Saturday 27th January 1923

Dearest Diary you will not believe the tale that Detective M had to tell over breakfast this morning. It seems that he was awoken by a tap, tap, tapping on his bedroom window; a window that was three floors up with nothing but a drop down to the canal below. Cautiously the detective got out of bed and went over to investigate and what did he find? It was a bloody Bauta Mask, tied to the window frame by one of its straps. As Detective M opened the window to bring the mask in he caught sight of a hunched figure on the path of the far side of the canal. “Whoever” the figure was (and let’s be honest here Dear Diary who could it have been but Comte Fenalik?) waited just long enough to make sure he was spotted and then slinked off in to the fog. I’ve got to say that Detective M was in the foulest mood this morning, saying that we have allowed ourselves to get side tracked. His nocturnal visitation has certainly shaken him and the Detective demanded that we move hotels for our safety. The other agreed which is a shame as I’m certainly going to miss the Gritti Place.

We have decided that we have wasted too much time and should make an attempt to recover the Simulacrum’s leg as soon as practical. To that end we split into two groups this morning. Darling Antonio and Albert headed back to the Bibliotheca Marcianna to see if “The Devil’s Simulare” was amongst the books rescued from St. Mary’s during the fire. Meanwhile Detective M, Father P and I would go to the Basilica San Marco to get the lay of the land in preparation for the theft.

After the attack by the Brotherhood of the Skin yesterday no one is going anywhere on their own. Luckily both the Bibliotheca and the Basilica are on Piazza San Marco so we travelled their as a group. If anything the sense of fear amongst the people of Venice is even stronger then yesterday.  There are mobs of people roaming the footpaths looking for witches and warlocks. There are wild tales of immense fish with human arms being seen in the canals last night!

The two groups parted at the plaza and the three of us headed in to the Basilica. Both Detective M and Father P had been there before but their descriptions of its beauty and grandeur did not do the place justice; it was a riot of precious metals and gems.  In these troubled times the good people of Venice had turned to Mother Church for protection; I would not go so far to say that it was packed but the Basilica was certainly busy and I had heard that record numbers were turning up for mass. We found the Chapel of St. Isidoro easily enough. It was open to the public, in fact it I not even have doors. The room was not overly large although it had a high ceiling. The shrine took up most of the space but there was room to walk around it. Detailed mosaics depicted the martyrdom and death of St.Isidoro. It appeared that he was executed by having horses drag him through the city by ropes tied to, would you believe it, his left leg; it would appear that Capitaine Dubois had a sense of humour.

The black flagstone was easy enough to find as it stood out from all the rest in both colour and composition. It was a shiny black slab, almost liquid to look at. The mortar around the slab looked poorly maintained and weak. Pretending to tie his laces Detective M touched the stone and said it was strangely cold to the touch. I wonder Dearest Diary; Darling Antonio had said that he found it odd that burying the leg would end the plague and had speculated that it might be down to the holy ground it was buried in. I wonder if the real reason could not be this odd stone slab instead.

After our visit to the Chapel we took our time checking out the rest of the Basilica, identifying how many ways in and out there were, how many doors there were, what the locks were like and that sort of thing.  Once we were satisfied we headed back to the Gritti Palace where Detective M began to make arrangement for our move to the Hotel Daniel. While he wanted a clean break I was concerned that, if Dreamy Georgio needed me…opps I meant “us”, he would not know where to find us. So I sent him a letter, via Maria’s house, with our new address.

Darling Antonio and Albert returned shortly after we did looking very pleased with themselves. The boys had found the book that they wanted, it had been misidentified. It was quite big and would take a while to read so they had simply decided to steal it instead. While Albert had distracted the librarian Darling Antonio had slipped it under his coat.

Our next move was to say goodbye to the Gritti Place and head for our new home-away-from-home of the Hotel Daniel. I can’t say that I like it as much, I miss my suite, but at least it is closer to the Basilica.

We debated how we should steal the leg; whether it was better to try to break in to the church in the very early hours when it was closed or to slip in when it was open and use the noise of a Mass to cover the theft. We were staring to go towards the latter when a member of staff informed Albert that we had a visitor.

It turned out that my woman’s intuition was correct as the visitor turned out to be no one other than Maria’s maid with a letter from her mistress (and to think that Detective M had doubted me!). The letter was a desperate plea for help; Maria was being held a prisoner in her own home by Fatty Alberto who planned to force her to marry him.

With only one voice of dissention (miserable old Detective M again) we swung in to action. Heading to my room I dug out the sap that I picked up yesterday. I also grabbed the pistol that Albert had recovered from the assassin in the Milan opera house (just in case things really got out of hand) before we hit the crowded streets of Venice. The people of Venice are certainly getting desperate. As we made our way through the crow we say an importune exorcism being carried out right there in the street!

Rather than head straight to Maria’s house we went looking for Dreamy Georgio. We found him first try, in the café he had taken us to on the 24th. His perfect face was marred by a few bruises that had not been there yesterday; he had had a run in with more of Fatty Alberto’s goons that morning but had given as good as he got. As soon as he showed him the letter Dreamy Georgio was all fired up and together we raced through the streets to Venice to Maria’s home and a showdown with Fatty Alberto.


Emma

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Friday 26th January 1923

Dearest Diary, what a day. It started with a murder, continued with a funeral and ended with an attempt on my life!

Venice was a gloomy place as we sat down for breakfast. Albert pointed out an article in the morning paper that there had been another, vicious murder overnight. A gondolier called Paulo was found torn to pieces and drained of his blood. It is Comte Fenalick, I know it. Does it make me a little…odd that I found it both horrifying and thrilling to think that he is out there? Just imagine being immortal.

At the risk of getting ahead of myself, as we travelled through Venice that day it was easy to sense the growing fear that was welling up in the population; a maniac stalking the streets at night, the slowly rising waters becoming more and more polluted, talk of plague returned to the city after four hundred years. Some people are reporting that they saw Death himself punting a boat through the canals last night and perhaps they are right.

Today is the day of the funeral of Giovanni Stagliani so after breakfast I returned to my room with one of the hotel maids and made sure that I looked amazing. Luckily most of the bruises that I picked up in Milan had gone and a bit of make-up covered the few that remained. Even more luckily I had a black dress that was not too trashy and would do for a funeral. I contemplated bringing along a weapon just in case Fatty Alberto tried something at the funeral but decided against it; I would have four strapping men (five if you counted Detective M twice) and that would be protection enough for any girl.

Detective M’s boating friend arrived at 11 took us to the funeral. It is obvious really but with Venice being the way it is space for burials is hard to come-by so our destination was the Island of San Michele to the north of the main island. To get there we had to work our way through the hundreds of canals that criss-crossed the island. The icy mist that clung to the city didn’t help either and I will admit that within minutes I was hopelessly lost. Is was on that journey that we spotted the masked men for the first time. They wore long black robes and masks the colour of bleached bone; Bauta Masks Darling Antonio called them. Fleetingly, every now and again, we caught glances of the figures watching from bridges and canal paths only to disappear back in to the mist when they noticed that they had been spotted.

Despite this ominous sign we reached the island without being molested. San Michele was large and square, I guess that it was at least partially man-made, with a wall around the edge like a fortress and a few buildings. Inside it was rows and rows of tombs. A rather sobering sight.

The funeral itself was, to be honest, a chore. Like the dutiful daughter she no doubt was Maria cried herself hollow. Dreamy Georgio was there looking suitably heroic and dependable as (unfortunately) was Fatty Alberto, although I was impressed to see that he had had the backbone to come on his own. The coffin was extraordinary; as black as midnight with a convoluted stand on top that made the whole thing look like a giant, black wedding-cake. To be honest when I first saw it I had to smother a laugh. During the funeral I was sure that I saw the coffin move a little, especially when it was being carried in to the tomb, as if the weight inside was shifting about.

The ceremony seemed to take forever, their air was deathly cold and the lagoon stank. I was glad when it was all over and boats appeared out of the mist to shuttle us all back to the Stagliani house for a suitably sombre wake. Fatty Alberto was the very first to leave which was a good thing since all he had done was glare at Dreamy Georgio from across the room the whole time. When it was clear that all the other guests were departing Dreamy Georgio asked if we wanted to share a water taxi with him. Ah Georgio, how I resented the presence of my colleges at that point.

On the journey back I shared my observations of the “moving” coffin with Dreamy Georgio, he thought it odd but nothing sinister. We also mentioned the masked figures that we had seen. He thought that they might be connected with “Carnivale” but that it was still a few weeks away.

It was Detective M who first noticed that we seemed to be taking a very odd route back to the Gritti Palace. Using Albert as a translator he began to quiz the boatman about what was going on. The gondolier made excuses about some of the canals being blocked but it clear that he was guilty as sin. So none of us were the least surprised as, when he pulled up at the edge of a secluded square, we could see figures skulking around the edges. Who would they be; Fatty Alberto’s Black Shirts or the mask wearing strangers? It turned out that it was the former. Heroically Dreamy Alberto jumped off the boat, fists raised, to meet their challenge. We all climbed out to join him. I mentally berated myself for not having brought a weapon with me but Albert tossed me a stool from the gondola that would do in a pinch. Battle was joined. The Black Shirts had small, weighted saps. Dreamy Georgio clearly new how to box and lashed around himself with skill and confidence. Detective M had grabbed the gondolier’s oar and, despite its size, was swinging it about with abloom, clubbing a Black Shirt here and knocking another in to the water there. If there is one thing that I envy about men it is their animal strength. By comparison my blows, even with the stool as a makeshift club, were making very little head way as I ducked and weaved around my opponent.

For all his excellent qualities Darling Antonio was not a fighter and all he did was flit around the edge of the scrum avoiding trouble. Father P, by comparison, was in the thick of it although I found his choice of weapon, a tasselled cushion from the boat, a little odd.

It did not take the Black Shirts long to realise that they had picked a fight that they could not win and those that were still conscious made a break for the street. Most of us were okay. Father P had a few bruises but Albert fared the worst. He had come off second best in a fight with a Black Shirt and his face was a mask of blood. As we gathered our wits we noticed another of these masked figures watching us from the entrance to the square. Detective M made a dash for him but the spy ran off, throwing off pursuit in the maze of mist filled alleyways.

We decided to make ourselves scarce. Before we left the square I took a moment to help myself to help myself to one of the Black Shirt’s saps. We found another seclude spot and took a few moments to try and clean Albert up. We washed off the blood but I don’t think we did his injuries any good.

We parted ways with Dreamy Georgio when we reached the Gritti Palace. Back inside we had something to eat and discussed our next move. The decision was reached that retrieving the leg was our first priority. Once that was done we could investigating the other oddities going on in Venice but had the luxury of being able to skip town if things got out of hand.

If we were going to rob a church, it occurred to me, than we would probably need disguises. Dreamy Georgio had mentioned that Bauta Masks, like the ones our mysterious spies had worn, were easily available. That gave me an idea, although probably one my instructors at The Reptile House would not have approved of. The afternoon was waning but there was still time to do a little shopping, I would head out apparently alone but with Detective M would follow at a discrete distance. If, as I suspected, our movements were being observed by the masked spies they might find the prospect of a lone target irresistible. And so it was that I found myself walking along a misty and increasingly foul smelling canal path looking for a shop to purchase masks apparently oblivious to any danger while in fact my eyes and ears peeled for the smallest hint of trouble. I thought that I was ready for trouble but I was almost taken off guard when a spectral figure in a black robe and bone white mask materialised out of the shadows. I barely had time to register the slashing, curved knife blade in his hand. Desperately I dodged back. My life flashed before my eyes but the murderous blade missed my throat but less than an inch. This guys was not playing round but before he could try again Detective M came charging out of the mist and slammed bodily in to my attacked, sending him crashing to the ground. I heard the sound of the masked figures weapon skitter away and, ignoring Detective M’s order to run, I took the opportunity to close in and plant a satisfying kick in to my attacker’s ribs. The masked man was not done yet though. He had a second blade and was able, with a few deft swings, to make himself enough room to get to his feet and make a run for it. I wanted to give chase but Detective M was not up for it. We settled for retrieving my attacker’s lost weapon. Looking at it confirmed the impression that I had formed as I saw the knife swinging for my head, it was the same sort of hooked, skinning knife that our assailants in Milan had used. Either the Brotherhood of the Skin had followed us from Milan or, more likely, the cult was more wide spread than we believed and this was a local chapter.  After a short debate we continued with my original errand, purchasing six Bauta Masks and black cloaks before heading back to the hotel.

When I got back to my suite I was surprised to see Darling Antonio looking wide eyed and sweaty. It was clear that he been using his schoolboy German, and a dictionary, to skim through The Black Book. With a shudder I remembered the brief passages that I had read on the train, no one the poor dear looked like he had seen a ghost. The thought of what Darling Antonio may have read in that book scared me more than anything else that happened today. 


Emma

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Thursday 25th January 1923 (Evening)

Dearest Diary, a very successful day all around.

Dreamy Georgio turned up just after breakfast with his disappointing friend Cristiano. The pair accompanied Darling Antonio, Albert and myself to the Bibliotheca Marcianna where we followed up on the lead about the “plague of lameness”. It took most of the day but we found some reports from a Capitaine Dubois to a Major Hautemont, both of the French occupying force in November of 1797. In the report it described how locals blamed a Private Jean Boucher for the illness. Best of all it clearly mentioned that Private Boucher was the owner of “an odd, porcelain leg” that he had picked up as plunder. There was an oblique mention of an incident that Dubois was unwilling to put in an official report. After further researching we managed to turn up Dubois’s own diary. It seemed that Dubois was initially dismissive of any suggestion that the leg was the cause of the plague, believing the Venetians to be superstitious fools. He changed his tune when his daughter was inflicted and begun to investigate Private Boucher’s leg. Discovering that it was apparently indestructible Dubois “buried that cursed leg in secret within San Marco Basilica, under the black paving stone in the chapel of Saint Isidoro”. Success! All we need to do now is retrieve it.

Detective M also had his share of good fortune. He arrived at the library at about noon. After inspecting old documents in the San Marco Basilica he had discovered that the nuns of St. Mary’s had saved what books they could during the fire and handed them over to handed them over to non-other than the Bibliotheca Marcianna. Albert spent most of the afternoon trying to track down then Devil’s Simulacrum but to no avail however we are certain it is stored here somewhere.

Three more odd things happened during the day Dear Diary. I am not sure if any of them have any relevance to our mission.

That foul smelling oil that was floating on the waters of the canals yesterday is back again today. In fact it is worse than before. None of the locals seem to be able to explain it.

There are rumours that the many statues in Piazza San Marco wept blood during evensong.

Finally the evening papers have more information about the murder from overnight and it make for grizzly reading. The body of a man was found impaled on a ten-foot iron spike. His wounds are described as being as if they were caused by a wild animal. The woman who found him, an Ansalma Moretti, is being held for questioning by the police. Could there be a connection to the death of Arturo Faccia in Malan? Certainly the description of the injuries are superficially similar. If it is not merely a coincidence what does it mean? Is something, or someone following us?  


Emma

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Thursday 25th January 1923 (Morning)

Dearest Diary, there was a bit of excitement during the night. Darling Antonio and I were roused from our sleep by shouts of “Morte! Morte!” from the canal path outside the hotel; a woman’s voice by the sound of it.

Hastily throwing on clothes we headed down to reception to find our friends, and a few other guest and staff, peering out in to the dark. The night was cold, the fog thicker than ever and no one seemed willing to venture out to see what was going on. No one but myself and Detective M that is. Outside it was very eerie. The combination of darkness and fog meant visibility was almost zero and my hastily donned clothing did little to combat the cold. I was certain that I could hear noises though coming from both the direction of the water’s edge and further inland. Our attempts to investigate proved fruitless and almost ended in disaster as Detective M took a tumble from a canal bridge. He only just managed to grab fold of a railing in time. Mystified and disappointed we returned to our rooms. 

This morning news is spreading my word of mouth of a murder overnight in Venice. Details are thin on the ground at the moment but hopeful we will know more before the day is out. Once we have finished breakfast Darling Antonio, Albert and myself are heading back to the library. Detective M is going to see if he can discover if anything was salvaged from the fire that claimed St. Mary’s. It has been decided that Father P could do with a day’s rest as the vents of the last few days seem to have been too much for him. Hopefully a quiet day of prey and contemplation (and no doubt partaking of the “holy spirit”) will restore his mental equilibrium.


Emma

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Wednesday 24th January 1923

 A cold and foggy day in Venice today. Over breakfast Albert pointed out a follow-up article in the paper about the murder of Arturo Faccia. It appears that his mutilated body was found hanging from the roof of the cathedral. The injuries were so extensive that eye witnesses to the discovery claimed that it could only be “the Devil’s work”. A short biography of Faccia mentioned that he had recently returned from a business trip to Turkey.  

We decided to split in to two groups. From our notes we know that a section of the Simulacrum was brought to Venice by Napoleon’s invading army so Darling Antonio, Albert and myself headed along the Grand Canal to the Bibliotheca Marcianna. Meanwhile Father P and Detective M headed off to try and find the Church of St. Mary Celeste where (according to the research that Darling Antonio carries out in the British Museum) we could find a book called The Devil’s Simulacrum.

I must admit, Dearest Diary, that I found Venice by day was scarcely more appealing then Venice at night. That was until I reached Piazza San Marco. Both the Ducal Palace and the Bassilica San Marco looked very impressive but out destination was the Bibliotheca. Albert mentioned that he believed that the L-shaped building had once been a stable but at some point an impressive glass roof had been used to transform an internal courtyard in to an airy reading room with multiple floors of book storage (“stacks” I believe my old English Lit teacher called them) on all sides. The three of us spent pretty much the whole day there but our results were hardly spectacular. Our biggest difficulty was, of course, that everything was written in Italian and only Albert could make head-or-tail of it all. Luckily, towards the end of the day, Darling Antonio proved that he had brains as well as beauty when he played a hunch and looked for any records of strange plagues springing up in the wake of Napoleon’s invasion. Sure enough in November of 1797 we found mention of a mysterious malady that swept the city that left its victims crippled in the left leg. We have decided to return tomorrow to continue our research but it would help if we could recruit more Italian speakers to help. Perhaps some students from the nearby Academia.

Detective M and Father P’s attempts to find St.Mary’s took an unexpected twist. Enquiries with the hotel staff as to where the church was drew a blank as did asking local water-cab drivers. The pair made enquiries at the Basilica Santa Maria and the Basilica San Marco and eventually discovered that the church was destroyed in a fire in 1569. The church had been in the Castello district, renowned for its ship building. A fire, believed to have been started by Ottoman saboteurs, had broken out in the naval arsenal and destroyed several buildings including the church. Still the pair had found the churches old address and Detective M had decided to find out what the land was like now. He decided to go on his own as Father P’s behaviour had become increasingly odd throughout the day with the Good Father going into raptures of pleasure at the sight of the gold, jewels and works of art in the Basilica’s.

It was as we headed back to the hotel that Darling Antonio, Albert and myself first became aware of an appalling smell that was coming from a black, oily film on the surface of the waters. Detective M told us that it had been far worse during the bulk of the day when he and Father P had been traveling the city. From their boatman the pair had learnt that the slime, whatever it was, was not a normal occurrence in Venice and many of the locals took it to be a bad omen.

As we enjoyed dinner at the hotel we had an unexpected, but very welcome, guest in the form of the Dreamy Georgio. He thanked us for our intervention on Maria’s behalf the previous evening and asked if he could talk to us in private after the meal. Dreamy Georgio took us to a pleasant café where he poured his heart out to us. He and Maria were in love but, like something out of a Shakespearian tragedy, the difference in the social status (Maria, it would appear, came from an old and venerated family) had meant her father had forbidden the union. Dreamy Georgio had applied himself to his studies with gusto in an attempt to prove his worth and earn Giovani Stagliani’s blessing but the old man’s untimely demise meant that it now would never be. On top of that there was the unwanted and ungentlemanly attentions of Fatty Alberto hovering over Maria. Dreamy Georgio was certain that Fatty Alberto was responsible for Giovanni Stagliani’s death, although he had nothing to back that up other than his obvious dislike for the man. Dreamy Georgio spoke at length at the clashes between the fascist Black Shirts and the Communists and it was clear that his sympathies lay with the Reds.

Dreamy Georgio also asked if we could attend Giovanni Stagliani’s funeral that is scheduled for the day after tomorrow at 11:30 so Maria can thank us herself. I wonder if he fears that Fatty Alberto will make a scene and wants allies just in case? We agreed of course but I took the opportunity to ask for a favour in return. Since Dreamy Georgio spoke such good English could he help us with our researches at the Bibliotheca Marcianna tomorrow? He agreed and promised to bring along a friend who was also a fellow student and English speaker to further help out.


Emma

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Tuesday 23rd January 1923

Dearest Diary,

Any debate as to our next cause of action has been decided by Albert showing us the headlines of today’s newspaper. Amazingly the near riot at the opening night of Aida was not the headline news. Rather it was the murder of Arturo Faccia whose mutilated body was found overnight.

With no reason to stay in Milan we are leaving on the next train. We now have two parts of the Simulacrum as well as one set of the scrolls but there is still a lot of work to be done. And what of the mysterious book that appeared in our room and is now tucked away in Darling Antonio’s luggage? Who put it there and why?    

While we waited at the platform we noticed a dark haired young woman accompanied by an old woman that was probably her maid. She was dressed in morning attire and had clearly been crying. Father P went over to speak to the woman, no doubt to offer her some words of comfort.

We spotted the young woman again while we were in the dinning carriage and Father P took the opportunity to re-new their acquaintance. Dear Diary I must confess that the Good Father has been acting a little odd since our escapade in the Opera House last night. He seems to be constantly distracted by things; a view from the window, a pretty girl (not that the dark haired girl is all that attractive, not really). Latter on Father P told us that the woman was called Maria Stagliani and she was racing back to Venice because her father (one Giovanni Stagliani, a scholar in religion and philosophy) had passed away quite suddenly. Apparently he had contracted pneumonia after falling into one of the canals.

Of course I did not learn this till later on as, after an excellent lunch, Darling Antonio and I slipped back to our cabin to study our copy of Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Darling Antonio had heard of this book, sometimes called “The Black Book” from his studies. From the first page I realised that translating it would tax my rather rusty German skills. It seemed to be the author’s (one Friedrich Wilhelm von Juntz) exploration of secret cults dedicated to the worship of pre-Christian, possibly pre-human gods. From his writing we could tell that von Juntz was no passive observer but joined in with the ghastly rituals and practices of these depraved cultists; nor did he spared any detail about what they got up to. I must admit that it all got too much, I begun to find the cabin stiflingly claustrophobic and then I fainted away all together! I’m embarrassed to admit that, when I came too, I was quite unnerved. I even remember begging Darling Antonio to throw the book away. Imagine, me begging!

Darling Antonio himself is not sounding well. He has been complaining of difficulty breathing. He puts the blame on being the first to touch the torso of the Simulacrum in much the same way that touching the arm seems to have effected Detective M’s own arm.

By the time we arrived in in Venice, at a little after five, I was much more my old self. It was already dark so I could not make out the city in any great detail; just the dark shapes of buildings, the lapping of water and the tolling of a distant bell.

There were cab pilots from the various local hotels hanging around the train station trying to get our business but we had already decided that we would be staying it the Gritti Palace Hotel. The cab drive from Gritti Palace was extremely well turned out in an immaculate uniform. Father P seemed especially impressed by it and seemed to be inspired to change in to a fresh outfit then and there. It was only the physical intervention of Detective M that stopped the Good Father from stripping off then and there. Really, what has come over the man?!

It was just as we were arranging to have our luggage transported to our hotel (and arranging for Father P to keep his trousers on) that Maria Stagliani drifted by. NO sooner had she stepped out of the station when she was accosted by seven men in the black uniform of Mussolini’s Black Shirts. It was quite clear that the one in charge, a rather unimpressive example of the male gender being both thin on top and fat around the middle, wanted Maria to go with him, even going as far as to grab hold of her arm. Proving that chivalry is far from dead the men of our little party rushed over to intervene. I of course went too but as I did I noticed that someone else was watching the goings on. A young man, no more than nineteen but with the sort of good looks that would ensure that he left a string of broken hearts in his wake as he grew older, had been leaning against the station wall. It looked like he too had started to go to Maria’s defence but, spotting the five of use getting set to intervene, thought better of it and made himself scarce.

The Black Shirt in charge, the fat ugly one, was still clinging on to Maria like a limpet and insisting that she would come with him when we reached the scene. Of course not that we could have understood any of it without Albert to translate. Surprise, surprise it turned out that fatty (“Alberto” we discovered) was something of a bully; happy to manhandle a woman but when confronted by five, clearly well-to-do foreigners who were unimpressed by his self-important bluster, he quickly backed down.

We took it upon ourselves to escort Maria to her home. This entailed a boat ride down the world famous Grand Canal. As I have already mentioned Dear Diary it was already dark and landmarks seemed to be few and far between, and within minutes of setting off I had completely lost track of where we were. I doubt that I could have found my way back to the station if I had needed to.

As we travelled we managed to pry out of Maria what the commotion with Fatty Alberto had all been about. It seemed that he was a would-be suitor who clearly saw Maria as fair game following the death of her father. I can’t say that I envied Maria his advances (although I have made love to less appealing men when my work required it). I asked about the young man that I saw hanging around the station. From my description Maria identified him as Georgio, the man that she would marry if she had her own way. Good grief; Fatty Alberto, Dreamy Georgio and Father P. What was it that men found irresistible about this girl? I would have to keep Darling Alberto on a short lead.

Soon enough we had dropped Maria off without further incident and then headed on to the Gritti Palace. When I first caught sight of the hotel I must admit that I was unimpressed by the place. Once inside, however, my fears were dispelled as it was just as luxurious as the guidebook promised.

I insisted that we all dress for dinner which was, of course, excellent. I had the Pasta and black squid ink with a very palatable wine. It took no effort at all to convince Darling Antonio that we should retire to our room as soon as dinner is done. I have just got time to finish this entry while Darling Antonio gets changed and then a night of passion awaits!


Emma

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Monday 22nd January 1923

Today, Dearest Diary, has been a nightmare pretty much from beginning to end. On some level we were triumphant but as I write this I feel far from victorious.

In the morning my companions and I met up for breakfast. Albert had obtained the morning newspaper and read us out the article about the ghostly singing in the night. Toscanini was keen to play down the incident but there was an intriguing quote from the prop-master, a Paulo Rischoti, about “the costumer’s curse” and how there had been a series of accident. Odd happening and illnesses plaguing the theatre. This looked like it bore some further investigation. There was a second article in the paper that had a vague connection to the opera as well; one Flavio Conte, a patron of the Opera, had returned to public life having recovered from what had thought to be a serious illness. At the time we did not pay it too much heed but that would soon change.

In rather guarded terms Darling Antonio and I told our friends about what we had found in our room last night. We tool them up-stairs and showed them the book and the hand. We had made one, rather half-hearted, attempt to get rid of the hand already but had been thwarted by an overly attentive night-porter. Detective M volunteered to make the hand disappear, he went off for a long walk and came back without it.

Once we were all back together we headed back to the opera house. The third time proved to be the charm and, by demanding to see Toscanini we managed to get through the backstage door. Backstage of the opera house tuned out to be a chaotic maze; a badly lit maze of bare wood, wires and ropes full of a constant stream of rushing people; some in costume and some in their street cloths. It was also very noisy, a clashing racket of singing, musical instruments being tuned-up, people’s footfalls and the sound of props and sets being dragged around. Everyone had somewhere to be and our requests to be shown to Toscanini were either rebuffed or out-right ignored. It looked like we had exactly two options; either press on blindly and hope for the best or turn around and leave. We chose the former and headed ever deeper in to the opera house. We had not gone too far when noticed that we had become separated from Detective M. With no idea where he was, or indeed where we were in this labyrinth we kept on going but it was becoming painfully clear that were just stumbling, blindly in the dark. I’ve never suffered from claustrophobia but it was all becoming too much for me; the darkness, the noise, the constant stream of people barging past us. I felt panic rise up inside me and then next thing I knew was that I was running, desperate to find some way out. I must have looked like a madwoman as I barged in to room demanding to bemused actors and stagehands (no of whom knew English of course) to be taken to the exit. Thank God that Darling Antonio had managed to keep up with me. He managed to get the pair of us out on to the stage itself. The Teatro alla Scala has the most magnificent stage, large and airy with rows of seating six tiers high. After being trapped in those dark, stuffy tunnels it was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen.

We were not the first of our friends to find our way there; Detective M was sitting alone amongst the audience. We made our way over to him. I remember noticing that he had a damp towel wrapped around his ankle but I was too shaken up to ask what had happened. I really did not want to linger so Darling Antonio and I made our way back to the very welcome fresh air while Detective M waited to see if Father P or Albert turned up.

The pair of us found a café and waited. Now that I was outside the whole experience of being backstage seemed more and more like a bad dream. Darling Antonio was certain that the temporary madness that seemed to have gripped us had not been wholly natural, that there were occult forces at work. He pointed out to me that the family who had been unwitting owners of the Simulacrum’s arm all had injured or deformed arms so perhaps the Simulacrum’s head was backstage of the opera house and infecting people with madness. That made a sort of sense.

We had perhaps been waiting half an hour when we saw Father P and Albert. I guess that they had come out via the stage-door and then circled around the opera house to the front. The pair had had far, far more luck then we had. Eventually the pair had managed, by a clever rouse on Albert’s part, to get to see Toscanini. He knew nothing more about Caterina’s disappearance then we did but he was able to supply Caterina’s address and the name of her maid. The pair had also managed to talk him in to letting them interview Paulo Rischoti. The prop-manager told them the strange tale of the costumer’s curse. Over the last six years they had not been able to keep hold of a chief costumer for more than six months at a time before they had been forced to resign from ill house. Only the new chief costumer, Lousia Visconti, seemed to be immune to the curse. Intrigued by the tale Albert and Father P, guided by Rischoti, had gone to seen the costumer. Her workshop was up on the third floor. It was rather drafty as there was a fire exit door that was always coming open. Working with Louisa was none other than the three old ladies that we had met in the cathedral the previous day. It was in talking to Louisa and her three seamstresses that Father P and Albert had our biggest break of the day. Darling Antonio had been right about one of the parts of the Simulacum being in the opera house but it was not the head, it was the torso. For the last few years the seamstresses had been using it as a tailor’s dummy but they had never liked it and six months ago they had donated it to the props department to use in one of their “cast of thousands” crowd scenes, hence the reason why Lousia had escaped the curse.

We were just digesting this when we saw Detective M being escorted out of the theatre. Exactly what he had done to finally get himself removed I don’t know but now we were all back together we decided that finding Caterina should be our first priority.  

We headed to Caterina’s address. I was not surprised to see a small gathering of locals outside her home saying prayers for the missing singer.  Caterina’s maid, Yisabelle, proved to be most helpful. She told us about when she last saw Caterina, they had arrived on the OE punctually and when they had exited the station there had been a man waiting for them in an expensive car. The man, who she thought she recognised, had beckoned over Caterina. The pair had engaged in a brief conversation and Caterina had climbed into the car never too be seen again.  Yisabelle had described the man as being in his fifties or sixties and looking a pale, the phrase she used was as if he had recovered from an illness. Suspicions began to form in my mind which were soon born out when Darling Antonio asked Yisabelle if he could hypnotise her. Well this was new! Lock-picking and now mesmerism; I wonder what other tricks my favourite artist has up his sleeve. Yisabelle agreed and we watch with interest as he placed her in to a hypnotic trance. When she was completely in his power (how thrilling!) he took her back in her mind to the events had her give a far more detailed account of what had happened. At my prompting Darling Antonio had Yisabelle concentrate in her mind’s eye on the driver and where she thought she had seen him before. With Darling Antonio’s help Yisabelle had come up with a name and I was not surprised to find that it was Flavio Conti.

Thanking Yisabelle for her assistance we headed out to find Conti. We were able to learn that Flavio Conti was the owner a machine workshop, Conti Machine Parts, which was in the Portello, the more industrial part of Milan. We headed there so see what clues we could find. As we got closer to the workshop Albert was reminded of an article he had read in yesterday’s paper, the discovery of the body of a murdered car worker, Ennio Spinola. As it happened Conti Machine Parts was only two streets away from where the body had been found.

The workshop was closed up and seemed deserted. As we made our way over to the door. Detective M spotted a few drops of dried blood on the floor. Casting around he found some more and he and Father P headed off to follow the trail. Darling Antonio set to work picking the lock (you may remember, Dear Diary, that yesterday I mentioned that Darling Antonio had broken a lock-pick while trying to unlock a door on the OE but since then Albert had managed to find him a replacement). Inside was dark with stacks of boxes creating all sorts of hiding places. As we edged our way in in berated myself for not bring my pistol with me. Darling Antonio had had the foresight to bring his torch. A quick examination revealed a grizzly sight. In the centre of the workshop was a large white slab, like a table, on which were clear bloodstains. There seemed to be the outline of two separate people as far as we could tell. While my first impression of t eh slab had been of some kind of ritual alter I began to wonder if its purpose was rather medical? Could Flavio’s sudden return to health, from suspected tuberculosis of all things, have been purchased at the cost of the car worker’s life, some sort of Doctor Frankenstein-esc medical experiment?

Detective M and Father P had re-joined us by this point, having confirmed that the blood trail lead the street where the Spinola’s body had been found but beyond that had found nothing new.

We quickly searched the workshop for any more clues to the disappearance of Catarina. We found nothing of interest except some paperwork that had Flavio Conte’s home address so this became our next port of call.

Conte lived in one of the more affluent parts of Milan in a rather pretty, two storey building with an attached garage. While all the windows on the ground floor were closed tight the ones of the first floor were wide open. We decided to go for the direct approach and run the doorbell. The door was answered by a servant wrapped up tightly against the cold. I handed him my card and we asked to see Conte. When the servant returned we were escorted upstairs, with the exception of Detective M who had decided to hand around outside (in think to make sure Conte didn’t try to flee in his car). The house, while well decorated, was absolutely freezing. We were shown in to Flavio Conte’s office. It had a double aspect and the windows, as we had noted from the road, were wide open and letting in the cold January wind. Conte was behind a desk and, despite the cold, was wearing only a shirt. He was also sweating freely.

Albert had barely managed to say we had come to talk about Caterina’s disappearance when Conte levelled a gun, which he had been hiding behind the desk, at him and fire. Albert had just seen the gun in time and had thrown himself out of the firing line. I dashed forward in a desperate bid to disarm Conte but was a fraction too slow and he fired again before I reached the desk. I felt a searing pain in my arm and staggered; I had been hit! As I struggled with the pain I saw Conte line up for a second shot and I lunged to one side just in time. All hell had broken loose in the flat. I could hear heavy footsteps racing up the stairs, it could only have been Detective M. Albert was tussling with Conte and both Father P and Darling Antonio looked like they were trying to bloke the windows (in case Conte tried to escape that way I guess). Gritting my teeth I jumped in to the fray and got a few goof licks in on Conte of my own. Between the two of us Albert and I were able to knock him out.

As Detective M burst in he told us that the servants had fled, no doubt to get the police. As Darling Antonio patched up my bullet wound (I was lucky, it looked like it had gone all the way through, there was a lot of blood but it had not hit the bone) the others quickly searched the flat for any trace of Caterina. They found no trace of her but there was an OE timetable with the time of Catarina’s arrival underlined.

We brought Conte around but he proved to be stubborn, more afraid of a group he called “The Brother of the Skin” then anything we could do to him. We were well aware that time was slipping away from us, the police could arrive at any moment. While we could probably justify our actions by revealing what we had found at Conti Machine Parts it would certainly result in us getting caught up in the police investigation and probably meant that we could not leave Milan for days.

It looked like we would have to take more extreme measures to get Conti to talk but Darling Antonio proved to have the answer once again by using his talents for hypnotism to bend Conti to his will. IN a trance Conti told us that he had kidnapped Caterina on behalf of The Brothers of the Skin. As we suspected it was they who had cured him of his TB by somehow giving him the lungs Ennio Spinola. Conti has deliver Caterina to a made called Arturo Faccia because The Brotherhood had wanted her voice. The implication was a grim one and I had images of poor Caterina being the victim of some hideous surgery.

Conti could tell us no more and we had to leave so Darling Antonio placed some sort of hypnotic suggestion in Conti’s mind that he would forget our names and faces (I also recovered my calling card) and we made ourselves scarce.

We headed back to our hotel so I could change out of my bloody clothing. I took the opportunity to grab my gun as well as the knife I had acquired from one of our attackers last night. There was some debate as to what we should do next. The Opera was sue to start in about half an hour, should we go there? We knew that the mysterious Arturo Faccia was a patron of the opera and would surely be there. At the same time it meant that it was a great opportunity to burgle his house and, hopefully, rescue Caterina. After all, we said, it was not like he could take her to the Teatro alla Scala with him. Oh how wring we were.

We took a cab to Faccia’s address; an expensive detached house in its own garden with a separate garage. Our attempts to break in were such a farce that I am tempted not to mention them at all. Sufficient to say that some of my friends made such a racket while prowling about the garden that a servant came out with a gun to challenge them. Father P was able to disarm the servant by, of all things, throwing his bible at him (three Hale Marys for that one Father!) and we forced our way in. Despite this rather rock start Albert was able to talk the servants around and convince them that their master was up to no good. It transpired that they had not seen Faccia for a couple of days and they knew nothing of his connection to Caterina. As far as they knew he was at the opera. The only consolation prize that we managed to leave with was a list of the seven other properties in Milan that Faccia owned.

With a growing sense of certainty that something was going to happen on the opening night of Aida we decided that it was high time that we made our way back to the theatre. We arrived to find the Teatro alla Scala transformed. The outside was illuminated by countless lights, most notably hundreds of lamps spelling out “Aida”. Since we wanted to move about back stage to find and retrieve the torso of the Sedefkar Simulacrum we decided against going in through the front but headed up the fire escape that Father P and Albert had noticed earlier that day. We soon found ourselves in the costumers’ workshop. The three old ladies were still there but Albert was able to convince them that we needed their help to rescue Caterina and lift the curse that had plagued the opera house. The three old dames lead us down to the costume store and we outfitted ourselves in spare costumes; the boys as Egyptian soldiers and myself as a dancing girl. My disguise was a little on the brief side, I was able to conceal my pistol within my skirts but I decided to leave the knife behind. 

Now we made our way, as quickly and unobtrusively as possible, to the back of the stage. Glancing out across the foot lights we could make out that the theatre was packed out. There must have been upwards of three thousand people there that night and somewhere amongst them, we assumed, was Arturo Faccia.

The first act was drawing to a close and Caterina’s understudy was singing her first, big solo number. It was clear that she was no Caterina but she was still pretty good. There was a buzz from the audience as they started to join in. One voice, one perfect female voice, soon started to eclipse all the others, it was the voice of Caterina herself. Desperately we searched the audience with our eyes in an attempt to pin-point the source of the singing. Our gaze was drawn to a party of three men and a woman. One of the men was standing up, allowing us to get a better look at him. To my amazement I recognised the “chicken mane” from our visit to the Cathedral yesterday and it was from his mouth that the Caterina’s unmistakable voice issued. There is a whole world of difference between the idea that there was someone who could transplant the voice of one person in to another and having the actual, physical proof of it right in front of you. It made my head spin just thinking about it and Father P fainted dead away.

No sooner had this all happened then the curtain dropped to signify the end of the act. We knew that we had to act quickly. Leaving Albert and Darling Antonio to look after Father P and find the torso, detective M and I tried to make our way in to the audience. Getting in to the seats meant climbing down into the orchestra pit. In my haste I slipped and fell. I landed hard on my ankle and the jolt sent a dagger of pain through the wound in my arm but I pulled myself to my feet and headed carried on. As we closed on our objective the woman who had been sitting beside “chicken man” looked in our direction for the first time. We had both assumed that it was Caterina but when we saw her face…

It was our missing friend but she was grotesquely transformed. Her skin hung off of her in hideous folds, loose and baggy. It was almost like she had somehow shrunk on the inside but that he skin was still the same size. Her eyes were unchanged though expect now they were filled with terror, incomprehension and more than a little madness.

I am ashamed to say, Dear Diary, that I lost control then. I was confused, tired and in pain and I snapped. Somehow, for a few seconds, the man with Caterina’s stolen voice became the target of a lot of pent up fear and anger. Before I knew what I was doing I had drawn my pistol and fired. He slumped back in his seat, wounded but alive. Even as I tried to wrap my mind around what I had done I was blindsided by a punch from Detective M. It was a bit of a wild swing but it still sent me reeling. It was clear from the look in his eye that Detective M too had been momentarily unhinged by Caterina’s ghastly transformation.

The two men who had been with “chicken man” had got to their feet and were making their way towards us, drawing billy-clubs as they went. I could have fired but was hesitant; what if I missed or lost control again. So instead I ran straight at then. I planted a sold punch on the first one but both men were powerfully built and it had little effect. They swung at me with their clubs, I dodged one but the other made contact. For a few second I must have blacked out because the next thing I remember I was lying on the ground amongst the rapidly emptying seats. One of the two bodyguards was down and Detective M was trading blows with the second. With a sub-human, gurgling cry of despair Caterina was doing her best to throttle the man who had stolen her voice.

Clearing my head I grabbed hold of the legs of the remaining bodyguard and pulled him off balance leaving him open to a series of punishing blows from Detective M. As I pulled myself to my feet “Chicken man” had managed to push Caterina away and was now running through the fleeing crowd for the exit. I moved to Caterina and pulled her to her feet, it was time that we were leaving. Returning the way I had come was not an option so I started to do my best to push my way through the crowds towards the main entrance. I saw Detective M wading through the crowd after “chicken man” but he lost his footing and went down, swept over by the crush of humanity. We reached Detective M in time to help him to his feet and together the three of us ran back through the entrance hall and out through the portico.

There was no way that we could get very far dressed as we were so the three of us veered off around the theatre and headed for the fire exit. I left Caterina in the care of Detective M and dashed up the stairs. My plan was to make my way back to the costume storage room and recover our cloths but as I entered the costumers’ workshop I found Albert, bleeding from multiple wounds and clutching the broken remains of a chair, standing over the battered body of a man!

From what I managed to piece together from Darling Antonio and Albert latter on this is what had happened after Detective M and I had gone to rescue Caterina. After first tucking the senseless Father P safely away in a storage area the pair had started to check to dozens and dozens of dummies that were in the wings ready to be used.

As he searched Albert had heard a noise above him and dodged aside as a weighty sand bag crashed to the ground where he had been standing a moment before. Looking up Albert spotted a man climbing agilely through the rigging. The attacked dropped down to the stage and drew a knife. Within moments the pair were locked in a viscous knife fight. A miscalculated thrust on his part meant that Albert lost his knife. Unarmed and outclassed he did the only sensible thing and fled. The assassin drew a pistol and fired off a few shots before giving chase. Dodging and weaving Albert dashed through the theatre and found himself back in the costumer’s workshop. Here Albert grabbed the first thing that came to hand and lay in ambush for the assassin, smashing his assailant over the head with a chair as he entered.

While this was going on Darling Antonio had been desperately checking every dummy that he could find in a hopes of finding the Simulacrum’s torso. His efforts were rewarded when he found the torso, mounted on a stand and draped in a set of costume armour. With the aid of Father P, who had by now recovered from his shock, Darling Antonio was able to make off with the torso. They headed back to the costume storage room and collected our cloths before heading up to the costumers’ workshop.

The four of us reunited we headed back down to where Detective M was waiting with Caterina and the six of us slipped away back to our hotel.

As we recovered from the night’s ordeal I found Caterina a note book and pencil and we asked her for her side of the story.  She didn’t have much to say and what she did know clearly upset her greatly. She had found Flavio Conti waiting for her outside the station. She could not remember exactly what Conti had said but the next thing she knew Caterina was driving off with him (perhaps Darling Antonio was not the only hypnotist in Milan). Conti handed her over to Faccia and the Brothers of the Skin who had performed the monstrous surgery that had removed her vocal cords and transplanted them in to Faccia. That came as a bit of a shock. Given his behaviour in the cathedral yesterday I would have pegged him as nothing more than a simple-minded madman, I had not dreamed that he was the mastermind behind Caterina’s abduction. What happened after they had stolen her voice was even more grotesque. Faccia said some strange words and started to pull at Caterina’s skin. With each tug her skin became stretched and deformed until it took on its current, hideous appearance. My heart went out Caterina. Through no fault of her own, in one foul swoop, she had lost her voice, her beauty and very nearly her wits. She was alive but I doubted that she would ever recover in any meaningful way. I felt nothing but anger for the man that had done this to her. If I had my way we would not be leaving Milan until Faccia and his brotherhood were dead. 

Unsurprisingly Caterina was tire and emotional and wanted to go home. Detective M gallantly escorted her back to her house.


Emma

Case: Horror on the Orient Express, Italy | No Comments »

Sunday 21st January 1923

Dearest Diary, I am quickly writing down the events of the day before I finally go to sleep. The day has been full of incident and some have them have been so strange, so uncanny, that I am tempted to believe that I never returned from that dream world at all. Or that, perhaps, some of its madness has followed us back to the real world.  

After a couple of hours sleep I felt reinvigorated and met up with my travelling companions in the dining car. The food was, of course, first class and the view from the train, as we speed through the mountains towards Italy, was nothing short of magical. Unfortunately the whole experience was soured by the constant and boorish complaining of the worst sort of Englishman abroad He was a retired colonel with the rather comical name of Herring and he was a pig of the highest order. Colonel H complained about everything while the meal was being served from the food to the staff. Detective M rather bravely tried to trade barbed insults with the man but it was clear that Colonel H had skin thicker than a rhino. To be honest, if I thought that I could get away with it, I would have been tempted to push him off the train. I would probably be doing everyone a favour, especially his poor, quivering wife.

Reviewing our copious notes reminded us that one part of the Simulacrum had been purchased in Paris just after the Great War and that the buyer had come from Milan. That was not a lot to go on. 

We had a few hours before we were due to stop in Milan. I was reminded of the strange, sealed cabin during our time on the “dream train” earlier this morning. At the time we had speculated that it signified that there was something strange, and probably supernatural, about that room on the real train so I decided to pass the time by doing a little sleuthing. After a few clever questions with the staff I had learnt that the compartment was being used by an American by the name of Franklin Meyers but he had not emerged at all day, even taking his meals in the room.

With no really plan in mind I wandered down the passageway and lingered outside of the compartment door. There was no trace of the nasty smell that had emanated from the compartment while we were in the dream world (and, according to Detective M) he had smelt in the vicinity on our first night out of Paris). Double checking to make sure that there was no one about I put my ear to the compartment door and was rewarded by the sound of a man’s voice. It took me a moment or two to figure it out but the man was speaking in German. From the tone of voice I think that Mr Meyers, if it was indeed him, was reading a load rather than having a conversation. The words were hard to make out but I defiantly heard mention of a “protective stone” and then there was a world that was defiantly not German, or indeed any other language that I had ever heard before. “S-thogua” is the best approximation that I can make of it.

I intended to go back and talk to Darling Antonio when I spotted Detective M heading down the passage towards me. I was just about to wave him over when lighting and sound on the OE took on a different feel. We had entered the famous Simplon Tunnel; the interior of the train was now only illuminated by its gas lighting and the noise of the train, echoing back to us off the walls if the tunnel, was noticeably louder. Not so loud that I didn’t hear a gasp of surprise, or perhaps fear, from inside Mr. Meyers compartment.  Well you know me, Dear Diary, I had been looking for a pretext to knock on the compartment door ever since I had arrived and now one had landed in my lap. It took a few seconds of knocking before there was a response from inside. The voice was male and had an unmissable American twang. At the time I assumed it was Mr Myers but now I am not so sure. The voice assured me that everything was fine and that, despite my offer, he needed no aid. In fact, despite my best efforts, I could not get Mr Myers to leave his compartment or even open the door. Without resorting to drastic action there seemed nothing more that I could do and so gave in.

I was just letting Detective M know what had happened when things took a turn for the bizarre (and not the last time it would do so this day) as Albert entered the carriage from the direction of the baggage cart. He had a perplexed look on his face and was holding a broken chair leg in his hand. Albert had been paying a visit on the animals that were being transported in the baggage. He had noticed that the animal seemed to be on edge and, just after we had entered the tunnel, he became aware of furtive movement amongst the various trunks and cases. Investigating Albert had spotted what he described as a small green man and that the imp had tried to lure him deeper in to the darkness. Now this all sounded jolly exiting so I suggested that I round up Father P and Darling Antonio so we could go and investigate.

Off I went and in the time it took me to find my two travelling companions, and a couple of flashlights, the situation had changed yet again! Albert was no longer carrying his improvised club and Detective M had a firm and painful grasp of the ear of a young boy in a green blazer. It transpired that, while I had been getting the other, Albert and Detective M (who I suspect had only agreed to my plan to get little old me “safely” out of the way) had headed back in to the baggage cart. There they had discovered that Albert’s little green man was nothing more than a mischievous six-year old boy. Without belabouring the point it was hate at first sight between Detective M and the boy and they spent the rest of time till we reached Milan locked in their own personal battle of wills. Detective M trying to brow beat the little brat in to behaving and young Mr Jones (I forget his first name) alternating between throwing insults and hiding behind his mother’s skirts.

Crisis over I drifted off With Darling Antonio to share my discoveries about Mr Myers. Cleaver thing that he is Darling Antonio had heard of “S-thogua”; apparently he is some sort of demon worshiped by the more obscure practitioners of the occult.

It was probably only ten minutes after we had left The Simplon Tunnel when the EO began to slow down to a stop. We hadn’t reached our destination though, it was just a Customs check. While this was an irritation it did have a silver lining, it meant that Mr Myers would have to come out of his room so his papers could be checked. I scanned the small crown that was gathering but I could see no unfamiliar faces amongst it. Detective M, who was clearly thinking along the same lines as myself, pointed out that there were no American passports amongst the bundle being carried by the train staff. We spotted a hushed conversation between the customs officers and the strain staff and a group headed off in to the train. Since my papers had already been checked I drifted after them. As I hoped they made for Mr Meyer’s compartment. I spotted them unlock the door and head in. I wanted to get closer but there was a distinct lack of cover in the passageway of the rain.

Over the next forty minutes or so the police were summoned. From the train staff we learnt that Mr Meyers was nowhere to be found and it was suspected that he had absconded from the train. We noted a number of items being removed from the compartment, most notably a briefcase attached to a still closed handcuff.

It was over an hour before we were on our way again. An experience made even worse by Colonel Herring complaining the whole time.

Once we were on our way we had about an hour before we reached Milan and I for one was itching to have a look inside Mr Myers compartment. The door was, of course, locked but I knew that Darling Antonio knew his was around such things. Father P and Albert positioned themselves at either end of the passageway as lookout and Darling Antonio set to work on the lock. Unfortunately it proved far more stubborn then we had hoped to the point that Darling Antonio snapped one of his picks in the mechanism. Luckily Father P rose to the occasion. He slipped in to the room he shared with Detective M and returned a moment latter with a crowbar. It was a bit drastic but in a flash we had the door open. No sooner had we done so when we heard a member of the train staff heading down the passage way. Quick as a flash Father P disposed of the incriminating evidence by throwing the crowbar out of a window. And then went over to have a chat with the member of staff. The Father’s distraction gave Darling Antonio time to pull me in to a passionate kiss and we embrace to obscure the dame to the door.

Once it was all clear Darling Antonio and I slipped in to the compartment. Considering all the trouble it had taken to gain access it was rather of a let-down. An unpleasant odour hung in the air. There were a few red marks showing where blood had been cleared up in a hurry and, rather ghoulishly, Darling Antoni found a tiny chunk of what looked like human flesh. However we found nothing to tell us who Mr Meyers was or suggest what had happened to him.

BY now we were rapidly approaching Milan. The view from the train had changed dramatically and not for the better. Before the tunnel it had been all mountains and villages, like something out of a fairy tale, but now it had been replaced by a sprawling, industrial landscape painted in shades of black, grey and brown. The sky was thick with smoke and fumes through which a wintery sun was having trouble making its presence know.

Pulling in the station we found it almost devoid of life. There was no one to greet us and we had to hunt high and low to find even two porters. There were only a handful of other customers in the station and they seemed subdued and almost ghostly. While the others arranged taxis to take us to our hotel I headed off on a wasted journey to the telegraph office. When I returned it was clear that something was up with my travelling companions. Albert (who spoke Italian) had found a newsagents and purchased a paper. The front page was full of the disappearance of our friend Catarina Cavollaro. Apparently she had arrived on the OE yesterday but then seemed to have vanished in to thin air!

We headed immediately to our hotel in La Galleria Vittorio-Emanuele. As we were driven through the streets of Milan it seemed that its inhabitants shuffled about as if in a world weary daze. At the time I wondered if it was the disappearance of Caterina that had reduced the people of Milan to such a sorry state but in the last few hours I have come to believe that there is something very wrong with this city, a sort of collective madness.

At least our lodging was something to write home about Dear Diary.  In Paris and Lausanne I had to endure second best when it came to our hotels thanks to the penny pinching of my companions but La Galleria made amends. It was a fantastic building laid out in a cross shape and roofed with a soaring, ultra-modern dome of glass and steel. The walls were extensively decorated with Egyptian-themed pictures and statues.  It was marvellous. It also appeared that Caterina had been true to her word and wired ahead to reserve us rooms. We had also hoped that we might find word from her waiting for us but in that regard we were disappointed.

Once we had settled in to our rooms we had a little council of war. We seemed to have two goals; find the part of the Simulacrum and try to track down what had happened to Caterina. Caterina seemed the more pressing so we would concentrate on that. We split in to two groups; Darling Antonio and I would see if there was any news of the missing Opera Singer at the theatre while the rest would head back to the station and see if they could find any eyewitnesses to Caterina’s arrival.

A combination of the language barrier and a very surly stage hand meant that Darling Antonio and my own trip to the Teatro alla Scala (a rather bland building from the outside) was a total waste of time. We headed back to our hotel and soon found the other. They had been blessed with far more luck. They had found one of the porter who had been on duty yesterday. They had helped her with her luggage but when she exited the station a man in a black Alfa Romeo RL had caught her eye. Catarina had gone over to speak with the man and then, after waving off her entourage (including her manager), had driven off with the man. 

A return trip to Teatro alla Scala seemed to be in order. Perhaps we could speak to Caterina’s manager or at least find someone there who could point us in the right direction. Unfortunately once again, we could not even get past the door even with Albert there to translate.

Our search for Caterina had ground to a halt but we still had our second objective, the segment of the Simulacrum.

At Detective M’s suggestion we paid a visit on the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, home of the world famous painting of The Last Supper. AS we travelled through the city we were struck again and again by the sense of despair that enveloped its population. They all seemed to be struggling under the weight of some nameless angst that left them as grey and lifeless as the smog filled skies.

The Last Supper was certainly a stunning piece of art and what’s more there was a rather knowledgeable gentleman to hand who talked us through its subtle artistic treasures. We took the opportunity to ask if the gentleman’s expertise extended to statues and sculpture. I named-dropped The Sedefkar Simulacrum but he had not heard of it. However he was able to suggest places that we could look for answers; the castle, the cathedral, the library and amongst the intellectual café set (especially “Biffies” which just so happened to be in La Galleria).

We made our next stop Milan Cathedral and what an astonishing building it proved to be; a huge gothic master piece. Apparently it took six hundred years to complete and I could see why. We headed in to find quite a large mournful crowd inside that had come to pray for the safe return (or perhaps the mortal soul of) Caterina. There were numerous pictures of her leant against a shrine and dozens upon dozens of candles burning around them. As Detective M said it seemed that the people of Melan had given her up for dead already. We were greeted by a Father Angelico, a surprisingly muscular priest who spoke dreadful English. We accepted his invitation for a tour of the artistic treasures of the Cathedral.  To begin with Father Angelico was full of energy and enthusiasm for his subject but as the tour went on we could almost see the joy drain out of him and the poor made went to pieces before our eyes. Before long he was sitting on a pew and sobbing in despair at the spiritual malaise that reigned in Milan. Father P did his best to comfort his fellow man of the cloth. I had just decided to grab the bull by the horns and ask if Father Angelico knew anything about the Simulacrum when the strangest thing happened. It was so inexplicable that I still have trouble crediting that it really happened (and I was in a literal Dream World only this morning!). The cathedral started to echo to the sound of clucking. Looking around we saw a man, not far off, who had begun to act like a chicken; clucking, scratching his foot and pecking at the stone floor. Before our eyes his peeking became more vigorous causing a glass jar to tumble from his coat and shatter on the ground releasing its cargo of dead moths. Out of nowhere sprang a bug-eyed lizard that started to make a meal of the dead insects.

As we went over towards this clearly mad man he dashed out of the cathedral. Albert and Detective M ran after him but lost him in the streets outside. I had a similar lack of luck when I tried to catch the lizard as it gave me the slip by heading under the pews.

With nothing else to do we made to leave the Catherdral and it was then that we had pretty much our only lucky break since arriving in Milan. Almost on a whim Albert went to talk to three only crones who were praying for Caterina. It turned out that one of them had once worked at the theatre and advised Albert that, if he wanted to get past the doorman, he should invoke the name of the Teatro alla Scala’s director of music, Toscanini.

Evening was drawing in so we decided to delay our third trip to the theatre till tomorrow.

Darling Antonio was in one of his boring moods and decided to that he would spend the evening in our hotel room studying Edgar Wellington’s translation of the Sedefkar Scrolls. I was determined that I was going to let me hair down with or without him. I had heard mention of Biffies and decided to mix a little business with a lot of pleasure. I spent the evening surrounded by the rich and the handsome, just how I liked it. Once or twice I spotted Father P and Detective M having an intense discussion with a gentlemen about the relative merits of American, English and Italian cars but I kept my distance. I made subtle enquiries in to collectors or statues and sculpture and came away with the name of a Michael Catario, a seller of high-class statues, as well as his address. It sounded like a good lead to follow.

In the wee small hours I headed back to our hotel tired but happy. I caught a glimpse of Albert leading a young woman to his room. He had the right idea and I was delighted to find that Darling Antonio was still up. I was just about to drag him away from his studies to our bed when the day proved that it was not out of surprises yet. From outside we began to hear the sound of a woman singing. And not just any woman, it was unmistakably the voice of Caterina. We rushed to our room’s balcony to see if we could spot the missing Opera star. We were clearly not the only people who could hear the voice as people were crowding their balconies and coming out in to the streets trying to find Caterina. Her voice hand an unworldly quality about it, seeing to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. I glanced upwards, thinking that she might be up in the dome. Were my eyes deceiving me or had the pictures and statues subtly changed; taking on aggressive and haughty expressions that glared down at us with anger and contempt.

Darling Antonio and I dashed out of our room. In the hallway we ran in to Detective M, Father P and Albert. Together the five of us down through the lobby and out on to the streets. It appeared that the singing had lured out the entire population of Milan and they were haring back and forth in a confused and chaotic attempt to find Caterina. What else could we do but join in but I am certain that we were making more headway as we followed the music. It seemed to lead away from the main streets and down an alley way. Luckily Darling Antonio had grabbed a flashlight before he left our room. For a moment or two we lost the trail and then Father P called out for us to follow him as he had spotted, of all things, the lizard from the Cathedral. Following Father P took us down an even darker alley. The lizard seemed to have given us the slip but we soon realised that we were not alone when four sinister men stepped out of the darkness! Each one had a vicious looking hooked knife extending like a metal claw from between their second and third figure. Oddly enough they didn’t look like they were Turkish.

There were four of them and five of us. I had every confidence in Detective M’s ability to handle himself in a fight; he was a modern-day Sampson and handy with his fists. Despite having the muscular development of a bean pole I knew that Albert could acquit himself with honours when things got tough.  Unfortunately Father P was a man of peace and Darling Antonio punched like an old woman (honestly, it is lucky that he is so good looking!). As I drew my .22 I cursed myself, not for the first time since leaving London, for not packing a bigger handgun (Papa’s old service revolver perhaps). Ignoring the words of wisdom of my instructors I used up one of my six rounds firing a warning-shot over their heads. It turned out to be a waste of a bullet as the four knifemen rushed towards us. One of the attackers made a beeline straight for me and I dodged away from a disembowelling slash. Before he could recover I pressed my pistil against his ribs and pumped the trigger three times. As my attacker fell I glanced around for a new target. Two more of our would be assailants were down; there was blood on Albert’s knife but by the look of their injuries it was Detective M and his stout truncheon that had put them down. The forth attacker was only now realising that he was totally alone and he did the sensible thing and turned and fled. We would have followed by Caterina’s spectral singing was coming from another direction. I snatched up one of the dropped knives (after all I only had two bullets left) as we sped off in on the trail of Caterina. We had barely exited the alleyway where we had been ambushed when the singing simply ended, leaving us and what looked like most of the citizens of Milan standing around looking baffled. A scream from the alley when had only just left told us that someone had found the bodies of our attackers so we decided to slip away as unobtrusively as possible.

Tired and confused we returned to our hotel. The various pictures and statues that decorated La Galleria had returned to their original form. Had they ever really changed? Was it simply the result of my overwrought imagination?  

Darling Antonio and I headed back to our room where there was one final, unpleasant surprise in store for us. The signs were subtle but it was clear that someone had been through the room in our absence. Darling Antonio was certain that someone had moved the Sedefkar Scroll that he had been examining that evening. Then we noticed there was a strange lump under the covers of our bed. With a certain amount of trepidation we pulled back the covers to reveal a bloodless, severed human hand amongst the sheets. That was the last straw. All the madness of the day seemed to catch up with me and I swear that I would have fainted if Darling Antonio had not been there to support me. When I could finally bring myself to look at the hand we noticed that it seemed to have been arranged to point at the book shelf. With a certain morbid dread we went to the shelf to have a look and imminently spotted large book that had not been there before. It was not only its size that singled it out, the book was clearly very old. There was nothing on the spine to identify the time so we took it down and had a look at the cover. Even to my untrained eye the printing-style looked old. Written in German on the cover were two words “Unaussprechlichen Kulten” or Nameless Cults.


Emma

Case: Horror on the Orient Express, Italy | No Comments »

Saturday 20th January 1923

Dearest Diary, as I write this it is sometime between 7 and 8 o’clock in the morning and I am very, very tired. I want to set the events of the last in writing before I get some sleep in case I forget them. Of all the bizarre things I have experienced in the last few days this is by far the most unreal.

After leaving the taxidermy shop (and the scene of a double murder) we made our way back to the hotel quickly and quietly. After a rather subdued night we checked out and found ourselves on the train platform on a cold and frosty pre-morning, stamping our feet to ward off the cold and waiting for the OE to arrive. It drew in to the station at about 6:45. We were the only passengers to get on and there certainly was none of the fanfare that accompanied our departure from Paris but the blue uniformed staff were as courteous and professional as we had come to expect.

We had decided that we would use the Dream Potion straight away so we assembled in the adjoining compartments. From Edgar’s diary we knew that he could take things in to Dream Lausanne by holding them in his hands so I made sure to have my pistol in one hand and a few spare magazines in the other. I also raided my jewellery box for a few rings and necklaces that I could spare, just in case we had to batter. The others made sure that they were well equipped with torches and truncheons and the like. We also, made sure we took the fake scroll that Edgar had whipped up, just in case.

Father P had volunteered to stay behind and keep an eye on our sleeping bodies while the rest of us took the potion. Then all we had to do was take a few drops from the tiny bottle. Pretty much as soon as they touched my lips I felt all my energy drain away and within moments I had fallen asleep. My eyes flicked back open and for a brief moment I thought that it had not worked, we were still sitting in the cabin on board the train. But then then we started to notice small differences. For one thing Father P was no longer there. My pistol as gone as had the touches that some of us had been clutching. Detective M still had his truncheon but it had now turned in to a rough cudgel rather than a standard issue Metropolitan Police Force truncheon. Our cloths were the same and yet at the same time different, as if they had been made in a more primitive time. The blind was drawn over the carriage window (had it been drawn before we took the potion, I could not remember) but a harsh, white light was seeping in around the edges. Detective M tried to raise the blind but it would not budge. A little dazed we exited the compartment in to the connecting corridor. All the blinds were down and had the same, vaguely sinister light behind them. All the compartment doors were open apart from one at the very end of the passage. We headed down to have a look but found that the door would not budge. There was, however, a nasty smell of decay emanating from inside so, to be honest, I was glad we could not get it open.

With nothing else to do on the train and no reason to stay we disembarked. The world outside was a featureless plain of pale white dust under a pale white sky. There was no sound and there was no sign of life as far as the eye could see. The world of dreams was dusty and dead. There seemed to be only two structures in the entire world; the train we had just disembarked from and a solitary door that stood on its own nearby, a door that was open.

With no little trepidation we stepped through the door and found ourselves in what appeared to be Edgar Wellington’s taxidermy shop. Like our cloths and possessions the shop was the same and yet at the same time different. There were no traces of modern life in the shop; electric lights had been replaced by candles and oil lamps. The examples of the Wellington brother’s handwork were also subtly different. I find stuffed animals creepy at the best of times but there was the hint of the nightmare about the ones that now populated the shop; they stank of death and the stitching seemed crude and barely adequate as if they would explode apart at any moment releasing the unpreserved offal that we could tell was still inside.

We had entered Edgar’s shop from the back and from out front we could hear the sound of a tolling bell and what sounded like the passage of a murmuring crowd.

Personally I wanted nothing more than to get out of the shop but Detective M suggested that we search place in case Edgar had hidden the scrolls we were seeking her. A search of the downstairs turned up nothing and when we headed upstairs we found that the doors off of the stair case were blocked.   

With nothing else for it we headed out of the shop by the front door. Real Lausanne had a gothic look about it but Dream Lausanne was like a gothic nightmare. The building were the same (or at least similar) but they seemed to have shrunk together making narrow, inescapable corridors through which a crowd of people marched. Overhead hung a sick, grey moon in a sky that was the same purple as an ugly bruise.  The constant tolling of a bell, one that we knew for certainly was coming from the cathedral, echoed down the streets calling the people of this strange dream world to assembly.

With nowhere else to go we followed the crowd. It was a strange journey through the streets of Dream Lausanne. Nothing seemed to be constant. One moment we were in the thick of the crowd and the next we were out in front and another second we were trailing behind. If you looked away from the buildings for an instant they would be subtly different when you looked back. The people were the same; strangely lacking in individuality and at the same time always constantly shifting. Only the four of use seemed to be reassuringly fixed.

The pilgrimage through the streets to the Cathedral seemed to take an age, sometimes our destination seemed just ahead and other times miles away, and we passed several specifically on our way.  At one point we turned a corner and found our progress blocked by a huge chasm in the road from which issued an icy wind. With no other option we turned about and found another route through the maze of winding streets.

Just after that we say a face we recognised. It was Jon the porter from the station. He was standing mournfully by the side of the street and gazing up at an iron cage, one of many that hung from gibbets along our route. In this cage was the body of a woman. Jon told us that it was the corpse of his wife Maude, sentenced to death by “The Jigsaw Prince” for being sinful. He begged us to get her down and Detective M obliged, climbing up, opening the cage and lowering the corpse. When Jon turned down our offer to come with us we pressed on without him.

A little later we came across a parade of men and women in grotesque costumes; Death, a lion, a solder, a rustic man and his rustic wife to name but a few. All were beating themselves as they processed along the street. As we drew level with the parade the lion suddenly grew wings and took to the sky followed a moment or two later by the solder. As they flew over our heads blood fell like a fine rain from their self-inflicted wounds down onto our up-turned faces. Repulsed I tried to wipe the blood away and it turned in to dust. Darling Antonio and Albert both pointed out that he winged lion was the symbol of Venice and that, perhaps, the Soldier represented Napoleonian.

After the parade we passed a stretch of the road that was lined with bowls of garlic flowers, the scent of which filled the air. As we passed we noticed that, while this stretch of street was well lit nothing there cast any shadows.

On a street corner ahead we saw an old crone stirring a huge caldron. She offered us dinner, some of the soup that she was cooking. Intrigued and repulsed at the same time I could not resist looking in to the pot and was greeted with a sickening sight. The think broth that the crone was stirring was made up of severed human limbs. Quickly we hurried on our way and left the crone far behind.

The next person we came across in our dreamlike journey through the city was a magician. Not a “wizard” or a “sorcerer” but a “magician”, like someone on the bill of a variety act. As we approached him he placed hit tall hat on the ground and inserted first his hand and then his arm up to the shoulder in to it. Then his other arm went in and then both his legs. He was left a limbless torso ling on cobbles and he called out to us in a laughing voice; asking if we could reach in to the hat and retrieve his arms and legs. After the horror of the crone and her caldron I was going nowhere near him and it seemed that neither were my friends. When it was clear that we were not going to help him The Magician’s laughter became over more manic and he started rolling down the steep road and, thankfully, out of sight.   

The next spectacle on our journey was a street sized game of chess but here in Dream Lausanne it appeared that the chess pieces play the game and people are their playing pieces. Two statues, one white and the other black, stood at opposite ends of the board and on it were people who, at the silent commands of the statues, sped about the board slitting each other’s throats. Soon the chess board was awash with blood and corpses. The White Statue was found his king in check and signalled his defeat but falling apart.

Beyond the street where we say the chess match was a large square and beyond that, at last was the cathedral. IN the middle of the square was a grotesque statue formed of barbed wire. From these wicked barbs hung dozens, perhaps hundreds of slips of torn skin. After a few moments the square was filled with the most angelic singing I had ever heard. Incredibly the song was coming from the barbed wire statue. Unable to endure the beauty of the song we fled across the square, giving the statue a wide birth, for the steps of the Cathedral and the large crowd that had gathered at the foot of them.

At the top of the steps we could see three figures. One was the handless statue that we had seen during our visit to the real Lausanne.  There was also a hooded man who we discovered soon enough was The Jigsaw Prince. The third figure was none other than Edgar Wellington. I had not been expecting that. After all we had found his body in his shop. Did that mean if you died while under the effects of the Dream Potion you lived on here in Dream Lausanne? How long for? It was all too unreal.

As soon as The Jigsaw Prince spoke I recognised his voice, I’m sure we all did, as none other than Duc Essientes. It seemed that poor Edgar was on trial and the Duke, or the Prince, was going to be judge, jury and executioner. This wasn’t good if we wanted to find the scrolls. The Duke asked if anyone would speak for the accused. His tone of voice sounded like he was just doing it as a formality but we spoke up and offered ourselves for the job. Duc Essientes made a show of welcoming our involvement but the anger behind his words was easy to hear and I had no doubt that we would be joining Edgar in whatever punishment awaited him if things went badly.

So now there was a Prosecution (Duc Essientes) and a Defence (us) all we needed was a judge. What happened next was so horrible, so grotesque that my hand is now trembling at the thought of committing it to paper. The Duke called out to the assembled crowd, asking for someone to offer themselves for justice. The crowd were all eager to oblige and The Jigsaw Prince picked one at random. As one the mob fell upon the man, beating him with their fist and stabbing with daggers. Before my disbelieving eyes the volunteer was first murdered and then his very skin was torn from his body! My world span as I struggled to make sense of the nightmare scene. I am sure that I screamed and I would have fallen to the ground if I had not been caught by Darling Antonio. The bloody skin of the man was thrown over the handless statue and a macabre transformation took place. Where once there ha only been a statue of Oto III there was now the man himself ready to pass judgement.

The whole trial, as you might have guessed Dear Diary, was a farce. Edgar stood accused as of three things. The first two were kicking up a ruckus when he was arrested (wouldn’t we all!) and being foreign. We did our best to counter these arguments (Albert pointed out it was “The Jigsaw Prince” himself who invited Edgar to Dream Lausanne by giving him the Dream Potion) but it was hard to tell if we were making any headway. The third charge really brought home that this was nothing to do with crime and punishment but about Duc Essientes not getting his own way; Edgar was accused of illegally hiding the scroll from The Jigsaw Prince. Well we had just the cure for that and we handed the fake scroll over at once. As soon as The Duke has what he thought was the scroll in his hands he pretty much forgot all about us. He gleefully declared Edgar to be a free man and called for a revel to celebrate his own good fortune.

As the assembled throng fell in to an orgy of violent celebrations we made a swift exit.  True to the dream-like nature of the city we were in the journey back to the shop, which seemed to have taken at least an hour the first time, took only a matter of seconds going back the other way. Edgar headed straight to his workshop and, much to my disgust, plunged his hand in to his stuffed bear. He routed around for a few moments and came out with a set of rolled, slightly bloody parchments bound in string. The Sedefkar Scrolls!

It was now time to leave but we felt it was only far that we told Edgar that…well that he was dead. He refused to believe us and said we were mistaken. Darling Antonio did point out that none of us were doctors and that perhaps Edgar had just been very, very unconscious when we found him. Personally I didn’t believe it but giving Edgar false hope was better than no hope at all. Leaving the nightmarish world of Dream Lausanne was simply a matter of leaving through the door we had first entered by, the door at the back of Edgar’s workshop. Beyond we found ourselves back on the dusty plane. The train was just were we left it but before we could reach it Edgar started to cry out with alarm and confusion. With a horrible predictability as soon as he had left Dream Lausanne Edgar had started to fade away to nothing. Powerless to help him I averted my gaze and turned a deaf ear until Edgar had completely gone. 

I don’t actually remember getting on board the train. I think I can remember us returning to our cabin but I’m not sure. The next thing that I do remember clearly was waking up back in the compartment where we had taken the sleeping potion. Incredibly the OE was still pulling out of Lausanne. Like something out of A Christmas Carol the whole experience had only taken minutes, maybe only seconds. Most importantly of all, clutched tightly in his hand, Detective M had The Sedefkar Scrolls! 


Emma

Case: Horror on the Orient Express, Switzerland | No Comments »

Friday 19th January 1923 (later)

Well today has not gone anything like I thought it would. When we is embarked from the OE in the city of Lausanne it was cold, frosty and misty. There was pretty much no one about but we were able to borrow a luggage cart (on to which the boys loaded the coffin sized, lead-lined case in which we had stowed the left arm of the Simulacrum) and trundled across the road to have a hot pot of coffee (which was very welcome as I think that we had all had too much Champaigne and not enough sleep last night).

From there we got a cab, by which I mean a horse drawn cab as Lausanne is rather behind-the-times, to our hotel. Following all the arguments in Paris about which hotel to use I knew that the boys would not go for the best hotel in the guide book so I settled for second place and The Grand Hotel Lausanne-Place-Bue-Site. As the crow flies our hotel was probably less than half a mile from the station but the streets were narrow and steep and our luggage was heavy so it took quite a while for the cab to reach our destination. As we arrived what did we spy on the pavement outside but a pair of Arabic men in fezes! I made sure to disembark first and pretended to head in to the hotel only to circle around and sneak up on the gentlemen. I could not get close enough to hear what they were saying but if they were members of the Blood Red Fez I was determined to follow them back to their base of operations. I hung around in the cold for several minutes before the pair headed in to the hotel. I followed them in and spotted that they had meet up with a third fess wearer before heading up stairs. I was able to charm out of a member of staff (luckily he spoke German) that they were staying in room 416.

After dropping off our luggage we headed for the nearest post office where we were greeted by yet another telegram from Beddows or perhaps Uncle Julius himself saying that they had reviewed documents from the Deutschen Order and were certain that the statue could only be destroyed once it was all in one piece and we need to obtain the “Sedefkar Scrolls”. Well I didn’t have a clue what the Deutschen Order was but luckily both Darling Antonio and Albert had; they were better known as the Teutonic Knights, on order of holy warriors active during the crusades. I supposed that that made sense as The Sedefkar Simulacrum had come from that part of the world in the first place.

The reason for our visit to chilly old Lausanne had been to find out about the mysterious Edgar Wellington. There was some debate as to whether we should go straight to his address and talk to him or try to do a little digging around first. Finally it was decided to take the direct approach so we headed off to the Rue St. Etiene, keeping an eye out for fess waring Turks as we went.

After reading the letter that he had sent to Poissy I had made two assumptions about Mr. Edgar; that he was English and that he was some sort of academic. Well it turned out that I was right about the English part but, when we got to his address, I was surprised to find that it was, of all things, a taxidermy shop. The door was locked but the sign said the shop was open so we knocked. After a few moments the door was opened by a non-descript man who we learnt was Edgar Wellington. He invited us in out of the cold and took us upstairs for a cup of tea. I must admit, that I find the taxidermist’s art a rather ghoulish one and cannot see what anyone would find attractive in surrounding themselves with dead animals stuffed with saw dust. Where ever I looked there were dozens of glassy eyes silently staring back at me. The upstairs room was cosy and the tea much appreciated (it is always tricky finding a good cup of tea while on The Continent). It was here that we made the acquaintance of Mr Wellington’s brother William. There was something rather creepy about William. He never once blinked but always stared straight ahead. Edgar told us that his brother was a mute and had suffered badly in The Great War. This seemed to arouse Detective M’s interest and, while I wouldn’t say that he warmed to the man Detective M did at least seem to shown the former solder a certain respect.

 We explained why we had come and Mr. Wellington told us his tale.  During the war he had meet a French soldier called Rue Malon who had swapped some antique scrolls that had belonged to his family for rations and the like. Of course I recognised the family name at one, it had been Captain Louis Malon who had lead the raid on Comte Fenalik’s estate.  According to Mr Wellington the scrolls were “Turkish words in Arabic script”. He had deciphered enough to learn that they were about the Sedefkar Simulacrum but that was all. Mr Wellington had no great attachment to the scrolls and was interested in selling them for the rather eye-watering price of £250. We were about to get down to some haggling when Mr Wellington heard a customer downstairs and left us to go see. While he was gone Darling Antonio took the opportunity to point out that he doubted that they were The Sedefkar Scrolls as his research said that they were elsewhere. Oh dear, he may be pretty, dear diary, but Darling Antonio could also be rather foolish at times; even if they were not the proper Sedefkar Scrolls they could still be scrolls about the Sedefkar Simulacrum and have useful information, who knows they could even have been written by Comte Fenalik himself.

Mr Wellington returned with another guest. A well dressed, distinguished man who he introduced as Duc Esseintes. It appeared that Duc Esseintes was a good friend of Mr Wellington and another potential buyer of the scrolls. It was during our discussions that we mentioned the Turks that we had seen around the hotel. From the Duke we learnt that the city was awash with Middle Eastern-types at the moment. There was an international conference being hosted in Lausanne at the moment to decide the fate of the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

Mr Wellington would not be drawn in to discussions about buying the scrolls, or even displaying them, at the time and asked us to meet with him and the Duke at the “7:30 Club” at Le Chat Noir at 8 o’clock that evening. In the meantime Duc Esseintes offered to show us the sights of the city.  He started by taking us to the local Cathedral, a massive gothic building with five towers. Inside he pointed out a statue of Otto III. Oddly it had no hands. More attractive then the rather oppressive cathedral was the fine terrace. The mists had cleared enough to give a stunning view of Lake Geneva. From there the Duke took us to The Cantonal Museum and Library. Between you and me, Dear Diary, I found it rather a bore with its collection of freshwater shells and its library boasting 120,000 volumes. Darling Antonio and Albert seemed to find it interesting though so they stayed behind for a longer look. Our tour ended with a fine lunch at Le Chat Noir. The Duke had been the most charming company throughout. I had noticed that he had a tendency to rub his wrists. I had kept an eye on his hands and had been “rewarded” with a glimpse of his wrist. What I had seen was not pretty, his skin was a mass of ugly scars. I was glad that I had seen it before having lunch. I mentioned my observations to Father P and Detective M

After lunch we parted company with Duc Esseintes, promising to see him again at La Chat Noir that evening. Detective M gave the Duke a particularly hard handshake. After the Duke had gone the Detective explained that we had wanted to prompt a reaction from the man, perhaps get him to talk about the injuryto his arms, but had been surprised when Duc Esseintes had not seemed to feel it at all. How curious.

Back at the hotel we found Darling Antonio and Albert waiting for us. A little research on their part had turned up very little about the Duke other than that he had arrived after The Great War. They had looked in to the history of the handless statue. Apparently Otto had been a bit of a Robin Hood character and had lost his hand for his crimes.

After resting for a few hours in our hotel it was time to brave the cold again and return to Le Chat Noir. To our surprise neither Mr Wellington nor Duc Esseintes were there but the third member of their little social club was and, to my mind, he more than made up for their absence. The gentleman’s name was Maximillian von Verhime. A German with an athletic physique, blond hair and blue eyes. Max was without doubt the most handsome man I had met in quite a long time. He apologised for his friends’ lateness, assuring us that they would be along soon. In the meantime Max entertained us with the story of his life. To be honest I didn’t really listed much to what he had to say, something about a scheming brother and a misplaced will I think, I was too busy staring into his gorgeous eyes and promising myself that we would be sharing a bed before the night was out. Unfortunately, fate had other plans. Half an hour past and neither Mr Wellington nor Duc Esseintes had appeared. Both Detective M and Darling Antonio were getting worried and made their excuses. I seriously considered going with them but decided that someone had to keep a close eye on Max. About ten minutes later I caught a glimpse of Darling Antonio and Detective M staring in through the café window and then they were off again. Twenty minutes after that Darling Antonio reappeared without the detective and it was clear that our evening was over. Not without great regret we left Max where he was and headed for Mr Wellington’s shop. As we went Darling Antonio explained that, after leaving Le Chat Noir, Detective M had insisted that they go back to the hotel to make sure the Simulacrum arm was safe. After that they had headed back to the Café (just in case Mr Wellington or Duc Esseintes had arrived in their absence) and then headed on to the taxidermy shop. They had found the shop in darkness but the front door a jar. Fearing fowl play Detective M had stayed behind to keep an eye on the shop while Darling Antonio had rushed back to find us.

If the taxidermy shop had been creepy during the day it was twice as unsettling at night. I was very glad that I had decided to bring my .22 with me. Rather rashly to my mind Father P called out to see if anyone was home but there was no response. We heading upstairs to start our search. The kitchen-come-dining room where we had taken tea a few hours earlier was in chaos. The body of William Wellington lay amongst the wreckage. He had been stabbed in both his front and back and blood was pooling around him. The knife, a rather plain kitchen knife, lay discarded beside the body. William’s shirt had been ripped open to reveal not only the physical scars that he had brought back from The Great War but also a newer wound where a large rectangle or skin had been cut away with surgical precision. The sort of wound that we had come to associate with The Blood Fez. We checked one of the doors off of the murder scene. It led to what turned out to be Edgar’s bedroom and it was here that we found Edgar’s body. It is strange how the sight of death affects you differently each time. Edgar’s body was far less gruesome then that of his brother and we had been expecting it but it still struck home harder than finding William, hard enough that I cried out. Embarrassed by my weakness I hastily backed out of the room. There was a second door off of the kitchen so I decided to make myself useful and check it out. This had clearly been William’s room but there seemed nothing amiss there. By the time I felt composed enough to head back and re-join the others they had already looked over Edgar’s room and made several interesting discoveries. It was clear from the old puncture wounds on his left arm, as well as the bits and pieces scattered around the room, that Edgar Wellington had been a morphine user. But at the same time there was a fresh looking puncture wound on his right arm that was unlikely to have been self-inflicted. Under the bed my friends had spotted a rolled up parchment. We would probably have thought it was the scroll that we were interested in if we had not also found a receipt dated today for fine parchment, string and sealing wax. It appeared that Mr Wellington was not above a little forgery.

There was a book lying open on the floor that turned out to be Edgar Wellington’s diary. It told the unhappy tale of the Wellington brothers; how they returned from the war alive but wounded in body and soul. Unable to find happiness in England they had ended up in Switzerland where Edgar had made fallen in to the company of the Duke. A book the Duke had lent Edgar had reminded him about the scrolls he had obtained during the war. Edgar had suffered with insomnia, no doubt induced by the horrors he had endured during the war, and the Duke had given him a bottle marked “Dream Lausanne” (we found the bottle on the floor of the bedroom). No mere sleeping draught the contents of the bottle had transported Edgar to “a most vivid dream of Lausanne in olden times”. Experimentation had shown him that he could take items from the waking world in to this dream world and leave them there and that he could then return on another night to collect them. As a combination of his occult researches and drug habit had used up his money Edgar had decided to sell his scroll to the Duke but he needed another party to start a bidding war and drive up the price. Edgar had also taken the precaution of hiding the real scroll in Dream Lausanne.

It was clear what we would have to do. We needed to take the dream potion ourselves and go after the scroll. We could not do it in Mr Wellington’s shop however. After talking Detective M and Father P put of calling the police we took the scrolls and the bottle of Dream Lausanne and made a stealthy departure in to the cold, wintry night.


Emma

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