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Monday, March 17, 2014

Masks of Nyarlathotep Campaign Journal: Chapter 24 - The Bloodied Cat

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A murdered Belgian. A locked room. Arguments and innuendo. First class dining. A card sharp. Smudged mascara.
It was Reverend Green, with the Elder Sign, in the sacrificial chamber
All were the ingredients that made up the mystery uncovered by the investigators during the last session. This time the investigation into the murder of Belgian archaeologist René Delaflote began in earnest.

Unfortunately the player behind Sebastian could not join us, so as the session was more about RP than action, and he wasn't going to miss out on any campaign plot, I chose to make his character spend the entire time suffering from seasickness in his cabin. That's what a nice guy I am!

The rest of the group discussed how to start their investigations. They decided to go and see the captain and ask for a manifest of the passengers. At the same time they asked to interview the Chief Cabin Steward to discover more about who might have access to cabin keys.

Captain Lucas agreed to their requests and set up a meeting with Jack Denning, the Chief Cabin Steward. Denning proved to be a surly Englishman with many years service to the Orient Line. His sour demeanour  and terse replies made it clear that he did not agree with non-professionals being asked to investigate the murder, but that he was under orders to co-operate anyway.

Denning told them that only he, the maid on duty and Delaforte himself would have access to a key at the time he was murdered. As a key holder the investigators wanted to search Denning's cabin, which he was not at all happy about, but he acceded to their wishes. They found nothing there anyway; it was spick and span as befitted a man with a naval background, with few personal touches.

Next they asked the name of the maid who had discovered Delaforte, and asked to see her cabin. Miss Sally Jones was resting when they arrived, Mr Denning looking embarrassed and apologising to her for the inconvenience. Sally was still upset, and was crying as she told them how she had found the body. Her testimony held nothing new however, other than the information that the cabin light had still been on when she had entered René's room.

Miss Jones did tell the investigators that Mr Denning controlled access to all the cabin keys, and that he handed them out and took them back in at the start and end of every shift.

By this time the bell for dinner was ringing, so the investigators headed to the dining room. Everyone on their table was already seated by the time they arrived, but the Delaforte table was almost empty, with only Mrs Marshpool and her ward there, along with Brett Johnson, who was already nursing a half-empty bottle of wine.

The murder was the obvious topic of conversation during dinner. Hattie and Jake Smith were excited and curious about the turn of events, and eagerly gossipped about their own theories. Whilst everyone was deep in conversation Hubert decided to approach Brett Johnson, and went to sit next to him on the Delaforte table.

Already half-cut, Johnson was surly and uncommunicative. He did let slip that the group had recently been in Shanghai, and then began to bemoan his business partner, accusing René of taking all the credit and profits from their business while he was busy doing all the work. "I'm glad the old bastard's dead to be honest. Why don't you go talk to Henry? He and René were always arguing," he growled before grabbing a full bottle of wine and staggering off.

There was a loud tutting from the other end of the table, where Mrs Marshpool was making her views on the whole thing clear, and blaming everything from "Americans" and "Young People" to "The Decline of British Values".

After dinner Dr O'Reilly asked the investigators to join him for a drink in the Smoking Room. He had completed his autopsy and wanted to report his findings. O'Reilly had narrowed the time of death to between 9pm and 11pm the previous night, and confirmed that a single blow to the back of the head was the cause. He told the investigators they were looking for an object with a rounded end of around 5 inches diameter, likely of a hard material as there were no splinters or foreign objects in the wound. They knew they would have to find the murder weapon in order to solve the mystery.

Hubert went for another look at Delaforte's room. This time he search thoroughly, but the only thing he managed to uncover was a strange symbol in the Belgian's research notes. Hubert knew he had seen this symbol somewhere before, then remembered it from the investigators' New York notes - it had been in the lecture notes of Professor Anthony Cowles and was the symbol of an ancient Australian bat cult.
A strange symbol
George went to find Sophia, to see what she knew of René's death. He found her room on the passenger manifest and headed over there. Sophia was in, but reluctant to let a stranger in to talk about  René. A Fast Talk roll managed to get George through the door as he told her he was there at Captain Lucas' behest.

Sophia was very obviously upset about the events of the previous night. She was sobbing and shaking throughout George's questioning. She told him that she had last seen René at dinner the previous evening, and she had no idea who might have killed him.

George asked her if she had seen Henry recently, and whether she knew that Henry had thrown a ring overboard. Sophia seemed to calm down slightly at this, but professed ignorance. "What has any of this to do with my father's death?" she asked. The revelation that Sophia was René's daughter did not go unnoticed.

Sophia eventually suggested that George should go and speak to Brett Johnson. As company secretary she knew René had been cheating the American out of his share of the profits. She even offered to show George documented evidence to this effect. George felt he had learnt enough, and left Sophia to her grief.

Rodrigo had decided to spend the evening on deck, and whilst walking the ship he discovered Henry Crawford, staring out to sea. The Argentinian decided to go talk to him to see what he could learn, and took a different approach to the one George had taken with Sophia. He went to stand next to Henry at the deck railings and just watched the waves for a while.

After a short moment of silence Rodrigo lit up a fat South American cigar and turned to Henry to offer him one. The young research assistant hesitated, then accepted with a nod of thanks. They smoked in silence for a while before Rodrigo started his questions. "So my friend, it appears you are out of a job then?".

"I don't care about the job," Henry muttered quietly. Slowly, and thanks to Rodrigo's careful questioning, Henry began to open up about his love for Sophia. Rodrigo let him talk, then began to ask who might have done such a terrible thing. Henry paused. "René and Brett were always fighting," he said. He paused again. "But there is someone else too... I noticed one of the stewards, a swarthy man, Arab I think, paying an unusual amount of attention to our party".

Rodrigo finished his cigar and went to meet up with the rest of the group. The hour was now late, but after comparing notes they decided that they needed to find this steward. It may have been the same one Hubert had noticed spying on him earlier in the voyage. After a brief discussion the investigators therefore headed off to find Chief Cabin Steward Denning once more.

Denning was not happy to have been awoken at such a late hour, but answered the investigators' questions, if not a little tersely. He told them that the only Arabic staff member was one Akbar Hudhayfah, and the investigators determined to go pay him a visit immediately.

According to Denning, Hudhayfah was on duty until 4am, so the group decided to enter his room and search it whilst he was busy. Denning supplied the key. They found Hudhayfah's room to be quite bare, apart from a simple cot, a wooden storage box, and a carved, ceramic cat icon on the wall. A quick search of the room turned up nothing of interest, that is until they opened up the storage chest. Inside, wrapped in muslin cloth, was a heavy marble idol of Egyptian design. It was obviously ancient, and depicted a female Egyptian figure with the head of a cat.

What's more, on the back of the rounded head of the statuette were brown stains of dried blood. It appeared as though the investigators had found the murder weapon and now had a prime suspect for the murder of René Delaflote. There was only one thing for it, to lie in wait for Hudhayfah until he had finished his shift.

Sure enough, just after 4am, the Arab returned to his room. As he entered Hubert tried to cosh him on the back of the head, but swung wildly and missed. It didn't matter, Hudhayfah did not offer any kind of struggle, and after a token pleading of his innocence sat down on his cot with his head in his hands.

"I didn't kill the Belgian," he whimpered. Then he began to plead. "Please, give it back to me! I have to have it! Just give me the statuette!".

Slowly, between continued pleas for the return of the statue, Hudhayfah told them what had happened. He was on the ship because a valuable artifact, the statuette, had been stolen from "the priestess", and he had been sent to retrieve it. He hadn't been sure who had it, only that an elderly European man was the culprit, hence his interest in both Delaflote and Hubert.

He'd decided to start searching their rooms. A search of Hubert's room a couple of days ago had turned up nothing. When he had gone to Delaflote's room he had found the door unlocked. On opening it he saw the Belgian lying dead on the floor, and next to him was the statuette. Hudhayfah had grabbed the statue and left, locking the door behind him. "But I didn't kill him, he was already dead! Now, please give it back to me!".

Denning had heard enough and went to inform Captain Lucas, who ordered Hudhayfah to be sent to the brig. The investigators finally decided to get some sleep, their work seemingly done.

The next morning they had obviously been thinking about things. Something didn't add up. For some reason Hubert had convinced himself that Brigadier Dillingham Stewart was the leader of some kind of cult and behind the whole thing. I swear, I have no idea where this notion came from. It's funny what links investigators can come up with the thinnest of clues, but it amuses me nonetheless.

Anyway, they decided to go and talk to the Brigadier after breakfast. It turned out he had a solid alibi, as he'd been in the Smoking Room playing cards when Renéwas murdered, and there had been plenty of witnesses. When they showed him the symbol that Hubert had found in Delaflote's room the Brigadier did not recognise it. All of that seem to put pay to that theory at least!

Hudhayfah was still protesting his innocence, and still asking for the return of the cat statuette. Something still didn't fit right, so Hubert decided to go and confront Sophia - if Hudhayfah wasn't the murderer then she was their main suspect.

Hubert took a rather different approach to the one George had earlier taken with Sophia, strong arming his way into her room and confronting her. "We know you killed him Sophia, someone saw you" he told her bluntly. "Captain Lucas is on his way here right now."

The lie did the trick, and she broke down in tears, spilling the sorry tale through sobs. According to Sophia, her father used to travel widely with his work, leaving her and her mother alone at home for months on end. Her mother died from influenza whilst he was away, and on his return he insisted that Sophia accompany him on all his future journeys. René then proceeded to drag Sophia, who blamed him for her mother's death, around the world.

During her travels she had fallen in love with Henry Crawford, René's research assistant. Henry had asked Sophia's father for permission to marry her, but René refused, telling Henry that he would never let his daughter marry someone as lowly as he.

Sophia was furious when she heard, and went to confront René. She arrived at his room, tears streaming down her face, and confronted him. René just told her to stop being a silly little girl, and told her that he was just protecting her. Sophia, blind with rage, picked up the first thing that came to hand - the Egyptian statuette and hit René with it. She dropped the statuette and fled, leaving her father bleeding on the floor.

It turned out that Akbar Hudhayfah was innocent of the murder after all.

The final few days of the voyage were spent resting. Sophia was locked in her room and watched at all times, until the SS Osterley finally docked in Sydney on the morning of Monday 27th August, 1925. In return for their help the investigators were rewarded with a small increase to their Credit Rating skills, along with the appreciation of the Orient Line, Captain Lucas, and Doctor O'Reilly.
Welcome to Sydney
It had been an unusual voyage, but a change of pace from all the horror and death of previous adventures. Things were about to change once again however, as the adventurers were about to embark on a journey into the Australian Outback where madness and doom lay waiting once again.

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