1879: Octavia Rainwater, Psychic Investigator for Hire
In this third installment of our Personalities line, we give you the backstory and character sheet of Octavia Rainwater, a Medium who works for the Union branch of Moser’s Detective Agency, one of the first to prominently feature women detectives and directly solicit women as clients. A later $1.99 PDF will expand on this material, as our previous Personalities have, providing five Connections and three Adventure Hooks for Miss Rainwater, and three Goodies appropriate to her Profession.
Born near Williamsburg, in Whitley County, Kentucky, Octavia Rainwater finds it exasperating when she’s mistaken for a Confederate.
“Not everyone with a Southern accent is a traitor to their nation. People tend to assume, upon hearing my voice, that I am some delicate Southern flower carefully sheltered from the harsh realities of life, or an ignorant hick from so far back in the woods that I just started wearing shoes yesterday. I allow them their illusions. If they think less of me, I have them at a disadvantage.”
While her father’s parents grew up in the region, her mother’s parents moved down from Ohio in 1829, following rioting in Cincinnati. Her grandmother Ida came from a staunchly abolitionist family, and took up the cause of improving the condition of Negro communities in the North through education. In the process of getting the First Ward’s Negro Schools up and running, she met Hobart Sinclair, a deacon at the African Methodist Evangelical Church. Before either family could tell them it was a bad idea, for practical reasons alone, the white schoolteacher and the black steamfitter had a May wedding, at the AME Church as no white preacher would solemnize the relationship. Getting the license took a fifty dollar bribe, even after Ida pointed out that Ohio’s racist legislature had forgotten to pass a miscegenation law and what she and Hobart proposed to do was legal. The next month, the town overseers of the poor published their intent to enforce the 1807 Ohio Black Law, requiring black residents to post bonds of surety within thirty days or be run out of town by force. The black community asked for a three month extension, to look into migrating to Ontario or other more accepting regions. What they got, in late August, was a series of mobs attacking their homes. Gangs of two to three hundred, heavily comprised of Irish immigrants who blamed the black men of the First Ward for their inability to find work, or who were simply racists, savaged the riverside black neighbourhoods for nine days before the mayor finally intervened. By the end of the month, somewhere between a thousand and fifteen hundred black citizens fled the city, some as refugees carrying whatever remained of their possessions the racist mobs hadn’t burned, others making a more orderly exit and completing their plans to emigrate to Canada.
“My grandmama is a well educated and driven woman, with a strong moral fibre, but nobody ever said she was smart. Everybody took off North, and she convinced grandpappy they should move South. There was still so much work to do, she said, and there was government money to put up schools in Appalachia. Pappy Hobart didn’t think much of the idea, but the mining companies were desperate enough for steamfitters they were willing to hire a black man if he was willing to move into the area, and off they went, from Perdition straight into Hell.”
Kentucky was founded as a slave state in 1792, and remained such until the War of Secession. Being a free Negro there was brutally hard. The Sinclairs faced open threats, attacks in broad daylight in the middle of the street, and ostracism from a community that didn’t want to get to know them in the first place. The first school Ida founded failed within a month, between a total lack of student registration and vandalism that damaged the one-room schoolhouse beyond repair.
“Grandmama Ida got herself a job at the general store, doing the books and selling groceries out the back door to the black folks who weren’t allowed to come in the front door, free or not. Little by slow she won a few hearts, and their minds followed, but it was uphill through the snow both ways, and eight years before she finally got a school going. That only survived because it was in a church building. Pappy Hobart don’t like to talk about that time, but I know he went through Hell for his wife and their baby. Momma come along three years into it and that wasn’t a nine days wonder, it was a scandal for a whole generation that a baby had been born to a white woman by a black man.”
Tensions rose and fell, on both the local and national scene. In 1860, two momentous events occurred. Edgar Rainwater and Rachel Sinclair ran off to Indiana, and came back married. The argument that started over a white man marrying a woman who was half black, and whether that marriage counted in a slave state, got eclipsed by the second event. South Carolina seceded from the United States, in response to Abraham Lincoln’s election as the next President, and the rest of the states that would found the Confederacy swiftly followed.
“The War gave people way too many opportunities. My family has had to defend itself against racist attacks for three generations now, ever since the First Ward Riots. Kentucky got took by the Union early in the War, but if you think that settled anything I got shares in a railroad you ought to look at. When I was three years old, we were burned out of our home in the middle of the night. Knights of the White Camellia, they called themselves then, wasn’t until after the War that the Klan really got their start. I was brought up knowing how to run, how to fight, and how to choose between the options.”
By the age of nine, Octavia’s life gained additional complications, as her psychic abilities began to manifest. This was well before Rabbit Hole Day, but there was already enough mana in the air to set off a few flickers here and there.
“Flickers, my ass, it was damn spooky. And I was the one having the flashes, imagine how it looked to the rest of the family. I’d say something back to Ezra, and he’d look at me funny, and I’d realize he hadn’t said it out loud, just in his head, and then he’d figure out what happened and find some reason to be someplace else. And when you are nine years old, you do not want to be able to see through walls, oh no ma’am, you most certainly do not. There are things no child should be exposed to before their mind has gained the strength to handle them. White people call it being an odd child. We called it bein’ hainted, and nobody wants to associate with someone who’s attractin’ haints, that’s like being on a battlefield and drawin’ fire. It’s just un-neighborly. So no, I most certainly did not get along well with other children my age, nor did I have anything even remotely considerable as a normal childhood.”
With the War over, and Kentucky a Union state and thus a free state, the legal issues eased up a little, although new ones arose. Defeated in open battle, the white supremacists took their cause to the polls, the legislature, and the courts.
“The only thing that saved both my grandparents’ and parents’ marriages from being declared invalid was the clause against laws being ex post facto. It chapped some white asses raw they couldn’t apply the new miscegenation laws against those damn Yankees that moved in before the war. That was what got me interested in the law. Now, a woman in Kentucky had no chance of being admitted to a law school, and a woman from Kentucky sure wasn’t going to get into any of those snooty up-East universities even if she had the money, which I didn’t, but Danville had a decent enough little college, and they thought it was funny I wanted to study law enforcement. Nobody was ever gonna hire me as a police officer, they told me, and I knew that. Wasn’t what I was after. During the War, the Pinkertons made quite a splash for themselves. After, there was other agencies starting up, and one come over from London looking specifically for my sort of person.”
Octavia now lives in Louisville, the biggest city in the state, fourteenth in the Union in overland and river shipping, and just the other side of the Ohio River from Indiana, a place where a woman who could pass for either black or white can disappear into a throng of similar folks. She works for Moser’s Detective Agency of London, the first British investigative firm to employ women, with a special focus on helping women who might be uncertain or afraid of approaching a man. Moser’s has expanded to the Union in direct competition with the Pinkertons, who while they employed women as spies during the War, have been reluctant to employ them in peacetime. While the larger portion of her caseload consists of unfaithful spouses, as any private investigator’s will, she’s also gained a shred of respect from the police department, especially since the Rabbit Hole opened and her abilities bloomed.
“I’ve always had what the old folks back home called the Sight. It came in flashes, never was real reliable, but I’d hear what people were thinking sometimes, or see where something was. When the storm come, it was like somebody pried open my skull, poured in a whole gallon of gasoline, and threw in a match. I lit up with such a bang that everybody in the neighbourhood complained about it. I would’ve left Danville and gone out in the woods to get away from the noise, but for a solid week I was sicker than the time I swiped Junior Tate’s shine jug and drank half of it afore I passed out. College sent a nurse around to check on me, make sure I was still breathing, and I could see her nerves inside her body and a cloud of worry around her head like mist around the mountain peaks.”
A few cases in Danville solved with the help of an actual psychic, not the pre-Rabbit Hole frauds and unreliable flashes some people had, got Octavia the reward money that bought her train ticket up to Louisville and the first month’s rent on a room in a women’s boarding house. Her degree in law enforcement, her determination, and her abilities got her the position with Moser’s. From there, she’s focused on making her name and improving herself. The agency has taught her a number of skills useful in fighting, getting out of a fight, avoiding a fight in the first place, and coming away with the evidence without anyone being the wiser. Octavia enrolled herself at a young women’s finishing school on Fourth Street at Ormsby, and has been learning to comport herself as a member of more polite society.
“I’ve completed Putting On Airs 101. Next semester I’ve got Looking Down My Nose 201, and a workshop class on Which Fork First.”
She’s still adjusting a bit to her Read Object power, developed only a year ago in the process of learning more about her existing abilities.
“In my line of work, I have to handle things that – well, let’s just say that I have a great deal of empathy for nurses. You want details? They go a far piece past indelicate. Well, then, did you know it’s possible to see who was involved with a French letter, but it requires direct skin contact with the item, and the sooner after use the clearer the images? I carry a phial of liquid carbolic soap for washing my hands afterwards.”
If you have a problem that needs a woman’s touch, help from someone who listens with their mind and spirit, who can talk with ghosts and see auras, a police-trained detective who doesn’t need to riffle through Bertillon cards and chase around to every haberdasher in town to know whose hat was left at the scene, you can reach Miss Rainwater telegraphically at Shadows, Louisville.
See the PDF, and note the following.
Her Profession abilities are:
- +1 to Physical Defense (already accounted for in her character sheet)
- +1 to her Mystic Defense (likewise accounted for)
- Karma for any WIL-only Test
- Staring Into Your Soul
- Her Money reflects the amount she tends to carry with her for immediate expenses, bribes, supplies, telegrams, and so on. She maintains an account with the Bank of Louisville, where she has a tidy sum stashed away toward retirement, travel, purchase of a small cottage somewhere quiet, or whatever life leads her to. She can routinely expense anything up to $100 for an active case, as long as the paperwork goes in to Moser’s within the next day, or she telegraphs a priority code to their private box to explain why the paperwork will be delayed.