Marleybones Journal No. 1 - Death of Thaddeus Royce

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Empty Vials on display at Baring House

Scene 1: Death of Thaddeus Royce

Oftentimes life changing events come at the most unexpected moments. The evening of 18 March 1892 is just one of the moments. I am sitting around the fire enjoying a fresh pouch of tobacco and a warming Scotch with several Club members when Thaddeus Royce, one of our most celebrated researchers, staggers into the Card Room – his eyes wide, foam issuing from his mouth – and collapses on the floor. The only words out of his mouth were not a plea for help or an accusation of his killer – but instead a cryptic plea, “Rankin. 12 Fishbone Alley. Take the drugs. Trust no one. Hurry.”

Deasy bolts for the door – hoping to catch a glimpse of something or someone suspicious.

Royce is a rail-thin man in his late thirties. His blond hair is turning grey, and his fair complexion is ruddy from the cold of the outdoors. He is dressed warmly against the wind. Although the rain outdoor is pounding, Royce reeks of salt water – his coat soaked through unnaturally. I notice his boots are covered in mud and some tree twigs are stuck in his collar. The only apparent wound is a deep puncture wound at the back of his neck – much larger than a needle and certainly not from a bullet.

Normally, respect for the dead would have kept us from looking through his personal effects, but the nature of the crime put those conventions aside. Spider notes that all six rounds of his .32 revolver have been fired. In his pocket, I find seven vials of dark, thick and foul smelling liquid. Carefully wrapped in an oil cloth is his omnipresent investigator’s notebook. It is fairly new and only the first few pages have been completed. I include those notes in this journal which follows.

Royce’s specialty was discovering new cults in the Empire - an academic with some field experience, he was certainly not militarily trained.

Deasy reports that he saw a Hansom cab – part of the London taxi service driving off. His chase was cut short by the sight of a rail thin man, dressed in black, watching the front door of the Baring House. As Deasy approached the man, he stepped out of the gaslight and seemingly melted into the darkness. Deasy has the number of the London cab and will send word to have the cabbie brought to Baring House.

As the six of us spring to action – dressing for the adventure and gathering the tools of our trade, I move poor Royce’s body into one of the large iceboxes that we have in the kitchen cellar – reports to Scotland Yard will have to wait.

We hail a Clarence coach, and we are off to 12 Fishbone Alley. As we move through cold and stormy night even for London in March. On the streets are small groups of men and women returning home after last call at the local pubs. They are cloaked, huddled against the cold as they totter grim-faced towards their homes.

Our discussion focuses on whether to drink the vials. Royce’s instructions were clear – although his black swollen tongue certainly meant a strong possibility of poison. The roads seem particularly dark and sinister as we approach the banks of the Thames. Deasy finally takes a vial and drinks it. The effects are at first subtle, and then profound. His speech – which at first blush is that of a drunk – actually shows signs of mental slowness. Asking him a few questions, he apparently is suffering from a lack of cognitive acuity – replaced by hostility at his inabilities. Spider has a similar reaction – all the vials appear to be the same.

After a few minutes, it is clear the potions are not poison – but why would Royce have us take drugs that would lessen our ability to think clearly? Fishbone Alley is a tiny street off Horseferry Road. One side of the street is St. John’s Gardens – a dark and tangled park clearly in need of renovation. On the other side sit a row of six dilapidated brownstone buildings. Scrollwork and brick patterns tell the story of wealthier times for the neighborhood – most likely once a fashionable place to live. Three gaslight lamps on each side of the road cast dim pools of light in the darkness. All six buildings are dark.

Jumping from the coach, we notice the boarded-up windows in all the buildings and a general pallor of disrepair. Halfway down the block a sign reads: “Condemned by order of the Mayor of London.”

The last building on the left is 12 Fishbone Alley. A single set of stone steps lead up to a black door. Windows on both the ground and first floor have been securely boarded up. We notice that the door to this townhouse is actually iron – painted to look old. As I approach the door, I start to feel a slight loss of coordination and a queasy feeling in my stomach. On the door, there is movement as if just below the surface of the door small worms are wriggling, as if the door were alive. Horrors!

I carefully reason that doors cannot be alive – it must be the effects of the drugs. Just then, a slider on the door opens and the heavy-lidded face of a cowled man looks out. His teeth are chipped and his breath reeks of alcohol and stale fish and chips.

“Password?”

“We are friends of Rankin.”

This seems to do the trick, and we are ordered to step aside on the porch. From the park, a cloaked figure, unseen by us during our approach to the house, steps out and gives a signal. It’s a good thing we didn’t try to involve Scotland Yard.

The door opens silently – I notice a set of three large locks on the inside of the front door. What have we gotten ourselves into?

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