Follow along with my Rex Murphy and D’s Zoey Samaras at ArkhamDB. Do be aware that these deck have been through The Essex County Express and both print-on-demand scenarios and contain spoilers as a result.
“Where could Warren be?” Dr. Henry Armitage looked over his shoulder to the door as though expecting his friend to be summoned at the mention of his name. “He’s late, and the food is growing cold.”
“A mystery!” Rex Murphy exclaimed, hopping to his feet. “I most graciously offer my services to resolve this case.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a mystery,” Dr. Armitage tried to restrain his friend’s enthusiasm. “He is only a little late after all.”
“Are there any clues as to where he may be?” Rex pressed. “Perhaps someone who may know something about his whereabouts?”
“Warren could be at the university still. I seem to recall him having a late Latin class sometime during the week. Francis would know better than me.”
“A witness! Who’s Francis?”
“Dr. Francis Morgan. He has been spending his time at some gambling den or another in the city.”
“Gambling, eh?” Rex asked.
“Vice?” Rex jumped at the voice. It was Dr. Armitage’s chef, Zoey Something Exotic. It was the first time that Rex had heard her speak and only the second time he had seen her since she had served the soup. Her voice was as cold and hard as the hull of an icebreaker circling Canada. She held a cleaver at her side in a way that made Rex want to sit down and cross his legs.
“I guess. But Warren ought to be at the university. If you are going to insist on looking for him, you should start your investigation there.”
“You may know libraries, Dr. Armitage, but I know investigating, and my nose is telling me we’ll find clues at this den of iniquity with Dr. Morgan. To the gambling parlor!”
“Yes. The holy will descend amongst the wicked and set aright their wrongs through blood and sinew and bone.” Zoey began to make her way toward the door, knife still in hand, apron still across her chest.
“No doubt, I would appreciate your company,” Rex reached out a hand to slow the chef but pulled it back at Zoey’s steel glance, “but maybe, perhaps you might consider changing your clothes.”
“What is wrong with my clothes?” Her voice did not lose its edge.
“It could arouse less suspicion,” Rex said weakly. “The blood, for example.”
Zoey looked down.
She turned and walked away. Rex collapsed back into a chair and stroked his mustache, trying to push it back up. Some minutes later she returned in a long, velvet, burgundy dress.
“Delightful. Such a lovely color.”
“It hides the blood.”
Rex laughed until he realized Zoey was not laughing with him. Then he noticed the discolored spots near the hems.
“Well then. Let’s get going. We’ll be back with Dr. Rice before you can learn to use chopsticks,” Rex promised Dr. Armitage.
Several times during their walk into the city’s center Rex attempted to draw out Zoey in conversation, but no topic, not the adventures of Ernest Keen, not the works of G.W.M. Reynolds not anything, held any interest for her.
They arrived at La Bella Luna, and Rex felt himself underwhelmed. It looked like any other restaurant on the block. He thought there might be men standing outside with hats pulled low over their eyes and rifles bulging under their coats or at least more lights.
“Go ahead,” Rex said. “I’m going to look for some clues out here.”
Zoey had already walked in. It was decadent but cheap. Every surface was covered in velvet, but it was only a thin layer nailed down over unfinished wood. The exposed wood of the chair was unevenly stained with black shoe polish. It smelled like sin. Yes, there was gluttony at the bar and avarice at the tables and lust for the women showing too much skin. There was wickedness here. Zoey’s hand itched for its blade, but she restrained herself. She must fit in, not arouse suspicion until necessary, as Rex had said earlier.
She went to the bar. The bartender poured her a glass of wine. There was only the one vintage. Zoey sipped and spat it out.
“Cheap,” she growled. “Better sold to a surgeon for sanitizing wounds than drunk by any human.”
She felt a heavy, unmanicured hand on her shoulder.
“That’s not how a lady should act,” a voice like graveled threatened. “And if you’re not a lady, then I don’t need to feel bad about this.”
Zoey felt his second hand jab deep into her kidneys. The bartender pointedly was looking away. The blood was rising, but she continued to restrain herself. It wasn’t yet time.
“Look over there!” she shouted and pointed wildly past the bar. She was not very good at running away.
Fortunately, the thick man was not very smart.
Zoey hurried away while he looked and almost ran into Rex in the lounge.
“I have found so many clues!” he enthused. “First, I found this business card that says Dr. Francis Morgan, Professor of Archaeology, Miskatonic University. Then someone said they knew Dr. Morgan. Then someone else said they saw him go in back. Then I won at blackjack, and I didn’t even have to cheat. You might say it’s my lucky day. How did your investigation go?”
“Fine. Let’s go in back.”
The club looked more full, more violent as the pair made their way to the back door, but no one stopped them. They found themselves in a dark hallway with three other doors.
“What about this one?” Rex asked. He looked. “Nope, it’s an alley.”
“This one,” Zoey said pointing.
“It smells like blood.”
Rex shivered. “You would know best.” In a quieter voice he said to himself, “Buck up, Rex. What would Ernest Keen, the Boy Detective, do? No time for fear now.”
He opened the door. Even Rex could smell the blood now. Paintings were slashed, books and glass were scattered across the floor, but sitting oblivious to the ruin around him, laughing listlessly at two unconscious bodies, was a man whom Rex could only hope was Dr. Morgan.
“Dr. Morgan?” Rex asked. “I have some questions about the whereabouts of Dr. Warren Rice.”
The man just laughed.
“Let me try,” Zoey said, pushing Rex aside. “Dr. Morgan, it’s time to go.” The man gave no response.
Somewhere outside Rex heard someone shout “They went in back!” and too many pairs of feet running in the outside hallway.
“Do please hurry,” he whimpered.
“Dr. Morgan,” Zoey shouted. “It’s time to go.”
He blinked. “What?” He looked around. “Oh dear.”
The door collapsed in, and the thick man from the bar and another four not so different in shape from him burst in. Zoey pulled the professor up with her left hand and finally allowed her right to find its blade. Now it was time. Now was the time for the reaping. A vicious blow felled the first thug. A second soon joined him.
“Help me!” cried Rex across the room. Zoey could not see him past the swarm of men and their punching fists and kicking boots. Gladly.
Zoey pulled the thick man from the bar back by his shoulder and threw a fire ax to Rex. “Now we will see what a lady truly does.”
“What am I supposed to do with this?” Rex cried again for her attention.
“Defend yourself, man!”
Rex wound up like Babe Ruth at the plate and took a wild swing at the first of his opponents. “Ahhh.” The man laughed joylessly as it went harmlessly past. The second did not laugh as it connected with his skull.
“Oh dear.” His standing enemy still with shock, Rex bolted for the door.
“There’s no time! More are coming!” Rex shouted back to Zoey. “Run!”
Rex was back in the hallway. The way was clear. He was so close to the alley and escape. Just one more move.
But then one of those odd little twists of fate happened, those little things upon which so much depend. There was a wet spot in the hall. Some drink had been spilled on delivery, and there had been no time to clean it and no one to demand proper sanitation. Most of the drink had absorbed into the wood, just another stain, but some remained. It was into this paltry puddle that Rex stepped. His foot slipped, and before he could catch himself, Rex fell and hit his head on the floor. It was too much, and he felt himself disappear into unconsciousness.
Zoey heard the thump outside and sighed. There was no more time for reaping. She, too, ran, pulling the still-dazed professor behind her and picking up Rex as she passed him. The thick man, the only one of the thugs remaining, gave chase, throwing punches when he could, but it was not enough to slow Zoey. She escaped into the alley and the night.
“And stay out, bird,” the thick man cried from the door.