Joined: 20 Jan 2006
|Posted: Fri Oct 13, 2006 3:24 pm Post subject: Horror on the Orient Express - episode 1
|HORROR ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
A list of the characters and their whiskers
The reverend Dr Peregrine Fellowes, voluminous and walruslike
Professor Niles Sapsford, moustachioed - caterpillarlike
Commander Walter Pembroke, a whopping great Lord Kitchener
Professor Vance Carlton-Gore, moustachioed - red and sluglike.
The annual Challenger Society Dinner, London 1923
The reverend Dr Peregrine Fellowes, vicar of High Wycombe (and keen amateur lepidopterologist) smiled indulgently to himself as he entered the Challenger Society dining room. Mingling with the august scientific company which filled the room was the highlight of a social calendar more usually occupied by luncheons with the Buckinghamshire Women’s Welfare and Temperance League.
Dr Fellowes allowed an usher to take his arm and lead him to his place at one of the tables to the rear of the room. The queue behind Dr Fellowes was long, but the evening was young and he was not in a mind to be rushed so he resisted the usher’s impatient pulls and meandered slowly and wistfully through the room. He absorbed snippets of passing conversation as he ambled, savouring them like fine pipe tobacco. An overheard “…principles of magnetic dynamism…” left him quivering with interest and caused him to slow even further. Only a particularly strong tug on his arm from the usher kept him from stopping completely to listen to the rest of the conversation.
They eventually reached a table near the centre of the room. Dr Fellowes found his seat and a distracted “thank you” went unheard by the rapidly retreating attendant. The table was not a good one, but it was not the worst in the dining room. Dr Fellowes was a humble man and attributed his place at such a table to his friendship with the keynote speaker, Professor Julius Smith, rather than to his own modest contributions to the natural sciences.
He felt a little awkward as he introduced himself to the three men already seated at the table. He knew none of them by name, but by their appearance and manner all were clearly men of some scientific import. Dr Fellowes’ discomfort was soon eased by their friendly manner and within minutes he found himself engrossed in the most delightful of conversations. It transpired that the stern looking chap to his immediate left was Commander Walter Pembroke, an Antarctic explorer of some note and the author of a delightful memoir that Dr Fellowes had read only recently. Commander Pembroke was delighted to meet a reader and Dr Fellowes was delighted to be able to ask the questions he felt the book left unanswered.
To the right of Dr Fellowes another conversation raged. Professor Niles Sapsford, a physicist of some particular note (indeed, he was the current Physical Secretary of the Royal Society) was there engaged in debate with Professor Vance Carlton-Gore, an anthropologist, about funding of scientific research. Professor Carlton-Gore was adamant that the humanitarian sciences were of proven importance and should continue to receive a great deal more funding than such new-fangled and flash-in-the-pan sciences as nuclear physics. Indeed, Professor Carlton-Gore was on the verge of pronouncing all the physical sciences a simple passing fad when the lights dimmed and an amplified, but polite, cough cut through the conversation.
At the sound of the cough all four gentlemen suspended their discussions and turned their attention to the podium at the head of the room. Professor Smith’s address was much anticipated. As a famous debunker of quackery and spiritualists many in the audience expected to hear a rousing attack on the enemies of science. Instead, they were treated to a thoughtful but inconclusive treatise on unexplained apparitions.
The speech was followed by port and cigars and the opportunity for a few polite words with Professor Smith. It seemed that the evening drew to a close far too early so Dr Fellowes’ suggestion that the gentlemen at his table meet the next morning over luncheon was met with firm declarations of assent.
The Swiss Cottage Pavilion
The main point of discussion at the next day’s luncheon was a strange article which appeared in The Times. It appeared that three Turkish men had been murdered and that all three bore identification claiming that they were an art and antique dealer from Islington, named Mr Mehmet Makryat.
As the plates were whisked away and the gentlemen sipped on the last of their tea, it was suggested that a visit be made to Professor Smith, who lived in nearby St Johns Wood. A hansom cab was summoned and the gentlemen clambered laboriously aboard.
Professor Smith’s house
As the hansom cab drew up to the Professor’s house, those inside were shocked by the sight of smoke billowing from the windows and the presence of both fire appliances and Police.
A policeman was sought out and he explained that Professor Smith was currently missing. Neither he nor his remains had been found inside the house. The policeman suggested that the gentlemen contact Detective Sergeant Rigby of Scotland Yard if they have any information that might assist investigations.
The gentlemen retreated to a local tavern where Professor Sapsford rang the Challenger Society to enquire after Professor Smith. He was informed that the dinner’s organising committee had dropped Professor Smith at his doorstep last night without mishap.
In a subdued mood, the gentlemen retreated to their various accommodations for the evening.
Dr Fellowes was staying at the house of an old university friend, Mr Henry Evans QC. Shortly after his arrival at the good barrister’s house, a message arrived. Addressed to Dr Fellowes and signed by Professor Smith, the message was an appeal to visit a bedsit in Cheapside. The note warned Dr Fellowes to come alone and to make sure he was not followed.
Dr Fellowes set off for Cheapside at once, anxiously watching over his shoulder the whole journey.
In Cheapside he found Professor Smith badly burnt and in the care of his manservant, Beddowes. Professor Smith told Dr Fellowes that he was on the trail of a device called the Sedefkar Simulacrum, a malevolent statue containing great power that had been broken apart and scattered throughout Europe. Professor Smith begged Dr Fellowes to continue the search for this device and to destroy it. He said that a set of ancient documents called the Sedefkar Scrolls contained a ritual to destroy the Simularcrum, and that this too must be sought out.
Professor Smith mentioned Turkish assassins and something about this rang a bell in Dr Fellowes mind. But before he could raise any questions, Beddowes ushered him away from the ailing Professor and into the dark and shadowy streets of Cheapside.
Dr Fellowes, feeling more than a little overwhelmed, decided that he would discuss this strange turn of events with his new companions the following morning.
The investigation begins
Discussions with Sapsford, Pembroke and Carlton-Gore led almost immediately to action. A rack of toast and a pot of fine English Breakfast tea were left to go cold as Commander Pembroke in particular felt the irresistible calling of mystery and intrigue.
The gentlemen’s scientific leanings compelled them to conduct some research before setting off for the continent after strange writings and devices. It was decided to probe the possible involvement by Turks and a hansom cab was summoned to take the gentlemen to Mr Mehmet Makryat’s antique store in Islington. Here a friendly neighbour advised that the store was closed and that no-one had been seen coming or going for some time. Further polite questioning found that Mr Makryat had lived in a flat above the store.
Commander Pembroke and Mr Sapsford scandalised the vicar by deciding to break in to Mr Makryat’s flat, and almost paid for their actions when a passing policeman chose to question the very nervous looking Dr Fellowes as he waited for them on the street outside. Fortunately the two companions managed to escape the flat and rescue Dr Fellowes from the attentions of the law before his conscience gave the game away.
Inside the flat Commander Pembroke had spotted a ledger and a cursory examination of this revealed one very odd transaction. Amongst the sale of a number of more typical Eastern artefacts was a listing for the sale of “Mr Randolph Alexis’ toy train” to Mr Henry Stanley of Stoke Newington.
Enquiries in Stoke Newington indicated that Mr Stanley had recently died in mysterious circumstances. This energised the investigation somewhat and four tickets were immediately purchased on the next Simplon-Orient Express train service to the continent.
The earliest departure time for which tickets could be booked was nine days hence, so having purchased these the gentlemen decided to do some further research. A visit to the British Museum library however turned up nothing about the Simulacrum.
The 1897 Liverpool express
A newspaper article in the following morning’s Times recorded Mr Stanley’s death and made a connection between his death and the mysterious Mr Makryat. Remarkably Mr Stanley was suspected to have died after experiencing spontaneous human combustion as no recognisable remains were found in his burnt out room and his landlady said no-one else had entered the house.
Fellowes, Sapsford, Pembroke and Carlton-Gore made their way at once to Stoke Newington and the late Mr Stanley’s address. Here they found Mr Stanley’s landlady selling entrance to “the murder room”. Sapsford, Pembroke and Carlton-Gore obliged the lady with the six pence requested while Dr Fellowes tried to offer counsel in her time of grief. The old lady did not appear afflicted with much grief however, and left Dr Fellowes somewhat nonplussed. Fortunately Dr Fellowes counselling did provide a distraction, and an opportunity for his companions to view “the murder room” unaccompanied for a few precious moments. Here they noted smoke stains and marks in the carpet, which oddly seemed to resemble train tracks. When the landlady finally caught up with them, they were able to obtain from her the contact details of a Mr Butter of Camberwell, President of the London Trainspotters’ Association and a close associate of Mr Stanley’s.
Enquires were made of Mr Butter and it transpired that he has taken possession of Mr Stanley’s toy train. A visit was made to his Camberwell house and Mr Butter very kindly allowed the gentlemen inside. It became apparent that Mr Butter did not receive many visitors, but he was kind and polite and very keen to talk about Mr Stanley and his train. The model was based upon a particular train used on the Liverpool Express, a train which disappeared in 1897 with the loss of everyone on board.
Mr Butter demonstrated the model and as it went around its tracks a strange and faint rumbling could be heard. Mr Butter and his guests looked around in some alarm.
The rumbling grew louder and then the room began to shake. Dr Fellowes nervously suggested that they stop the train and then a train whistle sounded loudly and steam and smoke began to pour from the walls. Dr Fellowes and Commander Pembroke backed quickly out of the room while Mr Butter and his remaining guests watched in horror as the full size and very real 1897 Liverpool Express pulled into the room. On board could be seen Mr Stanley and another man along with a number of people in old-fashioned dress. The train came to a halt with a squeal of brakes and a conductor leapt to the ground. He looked at those left in the room and motioned them aboard impatiently. Professor Carlton-Gore watched in horror as Professor Sapsford and Mr Butter nodded slowly at the summons and started to board the train. He tried to restrain them, but his hands passed through them as though they were made of mist. As soon as Sapsford and Butter were aboard, the conductor put a whistle to his lips and blew and then climbed back onto the train. The train slowly started to move, disappearing into a wall. The last thing Professor Carlton-Gore saw as it departed was the face of Mr Stanley pressed against the window of a carriage, his mouth open in a scream that was drowned out by the sound of the train.
My favourite roleplaying memory - "Daisy at Colonus", two drunk cowboys and a pantomime cow in a 'reinterpretation' of Sophocles greatest play.