Todd's Game 2-22-11: Masks of Nyarlathotep - New York Investigation 1-3: Harlem
by, 24th February 2011 at 04:07 PM (590 Views)
Elsie suggested looking at the Ju-Ju House as she was of the opinion that the police would not have known what to look for as well as she might. We got a taxi and headed into Harlem after finding the address: 1 Ransom Court. It was late afternoon by the time we reached Ransom Court, a short alley off 137th Street east of Lenox Avenue. It opened off the street and into a 20-foot square court. I paid the taxi driver a dollar to wait 20 minutes.
Though it was a sunny day, the sunshine didn’t seem to penetrate Ransom Court. Shadows were everywhere. The alley was abandoned and neither of the two doors that opened into the square courtyard were marked. Crumbling tenements surrounded the courtyard and windows from several buildings overlooked the area.
One of the doors appeared to be chained shut and was most likely the back door of an establishment that faced onto 138th Street. On the right hand side was a door that was probably the entrance to the Ju-Ju House. The shop front consisted of a display window and a glass door, both of them with curtains pulled over them to hide the interior. The display window contained several pieces of African art which Elsie looked at while I tried the door, finding it locked.
“These are authentic,” Elsie said of the items in the window.
The hours of the shop were advertised on the front door as 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but the shop was locked though it was only about 4 p.m. I knocked and there was no answer so I put my ear to the glass but heard nothing. Elsie looked around and then told me she thought we were being watched.
“Or else I might try to get us in,” she said. “They seem interested in what we’re doing, but maybe they saw something.”
She pointed out the window where she’d seen someone a few moments before and we went around to the main street again and found the apartment building that the window belonged to. We climbed up to the fourth floor and I knocked at the door I thought was the right one.
“Who is it?” a woman’s voice called.
“Yes ma’am,” I said. “My name is Mr. Edmund Pewterschmidt; I’m with the Pinkerton Detective Agency ma’am. I was wondering if I could ask you a couple of questions.”
“What are you askin’ about?” she said.
“About … I heard there was a murder here, a couple of nights ago,” I said.
“Yeah and what else is new?”
“At the Ju-Ju House. Several murders, actually. Two to be precise.”
The door opened a few inches, a chain keeping it from opening any further. An old negro woman peered out. She had very white hair, a stark contrast to her dark skin. She looked fairly old and was very thin, but had very bright eyes.
“That Ju-Ju House is … the devil’s in there, I think,” she said. “Why are you asking about the Ju-Ju House? There was some kind of commotion down there, the police were all up and down in their investigatin’ and askin’ their questions. All I know is that everybody around here heard gunshots.”
“You didn’t see anything, or haven’t heard of anyone who’s seen anything, ma’am?” I said.
“I didn’t see anything as far as that day was concerned,” she replied.
“And other days?” Elsie said. “Strange things?”
The woman looked at her.
“Well, I’ll just tell you, that place, it’s absolutely frightening,” she said. “To live so close to a place like that. People comin’ and goin’. Strange folks that go in and out of there. The odd noises. The late-night celebrations that they’re throwin’ down there. Who the hell knows that they’re doin’.”
“Has anything happened since the gunshots that day?” I asked.
“No, nobody’s come or gone since then, it seems,” she said. “Not that I’ve been watchin’ the place or nothin.’ I suppose it’s possible somebody’s, maybe, down there. I don’t even want to know, tell the truth.”
“Were you just looking out your window and saw us down in the alleyway there, ma’am?” I asked.
“Yeah, you can see the court from my window,” she said.
“I see,” I said. “Well, thank you. Thank you very much ma’am, here’s my card. If you think of anything else or hear of anything happening there, I would be most interested, and the Pinkerton Agency would be most interested as well.”
“What happened that day?” she asked. “What happened a couple of days ago with those gunshots?”
“It’s not entirely clear but apparently two people were killed there. Two negroes and I’m not sure if they were the proprietors of the establishment or if they were customers.”
“Well, if it’s some of those folks that are comin’ and goin’ at all hours down there, then good riddance. I tell you, it’s a pox on this neighborhood, that house. Some strange goin’-ons.”
“Well, it sounds like the proprietor might have been one of those that were killed. But I don’t know that for sure.”
“Well, I hope it never opens back up. I hate the Ju-Ju House and everything that happens in there.”
“It sounds like a bad place, yes. As I’ve said, my telephone number is on there. If there’s anything else that you remember about any incidents there, it would be greatly appreciated. And there might even be some financial remuneration for any information.”
“Well, what kind of information do you need and what kind of financial … uh … rumininination are you talking about?”
“Well, if there is anything that is pertinent to what we’re looking for, maybe descriptions or names of the people who have been in the establishment or the strange things that you have heard, I’m sure that we can come to some equitable amount.”
“Well, then start with an amount and we’ll see if it’s equitable.”
“Well, I have a five dollar bill here.”
“Well, I do like President Lincoln.”
“He was a great man. And, in fact, I have pictures of him on two different bills here.”
“Well, we wouldn’t want one Lincoln to get lonely. He might want a little company from his friend, but I’ll tell you, I’d be more than happy to tell you about that place in the company of Messieurs Lincoln and Lincoln.”
“If it’s not too much trouble.”
“Just give me a quick moment to tidy up.”
A minute or two later, I heard the chain slide behind the door and it opened. She invited us in and asked us to sit on the couch in her small apartment. It was a nice, tidy little place and I guessed she lived alone. She offered us food or drink but we both declined the short bread and sweet tea. I noticed a cross on one wall.
“I’ll tell you, and if I could at least talk to one of those Lincolns …” she said
“Of course,” I said, handing her a five-dollar bill.
“Everybody that lives around this court knows, you can ask just about anybody, but all you do have to ask is me, ‘cause I’ll tell you,” she said. “Once a week, there’s strange people, foreigners, that go into that shop, very late at night, and then there’s odd noises, strange sounds that are occasionally heard on those late nights. I don’t know what actually goes on in there, but some kind of commotion, some kind of convocation, some kind of celebration or some kind of incantation, some kind of defenestration.
“Something goes on there at least once a week. It’s unholy, it’s unnatural, it’s strange and bizarre, what those people are doing, I just know it. I saw the police investigating after the gunfire that we all heard. I thought ‘Good. Maybe the police will come and shut that place down.’ I haven’t seen it open since then. I hope it stays closed. But I … I doubt it. I doubt that we’ve seen the last of those folks. They’re up to something. And I don’t think something small, like a double murder, is going to stop it.”
“Do these folks come the same night every week?” I asked. “Or is it just different nights?”
“No, it’s the same night every week,” she said. “It’s Fridays.”
There didn’t appear to be a telephone in the apartment.
“You’ve got my card,” I reminded her. “And I don’t want Mr. Lincoln there to be lonely.”
I handed her another five dollar bill.
“Why, thank you so much, sir,” she said. “And if you need any more help, you just feel free to come back here and talk to me, and if you can tell me anything else about what the hell is going on down there, I’d be happy to hear it.”
I walked over to her window and saw that it gave a great view of the courtyard.
“We might need to be back Friday to see if we can see these people who come in possibly,” I said. “The police might be interested as well. But with the Pinkerton Agency, we don’t need to involve the police necessarily.”
I learned her name was Josephine Stuart.
When we got back to the street, the taxicab was gone. We walked south until I was able to hail another cab.