Trail of Nyarlathotep

Shadows Over New York
Letter from Helen to her grandmother

Dear Grandmama,

I don’t know where to begin with telling you everything that has happened here; you probably wouldn’t even believe most of it. The most important thing is this though: Elizabeth Pierce is dead. She had been acting strange and was late to a meeting with all of us, so Thomas and I went up to her room to check on her. What we found was…I shiver to think of it. Men in strange headdresses, smoke that hid…something…undefinable, and Elizabeth on the bed, bloody and unconscious. Thomas and I tried to get to her, but two of the men attacked us, and before we could get to her, the third man drove a dagger into her heart.

There was nothing I could do. She was just gone.

I won’t tell you more than that in case this letter falls into the wrong hands. I begin to imagine foes in the shadows everywhere I look.

I’ve asked the Major to fix me up with a stouter weapon than my Derringers so rest assured that I’m taking care of myself, but I do need to ask you for help with a delicate matter. There is a book, the Liber Ivonis, that was purchased by an Englishman at an auction in Providence, Rhode Island in 1923 for $18,420. I don’t know any more, and I know this doesn’t give you much to go on, but I think this book might be tied up in everything else that’s going on. Could you ask around, discreetly, and see if you get any clues as to who bought the book and where it is now? If you could find out anything else about the contents of the book itself, then I would love to know that as well.

But please, be careful! I know you never thought you would hear those words from me, but we are set against a group of strange and frightful men. They have already killed several times—more than just Elizabeth. I would never forgive myself if any harm befell you.

Love and kisses,

Helen

January 25, 1925

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Shadows Over New York - Part 2
From the memoirs of Major Edwin Radcliffe (unpublished)

Looking for Ritchie Ceteritchie
Went to his bar, they pointed us to his room.
Nobody in the room, but a note about the meeting.
Went to the docks mentioned in the note. Nobody there.

Went to the church, blew up the statues (suck it, cultist drug dealers! Dynamite for you!).

Met Jax. She asked the Major to get her Canadian travel papers.
Sent the party to win an auction for a dagger.
Asked for information about the Carlisle expedition.

Fancis O’Donnel was a Lt. in the war. He is willing to arrange for papers for Vanessa Redgrave (Jax’s alias).

Got to the auction just as it ended. Took the dagger myself, while everyone else made a big show of leaving by the other door.
They were waylaid by Pan’s men and robbed of the dagger box, though it didn’t have the dagger in it.
I got a post office box, and then mailed the dagger to myself in an unmarked box.

That night, people went to meet Jax at her hotel. She ran in just before the meeting was scheduled in a hurry, and went up to her room. When she didn’t some back down, they went up to look, and found some people murdering her. The Major wasn’t there, however.

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Shadows Over New York - Part 1
From the memoirs of Major Edwin Radcliffe (unpublished)

In early January I received another of Pierce’s telegrams. This one, just as devoid of context as any of the others, announced that she had information about the Carlyle expedition, required an investigative team, and would be arriving in New York on the 19th. Not even an indication of where she’d be staying or how to reach her. In short, typical fare for Miss Pierce.

The timing was reasonably convenient for me, as I had an engagement for Mr. Rothstein on the evening of the 15th, and a charity dinner for the Widows and Orphans fund on the 17th, but nothing pressing the following week. A meeting that Monday would give me the opportunity to catch up with Pierce and the others, and perhaps grant us all some respite from the hellish cold weather that had wrapped itself around the city like a clenched fist.

Rothstein wanted me to keep an eye on an exchange he had going on down by the docks. I arrived early and found myself a nice spot on the roof of a nearby warehouse. I saw Rothstien’s men arrive and unload a few trucks, then stand around stamping their feet and shivering in the cold as they waited for the boat to arrive with the stuff they were trading for. About the time the boat came into view on the river, I heard noises behind me. I moved to the far side of the roof and looked over to see a group of police moving towards the exchange.

I gave the signal, and Rothstien’s guys scattered. As I looked out over the water, I saw someone hauling themselves out of the water and over the side of the boat. They must have been armed, because several of the men on the boat jumped overboard. I can’t begin to understand what anyone was doing in the water in that kind of weather. The crew of the boat likely froze to death before they made it to shore, and it’s a miracle that whatever fool had climbed aboard had made it that far. They quickly disappeared below decks, in any event. The boat wasn’t my responsibility, so I had just turned my attention back to matters closer to hand when I heard another sound behind me.

I turned to find a uniformed police officer and a man in an overcoat who identified himself as a treasury agent. He seemed quite full of himself as he declared I was under arrest for violating the Volstead Act. He seemed entirely non-plussed that I had no alcohol anywhere on my person or in my vicinity, and that there certainly was no evidence that I had either sold or distributed such. The uniformed officer placed me under arrest, though he was polite enough to allow me to unload my firearms myself, and to write me a receipt for them when I handed them over.

It became clear as soon as I was placed in the holding cell that all of Rothstien’s men but one had been swept up in the raid. Ritchie C. was the only one missing, and it seemed he’d slipped away before the raid. That made him the rat, and Rothstien’s guys were in a terrible state about it. They soon offered $200 to anyone who could deliver Ritchie C. to their offices. I almost felt sorry for the poor bastard. He would be lucky to survive the week. Then again, it seemed he was mostly likely to be working for Masseretti, and Rothstien was trying to keep the peace between their two organizations, lest anything interrupt the flow of money.

Whoever had spoiled the party, we were all released by morning. As I’d explained to the tax man on the roof, I hadn’t done anything illegal. He might not have been prepared to hear me say it, but he slunk off with his tail between his legs once Rothstien’s lawyers had a turn with him.

With that bit of unpleasantness out of the way, I met up with the rest of my compatriots in Pierce’s odd little circle. Helen was also invited to the charity ball, of course, and it seemed that Murphy had been hired to work security for the event. It emerged that Morgan had fallen into Masseretti’s debt. In order to clear his ledger, Masseretti wanted him to lend his help to a smash-and-grab some of his men were planning at the ball. The year prior they had raised more than twenty thousand dollars, almost all of it in cash, and it seems that with the event expected to be even more successful this year, it was simply too tempting a target.

The others began to put together a plan to thwart the robbery. I considered how I might be able to do some good in or around the hotel safe, but in the end I elected to serve as a sort of second line of defense. That evening, I circulated the party until the time drew near, then excused myself and stepped outside. I noticed Pierce had actually arrived at the party even though she was not supposed to be in New York for another two days. She was having a set-to with another woman as I passed. Pierce seemed to have had more than a few too many glasses of champaign, but she didn’t appear to be in any immediate danger, and I had more pressing matters to attend to.

I retrieved the BAR from its hiding spot in the park across the street from the hotel and set up to watch for the getaway car. A few minutes later, it pulled up in front of the hotel, with a nervous looking young man at the wheel. His nerves continued to deteriorate as lime dragged on. The others seemed to have managed to handle things inside, because the gang never emerged to make use of the waiting car. Eventually I re-cased the BAR and walked over to the driver’s door. He was just putting the car in gear to make his exit when I pulled open his door and shoved myself in next to him, prodding him out from behind the wheel with my pistol. That was enough to convince him to sit still and keep quiet, and I simply sat with him until the police arrived.

With that small matter attended to, several of the others arranged to get Pierce back to her hotel, as it was clear she was in no state to get there on her own. We would reconvene once she’d had a chance to sleep it off.

Continued…

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Richard Morgan - letter home
A letter to Uncle Edward on the farm back in England

Postmarked: San Antonio, Texas

Dear Uncle Edward,

Life has taken a great turn for the better. I’m staying with this group, our last venture was very profitable. Enclosed find a bank cheque which should be drawable at the Westminster in town. It’s for the taxes, but I expect there’s enough there to pay your pub tab. Consider it well earned, as it was dangerous to get. Not as dangerous as the war, and the pay is a lot better too.

I didn’t think this would be nasty at all, but I was wrong. After success in Massachusetts, we went on a bounty hunt in Mexico, and captured a gun runner in jungle. He was hiding out in the ruin of an old temple, and, uh, something happened there, quite a changing experience. There was a cult which worshipped at the temple – you should have seen these lunatics – and a witch doctor… I don’t know what he was… some kind of priest magician… he pointed at me and said something and it bloody well nearly killed me. I was more surprised than anything else, I mean… the bugger wasn’t even sporting a jack knife, I didn’t even think he could hurt me. I’ll tell you more about it some day, it’s still strange to think about. I talked to the Father in our group (John), he helped me sort it out in my head. I’ve been through a lot of rotten situations, and I thought I’d seen the worst the world could be, but I was wrong.

I’m starting to realize just how wrong everything can be, not just for me, but for everybody. I’m still thinking about this, but I’m fine now, I’ve got money, and my companions are taking us to New York! It’s got to be better than that blasted jungle, but I bet these Yankees can’t match the special malted you load into the crawl under the fireplace bricks. You’re just like Mum, I suspect that you knew that I knew about that? There, I’ve said it then. Well, if you ever run out, I know where there is a case of gin buried in a hole in Mexico.

So how is Mum anyway? Tell her I love her, and I’ll be home soon to see her. I think I forgot to tell you that the lawnmower blades need sharpening. If we’re going to be in one place in New York for more than a month, I’ll send a reply address. Kiss the twins, I’ll be gone for a while longer.

Smoochies,
Richard

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The God of Mitnal - 1924 - Part 2
From the memoirs of Major Edwin Radcliffe (unpublished)

Kimble and his men slowed their mad gallop as they reached the base of the temple, and soon wheeled around to face Pierce and the men accompanying her. The two groups arrayed themselves in opposing lines, pointing their guns at one another. It was clear to me that there would soon be violence, and that Kimble’s men had decided numerical advantage. There was nothing I could do at such a distance to prevent a fight, but with a rifle in my hands and a good vantage point from an elevated position, I could certainly help even the odds. I lined up my sights and calmed my breathing as I waited for Kimble’s horse to settle.

The sound of the shot shattered the sounds of the surrounding jungle. Kimble fell from the saddle, his hat and a bright streak of blood arcing away from his head through the bright afternoon sunlight. A flock of birds burst from the trees overhead, their wings beating furiously as they fled the sound. Kimble’s men turned as one to watch his descent to Earth. They stared, dumbfounded, as I worked the bolt on the Lee Enfield. The men with Pierce seemed equally surprised, as both groups stared at each other for a moment. The moment stretched out, the only sound the beating of wings. Then, pandemonium.

The men with Pierce and Kimble’s men opened fire on one another. As they did, the surface of the temple fairly roiled as a score of natives poured forth into the fray. They attacked both groups alike, dragging men from the saddle and savaging them with clubs. Neither side seemed quite certain what to make of the natives, and the resulting hesitation and confusion cost several men their lives.

It seemed that the natives would emerge victorious without some type of intervention. I took aim at one of the natives advancing on the man next to Pierce. The shot took him in the armpit as he raised his hand to grab his target’s reins, and he fell to the ground, only to be trampled by the terrified horse he’d attempted to restrain. No sooner had he gone limp, however, than he was replaced with two more of his fellows.

I cycled the bolt as quickly as I could, bringing down several more of the natives. I did my utmost to shoot those in a position to surround Pierce. I also found a group of three natives, dressed in more finery than the others, surveying the combat from the steps of the temple. Their apparent leader stood in the center, his overwrought headdress giving away his status. Standing still as he was, he made an easy target, but the two standing next to him barely flinched when I shot him, and the other natives didn’t waver even as his body tumbled down onto the grass below. It soon became clear that the natives would overwhelm their outnumbered foes. Both groups began to disengage.

Pierce and her companions remained on horseback, and began to quickly outpace the natives pursuing them as they broke free of the melee and rode away. Of Kimble’s men, only one remained, and he fled on foot with a half dozen natives hot on his heels. I was certain he had been on the wrong side of the confrontation with Pierce, but that didn’t mean I wanted to see him bludgeoned to death by a pack of bloodthirsty cultists, so I quickly turned my attention to the natives gaining on him as he ran. I shot two of them, with two more falling to the ground as they became entangled in the falling body of the man at the head of their group.

As I cycled the bolt to engage another, I saw Morgan creeping up on the bodies scattered around the base of the temple. He was moving furtively, hunched over as he scurried from one to the next. This would not have been nearly so preposterous if he had not been in perfectly flat, open ground in full daylight. Incredibly, the two remaining native chiefs had not seemed to notice him, despite his antics a stone’s throw in front of them.

Of course, it couldn’t last. When Morgan had approached to within a dozen paces, one of the two chiefs suddenly turned his head and pointed at him, gesturing to the other. I shot him for his trouble, the bullet catching him just below the heart, but it was too late to prevent his companion from turning his gaze to follow the gesture of his pointing to discover Morgan crouched in front of him. Morgan raised his pistol and fired, inflicting a grazing wound. The chief staggered, but did not fall. He raised his hand to point at Morgan, apparently in an effort to direct some of the other natives to attack him. Morgan, for his own part, raised his hand to cover his chest and staggered backwards. My next shot finished the work that Morgan had begun, but even with the last remaining native in his vicinity accounted for and no apparent threat, he still seemed quite shaken.

I returned my attention to the natives who had by now caught up to the last of Kimble’s men. He had managed to take one of them with him, but the other three had overwhelmed him. As I turned my sights on them, they were clustered around the body, their clubs continuing to rise and fall despite the obvious fact that their victim was well beyond the need of any further violence. I shot the first of them, and the other two turned to flee. They were quick on their feet, but even so they had too much open ground between them and the cover of the jungle. Their bodies tumbled to the ground even as their spirits tumbled off to hell.

When I looked back up, I found Morgan gesturing at me, pointing into the temple. I decamped from the tower and joined him as Pierce and her companion rode back to join us. She and I exchanged a brief greeting, but had to cut short our reunion when Morgan called from inside the temple that Kimble had fled into the building. A quick scan of the bodies scattered on the ground confirmed that Kimble’s hat was laying where I had seen it fall, but his body was not.

I entered the temple and found Morgan a short way inside, having stopped when the light became too dim for him to proceed. I took out my flashlight and plunged ahead, following a trail of blood on the stones. We followed a winding path down and beneath the temple, stopping when we heard someone approaching ahead of us.

I turned off the light and waited. After a moment, I head footsteps emerge in front of us, and turned the light back on, directing it into the face of the approaching figure. He raised his hands to shield his eyes against the sudden brightness, but he did not appear to be armed. When he lowered his hands I recognized Murphy, who explained that he’d come from a path leading from the lower level of the palace. He hadn’t seen Kimble on his way to us.

I had returned my attention to the trail on the ground when we heard gunshots. I pushed past Murphy and rushed towards the sound. We arrived to find Kimble on the ground, with Helen and Natasha standing over him. Helen was already beginning the work of patching him back up. So much for collecting the greater reward, but at least we captured him.

With Kimble sewn up and drugged into unconsciousness, we made our way back outside and had a proper reunion with Pierce. She introduced us to Ruiz, the man who’d come riding in next to her. He was apparently some type of local revolutionary who had agreed to purchase weapons from Kimble, then been double-crossed. He seemed keen to get his hands on the guns in the basement of the palace, at least a goodly fraction of which he’d already paid for. He also was insistent that he wanted to demolish the “sacred” chamber atop the temple. I had to particular concern for either the guns or the temple, so I left him to argue about the details with the others.

We left the icebox and the generator installed in a side room of the palace as a surprise for the next archaeological team to come along, packed Kimble and our gear back onto the burros, and returned to the railroad tracks to wait for the train. By the next morning, we were pulling into Campeche. We bundled Kimble off to the hotel, and made our preparations to turn him over to the Texas Rangers.

I sent a telegram to Bob Henderson, and bought tickets for the next ship to Veracruz. The telegram asked the Rangers to meet us there, in order to prevent any kind of interference from either the Pinkertons or the Mexican Federales. We got ourselves and Kimble onto the boat the next morning, and I saw the local Pinkerton man wave us off from the hotel veranda. We were already underway before I realized that Pierce was no longer with us. I found a letter from her in my jacket pocket, explaining that she was off chasing some other lead Kimble let slip in his conversations with Ruiz. I seem to recall hearing that it was bound for Morocco, but her letter didn’t say.

In any event, we arrived without incident in Veracruz and handed Kimble over less than an hour later to Henderson and a small group of Rangers. I heard a few months later that he’d be sentenced to ten years, and was being handed over to the Army, who wanted to add their own charges for desertion. I imagine he’ll spend the rest of his life being passed from hand to hand. If he lives long enough, I might even see him before the Crown Prosecutor, though I suspect that the RCMP is fairly far down the list of interested parties for the foreseeable future.

I learned later that he’d actually tried to arrange some kind of bargain with Murphy while the two of them were left alone in the hotel in Campeche. Kimble’s luck must have truly run out when he met us. Morgan might well have cut a deal with a man like Kimble, but Murphy just isn’t the type.

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The God of Mitnal
Letter from Helen to her grandmother

Dear Grandmama -

I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last letter. You’ll be happy to know that Thomas is all recovered from that nasty stomach bug he picked up in Buenos Aires. I never did convince him to try tango dancing though. Mostly he sat at the edge of the room scowling at anyone who came near him. My quest to teach that man how to enjoy life continues…

Let us skip ahead a bit—I now find myself in Mexico. I joined doctor Sylvanus Morley on an archaeological expedition to the Yucatan. Jungle life hasn’t done wonders for my complexion, but I did see some amazing sights. Let us say that the Mayans were not understated when it came to architecture. I imagine they must have had brilliant parties.

You’ll never believe it—I got a telegram from Elizabeth Pierce on a visit to town, and suddenly the whole Paste Jewels Gang was back together again. They really are starting to feel like family. Well, perhaps not really family—I do feel very comfortable with them. As yet, none of them have exhibited the stuffiness or orders to marry an appropriate young man that I expect of true family (present company excluded, of course).

So our latest adventure started with a request from Elizabeth to meet her in the jungle with gin, lucky strikes, guns, and any information we could find about a man, Walter Kimble, who turned out to be an arms dealer. The Major came through with the guns, just as anyone would expect, but he also came well prepared with a full bar worth of supplies. I have to admit, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to throw a party in the middle of the jungle, but with the Major’s supplies, we could have. Perhaps I misjudged him.

We briefly picked up a Pinkerton tail on our way to Campeche, but Thomas scared him off so there was no fun to be had in cat and mouse. We hopped a train and got off in the middle of nowhere—just the six of us plus six burros, a diesel powered cooler, and enough booze to run a speak for days. Plus Natasha’s seemingly bottomless bag of supplies, of course.

It was evening when we got off the train, but we found a trail and decided to try to find Elizabeth before making camp. We did find her camp—or what we assumed had been her camp, but she wasn’t there and there was some blood on the ground as though there had been a struggle. Since it was full dark at that point, we decided we’d have to wait till morning to go looking for her. We did find a Mayan marker along the way with some markings about a temple to Ah Puch, the god of the dead, but I didn’t think too much about it at the time.

In the middle of the night we had quite a scare when we were awakened to lights and fog and a figure shouting at us in Spanish about Ah Puch. There was some punching and some firing of guns, and in the end we discovered that the apparitions were actually just men sent to scare us away. They told us about a gun running operation and some archaeologists from UCLA who were being held hostage at the temple complex. We decided to go investigate the next day.

Well, speaking of parties and gun running and gods of the dead…there was quite a scene at the temple complex involving about 20 Mayans, a huge temple, a human sacrifice, and a bunch of men with guns. John and I tried to sneak into the palace ruins to look for the hostages, but he made a sound, and we almost got caught. Fortunately, he happened to be standing in a pool of sunlight and the backlighting combined with his robes must have made him look like some sort of heavenly apparition. He spoke in Latin to the Mexican men with guns, gestured at the temple where the Mayans were apparently sacrificing people, and the armed men took off running. It made me laugh to think we had use their own trick against them!

After that a lot of things happened at once—a bunch of people came racing up on horseback, the Major started shooting at some of them from a position he had found in a tower, Mayans started pouring out of the temple, and I decided there was better adventure (and possibly greater longevity) to be had in looking for the hostages in the lower levels of the palace complex. Thomas and Natasha joined me, and we left John examining some unusual bas relief amid the chaos. His ability to stay calm in even the most dangerous situation is actually a bit unnerving.

Finding the hostages required some running around but was otherwise fairly uneventful. I did get to save Thomas’s life with a shot in the dark (and subsequent bandage). I don’t remember hearing any thanks for that service, but I’m trying not to take that personally. We rushed back upstairs to make sure our other friends were OK, leaving Thomas to finish checking out the lower level.

In our absence, most of the Mayans and men with guns had turned into dead bodies, but we did see that the Major and Richard were still OK and heading to the temple. John tried to point out a particularly fine example of carving as we armed the UCLA archaeologists from a crate we’d found earlier.

When Thomas didn’t re-appear promptly, Natasha and I went after him. We found some underground tunnels, and managed to pull up just in time to avoid running into a dark figure hiding in an alcove in the wall. The man hiding definitely wasn’t Thomas, and I told Natasha to kill the light. It was pitch black, and I felt a bullet go whizzing just past my head. I’ve never been so scared. It was wonderful! I had a rifle from earlier and I fired in his direction. I think I hit him, but we could still hear him coming at us. I told Natasha to turn the light back on and shine it in his eyes. Another bullet grazed my hair, and I fired again as my eyes adjusted. Again, I only grazed him. Natasha killed the light and lunged in the direction of his ankles but slid off. I struck at his head with the butt of the rifle but overbalanced, and he slipped past us both. I heard him stumble and begin to run. Natasha turned the light back on, and I took off after him, grabbing my Derringer and aiming it as I did. I fired and he finally fell down. I rushed over to triage his wounds while Natasha held the light.

Then the men showed up. Typical.

The mystery man turned out to be Walter Kimble himself—a criminal and gun runner wanted by just about every authority. So you can tell anyone you want that your grand-daughter is out fighting crime and bringing down wanted men in the Yucatan.

The rest of the story is fairly mundane—stitches, morphine, exhaustion, some reward money. I’ll spare you the details. I think I’m ready for a bit of civilization after all this time away from a bath. Natasha has invited me to New York, and I think I will take her up on it. Look for my next letter to be posted from the Big Apple.

Love and kisses,

Helen

July 1924

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A Curious Auction in Providence: 1923
Father Yang, Natalia, and The Fowler Book

Keeper’s note: Father Yang and Natalia, I’d like to invite you to participate in a little flashback with me. It’s 1923 and you’ve heard that a copy of the Liber Ivonis—one of six known copies in the entire world—may be included in an estate auction in Providence, Rhode Island. I’ll be explicit up front: you won’t be able to keep the book, but you might meet some interesting people and learn some interesting things. Game? If so, respond with your preparations in the comments.

The auction is at the Marble House, recently shuttered mansion of one of the Vanderbilt/Belmonts. Alva’s moved to France, and she’s raising funds for renovating her estate over there by selling some of her late husband’s collection.

The auction is widely announced, and it’s no secret that there are several one-of-a-kind books included. You’ve heard through your sources that the Liber Ivonis may well be amongst them.

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The God of Mitnal - 1924 - Part 1
From the memoirs of Major Edwin Radcliffe (unpublished)

I admit that Pierce’s telegram caught me by surprise when it arrived that summer. Then again, Pierce was never one for easing a man into something. She tended to throw one into the thick of it, and expect him to come to grips with it himself. It would be some time before I learned any of the details, but while it lacked anything that might be called context, the telegram itself was simple enough in its demands.

intro-telegram.png

I arranged my affairs in New York and finished up my present engagement with Arnold Rothstein. I could, of course, leave my quarters in the capable care of Ms Hagel while I was out of town. She knew I was paid through the end of the year, and had always treated even my most volatile possessions with admirable care. What remained, then, was the acquire the necessary items and arrange my travel. In this last regard the people at Prospero Press were immensely helpful.

I arrived by train in San Antonio to consult with the Rangers. They had quite a file on Kimble, and a ranger who called himself “Big Bob” Henderson who seemed quite keen to discover where he might be found. In exchange for my promise to do what I could to nudge Kimble into the custody of the Rangers, he agreed to share the file with me, and tell me what he knew of the man.

I learned that Kimble had joined the US Army in 1915, then deserted a few months later. The following year, he hijacked a US Army munitions train, and had apparently been making a living for himself selling the contents to the rebels in Mexico. In early 1924 he’d hijacked an entire freighter of weapons, bound for the Turkish army. So bold, then, if not entirely original. His audacity had earned him the ire of the Texas Rangers, the Delaware State Police, the United States Army, the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and even the RCMP. He had managed to cross the unfortunate line of having so many bounties offered for him that he was likely worth more dead than alive. The largest single amount available for his capture was $500. While that was a handsome sum, the total of the bounties outstanding for him dead was closer to $700. Unlucky for Kimble, I suppose.

After further consultation with Henderson and a brief check-in at the US Army post nearby, I knew that Kimble was about six feet tall, blonde, and fluent in Spanish. He commanded the loyalty of the men around him, and often used the alias Estaban Santos when traveling in Mexico. A large following and a fluency with the local language would allow him a great deal of flexibility in the Yucatan, but it at least seemed that finding a tall blonde man in those parts would simplify things considerably, given that Pierce seemed to be on his trail.

With that portion of my task complete, I bought a camera and three cartons of Lucky Strikes before continuing to Galveston to board a steamer. It would have been faster to sail straight for the Yucatan, but Pierce’s missive had requested certain items that I couldn’t obtain in the US. A swing through the Caribbean, however, soon put this to rights. Several weeks later, I sailed into Campeche with everything I needed.

  1. One large steamer trunk of clothing, toiletries, and other essentials
  2. One large, well-locked, steamer trunk of arms and ammunition
  3. One case London dry gin
  4. One case London old tom gin
  5. One demi case London sloe gin
  6. Three cases tonic water
  7. One demi case dry vermouth
  8. One set cocktail glasses
  9. One martini shaker
  10. One case limes
  11. Five pounds green olives
  12. One wooden crate, 5′×3′×3′, labeled “Grand Rapids Ref Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Leonard Cleanable, Model 6”
  13. One wooden crate, 4′×8′×3′, labeled “Kholer & Co, 4cy 2stk Inline with Dyn”
  14. One 20-gal steel drum, diesel fuel
  15. Three cartons, Lucky Strike cigarettes

I soon found the others and we checked into the hotel. Natasha seemed determined to spend a day or two recuperating from her voyage, but the others and I made our way to the rail station to find Guillermo. He spoke to us briefly, and gave us a letter from Pierce explaining where to find her camp. The train wouldn’t leave until the following morning, so we sent Murphy to purchase a half a dozen burros to haul the luggage. He seemed oddly reluctant about it, but he came through in the end.

That evening we gathered in the hotel bar. Richard told us that he’d followed a gentleman who Helen had apparently alarmed in at the hotel earlier in the day, and discovered that he was a member of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. He had perked up when he heard her mention Kimble’s name, and had sent a telegram back to his agency about it. Murphy, perhaps still in a foul mood about the burros, or maybe just feeling surly in the heat, confronted him in the dining room. Helen managed to pull Murphy away and the man retired to his room.

In the morning, the burros arrived and we packed the luggage down to the train station for the morning’s departure. We had a boxcar to ourselves, and spent the day riding the rails at a painfully slow pace, stopping every few miles to let some new group off the train. There seemed to be a large group of locals returning home from their time spent in Campeche for the busy season. Many of them had brand new rifles, and they practiced their marksmanship out the side of the train as we rode along. Murphy was able to speak to some of them, and learned that they had bought their new guns from a man matching Kimble’s description.

We finally reached our mile marker not too long before sundown, just short of a small bridge over a slow-moving river. By the time we had unloaded the animals and the gear, then re-packed it onto the burros, the sun was nearing the horizon. We set off along a rough trail into the jungle, traveling South parallel to the river. I lead the way, as I seemed to be the only member of our little group who had spent any real time in the out of doors. It was slow going, and got even slower once the light began to fade.

Shortly before full dark, we found a small standing stone, covered in carvings. Helen assured us that they were Mayan, and indicated that there was clean water nearby. The menhir also seemed to indicate that there was a temple, or perhaps temples, nearby. At least some of the symbols matched those that Natasha had found representing Ah Puch. Given that this is what Pierce had apparently come here to find, it seemed like we were on the right track.

We pushed further into the jungle, but within a few hundred yards the path opened back up again into a campsite. There were clear signs of recent habitation, but nobody to be found. There were also signs of recent struggle, and Murphy found traces of blood near the river. It seemed we had found Pierce’s camp, but had arrived too late to assist with whatever had befallen her party. Frustrating as it was, there was little good we could do her rushing out into the jungle in pitch darkness, so we set camp and resolved to continue our search at dawn. We made a small fire and set a watch for the night.

I took the first watch with Helen. It proved entirely uneventful, with nothing more than the sounds of a living forest around us. I returned to my tent when Murphy and Natasha took over from us. I stretched myself out on my bedroll, did a last check that my equipment was ready in case of some emergency, and soon fell asleep.

I was awakened by Murphy bursting into my tent an indeterminate time later. He reached down to shake me awake, but by then I was already sitting up and reaching for the Thompson. Murphy wasn’t making sense about what was going on, but I slipped into my shoes and stepped outside into some kind of surreal nightmare.

A thick fog had covered the clearing, leaving a strange taste in my mouth when I inhaled. The forest was lit from within by an eerie red glow. I stood in the center of the clearing, trying to figure out what I was seeing when a figure stepped out of the trees at the edge of the clearing. Silhouetted by the red light behind him, he was big, with a head like an owl. He raised his arms, and began to shout at us. I didn’t understand what he was saying because it was all in Spanish, but it sounded angry and ominous. I caught the name “Ah Puch” in the middle of the diatribe.

Several of the others had started to back away from him, and I could hear more movement stirring in the jungle around us. It seemed we would soon be surrounded. Faced with such a visage, and feeling unseen enemies encircling our position, leaving the path back to the railroad tracks as our only exit, I did the only sensible thing. I raised my gun and shot the idiot who was still shouting. Honestly, what kind of self-respecting Mayan god of the dead menaces a Canadian in Spanish?

The shouting stopped, and was replaced with a terrible wail. It was not the sound of a god of the dead cursing us from beyond the mortal realm. Rather, it was simply the sound of a grown man reacting to the sudden shock of a bullet wound in a sensitive area. A few panicked shouts emerged from the forest around us, and suddenly several more figures burst into motion, running for cover. Murphy, Morgan, and I each took off after one as they scattered.

The one I was chasing wasn’t making terribly good time, running frantic in the near dark. I soon caught a clear look at him as he reached a path in the trees. My shot took him in the back of the head as he straightened up down the path. He went limp mid-stride, falling in a tangle as his momentum carried him into the underbrush.

As I turned around to see where I could be the most help, I heard Morgan shouting that he’d caught one. I rushed towards his voice, hearing the sounds of struggle as I got nearer. When I arrived, I found him on the ground, grappling with another man much larger than himself. The other fellow finally gave up trying to free himself from Morgan’s grasp as Murphy and I arrived.

While Murphy began to question the man Morgan had caught and Helen tended to the wounded man in the owl mask, the others conducted a brief search of the jungle around us. They soon found a series of red flares that were causing the glow, and a curious device that was producing dense clouds of white smoke, apparently the source of the fog. A pack of charlatans, the lot of them! Worse, a pack of charlatans with no plan beyond screaming and running for their lives in the event that anyone was sensible enough to stand up to them rather than running in terror into the night. A group of ruffians chosen at random from any back alley in New York would have done better.

We learned that the man Morgan had caught was named Dávid, and that Arturo was the man in the mask. They worked for Kimble, scaring away any archaeologists who ventured into this part of the jungle. They wanted to make sure that no one discovered their operation based out of the nearby ruins. They were using them as a staging area for their gun running. They’d taken some captives from several groups, then ransomed them back to their various universities. We also learned that Pierce’s group had also fought back, and while there had been several killed, Pierce herself had escaped.

Helen had stabilized the wounded man, but he was not yet conscious. At dawn, we left him with Dávid and headed down the path towards the ruins. Dávid had promised to get himself and Arturo away from us and not to interfere, and we had in turn promised to shoot them both dead if they returned. My sense was that we had seen the last of them.

We found a spot along the top of a ridge overlooking the ruins. From there, we could see the building that Dávid had told us Kimble’s gang was using as their headquarters. As we watched, we saw Kimble himself and a group of other men ride out on horseback and meet an incoming column of natives on foot. They spoke briefly, then Kimble and the others rode off to the East and the natives continued to the temple just North of the palace that Kimble’s men had occupied. Some time later, a severed head was thrown out of the top of the temple and rolled down to its base. It appeared that the natives had sacrificed one of their own!

I left a grenade with Natasha so that she could cause a distraction if any shooting started, then lead the others down the aqueduct to the palace. We reached the base of the palace unseen, but there was a sentry in the tower rising from the center of the building who would need to be dealt with if we were to move any further without risking being detected. I left the others to watch the courtyard in front of us. A quick glance had shown four guards, but I hoped that they would remain on the far side of the courtyard until I had dealt with the sentry.

I had made it to the base of the tower when I heard a sudden commotion. Apparently the others had tried to sneak past the guards in the courtyard, and at least one of them had been spotted. I soon heard the sound of Father Yang. I’m not sure what he said to them, but a few minutes later I saw the four of them march out of the courtyard towards the temple, rifles in hand. With their backs to me, I rushed up the steps of the tower with the suppressed pistol in my hand. When I cleared the top of the stairs, I fired three rounds into the sentry as I charged him. I managed to catch him as he fell, setting him down out of site before he could pitch over the edge.

As I took his place, I looked out over the low wall around the top of the tower to see the four men from the courtyard shooting the natives who remained outside the temple. They seemed to have decided that they were not going to stand idly by and countenance human sacrifice. Good on them, I suppose. They seemed to be losing their resolve as they shot the last of the natives still outside and began to contemplate climbing up and inside the temple. As they slowed, I heard the sound of an explosion from the ridge. Natasha had taken the gunfire from the guards as a sign that it was time for the distraction. Not the timing I would have chosen, but beggars can’t be choosers.

As I watched from my perch, trying to decide if they were going to turn back around and force me to decide if I should shoot them before they returned and bottled up the others inside the palace, I saw a group of men on horseback ride out of the jungle to the East. Kimble was at the head of the column, and they were riding hard. A moment later, a second group of riders emerged behind them, seemingly in pursuit. I didn’t recognize the man who seemed to be leading them, but I certainly recognized the woman riding next to him. Pierce seemed to handle herself quite well on horseback.

Continued…

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Father John's Letter to Natasha December 20, 1920
Curious utterances and even more curious logic

Father John Yang
Boston, Massachusetts
December 20, 1920

Natasha P. Levin
New York, New York

Ms. Levin,

It is wonderful to hear from you. I think often and fondly—despite or because of—our adventures with our friends. The front gave us many memories, and merry New England many more. It is good to hear that you aren’t spending your time in the dance halls, as alluring as they might be. I am, after all, still a priest and the Church has called for modesty.

I am glad that you mentioned the book and the dreams. I hope you don’t think me childish, but I feel I must confess that I have also been having odd experiences. Yesterday in prayer, I uttered the word “Goody” instead of “Good” in reference to the Holy Mother. And it seems as if every bird I see reminds me of “Fowler”.

On their own, parapraxis like these would account for nothing. However, I mention them because they are not isolated. There is also a whispering woman’s voice I’ve heard emanating from the darker corners of the library. The voice never utters anything distinct, but the pleading tone behind its words claws at me late at night. Prayer seems to only make it worse as if communing with God gives it a path to my ears. Just now there seems to be a presence alighting just outside my periphery reading these words no matter which way I turn. Sleeping has become a chore, although I appreciate the added hours to the day, even if they are spent weary.

I feel as if I am on the cusp of cracking the diary myself. There seems to be an nefarious logic to the very structure of the page that is far removed from the words themselves. I fear I will never realize everything the diary holds, however, by this point much of the book has set itself upon my mind. Recalling a passage will often bring the entire page floating in front of me. It is curious.

If you can make it to Boston I would gladly set aside as much time as you’d like to discuss the book. I will have Mass to attend to upon the Holy Days, however, there is always time to translate and study now that sleep is so fitful.

Deo gratias,
Father John Yang

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Natasha's letter to Father John. December 13, 1920
The "Book," its whereabouts and sundry strange happenings

Natalia P. Levin
New York, New York
December 13, 1920

Father John Yang
Boston, Massachusetts

Dear Father John:

I was so pleased to receive your Christmas card. I’m happy to hear that you’re safely settled in Boston and that your studies are progressing. I will come right out and say that I’m terribly jealous of your being close to all those wonderful libraries. I would imagine myself living in Boston if I knew more people in the area. I’m also somewhat too fond of the New York bustle. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not turning into a “flapper.” I just enjoy the anonymity of living in a large city. I can enjoy the liveliness around me and quietly go about my own studies.

Speaking of which: I’ve been meaning to write to you about The Book. I do not begrudge leaving it in your keeping — far from it! I know you will keep it safe. However, I would like to spend more time on my own translation. I feel my notes are somewhat fragmentary (but my Latin has improved; thank you for the book recommendations).

It has been weighing heavily on me, and I have been having odd dreams. I wont’ go into them in detail here. Suffice it to say that G.F. has been visting me. Not every night, no, but enough to have it prey upon my mind. I feel like I’m missing a piece of a puzzle, or something. It’s hard to describe.

Will you been in Boston over the holidays? I would really like to arrange a visit and spend more time with you working on further translation, and seeing what you’ve done yourself in the past year. Please let me know. I’m not traveling this year – except between my home and the bookstore!

Best regards,
Natasha

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