With the evidence fresh at hand that the cult of deluded idiots idolizing the 200-years-dead witch Goodie Fowler had not only set a date for themselves to perform their ritual, but identified at least four children they intended to kidnap to provide the necessary inputs, it was clear we needed to act before the upcoming eclipse. That gave us two days to find the cult and free the children they’d already taken, not to mention prevent them from taking any others. The reporter, Smythe seemed neck deep in the whole thing, so we’d start with him.
Natasha and Father Yang were still poring over the fevered nonsense scribbled in the book Murphy had found hidden in the witch’s fireplace. They seemed to be prepared to credit it with being something more than the ramblings of the criminally insane, but at least it might give us some additional insight into the plans of the kidnappers. Helen, Murphy, Morgan, and I left them to it and headed over to the newspaper offices to find Smythe. The secretary hadn’t seen him, but she said he normally worked late and wouldn’t be in to the office until later. I managed to talk her into giving me his address, though, so we figured we’d drop in on him at home.
We found his apartment in a building nearby. Murphy took the alley in back, covering the fire escape, while Morgan played the lookout in front. Helen and I headed upstairs to Smythe’s door. I knocked, but then Helen decided to play the damsel in distress, so I stepped out view to the side of the door and waited. It took him a moment to make it to the door, and even with Helen’s best attempt at asking him to open the door and help her, he only cracked it open with the chain still set. I gave the door a solid kick. The chain didn’t give, but it was enough to crack Smythe in the nose, and when Helen and I hit the door again together, the chain let go and the door came flying open.
Smythe made a run for it, toppling furniture behind him to slow us down as we plowed into the apartment after him. He made it as far as the back window before I got my hands on him and dumped him onto the settee. I showed him my gun while Helen went and shut the door before the neighbors got too interested. Murphy come up the fire escape and joined us, and we began to ask him a few questions.
He started out defiant when we questioned him. They always do. In the end, though, he cracked. Didn’t even have to threaten him much, and Murphy only slapped him a little bit. Didn’t even properly hit him. He spilled, telling us that the cult had indeed kidnapped the two children, and stolen at least some part of the corpse of Seaton from the University. He claimed that he was the leader of the cult, just as his ancestors had been before him. He had the same crazy story about the witch Fowler still having some power, but it hadn’t kept us from kicking his door in and making him a prisoner in his own living room any better than it had helped any of his cronies.
In the end, we stood him up, and I got my arm around his neck and squeezed until he stopped struggling, then turned him over to Helen to “pacify” while I found some curtain sashes to tie him up with. When we had him trussed up and drugged to his eyeballs, I took a walk downtown and found Detective Stuckey in his office. Stuckey already hated Smythe. He didn’t take a lot of convincing that Smythe was up to no good, and I walked back with him to the apartment. By the time I got back, the others had cleared out, and we waited outside while Stuckey went up, then watched as he dragged Smythe, still bound and unconscious, from the building and dumped him in the back of a paddy wagon.
We returned to the hotel in time to find Miss Pierce had returned to Arkham and joined Natasha and Father Yang. They were filling her in on the details of our investigation so far. We did our best to fill in the gaps. With that little piece of business taken care of, it was time to head into the cave.
When we arrived back at the construction site, the work crew was just returning from their lunch break. We convinced the foreman that the cave beneath the well was in danger of collapse, and that he and his crew should clear back out while we checked the ground beneath the foundation. They took the opportunity to call it an early day, and we soon had the place to ourselves.
We pried the cover back off the well and secured a rope. I headed down first, and finding nobody at the bottom, set up an overwatch while Murphy helped those who couldn’t make the climb themselves down into the cave. Once everybody was safely at the bottom and I had a few more people to cover the angles, I put the handgun away and got the Villar-Perosa ready for business. It’s an awkward beast, but at the time, it was the best available, and I for one was glad to have it, even if it did weigh more than a rifle firing such a small bullet had any business weighing.
With everyone assembled and the flashlights distributed, we headed off into the northern of the two tunnels. It eventually led to a blocked door, which once forced open lead, in turn, into a warehouse basement. There was another blocked door on the far side, but it just lead to a small underground inlet off the river. We turned back around and retraced our steps to the well, then took the southern passage.
This one led to another patch of underground river, but we could see some daylight leaking down into the cave. The water wasn’t very deep, so Helen, Morgan, and I waded in and down the tunnel. We’d made it quietly around the corner and I’d just caught sight of two men sitting on the bank eating lunch when Helen must have tripped on a rock under the water, because she made a loud splash and the two looked up, shouting to know who was there.
I leveled the Villar-Perosa at them and told them if they shouted again, or moved, I’d shoot them. They looked at me wading out of the water, glanced at each other, and ran for it. I shot the one farther ahead, and his companion just jumped over his body as it fell. Morgan’s bullet caught up with him just before he reached the doorway at the top of the stairs. It must have hit something vital, because he dropped like a stone.
Helen set to work patching up the one I’d plugged, and it looked like she managed to stop the bleeding. I’d moved up to cover the doorway as the others waded through the tunnel and joined us on shore. The commotion had attracted some attention at the top of the spiral staircase beyond the doorway, with someone shouting down to ask what the noise was. Father Yang and I did our best to convince them that everything was OK, and when it seemed clear that it wasn’t working, that they should come down. Eventually he did, and I caught him by surprise at point-blank range as he stepped out of the doorway. More voices from the top of the stairs started shouting about being under attack, which I suppose was fair enough, from their point of view.
I took a moment to reload, then headed up the stairs. When I got to the top, I found a strange, cubic room with a skeleton wired together and sat upright in a chair in the corner. A score of other skeletons were arranged around it, posed like they were supplicating themselves to the one in the chair. There weren’t any more cultists visible, though. I don’t know what they were doing arranging the skeletons like that, but I figured they must have been important to them, so I pulled the pin on one of my Mills Bombs and lobbed it into the corner. I made it about half way back down the stairs before it went off.
As the rumble died down, I headed back up the stairs. The skeletons arranged in their ranks around the one in the chair were blown to chalky dust, but the one in the corner looked untouched by the blast. I’m still not sure what the cultists had done to it, but that one was definitely important to them, and it looks like they even believed it was Fowler’s remains, so they must have used some kind of preservative process on it. Whatever it is, I need to find some of it. I bet it would do wonders to prevent the yellowing of some of the ivory pieces in Albert’s collection. It’d make a nice gift for him this Christmas.
Stepping into the room, I could see tunnels leading off from the center of each of the four walls. I could hear voices coming from the tunnel directly ahead, so I moved up until I reached a door. There was light leaking in through the cracks in it, and I was pretty sure I could see people moving on the other side. I got a good grip on the gun and nodded to Helen to open the door. She pulled it open as she stepped behind it, shielding herself from whatever was on the other side. That turned out to be a good plan, because the cultists in the room beyond opened fire as I stepped through, cutting hard to my right in order to spend as little time as possible silhouetted in the doorway. One of them clipped my arm, but the muzzle flash of his shot let me get a good look at where he was taking cover, and I fired a long burst at him as I dodged across his line of sight. He went limp and hit the deck without even making a sound.
With me moving right and drawing their fire, Helen and Murphy had a much easier time entering to the left. Murphy took off for the huge altar past the bonfire in the middle of the room, while Helen headed to the closer of the two cages set on the floor. There was clearly a child in each of them. Whatever sympathy I might have had for the poor idiots running this freak-show, it was quickly washed away by the sight of terrified children in cages. The other cultist on the far side of the room took a couple of shots at me, but he was a terrible shot, both of his rounds flying far wide of the mark. I fired a short burst at him, and he screamed and dropped his gun as a round took him through the collar bone.
Helen had gotten the first child free, carrying the largely catatonic form of Lucy Potter. Murphy, meanwhile, had discovered another cultist hiding by the altar when the deluded moron jumped out and tried to bash his head in with a rock. Murphy shattered his nose with his brass knuckles, forcing him to nearly miss with the rock, instead just grazing Murphy as it flew by. Murphy’s second swing caught him under the chin, and the man went down.
Helen had by now freed Charlie Baker from his cage. Having only been taken a few days before, the boy seemed in a much better state than the girl, and equipped to follow Helen under his own power as she ushered them away from the fight. Another cultist, thinking it was time to find a new place to stand, threw his rock at Murphy in haste, then ran for a tunnel on the far side of the room.
Was he running for a better weapon, to bring reinforcements, or simply to get away? It hardly mattered. He’d made his choice when he’d thrown in his lot with kidnappers and blood ritualists. I tracked him as he cut across in front of me. Sight picture: flat and level. Sight alignment: center mass. Squeeze. The Villar-Pirosa shuddered, chattering like a satanic chipmunk, and he pitched forward onto the cave floor. He lay bleeding as I scanned the room for others. I have killed conscripts unlucky enough to be caught in the trenches as we came over the top, and felt sadness for a man in a position not much different from my own, fighting far from home, just trying to make it out alive. This man, though, deserved no such sympathy. I would shoot a hundred more like him to earn Lucy and Charlie their freedom a minute sooner.
I reloaded and continued up the stairs the cultist had been headed towards. I found myself in a crypt. I figured it must have been one of the ones the cult had been sneaking out of to raid the graveyard for bones. I couldn’t find anything in it, and no obvious exit, but when Murphy joined me at the top of the stairs, he was able to ferret out the hidden lever that opened the crypt to the outside. When I returned down into the cave, I found that Natasha, Father Yang, and Morgan had apparently dealt with another cultist who had snuck in from one of the side passages. They were gathered around the skeleton on the chair.
The two side passages lead to other crypts, also just as empty as the one we’d already checked. The surviving cultist that Murphy had merely knocked cold came too with a little persuasion and eventually told us that the cult had two kidnap teams still out to grab the two remaining children that night. I packed up the gun and took the children from Helen as she joined the others in examining the skeleton. I left them to it as I led the kids up the stairs and out into the full daylight of the graveyard. We had a pleasant walk through town, and I shared my packed lunch with them as we made our way across the river to the police station. The desk sergeant nearly had a fit when I walked in with the two children, but he went and fetched Detective Stuckey when I asked him to.
Stuckey quickly launched into a frantic plan to contact the children’s families and hold a press conference. I did my best to encourage him to get his case in order before he called the press, but getting the children’s families down to the police station seemed like good sense. I told Stuckey about the two teams out to grab the Janesworth and Richards kids, then excused myself to wash my hands. Once the desk sergeant had left the door to the wash room, I slipped out by the back door. Stuckey seemed hell-bent on a press conference, and I didn’t want anything to do with it.
Father Yang seemed to be leading the group that had stayed behind on a project of consecrating and reburying the Fowler bones, and I left them to it. Didn’t seem like I’d be much help for that sort of thing, and I thought I’d be more use keeping an eye on the Janesworth place. The police seemed to have it in hand, however, and they were already leading the banker we’d seen earlier outside the hotel and a second man away in handcuffs by the time I got there.
I made my way back to the train station and booked myself a ticket back to New York before Stuckey got around to asking too many questions about the gunshot wounds on most of his cult suspects. I don’t regret shooting them, and I suspect that Stuckey would have understood, but I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to just give the police something they can claim as a victory and then make yourself scarce before they get around to asking too many awkward questions.