The Murders in Midnight Part 1 - The Strange Califonia Town
Sunday, March 4, 2018
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “The Murders in Midnight” based on “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” episode “Bad Luck Betty” today from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, James Brown, and Yorie Latimer.)
On Saturday, May 1, 1875, Dr. Eva Weisswald and Wilder and stumbled across Jack West in the town of Riverside in Southern California. Dr. Weisswald and Wilder were heading for Los Angeles, having traveled from Arizona. Dr. Weisswald had learned the military was taking the Crescent to Los Angeles to prepare it for transport north by train to Sacramento or San Francisco. She wanted to follow it. Wilder was looking for work.
Marshal Clayton Pierce had agreed with Jack West and Wilder to take Dan McGoohan to Los Angeles for them, planning to meet the other men there or leave word for them so they could collect their reward for the outlaw. He also wanted to make sure the man got there and didn’t completely trust the two men. From there, McGoohan would have to be transported further up the state.
The three learned the way to Los Angeles was down a road to the south of Riverside from an old coot and headed that way. They decided to travel together for the time being as they were all going to the same place. The road gave them all too much time to think.
* * *
Jack West had actually won his gold-plated revolver in a contest in Texas three years before. He thought about it as he polished his weapon on the road.
It had been a very expensive contest of skill after his face had been maimed, a charity event to raise money for a local orphanage with a steep entrance fee. West had paid it and competed against gunfighters from all over the state. He’d won the gold-plated Colt Peacemaker as his prize.
However, another of the competitors accused the man of cheating. The man called himself Texas Johnny Johnson and he was very angry at West.
“If I ever see your face again, cheating, I’ll take it off your whole head!” he’d told West.
* * *
Dr. Eva Weisswald still wore her husband’s signet ring on a string around her neck. The signet was two overlapping letters “w” with a tree set behind them. It was the signet of the Weisswald family.
Her husband had died near the end of the civil war, bleeding out from a gunshot wound. Her son had been injured in the war and later died of an infection and amputation. She missed them both very much.
* * *
Wilder always drank from a hip flask he carried. It had originally belonged to his father. His mother had died when he was young and his father had never told the youth his first name, only calling him Wilder, their last name, for the entirety of his life.
His father had been a trapper in what became the Colorado Territory in 1861. He had taken Wilder out with him when he would hunt and trap since the boy was five years old. His father used to drink from the flask almost religiously until he’d died, killed by a boar that had gutted the man. Though Wilder got his father back to the cabin alive, the wounds were too terrible for the man to survive more than a few days of terrible, agonizing pain.
Wilder kept the flask and the other items his father had owned in the end. He drank from it often.
* * *
Brandon Stalloid traveled with the government wagons to Bernadino whereupon he had overslept and been left behind. He had purchased a mule to travel upon, hoping to catch up, but ended up Riverside and continued down the road south in what he thought was the direction of Los Angeles. The mule, named Maluca, was terribly loud and a bit ornery.
His time on the road and away from San Francisco gave him a greater appreciation of the city and made him think about his strong commitment to community and sticking together with people. He had felt that way since people came together to help each other during the cholera outbreak years before. It had not saved his parents but it had saved a lot of people, people who would have died otherwise. He had a strong sense of community ever since that time.
It was a very pretty day in the mountains of southern California. He was pleasantly surprised when he heard hoof beats behind him and looked back to see three riders approaching he recognized.
“Wilder!” Professor Stalloid called. “My favorite man to ever meet at such strange occurrences!”
He stopped his mule for them to catch up. Wilder took out his flask and drank from it.
They headed on down the road, slowing their pace so that Stalloid’s mule could keep up.
* * *
It was close to dinnertime when they came upon a small town on the edge of a little lake. The road had turned south and the town lay nestled between the two mountain ranges. A little sign on the edge of the town told them it was Midnight, California. They road into town, passing a livery stables and farm, and could smell the tannery across the road. They crossed a hearty stone bridge over a wide stream just down from a small dam and saw many quaint little houses and townsfolk who looked at them. A forge lay to the right though no one was working in it. They didn’t see any sign of a saloon or hotel.
They saw a street sweeper sweeping some fallen limbs out of the street. What struck them as odd was that he wore bright-colored clothing and the makeup of a clown.
Professor Stalloid rode his mule up to the clown.
“Good afternoon merry-maker!” he said. “Anywhere we could stay for the night?”
The clown turned from his work. He pointed towards the south and up the side of the hill near the far side of town. Professor Stalloid could see the top of a house up there. The clown pointed at it and nodded. Professor Stalloid flipped the clown a nickel and the man bit it and then smiled at him, tucking the coin away.
“Weird,” West said.
They continued to the south, passing several small shops, including a pickler, baker, weaver, tailor, carver, and cobbler. Near the edge of town was a glazer’s shop and a large building with a sign that read “Town Hall” but under it, a smaller sign read “Dr. Chin’s Hospital.” A bearded man sat on a rocking chair on the porch who wore a dress, which struck them as odd.
“I believe that’s an Oriental name,” Professor Stalloid said.
He raised his voice.
“Dr. Chin, I suppose!” he called to the man in the dress.
“Oh no my good man,” the man said in a falsetto voice. “I’m sorry. Do you need to talk to Dr. Chin? Do you have a problem?”
“No, just looking around.”
“Oh, well. He’s probably seeing to the town marshal. Broke all his arms and legs, you see. Terrible, terrible tragedy.”
Intrigued, Dr. Stalloid dismounted from his mule and hitched it to the post in front of the hospital. Dr. Weisswald also stopped her horse and tied it up.
“I am … uncomfortable … from strange … men in makeup and … persons in dresses with beards like mine,” Wilder said. “I shall … continue on.”
He and West headed up to the house they’d been pointed out on a side road just past the hospital marked Bog Road.
* * *
Professor Stalloid and Dr. Weisswald went into hospital, which looked like it had been converted from a town hall. The building was very large being the tallest building in the town. They met Dr. Chin, who proved to be Chinese and had a mustache.
“Very nice to meet you,” he said. “How can I help you? Are you injured?”
He told them he was the doctor there.
“I wanted to see the marshal,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh!” Dr. Chin said. “Come in. He’s over here. He has a room. He can’t take care of himself right now.”
He took them into a large, high-ceilinged room with a bed in it. The man in the bed had brown, short-cut hair and a round face. Both of his arms and both of his legs were covered in plaster and he looked annoyed. Standing next to the bed, apparently talking to him and wearing a badge marked “Deputy” was a tall, thin fellow with curling brown hair and a floppy hat. He wore a six-gun on his belt and looked unhappy.
They were introduced and learned the town marshal was Andrew Baker and the deputy was Harry Flute.
“How did this happen to you, sir?” Professor Stalloid asked.
Marshal Baker glared at Deputy Flute. Deputy Flute looked very uncomfortable and wouldn’t meet the man’s eyes.
“I’ll tell you how it happened,” Marshal Baker said. “My deputy, here, didn’t want me to walk in the path of a black cat so he shoved me out in the street where I got run over by a wagon!”
Deputy Flute looked terribly uncomfortable.
“Well, marshal, that’d be really bad if you - that black cat would be terrible if you─” he said.
“Flute, shut up!” Marshal Baker said. “Where’s Mrs. Delacroix?”
“Well, she said she was on the way,” Deputy Flute said.
Marshal Baker was curious what they were doing in Midnight.
“I’m just passing through on my way to Los Angeles,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Los … you’re going the wrong way,” Marshal Baker said. “Los Angeles is west of here. This road goes south, down to Temecula. Down in San Diego County. You should’ve gone west in Riverside. We’re south. I think somebody told you wrong. Sorry about that.”
“I knew I should’ve checked,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Well, you can stay at the boarding house tonight,” Marshal Baker said. “There’s a boarding house at the top of the hill: Pettigrew’s. They can put you up for the night or for however long you want to stay. You’re all dressed up. What do you do? What’s your business?”
“I’m a medicine man,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh,” Marshal Baker said.
“May I interest you in anything for the pain?”
“Oh, I’ve got some stuff for the pain. Mrs. Delacroix’s coming too.”
The door opened and a fancy lady dressed up with a very large hat entered the room. She was older, probably in her 50s with red hair. She wore gloves.
“Ah, Mrs. Delacroix,” he said. “If you could help me out, I’d really appreciate it.”
She went to the man and started massaging his exposed toes with a smile.
“Take the gloves off, please,” he said. “Take the gloves off.”
She took her gloves off and continued to massage his toes. Deputy Flute looked uncomfortable. Marshal Baker seemed quite content though.
“That’s all the medicine I need right now,” he said with a sigh.
“So, deputy, was you oft superstitious or was this a moment of impulse?” Professor Stalloid asked.
“Well, you know, science has proven that superstitions are real,” Deputy Flute said. “They all come from someplace, you know. Either the past or … the present. Mostly the past, you see. Like black cats or … broken mirrors … or … walking under a ladder.”
He continued the count of various superstitious nonsense.
“You gotta be really careful,” he finally said. “I gotta four-leaf clover here somewhere.”
“Well, what’s the science behind the black cat?” Dr. Weisswald asked.
“Uh … uh … let’s see …” Deputy Flute said. “If I remember correctly - if I remember correctly, there was … uh … there was some queen in Egypt and the black cat … it was actually a tiger but it was black … and it ate her. And that’s where that came from.”
“I don’t think there are black tigers,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Well, uh … maybe it was a panther,” Deputy Flute said. “Do they have panthers in Egypt? I don’t remember.”
“Something like that,” he said. “I don’t know. I feel really bad. Sorry about that marshal.”
“Flute, shut up,” Marshal Baker said. “I’m enjoying my medicine.”
“Oh … yeah … okay,” Deputy Flute said. “I should probably be going. So just …watch out for those ladders and black cats.”
He stumbled out, knocking a tray off a table on his way.
“Maybe he has bad luck,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Maybe he’s an idiot,” Marshal Baker said.
“That seems more likely,” Dr. Weisswald said.
Marshal Baker told them that they didn’t have a restaurant or saloon but there was the boarding house. He also told them the town was full of weirdoes.
“Everybody here’s a nut, just about,” he said. “Present company excluded.”
He gestured towards Mrs. Delacroix. Professor Stalloid asked him about the clown.
“That’s Chuckles,” Marshal Baker said. “Apparently he … uh …”
“Is he mute?” Professor Stalloid said.
“As a matter of fact, he is mute. He’s a mute clown so what are you going to do? He can’t even laugh at his own jokes.”
“So, why doesn’t he become a mime?”
“I don’t know what that is.”
Marshal Baker noted Chuckles was more comfortable in his clown clothing and makeup than in regular clothing. Many places would not approve of that but in Midnight, they were very accepting of things. He told them the town was established in 1821 by Joseph Midnight, or so the story went. He was a rascal. People in the town just did their own things. He noted there were a lot of weirdoes and nuts, but they were all harmless.
“Sounds like I’d fit in,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“You are wearing pants,” Marshal Baker said. “I couldn’t help but notice. People are a little strange here but they’re harmless. That’s what Midnight’s all about.”
* * *
Wilder and Jack West soon came to a stone staircase that led up to an ominous-looking two-and-a-half story Second Empire Victorian house at the top. They could see a carriage house near the house and another building behind it. Near the steps was a stone sign with a board nailed onto it. The top of the sign had “Pettigrew” engraved on it while the board had “Boarding House” painted crudely upon it. The board covered another word that they realized read “Mortuary.”
“Wonder how comfortable a mortuary can be?” West muttered.
They rode up the road and could see a graveyard beyond the carriage house. A small hut was near it. An old rowboat was turned over next to the carriage house.
They hitched their horses by the carriage house and went to the front door. The door was opened by a pretty young blonde woman.
“Hello,” she said.
“How are you doing?” West said.
“Pretty well,” she said. “How about yourself?”
She stared at the man’s maimed face.
“You know, with some makeup and some putty, we could fix you right up,” she said.
“I’m fine, thank you,” West said.
“All right. All right. Can I help you gentlemen?”
“Looking for a place to stay the night.”
“Oh yes, of course. Of course.”
She opened the door and gestured them in. The door opened into a hallway with steps going up. A parlor sat on the left and they could see the kitchen through the open door in the back. The house looked neat and tidy.
“It’s 25 cents per night,” she said. “But it’s a dollar-fifty if you stay for a whole week. Three meals a day are included and we keep a very clean place. We only have two rooms upstairs but there’s several beds in each room. I hope you don’t mind sharing. We have a room for men and a room for women and we have the rain bath, which some of the people in town even like to use sometimes.”
“Sounds good,” West said.
He could smell food cooking.
“I’m just about to serve dinner here in a little while,” she said. “How long would you like to say?”
The two men looked at each other.
“Well, if you’re not sure, you can just stay for the night and decide later,” she said. “But I can’t give you that discount if you’re not going to stay for a whole week.”
“It’ll be fine,” West said.
They each paid for a night and she led them upstairs. The men’s room was off a back hall and had three single beds and a couple of chest of drawers, each with a basin and pitcher upon them.
“This is the gentlemen’s room,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind sharing. We don’t have a lot of rooms here. I’m down at the end of the hall.”
She led them back to the landing and pointed out her room. The other door led to the ladies’ room.
“And here’s the rain bath,” she said.
She took them back to the back hall and opened the door that had “Rain Bath” upon it. There was a tub that stood on legs and had a rig around it of pipes holding up some kind of curtain. There was a large metal tank and a pump. There was a small steam engine under the tank apparently. A strange spigot hung down over the bathtub. It was very warm in the room.
“It’s an invention of my father, Charles Pettigrew,” she said. “He is a genius.”
She went over and worked the pump and then turned on the water on the tub and hot water sprayed out of the wide spigot with holes in it. She told them the water was pumped into the tank and heated by the steam pump underneath.
“So you can actually have a hot rain bath,” she said.
She told them there was one bathroom for the floor and the outhouse was out back. Then she left to finish preparing dinner. They freshened up and went down to dinner about the time the other two arrived. Miss Pettigrew told them there was a livery stable on the other side of town or they could put their horses in the old carriage house. She showed Professor Stalloid and Dr. Weisswald the rooms.
“What’s your name, dear?” Dr. Weisswald asked.
“I’m Alice,” the woman said. “Alice Pettigrew. I just need to get dinner finished. I hope I haven’t burned it.”
Professor Stalloid liked the rain bath and drew schematics of the device in his journal.
They all got together for dinner. An empty place was set at the head of the table and they saw a very large portrait of a bearded man over the mantelpiece. A small plaque read “Charles Pettigrew.” They ate their chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes, and green beans. It was a very enjoyable meal.
“Who’s Charles Pettigrew?” Professor Stalloid asked.
“Oh, that’s my father,” Alice said. “I’m afraid he died six years ago, but he said he was coming back so that’s why I always set a place for him here at the table.”
“You never know,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“You never do,” Alice said. “Exactly.”
“Did he say when he was coming back?” West asked.
“No, just that he’s coming back for revenge,” Alice said offhandedly.
“On who?” West said.
“How did your father die?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh, he was hung,” Alice said.
“By the town?”
“Yes, he was tried and hung.”
“The murder of my mother.”
“Well, it was a long time ago. But he said he’s coming back.”
“How long ago?”
Dr. Weisswald looked at her and thought the girl was in her mid-20s. She thought the woman was a little off but it seemed like everyone in town was.
“Yes, but he said he’s coming back, so I always have a plate set for him,” Alice said. “Just in case.”
Professor Stalloid and Dr. Weisswald noticed a man peeking in the side window.
“I think there’s another person who wants to be a guest,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“Hm?” Alice said.
Dr. Weisswald pointed at the window but the man was gone.
“Huh,” she said. “There was a man outside.”
“Hm,” Alice said. “Oh! That’s probably just Rupert. Rupert Smith. He lives in the graveyard. It’s past the carriage house over there. Well, he doesn’t live in the graveyard; he has a little house. He’s a gravedigger. He worked for my family. Kind of keeps an eye on things around here. He’s harmless.”
“So, how long has this been a boarding house?” Dr. Weisswald asked.
“Hm,” Professor Stalloid said, putting his hands to his forehead. “Six years?”
“Well, I never,” she said. “That’s very clever. A little less than six years, yes, because I couldn’t run a mortuary by myself with my daddy gone and my mom gone, so I converted over to a boarding house. Had to sell things like the hearse and a lot of the other, some of the coffins to make ends me. So now I make ends meet as best I can by running this place as a boarding house.”
“Did he invent anything else besides the rain bath?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“He invented all kinds of things,” Alice said. “He’s got a wonderful organ up in the organ loft upstairs in the attic. It’s quite lovely. Well … the keys are covered in blood. He went up there after he killed mamma, apparently. He was all covered in blood. It was terrible. I was out in the apple orchard at the time. It was a terrible trial. They questioned me and I said ‘No, I hadn’t seen anyone leave the house’ and they questioned Rupert, he was out in the graveyard, you can see the house from there. He didn’t see anybody leave the house so … when Mrs. Delacroix said she had seen somebody get bludgeoned in the front window and daddy was covered in blood … so … But, since he’s already dead, when he comes back he can’t be held guilty of murder anymore, can he?”
“You know, you can probably get the blood out with some alcohol and vinegar,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“We tried scouring powder,” Alice said. “It wouldn’t come out. It was left too long before we tried to clean it.”
Dr. Weisswald asked if she knew about the marshal being injured.
“Oh yeah, that happened just a couple days ago,” Alice said. “I understand he was run over when Deputy Flute pushed him. He was trying to avoid a black cat or something. Maybe it was a ladder. Was it a mirror? I don’t remember but he pushed him and the marshal went down flat like this just as Gregg Bean was coming up the road. The horses’ hooves missed him, lucky for him, but the wheels went over his arms and his legs and Bean was carrying quite a load at the time. Snapped him like kindling. I’m glad I wasn’t there. Woo. I don’t like the sight of … well, not living people getting hurt. I helped mamma and dad here at the mortuary, so dead people don’t bother me. Living people getting hurt? Whoo.”
She fanned herself and went back to eating. They all enjoyed a pleasant dinner.
After dinner, she offered them an after-dinner drink and brought out apple pie. As it got dark, there was an explosion from down in town. Wilder took out his hip flask and drank quite a bit of it.
“Do you know what that was?” West asked.
“Sounded like a cannon,” Dr. Weisswald said.
“I, too, am curious … as to the─” Wilder said.
“Oh, that’s just the Colonel,” Alice said.
“He just shoots cannons?” West said.
“Only at dawn and dusk,” she said. “He was in the War of 1812. I think he still thinks he’s up on Lake Erie. He’s got a house that faces the lake and he’s made himself a little fort on top of it and every evening and every morning he fires his - he’s got a little brass cannon up there. Fires it out into the lake. I think he thinks he’s shooting the British.”
“Well, y’all do have quite a town,” Professor Stalloid said.
“It’s very nice,” Alice said. “Everybody knows everybody’s name. And the pickles. They have some great pickles down there. You should stop at the pickle shop before you go.”
* * *
Wilder peeled of his clothing and tried the rain bath. There were towels and lye soap for him to use, as well as a big, wooden scrub brush. He got into the bath and turned the knobs to get the water going, taking a hot shower, which was an incredible feeling. He very loudly sang “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” terribly off key. There was even some lavender water on the sink to freshen up with.
When he was done, Alice came in and pumped more water into the hot water tank. She asked him to do it next time.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald took her and Wilder’s horses to the livery stables across town. She tipped the man at the stable and, when he got the extra money, the man fell to her knees and kissed her feet.
“Thank you!” he said. “It’s all mine! I love your pants.”
She came back to do some laundry at the boarding house. Alice showed her the clothes washing machine in the basement. It was hand-powered but she helped the doctor wash some clothing and they hung them in the basement to dry.
* * *
Professor Stalloid went into town to the pickle shop. He could hear the banging of metal on metal now coming from the forge and thought he saw a woman working in there, which seemed odd.
The pickle store had just about anything a person could want pickled. He asked about pickled potatoes and the man there, who had a woodpecker on his shoulder, got him a mason jar with just that. He asked about pickled mushrooms and the man was quick to get him a mason jar filled with them.
“Here ya go,” the owner said.
Professor Stalloid had the two things he wanted so decided to test the man. As he thought, the man gave him free samples of the pickled potatoes and pickled mushrooms. Then he turned to the woodpecker.
“What’s that?” he said. “Oh, he’ll be fine.”
He looked at the man.
“I’m sorry,” he said, gesturing to the woodpecker. “This is Esmeralda. She’s my wife.”
Professor Stalloid just looked at the man.
“Do you have pickled lemon drops?” he asked.
“No,” the man said.
“Pickled candies of any sort?”
“Pickled sweet potatoes.”
I tricked him, Professor Stalloid said. I knew he wouldn’t have pickled candies.
He tried to special order some pickled candies but the man told him candies were already practically pickled anyway. They had a long, in-depth conversation about it. He finally asked for some pickled habanera peppers and the man gave him a jar.
“These are mason jars,” the man said. “You gotta be kind of careful. Don’t smash ‘em on the ground. They’ll break.”
The man mimed throwing something to the ground.
When he got back to the boarding house, Professor Stalloid asked Alice Pettigrew about washing some of his clothing and she was happy to do it for him. He found Jack West had already gone to bed. His snoring was quite strange considering the hole in his cheek.
* * *
They were woken in the middle of the night by the loud noise of an organ playing. The song was very strange and in the minor key. West groaned upon waking up in the dark.
I think I realize why we’re the only ones staying here, Dr. Weisswald thought.
West, in his room, lit a candle and made his way to the back of the house. He tried the other door on the back landing and found steps going up. He could just make out a small room on the far side of the attic. The main room was filled with junk and he crossed it to the door. He could see organ pipes built even outside the organ loft. The door was slightly ajar. He pushed it open and the music stopped.
When he looked into the organ loft, he saw, in the dim light of his candle, no one was at the organ. Many of the keys had bloodstains on them. There was no other way out of it save the small, round, closed window.
“If you don’t mind waitin’ until the morning …” West said.
He pulled the door closed, turned, and crossed the attic to see another light coming up the stairs. It was Alice with another candle.
“Why what are you doing up here playing on the organ?” she said.
“Uh, I don’t know how to play an organ,” he said. “I just heard it. Doesn’t seem there’s anybody in there.”
“Now …” she said.
She gave him a look that seemed to say “I know you’re joshing me.”
“How did you know what tune my daddy always played?” she said.
“I don’t know how to play an organ,” he said.
“Now …” she said, giving him that same look again. “You can have your fun. Have your fun.”
She went back down the stairs.
West went back to bed.
* * *
They were awoken at dawn the next morning, Sunday, May 2, 1875, by the thump of a gun from down in the town. Wilder leapt out of bed and ran from the room, going down the stairs and out the back door to the outhouse.
“This is a weird town,” West said as he stumbled out of bed.
They had eggs, bacon, toast, ham, and fried potatoes for breakfast. Alice told them Mr. West played a little joke on her last night, up there playing music in the organ loft. She noted it was very nice music but gave him a look.
* * *
After breakfast, West and Wilder went up to the organ loft. With what light came through the window, they could better see the items in the attic. There were old coffins, furniture, hat boxes, crates, and all kind of stuff. There was room to pass through the middle of it to the couple of steps up to the organ loft. The room was not as clean as the rest of the house with cobwebs and dust everywhere. The window was very dusty.
The organ was large with couplers and stop knobs over and around a double row keyboard. The great pipes were built into the walls on either side and some extended into the attic. There were bloodstains on the ivory keyboard.
West pushed one of the keys but nothing happened. They realized they would have to pump with their feet to make it work.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald and Professor Stalloid headed down to town and ran into Deputy Flute on his way up.
“I was coming to look for you folks!” he said.
He seemed quite agitated.
“The marshal’s been kidnapped!” he said. “He was taken right out of the hospital! I don’t know what to do!”
“How was he kidnapped?” Dr. Weisswald asked.
“I dunno!” Deputy Flute said. “Willie Gillespie says he saw it but he won’t come out of his cellar.”
“Which cellar?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Underneath the hospital!” Deputy Flute said. “He doesn’t like being outside. He says it’s too big! Can-can you folks help? Can you talk to him? I don’t even know what to ask. I don’t know what to do! I just been deputy around here. I-I-I-I-I guess I’m marshal now! I don’t wanna be marshal!”
“Well, I’ll be marshal.”
“We gotta find the marshal. No, no, that’s okay.”
Deputy Flute looked around.
“Willie seems to think it-it was … well, it can’t be, it just can’t be!” he said. “You need to talk to Willie, find out what truth is. Can you help me out?”
“Sure,” Professor Stalloid said. “If you let me be marshal until we find the marshal.”
“I’ve tried to talk to him. No! I’m not letting you be marshal!”
He balled his hands up into fists and shook them in frustration.
“You know, it’s unlucky to not … to deny a man’s request when looking for a marshal,” Professor Stalloid said.
“You’re just making that up!” Deputy Flute said.
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Can you talk to Willie?” Deputy Flute said to Dr. Weisswald. “You’re a doctor, right? You know about people’s heads? Crazy people! There seem to be some around here! Can you help me? Can you talk to him?”
“Sure,” she said.
“C’mon, let’s go!” Deputy Flute said.
Jack West and Wilder came out of the house and followed them down to the hospital. As they walked to the doors, Deputy Flute pointed to a set of storm doors on the back of the building.
“Willie lives down here,” he said. “He doesn’t like to leave the building.”
The cellar had only about five feet of headspace and was set up like a small, and very compact house. They met with Willie Gillespie, who had hair that seemed to go straight out, almost as if he was always touching something that was electrified. He seemed very nervous though he was willing to talk to them.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “I saw it. I saw it. Last night. He came and he took the … he was one of the … he came and he took him. I saw him carry him right out to the hearse.”
“Who?” Dr. Weisswald said.
“It was Charles Pettigrew! He was wearing his mortuary outfit and his hat with his black scarf on it and everything. It was terrifying. He was limping like he always did and there was a hearse out front.”
“Alice said she sold the hearse.”
“I don’t know. There was a hearse. And it didn’t have any horses! It just rolled away.”
“It went that way!”
He pointed towards the south.
“I wasn’t coming out,” Willie said. “I was looking out the window. That’s more than I like to do, even. It’s the ghost of Charles Pettigrew! He’s come back! Come back for revenge!”
“Probably,” Dr. Weisswald said.
Deputy Flute jerked as if he’d been slapped, terrified.
Wilder went back out of the building and looked for tracks around the front but didn’t find anything. The rest of them looked as well.
“Well, if it’s a ghost, maybe it didn’t leave tracks,” Dr. Weisswald said.
Deputy Flute jerked once again.
“That can’t be!” he said. “He was hung six years ago for the murder of his wife.”
“Yeah, Alice told us all about it,” she said.
“The marshal was the one who brought him in.”
“Well, did you have anything to do with it?”
“No, I wasn’t even involved. I wasn’t in the trial. The marshal doesn’t like - he doesn’t like me even having a gun. You know.”
“Well, then, you don’t really have anything to worry about.”
“Who was the judge of the trial,” West asked.
“There’s a ghost!” Deputy Flute said to her. “You always have to worry when there’s a ghost!”
“Who was on the jury?” Professor Stalloid said.
“The judge was … uh … was … uh … Robert Harris,” Deputy Flute said. “He lives here in town.”
He didn’t know who was on the jury but he said he could probably find out. He knew there were a dozen of them. When Professor Stalloid asked about public records, he guessed they would be at the marshal’s house. Professor Stalloid offered to help him find the records and he was fine with that.
* * *
Wilder went to the south side of town on the road and looked for tracks but couldn’t find anything.
* * *
Professor Stalloid and Deputy Flute went to Marshal Baker’s house just up Main Street. They found the files and soon had a list of 12 names of people of the jury. The judge was Robert Harris. The prosecutor was Aristotle Finch. The chief witness was Mrs. Margaret Delacroix who saw the murder or at least saw “two shadowy figures, one of them beat the other one.”
The key points of the case file indicated Charles Pettigrew claimed he was innocent but could not explain why he was covered in blood. He was found in the organ loft playing the organ when the body was found. Mrs. Delacroix testified she had seen two figures in the window. One of them then bludgeoned the other with something. She ran to get some men from town. They came back to hear organ music and found Pettigrew in the organ loft playing, covered in blood. Mrs. Pettigrew was dead in the parlor next to the window, beaten to death. They never found the murder weapon. He was arrested.
Alice Pettigrew had been in the apple orchard behind the mortuary building. She had been picking apples and had not seen anyone exit the house or leave the area. Rupert Smith, the gravedigger, had been in the graveyard but didn’t see anyone around the house. That only left Charles in the house. Mrs. Delacroix’s testimony indicated she had seen two figures through the sheer curtains who had been little more than shadows. She couldn’t identify either one.
The file indicated Charles Pettigrew was hung for murder within a week. He claimed he would come back and have his revenge on those who had caused him to be killed for a crime he didn’t commit.
Deputy Flute told Professor Stalloid Rupert Smith still worked as the town undertaker and generally as a handyman around the boarding house.
He asked Deputy Flute if Mrs. Pettigrew had been covered with blood. He said she had. She’d been beaten to death. When he asked if Charles Pettigrew had any wounds, he was told the man hadn’t. However, he did have blood all over his hands and the front of his clothing when they found him.
* * *
Dr. Weisswald had gone to the tailor shop on Main Street. She talked to old, plump, man there. He was balding and crusty who seemed like he’d be more at home on a farm than in a dress shop. He was grungy, like a prospector. She asked him if he could make her a special way to pull up her skirt to make it more convenient for riding.
“You want some frill on that?” he asked.
She didn’t. He was very disappointed but saw it as a challenge. He got her measurements and then figured how to take one of her skirts and add string on the inside of the hem to allow her pull the string, bunching up the skirt, and then tie it to hold the skirt up. The old man’s eyes glittered as he thought about how to make it work correctly.
She asked him to do the two skirts she had. He asked her to come back in two days on Tuesday.
* * *
Professor Stalloid found Wilder and asked about Aristotle Finch. He learned the man lived on Potter’s Lane down near the lake and they soon found his house. He was a young man in his mid-20s who wore pince-nez glasses and a nice suit but no tie.
“What do you need?” he asked. “I can do you a will, if you like.”
“Do you know anything about the marshal disappearing?” Professor Stalloid asked.
“I have!” he said. “It’s all over town. Why, they’re saying that Charles Pettigrew’s ghost is back. That seems ridiculous. I’m sure the marshal is probably just off with Mrs. Delacroix or something.”
They thanked him and left, heading for Mrs. Delacroix’s house. They learned she lived just north of town in a nice house set just off the road. When they got there, they found several town ladies and one man dressed as a lady there. All of them were spending their Sunday morning playing whist apparently. Mrs. Delacroix seemed quite surprised to see them.
“Oh, gentlemen!” she said, giving Wilder a look.
“May I partake in a game?” Professor Stalloid asked.
“Oh, of course!” Mrs. Delacroix said. “Of course! We always have room for more!”
She brought them in and they rearranged the tables. Professor Stalloid introduced himself and Wilder to everyone.
“This will help even everything out!” Mrs. Delacroix said.
She shoved Wilder down in a chair. A plate was put in front of him with a cucumber sandwich on it and a champagne glass with lemonade. He took out his flask and poured some whiskey in it.
“Oh dear!” Mrs. Delacroix said. “My dear boy!”
She got a giant decanter of brandy and topped off his lemonade with that.
“Much obliged,” he said.
She laughed and slapped him on the shoulder much harder than he thought a woman capable of.
They played whist and learned the names of the other ladies in town and the man in the dress who was Miss Joshua Peters. He had a beard.
They ended up playing cards all morning. All of the ladies were impressed that Professor Stalloid knew how to play whist and some even seemed quite taken by him. Some flirted and left their hand on his just a little longer than appropriate. Wilder never got the hang of the game.
* * *