Monday, March 18, 2019
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “Fire of the Orient” Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. with Yorie Latimer.)
Professor Brandon Stalloid left Wheeling, West Virginia, on the evening train December 29, 1875, heading west. Jack West travelled with him; they boarded and left the city like thieves in the night. In the far distance, they could see the glow of the fire they’d lit at Elger House and see smoke billowing up into the sky.
It took them some five days to make their way west to Denver, Colorado, changing trains often and always looking about them for any sign of pursuit. There was none. They reached Denver on Monday, January 3, 1876 in the morning and parted ways.
Professor Stalloid went in search of a tattoo parlor the next day and eventually found one run by a Chinese man. There, he got a simple tattoo of a sitting black cat on his left breast. Unfortunately, he was still terrified of cats and every time he saw himself in the mirror without his shirt, he was startled.
After that, he went looking for Mrs. Tuttle, the woman who had contacted him in Denver the last time he was there and who was a member of the Society of the Cat. He learned the Tuttles were a wealthy family. Mr. Tuttle had been dead for about 10 years and Mrs. Tuttle had retained control and ownership of one of the larger banks in the city. He found where she lived and he sent a card to her house. She soon replied with a note saying she would meet him for dinner that night at a restaurant near the hotel where he was staying.
* * *
They met that night and she greeted him cordially.
“How good of you to pay me a visit,” she said. “How are you? How are you?”
“Oh, I’m doing … terrible,” he said.
“Well, I’m terribly sorry.”
“It’s fine. It will get better. These are my credentials.”
He lifted up his shirt to show her the tattoo, which startled the woman.
“Oh,” she said.
“I was getting a statue carved but … complications have happened,” he said.
“Well, there’s no rush. There’s no rush.”
“So, I wanted some credentials for the meantime.”
“My goodness. Oh my goodness.”
She smiled uncomfortably.
“Well, what can I help you with or is this just a social call?” she said.
“Well, I wanted to know more about the Society,” he said.
“Oh. Yes. Well, we’re all scattered about. There’s only a few of us, of course, because it’s very, very hard to get in. And we do have a Grand Leader of our society. She sends … you’re the first male, actually.”
“She sends out information when we need it. We often meet in Ulthar, of course, you know all about that.”
He wasn’t sure if he had ever heard of Ulthar, though the name brought forth thoughts of the mountains of China for some reason.
“Yes,” he said. “With the spires that go endlessly into the sky?”
“Spires?” she said. “No! No no. Ulthar’s just a tiny, little town.”
“It’s a very small … it’s very … there’s a lot of cats there. It’s just the other side of the Enchanted Wood, of course. Anyway …”
“We often meet there. We often meet in Ulthar and that’s how we do most of our communication, of course. Because it’s cheaper and it’s much safer too.”
“Is that in my dreams too?”
“Everything seems to be in my dreams.”
“Do you know what Ulthar is, Professor?”
“Yes,” she said. “In the Dreamlands … you can access the Dreamlands, can’t you?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Cats always come in my dreams.”
“Alright … okay. Interesting.”
“How do you access the dreamlands?”
“Well, you have to go down the 77 steps of Light Slumber to the Cavern of Flame and you speak to the two priests and then you enter the Dreamlands. You come out in the Enchanted Woods. None of this is familiar?”
“Hm. Interesting. Well, I will have to consult with our Leader and get some advice from her on that and then I will get back to you on that. What is your address? Where do you live? I could write you.”
He gave her an address in Midnight, California. She diligently wrote it down and tucked the piece of paper in her massive purse.
“Yes, very good,” she said. “I’ll write you of her decision and let you know. Or send a telegraph. Either way. And we’ll see a way … if we can assist you. I know there are ways to assist people into the Dreamlands and, if you are a member of our Society, you should be able to go there so you can meet with us as that is where we have most of our meetings. Now, many of the ladies, they wear masks when we meet.”
“Okay. I can wear a mask.”
“You can. You can wear a mask. Because they think it quite elegant. I, myself, do not bother because … sometimes you just don’t. Oh. Here’s the food.”
They had a nice meal, making small talk.
“Is there another Society member in San Francisco or the area?” he asked.
“No,” she said. “San Francisco? I thought you were from Midnight.”
“I was born in San Francisco though. And I’m heading over there to take care of some business.”
“We like to have our members spread out. It would be nice to have a member … if you’re from San Francisco. Could I get your address there?”
“I don’t know how long it will be there …”
“Oh, very well. Let me have it anyway.”
He gave her his address in San Francisco and she commented on how nice an area that was.
“It’s nice to have members everywhere in case anything needs done,” she said. “We don’t actually usually meet as a group very often. I think we’ve met once in the last five or six years … I’m not sure how long it’s been. I don’t know how long it’s been exactly. Eleven years. We’ve only met once. And that was very difficult for some of the ladies. We don’t often meet … here … if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah,” he said.
He asked if she would tutor him on any magic or useful things and she said she had to talk to the Society Leader before doing anything like that but she would let him know. She noted she would ask and then send a letter or telegram to both of his addresses.
They enjoyed the wine and the dinner. Professor Stalloid related the events in Falls Run and dealing with the traitor as well as telling her about destroying the altar in the Elger House. He noted there were werewolves in the place and he’d found the cat altar. He said he thought he’d set the spirits of the cats there free, though he was not certain if he did or not.
“What did you do?” she asked. “How did you set them free?”
“I burned the bones,” he said.
“I would think that would do it.”
“That sounds like … have you had any dreams since then? As if she was displeased or …?”
“Then I think you handled it.”
More small talk revealed there were a half dozen members of the Society, all wealthy women scattered throughout the west. Mrs. Tuttle was interesting though a little flighty.
* * *
Professor Stalloid took a train to San Francisco the next day. It was another five or six days before he arrived in mid-January. When he arrived at his house in a cab, he didn’t see anyone out of place or anyone apparently watching his home, which he had worried about. He found his maid, whom he thought of as a mother, Chun Zhi Rho, in the mansion, and she told him nothing out of the ordinary had happened while he was gone.
Professor Stalloid settled back into his house, spending that first day back skimming through the San Francisco Daily Morning Chronicles that had piled up while he was gone. A few articles jumped out at him. The first was from the paper of Tuesday, November 23, 1875. It read:
NOTORIOUS OUTLAW CAPTURED!
JACK PARKER BROUGHT IN ALIVE
INDICTMENT AND TRIAL PENDING
COLORADO—Jack Parker, the notorious second-in-command of the John Valentine
Gang, was captured in Colorado and returned to San Francisco for trial Monday.
Federal Marshal Clayton Pierce returned to San Francisco with the notorious outlaw
in tow. The only information released by the courts is that he was captured in Colorado.
No other information is yet available.
Jack Parker has been riding with the John Valentine gang for the last decade, and
many claim he was second-in-command to the infamous John Valentine himself. Parker
was wanted for charges of murder, grand theft, train robbery, burglary, stagecoach robbery,
and horse theft, among numerous other charges in various states and territories, primarily
California and Colorado Territory, though also including Nevada Territory.
He was also thought to be connected to the train wreck in Nevada in February which saw
the escape of the recently captured John Valentine and several of his men.
He is currently being held under close watch by both city police and sheriff’s deputies in
San Francisco Jail pending his trial. No trial date has yet been set and an indictment is
thought forthcoming. It is unknown what, if any, extradition orders might come in from
other states and territories where the man is wanted.
Marshal Pierce could not be reached for comment. However, a telegram sent to Governor
Romualdo Pacheco received a reply that read:
“Seeing this man incarcerated is a great day for California.”
A list of Jack Parker’s alleged crimes should be printed in this paper before the end of
the week. Reporters are even now compiling the information for readers.
This is not the first of John Valentine’s gang who were captured by Marshal Pierce.
He reportedly also brought in the ill-famed Dan McGoohan, who was captured and arrested
in Arizona in April. McGoohan was found guilty of numerous crimes and sentenced to life
in prison, said sentence currently being served out at San Quentin Prison. Numerous calls
for extradition from Arizona Territory are still being dealt with by the courts.
Other newspaper articles noted, since that time, that Jack Parker had been indicted and a trial date was for February. He found another item of interest. The article, dated Wednesday, November 24, 1875, read:
Millionaire businessman Frederick Rotheschilde, 65, has been reported missing from his office
after an incident Tuesday.
Mr. Rotheschilde, owner of Rotheschilde & Company, was said to have leapt from his 2nd
story office window Tuesday afternoon and fled the premises.
Mr. Rotheschilde was last seen in the presence of Federal Marshal Clayton Pierce, whom
witnesses say spoke to the man for a short time in the privacy of the office before there was a
ruckus of some kind. Marshal Pierce was heard to exclaim “What are you doing?” before rushing
out of the office in pursuit of the fleeing Rotheschilde.
Police have not reported what Marshal Pierce, who recently returned to San Francisco with
captured outlaw Jack Parker, was doing in the building or why he was chasing Mr. Rotheschilde.
Anyone with information on the missing man should report it to the San Francisco Police
Department. The case remains under investigation by said department.
Follow up articles gave more details, such as the fact that the ruckus mentioned in the first article had sounded like a fight and it was shortly thereafter that Pierce left the office. When some of the clerks had rushed in, they found the room empty and the window open. Rushing to the window, thinking the man had jumped to his death, they had seen Pierce in front of the building. He asked them “Where did he go?” and when the clerks could not answer, he ran off in search of the missing Rotheschilde. Follow-up articles did not reveal much else in November and December.
* * *
That same day at dinner, Professor Stalloid told Chun Zhi Rho he planned to sell the house in San Francisco. That made the woman very sad. He told her he was planning on moving to Midnight, in southern California, and she could come with him if she wanted to. She questioned him as to why sell the house as it was a beautiful house and there was no harm in having two houses. He noted that it was to cut off memories. After talking, he got the impression she would prefer to stay in San Francisco though she was going where he was going.
* * *
He talked to a lawyer after that and had a For Sale sign put up in front of the house. He also wired Philip Sanbourne in Santiago in southern California about possibly taking the dinosaur skull for his museum at the Sanbourne Institute of Pacific Antiquities. The men sent telegrams back and forth and eventually arrangements were made to transport the massive skull via train to Los Angeles and then by wagon on to Santiago as no rail lines yet ran down to the town.
Professor Stalloid looked through an atlas to figure out where Santiago was and found that it lay in San Diego County on the coast just the other side of the Santa Ana Mountains from Midnight. He learned Santiago was a very small town but growing very quickly.
* * *
Professor Stalloid also contacted Yan Min, the leader of the Rightful Spirit Tong, who had told the man he owed him a great deal of money due to certain actions of himself and his compatriots against the tong. Yan Min was an old Chinese man with a mustache and goatee. He had accused Professor Stalloid of being part of the people who had murdered some of his hatchetmen and stolen from him. A note came back to meet him at lunchtime at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.
“Ah, professor,” Yan Min said when he arrived.
He sat in a large booth in the back of the restaurant with a pair of angry-looking hatchetmen standing nearby.
“You are here to pay me my money!” Yan Min said, delighted. “Please: sit! Sit!”
He gestured to the seat of the booth with a smile.
“Partially,” Professor Stalloid said, sitting down. “I’m also here to work off that debt in a helpful endeavor between the two of us.”
Yan Min’s eyes narrowed and he looked at the man a moment.
“How so?” he said slowly.
“I would─” Professor Stalloid said.
“How much are you paying off?”
“One thousand five hundred.”
“What is this endeavor?”
“The other half is I will help train you some chemists. I’ll teach them how to distill and make curatives. If they want to use it for opium, they can figure that out from there.”
Yan Min looked at the man for some time.
“Aren’t the tongs here to help Chinatown?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Yes,” Yan Min said. “By making money!”
“But I’m also here to actually help you help Chinatown.”
They discussed the possibility of his work for some time over the lavish Chinese meal. Professor Stalloid pushed the agenda of helping the community while Yan Min wanted mainly to help himself. In the end, he was willing to settle for $2,000 and teaching his men the pharmaceutical skills Professor Stalloid knew. Then he would consider the man’s debt wiped clean. Professor Stalloid also mentioned he was leaving town and hoped to never be any trouble to Yan Min or the tong again. Yan Min didn’t mind either way, and noted if Professor Stalloid helped him to make more money, he was fine with the man staying. He said he would graciously release the bounty on Lambert Otto as well.
“That’s up to you,” Professor Stalloid said.
“As a show of good faith!” Yan Min said.
“I mean … Lambert Otto did kill your men.”
“As a show of good faith, I will release … I will release my bounty on him as well.”
“We are good friends now!”
Professor Stalloid wrote him a check and they smoked cigars after their meal to seal the deal. Professor Stalloid got a little drunk on rice wine but made it home safely.
* * *
Professor Stalloid started working, during the day, in a nasty little drug shop basement where he taught the six Chinese chemists everything he knew. The room was filthy and his first job was getting the men to clean the place up so as not to taint their work with dirt. He had often, since dealing with the Crescent on their trip through Colorado, thought about the possibility of sterilizing both medical instruments and medical men somehow.
He spent about a month from mid-January and mid-February working with the men. He often talked to the chemists about providing for the community, noting if they provided for the community, the community would provide for each of them. Over that time, two of the chemists came to him and talked of leaving Chinatown and the
tong, especially if Professor Stalloid knew of a place they might go to better learn. When he suggested certain universities and colleges in San Francisco, they noted they should probably leave San Francisco altogether.
In the end, though he worried about angering Yan Min by getting some of his people to defect, he told them about Dr. Chin in Midnight in southern California. They were surprised a Chinese man was able to work with white people and was accepted by the community. Professor Stalloid noted he might be able to teach them even more and they were very interested in going to Midnight.
After working with the Chinese, he felt better about the community, thinking he’d made some kind of difference. He also found he was no longer terrified of cats, possibly due to the number of cats on the streets of Chinatown.
* * *
Over that period Professor Stalloid also read On Things Unseen, a book they’d found in Falls Run. For its age, the book was in remarkably good shape and quite sturdy - probably thanks to the very heavy binding. The cover was made of quarter-inch thick sheets of wood covered with leather and the pages were vellum. A small lock held the book closed but it had been jimmied open. The early seventeenth century English tome was roughly contemporary with the works of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. It contained a few spells plus lengthy theories about the behavior of light and magical emanations, invisibility, and detection of magic in general.
It took him about three weeks to read and he learned the book held several spells: Become Spectral, Consume Likeness, Deflect Harm, Detect Enchantment, Seek the Lost, and Sense Life. He realized the spell to consume likeness was the same one he thought Ophelia had cast and required eating a dead body. He ripped out the pages that spell was written on and burned them.
He next delved into the translation of the First Cryptical Book of Hsan and worked on that until the beginning of March. It contained the works of Huang-Ti, the Yellow Emperor; his miraculous inventions and cures. Written by the Chinese philosopher Hsan the Greater around the 2nd century A.D., the work was not very disturbing to him.
Near the beginning of March, he got started reading the strange Book of Lesser Summoning.
* * *
During his time in San Francisco, he also set up a small company, getting a P.O. Box so the bank would have some kind of contact information. He called the company Berry Good Detective Agency. Though it would be listed as a detective agency, it would really be for paranormal investigations. However, the whole thing was more a front company so that the principal “board” or “owners,” himself, Dr. Eva Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia Ethess, could draw funds from the bank if need be and even have money wired to them. He deposited $5,000 into the company account.
He also got his hair cut very short, nearly shaving his head.
* * *
Professor Stalloid received a letter from Mrs. Tuttle during his time in San Francisco. It included her return address in Denver and the vague letter gave him the impression that any correspondence sent by post or telegram should be couched in vagueness in case any of it fell into the wrong hands.
* * *
In mid-February, he got what he wanted packed up for transport to Midnight. That included his pharmaceutical laboratory and research, some of the more important books in his library, and his medicine wagon and horses. He and Chun Zhi Rho took the train to Los Angeles and went over roads from there to Riverside and then down the other side of the Santa Ana Mountains to Midnight.
The people of Midnight were glad to see him, especially Marshal Flute. He saw that a house in the middle of town had been converted and expanded into the Midnight Hotel by Anderson Smith, one of the refugees from Quiet Gap, Nevada. Dillard Devries, also from Quiet Gap, had occupied a house just off Main Street and added a small shop as barber and dentist for the town. Finally, Williard Harlowe of Quiet Gap had turned one of the abandoned storefronts on Main Street into a General Store and Hardware, working it with his family, not in direct competition with Bluto Popper’s Grocery Store, but complimenting it in the village. Another Quiet Gap resident who came to the town was William Jeffries, a mute since he and the rest of the village of Quiet Gap had been taken to the other world. He had moved in with Chuckles the Clown and worked with the man, keeping the streets of the town clean.
One of the two Chinese chemists was working at Dr. Chin’s Hospital as well. Xia Xiang was a young man who seemed quite bright and had moved into the town hall, where the hospital was located as the town never had much use of it otherwise. Unfortunately, he was relatively poorly trained as Professor Stalloid had not done a very good job teaching him or the other chemists he had worked with in San Francisco.
Every morning and evening, The Colonel, whose house lay down by the lake, fired a shot from his little brass cannon. The man thought the War of 1812 was still going on and he was fighting the British on the Great Lakes.
They found the old Pettigrew Mansion was ready. The lower floor, aside from the kitchen in the back, had been cleared out and fitted with shelves and bookcases to be the town library. Both the parlor and the dining room were now ready for books that weren’t yet there. A small desk was set up in the foyer near the front door.
There were three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. He gave Chun Zhi Rho the largest of them and turned another into a study and sitting room with all his books. The third room, the one with the secret passage up to the organ loft in the attic, he took for himself. There was also plenty of storage space in the vast attic and room in the basement, aside from where laundry was taken care of. He ended up moving his laboratory into the basement.
Midnight was slowly growing. He learned the people of the town had been petitioning San Bernadino County for a telegraph line to run through midnight without much success. The town of San Jacinto, in nearby San Diego County, was growing quickly as well, however, and seemed more likely to get the telegraph line and, they hoped, a railroad through the village.
He only spent four days in Midnight before going back to San Francisco in early March.
* * *
In mid-March, Professor Stalloid took the ferry to Oakland and once again rode his high-wheeling bicycle to the Terwilliger Farm to find Matilda and Professor Terwilliger there. The latter had been working on various projects.
Professor Stalloid was most interested in the two-wheeled, motorized velocipede. Unfortunately, Professor Terwilliger was having difficulty with the design, having gotten sidetracked. He was working on his rocket and another project that he was very excited about.
Behind the barn was a structure like a long, flat house made of very light wood. It was a good 20 feet long or so but very light. It was already rigged up with several static generation batteries, mounted in such a way that the “lenses” of the camera-boxes were pointing out holes set in the sides. They were situated in such a way they could be moved up and down and side to side a little bit and there was room for someone to stand behind each one. Wires connected them to the battery-driven engine like the one Professor Stalloid had found in the hearse in Midnight and that was connected to a massive propeller mounted on the roof of the structure. There were several stout cables connected to the sides and roof of the structure as well. Professor Stalloid had also seen a lot of silk in the barn, some of it hung from the sides of the barn and apparently painted.
“Guess what I’m working on?” Professor Terwilliger said with a grin.
“A flying machine,” Professor Stalloid said.
“It’s an airship!”
“I’m working on what the French were doing! The French did it but it was very slow. It wasn’t very good.”
He talked about the French airship of Henri Giffard that flew in the 1850s and then Henri Dupuy de Lôme and Paul Haenlein and their attempt in 1872 but how their ships had been very slow and ponderous. He said he had built one that would hopefully, with the plans from Professor Stalloid’s electric motor, be able to make a much greater speed, possibly up to 30 miles per hour. He was very excited about it.
In the barn was the partially crafted two-wheel motorized velocipede but he noted he had difficulty in shrinking the electric motor enough to make it work well. It was something he was still working on. Professor Stalloid suggested making the velocipede three-wheeled to give it a larger base for the engine. Professor Terwilliger liked that idea and noted it might not fall over as much either. He quickly wrote it down.
Matilda told Professor Stalloid her father had been working a lot on the rocket and thought it would be ready to go possibly by the fall.
Professor Stalloid stayed at the farm for a few days.
* * *
In the Friday, March 31, 1875, San Francisco Daily Morning Chronicle, Professor Stalloid noticed an interesting article:
Gobi Artifact to Land
at Docks on Monday
A mysterious item lost for 500 years in the Gobi Desert will be arriving at the San Francisco
According to Philip Sanbourne of the Sanbourne Institute of Pacific Antiquities, an artifact
of mysterious origin will arrive on Monday and then be transferred via train to Los Angeles.
From there, it will go by wagon to Santiago.
“I’m not at liberty, yet, to discuss what is being transported, only to say it is of some
interesting historical value,” Mr. Sanbourne said.
The new Sanbourne Institute of Pacific Antiquities was established only last year when Tuna
Canning millionaire Carlton Sanbourne passed away and willed his newly-constructed mansion
in Santiago, the grounds, and his world-famous collection of Pacific antiquities to the state under
a self-perpetuating foundation to create a museum. Philip Sanbourne took it upon himself to
manage the museum.
In less than a year, Mr. Sanbourne has already found a new item for the museum.
When asked what interest the Pacific museum had in an artifact from the Gobi Desert in the
heartland of China, Mr. Sanbourne noted only that there were certain stories that the artifact had
actually come from the Marianna Islands originally. He would say no more, noting further research
was still pending except to note that the item had created enough interest in him to advise the board
to transport it.
He decided to meet with Sanbourne and found he was staying at the new and very elegant Palace Hotel. He was able to arrange a meeting with the man and they met in a lounge on the ground floor of the hotel on Saturday.
“Ah, Professor Stalloid,” Sanbourne said. “How nice to see you again.”
Philip Sanbourne was a middle-aged man about 40 with a neat appearance. He was clean-shave and wore pince-nez glasses and a fine suit. He shook Professor Stalloid’s hand and took a seat in a comfortable chair, gesturing for Professor Stalloid to join him. The lounge had a few other men within, smoking cigars and drinking.
“How can I help you, Professor?” he said.
“Oh, I was interested in what you found in the Gobi Desert,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Well, I didn’t find it, exactly.”
“It wasn’t actually me, but we learned about this … about this device, this item; I’d rather not say too much about it until I’ve had a chance to unpack it.”
“That’s fine. That’s fine.”
“But … it’s … it was allegedly crafted some 500 years ago in the 14th century on an unnamed island in the Marianas and later taken into China. How it could have ended up in the Gobi Desert is anyone’s guess, but … it was purchased … I ended up finding out about this from the Thorbourne Expedition. They left back in 1873 and they fell upon hard times. They were looking for a city called Khara-hot, the black and dead city, I believe is the translation. Apparently they found the item in inland China and then managed to transport it to the coast, but then their money ran out. There were also some peculiar things that happened to the expedition. I believe the expedition leader, Dr. David Thorbourne, he died during that expedition. He was from the east somewhere.
“So, we learned of it and its ties to the Marianas so we wired them the money to have it sent to San Francisco. It arrives on Monday. So, we’re expecting it Monday. It would be great if you could come down to the docks to see.”
“I’ll have a note sent to your house.”
Sanbourne got the address from Professor Stalloid.
“I’ll have a note sent to your house when I know it’s coming in,” Sanbourne said. “They usually signal when they reach the horizon. I’ve asked them to signal so we’ll have some notice.”
“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.
“There’s going to be quite a few people there, possibly. I noticed the article they published in the Morning Daily Chronicle was a bit sensationalist. It’s just an old artifact. It’s large. It’s a very large artifact.”
Professor Stalloid asked if the dinosaur skull had gotten to him intact. Sanbourne noted it had and several scientists were bring brought in to look at it more carefully and try to figure an effective way of displaying it without damaging it. He noted they didn’t want to drill holes in it in order to hang it, so it would probably be displayed in a case on the floor, which would take up a great deal of space. Professor Stalloid asked if they would prop the mouth open and Sanbourne noted that was probably the plan.
“It’s quite amazing,” Sanbourne said. “Some of the … some of the board members are leery about displaying it because it shouldn’t exist. It should be a fossil.”
“Just put the citation on it,” Professor Stalloid said.
“That’s what I thought!” Sanbourne said. “We’re going to put it on display at some point in the future. I’ve got about half the board on board with that and some men are looking over it right now. Trying to figure out a way to connect it with the Pacific, but it’s too good a find not to put it on display. So, we’re trying to figure something out.”
They had a nice conversation and a few drinks and Sanbourne repeated that he would send the man a note on Monday.
* * *
A note came from Sanbourne in the afternoon of Monday, April 3, 1876. It said the ship was late and had not yet arrived in San Francisco. He went to see Sanbourne at the Palace Hotel and learned from him only that the ship was supposed to arrive on Monday but it hadn’t. He didn’t seem terribly concerned, noting sometimes ships got delayed or there were squalls that slowed them down. He reiterated he would send a note when the ship came in.
* * *
On Tuesday, April 4, another article appeared in the San Francisco Daily Morning Chronicle. It read:
Gobi Artifacts Missing!
SS Aurora Late to Arrive
In a startling turn of events, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company ship set to arrive Monday
with an artifact from the Gobi Desert did not, in fact arrive.
While steamships being late crossing the Pacific is not a great cause for concern in most
cases, in the case of cursed artifacts part of a doomed expedition might be.
It turns out the mysterious Gobi Desert Artifact procured by the Sanbourne Institute of
Pacific Antiquities is connected with the 1873 Thorbourne Expedition to inland China which
was nearly wiped out by madness, murder, and death.
The Thorbourne Expedition, financed and led by Dr. David Thorbourne of New Jersey, set
off for China in early 1873 in search of the lost city of Khara-Hot, or The Black and Dead City,
reputedly destroyed by the early Ming Dynasty when it formed in the mid-14th century. Though
they did not find the city, they found something.
Sporadic reports from the expedition members reported deaths, desertion, and madness, especially
of those most closely examining an artifact found in the desert. Of 10 archaeologists on site, four
died, three more went mad, and one disappeared, leaving only two in the initial party. Dr. David
Thorbourne was reportedly one of those who died.
The Sanbourne Institute reputedly heard of the artifact and paid to have it returned to the United
States late in 1875.
But now it’s gone missing … again.
* * *
On Wednesday morning, April 5, 1876, a note arrived at the house. It read:
SS Aurora has been spotted and will shortly dock at the Pacific Mail Steamship Company
Docks. I thought it might still be of interest to you.
Professor Stalloid tipped the man who brought him the note a dollar and then donned his coat and hat and made his way to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company Docks. He was able to easily find it and Philip Sanbourne, who was waiting at the docks as well. Word had obviously spread through the city and there were many gawkers near the docks being kept back by a dozen or so policemen. Sanbourne had a spot closer to where the ships were coming in and waved Professor Stalloid through.
When the Professor reached him, he noted the ship was obviously just late, despite what the newspapers had written.
The steamship seemed fine and arrived safely at the docks without issue. She trimmed and furled her sails and the smoke from the boiler ebbed as it was no longer fed. The sailors, about half white and half Chinese, tied her securely to the dock and make ready to unload various cargo as Sanbourne made his way aboard to talk to the ship’s captain. He soon returned with a smile, noting to Professor Stalloid that the ship ran into a little squall in the Pacific, which delayed her. The Captain, one Simeon Fergusson, said everything was fine with the cargo, however.
One of Sanbourne’s wagons was moved out onto the dock to be loaded with his massive crates. The first great crate proved to be over 15 feet long and five feet on a side, a long box that was hoisted out of the hold by numerous crewmen using a crane on the ship.
As they started to push it over the dock so they could lower it into the wagon, Professor Stalloid saw a frazzled man with wild hair walk down the dock towards the wagons. As he watched, the man pulled out a red stick of dynamite and lit a long fuse. He walked towards the wagon and the slowly lowering crate.
“That man has dynamite!” Professor Stalloid shouted.
He pointed at the man. Next to him, Sanbourne let out a shout. Several policeman looked in that direction. In the crowd, a woman screamed and fainted. The man didn’t seem to notice the commotion but just walked towards the wagon and the lowering crate.
“Stop lowering the crate!” Professor Stalloid shouted.
“Look out!” Sanbourne shouted. “Look out! It’s a madman with dynamite!”
Some of the crewmen on the ship heard the shout. One of them looked down and shouted a warning and the other men let loose of the rope and fled. A couple of policemen started to move towards the man as Sanbourne ducked for cover. The crate dropped a good 15 feet, crashing into the wagon and shattering on impact.
What appeared to be a long cylinder had been in the crate. It looked like it was made of lead and appeared to be solid. The man picked up his pace but stopped when he saw what was in the crate.
“Wha?” he muttered.
He looked very confused.
“Throw it!” Professor Stalloid shouted.
The man looked at him and then at the dynamite in his hand. He jerked and flung the stick away, sending it skipping across the dock to bounce off the side of the ship and disappear into the water. A moment later, there was a thud and a burst of water between the dock and the ship. The ship rocked and part of the dock in the area shattered and collapsed. The man fell over.
Several policemen, truncheons in hand, ran to the man and grabbed him. Sanbourne, followed by Professor Stalloid, headed over as well as the police dragged the man away. There was still a stunned look on his face.
Sanbourne knelt by the smashed wagon and examined the unadorned cylinder made of lead. It was some 15 feet long and three or four feet in diameter.
“This is not … this isn’t the artifact!” he said.
He looked around the rubbish and found a label pasted on the side. When Professor Stalloid looked at it over his shoulder, he saw it read “Cannon Proper.” It had some information on where the ship had left with the item and some Chinese script. Sanbourne frowned and then turned and headed up the skewed gangplank to the Aurora. Professor Stalloid followed. Sanbourne talked to some of the crewman, demanding to see Captain Fergusson. The crew started to look for the officers. As they did so, Sanbourne told one of the crewmen to get a gang of men and get the other crates up on the deck.
“Right now!” he said.
Several men got to work with the crane, pulling the other three crates up onto the deck. Two of them were about six feet by six feet and only a couple of feet deep. The last was longer than the first one had been, and narrow. Papers pasted to the crates indicated they contained the “Left Wheel,” “Right Wheel,” and “Carriage.” Sanbourne demanded a crowbar and was soon at work prying open the other crates with help of the crew.
Each crate held large pieces of cast lead, cheaply made and very heavy, but not the relic that had come from China.
A crewman approached Sanbourne and told him a lifeboat was missing from the far side of the ship. He said the captain and the first and second mates, the only officers of the Aurora, were all gone. Sanbourne told the two policemen who had come onboard he thought he had been robbed. They started to interrogate the crewmen as well.
Professor Stalloid asked the crewmen about the lifeboat and they told him there was a boat on the side of the ship that was now gone. They thought it had been there when they started moving the crate, but now it was missing, as were the three officers on board. He looked into the bay but didn’t see any sign of a rowboat. He realized they could have rowed to any of the nearby docks.
Sanbourne headed into the aft deck house and Professor Stalloid followed him. With a policeman present, they searched the Captain’s office and quarters and found some paperwork that was listed “Dragon Cannon.” He opened up the folder and found several sheets of paper. The most interesting had a drawing of a cannon on an ornate wooden carriage. The barrel of the cannon had a dragon’s head carved upon it. The notes indicated the barrel of the cannon was a massive 16 feet long, the width of the wheels were each five feet, the length of the cannon carriage was 15 feet, and the entirety of the cannon was 21 feet long. There was also a note that read: “Brass and iron fixtures. Barrel is made of an undetermined alloy of iron and some unknown metal thought impossible in 14th century. Some indication of toxicity. Found spiked with gold adorned spike. Removed and enclosed.” It was signed Leland Turner.
Sanbourne cursed as he continued his search. The policeman had left to help his fellow search the rest of the ship. More came aboard and helped with the search.
A half hour or so later, they reported to Sanbourne there was no sign of his merchandise and the three officers on board were gone. They had gotten a description of the men and were planning on using that information to try to find the men.
Sanbourne took Professor Stalloid aside and told him the cannon had been found in the Gobi Desert in 1873 by the Thorbourne Expedition which had then had fallen on hard times. He noted two members of the expedition survived: Dr. Dell O’Laughlin and Leland Turner. They were stuck in China with the cannon but had no funds to return to the United States. The Sanbourne Institute paid to bring the cannon to the United States and for the two men to eventually return to America. It had also paid for the two men to seek some help for their mental troubles in China, most likely through missionaries or other Americans. He noted neither of the men had yet returned to the United States as far as he knew. He wasn’t sure what to do but planned to offer $1,000 for the cannon’s return.
Professor Stalloid examined the pieces of lead in the crates but found they were cheap lead castings with no markings or indication of where they had even been cast. He guessed they were put in the crates so they would be heavy. Sanbourne confessed he wasn’t even going to examine the crates until they got to Santiago, probably a week’s journey, due to the difficulty in doing so.
Sanbourne left the ship and Professor Stalloid noticed the crew looked very nervous as they were being interrogated by the police. Professor Stalloid spoke to the crew as well. He found most of the men very nervous and guessed many of them had criminal records, either in China or in the United States. Those who talked to him wanted to make sure he didn’t turn any of them over to the police. He informed them he worked with the tongs before and he didn’t plan on turning them in.
It took him several hours to gain their trust.
He learned the Aurora made good time from China but, one evening two days before they arrived at San Francisco, Captain Fergusson ordered the sails trimmed and furled and the ship to a complete stop in the middle of the ocean. The captain, 1st Mate Reekey, and 2nd Mate Langhorne gave the crew time off and took watches atop the mast themselves instead of having the crew do it, which was very odd. They claimed there was some trouble with the steam engine that needed repair before they continued on to the continent. However, no work was done on it.
After over a day of sitting and doing nothing, smoke was spotted on the horizon. Soon after, Captain Fergusson ordered all hands below to the crew quarters while the 1st and 2nd Mates tended to the ship. Within a few hours, other voices could be heard on deck. Soon after, numerous footsteps reverberated across the deck as if they had been boarded by the other ship. There was the sound of cargo being moved in the cargo bay and, when 2nd Mate Langhorne brought food and water to the crew, they were told to keep quiet as a customs ship was examining the whole of the vessel. They were apparently looking for criminals and he strongly intimated that some of the crew probably fit the bill. He claimed he would try to protect them, however.
The noise lasted some hours as it sounded like cargo was moved extensively. It was late at night before 1st Mate Reekey came down to talk to the crew. He said the customs ship had certain special government men aboard and they had taken on a cargo for the Secret Service of the United States. He said there was a $10 per man bonus in it if none of them spoke of it when they got ashore, as well as being treason and punishable by death. The officers would take the secret cargo, as it was small, and the crew would get their bonuses as soon as they left San Francisco and were on the way back to China. In the meantime, they were to keep their mouths shut.
Though it was dark, several of the crew could see a barque-rigged steamer sailing away to the southeast at good speed. The Aurora was soon underway and made San Francisco after another day and a half.
Other than that, it was an uneventful trip. Several of them described Dr. Dell O’Laughlin and Leland Turner, who saw them off in China.
None of the crewmen liked the part of the cargo they were carrying designated for the Sanbourne Institute. Many of them said they felt as if they weren’t alone in the hold when near the crates, as if someone or something was there, watching them. They could not explain the feeling. When Professor Stalloid asked if the feeling stopped after their meeting with the mystery ship, each of the crewmen he talked to said it had.
The crew also related they all had nightmares and bad dreams most of the trip. They couldn’t specifically remember any of them but knew they dealt both with Chinese and strange, dark-skinned people in strange clothing and armor. Many of them were fighting each other as if in some great war. All of them seemed unnatural.
A few of the crewmen claimed they saw people following the ship, swimming alongside on certain nights when the moon was full.
By the time he finished talking to the crew of the Aurora, it was late afternoon. He learned from one of the policemen that they were putting out posters and a reward for the return of any of the officers. He had gotten descriptions of them from the crew and the police: Fergusson had a beard and a captain’s jacket and hat as well as a thick Norwegian or Swedish accent; Reekey wore a formless scarf hat and had a beard and goatee; and Langhorne had a mustache, brown hair, and a flat hat. Both Reekey and Langhorne were pipe smokers.
* * *
Professor Stalloid started looking at barbershops near the docks. He eventually found out a man had come into one of the barbershops and had his mustache shaved off. That had been hours before though. No one knew where he went and the man had made no small talk.
He continued his search and eventually found the abandoned boat of the Aurora at the nearby India Dock. He learned three men had left the boat, tying it up there. Further questioning revealed the three men had gone in three different directions. One man had gotten into a cab. Another had headed up the hill towards the rich section of town in the direction of Chinatown. It also made sense that that man had been the one who had his mustache shaved off, as it was in that direction as well. The last had wandered down the docks, going from ship to ship, mostly inquiring about ships leaving the country.
He went on to Chinatown and found the same restaurant he’d met with Yan Min a few months before. He went in, intending to ask if Yan Min were around, and saw the man sitting in the same booth with a table filled with food in front of him. A couple of hatchetmen were nearby and Professor Stalloid caught Yan Min’s eye and motioned, questioning if he could join him. The man smiled and waved him over.
He sat down at the table.
“One of my chemists disappeared not too long after you worked with them,” Yan Min said. “Do you know anything about that?”
Professor Stalloid felt his blood run ice cold. He stared at the other man for a moment.
“I do remember him saying something about wanting to leave the tongs when I was training him,” he said.
Yan Min smiled at the man.
“Mn-hm,” he said.
He poured the other man some rice wine and bid him to join him for dinner. Professor Stalloid, famished as he’d missed lunch and had been traipsing all over the city, was glad to oblige.
“Have you heard about the artifact coming in from China today?” he said.
“I have,” Yan Min said.
“I heard that it was a fake! The white men were robbed!”
Yan Min laughed loudly.
“It was stolen by what the crew claims was the U.S. Government,” Professor Stalloid said.
“The U.S. Government steals everything!” Yan Min said.
“Exactly! I don’t like them.”
“They should be … stomped out! Done away with!”
“And one of the men, I’m tracking right now. He came through this way. I don’t know if he stopped in Chinatown or not.”
“What man are you tracking?”
“Uh … the officers.”
“Tell Yan Min all.”
Professor Stalloid described the man he was looking for.
“So, you think he is behind this?” Yan Min said. “Why don’t you tell me everything?”
Professor Stalloid told him what he knew about the ancient Chinese cannon.
“Ah,” Yan Min said, stroking his beard. “This is interesting. So, you’re looking for this man?”
Professor Stalloid nodded.
“We could help you find him,” Yan Min said. “If he is in Chinatown. What is it worth to you?”
“Absolutely nothing, really,” Professor Stalloid said. “I’m doing this as a favor for a friend.”
“But what is it worth to you to succeed?”
“Perhaps, if I do this favor for you, you could do a favor for me sometime in the future.”
“I … do not like owing you favors.”
“It will be a favor … of convenience.”
“I will not make you do anything that would lead you to troubles with the white man’s law.”
Yan Min grinned and shook his hand.
“I will set my men to work,” he said.
He spoke to one of the hatchetmen in Chinese and the man nodded to him and left. They returned to their dinner. A few times Yan Min mused out loud “What could a rich white man do for me? I’ll have to figure that out.” He was obviously teasing Professor Stalloid. They finished dinner and were enjoying cigars and more rice wine when the hatchetman returned and whispered something to Yan Min.
“Your man has been found!” Yan Min said. “What luck!”
He gave Professor Stalloid the address of an apartment in Chinatown, writing it down on a piece of paper. He told him the man rented the apartment, paying in advance for two months with cash. He no longer had the mustache and wore a ragged red coat. He called himself Phillip Smith. He was in the apartment right at that moment: 8 p.m.
Professor Stalloid left the restaurant.
* * *
Professor Stalloid went to the Palace Hotel and contacted Sanbourne. The two of them went to the police and, when they told the officers at the nearest stationhouse they knew where the man was located, a half dozen police headed out with them to apprehend him. They took a police wagon to a block or so from the apartment and the men walked from there to the apartment. All of the officers had truncheons and three of them were armed with pistols as well. The two civilians were told to stay behind them.
The Chinese locals, when they saw policemen entering the district, closed up shops and shuttered windows quickly and quietly, obviously fearing the law coming around late at night. Others skulked away into the shadows.
The policemen crept up the outside set of steps to the door of the apartment. One man pounded his fist on the door.
“Police!” he shouted. “Open up!”
Then the largest of them put his shoulder to the door and broke it open. All six policemen rushed into the apartment and there was only a brief scuffle
“Scott Langhorne?” someone said.
“No!” another voice said. “My name’s Phillip Smith!”
“Sure it is!” one of the policemen said.
The policemen returned with the man in shackles, dragging him back down the steps and to the wagon. Then they all returned to the stationhouse to question him.
* * *
Professor Stalloid made the mistake of sitting in on the interrogation of Phillip Langhorne, who was beaten until he confessed to his real name and that he was an officer of the SS Aurora. Once they learned that from the man they threw him into a cell. One of the policemen told Professor Stalloid he could talk to the man if he wanted. He also noted they had found almost $2,000 in cash in the apartment. Professor Stalloid was given $20 for the man’s capture.
He was taken to the cell by a policeman and left.
“So, you come to beat me some more?” Langhorne said.
“No, I was actually going to ask about the ‘Secret Service’ that took the artifact,” Professor Stalloid said.
Langhorne rolled his eyes.
“If you keep the police from beating on my anymore, I’ll tell you what you need to know,” Langhorne said.
“I can help,” Professor Stalloid said. “They have their own will.”
“I been in trouble before. I can’t believe you found me.”
“I do have a few questions: the Secret Service men, was there a man─”
“There were no Secret Service men.”
“I know, I know, I know.”
“The Secret Service was something Reekey made up! To shut the crew up.”
“Gotcha. But was there a guy with a revolver who talked like this?”
He tried to mimic Pete Sutter.
“No,” Langhorne said. “No. There were no Secret Service men. There were no … cowboys.”
He rubbed his eyes.
“Look, about halfway across, Fergusson told me … to us … told me and Reekey we were supposed to rendezvous with a ship that would exchange the crates for Sanbourne with similar crates,” he said. “We would steam off the bills of lading and put them on the new crates. He said it was worth $2,000 to each of us.”
“A lot of money,” Professor Stalloid said.
“That is too much money to not say ‘yes.’ So, we all figured the crates would be in Santiago before they were opened. That’s … at least … that’s all the way down the coast. It’d been at least three or four days if not a week. We would’ve been on our way back to China by then, so who cares? So, we agreed. We locked the crew up. They’re not guilty of anything, by the way. So …”
“We didn’t want them to know what was going on so we told ‘em, I told ‘em this story about them looking for criminals, because I know a lot of these men have checkered pasts. So, I figured they would just keep their mouths shut. Later Reekey came up with this idea about this custom ship and the Secret Service and package or whatever. I don’t know what that was about. He told ‘em. And he was going to give them a bonus out of his own money.”
“So what was in the package? They gave you?”
“What package? There was no package!”
“Oh, there was no package. Period.”
“They switched out Sanbourne’s boxes for some they’d brought with ‘em. That’s all there was. The package was Reekey. He made that all up. So they wouldn’t say anything while they were in San Francisco. He was going to … there’s a 20-man crew. He was willing to pay a quarter of his share, $400, to pay them off. We probably would have pitched in too, if it had worked out.
“So, we met a ship. It was a barque-rigged steamer called the Sea Witch. But the name was nailed on. So it’s probably not the Sea Witch. They did what they said they were going to do. They came on board, they removed the crates out, those damned crates, those creepy crates. I never liked being in that hold with those crates. We changed the bills of lading and then they headed south by southeast. Probably Mexico. Maybe South America was where they were heading.”
He looked at Professor Stalloid.
“I can tell you something else, but …” he said. “You gotta get me outta here.”
Professor Stalloid looked at him.
“I don’t know if I have that power, but I can try?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Try first,” Langhorne said.
“You get me out and I’ll tell you. It’s nothing they can handle in this co─ in this city, anyway.”
“Hold strong until morning.”
“Not the first time I’ve been in jail.”
Professor Stalloid left the cell. He asked the police if he could speak on the man’s behalf and the man told him he could if he wanted to wait around for the trial. The officer noted if Sanbourne didn’t want to press charges, the whole thing would be dropped.
It was 10 p.m.
* * *
The madman with the stick of dynamite was being held at another police station nearer to the docks. Professor Stalloid went to talk to the police there and got permission to meet the man. He was led back to the cell by a police officer who told him the man’s name was Emory Halpine. He left Professor Stalloid just outside the cell.
Emory Halpine sat on a cot. He had a crazed and terrified look in his eye. He also seemed both despondent and depressed. He just stared at the wall.
“How’d you get to the dock with dynamite?” Professor Stalloid started.
The man looked at him like he was crazy but then started talking. It took several hours for Professor Stalloid to get the full story out of him. He never learned where, exactly, the man had gotten the dynamite, just that he had purchased it somewhere and he had to use it to kill the dragon.
“It’s alive!” Halpine said. “It gets in your head and … it makes you do things.”
He told Professor Stalloid his name was Emory Halpine and he was part of the Thorbourne Expedition of 1873. He was brought on as an archaeologist and expert in survival in desert environments. He was also in charge of navigation in the desert as he had some experience with digs in Egypt, and the Sahara. They were there to find the village of Khara-hot but they found something else instead.
Khara-Hot, The Black and Dead City, was the oldest city in the Gobi Desert was situated on the east bank of the Ezen, which was“Lord” in Mongolian, River, which the Chinese called Hei Hei or Black River. It was in the middle of the Gobi Gurvansaikhan Mountain, the lowest part of the Altai Mountains and the Alasha Gobi.
It was located in a remote land several hundred miles from the Great Wall in the north. It was allegedly the northern center of Chinese civilization to distribute Chinese culture to the barbarians since the 2nd Century BC. It was conquered by the Tangut’s Shi-Shia Empire in the 8th century then lost to the Mongols in the 12th century.
In1372, the new Ming armies captured the Ezen region from the Mongols and destroyed Khara-hot during their conflict. There were a few legends surrounding the city.
The first involved Khara Baatar, the Black Hero with the Black Magic Words. He ruled the city with many brave warriors and was as great and powerful as the Chinese Emperors. The Chinese armies encircled Khara-hot, leaving the city without water. Khara Baatar was ready to die fighting. He prepared for the attack but his favorite daughter convinced him to save his life. After a parley with the Chinese Emperor, it was agreed the Chinese would enter the city unopposed the following morning by a gate in the west wall.
During the night, the Chinese army assembled before the western gate, impatient to pillage the city. However, under cover of darkness, Khara Baatar and his army left via the eastern gate, only his favorite daughter staying behind to open the western gate at daybreak, fulfilling the promise that had been made. They fled the city without even their horses, for they had all died of thirst. As Khara Baatar fled, he spoke the “black words” and all natural life died as they passed. The trees in the forests fell in the direction he was fleeing, and storms rose, burying the city in the sand. He and his warriors encamped on the border of their ancient land and the Chinese and let themselves be buried by the advancing wave of sand.
Also during the night, his favorite daughter flung the remaining treasures of the city into the dried-up well. In the morning, the Chinese found themselves in a barren desert where there had once been fertile lands and forests. They stormed into the town to seek vengeance, but only found a lonely girl who sat weeping in a watchtower.
Khara Baatar’s treasure was never found by the Chinese, for the favorite daughter was slain without ever revealing its hiding place and the soldiers quickly fled from the dead town and its barren surroundings.
Legend had it others went to look for the treasure and claimed on certain nights it lay in a great pot deep in a well. However, any who approached it found flames rise up to protect it. Even shamans and Tibetan lamas had been frustrated by the magic that protects it. Khara Baatar’s spirit still guards the treasure.
The Second legend said that during the end of the Mongols rule, Etsina was commanded by Khara Baatar, a brave chief whose name was given to him because he could invoke black magic. When he heard a large force of rebellious Chinese was advancing against the city, he and his warriors went to engage them in open country. He was defeated and had to withdraw to the walls of his fortress town.
The siege that followed lasted a long time, the Chinese even going so far as to build a dam to cut off the water supply to the city. The channel of the Black River had washed up against the wall of the city like a moat. The residents of the city dug a well in the northwest corner of the city, desperately going down over 900 feet, but they could find no water.
Khara Baatar, who decided to go down fighting, gave orders to kill his two wives and his son and daughter lest they be abused by the enemy. He hid all his treasures, said to be over a million ounces of silver plus untold quantities of gold and other valuables, in the well. Then he filled it in.
Then he led his men out of an opening in the north wall, fighting his way through the gauntlet of encircling Chinese. One by one, his warriors fell but, as he fled, fighting all the way, Khara Baatar cried out words of black magic and all life around him withered and died. Irrigated fields dried up, crops shriveled, trees became skeletons, and everything turned black. Sand storms rose to cover the city and the countryside around it.
In any case, the treasure was never found though many had searched for it.
But the Thorbourne Expedition found something else. In a recently wind-swept spot, they found a piece of metal with a dragon upon it. They were certain they had found the city but digging up the item proved it to be an intact cannon and carriage with a dragon motif upon it. It was dubbed The Dragon Cannon by Dr. Thorbourne. The cannon had been spiked. In other words, a great spike, apparently made of some kind of gold alloy, had been driven into the touchhole of the cannon, rendering it useless. The spike was covered in Chinese writing that Dr. Marsden, the linguist, and Dr. Gleeson, the Chinese specialist, examined thoroughly as it was the only indication of any kind of writing on the cannon. The Chinese writing concerned the breaking of a curse on the cannon to render it useless. The only symbol that was not Chinese was a five-pointed star with a flame within it on the butt of the spike.
Further digging and clearing of sand in the area revealed hundreds of bones and the relics of Chinese armor of the 14th century. Further clearing found there to be over a hundred bodies arrayed around the cannon in roughly a circle. Yet more digging revealed no signs of any city in the area. Over the next six months, the dig continued though the Chinese porters were nervous about the cannon. Some deserted the site while others were hired and brought in when necessary. The 20 American workers were constantly going back and forth to civilization to get more supplies for the expedition but everyone was getting discouraged.
The scientists who worked most closely with the cannon and the spike seemed to become more unhinged as the months went by. They became obsessed with removing the spike and, eventually, Dr. Thorbourne gave them permission, provided they could do so without damaging the cannon. When the spike was removed, a massive dust storm blew up that very evening. That same night, Dr. Marsden went mad, claiming it was the end of the world and he’d been told the end was coming, though he would not say by whom.
The dig continued for another month before Dr. Gleeson and Dr. Fitget also lost their minds. Dr. Fitget, in a fit, murdered Dr. McFaddin.
Shortly after that, Dr. Thorbourne was found dead near the Dragon Cannon. There was not a mark on him.
Several of the graduate students had disappeared or fled by then. When another turned up dead, it was decided to take the cannon out of the Gobi Desert. That was in early 1875. The Chinese workers kept abandoning them as well. Some of the American workers had also succumbed to the elements or left.
It took until the Spring of 1875 to reach civilization. Halpine left the few remaining expedition members by then. Only Dr. O’Laughlin, the historian, and Leland Turner, an engineer were left. Everyone else was either dead or mad. Halpine arranged transport back to the states and hoped to never see China again. His funds ran out in San Francisco and he made do there. He’d gotten a job washing dishes and was happy doing it.
When he learned of the artifact being brought back from the Thorbourne Expedition, coming to San Francisco, he knew he had to destroy the evil thing.
He said the cannon was alive. It talked to one in their sleep. It rotted away those who studied it too closely, destroying their minds and their bodies, somehow. He didn’t want to think about it.
It was midnight before Professor Stalloid left the police station that night and returned home.
* * *
On Thursday, April 6, 1876, Professor Stalloid went to the Palace Hotel again to talk to Philip Sanbourne about Langhorne. He relayed that Langhorne had more information but wanted the charges dropped. Professor Stalloid suggested they try to have the man released into their custody. Once the information was checked, they could decide whether or not to let him go. Sanbourne made an alternate suggestion: if the information he gave them panned out and helped return the cannon, he would be willing to drop the charges altogether.
Professor Stalloid returned to the police station and relayed that message. Langhorne wanted more than that “empty promise” as he called it. Professor Stalloid offered to get the deal in writing and notarize it. That was still not enough for Langhorne, who pointed out the notarized statement was still dependent upon returning the cannon. He wanted the charges dropped in any case. However, he was willing to accept that if the investigation led to the cannon, he would be let free, despite whether it was recovered or not. He noted it might have been sunken into the ocean or melted down for the metal for all he knew.
Professor Stalloid returned to Sanbourne with that stipulation but he was not terribly receptive. They discussed it at some length, Professor Stalloid relaying everything he had learned, including the direction of the other ship and who Halpine was. In the end, Sanbourne noted he was willing to offer the $1,000 reward because bringing the cannon from China had been a $5,000 investment. Sanbourne put forth that, if the cannon wasn’t found and returned, Professor Stalloid would make good on that $5,000 to the Sanbourne Institute of Pacific Antiquities and he would drop the charges for Langhorne. Either the cannon would be returned and Professor Stalloid would get the reward or the cannon would not be returned and he would pay the expense of it to the Institute.
They agreed and Sanbourne signed an affidavit to drop charges if the information led to the recovery of the cannon. Professor Stalloid notarized it and took it to the police station and showed it to Langhorne. Langhorne said he had to show it to the police and make it official with a witness. Professor Stalloid did so.
“I think I heard one of the men say Guadalupe before they left the ship,” Langhorne told him.
Professor Stalloid went to the local library and consulted an atlas. He found there was a town called Guadalupe in Baja California on the Pacific Coast. It was located on a large bay.
He decided to go to Guadalupe.
* * *
Professor Stalloid took the train to Los Angeles and then rode back to Midnight through Riverside, arriving at the town on April 10. He checked in on Chun Zhi Rho and found her settling in well. He saw everyone in town was doing all right, actually. When he talked to Marshal Flute, he told him where he was going.
“Mexico?” Marshal Flute said. “I heard terrible stories about Mexico.”
He told him all about the terrible things he’d heard about the dangers and myth of Mexico.
“Do you speak Spanish?” he finally asked.
“No,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Uh-oh,” Marshal Flute said.
Professor Stalloid thanked him for pointing that out.
“I guess I should pick up a translator in San Diego or something,” he said.
“Yeah, that’d probably be a good idea,” Marshal Flute said.
“Thank you. I forget about these things.”
“I think. I’m always thinking. Always thinking. Like the butter. Yeah.”
* * *
Professor Stalloid continued traveling south and arrived in San Diego on April 13. He spent the night there and sought out a translator and guide. He found and rejected the little boy and the grumpy old man who he talked to. In the end, he settled for the grizzled-looking and very dirty man named César Morillo who said he knew the area of northwest Mexico and Baja California. The man acted like a bandito and glared at him constantly. He wore a large sombrero and had a bandoleer of rifle bullets though he didn’t carry a rifle. He smoked hand-rolled cigarettes. He was left-handed. He also threatened the man constantly.
“Do not cross me!” he would say, whipping out his knife and brandishing it at the man.
Professor Stalloid told the man he was working to find cargo thieves.
“Do we get to kill them?” Morillo asked hopefully.
“I mean … if that’s your prerogative,” Professor Stalloid said.
“Because … I will take less pay if I get to kill people.”
“I’m doing this as a favor for a friend.”
“Friend!?! There are no friends in the world!”
“The friend is offering a reward for the item’s return.”
“And how much of the reward will be mine?”
“All of it.”
“How much is the reward?”
“A thousand dollars.”
Morillo strutted around and actually smiled.
“But if you turn on me!” he said, taking out his knife.
The man tended to threaten him at least once a day, promising to cut him if he cheated him.
Professor Stalloid rented the man a horse in San Diego and had to put down a deposit for the cost of the horse. It would be returned to him unless he didn’t return the horse. Morillo asked if the stolen goods were in Guadalupe or if there might be more traveling. When Professor Stalloid noted it might go beyond Guadalupe, Morillo suggested they purchase supplies for overland travel. Professor Stalloid got two weeks of supplies for them and their horses, which Morillo found wise.
“But do no cross me!” he said, drawing his knife.
They had friendly poker games every night where they stayed, sometimes in their camp.
* * *
On their way south, Professor Stalloid continued to read the Book of Lesser Summoning. He found it was a modern work by a contemporary Bostonian, written on loose sheets of hand-made paper tied between two thin boards covered with leather.
The author was apparently quite insane and possessed of a truly twisted mind. The theoretical portion of the book was scant but described, in roundabout fashion, magical summoning, theorizing a parallel between the functioning of those spells and the functioning of the telegraph, and speculating as to what “wires” the summons might flow upon.
It was quite stressful to read do the strangeness of the writing. But it claimed to have two spells: summon familiar and unseen servant.
* * *
Professor Stalloid and César Morillo arrived in Guadelupe on Monday, April 17, 1876.
Guadalupe proved to be a small town on a great bay. The locals called it both Guadalupe and Ensenada. There were only a few rough-looking houses and very little else there. It was a very poor area with a few fishing boats in the bay. It was dry though there were temperate winds from the coast with a pleasant climate if somewhat arid. No one in the town spoke any English.
Using Morillo to translate, he asked about any ships coming through. He learned a sailing steamship arrived in the town two weeks before. It anchored in the bay for a day. Several boats came ashore with several large crates. They met with some white men with a wagon and horses who had come to the town some time before. They conferred and within two days, they headed off to the northwest where the old, abandoned Spanish mission ruins stood. The Mision de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe del Norte, abandoned in 1840, was several miles away. That was the way they had gone.
* * *
On Tuesday, April 18, 1876, the two men rode towards the mountains to the west and soon came upon the ruins of the mission. There was little left of the buildings or the mission except a few adobe walls and a foundation. There were obvious signs of a recent encampment, including several cold fire pits and the remains of several crates, some of them having been used for firewood. Horse tracks were in evidence, some coming from the north and others from Guadalupe.
They looked around the area and Professor Stalloid found a smaller crate in the pile of broken-up crates and discarded hay. It was about a six inches on a side and two feet long. There was no label on the small crate though it looked like it was the same kind of wood the other crates were made of. He wondered if it was the gold spike but wasn’t sure why it would be overlooked and that made him nervous.
He asked Morillo to open up the small crate and the man did so with a chuckle. He peered in the end of the crate and gasped loudly. He pulled out a golden spike about a foot and a half long. The sides were covered in Chinese characters and the top was adorned with a star with a flame in the middle.
“That’s a piece of the cannon,” he said. “This is a good sign.”
Morillo hefted it in his hand and grunted before putting it back into the crate and using his knife to tap the nails back in place. Then he turned the knife on Professor Stalloid.
“Do not try to cheat me!” he growled.
He went to urinate nearby.
Professor Stalloid looked around and found a good deal of horse tracks leaving the area heading east. There were over a score of horses and at least two wagons as well as larger wheel tracks unlike anything he’d ever seen before. The tracks were not fresh and he guessed they had a week or two head start on them. They had two wagons and a cart or the cannon, however, so that would slow them down.
When Morillo returned, Professor Stalloid pointed out the tracks and the mountains beyond.
“How far?” the guide said. “Are they going?”
“I don’t know who these people are,” Professor Stalloid said. “Or where they’re going or why they wanted the stuff.”
“That way, beyond the mountains, lies the Sonoran Desert.”
“Oh. That doesn’t sound good.”
“If they go far … if we go more than two weeks … we die.”
He motioned towards the laden horses.
“I guess we go a week out,” Professor Stalloid said. “If we don’t find them, we come back to Guadalupe.”
“You’re the boss,” Morillo said.
He drew his knife and brandished it at Professor Stalloid.
“But never, never cheat me!” he said.
They mounted up but Professor Stalloid changed his mind and decided to return to Guadalupe and resupply before heading out so they rode west again.
* * *
On Wednesday, April 19, 1876, the two men left Guadalupe again, heading east, carrying a month’s worth of food and water for themselves and a month of oats for the horses. Morillo was content that was enough to see them to civilization again on the other side of the Sierra de Juárez, the mountains that ran down the center of Baja California.
They made their way through the mountains, following the wide trail left by the robbers. They came down the other side into the Sonoran Desert. The dry and rugged area was exemplified by organ pipe cactus and saguaro cactus. Many of the cactus were beginning to flower. Conditions were harsh and water was rare, even in the spring. Creosote bush and bur sage dominated. They heard coyotes at night and saw bats fly overhead. During the day there were snakes and roadrunners. It was miserably hot during the day and frigidly cold at night.
Every night, Professor Stalloid thought about the symbol, hoping to dream an answer.
They arrived at what Morillo called the Rio Colorado de California on Sunday, April 23, crossing with little difficulty.
The track continued in an eastern directly, skirting around the mountains there.
* * *
On Thursday, April 27, 1876, a hundred miles or so from the river, they spotted buzzards or condors circling overhead ahead. They soon came upon a very disturbing sight.
There were carrion eaters on the ground, working on bodies scattered across the floor of the desert. Some of the corpses were partially unclothed and those that had clothing were wearing uniforms of some kind. Closer investigation proved they were wearing Mexican army uniforms and the bodies were bloated with the heat and decomposition, indicating some kind of battle had been fought there in the last week or so. Professor Stalloid guessed there were at least 50 corpses. There were only smashed weapons and not enough to account for all the men. Many of them had been stripped of their uniforms as well. It was all very disturbing.
There was a crater in the midst of several blasted and smashed corpses. Nearby, a man without boots or socks or underwear lay face-down on the ground, surrounded by mangled corpses. The body was riddled with bullet wounds and appeared to have been hacked to pieces with blades.
Professor Stalloid approached the naked corpse. His skin was not dark-skinned like a Mexican; he appeared to be a white man. Professor Stalloid stopped, nervous about the strange corpse and then asked Morillo if he wanted to deal with the mangled corpse. Morillo looked at him like he was insane.
“I am not that kind of man, senor,” he said. “I have no interest in dead men.”
“Okay,” Professor Stalloid said. “I don’t either.”
“And only freshly dead women,” Morillo said.
The two looked at each other a moment. Then Morillo laughed loudly.
“I tell a joke,” he said.
He pulled out his knife.
“Don’t threaten me!” he said.
Professor Stalloid went back over to the crater. Closer examination of it showed an indentation and a set of bare footprints going from the center of the crater up the side. The mangled corpses were near where the footprints came out and they led in the general direction of the mangled, naked corpse.
“Are we tracking a human cannonball?” he muttered to himself.
He finally went over to the dead, naked man and used a broken rifle to roll the corpse over. That’s when he noticed there was no hair on the body whatsoever. Additionally, the corpse had no genitalia, nor any indication that it ever had any genitalia. It was just smooth flesh down there, aside from the various wounds. A closer examination proved the body had no anus or navel either. Looking in the mouth proved the man had a throat. The head had almost been removed from the shoulders by some blade. The arms and legs were hacked to pieces. All the men around the corpse had been mauled with someone’s bare hands.
When he more closely examined the corpse’s fingernails and teeth, he found bits of flesh and blood and fabric. The knuckles were also bloody as if he had been punching people. The man had been fighting with his bare hands.
“I’ve found our culprit,” he said.
The corpse was rotting and bloated like the rest of them. The smell was terrible.
* * *
On Saturday, April 29, 1876, they spotted a tiny adobe Mexican village in the afternoon.
“I hope they have pretty women,” Morillo said.
They noticed the complete silence as they rode into town, past the gardens and fields watered by irrigation ditches. Clustered around a central square were a dozen buildings and a church. Lying in the center of the square were two dead bodies, an old woman and a young man, both of them shot in the head with a single bullet. The silence was absolute except for the wind blowing through the village.
The trail they had followed entered the village and went out the other side, still heading east. There was also a rough track leading south but it had not been used in some time.
Examination of the bodies proved they had been dead for about a week.
Professor Stalloid examined the church and found no one there. He guessed people had been in the village a week or so before. Examination of the rest of the town found the fresh food was rotting though there was plenty of grain and salted meat and the like. All of the buildings were empty however, and showed the same signs of having been abandoned for a week or so.
Closer examination of the tracks leading out of the village to the east proved there were more leaving than came in from the west.
“It looks like we are following the bad men that you get to kill,” Professor Stalloid said.
Morillo smiled with black, missing, and bent teeth.
“César looks forward to killing many men,” the Mexican said.
He pulled out his knife and brandished it at Professor Stalloid.
“Don’t be the first!” he said.
He put his knife away and walked away but then turned back.
“Do we loot?” he said.
“If you want?” Professor Stalloid said.
“Oh boy!” Morillo said.
He found little of interest to loot in the town though they were able to refresh their supplies of food and water and oats for the horses. It was late afternoon so they decided to spend the night in the town, sleeping in the rough beds of one of the houses.