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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 B) 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.


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