Casebook of Susan Vencore No. 1 - The Death of Jonathan Drake

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J Angst Bookseller

Scene 1: The Death of Jonathan Drake

12 March 1892, 11:00pm
Thirleby Road near Victoria Station

Enroute to Victoria Street Station, I hear a scream ahead on Thirsbey Road. My companions and I rush to aid in whatever way we can. We discover a body of a young man in his 20s. His face is twisted in a visage of complete terror and pain. From the odd angle of his back and the fact that both his legs are tucked under his body, he appears to have fallen from the great height, twenty feet or more.

Looking up, I see an unnatural darkness moving around the corner ahead. A strange scrabbling noise can be heard coming from the darkness and a rustling like the flapping of great wings. Maybe an inchor-powered machine of some sort?

An ancient wooden door across the alleyway with a small plain sign reading “Canonesses Regular of the Holy Sepulchre” opens ups nearby and two small frail nuns steps out, locking the door behind them. One of them begins moving towards us carrying a small box. The other begins moving down the street. Both are dressed in black habits. The sister heading towards you has a worried expression on her face.

Deasy draws a gun on the sister – and unexplainably fires. He seems rattled and frightened – not the usual state for a military man. The sister is unhurt, although she is rattled. Meanwhile Spider and Wyatt take off after the blackness. I stay behind to investigate while Dr. James attends to the nun’s medical needs.

The body is dressed in fine clothes of a recent and fashionable cut, although his boots are a bit rural for the city. The young man is well groomed and smells slightly of tobacco. He is unarmed, although his jacket is closed.

Flipping the jacket back reveals a large bloody hole in the center of his chest with what appear to be large teeth marks streaking the flesh – as if something took a bite out of the man – clothes and all. Even with my background, this site makes my mind spin.

Searching his pockets, I find the following items: a book of matches from the Stone Gargoyle Freehouse, a fine pipe and tobacco, a gold pocket watch, a receipt from J. Angst Rare Bookseller, 182 pounds in cash, a return train ticket dated tonight, and small brass key.

The matches are almost full (he was just at the Freehouse). The pipe has been recently smoked. The pocket watch is engraved “To Jonathan Drake, my son, happy 18th birthday, Love Dad”. The receipt is from a book seller about two blocks away – just past the Freehouse. It is dated with today’s date and shows that eight “antique titles” were sold to the store for 200 pounds cash. The receipt is signed Johan Angst. The return ticket is on the express London, Chatham and Dover Railway leaving Victoria station at midnight for Gravesend West in Kent.

Deasy, having regained his sense, investigates the crime scene. He notes there are bits of what appears to be matted horsehair, scales from a large snake of indeterminate origin, and a cloven hoof print in a grassy patch of ground a few yards from the body.

Bandaged, the nun approaches and introduces herself as Sister Bridget. She tells me that she had just finished evening prayers and was going around making sure the windows and doors were locked when she heard a thump and looked out and saw the body in the street. She roused Sister Maria who is going for the constabulary. Sister Bridget begins to say final rites. The box is a medical kit with holy water and a rosary.

Spider and Wyatt are nowhere to be found – although I can hear the report of the sniper’s rifle in the distance.

Scotland Yard arrives about 15 minutes later – remarkable response time for the Yard. Detective Strawbridge is a man in his early forties with deep circles under his eyes and a nervous demeanor about him. He is riding in a police wagon with one other officer. He is clearly armed with a sidearm and whistle. His partner is Constable Frank Dobeski and looks to be in his early 40’s with brown hair and unremarkable features.

After briefing the Detective – although I keep the contents of the dead boy’s pockets to myself, I discover that Strawbridge knows the father Sir Emery Wallace Drake – the two being school friends or something. Strawbridge mentions that the Drake’s maid, Marianne Silvers, was reported missing three weeks ago as well. He asks me to keep an eye out for any leads that may help determine her whereabouts. Confidentially, he suspects “supernatural” foul play – and asks if the King of Clubs can handle the, well, private investigation.

Deasy, James and I leave – moving up the street we are joined by Wyatt and Spider who report having shot at “the vaguest movement in the shadows – what appeared to be the twisted form of a reptilian horse with rotting fur and oozing scales and great bat-wings.” The mystery thickens.

I show the group what I found on the body, also relating my discussion with Strawbridge. It looks like we have 45 minutes to investigate the bookseller and freehouse before the midnight train leaves for Gravesend West from Victoria. No time to lose.

Scene 2: Shootout at J Angst Bookseller

12 March 1892, 11:20pm
13 Vincent Square, London

The shop of J Angst Rare Bookseller is a narrow shop two stories high – sandwiched between a modest florist shop on the corner and an antique shop which form one end of a seven shop strip along Vincent Square. All the shops appear to be closed for business – dark and quiet. A small alleyway behind the building allows private access for the shopkeepers and tradesmen.

Watching the shop for a few minutes, Wyatt notices that two oil hooded oil lamps are moving about the shop slowly – as if searching – careful never to shine out the large plate glass front windows.

Deasy moves against the glass. Two men, dressed in brown cloaks are searching the bookshelves and tables of the shop – being far from careful, they are tossing volumes onto the floor after inspection. Slumped on the stairs is the figure of a man in his early fifties, thin with grey hair. He is dressed in a sleep shirt. A club lies near his prone form. He is not moving.

We decide to take the shop from the rear entrance. Wyatt covers the front of the shop. Deasy and Spider will move into the shop. I’ll pick the lock and guard the back door. Dr. James is our relay.

Like a well-oiled machine, Deasy and Spider enter the shop with orders to quietly knock out the men inside, tie them up, and then get me for the interrogation.

Within moments, Deasy’s revolver is firing – more return fire. In two minutes, it’s over, but the noise will undoubtedly draw the Yard since it is only two winding blocks from the murder scene of Jonathan Drake.

Moving quickly, the Dr. James and I are inside. The two brown-cloaked figures are dead. Mr. Angst is alive, and after some smelling salts, is groggily available to answer questions. He tells us that he stumbled across the intruders – who questioned him and then clubbed him when he couldn’t provide them what they were looking for - a book called the Cult des Ghoules. They said that the book had been sold to me – although I tried to prove otherwise by showing them the shop ledger. I remember one of them whispering to the other to “knock me out – Esmarelda didn’t want my death to appear suspicious when the shop burned”.

Deasy reports that the cultists have nothing of interest on them.

Just then, Wyatt taps on the front glass window – giving us the sign that Scotland Yard was approaching. We instruct Mr. Angst to tell Inspector Strawbridge that we saved him and are working a lead – not to make the news public. We leave J Angst Bookseller by the back door for a quick stop by the Stone Gargoyle Freehouse.

Scene 3: Clues at the Stone Gargoyle Freehouse

12 March 1892, 11:40pm
Thirleby Road and Francis Street, London

At the corner of Thirleby Road and Francis Street, the Stone Gargoyle Freehouse is just two blocks from Westminster Cathedral. The Stone Gargoyle is so named for its namesake who fell from Westminster Cathedral during a great storm in 1872. The crumbly remains of the statue now sit just outside the front doors to greet visitors to the pub. The pub is two stories with glass windows along both Thirleby Road and Francis Street.

The pub closes at midnight, and things are starting to wind down. The streets are quiet.

Wyatt again provides cover. The rest of us enter the Stone Gargoyle.

The interior is unremarkable, more posh than neighborhood pubs, but not a destination spot for the social elite in London. The wood is dark, the rugs worn Persian, and the atmosphere warm and smoky. At a central table, two men sit around a table counting money, a deck of cards between them. Two others sit at a corner booth quietly finishing a beer. The barkeep, Gregory Masham, is a barrel-chested man of middle age. He is currently behind the bar cleaning glassware.

I ask Masham about Drake. He remembers him having a few pints and playing a few hands of cards with Grimm and Twitchy. “He seemed a nice enough lad. I think he lost a bit – but he bought the table a round on his way out the door.”

We question the gamblers. Grimm is a tall, sullen man – dark-featured with several days growth on his chin. His clothes are moderately fashionable, however. His dark, beady eyes dart in a nervous manner – as if he is watching our every movement. Twitchy is a short, fat man – balding with a greasy smile and blackened teeth. His clothes are also a surprise – well tailored and of recent make. His eyes are droop-lidded like an opium smoker. He also seems to be watching us carefully.

“Yeah, there was a poker game going on. Me and Twitchy were the big winners, weren’t we? Yeah, we took about 20 quid off Mr. Drake – but didn’t seem to mind none. He kept talking about his “gypsy rose” who he met at the market square and some recent good fortune he had with his family business. Truth be told, he wasn’t a bad poker player.”

Looking around, I notice the other two men in the corner have left. We only have a few minutes until the train. I bid Grimm and Twitchy a good evening, buying a round for them and Masham on my way out.

Time to catch a train.

Scene 4: Being Followed at Victoria Station

12 March 1892, midnight
Victoria Station, London

We reach Victoria Station with just a few minutes to spare. We quickly move to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway office which occupies a rather shabby wooden-fronted building on the east side of the building. This end of the station has nine tracks.

We buy six return tickets on the midnight train – noting there are four stops: Longfield, Southfleet, Rosherhill Halt, and Gravesend West. Our arrival will be approximately 1:00am.

Platform 9 is at the far end of the yard and accessed by two very long open air walkways which disappear into the fog and shadows. Several benches have the leaning forms of passengers awaiting the final train of the night. They are huddled against the cold.

The Gravesend West coach is comprised of an engine and three passenger cars. The cars appear mostly empty. The conductor, Mr. Bassik, is a short stout man, balding and of early middle age. He walks with a slight limp and is dressed in a black railway uniform. The engineer, Mr. Bales is a striking figure, lean and tall. He is in his early thirties with black hair and a bushy black beard. He wears a workman’s overalls. He whistles almost constantly, although he seems somewhat tone deaf.

Wyatt and Spider are sure we are being followed by one of the groups waiting for the train. I can’t understand their reasoning, but their instincts have proven correct on many occasions. We decide to watch and take no course of action unless confronted.

Indeed, when we reach Victoria Station, the only passengers remaining are ourselves and the two men Wyatt pointed out earlier. As soon as the train pulls into the station, the pair bolt – almost running to a waiting pair of horses. Immediately, they head off into the fog and darkness.

Mr. Bassik gives us directions to Drake Manor – only a short mile walk up the path out of town.

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