The Darkness Beneath the Hill Part 1 - Secret Tunnel
CoC 1-6e Jazz Age
Monday, August 28, 2017
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario “The Darkness Beneath the Hill” by Christopher Smith Adair from Doors to Darkness on Sunday, August 27, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. with James Brown, Ben Abbott, Ambralyn Tucker, Katelyn Hogan, and Yorie Latimer.)
Griffin McCree was at his home in the Elmwood neighborhood of Providence, R.I., in late September, 1928, when he heard a knock at his door. He opened up the tiny peep door set in his front door to look out to see a Providence Police Officer there. The officer leaned forward.
“Mr. McCree?” he said.
“Hello!” McCree said, opening the door.
“Mr. McCree?” the officer said again. “Can you come with me, please? You’re wanted for questioning.”
“In … what sort of matter?” McCree asked
The officer casually put his hand on his sidearm.
“On the matter of several murders that took place in Iowa last month,” he said.
“Iowa?” McCree said.
“Yes sir. Your name has come up.”
“I’d be delighted to help.”
“Very good. Come with me, please.”
He escorted McCree to an automobile out front with another police officer within. They went to the police station downtown. There, paperwork was filled out and McCree found himself extradited to Iowa where he eventually, after several days, found himself talking to Boone County Sheriff Roy Creed and his deputies. He was questioned about the fact that he, a big game hunter, was visiting a tiny town in the county called Oak Valley, and gave his name to the Boone News-Republican, the local paper, as being there to hunt down something; just about the same time, three people were murdered in the general store at Oak Valley by someone with exceptionally large-barreled shotguns. Additionally, several other people had been reported missing.
The questioning went on for hours and included rubber hoses, hot lights, a lack of comfort and facilities, and the like. It was very grueling and terrible, but McCree had, luckily, faced worse on safari in Africa and South America. It was a bit of a walk through the park for the man. He later learned Providence Police had searched his house in order to examine his guns for any kind of ballistics resemblance to the ones used in the murders in Oak Valley. Luckily for McCree, it was nearly impossible to get ballistics off shotguns, meaning they could not directly connect the weapons to the murders.
McCree was eventually released and returned to Providence after a week. He had been told not to leave the country, which was going to make his job hard. He was considered a suspect and questioned about the names of the men with him, which he only gave the nicknames “Jojo” and “Zippy.”
* * *
It was the first week of October when McCree got another knock at his front door. By now growing a bit paranoid, he had secreted a 1911 .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol in the elephant’s foot umbrella stand by the door out of worry of both the police and the events that had taken place in Iowa. He looked out the peep door again and saw a man in a typical suit and hat standing at the door. The man looked a little surprised at the peep door, apparently not expecting such a thing.
“Uh …” he said. “Mr. McCree?”
“Uh … hello,” McCree said. “Who are you?”
“I’ve got something for you, Mr. McCree.”
McCree closed the peep door and reached into the umbrella stand for the pistol, which was already loaded and ready to fire. He opened the door, the pistol behind his back.
The man reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a gun, shooting as he took a step back. The bullet grazed McCree in the size and he pulled his pistol out from behind his back and returned fire, hitting the man in the chest. The man stumbled back with a cry and shot McCree again, the bullet piercing his abdomen. The man fired another shot, this one missing. Something shattered and broke behind McCree.
McCree stepped out of the doorway, getting closer to the man, and tried to put the gun up against him but he jerked to one side. McCree fired, the bullet missing and striking the yard. The man yelled something about Shub-Niggurath but, in the moment, McCree didn’t understand him. Then he fired again but McCree had slapped the gun out of the way and the bullet went upwards into the porch roof.
The man fired again, this time the bullet slamming into the wall of the house. McCree tried to push his pistol to the man’s chest and fire but, in the struggle, he missed again. The man tried to do the same but McCree knocked the gun aside once again. Then the man pulled the trigger and the hammer fell on nothing with a click. He screamed and rose up the pistol to strike McCree. There was a blast as McCree shot the man in the chest again and he fell backwards to the walk with a gurgle.
As McCree took a step towards the fallen man, intending to finish him off, he saw a motorcar parked on the street out front. Another man was in the front seat, rifle in hand. As McCree turned to flee back into the house, he heard the report of the rifle behind him and the doorframe splintered as the bullet struck it.
McCree ran back into the house, another shot ringing out and striking the door. He slammed the door behind him and ran into the living room through the archway to the right, where he grabbed his elephant gun off the rack over the fireplace. As he pulled two slugs from the small humidor on the mantle, the front door burst open and the rifleman ran in, stopping in the foyer. He spun towards McCree, raised the Winchester rifle to his shoulder, and fired. The bullet struck the fireplace brick, splinters flying. McCree heard the ricochet fly by his head.
He closed the elephant gun, raised it to his shoulder, and fired. The blast made him stumble back a step but he kept to his feet. The slug struck the rifleman in the gut. Blood splashed on the wall and window behind him, splattering everywhere. The man stumbled backwards, crashing into the wall and then to the floor, his rifle falling from his dead hands.
McCree called the police and reported the incident. An ambulance and a police car soon arrived at the house. The man on the walk was still alive, though unconscious, and taken to the hospital. The other man was consigned to the morgue. McCree was also taken to the hospital, where doctors removed the bullet from his abdomen. He was questioned by police about the attack.
He soon learned that neither of the men had any identification of any kind on them. The automobile was a rental and the gunmen had paid in cash. The police were not able to track down the gunmen’s rifle or pistol and there were no witnesses to the shootout. No neighbors happened to be outside when the man attacked McCree.
In the end, he was not indicted or charged, the entire incident being ruled self defense. A short article appeared in the Providence Journal about the attack.
When Angelo “Zippy” Giovanni read the article in the newspaper, he became very nervous. He thought he knew who the gunmen were who had attacked McCree and why they had come to Providence. He was not happy about it.
The surviving gunman was found dead a few days after the attack. Though police had him under guard in a windowless room, the man had cut his own throat using the zipper of a jacket that had been inadvertently left in the room. The madman had sawed his neck until he had opened the carotid artery. Zippy learned that and Milo James, who was often at the hospital, also found out about the bizarre suicide.
It was not long after that when the phone rang at Zippy’s house.
“Hey, you got Zippy!” the police officer answered it.
“Hey, Zippy,” McCree’s voice came over the telephone.
“I’m assuming you’ve read the paper?”
“Oh, Jesus. Uh … yes. Yes, I did.”
“Would you be able to meet me for coffee later today?”
“Yeah, I suppose … I suppose I could but … are they coming for me?” he said.
“Uh …” McCree said.
“Did you tell them about me!?!”
“If you want to meet me …”
McCree told him the location of a downtown coffee shop.
The two men met an hour later in a secluded booth.
“So, Zippy, I doubt they know who you are,” McCree said once they each had coffee. “But it seems the law seems to think I might have done something up in Iowa.”
“Oh, jeeze!” Zippy said. “I have no idea why the law would think anything like that!”
“I’m thinking the same thing. It looks like … as you could read … that they are after me … which, I’ll just be a lot more cautious before answering doors. But, would you be able to keep me in the loop of what’s going on policeman-wise?”
Zippy looked at him and sighed again.
“You know, McCree …” he said. “When I went on this hunting venture with you, I never in my life imagined I’d see the things I did. I was curious. There was some weird stuff going on with the carnival but … this was … I mean, I’m scarred for life. Literally!”
“Oh, it’ll heal up,” McCree said.
“I don’t think it will!” Zippy said, his eyes tearing up. “I’ve got a desk job now!”
“They put you behind a desk?” McCree said.
“They put me behind a desk!”
“Listen, McCree, if you keep me outta this and don’t mention me to any of them, I’ll do you one solid by making sure I let you know anything you need to know about what’s coming for you from the law’s end. All right?”
“Thank you, Zippy. And, of course, I won’t let them know about you. I might divulge the other fella … and where he’s ‘hiding out.’ But …”
“Oh, you mean in hell?”
“Possibly. You’re a true friend, Zippy. Can you still shoot?”
“Yeah. It’s hard. It’s hard to load it up. I usually … um … I have to ask for help at the shooting range sometimes.”
Tears formed in his eyes again.
“If you ever do need that help and would like to go shooting with me …” McCree said.
“That depends on what we’re shooting,” Zippy said. “Last time you told me we were hunting monsters and we found … not monsters. I mean, they were there, actually. But … there was … lots of other … not monsters.”
“Well, uh, we’ll try to get a more clear goal in mind if there’s another one of those ventures.”
“I’d appreciate that. Thank you, McCree.”
“I hope you have a delightful evening, Zippy.”
“I hope you do to. And I hope no men show up in cars trying to kill you tonight.”
“I do as well.”
* * *
Samantha Whitaker had short, curly brown hair and was almost six feet tall. She was average-looking and slim, though in very good shape. At 26 years old, she struggled all her life to follow her dream of becoming a uniformed police officer. In June, that dream had been realized when she became the first female uniformed police officer in Providence, R.I. It had been an uphill battle but she had eventually been brought onto the force in the downtown precinct.
Her fight for equality wasn’t over though. She had struggled to keep a beat while sergeants and lieutenants tried to keep her tied to a desk. She fought to be included on raids and other cases constantly. She fought not to be given long weekends off or take long vacations.
She had heard about a police raid on the carnival north of the city about a month before she had joined the force and even found it interesting enough to read up on. She had also heard strange rumors that weren’t included in any of the paperwork, rumors about catacombs under the carnival, tentacles trying to drag people down, some kind of odd slave trade or cult. There was talk of dead people walking around and, according to the Sheriff’s Department, mustard gas had been used by the carnies. She didn’t believe any of it and couldn’t get any names of who had actually seen any of the strange things. She was very skeptical.
She learned a police officer named Angelo Giovanni who was nicknamed “Zippy” and who worked in the precinct that serviced the Federal Hill neighborhood had been part of the raid. She heard he’d gunned down a man with swords.
Curious about the entire thing, she found Zippy’s telephone number and called him in early October.
“Hey, you got Zippy!” the voice on the other end of the line answered.
“Yes,” she said. “Officer Whitaker. I was reading this paper and it says you were in this carnival incident and I was just curious about it. It seemed a little weird. I’ve been hearing weird rumors about tentacles and dead and …”
“Well, I mean, I get calls about my heroism all the time. You see, I’m thinking about writing a book … so if you wanna just talk about me and what I did, I call it the ‘Zippy Patented Breech and Spray.’ I’ll teach you all about it back at the police department if you want me too. You say you was interested in the carnival though? I was only in one spot, but I was pretty cool when I was there.”
“That … that’s nice. Are any of these rumors true? Just curious.”
“Yeah, about the weird things that were seen.”
“Oh! Um … I wouldn’t … I would leave that alone.”
“What do you mean?”
“I … I mean … I was a young, hot-blooded officer before I was so heinously put behind a desk … that … I thought … I thought I would look … I thought I would look into it too … and I … I don’t recommend it. I came out of it … uh … a different man and … that’s all I’m gonna say.”
“Okay. Well … thank you for speaking with me.”
“Don’t go investigating on your own!”
“All right. If I ever get a call, I guess I’ll hit you up?”
“I mean … I’m just a great person to talk to anyway, so …”
“Okay. That’s nice. Nice talking to you. Bye.”
“All right. Bye-bye.”
* * *
Milo James, the easy-going alienist who generally dressed in rough clothing but was considered outstanding his field, got a telephone call from Josh Winscott on Friday, October 19, 1928. James had worked with Winscott before. Being a reader and a writer, usually trying to get papers published about alienism and psychology, he had met Winscott a couple of times. They had stayed in touch with letters and occasionally used each other to help with editing of their papers and stories. They were casual friends.
James was an average-looking man of 22 who had relatively long dark hair that came down past his ears. He usually had a three-day growth of beard.
“Milo?” Winscott said on the other side of the phone.
“Yes, is this …?” James said.
“It’s Josh! Josh Winscott!”
“Oh hello, how are you?”
“I haven’t talked to you in a while. Well, I’m living in town now. Doing pretty well.”
“My aunt. My aunt recently died and left me a house on Power Street.”
“Oh! Oh, poor thing.”
“Yeah, well, she was pretty old. It was … I guess it was her time. She went peacefully. Thank God for that.”
“What from, if I may ask?”
“Well, just from old age. She was my great aunt. Not my aunt but a great aunt.”
“I think she was about 90.”
“Well, that’s quite a feat.”
“So, she left me her house. I moved into town. It’s kind of a mess so I’ve had to renovate it, a lot of it.”
“I’ve been working on that. I found something … incredible. I really want you to see it.”
“Well, I … not over the phone because anybody could be listening. Can you come by this afternoon sometime? And if you have any friends you’d like to bring, I’m going to contact some other people.”
“Are you quite well?”
The other man sounded very excited.
“Yes, I’m fine … it’s … it’s …” Winscott said. “It’s something that … I don’t want to say any more. You know: party lines and all that.”
“Certainly,” James said. “Well, would you be comfortable giving me your address?”
“Yeah, yeah. Of course. It’s 79 Power Street.”
“The house is a mess. I haven’t even got started on the yard so it’s overgrown, there’s bushes out front. I’ve been working on the interior and I’ve got a room to sleep in and I’ve been working on the kitchen and the basement.”
“Bring some people over. The more the merrier, actually, because I want witnesses. You know?”
“Is it an event or an object or …”
“No no no. It’s something that I’ve found but I want to make sure it’s documented so anyone you can bring would be great. I’m also going to telephone … there’s a friend of mine I’m hoping she’ll be able to come too. Yeah, anybody else that you want to bring would be great.”
“Or don’t, you know. It’s up to you.”
“All right. I will see you shortly.”
“Four o’clock, maybe?”
“Great Milo. Thanks! Thanks so much! I’ll see you then.”
“I’ll see you soon.”
* * *
That same day, Officer Samantha Whitaker got a telephone call from Josh Winscott, who she’d known in high school in Providence. She had not heard from him since she got a letter from him in June, congratulating her on getting into the police department. It was not surprising as it had been national news and a very big deal, especially in Providence. If the newspaper headlines had been less condescending, it would have been nicer. The Providence Journal story had a headline of “Little Lady’s Not in the Kitchen Anymore!” It was written by James Updyke, assistant editor of the paper.
She recognized Winscott’s voice as soon as she picked up the telephone receiver.
“Oh hi!” she said.
“I haven’t talked to you in a while.”
“I know, I’m sorry. You moved into town, you were in the paper, I meant to call you, I want to take you out to lunch, congratulate you and everything. It’s just been crazy busy.”
He told her of his great aunt’s death and his inheriting the house. She gave him her condolences.
“There’s something I want some people to see,” he said. “I’m having people over around four o’clock this afternoon. Could you come by? I want as many people to see this as possible. I’ve discovered something and I want to make sure we have documentation of it.”
“Okay,” she said.
“Great! Thank you so much. And if you have any friends you want to bring, or any people that you know that you’d like to bring with you, that’d be great too.”
He gave her the address and they rang off.
* * *
Spencer DeLuve was a plain man with plain brown hair of an undistinguished and dull cut. He dressed plainly as well, usually wearing a brown suit and brown tie. He had a bushy mustache and was 29 years old. He was a little on the short side, being slightly overweight.
DeLuve had a little photography studio called DeLuve Deluxe Photos. The little shop was downtown and DeLuve rented one of the apartments in the building above it that had a nice little entrance out back. DeLuve Deluxe Photos consisted of a small studio in the front and a darkroom in the back.
DeLuve was not just a photographer though. Secretly, the man was a burglar. He used his studio as a cover and to keep his earnings from the eyes of the law, but he also robbed the homes of the rich whenever he could.
He received a telephone call on Friday at his studio.
“DeLuve Deluxe Photos, how may I help you today?” he asked.
“I’m calling for Spencer? DeLuve?” the voice on the other end of the line asked.
“Yes, Spencer, this is Josh Winscott. I don’t know if you remember me from high school.”
“Yeah. I heard you were doing photography now.”
Winscott told him the story of his aunt dying and he inheriting the house on Power Street.
“Do you have a photographer for the funeral?” DeLuve asked.
“Uh … the funeral’s done,” Winscott said. “But thanks. Thanks. I was wondering if you could come by, bring your photographic equipment, we might need some pictures taken if possible.”
They arranged for him to come to his house at 4 p.m.
* * *
The telephone at Zippy’s house rang again and he answered it.
“You got Zippy!” he said.
“This is Samantha Whitaker,” the voice on the other side of the line said. “And, remember when I said I would call you─”
“I was not finished!”
“I was so glad, by the way, that you asked so kindly to come under my wing─”
“You’re still talking.”
“─and be my protégé. What were you saying, anyway? So sorry.”
“Anyway … remember when I said I would call you whenever I said I got an invitation anywhere? So, would you like to see this man named Josh Winscott? He’s discovered something and wants everyone to get over there to see it.”
“I mean … yeah. I will attend your party, my young pupil. Although I will ask if you could put in a good word for me on your shift together, we could even be partners and I would be back on the beat like I’m supposed to be as they so rudely put me on a desk.”
“Just give me the time and place and I’ll meet you over there.”
She gave him the time and place and got off the telephone. She was unsure if she liked him.
* * *
James was on the way to Power Street that afternoon around 4 p.m. when he recognized another man on the trolley. He remembered, a year or so before, several of his patients claimed they had been healed by a faith healer in a little church in West End. They had told the alienist they only had to be touched where they were injured or broken or diseased and were healed completely. Thinking they were deluded, James had done some research, eventually finding the man in the run-down little building he called a church and even attending one of the “healing” services. He was unable to determine how the man was doing his miraculous healing but guessed those he healed were actually plants or part of the act.
The man was completely bald and had a pencil mustache and piercing eyes. He was staring out the window intently as if looking for something. He had changed his look. He used to have black hair.
James approached the man, whom he remembered as Fontaine.
“Hello, sir,” James said. “I remember you.”
Frank Fontaine was startled out of his thoughts to look at the other man. He was a man with problems, the largest being he was a sensitive who could sometimes see and hear and feel things normal men could not. He also had the power to heal those with injuries though sometimes grievous injuries also caused him some distress. He had been delving into a place called the Dreamlands, trying to establish himself in the land of dreams with some difficulty. A year or so before, he had run a tiny church, with the aid of a man named Robert Ingerton, where he used his abilities to heal the parishioners. That had fallen apart in late 1927 when the local mob had found out about him and “recruited” him into their ranks to keep them healthy. It was not a situation that was most beneficial to him.
That very day, he had felt a compulsion that seemed to pull him towards the Fox Point Neighborhood. For some reason, he felt he desperately needed to be there and he was uneasy as to why.
“My name it Milo James and I’m an alienist with the hospital,” James told him. “I do recall attending one of your services.”
“Oh … that was a long time ago,” Fontaine said.
“Oh yes, I recall it was about a year ago. How is that going for you now?”
“Uh … I’m in a different line of work now.”
“Hm, why is that?”
“That was … uh … not the best way to make a living.”
“And, Milo James, you are an alienist?”
“Yes. Yes. I was immensely fascinated by your work but … since you seem to be moving onto other pursuits, I congratulate you. Congratulate you in your efforts.”
“Why thank you.”
“Oh! I’m in fact heading to a very peculiar place to view peculiar things if you’re interested in that.”
“Peculiar place for what?”
“For peculiar things.”
“Uh … what kind of peculiar things?”
“I’m really not sure. A good friend of mine, actually, got in touch with me and said that he had found something … something so strange. And he sounded very enthusiastic. He said ‘The more the merrier.’ I didn’t know if you might be interested.”
“Uh, it’s a strange way to phrase an invitation but … I’d love to at a later time. I might be able to get in touch with you later today. Or maybe tomorrow.”
“Oh, certainly. We’d love to have you.”
“Is this some sort of trick?”
The bell rang and James realized it was his stop.
“It was so nice to─” James said.
“How may I get in contact with you?” Fontaine said, following James off the trolley when he realized it was his stop.
“Yes, quite. Here.”
James took out a little notebook and jotted down his address as they walked down the street, tearing out the sheet of paper and handing it over to Fontaine. Fontaine took it and then they found themselves walking the same direction. Fontaine felt himself drawn that way.
“So, where are you heading?” he asked. “Are you heading there now?”
“Yes, in fact I am,” James said. “I took the trolley to get there. Where are you headed?”
“A similar direction.”
Fontaine was unsure where, exactly he was going. He just knew he had to get somewhere.
“I might be possibly heading the same direction you’re heading right now,” he said. “From the looks of things.”
“Well, my my,” James said.
“I got a feeling for these things.”
“Uh … a feeling? I’m heading to 79 Power Street. Does that ring a bell with your senses?”
“Uh … I’m heading in this direction.”
“That’s what my senses are telling me.”
As they approached 79 Power Street, they saw a little red Ford Model A Coupe pull up in front of the house. Samantha Whitaker got out. A moment later, an older Ford Model T wooden pickup truck pulled up and parked in front of the house as well. Spencer DeLuve exited that vehicle and started to pull camera equipment out of the protected bed of the truck. Miss Whitaker headed up to the front of the house and a Harley Davidson motorcycle roared up the street and stopped near Miss Whitaker’s motorcar. She recognized Zippy on the back.
Of course it is, she thought.
“So, it seems this is the place I’m needing to be,” Fontaine said to James as they approached. “Is there where you’re heading?”
“Yes, indeed,” James said. “You sure you haven’t just been … following me?”
“You’re not sure.”
“I am sure that I’m not following you.”
“Oh! Hello Miss Whitaker! I’ve read so much about you in the papers!”
Miss Whitaker, halfway up the walk through the overgrown yard, turned and came back.
“May I ask who you are?” she said.
“I apologize,” James said. “My name is Milo James. I’m an alienist at the hospital.”
“I see,” Miss Whitaker said.
“Excuse me!” Zippy said. “I’m Zippy. I am Miss Samantha’s mentor at the police station. Thank you, very much.”
“What happened to your arm?” James asked.
“Uh … well … you see …” Zippy said. “You see, what happened was─”
“Did you go to the hospital for this?”
“Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. What happened was, I was out in the middle of the woods. I was on a special call, I wasn’t on duty. I heard some children had gone missing. I had gone to investigate them and I found this─”
“I’ve heard about that.”
“─I … and I found … uh … the woods. Let me tell you, the woods at night? Pretty spooky stuff. There’s some horrible things you can find out there. I found a group of men─”
“─I fought ‘em off with my glorious marksmanship skills that I’m well-known for in the police force, Samantha will tell you─”
“No, I won’t,” Samantha said.
“─and as I was reaching through … uh … the woods to save these children from these horrible armed bandits, I reached my arm through a field of necrotic mushrooms and it was like this every since,” Zippy went on. “But I got the children out and it was frozen in the shape of me grasping the precious lives of children.”
The story seemed suspicious to DeLuve.
“That’s a good story,” the man said. “I mean, I never heard of no necrotic mushrooms, but …”
James jotted down a note on Zippy’s story, not really believing it.
They all walked to the front door, DeLuve weighed down with two cameras, flash powder and rig, and tripods
The house obviously needed some work. Paint was peeling from the siding and some of the windows were not quite squared in their frames. The yard was a mess of overgrown grass and untrimmed trees. There was no doorbell.
“Josh!” James called. “It’s Milo! There are quite a few people out here.”
When Miss Whitaker knocked, the door creaked open.
“Josh?” James called, walking in.
“Josh!” Miss Whitaker called.
“What?” a muffled voice came from below. “Be right up.”
Fontaine had turned to Miss Whitaker.
“Frank Fontaine,” he said. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“Oh,” she said.
“And you are?”
They heard footsteps coming up from somewhere below. The place was a shambles with sawdust on the floor and large two by fours sitting along the front hall. A few sawhorses stood nearby and there were tools lying around as well.
Winscott appeared at the back of the hall with a smile, having come up the stairs into the kitchen. He was a handsome young man in his late 20s. He wore round, wire-rimmed glasses and was dusty and dirty.
“Yeah, everybody!” he said. “C’mon in. Wow. There’s quite a few people her. C’mon in.”
“Hello Josh!” James said.
“It’s so good to see you!”
“How are you doing?”
He shook hands with everyone he knew and was introduced to those he didn’t before taking out a cigarette case and lighting a Turkish cigarette. He offered one to everyone else. DeLuve gestured at his camera equipment.
“I’ve got coffee in the kitchen,” Winscott said. “Let’s get everyone some coffee.”
He invited everyone to sit down on boxes in the kitchen and got a pot warming on the oven. Fontaine had lit one of his own cheap cigarettes but wondered about bumming a Turkish one off Winscott after he finished it.
“Let me explain why you’re here,” Winscott said. “I’ve been restoring the house since my aunt died. She left it to me and I’m restoring it. I discovered a bricked-up wall in the cellar in a storage area. It covered up an extensive tunnel. First I thought it was an old drainage system but then I found it connected to a larger corridor. I’m thinking it might have something to do with the slave tunnels they had here in Providence? Where they would sneak the slaves after it was made illegal - they used to sneak slaves underground to ships and back.
“I dismissed the Italian laborers I had working here. Got them out so I could look into this. I’ve been working on it, clearing the way, hoping that … I want to explore the tunnels. This would be proof that these tunnels exist. There’s been rumors about it in Providence for years and years and years. So, I really … I’d really love to get started right now.”
Both Zippy and DeLuve knew a little more than the rest about the history of slavery in Providence.
Rhode Island was one of the most active Northern colonies in the slave trade, controlling over half of the trade in all America. Newport was the most important Rhode Island port, but Providence was also greatly involved. Despite the emancipation begun during the Revolution, the ownership of slaves continued until the 1840s. Originally, the slaves were primarily sold in the West Indies or brought back to Rhode Island to work on its own plantations. When Congress gave the trade an expiration of 1806, Rhode Island served the hungry slave markets of the South, shipping as many slaves as they could as quickly as they could. Conditions for their human cargo, already poor, quickly deteriorated.
John Brown was tried in 1796 for violating the slave-trade laws, but he was found not guilty. A year later, he was tried again, and his slave ship, Hope, was confiscated. The Brown family of Providence had been successfully involved in the slave trade for decades, becoming one of the region’s most prominent mercantile and political families. Rhode Island University was renamed Brown University in honor of their donations.
Over the years, the discovery of drainage tunnels and bricked-over cold-storage rooms under some of the houses on College Hill stoked speculation they were once used to smuggle slaves into Providence after the laws against the slave trade were passed. In 1901, a cornerstone and nearby tunnel was rediscovered during renovations on the house of John Brown. The stone was inscribed with Brown’s name and a date of 1786 and appeared to have stood at the entrance of a large tunnel running towards Benefit Street. It was wide enough for two grown men to crawl trough. While the head architect dismissed it as a drainage conduit, the tunnel’s discovery revived rumors that it had been used to smuggle slaves.
The coffee started to bubble and percolate.
“I’d be glad to help Mr. Winscott,” Fontaine said.
“We haven’t met?” Winscott said.
“Frank Fontaine. Nice to meet you Mr. Fontaine.”
He shook the man’s hand and Fontaine noticed a strange jolt from him. It didn’t feel very good.
“And you are?” Winscott said, turning to Zippy.
“Oh, I’m Zippy!” the man said. “I’m the best … uh … best cop around.”
Miss Whitaker rolled her eyes.
“Oh! Nice!” Winscott said. “A police officer! Great! Well, there won’t be anybody to arrest down there, I’m sure!”
Winscott laughed at his own joke.
“Miss Samantha hasn’t told you about me?” Zippy said.
“No,” Miss Whitaker said.
“No,” Winscott said.
“You seem to speak well for yourself,” she said.
“I knew her in high school,” Winscott went on.
“We’re a team,” Zippy said.
“No,” Miss Whitaker said.
“We’re a team.”
“Are you two married?” Winscott asked Miss Whitaker.
She just laughed.
“It doesn’t matter,” Winscott said. “I knew Samantha in high school. Milo and I worked together before. DeLuve was a year ahead of me in high school. He’s going to take pictures. I meant to go ahead and do this. I really want to get started. I want to get down there, but I am exhausted. I’ve been working on this wall all day. I’d rather get started tomorrow morning if you don’t mind. If you can meet me here tomorrow morning around eight o’clock, we can get down there, take pictures, make some measurements. I’m going to write down everything I can find, if you can help me with that.”
“But we’re here now, Josh,” James said.
Miss Whitaker also wanted to go down and Winscott was willing to do so but he wanted an expedition into the tunnel to be organized, noting he was not going to be able to walk more than 20 feet the way he was feeling right then. He very much wanted to go. James sighed. Winscott apologized to him, noting when he had called a couple of hours before, he was raring to go, but the work he’d put in had worn him out and he’d rather wait. He also wanted to make sure they could all make it the next day.
“At least lead us to the entrance,” James said.
“Yeah, I’ll show it to you,” Winscott said. “Please don’t tell anybody because if this is what I think it is, this could be a major discovery. I mean, they’ve never been able to find these tunnels and people have been looking for them for years. It’s always been just a rumor. But it seems to say that my family was pretty heavily involved in the slave trade, even after it was illegal here in Providence. Are you okay, Mr. DeLuve?”
DeLuve had started sneezing over and over and over again.
“It’s dusty in here,” DeLuve said.
“Yeah, this place is a mess,” Winscott said. “I’m sorry.”
He looked them over and asked again they not tell anyone, noting he planned to write up an article about it and he wanted them all to be included. DeLuve asked if he could take photographs of the opening he had while he had the camera equipment there. Winscott was fine with that.
He led them down into the basement. In the light of a single exposed light bulb, they could see a bricked up section on the south side of the basement. A narrow opening had been cleared in the brickwork but it was barely enough for one very small person to squeeze through. Tools, bricks, and broken pieces of mortar were scattered over the floor. They could just make out a dark tunnel that ran east and west beyond the hole.
“If we wait until tomorrow morning, we can get equipped,” Winscott went on. “Flashlights and the like. We’ll need some equipment to go in there. I want to get some better shoes on.”
DeLuve set up the cameras and took several photographs of the entrance, the flash powder making a bright light and filling the basement with the smell of gunpowder. Then they returned to the kitchen where he poured them all coffee in mismatched cups. He noted most of his possessions were still boxed up.
They arranged to meet at 8 a.m. the next morning. Winscott encouraged them all to get some equipment.
Zippy leaned over to Miss Whitaker as they left the house.
“Do you know, by chance, what’s gonna be down there?” he whispered to her.
“Rocks,” she replied. “Maybe some mold. Maybe some fungus. There might be a hobo down there.”
“Okay. I just thought this was gonna be a party, not cave exploration.”
“He was very vague, but this is big.”
“I’ve seen many things in the dark place,” James said, musing on what he’d seen under the dark carnival.
“Milo, are you all right?” Miss Whitaker asked.
“Ah, yes, fine, Miss Whitaker. I’m not feeling quite well. I’ll head home.”
“All right. Get some rest.”
“You as well.”
Fontaine got Zippy’s attention and took him aside.
“You say your name is Zippy, right?” he asked.
“That’s correct,” Zippy said.
“So, uh, how did that happen to you?”
“Well, like I said I was─”
“Without the lies. I might be able to … uh … fix that for you.”
“You!?! You might … you might be able to fix it!?!”
“You gotta keep it between us.”
“That’s why I’m whispering!”
Zippy looked around. The others had left and DeLuve was the only one nearby, packing his equipment back into his pickup truck.
“I was in the west,” he said. “There were trees that walked around!”
“You said there were trees that walked around?” Fontaine said.
“Trees that walked around! There was a guy! He had legs like a goat. I thought he was the devil for a little bit, looking back. Legs like a goat. I heard him singing or whispering something and then this happened.”
“Really? And where did you say these woods were?”
“It was Iowa.”
“Okay. Uh … now Zippy, I could do you a favor by trying to fix your arm, but if I do, I will need some favors from you.”
“I will pay whatever I need to do to get this arm back! Money. Services. I’ll do it.”
“All right. If I can come over to your house because I wouldn’t want you to come to my place of business, seeing who you’re with. Where do live?”
Zippy gave the man his address at 124 Federal Street.
“I’ll see you at … eight tonight?” Fontaine said.
“Sounds good,” Zippy said, grasping the man’s hand and shaking it. “By the way: Thank you!”
“You’re welcome, Zippy.”
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
* * *
When Miss Whitaker got home to her apartment that evening she found a snake in her bathtub. She was unsure how to handle it, going to the telephone to call someone to come get it. She consulted the directory but the dog catcher was the only one she could think to deal with it. She left her apartment and found a good-sized stick to deal with it herself, but when she returned, it was gone.
Unnerved, she searched the bathroom and then the entire apartment. There was no sign of the animal. She wondered how it had gotten out and, fearing it might have gone down the drain, she filled the tub and then let it drain, hoping that would flush out the pipes.
* * *