of Stern Constitution and Proven Experience." It wasn't her idea of a dignified position, and working for a living was practically scandalous, but if life gives one lemons...
Side Note: Agnes' scheme flummoxed everyone else at the table. I'd improvised a few options for a "governess-type position" in the newspapers, not expecting Agnes to select the orphanage. I'd expected her to train, bribed, or be stabbed by her new charges. I didn't expect her to come up with a way to sell them before even interviewing for the position.
14:30Jonty, having found a copy of the Daily Sentinel and located the advertisement, was waiting for Agnes outside the rusting gate of St. Longstand's Orphanage. He sidled up and blocked her path.
"Agnes. I must bare my soul to you. This is the second time I have made this dreadful confession today. I am in debt to Lord who I now believe is a mutual acquaintance. I must confess that this Lord has, through an intermediary, asked me to kidnap you from your lodgings tonight and bring you to this address by midnight," Jonty said, holding out the well-folded note. "If I do not, I fear my life may be in danger, as yours almost certainly is. I make this confession freely, and beg for your advice and assistance."
"That's very nice dear," Agnes said, patting Jonty on the head. "But Aunty has an appointment. Goodbye."
And she walked away, leaving Jonty stunned and pale.
"And you understand that some of the children here are, well, uncouth. Discipline is difficult to maintain. Some of them fashion weapons, I am sorry to say. I worry that a woman of your..."
"I am perfectly capable of handling a group of children," Agnes said, in her most severe voice.
"Just so. The hours are from nine in the evening to six in the morning, every night, with one day off a month."
"Very well," Agnes sighed.
"Enter," Professor Tallerand said.
Assistant Professor Jonty Earl slid into the office. "You wished to see me, sir?"
"Yes. Eark, is it?"
"You have a student named Agnes Nona in your class. Lodestones and Ferric Properties? An older woman."
"I do, sir."
"Keep a close eye on her for me," Professor Tallerand said, sliding one gold piece across his desk. "In particular, should the attention of the Metropolitan Police light upon her, I should be obliged if you would ensure it does not linger."
"That is all." The Professor waved Jonty out.
In the corridor, Jonty slumped against the wall and dabbed at his forehead. Life had suddenly become so complicated.
|Traviès de Villers, Charles-Joseph|
The Unicorn Arms was crowded on this Friday evening. Students jostled with carters and mechanics. Lizzy, Tom, Haze, and Jonty squeezed around a corner table.
"Right. This kidnapping plot," Lizzy said, as Jonty downed another gin and looked anguished. "I don't like it."
"I don't like it either," Tom said. "It's almost criminal!"
"It is criminal," Haze sighed, "and considering we're all under suspicion of murder..."
"Oh, the Coppers cleared that up," Lizzy said. "I'm their cook now. They asked here, checked our stories. I think we're in the clear."
"Hello," a new voice said, "mind if I squeeze in."
The voice belonged to a young woman with a large hat, a well-fitted jacket, and a glint in her eye normally associated with cobras and highwaymen.
"Angelica Hopewell. I am a reporter. And you," she said, "are Tom Shambledrake. Pleased to meet you." She extended a gloved hand. Tom looked at it with confusion and disdain.
"Who are your friends, Mr. Shambledrake? And how do you feel about being disinherited?"
"He was not disinherited," Lizzy said, "there was just no money in the will."
"That's very interesting," Angelica said, pulling out a notebook and an enchanted auto-writing pen. She clicked the end and it burst into life, leaving a faint contrail of magic as it neatly transcribed the conversation. "And you are?"
"Elizabeth Hartwell. I was the late Mr. Shambledrake's cook."
"And you were arrested for murdering Mr. Cheetham, the lawyer."
"I was not! I voluntarily went with the Coppers, who are my employers by the way."
"Fine, good. Do you know who murdered Mr. Cheetham."
The table was silent.
"Because," Angelica continued, in a syrupy tone, "I have to get my story in within the next 15 minutes to make the evening edition. I'm afraid the story the paper has now is full of the wildest speculation."
"Which paper?" Jonty asked.
"Oh, I work freelance. One of them. Any of them, really."
"Fine. I am Proffessor Jonty Earl, and while I was also at the will reading, I do not know who killed Mr. Cheetham. I was shocked to learn of his death. We all were"
"Do you know what happened to his head?"
Haze leaned forward, "It could have been taken by Necromancers."
"A friend. And a reputable wizard."
"A reputable wizard... Necromancers... yes that's a good quote."
"And I am of course also shocked," Tom added, somewhat unnecessarily. "And I hope Mr. Cheetham's killer is swiftly brought to justice."
"Keep in touch," Angelica said, blowing Tom a kiss before launching herself through the crowd.
"Right. To business," Jonty said.
"To business!" Lizzy said, draining her gin.
"Are we going to have any more of that language?" Anges asked the crowd of orphans.
"That's right." Agnes blew across her knuckles. Her left hook was still fairly impressive. She'd got good spin on that child. The proverb says that sparing the rod spoils the child. Agnes believed that using a rod also spoiled them.
"Now, Aunty Agnes is going to read you a bedtime story," Agnes said, rummaging in her purse. "The Manual of Arms. Chapter 2. The Position of Rest. A solider at rest..."
"Alice," Agnes asked, "do you have a last name?"
"No ma'am. Just Alice."
"And you were brought up here, and now work here as a maid?"
"Alice, would you like to make a little money?"
"What would I have to do, ma'am."
"I would like you to meet a gentleman at a certain address," Agnes said conspiratorially. "I shall instruct you on this gentleman's tastes, for we corresponded for some time. You are to say that you are 'Aggy', and do whatever the gentleman asks. In return, I will give you 5 silver pieces."
"I'll do most anything for 5 silver. Anything too strange and I will leave, but if he just wants my hands or..."
"I am not sure what the gentleman will require."
"Paid in advance?"
"1sp now, 4sp after."
Alice looked Agnes in the eyes. "Done. Do I need clothes?"
Agnes looked at the maid. Under her apron, she was wearing a simple and sturdy blue dress with white flowers. "That should be sufficient."
"Locked," Haze said, jiggling the door to Sew Divine.
"Of course. And the stairs are inside. The tenants must have a curfew, or two keys. One for the shop, one for their apartment." Jonty was shivering in the cold night air.
"Why do we need to go here again, if I'm impersonating Agnes?"
"Because we need one of her dresses. You look like a cook." Jonty said.
Lizzy glared at him. "I am a cook."
"I think we can climb the drainpipes on the end of the block," Haze said. "You two keep watch." Tom and Lizzy shuffled into an alley, while Haze and Jonty attempted to scale the building. Jonty's smart chain made the climb easy. After slipping across the rooftops, guided by their friends below, they found the correct set of windows.
"Copper!" Tom squeaked, pointing at a lantern bobbing towards them in the gloom.
"I'll handle it," Lizzy said. "You keep an eye on the burglars."
Lizzy strode up to the Copper, intercepting him before he could see Tom. "Oh Constable," she gushed, "thank goodness. I'm the new cook at the Loxdon College Copper Station." She curtseyed. "Sorry, Metropolitan Police station. And I'm afraid I'm lost."
"Never you mind, miss," the Copper said politely, taking her by the arm. "I'll see you safely back."
"Thank you Constable..."
"Constable Barnes, miss."
"And what sort of sandwiches do you like, Constable Barnes?"
On the rooftop, Jonty, with Haze hanging on to his ankles, was trying to scrape open a window with his quill. It was the only unlit window on the floor, and therefore probably - hopefully - Agnes'. He finally cracked the paint seal, slid the window up, and was hit in the face with a brick.
"Devils Assorted!" he cursed, clutching his nose. The brick danged from the ceiling on a string. A cheap, but ineffective, burglar deterrent.
Side Note: Agnes' player insisted they'd trapped their room, despite not mentioning it.
Jonty slipped inside, cautiously opened the battered wardrobe, pulled out a dress, and threw it down to Tom. He then climbed out, closed the window, and raced along the rooftop with Haze.
Lizzy, meanwhile, had thanked Constable Barnes, waved goodbye, and sprinted back by a circuitous route. She arrived panting and tired, only to have Tom hand her a dress and insist she change in an alley, shielded only by Tom's coat and darkness.
The group wandered north onto Gaumdart Ave, hailed a cab, and headed for Hasselby Court. Haze wisely suggested the cab drop them off some distance from their final destination. Haze and Tom took up concealed positions across the street, while Lizzy and Jonty walked up to the door of 88 Hasselby Court. It was a warehouse wedged between a textile works (dark, this time of night), and a stable (also quiet). No windows. A wood door, badly painted. Thick, sound-muffling brick walls.
Jonty knocked. An almost-invisible wood panel slid back, revealing Snedge's face. "You're here," the mysterious functionary said, almost surprised.
"And so is Aggy. Let us in."
The door creaked open. Snedge took a look at Lizzy, who tried her best to hide her face, then at Jonty, then motioned the pair inside. "Almost late."
"But not late," Jonty said.
By the light of a lone candle, the pair navigated up a half-flight of stairs to a small office. "In here. Wait twenty minutes," Snedge said. He closed the door and locked it. Jonty waited until Snedge's footsteps faded down the side
Jonty examined the room. Desks piled against the wall. Dust. A wooden trunk with a lock. He idly opened drawers, prodded moths and scraps of paper, then took another look at the trunk. Not locked. He flipped the lid open.
"Lizzy", he said quietly. "We should leave."
There was a body in the chest. A young woman, cut at the joints, wrapped in canvas a blue dress with white flowers. Blood was already starting to seep through the chest's sides.
"Who is she?" Lizzy whispered.
"No idea. Can you break the lock?"
Lizzy went over to the door and started twisting the latch. She paused. "Devils. I head whistles."
"I don't hear..." Jonty said, then paused. He could hear them now. Whistles. Coppers. Calling to each other. From all sides. "We've got to get out," he said, very calmly, from a place so far on the other side of panic that the turbulence of life could not reach him.
Lizzy booted open the door. "Down or up?"
"Up." The pair raced up the stairs, finding another small abandoned room at the top. A pristine copy of "Lodestones and Ferric Properties", the textbook of the course Jonty teaches, rested atop a pile of scrap wood.
"Fucking Snedge!" Jonty spat as he grabbed the textbook and stuffed it into his coat.
There was a ladder to the roof, and Lizzy sprang for it. The rungs snapped off in her hand. "Sawn through," she said, examining them. "Do we fight our way out the front?"
"No," Jonty said. The rungs reachable from the floor were cut, but a few of the upper ones looked intact. Snedge had gotten lazy. Jonty flipped his smart chain upwards, looped it around the top rung, and motioned for Lizzy to grab it. He flung her upwards, then, once she was on the roof, followed. Below them, the could hear Coppers on the stairs.
And so we end this session. Jonty and Lizzy are on the roof, with a swarm of Coppers below. Their scheme has gone awry, but it seems their plan was not the only one thrown into disarray by Agnes and fate.
The night air is thick with crimes and plots. Will the PCs see the light, or will their intricate schemes collapse? Find out next time.