Marleybones Journal No. 4 - The Madhouse
Scene 5: 14 Portland Square
After a short and admittedly restless night, we find ourselves following up on the Frederick Johannsen lead.
Portland Square is in a working class neighborhood. While far from affluent, the dwellings are old but maintained, and there is an air of respectability in the neighborhood. The brick and stone building at 14 Portland Square is three stories with a sign out front that reads: Room for Let. A small garden is neatly tended in front. Out front, a pleasantly plump middle aged woman is tending her garden. She is dressed in a garden smock and well-worn but tended clothes.
I interview Mrs. Mary Gordon while my comrades scout the neighborhood quietly. Mrs. Gordon confirms Mr. Johannsen is a tenant in excellent standing. What follows is our conversation as close as I can remember:
“I saw him last Wednesday morning – coming in late from a night out with the lads, I suspect. He had a case of whisky under one arm – but he gave me a bottle of very fine wine and told me that he had just hit good fortune with his business. He looked so tired, the dear. Well, I haven’t seen him since – well, except when he went out and bought some shot guns and other things – said he was going on a hunting vacation. Sounds lovely. Well, I know he’s home – I’ve heard him rattling around a bit these last few days. Hasn’t come out though. He told me “no visitors”, I’m afraid. And, I’m not to go into his room until he leaves on Monday night for his holiday.”
Explaining that our business is urgent and a matter of life or death, Mrs. Gordon lets us in – except for Spider who is at this time climbing the back of house to look into Mr. Johannsen’s upstairs bedroom window. A creaky set of stairs with a worn but clean Persian carpet leads us up to Mr. Johannsen’s room on the top floor of the boarding house. The door to the room is shut and locked – the sound of snoring coming from within.
Our knocks are greeted by a voice telling us to “Go away, I’m sick”. Listening carefully, we hear the click of a shotgun. Suddenly, we hear the crash of breaking glass and the sounds of a brief struggle. Spider opens the door, revealing Mr. Johannsen slumped on a couch, and a disarmed shotgun trap pointed at the door.
A quick search of the room reveals that the occupant is barricaded into his room – food supplies, water, ammunition – all in abundance. Waking Johannsen and spending considerable time convincing him that we mean no harm, he finally admits to going to the Recruiting House – sent there by a thin, pale magician at the Windmill Pub who gave them gold and the promise of more if they could “pass some simple tests and do a job for some colleagues”.
His experience was frighteningly familiar – the insects, the oozing tentacles in his mouth, the fuzzy dreams and images, and then he was being led into the room with the bearded man and told to meet back at 7:30pm on Monday night at the Albert Embankment. He is terrified. His friends are dead.
In speaking the Mr. Johannsen, I ask him about vials – no clue – I ask him about how “brilliant” his friends were. After a few sobbing minutes, he confides that the others were indeed brilliant – although he faked his way into the clique, he always felt intimidated by his companions.
So, the truth comes out. The insects are collecting the brains of the most intelligent men, while the more dimwitted ones are given to the cabal. Brilliant!
Convincing Mr. Johannsen that we would take his place on the Albert Embankment on Monday night, arrangements are made to have him to enter police custody at the Yard.
Scene 6: The Madhouse
A single entrance, guarded by high hedges and stone gargoyles greets us off Lambeth Palace Road. It is a solemn and terrifying place.
A sign on the front door states:
DUE TO SEVERAL RECENT PATIENT ACCIDENTS, PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT ALL OUTSIDE VISITS MUST BE APPROVED BY THE STAFF.
The main building is lofty with high ceilings and marbled floor. A central reception desk looms over the room like a librarian’s perch. Four large hallways run off from the room. Each is clearly labeled South, North, East and West Wings.
Approaching the head nurse, Mrs. Beatrice Boyle and presenting my medical credentials, I am rebuked from speaking with Dr. Hellmeister and told in no uncertain terms to come back next week. I notice a nursing schedule on the wall behind the desk. The irritable Mrs. Boyle will be going home in an hour – just enough time for a pint!
My second attempt to gain entrance to the Madhouse is more successful. A young nurse with striking green eyes, Miss Penelope Prettylace, greets me with a warm smile. Asking about the sign, I’m told, “Well you see, there have been several fatalities here – well, you know, there are always deaths in a hospital, but five patients in five days? None were expected, and they were all in the South Wing? There’s starting to be rumors that the Wing is haunted. Ghosts taking the victims. Rubbish, of course, but I’m glad I’m not on night duty in that accursed hallway.”
Miss Prettylace informs me that Dr. Hellmeister isn’t in yet – he was here late last night performing and autopsy, but we are welcome to wait in the Staff Lounge across from his office. She shows us to the lounge with a promise that the doctor will be here within the half hour.
Looking down the South Wing, the hallway extends for several hundred feet. Oak floors, an arched oak ceiling and white plaster walls give the hallway an orderly appearance. Barred windows between the rooms, however, cast odd shadows creating a prison-like pattern on the floor and walls. Gaslights along the wall are utilitarian and some artwork hangs from the walls.
The scene is punctuated, however, by the moans and howls of patients. A periodic scream. A pleading for a nurse’s attention. The howling of a madman.
At the near end of the hallway are two offices – one marked Dr. Hellmeister. The other is marked Staff Lounge. There are twelve doors beyond these offices, each with a large padlock on it. At the far end of the hallway, is a common room.
As Miss Prettylace leaves the wing, we spring into action. Spider makes for the common room – which is empty at the moment – in order to insure that we have an easy way to break in that night, if needed.
I check out the medical charts of the patients along the hallway – only four are occupied. The dead patients charts are missing, but their names are still on the doors. Morris Fillmore – convinced the government was reading his mind; Duncan Bleath – sees armies of dead zombies at night or when its dark; Horace Quentin – sees creatures out his window; Samuel Scott – no information available, just arrived. Mr. Quentin’s room looks out over the Albert Embankment, and his door is near that of John Joyce – the “accident” victim last night.
Meanwhile, Deasy checks out the office while the others keep watch.
Fifteen minutes later, we are waiting innocently in the lounge when Dr. Hellmeister arrives, shakes our hands, and invites us into his office. Deasy looks uneasy – he must have found something incriminating.
The office of Hellmeister is paneled in English oak, polished to a remarkable red hue. The walls are lined with bookcases filled with medical texts and journals. A leather sofa under a window has a pillow and blanket tossed carelessly on top. Hellmeister’s desk is a jumble of papers, letters, and ornate bric-a-brac.
Dr. Horace Hellmeister, Chief Administrator of St. Thomas’ Madhouse, is a middle-aged man with a stocky build. He is dressed in fashionable clothes, although they seem a tad bit worn and rumpled. His face is drawn and haggard with prominent bags under his brown eyes.
After a brief exchange, I tell him that I’m here to see Horace Quentin – following up on a case for Scotland Yard. Instantly the good doctor is nervous, sweat forming on his formidable brow. On the verge of protesting, his shoulders slump and he calls for Miss Prettylace to give us access to Mr. Quentin. I hear him lock the door as we leave – assuming he is calling an accomplice on the telephone, we don’t have much time.
The patient rooms are very simple. The walls are painted a neutral color and there is nothing on them. The room has a small single bed with a blanket and pillow. There is a nightstand and a simple wooden chair. A single barred window is across from the iron-framed wooden door that leads into the room.
Horace Quentin rocks back and forth on his bed mumbling the same phrase repeatedly. “Sinuous bodies that moved with effortless ease, seeming to flow rather than step. Hands with supple jointless fingers and feet that made no sound and lipless mouths that seemed to always open on silent laughter, infinitely cruel. And all through that vast place whispered a dry harsh rustling, the light friction of skin that had lost its primary scales but not its serpentine roughness.”
On a notepad in his room a chalk drawing made my heart stop. It was the same creature as I saw last night – the reptilian demon.
We leave the Madhouse to wait for the cover of night.
Deasy reports that he found a suitcase underneath the sofa with several weeks worth of clothes. In the middle drawer of his desk, is a vial identical to the ones that Thaddeus Royce was carrying. Spider shows us a racing form she lifted from Dr. Hellmeister’s pocket when they shook hands. The form is for the Sandown Racecourse from last weekend – presumably the good doctor lost close to 100 pounds on the ponies.
A man with a gambling debt and some ties to either the Frenchman or the Cult of St. Toad – we need to watch Dr. Hellmeister.