1879: Actual Play: Session 2 – The Investigation Begins
GM: When we last left our intrepid explorers, they had accepted a commission from Michael Mulvihill of the Levellers, a trade unionist and organiser from Ireland working in New York City.
Parker: I’m sensing a theme here. He’s from Ireland, Bethelie’s from France, Yang and Abraham and Rivka are all the first gen kids of immigrants.
GM: Welcome to New York. Ellis Island’s right across the bay, remember?
Parker: Oh yeah.
Thomas: So we’re all here from someplace else, trying to make this our home.
GM: Something like that. In your case, you’re trying to make a buck. You’ve got five already, just for showing up at the meeting. You heard Mike out, agreed to look into whatever’s got the tradesmen all spooked, screwing with the Levellers’ attempts to organise, get the existing unions talking with each other, get new unions established.
Rachel: So there is something more than the usual tricks of management going on.
Parker: Yeah, you expect people to get roughed up, organizers to get fired, that kind of crap. Irish boy says there’s more to it.
GM: That he does. Something that’s got the sandhogs spooked, and those guys just don’t spook.
Thomas: And women.
GM: Right, there’s a few snark and troll women among them, but the sandhogs are generally big Polish guys, pretty tight knit crew.
Thomas: We’re going to go over real well with a bunch of white tunnel diggers.
GM: <grins> Didn’t say it was gonna be easy.
Thomas: Wouldn’t be any fun if it was. So we have the sandhogs, and the steelworkers on the lower west side, and something ate one of them.
Rachel: And the finances aren’t lining up, Michael said. Something is wrong with the accounting. That’s where I come in. You can go deal with whatever ate that man.
Parker: Yang lays a hand on the butt of his pistol. I’ve got that covered.
Thomas: Pretty damn confident for a man ain’t seen what he’s gonna be shootin’ at just yet.
Parker: Yang grins lazily, but doesn’t say anything.
Jennifer: <French accent> Perhaps we should begin with speaking with the friends of the steelworkers who, you say, skipped the town? Find out if they said anything before they hop the night train for Chicago.
Thomas: Start with the workers, find out what they know, then work our way up to the company and get our Byron access to an Engine terminal. Works for me.
GM: The four of you have had this conversation over coffee and a bagel at a cheap joint on the lower East side. Bethelie, you’re staying uptown a ways, and Abraham, you’ve had to come down from San Juan Hill, and Yang up from Chinatown. Rivka’s neighborhood is more or less central to the rest of you.
Rachel: What day is it?
GM: Tuesday. You met with Michael on Monday evening.
Rachel: Okay. Keeping track of day of the week here.
Parker: You gonna stop shooting if we’re in a firefight on a Friday and the sun goes down?
Rachel: <stares at him coolly for a moment> Survival is the greatest of the mitzvot.
Parker: <raises his hands in mock surrender> Just asking.
GM: So you each pay a nickel for breakfast. Abraham, you drive down here or take the bus or what?
Thomas: Tuesday morning, after rush hour? I drove, dude.
GM: Okay. So the four of you pile into Thomas’ steam coach.
Thomas: It’s kind of a beater, but in this line of work, it don’t pay to drive a fancy car. Gets noticed.
Parker: Gets shot up.
Thomas: That too.
GM: And you set off across Manhattan to the west side. You going to the work site, or to the tenement neighborhood where they lived?
Jennifer: We would learn more from their neighbors, from the wives, than we will learn from these men.
Rachel: <nods> Men tend to be closed mouthed, all manly and silent and repressed, but the women will want to talk about what upset their friends.
Thomas: Abraham shrugs, and hangs a left into the tenements.
GM: The area’s not bad, as tenement housing goes. It’s no slum, anyway. Old buildings, overcrowded, but reasonably well kept. The alleys are more or less clear of refuse.
Jennifer: Always a good thing. High boots are a necessity in some places. Bethelie gives a delicate little shudder.
GM: You pull up in front of one of the buildings. Yours is the only steam coach on the block. There’s a couple of pushcarts with guys yelling about fish and vegetables, and a few women out on the sidewalks talking with them, arguing about whether the haddock is really worth that much, the usual street scene in the morning.
Jennifer: The same the world over.
GM: The tenement you’re parked in front of has a set of windows with no curtains up on the second floor, like a missing tooth.
Parker: Somebody got punched hard enough to knock it out.
GM: <nods> The rest of the apartments seem to be occupied.
Rachel: Is there an occupied apartment on the same floor?
GM: At least one. Could be another couple on the side or back, you can only see the front of the building, these tenements are really close together.
Thomas: I look for the super.
GM: Make a Streetwise Test.
Thomas: <rolls> Got a 13.
GM: The old guy sitting on the steps with the newspaper has got beat up work boots, and the knees of his dungarees are stained and worn.
Thomas: I walk over to him. Morning.
GM: He turns the page of his newspaper, shakes it into shape, doesn’t look up. It’s morning, he says, yeah.
Thomas: You the super?
GM: Who wants to know? He still doesn’t look up.
Thomas: I pull out a badge case, but don’t open it. Building inspector.
GM: He looks up at you sharply, at the badge case, at your face. Bullshit, he says. Paid him off last week.
Thomas: I start up a line of shit about how the regular guy came down with a bad case of arrested, and now the paperwork’s gotta get adjusted, and keep this guy busy while the rest of the party goes and has a look at the building. I’ve got a 14 on my Engaging Banter.
GM: No problem, you can keep the super’s attention for a little while, maybe even draw a bit of attention from the people on the street. It’s always amusing to watch the super have to deal with a petty bureaucrat.
Parker: I’m in the door and down the stairs. Super’s flat?
GM: There’s a couple of doors. One’s got a hasp and an old padlock on it, and grease stains. The other has a regular door knob, keyhole above it, and a faded note stuck to it with paste that says Rent due on first, put under door with name on envelope.
Parker: Try the knob.
Rachel: What the hell are you two doing?
Thomas: You go talk with the wives, we’ll check the basement and see if there’s anything going on down there.
Jennifer: Boys. Okay, while they’re doing all that, we go up the stairs and find the empty flat.
GM: <to Parker> It’s locked.
Parker: 12 on Lock Picking.
GM: It’s not locked.
Parker: Ease the door open, take one step in, and look to the side of the door for the spare key ring.
GM: Yeah, you don’t want to take more than one step into the super’s flat. It’s cluttered, it smells bad, and you’re pretty sure those stacks of newspapers will fall on you if you get too close. Spare key ring is on a hook by the door, big sucker, lots of keys, none of them labeled.
Parker: I take it, and lock the door back on my way out.
GM: Roll it.
Parker: Got a 10, do I need karma?
GM: Nah, it’s a cheap lock.
Parker: Okay, now figure out what key opens that other door.
GM: That takes you a few. Meanwhile, Bethelie and Rivka go up the stairs. The door to the empty apartment is hanging open, and there’s a woman in there scrubbing the place, got a bowl of soapy water and a brush.
Rachel: Excuse me?
GM: The woman glances up, pushes a lock of sweaty hair out of her face with the back of her wrist. If you’re looking to rent it, you need to talk to the super, he’ll be out front like he always is.
Rachel: Actually, no, I was looking for, um, I check my notes, what was the name of the family that lived here?
GM: Tartaglio. Denny and Lori, and their two kids, you don’t have the kids’ names.
Rachel: Lori Tartaglio?
GM: The woman shakes her head. They did a flit a couple days ago. I don’t live here. You might check with the people in apartment two, and I think their stuff is still out back, the junk man doesn’t come until Wednesday, but the neighbors have already been picking through it. She goes back to scrubbing.
Jennifer: I knock at the door of apartment two.
Rachel: I thank the woman.
GM: She just nods and keeps scrubbing. Bethelie, a woman’s voice calls out, who is it? Sounds kind of worried.
Jennifer: I ‘ave some money here for Tartaglio, from the Sisters of Compassion?
GM: The door is unbolted, a couple of times, and opens a bit. A young elven woman, looks tired and worried, peers out at you. They’ve gone, she says, what kind of money? Lori didn’t take charity.
Jennifer: First Impression?
GM: Roll it.
GM: Two extra successes. Play it out.
Jennifer: Not charity, a payment of a debt from relatives in Italy, the Sisters are handling it so that the bank does not take part of the money. May we talk?
GM: The young woman opens the door and lets the two of you in. Please, come in, she says, excuse the mess, I just got the two oldest off to school. The flat is small, like you’d expect, but they’ve got at least three rooms, one for kitchen and commons and two screened off with blankets hung in the doorways. There’s two children, one human, one elven, maybe three or four years old, sitting at the flimsy table, finishing making a huge mess of their breakfast. One of them slaps her spoon on the table and launches a spray of porridge into the air, and laughs.
Rachel: I grab a towel or rag or whatever is handy and lend a hand.
GM: The woman grabs her daughter’s hand and tells her sternly no, and starts cleaning her up while you work on the table and the floor. Thank you. I’m Emilia, and this little scamp is Donata, and that’s Mauro.
Rachel: I’m Rivka, and this is Bethelie. About the Tartaglios?
GM: Emilia shakes her head, and keeps her attention on the little girl she’s trying to clean up, who does not want to be cleaned. They left two nights ago. Very late at night, Denny came home much later than usual, he’s not a drinker you understand, and it was Sunday, he wouldn’t have been out with the other steelworkers, their union hall night is Saturday. Came up the stairs loud, hurried, woke me up, and I went to check on the children and make sure they didn’t get woke up by the noise. These walls are thin like paper, you know?
Jennifer: Bethelie nods. You cannot help but overhear sometimes. Please, what you heard may help us get this money from their family to them.
GM: Denny was trying to be quiet but his voice kept rising, and he was stomping around, and saying something about they had to go now, before it caught up with him.
Jennifer: Before who caught up with him?
GM: I don’t think it was a person he was scared of. Denny, he’s a foreman, you know? Big guy? Comes home some times from the bar with his knuckles all bloody but hardly a bruise on his face. Not like my Vincenzo, he’s a good man, doesn’t get into fights.
Rachel: I wipe down Mauro’s face and hands, I’m sure they need it. So what was Denny afraid of?
GM: I don’t know. He wasn’t being clear. He just kept saying they had to go, they had to go right now. Lori tried to get him to calm down, and then she was saying be careful with that, wrap it up before you put it in the suitcase, and trying to keep her children quiet, they were awake and scared and crying, and then they all went out, down the stairs with a couple of suitcases and a bundle tied up in a blanket and their coats. Denny told Lori not to bother locking the door, they weren’t coming back, they had to go right now.
Jennifer: I put a hand on her shoulder. Emilia, there is something you are not telling us.
GM: She looks down at her daughter.
Rachel: I take the kids into the room with the brighter colored blanket and get their clothes changed.
GM: Good call. Once the kids are out of the room, Emilia looks back up at Bethelie. He said it ate Luigi. It came up out of the sewers and it dragged Luigi down and it threw his arm back up, and said they were all next. She’s just about to break down crying.
Jennifer: I give her a shoulder.
GM: She leans against you and cries a little. She’s worried about her Vincenzo, and her children, and if there’s something in the sewers eating people, why aren’t the police doing something about it? The managers up by Central Park must have sent this thing, if it was hunting the union organisers, and Vincenzo just paid his dues to be a union man, is it going to come after him next?
Jennifer: I let her cry it out a bit and then reassure her, no, it will not. I am sorry, I lied a little bit, we are not here to bring money, we are here to bring justice. What you have told me, we will use it to find this thing, and we will stop it. Go to the Sisters if you need sanctuary. God will watch over His children.
GM: Given your First Impression roll earlier, she buys it. Emilia calms down, gets her children back from Rivka, thanks her for helping clean them up, and says, one more thing. Denny said the newspapers were wrong. He said the Saurids have come over from the Gruv, and that was what killed Luigi.
Jennifer: A Saurid killed and ate Luigi.
GM: That’s what she says.
Jennifer: Right. Okay, we take our leave.
Parker: How long’s it taken me to find the key to the basement?
GM: Not that long, really. The third key you try pops the lock. You found the boiler room. The building has coal fired steam heating, which means it also has running hot water.
Parker: Big time luxury for a tenement.
GM: Yeah, but this boiler looks like it came out of a locomotive built before the War of Secession. Thing’s riveted and iron banded, and it creaks a little while you’re standing there.
Parker: Mechanic Test?
GM: if you want.
Parker: Got a 15.
GM: You spot a couple quick adjustments you can make to keep it from exploding in the next few days, but it needs maintenance in a serious way or it’s going to either collapse or blow in the near future.
Parker: Okay, I make the adjustments, and get the hell out.
Thomas: I’m still keeping this guy tied up with a line of bullshit, right?
GM: You’re running out of plausibility about the time Parker comes out of the building.
Parker: That boiler’s shot.
GM: The super jumps up. What the hell you doing messing around down there?
Parker: I nod to Abraham. Man told you we were inspectors. Your pressure cutoff is rusted shut, and when was the last time that thing was flushed? You’ve got buildup in there like the tartar between your teeth.
GM: Do you have Taunt?
Parker: No, closest I’ve got is Conversation.
GM: Make a Charisma Test.
Parker: Got a nine.
GM: The super is taken aback. He splutters for a second, then says, not my damn problem, you got to talk with Mister Pesotta, he owns the building, any repairs or maintenance he gotta pay for it!
Thomas: I pull out a notebook and take down the name. We’ll do that, I tell him, but you could take a wire brush to the cutoff, right? I look at Yang.
Parker: Yang shakes his head. The rust is all that’s holding it together. Keep your pressure below fifteen or it’s gonna go bang.
GM: Bethelie and Rivka come down the stairs about now.
Thomas: I keep my attention on the super. Okay, you do what he says, and I nod to Yang, and we won’t have to charge for the new paperwork being filed. Any complaints or problems, and you know Pesotta is going to hang your ass out to dry, his kind got lawyers and money and they don’t do jail time when one of their buildings goes up.
GM: The super grumbles, and gets his paper, and goes inside.
Parker: I drop his key ring next to the steps where he was sitting. Hey, I call out to him, you dropped something.
Thomas: We should leave. This guy’s going to go up like his boiler.
Jennifer: We have what we needed anyway. Time to get everybody together in the car and talk.
Join us in our next thrilling installment, when our heroes find out if there really are Saurids in the sewers of New York!