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Bookhounds of London Campaign writeup

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Death in the Post, second session

Mr Tom Driberg, society reporter and scandal hound, currently working for the Daily Clarion, has revealed himself as the original recipient of the puzzling pseudo-Egyptian scroll which he passed to Mr Edmundson, knowing Edmundson's interest in antique manuscripts. Owen Davies also recognises Mr Driberg as a frequenter of a number of nightspots for young gentlemen who would prefer their predelictions for said nightspots not to be nosed about. Musing further upon this theme, he remembers a nightspot where a man dressed as a heathen priestess (a 'Galli') did an act involving feeding a black panther - wasn't a black panther the Egyptian sacred animal of this evil god Nyharuthotep? Cybele and Attis, that was the act's name.   Driberg has heard of Edmundson's death and is extremely nervous. Charlotte's suggestion that he take an overseas vacation is met with awkward silence from the members of the less monied classes present. Tobias Gold (being NPCd this session) decides that this situation is best dealt with by drinking heavily.   The group reconstruct a timeline; Driberg had received the letter in the evening post; it was postmarked London, so it might have been sent the same day; and passed it on to Edmundson the next morning. That day Edmundson had called the bookhounds, then met his death later that night. Evidently there is a delay between receiving the letter and the attack it portends.   Owen reconstructs the marked map of London from the Baedecker he and Tobias hurriedly browsed in ex-Dr Briggs' cellar. The marked places are all public areas or attractions of central London: Abney Park Cemetery, the Temple Bar Memorial, Greenwich Observatory, Liverpool Street Station, Carrera's Cigarette Factory, Cleopatra's Needle, Green Park, and the Church of St George Bloomsbury. Charlotte notes that many of the locations have Egyptian or Classically themed architecture.   There are no obvious links between the marked places and the people Briggs swore revenge against (Driberg, the owner of the Daily Clarion Lord Elwood, and the 5 members of the British Medical Association board who had Briggs disbarred and committed to the asylum: Professor Henry Masters (Bailliol, Oxford), Dr Albert Winterton (now retired), Dr and later Sir Arthur Railton (deceased, survived by daughter Hermione, a dedicated partygoer and Bright Young Thing), Dr Hamilton Lund ("Moneygrubbing Freudian quack!" mutters Toby), and Sir Howard Colnbury, now Conservative MP for Hampshire.   The evening draws late and the bookhounds and Mr Driberg retire to their separate lodgings or drinking establishments of choice.   A new day. The morning papers bring news of the horrible murder of Professor Masters of Oxford. Charlotte, a graduate of St Hilda's College in Oxford, decides to visit to see what she can find out, hoping that her old Archaeology professor might give her an insight or at least a chaperone into the all-male Bailliol. Owen and Comtess Vivien decide to visit the list of sites from Briggs' Baedecker, in the hope of finding what made them interesting to him. Toby will man the bookshop and continue to drink.   The closest site to Gold's Books, which like all reputable London Bookshops is found in Charing Cross, is Cleopatra's Needle on the bank of the Thames. Drawing near it in the early hours of the morning ('far too early' the Comtess grumbles), before the street sweepers have been through, Owen finds a grisly and disconcerting artefact; a drowned rat, at the centre of a chalk circle with an inscription in Egyptian Hieroglyphs around it. A shame Charlotte is on the train to Oxford; however, Owen is an expert copyist and so reproduces the inscription in his notebook. Charlotte and Owen debate whether removing this morbid object would disrupt the enchantment, or set it off; neither is sure and they leave the thing untouched, reasoning that a street sweeper will eventually remove it in any case.   A little up the road and away from Mother Thames, at one of the ancient gates of the Square Mile of London City, stands the Temple Bar memorial. Owen and Charlotte inspect the surroundings of the neo-renaissance Dragon carefully, but find no traces of sorcery or anything save a superabundance of lawyers.   Towards the British Museum from Temple Bar is the Church of St George Bloomsbury, a classical folly by Nicholas Hawksmoor incorporating elements of the Mausoleum at Helicarnassus and a Temple of Bacchus. Questioning the elderly sexton, Owen learns that the man found another grisly relic while sweeping around in the upper levels of the steeple; a dead snake, with some "strange writing" around it. The man complains about the youth of today and their predilection for vandalism and lack of respect for religion. Under further questioning, he admits that the snake might have been up the tower for a few days, the sexton's legs not being what they once were, and also that the man hasn't yet taken a mop and bucket up the stairs to wash away the chalk. Owen bounds - well, plods - upwards to be confronted with another set of hieroglyphs, similar but not identical to the previous lot; he sketches a copy. The Comtess peeks in the rubbish and sees that the snake was strangled.   Not exactly pleased with their findings, but at least feeling they are on the track of something, Owen and the Comtess return to Gold's bookshop for lunch.   Meanwhile Charlotte has arrived in Oxford. As a modern young lady who feared no scandal, she had no qualms about being seen to buy a railway station paperback to read on the train, yet was welcomed back to the hallowed halls of Oxford nevertheless. Her former tutor was agog at this mysterious entangling of Egyptology and Murder ('Shades of the curse of Tutankhamun!') and succeeded in negotiating her past the porters of Bailliol despite their prejudice towards entry by the fairer sex. Charlotte discovers Inspector Carlton of Scotland Yard (who has been called in due to the similarities to the Edmundson murder) in possession of the scene. Inspector Carlton is not impressed with "amateur sleuthing by girls who've read too much Agatha Christie", nor does he wish Charlotte to be exposed to, or to contaminate, the crime scene ("It's quite ghastly in there"). Being a well-brought-up upper-middle-class young lady, Charlotte happily shares what she knows of Edmundson's murder and the connection to bizarre Egyptian manuscripts, including various details Toby, who has a rather lower opinion of the Rozzers, had seen fit to elide ("and then we went to Mr Briggs house, which happened to be unlocked, fancy!"). The egyptological angle, the previously unknown connection to Briggs, and Charlotte's recital of the various hardships and indignities of digs in Egypt convinces Carlton that Miss Winstonthorpe and her Egyptology Professor may have something to offer after all, or at least will not throw up on the body.   The body itself is still in situ until a full forensic team travels up from London. It has been brutally slashed and hacked, and the late Professor's study is splattered with blood and viscera. On the professor's desk is another piece of pseudo-Egyptian scrollwork; comparing it to a sketch of the previous scroll, Charlotte realises that a passage she previously took for gibberish by an inexpert forger in fact spells out Henry Masters' name phonetically. The scroll implores Nyharuthotep to cast the soul of "Henry Masters, who holds this paper" into the maw of the serpent of darkness Apep. The previous scroll had named Thomas Driberg; however, it was Edmundson, the last owner, who fell victim to it, suggesting the name is irrelevant to the curse. There is also an envelope, postmarked Bristol.   Both Charlotte and the Inspector are both skeptical of any supernatural cause, believing that the murders are being committed by the insane Briggs, armed with some form of blade, hook or claw with which he attempts to disguise the murders as animal attacks.   Charlotte goes in search of a more private phone line than the college line of Bailliol and finds it at her professor's college. She phones the bookshop, shares her findings, and learns they have found some mysterious egyptian inscriptions. She hurries to Oxford station to catch the next train.   After hurried sandwiches, Owen and the Comtess travel across London to find the other places on the list: Green Park, where they encounter a sinister-seeming tree; Carreras Cigarette Factory (a burned cat and another inscription; Owen is upset and removes this sad burned feline); The entrance to Abney Park Cemetery (nothing); Liverpool street station (where the Comtess sneaks into the employees only Underground Postal Rail area and discovers another inscription, and a toad nailed to the floor) and, as evening draws in, Greenwich Observatory (nothing).   The Bookhounds regroup at the bookshop. Charlotte translates the inscriptions: they are invocations to the Queens of the four classical elements and directions, all with the same phrasing: "To the Queen of the East, the Queen of Water, accept this sacrifice and lend me your power for the Work" (Cleopatra's Needle); "To the Queen of the North, the Queen of Air, accept this sacrifice and lend me your power for the Work" (St George Bloomsbury); "To the Queen of the West, the Queen of Fire, accept this sacrifice and lend me your power for the Work" (Carreras Cigarette Factory), "To the Queen of the South, the Queen of Earth, accept this sacrifice and lend me your power for the Work" (Liverpool St Station). Biggs is clearly up to something elaborate - but what?   Hearing Charlotte and the Inspector's theory of a murderer pretending to be an animal, Tobias rummages in the bookshop stacks and finds a paperback copy of Mr Elliot O'Donnell's Strange Cults and Secret Societies of Modern London, which has a chapter on panther- and leopard-worshipping cults, who apparently take on animalistic characteristics and stalk Blackheath for human prey. Is there a connection? Or is this another of O'Donnell's popular fictions?   Although it has been a long day, the Bookhounds feel that time is of the essence and there are a few activities that can only be carried out in the evening. Charlotte and the Comtess get their glad rags on and hit the dance-spots to find Hermione Railton, who is a) thoroughly squiffy and has not received any mysterious letters recently - they decline to share any further details with her. Owen hits a more discreet Soho establishment, where he has heard of a man dressed as a Galli who does an act with a panther. Although the place gives him a sense of creeping unease, he does not see anything connecting it with the case.   Eventually, the weary Bookhounds lay their heads to their pillows, wondering what horrors the new day will bring.




Death in the Post, first session

Tobias Gold, a Jewish seller of occult and curious books located in Charing Cross, and his assistant, Owen Davies, who specialises in the preparation and sale of exacting reproductions for the undiscerning collector, are invited by a distinguished client and collector of obscure tomes, Mr George Edmundson, to make a house call. Mr Edmundson has even unbent the laws of class distinction by inviting them to a light supper, indicating that he desires their understanding and confidentiality as well as their professional skills. Mr Edmundson has been given what appears to be a rare Egyptian papyrus by an unnamed friend, and wishes to have it authenticated. For added expertise, Tobias and Owen call in a sometime business partner, Charlotte Winstonthorpe ("Charli Winthr'p"), a genteel student of archaeology who has provided the shop with sufficient mummy cases and stuffed crocodiles to give it that occult Tutmania je ne sais quoi. They are also accompanied by ‘Comtess’ Chatreuse, a French absinthe fiendess who supplies Gold’s shop with books that, for one reason or another, can only be printed in Paris.   After a fine port and an excellent fruit and cheese platter, Mr Edmundson produces the document. It only takes a few minutes for Mr Davies and Miss Charlotte to pronounce it a cunning fake. However it appears to be a copy of a genuine rarity, the Gemhetep Papyrus, a geomantic magical text from the Amarna period, not seen, Mr Gold recalls with a Bibliography spend, since the auction of the late Dr S A Winters’ of Cambridge’s personal effects shortly before the Great War. Charli recalls academic gossip that the Gemhetep was said to be cursed, as the three men who attempted to translate it all met unpleasant ends.
Miss Charli notes that part of the Egyptian manuscript forms a palindrome; not characteristic of ancient Egyptian texts at all, but often found in more modern Occult inscriptions, as are magic squares and the like. A palindromic incantation can indicate a target; perhaps this papyrus is intended to pass on a curse, as did the inscription in M R James’ fantastical story Casting the Runes? The palindromic part, encased in a cartouche (symbolising the name of a god or pharaoh) is the name of the minor deity of darkness Ny-Ha-Rut-Ho-Tep, “the danger beyond the thresholdâ€. Egyptology tells her that Nyharuthotep, who is symbolised by a black panther, is responsible for feeding the souls of the unworthy to the maw of the devouring serpent of darkness Apep.   Mr Edmundson dismisses the notion that someone is trying to either curse him or sell him a forgery. The manuscript was passed to him, he says, by a friend who himself received it in the post, and did not know what to make of it. He is quite sure that his friend bears him no ill will. Mr Edmundson thanks Mr Gold and his colleagues for their expertise, promises to send them the usual finders’ fee, and expresses an interest in the original Gemhetep Papyrus if they should happen to come across it. It would certainly be worth many hundreds of pounds, a prospect which excites Mr Gold somewhat.   While reading the papers the next morning, Mr Gold is shocked, saddened, but not entirely surprised, to read that Mr Edmundson has been found dead, apparently the victim of some sort of attack. That’s the second client these last two months, he thinks. As he is more than half expecting, the phone rings; it is Inspector Carlton of the Yard, who has found Mr Gold’s name in Mr Edmunson’s diary and would like Mr Gold to help them with their inquiries. Mr Gold does not particularly wish to help them with their inquiries, but has previously discovered that the rozzers can be quite insistent.
Mr Gold’s account is plausible and is apparently corroborated by that of Wilkins, Mr Edmundson’s butler. Inspector Carlton lets slip that the body appears to have been mauled by some large animal, possibly a large and savage dog. Mr Gold does not own a dog, but the shop does have Owen’s small cat, who keeps mice from nibbling the stock. The Inspector is not interested in the cat.   After this alarming conversation, Mr Gold leaps to his files. Among his late father’s papers, he finds the auction catalogue of Mr Winters’ estate. It appears the Gemhetep papyrus was bought by a Dr Briggs. The Bookhounds recall a scandal reported in the Daily Clarion, almost a decade ago now, when a Dr Randolph Briggs was struck off the rolls and committed to an asylum after the Clarion revealed that scandalous mistreatment of his patients with quack remedies (including sticking needles in them and making them drink the juices of strange herbs, mixed with their own blood) had led to the death of one of his patients. A little library research turns up more details (and a photograph), including that Briggs, who seemed extremely unbalanced at his hearing, swore to have revenge on the Daily Clarion and the members of the British Medical Association board who struck him off the rolls, and was committed to the Grey Fell Institute for the Criminally Insane in Northhamptonshire. The Bookhounds are puzzled that there seems to be no connection between (ex)Dr Briggs and the late Mr Edmundson and decide to spend the next day visiting Northhamptonshire.   The trip is not made easier by the slight fear of trains shared by most of the party after their unpleasant encounter with the 1893 London-Edinborough Express last month. However, they tough out the trip north regardless. The weather is as pleasant as could reasonably be expected, the rain being quite warm.   At the asylum Tobias Gold claims to be a lawyer who needs to see Dr Briggs over an inheritance left to him by a distant relative. A disapproving secretary imposes a punishing wait over their failure to make an appointment, before eventually condescending to send them through to Dr Mortenson, the Director. Dr Mortenson informs them that Mr Briggs was released from the asylum approximately a month ago, having apparently fully recovered his sanity and ceased ranting about revenge, vindication and the like. The only addresses Dr Mortenson has are for Mr Briggs’ former surgery in Wimbledon in southwest London, and his lawyers, Cratchett, Finchley & Weems.   The Bookhounds return to London in short order, guessing that Dr Briggs intends to use his freedom to carry out his revenge fantasies against the Daily Clarion and the members of the British Medical Association board who assessed him as insane and struck him off: Drs Railton, Colnbury, Masters, Winterton and Lund. Only Lund appears to still be in active practice in London, so Tobias makes an appointment. Dr Lund turns out to be a fashionable Freudian psychoanalyst with a Harley Street practice. He interprets Tobias’ warning about monsters as a sign of a paranoid delusion linked and charges Tobias a swingeing 30 pounds for the privilege. Tobias leaves, muttering about being in the wrong line of business.   That evening, they decide that a discreet snoop around Mr Briggs’ former residence is in order. The house is apparently vacant and empty, though the grounds are well maintained. Ostentatiously calling “Dr Briggs? Dr Briggs?†for the benefit of the neighbours, Tobias wanders around the side and discovers that the back door has become unlocked.
The house is indeed empty, but there is a stair to the cellar in the kitchen. After a certain amount of shuffling and muttering about who will be the first to descend, the Bookhounds descend in a huddle, to discover a baroque scene.
The cellar space appears to have been made over into an Egyptian shrine, complete with a mummy case standing against one wall. A large protective circle has been drawn on the floor, marked with hieroglyphics; in the centre is a small modern writing desk. Tobias and Owen gingerly open the case and are relieved to find only a stack of books, mostly on the subject of Egyptian hieroglyphics, including a rather nice Book of the Dead which they elect to leave. Incongruously, there is also a London Baedecker guide which they hurriedly flip through, noting that several locations are marked; some also have notes referring to “page (number) Darcyâ€.   Charlotte has been investigating the hieroglyphic circle. It is a scholar’s incantation to a tutelary deity that implores it to watch over his hand and ensure his scribing is without error. Normally the deity Thoth would be invoked, but this incantation places Nyharuthotep in Thoth’s place. Lara surreptitiously erases Nyharuthotep’s name and replaces it with Thoth.
Tired and returning to Gold’s Books and Antiquities on Charing Cross, the Bookhounds are startled to discover a Mr Drieburg waiting nervously on the doorstep. He says he is a journalist from the Daily Clarion and was the person who sent the papyrus on to Mr Edmundson.




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