Episode 2: A Night on the Town
Mike’s Rusty Nail is a smoky hole-in-the-wall, an old speakeasy, down by the docks. Not all Mark’s clients used to be on the shiny side of the city, and that makes him as tolerated as anyone here, where the law is often the least of a gangster’s worries. Sometimes he wonders if his welcome here will change since the Event, or whether he might have to turn down—or turn in—some old clients. But not today.
There’s a group of dangerous looking revelers at one table, playing with knives. “Hey! Maxwell! You here to bring me in? I didn’t do nothin’!” They all laugh at the joke. Mark joins their table.
He skillfully works the conversation to the topic of museum heists. “Wasn’t Threeface going after a museum?” “That was a month ago. He gave that up after his tonsilectomy.” That gets a chuckle. “Oh yeah. Well, somebody said something.” “Say, Tommy was shootin’ his mouth off the other day.” “Tommy was here?” “Nah, he showed up at the countin’ house. Lookin’ for muscle. Easy job. But Ace Kiser was gonna be a big boss after.” “He get anybody?” “Nah. Some nutcase they met in prison, he said they’d all be runnin’ the city when they were done. Guess Ace is gettin’ desperate.” “Huh. Ain’t no percentage in museums. Heck, the Milkman donates a truckload to them cultural spots. Ain’t worth my neck to cross the Milkman.” “You said it.” “Way I heard Tommy tell it, it wasn’t much of a museum anyway. Never heard of the place, some college joint.” “What do they got?” “That’s just it. They got nothin’. Rocks. Old pots they dig up. Bones.” “Maybe they know a collector. I hear the Milkman’s got his own private collection of stuff like that.” “Nah. If it was worth somethin’, it’d be in the real museum, or at one of the bosses’ places. Take it from me, there’s nothin’ worth nothin’ there.” “Well, you ask me, it couldn’t happen to a nice guy. Ace was gettin’ on my nerves before he got tanked. Got half a mind to drop a dime on him myself.”
The table gets quiet and tense. “Hey, no, I’d never do that. Caesar’s ghost, guys, I was just talkin’. You know.”
The conversation turns to how bad the Hawks got beat by the Dodgers.
Mark gathers the heist is supposed to take place tonight sometime, but they don’t know for sure when since nobody admits to signing on.
“See ya Mark! And ya didn’t hear nothin’ from us!”
After the American Revolution, the Bayside City fathers wanted to start a college, and granted the new school a piece of land on the steep western slopes that nobody was interested in farming. Three-story classroom and lab buildings surround the quad on the widest stretch of level land available, while the rest of the campus is laid out fairly haphazardly, following the contours of the hillside.
Mark passes though some deep shadows as he approaches the campus, and emerges a different man—fedora and trenchcoat now gray as the night shadows, face obscured by darkness—except for two piercing, red eyes. He touches a strange medallion that he wears, and it pulses with eldritch light—a pulse picked up by the unsettling eyes as they scan the darkness for the hearts of evil men.
The campus seems deserted tonight. Crammed between the gymnasium and the English Literature building, the Archaeology building has the neglected look of a department whose faculty rarely stay long enough to earn tenure. Rumors are mixed as to whether this is by choice, by coercion, or by the onset of madness. Few come here, even in daylight.
Except for tonight. There is a car parked outside, a sleek Hudson sedan. It’s too dark to see into it—but the aura of a snarling jackal, slavering for the remains of the pack’s kill, which radiates from it is all too evident. He finds an appropriately shadowy perch to watch from, see who they are.
Nothing seems to be happening. In the quiet of the night an aimless, tuneless humming occasionally comes from the car.
Mark decides to enter the building. There’s a side door that’s not locked in any meaningful way.
It is quiet in the dark, abandoned hallway, the glass in the classroom doors giving away nothing of what may lie behind them. In the middle of the building, a wide stairwell has flights of stairs leading both up and down. There is a dim light coming from below.
Down in the basement, a narrow hallway leads to the left, and a door to the right with frosted glass is lit from within. Mark can read “B C U ARC AEOLOG MUS UM” in black letters on the glass. The door is ajar, and Mark slips in. The room is cluttered with random arrangements of glass and wood cases and shelves, full of dusty junk: earthenware pots, pieces of brick, rusty metal and the occasional semiprecious stone.
“This is what we came here for?” The voice is broad and skeptical.
“Zip it, Knuckles,” says another voice, gravelly and biting. There is an odd sound, rather like a machine gun on a silencer.
“It heh heh heh looks like like a rock. A rock!” the third voice is squeaky, fast and manic.
“This…this is an ancient relic. I-I swear! It’s the Hand of Sutek.” the fourth voice is a bit petulant and weak.
Through the maze of cases five men can be seen, in a clear area in the center of the room, wearing pieces of prison clothing with otherwise normal attire. One is large and broad, with good looks and hair, sporting brass knuckles on each hand and holding a flashlight. One is short and skinny, dirty and unkempt, carrying a large, 20’s style tommy gun. One has a scar across his face and a neat purple fedora, and is nervously handling a deck of cards, absently cutting and shuffling it one-handed (making that odd noise Mark heard earlier). One is nondescript to the point of invisibility. And the fifth is shortish, squatish, and balding with small round glasses, holding a piece of slate, very roughly the size and shape of a child’s hand. Mark recognizes him as the professor he sent to jail—Doctor Tennyson.
“How is that thing going to help me? I got a lot on the line here, and if I sprung you for no good reason then I guarantee—”
“No, no, Ace, this is it! This is what I promised you back in prison! It’s the key to—”
Doctor Tennyson stops suddenly, and freezes. Then he relaxes.
He seems to stare into the middle distance. “Well. If it isn’t Mr Maxwell, my old nemesis. I should have known someone of your impressive detective skills would track me down.” He seems to be relishing his role. “Well, the joke’s on you, this time. I have fr—”
As he turns to look at where Mark is hiding he stops. His eyes and mouth widen in shock. The others turn in puzzlement to look in the same direction.
“You—you’re not Mark Maxwell! Who…who are you??”
Mark can feel the mystical spirit begin to exert itself. And, to Mark’s dismay, it tends to be somewhat theatrical. “I am that which haunts your dreams. I am that which cannot abide the evil in your hearts.” The Spirit Sign around Mark’s neck [an iron circle, with four arcs of circles inside it] shifts from the Sign of Seeking to the Sign of Light [the arcs inside the circle shift around], and a soul-searing burst of gray and red strikes the eyes of the one holding the machine gun.
“Aieeeee!” the gunman lets out a high-pitched scream as the gray and red burst tunnels into his eyes. “I can’t see! I can’t can’t can’t see!”
“He’s gonna haunt our dreams!” shouts the big guy with the brass knuckles.
“C-can it, you mugs! Get ’im!” The man with the cards draws a gun from his coat with his free hand, but his hand is too shaky to take proper aim.
The others seem frozen in terror.
Mark slips behind the disorganized cases and shelves, and lets out an eerie laugh. “Repent and surrender yourselves, lest you face the wrath your evil deeds have earned you!” He waits in the haphazard shadows for your chance to strike. It’s the kind of arcane maze in here that only years of well-meaning enthusiasm, chronic underfunding, weak light bulbs and poor curating can create.
The gunner’s eyes return to normal. “Where’d he he he go! I’ll perforate ’im!”
“He vanished! He’s a spook! Ace, I didn’t figure on spooks!”
“Zip it, both of you. Tommy, take the left. Knuckles, the right. Fingers—Fingers? Jiminy Christmas, he’s gone again. Well, we’ll get him anyway. Now move!”
“But he’s a—”
“I said MOVE!” Mark hears the click of a revolver being cocked, then footsteps.
Mark is almost startled to see Ace’s shadow against a nearby bookshelf, and as he rounds the corner Mark lashes out.
Ace gasps as his breath whooshes out after a hit to the sternum. Mark feels ribs snap. He staggers, dropping his gun.
“It’s it’s it’s him!” Suddenly the air explodes with machine gun fire and the crash of splintered glass.
“Tommy! Knock it off!”
“Knuckles, it was him, I tell ya, I tell ya, it was him!”
“Where? I didn’t hear nothin! Where is he?”
Mark easily grabs the punch-drunk Ace and slams him to the ground behind the cabinet. Ace lies there awkwardly, clearly unconscious. Mark’s eerie laughter echoes among the dim light and shattered glass.
“No, no, not now! I must save the…where is it?” It’s Tennyson’s whiny voice. “I just had it! It has to be here, somewhere!” Mark hears scuffling and sounds of shelves being upended.
“What was that? Ace, what’s…Ace? Ace? Jeepers, Tommy, he got Ace!”
“You you you ain’t takin’ me, dream haunter!”
The machine gun chatters again, tearing a bookshelf to flinders…fortunately it wasn’t the one Mark was hiding behind.
“Sheesh, Tommy, hold it! It’s me! I’m coming over.” Mark hears Knuckles stomp through the wreckage.
Mark moves up behind Knuckles from the shadows.
“Knuckles, behind you!”
Knuckles turns as Mark approaches him.
“Pleasant dreams, Knuckles,” Mark says, in a voice that visibly raises goosebumps.
Knuckles throws up his forearms in an attempt to block as Mark winds up to lay him out. Years of street experience and a flood of mystic power combine into a punch that could snap a telephone pole and send it hurtling across the street. Knuckles describes a flat trajectory through the air, trailing blood from his nose and ears. Knuckles collides with the gun-carrying gangster, knocking them both into a case of heavy iron artifacts, which promptly collapses around them. The machine gun clatters away, falling under the debris. Tommy groans a little, but Knuckles seems lifeless and bleeding.
In the distance, the sound of a car door opening and running footsteps.
Mark (to himself): “Crap! Crap crap crap! I didn’t mean to kill ’im!”
Worry not, mortal; the innocent lives this man has taken, or will take, surely mean he deserved death.
“Oh really, spirit; didn’t you say before than no man is innocent?”
“And by taking a life, doesn’t that mean we too deserve death?”
Er … that’s diff—
“I’m taking over now!”
Out loud, Mark says, “Flee and repent your ways, evil ones, lest you remain here and die.”
Tommy struggles back to consciousness as Mark speaks. “Yeah yeah yeah, sure sure sure. Repenting, that’s what we’re gonna do. Anything anything anything you say. Knuckles, the nice…man says we we we can go and…Knuckles? Oh man oh man oh man. Nobody ever done that that that to Knuckles. Ooh, still still still breathing, good. Look, mister, I’m just gonna pick up Knuckles here, and we’re going nice and easy, and giving up all that evil stuff, and won’t bother nobody nobody nobody again. And—”
The door to the museum slams open.
“Guys? What’s going on? What…what a mess!”
“Wheels! Find Ace, and get get get him back to the car, and like the nice man says we’re going going going straight and getting out of here.”
“Going straight? What’re you—”
“We’re GOING STRAIGHT, all all all right?”
“WHEELS! Find Ace and let’s get get get out of here!”
Tennyson rummages in the shards of glass and wood, ignoring the cuts and splinters in his hands. “Where is it? The Hand? Where is it?” He seems quite oblivious to his surroundings.
Tommy grunts as he picks up Knuckles.
“I I I don’t know, he went over over over that way.”
“It’s a maze in here!”
“Zip it, and let’s get out of here.”
“Not not not now!”
“Caesar’s ghost! Ace is out cold! And—is that Knuckles? How did this happen? You don’t look so good yourself.”
Wheels picks up Ace, and the four of them leave the room. Car doors slam and tires squeal.
“It’s gone,” moans Tennyson. He sits on the floor with his head in his hands. “What will I do now?”
As Mark approaches, he looks up, eyes wide. “W-What are you going to do to me?”
“You are going to tell me what you are looking for, and why. Now.” The arcs of the Spirit Sign shift and resolve into the Sign of Thought, peering into the man’s mind. He seems broken and in despair.
“I…I…I [my destiny!] it’s [the Hand of Sutek] gone [missing lost nothing to live for]. The Hand of Sutek [Sutek promised!] would have realized my destiny [my true ascension my throne my empire!]. But it’s [my life, my destiny] all over [nothing matters now].
“Are you [don’t hurt me] going to take me back to jail [cold scary confusing]?”
“Yes, Tennyson; you are going back to jail.”
Mark ascertains that the Hand of Sutek looks like a grey stone shaped, with a little help from imagination, like an open hand (like a policeman, signaling “stop”), about 3 or 4 inches long. Tennyson’s mental image of it looks exactly like what he was holding when Mark entered the room. Prominent in his mind is also a shadowy figure that he calls Sutek, a towering man, an unearthly animal, a thunderous storm with no rain.
The nondescript gangster is nowhere to be seen. Mark didn’t notice him leaving with the others, but then again he didn’t notice much of him at all other than his presence at the start.
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Tennyson says. “I’ve failed. Do what you want. I’ll go turn myself in tonight if you say so.” He sighs. “It would have been glorious.” He imagines countless people bowing to him in golden splendor, with various ex-colleagues in chains, but the image fades to black.
“Go now. Turn yourself in.”
“Yes sir.” Tennyson turns and dejectedly climbs the stair.
Mark looks for the rock, and finds a few pieces that are similar but are not the same size or shape. The room is rather a mess, between bullets and flying bodies, and after a rather thorough search the object itself hasn’t turned up. A scan for Evil shows nothing.
Mark rushes outside. The car is gone. The lanes of the University are empty; Tennyson probably walked downhill toward downtown. The hint of an aura of inhuman misanthropy sensed earlier fro the Hand is nowhere to be found.
The wind starts to pick up. The sky is overcast; there’s no moon or stars. The lights of the city are starting to go out; it’s probably past midnight.
It’s a long walk home. Thunder mutters politely overhead.
Mark is a few blocks from home when he sees another wanderer ahead, several blocks away, under a streetlamp, one he doesn’t recognize. The stranger is wearing a dark suit, possibly a tux, has unkempt hair, and is walking with a weird, spasmodic limp. He stops and looks up into the sky. Or up at the street light; it’s hard to tell.
Abruptly lightning fills the city night, and thunder shakes the street. Torrents of rain collapse from the sky, instantly soaking the pavement.
The dark-suited man screams. He screams like a man on fire. He runs, disappearing from the pool of yellow light. It’s hard to see in the dark and the rain, but Mark could swear he saw wisps of steam rising from the stranger’s body before he vanished.
There’s no trace of him when Mark reaches the spot where he was. Nothing left but the nagging mystery.