The stunning dame in the red gown stands at the stairs above the Dead Ends Bar, knocking on the door crudely labeled “Private Investigations.” She’s let into the shabby office suit where Charlie, Dee, and Moira take cases and (in the case of Charlie) sleep. It’s early evening and rainy. The dame, named Lydia and employed as a stage actress, is looking to hire detectives to recover a family heirloom: an antique silver compact encrusted with rubies. Even better, thanks to an otherwise useless watch sergeant she knows who did it: a goblin firebug named Gnurk, known to work for the Ragman syndicate. Asking further, though, the gang becomes suspicious at their erstwhile client’s reticence to answer all of their questions fully. After some needling by Dee, Lydia tells them the compact was stolen from a safe she hid in a dressing room of a theater across town. Gnurk burned the room out and got the compact from the safe. In the end they agree to take the case, with the usual fee, but their curiosities are perked. They decide to check out the scene of the crime the next morning.
Turns out the entire theater was burned, but not recently. From the looks of it, the place had been on fire a decade or two past. Charlie quickly spots the unsettling form of a lost spirit in the building. Lost spirits, jumbled nightmare amalgamations of limbs and teeth and other less pleasant parts, represent ghosts who have given up hope of moving on, overwhelmed with despair. Dangerous stuff, and they give Charlie the heebie-jeebies besides. The trio scoots inside avoiding the lost spirit only to find that down the corridor leading to the dressing room it’s a horror-ghost jamboree. They cluster around the room. Charlie freezes, unwilling to go further, while Moira proceeds blithely on ahead (unable to see the spirits). Coming on the dressing room, she realizes it’s the site of a fresh, new burn, and the open safe sits out on the ground. [Moira’s PC rolls investigation here, which fails. As a result she gets a basic clue from the room, misses others, and riles up the ghosts around.] She collects residue from the safe and the room, but her stepping foot in the room seems to agitate the spirits who begin churning and undulating. Charlie calls her out of the place before she can gather further evidence and before the spirits begin to violently pierce the very thin veil between them and Moira.
Next they decide to ask around the neighborhood. [Moira’s PC gets a big success on a contacts roll to find an ex-actor clothier who would remember the theater’s glory days.] They find Roger, a purveyor of fine suits and dresses, and a former actor and theater devotee. He hits it off with Moira, but suspects the out of place Charlie for a shoplifter, which Dee finds hilarious. Roger remembers the theater, which burned down 20 years ago, and the star actress right before the burn whose name, yes, started with an L but it wasn’t Lydia? Moira asks him if he has an old playbill around, and he goes to look. In the meantime, Dee sees a shiny necklace in a nearby counter and tries to swipe it (old habits), but manages to blunder it and knocks a clothed mannequin over in the process. He’s able to cover it up as simple clumsiness when Roger comes down in the middle of it falling over, and Roger tersely hands Moira the playbill while suggesting maybe they should leave. Looking over it as they go, she sees the actress on the front is Lydia, looking exactly as she did last night, but it’s dated two decades ago and she’s being billed as “Lydactria.”
Before the investigators can consider this further outside, they’re suddenly accosted by a couple of rough-looking gentlemen in rumpled suits. Announcing themselves as a “community activism brigade,” they rudely pump the detectives for their purpose in the neighborhood and the reason for their interest in the theater. They not so subtly hint the trio should move in, which Dee and Charlie both throw back in their face with bravado. The rough guys move on after a final threat or two, and Dee calls up his demonic familiar – usually in the guise of a cat with the voice of Peter Lorre – to help him follow the goons. They successfully trail them to the back door of a building named the Glass Houses Soup Kitchen.
Here the trio splits up. Moira decides to stick around, taking up position to hide in the alley with her camera to see what pops up. Dee and Charlie head to the legitimate store front of the Yeboah crime family, Yeboah’s Exotic Meats, to ask Mama Yeboah (the head of the family) if she was aware of any local gangs being run out of soup kitchens. Mama Yeboah in her characteristic blood-stained apron with a massive cleaver in hand denies knowledge of any such gang, and asks Dee in turn why he’s so curious. [Dee’s aspect “I owe everything to Mama” is compelled here.] After some prying by Mama, Dee spills the beans on everything. Mama is furious about the threats the goons made against Dee, and demands he goes and makes them pay for it. About the other thing, well, she also demands Dee drops this case immediately, “out of respect for your sister Imara.” Moira for her part skulks a while before she sees one of the goons come out the door – at the same time the other is sneaking up behind her. He clubs her on the head and everything goes black.
Charlie and Dee head back to the alley, where they find the broken camera and put two and two together. Charlie proceeds right over to the soup kitchen’s back door, and knocks on it. One of the goons answers with a smug grin on his face, and Charlie bowls right into the guy, tackling him backwards into a storeroom lined with shelves of canned food and sack of ingredients. Charlie and Dee brawl with the goon, until finally Charlie knocks the guy cold out by hucking a gigantic can of beans at his head. Almost immediately after this a side door opens and a large orcish woman in trouser and shirt stands in the doorway, staring bemusedly. She ducks a couple of punches from Charlie, retreating back into the office she came out of, before yelling that she’ll give their friend back if they could just chill and talk.
Moira is indeed in the room, unconscious, and Dee dashes over to rouse her. The following conversation with the orcish woman, who introduces herself as Helena, is unsurprisingly tense. She’s notably rude to Dee, but is otherwise business-like with Charlie and Moira. After confirming the detectives are working for Lydia, Helena suggests there’s a lot they don’t know about their client. Charlie fires back with, “Yeah, and? We figured that out. Do you want to tell us more or do you want to just keep being mysterious?” With an annoyed look on her face, Helena hands them a set of immigration papers showing that “Lydia” moved to the city as Lydactria roughly a century ago. “We assumed something like that,” Moira says looking over the papers, “Do you know anything more?” “Well,” Helena responds, “there’s one more thing you should see. A manuscript in the archives of the Collegium Arcanum. It’s probably best you see it for yourselves, but I can tell you where it is. I might suggest you reconsider working for your client after you see it.”
After a few more back and forths, Dee asks why Helena is giving him such the cold shoulder. “Maybe it’s because I’m more than a little miffed at your family? Don’t act like you don’t know. I paid Imara and Mama Yeboah for a job and you’ve brought me nothin’. A bunch of useless two-bit trash, that’s what you’re all proving to be so far.” [Remember Dee’s aspect?] Normally light-hearted and jovial, this insult to Dee causes his temper to go through the roof and before anyone can react he is across the table, clutching Helena’s shirt lapels and screaming angrily in her face. Charlie and Moira race over and pull him off, but it’s not long before Helena icily tells them to get out, to get out right now, and that if they ever come back there will be hell to pay and leg bones to be broken. They leave.
Shortly afterward, the three walk down the lane out of the theater district, ruminating on what they’ve found so far. Dee suggests possibly the Glass Houses hired Imara to get the compact, but Gnurk got there first? It’s just a theory, but it’s something to go on at least.
To be continued..