Blood on the Tracks Part 1 - Non-Stop to New Orleans
CoC 1-6e Jazz Age
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario “Blood on the Tracks” by J. Todd Kingrea from The Resurrected III: Out of the Vault on Sunday, Sept 10, from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. with James Brown, Hannah Gambino, Ben Abbott, and Yorie Latimer.)
Frank Fontaine had been visiting the Dreamlands for months, ever since he had eaten the strange chocolate and first gone to that place in June of 1928. Time passed differently there and it seemed more like the passage of years. He had more troubles with establishing his new village than he had ever thought possible. When he first found the spot he wanted his village and had brought the slaves he had purchased in Dylath-Leen using dream money, about a hundred all told, he said they could all build a town together and that they were free. About half of them wanted to return home, having been stolen or kidnapped from their respective cities, towns, or lands. They needed an escort, of course, as none of them were warriors and the Dreamlands could be a terribly dangerous place. Another group of people abandoned the spot and fled into the wilderness, never to be seen again. Those remaining proved to be excellent slaves, but terrible at thinking for themselves, having been slaves all their lives.
Fontaine was in a quandary. He first took the slaves who could not be taught anything to Ulthar, asking Robert Ramsden for help in finding a place for them. The man said he’d do what he could.
Over the following years, it seemed, Fontaine made sure to return the slaves who wanted to go home to their places throughout the Dreamlands. It was a long and arduous task and saw him crossing and crisscrossing the land of dreams. Most of them knew the name of their country or city, but had no idea where it might be and it took a great deal of time to return them from whence they’d come. He met with mixed results. Some of the people were from places he couldn’t find. Others were from towns long lost. Sometimes he was met with happy relatives, glad their people had been returned. Other times he was met by those who wanted to know why he had not returned them sooner or who demanded he rescue others from slavery.
He remained anonymous, keeping his name a secret, fearing repercussions from Dylath-Leen.
* * *
Agent Ramsey Sanderson had been in the hospital for a week at the end of May 1928 over a bullet he’d been shot with during an altercation in the caves under the North Star Amusement Arcade and Pleasure Pier. He did not reveal to doctors that he had been accidently shot by one of his associates. He heard the police raid on the carnival had been successful with numerous carnies captured or killed though a few policemen had either been injured, killed, or suffered nervous breakdowns afterwards. He had learned Wilberforce Wyatt, the owner of the carnival, had disappeared. There were rumors of mustard gas being used by the carnival workers and other crazy happenings.
He was reading a magazine in his room at the hospital in Providence on May 31 when the door was slammed open and two men burst in. The man in the lead was J. Edgar Hoover, a smallish, stout man.
“Sanderson!” he said.
“Yes sir?” Sanderson said.
“What the hell happened? I had to find out from local police that they were carrying out a raid based on one of my men’s word that there was bad things happening at some carnival. Didn’t I tell you if anything weird happens, you tell me immediately? Didn’t I tell you that? Did I not tell you that, Sanderson?”
“Sir, you told me that but it was a situation I couldn’t do much about.”
“Oh, and in the week that has passed since then, you decided you would just lounge in a hospital instead of, I don’t know, sending me a telegram? Possibly making a telephone call? I don’t know … sending one of the men who work for you up to Washing to talk to me!”
“My apologies, sir. It’s been quite a pickle.”
“Sanderson, I want to know everything. Everything that happened that led you to this raid. Tell me everything.”
Sanderson told Hoover everything he had seen at the strange carnival: the caverns underneath, the stories he’d heard from the others, the ghouls that lived under the graveyard. Everything. Hoover listened without comment or expression. Sanderson even expressed his opinion Wilberforce Wyatt had used some kind of magic that was later reported as mustard gas.
“I’m going to issue a warrant that all of those prisoners be remanded to United States Government custody,” Hoover said. “You get to do the legal legwork. Have fun this week. Get your ass out of bed.”
“All right,” Sanderson said.
“Listen, back in February, you remember I was telling you about that raid in that town up in Massachusetts? Innsmouth?”
“Well, there was a little more to it than I told you. It’d been taken over by half-men, half-fish, all right? They were breeding with the local population to create more of themselves and worshipping something called Dagon.”
“That’s right, Dagon. The creatures are being called deep ones by those in the know. Now, 200 of the locals were taken into custody by the Office of Naval Intelligence and the raid and subsequent occupation of the village put an end to the queer practices. A submarine fired torpedoes into a city under the reef! Full of these fish … people things. Obviously, there’s some strange things going on. So, what I want you to do … if you see anything else strange, you send me a telegram immediately.”
“You can handle it on your own up to the point where you can’t handle it anymore. But I want to know about it as soon as possible.”
“Don’t make this mistake again, Sanderson.”
Hoover turned and left.
Sanderson spent the next week getting warrants and judges’ signatures to have all of the prisoners from the carnival remanded to the custody of the Bureau of Investigation or Office of Naval Intelligence. There was some backlash from police and judges who had their arrests and convictions taken out of their hands but overall it went fairly smoothly.
* * *
In early January 1929, Griffin McCree woke up in the middle of the night and smelled smoke. He turned on the bedroom light and saw a haze in the room. He got out of bed and, at first, ran to his window, which faced the front of the house. It didn’t feel hot in the room. He noticed a little smoke coming out of the vent.
He found his bedroom door was not hot, nor was the door knob. He returned to his nightstand for his 1911 .45 semi-automatic pistol, quickly donned his robe, and then opened the door to the hall. There was more smoke there. He went downstairs where the smoke was thicker and made his way to the front room where he retrieved his elephant gun and loaded it. He left the pistol behind.
He assumed someone was waiting outside of his house to murder him.
He went to the kitchen and felt the door to the basement. Though it wasn’t hot, smoke was coming out from underneath it. He returned to the front hall and telephoned the fire department to report his house was on fire. They advised him to get out of the house and told him they were on their way. He went back to the kitchen and saw thicker smoke coming from under the basement door. He kept low, staying near the back door. He peeked out the back windows but it was pitch black in his back yard. A little light spilled from the streetlights near the front of the house.
When he started coughing from the smoke, he decided it might be best to escape the house. He heard a crackling roar coming from the basement and moved to the front. He peeked out of the windows and finally opened the front door, peering out. He didn’t see anything out there so went out to the fresh air on the porch, looking around. In the distance, he heard the wail of a siren and the ringing of a bell.
He paced the porch, looking around, until the fire truck arrived after a very short time. The vehicle disgorged several firemen, some of whom attached hoses to a nearby hydrant while others rushed into the house brandishing axes.
“Basement!” he said to them.
Flames were licking up the back of the house and he heard the rending of wood from within. Hoses were brought in as the men set to work combating the blaze that seemed to have started down there. The fire had spread extensively in the basement by then, however, and, by the time it was put out, there was a great deal of smoke damage to the entirety of the house and everything in the basement was destroyed. There was extensive damage to the ground floor as well, both by the fire and the water used to fight it.
Over the next week, an investigation by the fire department found accelerants were used and the basement. A gas can was also found by a broken basement window. The report eventually stated someone had broken a window, poured gasoline in the basement, tossed in the mostly empty gas can, and then dropped a lit match in, causing the fire.
Not long after he learned arson was the cause of the fire, he received a letter in the mail. It was postmarked Providence and read:
We know what you did and it is not over. Vengeance will be ours in the end and you will
die, screaming for mercy and begging Shub-Niggurath for redemption, succor, and release.
The murders you committed in Oak Valley will not go unpunished. We are always watching
you. We are always nearby. The blade will fall sooner or later and you will see everything
you love and cherish burn. We will find you no matter where you hide even as we found the
body of your friend hidden in that shack in the woods. He is ours now. None are safe.
Ia Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.
An odd sigil or image was drawn at the bottom of the paper. It was a series of interconnected lines forming a strange shape. He wondered if it was some kind of map.
The Insurance company McCree worked with covered most of the damage though they performed an independent investigation of the fire and some accusations were made that the fire was caused by McCree himself in some kind of insurance fraud. He noted someone was trying to kill him but when asked who could be doing so, he feigned ignorance. In the end, he got money to pay for most of the repairs to his house.
He decided not to tell the police about the letter.
* * *
The telephone rang at Angelo “Zippy” Giovanni’s house.
“You got Zippy,” he answered it.
“Hi there Zippy,” McCree’s voice came over the line.
“Why do you always have to say ‘oh no’ when I’m calling, now?”
“‘Cause the last time that we went on an adventure together, you told me … you …well, first of all, what happened─”
“Well, before we go into that, there, Zippy, uh … would you like to go to our regular spot to discuss new findings?”
“Regrettably … but sure.”
“All righty. I’ll see you there in one hour.”
“Maybe. I’ll be there.”
Zippy hung up.
* * *
When McCree got to the coffee shop where they usually met, he immediately noticed Zippy’s left arm seemed to be completely healed.
“So there, Zippy, I told you that would heal up,” he said.
“Oh, it didn’t just … it didn’t heal up,” Zippy said. “I went to a … medicine man … and he …”
“A medicine man?”
“… chanted some stuff on my arm and he … we were yelling, screaming all night … and …”
“But, it still stands. Your arm’s fine.”
“Oh yeah, I just had to go to an occultic medicine man who I met by chance investigating a tunnel under somebody’s house.”
“That just happens every day for me, you know, no big problem.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it, Zippy. But Zippy, yeah, I got this letter in the mail after my house got burnt.”
“It got burnt?” he said. “What do you mean, it got burnt?”
“Some of those … Iowa people … decided to … uh … burn me alive,” McCree said.
“Don’t worry, I made it out okay. I just have to collect some more trophies.”
“That’s what I was worried about … oh. Sure.”
“But I found this letter …”
He handed the letter to Zippy, who started reading it out loud to himself.
“So, uh, Zippy, I’m thinking about getting some people together …” McCree said. “… at some point to go handle this little issue because, you never know, they might be hurting more people up there too.”
“You do realize, even if I do feel … I feel this for you,” Zippy said. “I’m not going to be able to get any policemen to go to Iowa on a witch hunt.”
“Oh no. Just anybody you think might be able to help. It may take us a while but … do you have anybody else on the force … that … uh … would be willing to help?”
“Well, I have an aspiring young pupil. She is the first lady officer on the force. Well, I call her that. I just want a promotion. That’s all it is.”
“Oh, so you’re training up your replacement?”
“So you can move up.”
“Classic business move.”
“I never said that. She’s seen some strange things too. We were together on a trip that went a little awry. I might be able to convince her. But, you do realize, the last time we were there, we all almost died? I’m not going to be able to get people … it’s not going to be morally okay to just get people: ‘Hey, you might die. Come here.’ You know? ‘People want to kill us.’”
“I believe if we had some more people … we only had three of us. And very quickly, it turned into two of us. So, if we had, say, five or six of us … then we could handle all those situations before they become situations.”
“Jesus, McCree. I’ll see what I can do about it. But if I do this for you, you gotta … I’m out of this situation.”
“Oh yes. After this, Iowa should be fine.”
“Okay. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Hopefully, we’ll never have to go to that terrible state again.”
“Oh, you mean Iowa … not dying.”
“There’s nothing out there.”
* * *
On Monday, April 22, 1929, Joell Johnson, the union activist, was approached by Ralph Hutton, a man who told him he was a union representative. He told Johnson something was going on down in Louisiana in Houma in Terrebonne Parish. Oil had recently been discovered in the area.
“So the capitalists are coming!” Johnson said.
Smith told him there were rumors of wildcatters in the area. Wildcatters were men who went in to look for oil on their own, usually without permission of the residents. It was likely the people working for any wildcatters were not being paid a living wage, if anything at all. Smith wanted Johnson to look into it. He had even arranged for tickets on a non-stop train from Boston to New Orleans.
Johnson picked up his bat and gave it a twirl.
“I’ll get on it,” he said.
He had seen an odd article in one of the papers that dealt with that same area, he thought. After a little searching, he found the article again. It read:
‘Odd Lights’ Near Montegut
Cajuns Post Reward for Missing Persons
Houma Star-Tribune―Cajun families around the Mangrove Trading Post off Point
Farm Road in Terrebonne Parish have set out a reward of $200 for information on
the whereabouts of three missing persons who have disappeared within the last seven
months. The three ― Sylvain LeParque, age 29, Phillippe Montelier, age 43, and
Jeanne-Marie DeSalle, age 17 ― were apparently lost in the bayous. The Cajuns,
however, deny this possibility and hint that “odd lights” near Montegut are the true
cause. Anyone wishing to search the swampland for the missing persons should contact
Sheriff Aaron Dundee in Houma or Montegut.
Johnson realized having someone official might be of help. He also knew of a photographer who might be good for documenting what happened.
He ended up calling Ramsey Sanderson, the United States Bureau of Investigation agent he knew in Providence.
* * *
The United States Bureau of Investigation had a very small office in Providence. Two agents worked in the lone room under the command of Agent Ramsey Sanderson.
“Bureau of Investigation,” Agent Ralph Smith answered the telephone
“Hey, I need to talk to Agent Sanderson,” the voice on the other end of the line said.
“Yeah, who is this?”
The man waited for a second name but it was not forthcoming.
“Joell?” he finally said.
“He’ll know,” the man on the telephone replied.
“Hold on,” he said.
He covered the mouthpiece of the telephone.
“Ramsey, there’s a Joell,” he said to Agent Sanderson. “Says he’ll know who he is?”
“Aw Jesus,” Agent Sanderson, sitting at his desk, said.
“You wanna take it or you want me to tell him to shove off?”
“I’ll take it. Let’s see what he wants.”
Sanderson went to the desk with the telephone and picked it up.
“Hello?” he said.
“Hey Sanderson,” Johnson said.
“What do you want?”
“I figured you weren’t doing anything useful, so …”
“I got a lead on something happening down in Louisiana. A couple of union boys told me there might be some people working around for free, being shoved around by people searching for oil. You heard of Terrebonne? People recently discovered oil in those parts. There’s lots of shady stuff around. And on top of that, the reason I called you is, I saw in the newspaper, there’s people gone missing around there. Seems to me, it’s a lot like our … carnival incident.”
“Well, haven’t been doing much around here. So, I guess you’re right on that. Nothing as crazy as what I’ve experience before so … if you think it’s something worth looking into, I have to look into it but this time around, I have to pass it along to my superior if it gets too bad.”
“I guess that’s fine with me. If you know anybody else who can help, you can contact them.”
He arranged for them to meet the next morning to take the train from Providence to Boston. He told him about the non-stop train going from Boston to New Orleans that same afternoon.
* * *
Johnson had telephoned several people in the hopes of getting more help for the trip. He tried Miss Fairfield but the assistant editor at the Providence Journal told him she was busy. He was unable to get hold of Nigel Bricker and no one answered at Miss Edington’s house. There was no answer at Joseph Johnson’s apartment either and he learned the telephone had been disconnected.
He was left with Fontaine, Ingerton, and McCree. He shuddered when he saw all of their names as he had met each man once and all under strange and terrible circumstances. He eventually telephoned Griffin McCree.
“Hello,” McCree answered.
“Uh … greetings Mr. McCree,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if you remember me. We were in a … dream together looking for a man who went missing in his home a while back.”
“Oh! The trolley incident. Which one were you?”
“I was the poor one.”
“Ah! Yes! I don’t remember your name though. Sorry.”
“My names Joell Johnson. I … uh … I’ve been looking through a list of people I know have seen strange things. I don’t know if you remember but I work with the union. They’re wanting me to go down to Louisiana where they just found oil. I also know a bunch of people have gone missing. I know that you’re a trophy hunter so … I was thinking if you wanted to come along in case there was something strange like we saw that night or if there was just a crocodile you’re interested in.”
“Ah, great! Good thing you mentioned that. My alligator boots did get burned up in a recent house fire so I do need a new set of those. But we’ll need someone to take pictures of whatever I kill because … uh … some of these things tend to disappear and I can’t take any souvenirs home with me.”
“Oh … oh … okay. They disappear? What, you lose track of ‘em?”
“Well, no. Remember how in the … I guess, yeah, you’ve only seen us with that dream.”
“And that was … it was a dream, so …”
“Well, I’ve been to other places and, after they die, they seem to dissipate and … become one with the earth again.”
Joell looked at the receiver of the telephone, starting to reconsider calling the obviously crazy man.
“Well, if you need a photographer, I know one in town who works relatively cheap,” he said. “DeLuve Deluxe Photos.”
“It’s about quality, Joell,” McCree said. “Not the price.”
“Well, I’ll leave it up to you. But you know who to go to if you’re desperate.”
“Well, where are we meeting, Joell?”
Johnson told him of the train leaving for Boston in the morning and the non-stop express from Boston to New Orleans.
“And you said you had alligator boots?” Johnson said.
“I had them but they … have recently needed to be tossed,” McCree said.
“And I remember, you gave $50 away to that Oriental man who sold our friend the sleep powder.”
“That’s right, I need to follow up with that gentleman. See if he’s found anything for me.”
“Well, good luck with that. If you’re interested, your ticket will cost $250. I can help you cover it a bit but, if that’s good for you …”
“Oh, don’t worry about it Joell. Price is of no concern as long as I get my trophies.”
The price Johnson had quoted actually covered McCree’s ticket and about half of each of the rest of their tickets. McCree wasn’t sure of how much train fairs generally cost as the company he worked for, Action Safari, generally took care of all the travel arrangements.
* * *
“DeLuve Deluxe Photos!” Spencer DeLuve, owner of the small shop on River Street said when he answered his telephone.
“Hi Mr. DeLuve,” McCree’s voice on the other end of the line said. “I was wondering if you would like to join me on a venture to Louisiana to capture some shots of my prizes I’m going to bag.”
“Ah, a hunting expedition! I see. Yeah! I’ve done those before. Um … but how much would you be willing to … gauge the … pay.”
“I’ll give you $20 and cover all your living expenses during our travels.”
“Does that include … travel?”
“Yes. Um … sure!”
McCree told the man the itinerary for travel to Boston and then the non-stop express to New Orleans.
* * *
On Tuesday, April 23, they took the train to Boston and from there boarded the non-stop to New Orleans. The non-stop was a small train with an engine and tender, two passenger cars, a dining car, and a boxcar. They had packed small carry-on bags to last them the two days on the train while their main luggage went onto the boxcar. A few of them kept their handguns in their luggage. Sanderson kept his pistol on his person. Johnson only had the one bag, which had pretty much everything he was carrying.
Each of them had a small stateroom in one of the Pullman compartment and parlor cars. Each of the rooms was connected to the others by a small, private door that could be bolted from either side, as well as a door to the passageway along the side of the car. During the day, the room had a small settee while beds could be unfolded, nearly filling the stateroom, for sleeping at night. Each room also had a small sink. The coach could be entered from doors at either end though passengers were asked not to climb atop the tender or enter the baggage car at the end of the train.
They all met their conductor and the Pullman porter who helped them with their baggage.
* * *
Johnson found himself in the first stateroom in the forward passenger coach. The room was clean and beautiful, even nicer than his flophouse apartment. He was also right across from the toilet, making it convenient as well. A boisterous man was talking outside. Johnson looked out to see a balding heavyset man with a cigar in his mouth. The man wore plaid pants, a checkered jacket, and a gaudy, repellent tie. He helped two incredibly beautiful young women down the passageway. One of them was a redhead and the other a blonde. It looked like the three were settling into the next two staterooms down.
“All right ladies,” the man said. “Here’s your place, here.”
“Okay,” the redhead said.
“This is so nice,” the blonde said.
“Yeah yeah yeah,” the man said. “It’s nice. We’ll make you famous. Yeah.”
The stink of cigar smoke filled the passageway and Johnson was disappointed to see the man was in the stateroom next to his. The women were two down.
* * *
McCree had a room on the second passenger coach and quickly got moved in. He noticed a man enter the stateroom between himself and DeLuve, two doors down. The man had dark hair and seemed no nonsense, with only a small carry-on bag. He didn’t speak to McCree but just closed the door behind him.
DeLuve had also noticed the man McCree had seen enter the stateroom between the two of them.
* * *
Agent Sanderson found himself on the second passenger coach, one stateroom removed from the parlor at the back of each car. In the very last cabin, he saw a priest moving in. The man had blonde hair and a mustache and carried a simple carry-on. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and smiled and nodded at Sanderson as he entered his stateroom.
* * *
The train pulled out of the station at 2:45 p.m. sharp with the conductor’s call of “All aboard!” It jerked to a start and quickly got underway.
There was a knock on Agent Sanderson’s door and he pulled it open to find McCree there.
“How’s it going?” Agent Sanderson said.
“Now, Sanderson, right?” McCree said.
McCree let himself in and took a seat at the settee.
“So, Mr. Sanderson─” McCree said.
“Agent,” Agent Sanderson said.
“Agent Sanderson. So, have you been running into other … fun … paranormal activity?”
“The last mission I was on had to do with the carnival incident. I’m sure you heard about that.”
“Oh, yes. I didn’t hear exactly the specifics of it, but, uh …”
“It was strange to say the least.”
“Now, I’ve also got a tip for you. Over in Iowa, I’m having some trouble with these … cultists, it seems.”
“Don’t we all.”
“I reckon. But … uh … my case seems to be rather personal.”
“They showed up at my house here in Providence and tried to fill me with extra holes.”
“Sir, I don’t want to hear about this anymore.”
“Afterwards, they tried to burn me in my own house and … uh … I’m a little worried about what they might try to do next. Would you be interested in … going up to Iowa to give them some more of our … more … providential … hospitality?”
“Have you contacted the police about this?”
“Uh … yes, I do have one friend in law enforcement. But, it seems, you see, I did … thin the herd as it were, with some of these cultists.”
“So, some of these cultists ended up killing one of my expeditionary friends.”
“Well, that’s a shame.”
“And reduced the officer with me’s arm to a withered husk. But he’s since gotten over that, thankfully.”
There was a knock on the door. It was the conductor, checking and punching everyone’s tickets. He told them dinner would be served from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the dining car and quickly left.
“But … uh …” McCree went on, having lost his momentum.
“What do you want from me, young man?” Agent Sanderson said.
“What I’m asking of your Mr. … Agent Sanderson … is … it would be nice to have an extra gun and a government official of your standing to help iron things out if it goes to the south.”
“I’ll get back to you about that. If it’s something of interest to the President of the United States, then I’ll do it.”
“I can tell you there were these big monsters …”
“That looked kind of like trees.”
“Were they trees?”
“They were not trees. They stomped towards us, tried to crush me.”
“Oh, I hate that.”
“So … uh …”
“Okay, I’ll keep it in mind.”
“It seems rather important. At least to the folks up in Iowa. I would hate for more of them to be crushed alive.”
After McCree left, Agent Sanderson knocked on the door to the priest’s stateroom. He noticed the man sitting in the parlor, reading his Bible and occasionally looked out the windows at the overcast terrain outside as he stroked his mustache. Agent Sanderson approached him.
“Hello Father,” he said. “How are you?”
“Oh!” the priest said, standing. “Good afternoon! Father Delarove.”
He shook Agent Sanderson’s hand.
“You can call me Father Thomas or Father Tom,” Father Delarove said. “I answer to all those, Mr. …?”
“Agent Sanderson,” Agent Sanderson said.
“Agent? Sanderson. Agent Sanderson. Nice to meet you. Agent? Am I allowed to ask what agency?”
“I’m with the United States Bureau of Investigations.”
“Oh! Oh my goodness. Oh. Why you’re one of those prohibitioners … I don’t know the term. The ones who stop the gangsters who are selling alcohol to everyone.”
“Well, I’m glad we’ve got an officer on board for this trip. It’s nice to meet you. Well, sit down. Sit down.”
The priest was very friendly and seemed happen to talk to Agent Sanderson, who asked him what he was making the trip for.
“I’m attending a church conference that’s being held in New Orleans,” Father Delarove said. “I’ve got information to present on the Catholic orphanages and schools in the Massachusetts area. I’m from … well, you’ve probably never heard of it … it’s a little town in Massachusetts. It’s about a half hour train ride from Boston to the west. Wellesley. Wellesley, Massachusetts.”
The priest seemed like a nice fellow.
“Do you … do you like Parcheesi?” he asked. “I have a particular fondness for Parcheesi and I would love to get a few games in. It will be a great way to kill time.”
Agent Sanderson was happy to play Parcheesi with the man and there the board game was available on the car so the two did so.
* * *
DeLuve went to the cabin next door, thinking it was McCree’s stateroom, but the door was opened by an older gentleman with thinning white hair, pince-nez glasses, and stern blue eyes. He was short and seemed quite robust, smelling of cigars. An older, plump woman with dark hair was in the room with him, looking towards the door.
“Yes, yes,” the man said in a gruff voice. “Can I … can I help you, young man?”
“Uh … I think I’ve got the wrong room,” DeLuve said.
“Oh no no. Who are you looking for?”
“I know a few of the rooms of some of the people here.”
“I’m looking for a McCree.”
“Well, I don’t know the names. What does he look like?”
“I … I’ve never met him.”
“You’ve never met him. That’s a puzzler. I remember one time I had a student who was in the same kind of situation: looking for his classroom, didn’t know what his professor’s name was, didn’t know the classroom number, wasn’t even sure what the class was. It was quite a puzzle.”
“Martin, are you bothering that man?” the woman in the compartment asked.
“No no no,” the man said. “It’s fine. It’s fine.”
He offered his hand.
“Professor Martin Howard Leighman,” he said, shaking DeLuve’s hand. “I can go help you look for him if you want but you’ve got the wrong room. I’m sorry, this is my wife Melissa.”
“Hello,” the woman said, smiling at him and then putting her hand over her mouth. “Hello.”
Professor Leighman was willing to help the man look if he wanted but DeLuve said he needn’t bother. Professor Leighman got his name and shook his hand again, saying it was nice to meet him.
DeLuve went to the next door and knocked. McCree answered it.
“Hello, Mr. McCree,” DeLuve said. “I just wanted to make sure that everything’s going well for our expedition.”
“Why yes,” McCree said. “It is going rather well. A little nervous with this fellow on my right side. From the sound of things, everyone on the left seemed friendly.”
DeLuve looked to his left and right.
“My left,” McCree said. “Your right.”
“Ah the plain guy!” DeLuve said, remembering the man he’d seen earlier. “Serious Sam.”
“‘Serious Sam.’ Yes. Indeed.”
The two men looked at each other.
“Is that all?” McCree said.
“Is that all?” DeLuve said.
The two men looked at each other again.
“You are the employer, sir,” DeLuve said.
“Why yes, of course I am,” McCree said. “I’m the one that gave you the call.”
“Okay, I guess I’ll just see you later.”
“Are you just reaffirming?”
A woman came down the passageway. As it was customary for a man to vacate the passageway to allow ladies to pass, due to the tight quarters, DeLuve stepped into the room. The plump, good-sized woman who smelled of cigarette smoke passed the men. She was average-looking but not unattractive and probably in her early 30s.
“Excuse me,” she said in a very deep, breathy voice.
McCree was immediately put off by that.
“I would say … was it just me or was that woman’s voice rather deep?” he said.
DeLuve just walked away. He wanted to go to what he considered “the rich people” parlor which he assumed was in the front coach. When he saw Joell Johnson there, reading a book, he knew he was wrong. He sat down near Johnson and picked up a copy of National Geographic that was on a nearby table.
Joell Johnson was reading an English translation of Das Kapital by Karl Marx. The book was a foundational theoretical text in materialist philosophy, economics, and politics. He found it fascinating.
The cigar-smoking man who he’d seen earlier came down the passageway. The man spotted the two of them and came over.
“Hey!” he said. “How ya doing?”
DeLuve picked up his camera and the man posed for him.
“But I got some girls that’s make even better pictures for you,” the man said. “If you wanna see these girls, they’re great girls. Little, you know, not much upstairs but … that’s the way I like ‘em!”
Johnson rolled his eyes and the man sat down next to him.
The man told them he was a theatrical agent and they noticed his cigars had a kind of honeysuckle smell to them. He talked about the many big breaks he’d given many dancers and actors.
“You ever hear of Rip Mackerel?” he said. “Yeah, I started him. Yeah. Yeah. He would be nowhere today without me.”
Neither of them had ever heard of Rip Mackerel.
The man continued chatting about all of the people he’d made famous. Then the redhead and the blonde came down the passageway.
“Oh, there you are, Horace,” the blonde said.
They sat down next to the man. Both of them had somewhat vacant looks in their eyes. The blonde had a high-pitched voice and a thick accent. She always touched her chest as if to draw attention to it. The redhead constantly played with her hair and batted her eyelashes.
“Yeah yeah yeah!” Horace said. “This is Annie and Constance. Annie Clarke. Constance DeMillings.”
He pointed to the blonde and then the redhead.
“I didn’t catch your name!” he said.
He punched Johnson in the arm, almost knocking the book out of his hand.
“I didn’t catch your name!” he said again.
Johnson glared at the man.
“My name’s Joell,” he said.
“Joell, nice to meet you!” Horace said. “My name’s Horace. That’s Constance. That’s Annie.”
“Oh!” Miss Clarke said. “Pleased ta meet cha.”
“Hello,” Miss DeMillings said, batting her eyes at him.
“Yeah yeah,” Horace said, grabbing DeLuve’s hand and shaking it. “Horace J. Brubeck. Cameraman, here’s the girls you need to take a picture of. You really need to take a picture of these girls, man, girls.”
Neither Brubeck nor DeLuve seemed to want to let go of the other’s hand first and they shook for a while.
“You have enough of that?” Johnson said.
“What?” Brubeck said. “Oh yeah yeah yeah yeah. Let’s get a picture. C’mon, get a picture.”
The two young women posed for DeLuve.
“I’m a dancer,” Miss Clarke said with a giggle.
They learned Miss DeMillings was an actress.
The theater agent and the girls eventually left. Johnson breathed a sigh of relief.
* * *