Session 11 | London | The Talented Mr. Shipley

 

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Papillons du mal. Miles Shipley 1923. Oil on canvas.

 

Game system: Call of Cthulhu 6th ed

Dramatis personae

Edward Foxworthy | Big game hunter | 34 yrs | Flan

Carl Blackwater | Foreign correspondent | 31 yrs | Martin

Slim Shady | Attorney | 46 yrs | Djuro

Absent this session

Kent Bengtsson | Aviator | 38 yrs | Berndt

H.P Rennfarth | NYPD Forensics Specialist | 27 yrs | Mats

Link to background stories and portraits


Meeting Yalesha

London, UK, Sunday, February 2nd, 1925 | slightly past noon

Late from the drawn out meeting with the head of the Penhew Foundation, Mr. Gavigan, the investigators catch a cab to go to the meeting with Yalesha the belly-dancer. On the way to Limehouse, Carl and Edward pick up Slim Shady and proceed to the pub where they’re supposed to meet Yalesha. Even though the cab driver is most knowledgeable of the London streets, frequent traffic jams make them arrive about 20 minutes late. The pub looks like it has been in the same location for several hundred years, a battered wooden sign reading “The Bouncing Duck” swinging over the entrance in the drizzle. Inside, it’s murky, the colored small pane windows letting almost no light in. There’s no sign of the young woman, only some working class males can be seen sipping lager at the tables. Only after asking, the bartender points out a slim figure in a hat too large, sitting at a corner table in the back of the room. Yalesha, now more properly dressed in a woman’s trench coat, is hard to recognize in the dim light but she waves them over, looking around nervously. She’s a bit suspicious about Carl and Slim, but soon calms down and tells her story.

 

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Off-work Yalesha

 

Her Egyptian boyfriend and husband-to-be, Fahed Al-Harbi has disappeared and she suspects that he has been murdered by evil men. He worked at the club as a bartender and got involved in something and now he has been gone for 6 weeks. The young woman says that maybe once or twice a month, a shabby canvas-topped truck comes to the club somewhere around midnight. Some two dozen of the club patrons then go out and get in the truck and it drives away. Whereto she doesn’t know, but she suspects somewhere out of town. The patrons don’t come back to the club later, what she knows of, but then they close at 1.00 am. Yalesha thinks that this operation is run by a dangerous man called Tewfik Al-Sayed and she has heard the name The Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh mentioned in connection to this. She doesn’t think that the owner of the club, Mr. Nawisha, is involved but she is sure that he knows some of what is going on. Yalesha also says that these people have eyes and ears everywhere and that it’s not safe to discuss such matters in the open. The PCs volunteer to get Yalesha somewhere else to live, but she says that she has no one else in this country and that the alternative to dancing for money at the club is doing immoral things instead. Also, her beloved Fahed might return and she must be there to meet him. She asks the PCs to find out what happened to her boyfriend. She also wants revenge on these evil men!

Edward borrows the establishment’s phone and calls Mahoney to see if he has some notes on the young man. Mahoney doesn’t know the name from memory but promises to check his files. Edward then phones Inspector Barrington to ask the same thing. Checking the files of victims, Barrington says that Fahed’s name is not among them, but then again, some victims haven’t been identified yet due to the state of decomposition of the bodies when discovered. He also informs Edward that a man called Tewfik Al-Sayed was implicated in the investigation in relation to the Egyptian killings. Apparently, he’s a spice merchant operating out of the rather poor and immigrant-rich neighborhood of Bethnal Green. Al-Sayed had also been hired as a guide in a Penhew Foundation-funded expedition to Egypt a few years back. The man was investigated and even tailed for a week but nothing incriminating could be found. Al-Sayed also denied that there was a thing such as The Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh.

Yalesha looks a bit relieved when she learns this and the PCs promise to look into the thing. Edward hands Yalesha his business card, writing down the name and number of their hotel and asks her to contact them if something new should happen or if she needs assistance. And with that, the young woman walks out into the rain without looking back.

 

London, UK, Sunday, February 2nd, 1925 | late afternoon

Bethnal Green, East End

 

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East End street

 

 

 

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Whitechapel locals enjoy jellied eel, East End, the 1920s

 

After meeting Yalesha, the investigators take a cab to Mr. Tewfik’s spice shop in Bethnal Green in East End to follow up on their new lead. As the cab moves north through the busy streets, the poverty and despair get even more evident. The shop fronts and people’s dress switch from mainly English working class to more exotic as the area is populated mainly by immigrants of many different nationalities. On Canrobert Street, a small side street to Bethnal Green Road, they find Tewfik’s Spice Emporium, advertised in both English and Arabic. The PCs stop the cab some 100 yards up the road, then walks back, scanning the busy street for threats. There are lots of shops here at street level, with what seems to be lodgings in the floors above. Carl and Edward stay outside keeping watch on the opposite side of the street, while Slim enters the shop, pretending to be a customer. The shop has racks to the ceiling on all walls and a big counter in the center of the room. Sliding ladders provide access to the higher shelves. Just inside the entrance is a stair up with a “Private” sign and in the back of the shop, there’s a door. Upon entering, Edward is overwhelmed with the scents of spices from all over the world.

 

Tewfik

Mr. Tewfik Al-Sayed

Browsing around, Slim is soon greeted by the shop’s proprietor, Mr. Tewfik as he calls himself, a pleasant and knowledgeable man. Slim acts the customer and manages to find out that Tewfik sells spices, tea, and coffee but not so much more. The man seems beyond reproach. He’s also a good businessman, and after a while, the attorney exits the shop with a big brown paper bag filled with exotic oriental spices. Outside, nothing has happened other than that Carl spotted some middle eastern men looking suspiciously their way and discussing something but then they disappeared in the throng. After a short sidewalk meeting, the PCs decide to follow up on the “mad painter”-lead. They catch a cab and go to their hotel to find out the address of Mr. Shipley.

 

London, UK, Sunday, February 2nd, 1925 | early evening

The talented Mr. Shipley

The artist’s residence is in sophistically sordid Chelsea, just south of Hyde Park, a favorite haunt of London’s artist elite. Exiting the cab on a suburban street with little two-story houses and well-tended gardens, Shipley’s house stands in contrast to them. The garden is a tangled mess and the house in need of repairs, paint chipping, and wood rotting. Upon entering the front garden, the PCs notice that the curtains are drawn on all the windows.

“–Seclusive people, those artists, eh?”

No one answers their knocks with the lion knocker but after a long while, shuffling sounds can be heard from within and the door is opened by an old white haired lady, holding a knitting basket with thread and knitting needles. The air inside smells stale and has that scent of old people and slow decay.

 

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Mrs. Shipley

Upon asking for Mr. Shipley, the old lady says that he is indisposed, but after stating that they are there to buy some art as they are American art collectors, the old lady disappears up the stairs of the narrow house and promptly brings down a protesting wreck of a man:

“–No mama, I don’t want to see any nice gentlemen! I’m tired! And where are my French toffees and hot cocoa?”

 

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Miles Shipley, one of his better days

 

Miles is dressed in color-spattered pajama pants and plaid slippers with holes in them. His chest is bare and he has borrowed mama’s morning gown, which he wears open, arms down. The man hasn’t shaved in days and his pallid face and hole-eyed looks suggest that he does not sleep all that well. Or that he is a drug fiend. Or both. However, he lights up when he hears the word “purchase” and immediately shows the investigators up the stair to the garret, which he unlocks using a key that he keeps on a leather thong around his neck. The old lady, who seems to be the one running things around here, follows last.

The garret has sloping walls and is dimly lit by kerosene lamps. Along the walls are stacks of paintings. There’s a shut skylight, painted black, letting very little daylight in. In the back, an old Victorian closet looms, locked with an oversized padlock.

The manic artist invites the PCs to have a peek at the art, even lighting a naked lightbulb hanging from the rafters for better visibility. Mrs. Shipley sits in an old comfy chair towards the door, picking up her knitting project. As Miles starts pacing, chewing his nails, the PCs set to work with one stack of paintings each. Edward’s and Slim’s stacks contain six paintings each, while Carl checks out two stacks with a total of nine paintings.

The motives are all starkly discomforting and on the verge of mind-bending (see List of artworks, Dropbox) but despite the clearly demented content, Slim and Edward manage to shrug off the discomfort. Carl, on the other hand, snaps from delusion and starts slashing a painting depicting a city of dark tower-like buildings, screaming at the top of his lungs. His compatriots manage to calm him and send him downstairs to sit in the lounge and take a time out.

In the garret, Miles is severely upset at the damage done to his painting and demands satisfaction – in cash that is. There’s also especially one painting that’s drawing the PCs attention – one of the paintings that poor Carl reviewed:

“It is night. A vast black mountain rises from a savannah. A great figure rises over the mountain, blotting out the moon. Its head is a massive red tendril. Near a temple-like building, tiny human figures lift their hands imploringly towards the creature; each wears a head-dress of the Bloody Tongue.”

 

After some haggling about the price, the PCs buy the mountain-painting for 160 Pounds plus the damaged one for 90 Pounds. As the economic transaction is settled by Slim, and they get ready to leave, Edward asks to see what’s in the locked cupboard. Miles looks immediately nervous, stating that it’s just some old rubbish and nothing to be seen.

And this is where Edward decides that enough is enough, drawing his .38 revolver, demanding that the artist opens the cupboard. Miles is wringing his hands, looking at Mrs. Shipley for support, gaining nothing but a hard look from the old lady. Slim menacingly put on his knuckle-dusters and takes away the old lady’s knitting basket. As Slim looks over towards Edward and the artist across the room, Mrs. Shipley lunges out, fast as a cobra, trying to bite Slim in the neck! The attorney manages to dodge, aiming a punch at the old lady who dodges with amazing dexterity. This is the second time that Edward has had enough. He picks up an old pink pillow with a floral pattern and fires at the old lady in a cloud of duck feathers, hitting her in the chest – with no effect! Meanwhile, the deranged artist has produced a rusty meat cleaver from somewhere and attacks Edward who turns and fires two shots point blank into the chest of the man, sending him bleeding to the floor. The old lady bites Slim again but with a heroic effort, he manages to shove her off, punching her in the mouth with the knuckle-dusters, sending her dental prostheses flying across the room, before sinking to the floor in a heap, almost passing out from the intense pain where the old lady bit him.

Slim looks up, but where the old lady just stood, there’s now a large serpent-man-thing instead!

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Mrs. Shipley’s real appearance…

Edward fires at the snake-thing through what is left of the pillow, hitting its arm, seemingly to no avail as it tries to pin down Slim. At this time, Carl bursts into the attic, gun in hand drawn by the noise above, just in time to see the snake-thing rush towards the center of the room, making an impossible leap towards the skylight window…

…only to be hit in the chest in mid-jump by two bullets from Edward and his now almost non-existent pillow. The big snake-thing thuds into the roof, missing the skylight and falls to the ground in a bloody mess. [Keeper comment: Edward’s player managed a clean critical hit here, dealing out severe damage in addition to the ordinary hit he also rolled]. As Carl rushes over to tend to Slim’s wounds, Edward puts one bullet each in the heads of the snake-man and the artist – again through the remains pink pillow.

The cordite smelling air is full of blood-smeared duck feathers as Carl tends to Slim’s wounds. It turns out to be two puncture like bites on the attorney’s neck. Carl tries to squeeze out any venom before binding the wounds. Meanwhile, Edward checks the dead for keys to the closet. When he doesn’t find any, he resorts to his trusty crowbar to get the job done. However, it isn’t until Carl gives it a try that the sturdy hinges give up and the closet opens. Inside is an easel, covered with an old bedsheet.

Despite the warnings of Edward and Carl (who are both deliberately looking away), Slim decides to have a peek at the hidden painting. He rips off the cover, revealing a photorealistic painting of an antediluvian jungle swamp. In the center, there’s an island and on the island, there’s a great stone slab, mystical glyphs along its sides. As Slim studies the painting, the fetid swamp water seems to ripple and move. Slim reaches out a hand to touch the fantastic painting:

“–Hey guys! This is unbelievingly realistic! Look – I can almost……”

Suddenly, all goes silent. Edward and Carl take a quick peak in the direction of the painting. Slim is gone. However, on the very realistic painting, a small figure resembling Slim can be seen, waving for help. No sound can be heard. Looking away, the two remaining PCs quickly scramble to find the cover and as they cover the weird painting, they see some 30 strangely dressed snake-men emerge from the borders of the painting, long crooked blades in their scaly hands…

In silence and shock, Carl and Edward clean the scene – they shove the corpses of the snake-man and Miles into the painting and wrap the other paintings in canvas from the roll that they saw Miles pack the painting they bought before all went south…

Exhausted, they look at each other – what now…? Three men entered. One went mad, one disappeared due to some foul sorcery and one is still standing…

And here we had to take a break for the evening. Stay tuned for more Call of Cthulhu goodness from the Fistful of d20’s crew!


Link to the ever-growing tributary page to the heroes lost in the struggle against the Mythos


Reminder to Players: Next time SAN checks for (i) seeing Slim disappear into the painting and (ii) for seeing the Snake-thing. Also, Carl went temporarily insane for the first time so he receives 5% to his Cthulhu Mythos.

 

 

 

 

 

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