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Content warning: Mild swearing, Moderate Body Horror (Lovecraftian, not gore)




17th June,


Bedlam City


One hot afternoon...


As usual, Fat Joe put extra onions in his hot dog for the Tattered Man. His onions were quite nice. Unlike the bread or the meat which were meagre and passable if one was being generous. Ever since the Tattered Man had helped Fat Joe he had always got extra onions. 


Fat Joe was as tall, bald, and rotund as ever. His smile was no less beaming. Maybe, since the Bad Beat had burned down and Blowfish was in hiding, well, maybe he smiled just that bit brighter. 


"Whats up, my friend? Any news? Any good jokes for me?"

Edited by Supercape
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John took a bite of his hot dog. Joe's dogs were never great, but they were cheap, and serviceable. Probably terrible for him, but, hey, way he saw it, he already died once. "Not much news." He said. "I kept my head down for a few weeks, popped back up and things have been relatively quiet. For Bedlam." That meant, of course, that crime was rampant, but nothing personal to John. 


"Haven't heard much from them." He shrugged. "Blowfish couldn't do much with what was left of the Bad Beat." He had to smirk at that. Even though the fire wasn't his idea, it hurt his pocket books. "Turns out if you screw up the fire code too bad, insurance companies give you the side eye and don't issue checks.  That, and the fire was set.  With lots of fire code violations, and it being set deliberately? Looks suspicious. So suspicious that it'd take weeks of proper investigation to sort out. More time than Blowfish had money." 


"The Bad Beat does still stand, more or less. The fire spread all over the equipment, lots of smoke damage. It's ugly inside, but solid enough to be fixed up. It didn't touch the beams or any of the major structural supports. Most of what got damaged were electronics, decorations, furniture. Replaceable items if you have the money.  I've heard rumors someone bought it up for pennies on the dollar. Blowfish cut his losses." 


:"Any rumors?" Fat Joe had ears, and kept his head down. That meant he heard a lot but nobody bothered with him.

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"The Bad Beat, huh?" nodded Fat Joe, smiling broadly. 


"Say, you remember Dick? Dick Young? He was a big fan of Jazz. He went to the Bad Beat pretty often. Didn't like the customers much, but it did have some good music"


He helped himself to one of his own Hot Dogs. One could not help but notice he had a particularly large one. Fat Joe was rather generous with serving himself, as his girth could attest. Impressively, he swallowed it in two bites. 


"Well, Dick and some old timers. They are trying to buy the Bad Beat at auction. Not worth much now, of course, just a hollowed out carbonised cellar. They think they can get it running again. Dedicate it to Vanity. That helps with popularity" he explained. 


"Maybe get Amber for the opening night. But nobody seen her" he asked, raising an eye to John to see if he had any useful titbits. 


"But you know Bedlam, its shady deals and shady lawyers and all sorts. I sent Dick a guy. A mister Felix Brown, he sorts out real estate in Bedlam. Which means he is a crook, but stays on the right side of the law. Used to work for Blowfish, they say, but Brown works for himself and himself only. Still, if anyone can sort out the Bad Beat's legal hocus pocus, its him..."

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John shrugged. "Amber skipped town." Nobody needed to know she was in on the fire like that. "After everything happened, she left town. Don't know where to, just hope she's okay." He had no idea either, and that was fine with him. She could just disappear. Nobody had to know where. Let her find happiness. "Hope they make the place look better than the Bad Beat. Hope that fire burns it from memory too." He finished the hot dog.


"You're good at information. You hear a lot. Any word I should listen to?"

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"Words? Plenty" said Fat Joe, thoughtful for a moment or two. 


"Everybody trying to move on Blowfish, finish him off. Some Mexicans apparently want in. The serpent, on something like that. The dice will be falling soon enough. Can't say which way they will land yet" he shrugged. Obviously there was some nerves, even for Fat Joe, but that was life in Bedlam. 


""Felix Brown, the estate agent. He is a shifty guy. I don't like Dick dealing with him. I mean, the old fool was a cop, but he's an old man now" he said, fondly. 


He pushed some onions around on his stall, absent minded. 


"Yeah, and we got a crazy girl. Piper. Always been a bit strange that girl. Sensitive. But she can cook!" he said with a grin. "Even better than me! Yeah, yeah, I know, hard to believe what with Fat Joe's hot dogs being so perfect". 


Fat Joe knew otherwise, of course, But he would never actually admit it. Just give a knowing wink, like he did now. 


He patted his belly. "How do you think I got this incredible physique. Piper Pepper. Best darn cook this side of town. Just too loopy to hold down a job" he sighed. 


"Dick Young was trying to get her to cook for the Bad Beat when it reopens. But she is shut indoors. Won't come out. Gabbling about rats. And missing a finger..."


He shook his head sadly. 


"Look, this is one even I don't want to know about. But I got a bad feeling. Maybe you can help..."

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John nodded, slowly. That sounded weird, and wrong. Maybe he could help the poor woman out. "I can go look." He said. "See if I can coax her out of her home. If nothing else I can figure out what she's talking about." Someone was in trouble, he could help. It really was that simple. Making Bedlam better was more than just fighting crime, it was helping people, it was bringing hope. Even if he didn't have any for himself.


"If you have an address or whereabouts I can find one, I'd appreciate it. If you know someone that knows her, that'd work fine too." 

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And so, a bit later...


Scroover street was not pleasant, even by Bedlam's standards. The crunch of discarded needles underfoot, the smell of excrement and sickly herbs. A few slobbering hobos knocked out on something intravenous curled up on the pavement. 


Appartments were pretty cheap to rent, and Piper had taken to one of them. Even for Scroover Street, it was run down. And that was saying something. 


The door was barred shut. John could almost feel the paranoia seeping out of the locks and wood. The barred windows outside were testiment. 


"Who's there! Who's there!" came the scared, loud voice of Piper through the locked door before John had even knocked...

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"Miss Piper?" He said. "I'm a friend. I'm here to help." He sighed. He knew he didn't have much to go on. "You don't know me, and you're right not to trust people, but I help people. It's what I do." The mask on his face, the tattered coat. Maybe, maybe she'd recognize him by description. Rats, missing fingers, paranoid women. Not what he had intended to do, but whatever helped, helped. 

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With a weak creak the door slowly opened, just a crack. 


A wide eye peered through the crack, studious. Apparently convinced that there was not an axe murderer outside, the door opened a little more to an impressive five inches ajar. 


Piper was dishevelled, gaunt, dehydrated. Her eyes were wide from many sleepless knights, her hair knotted and matted. 


"Who are you?" she asked suspiciously. 


"Come to take another I guess!" she snapped, showing John her left hand. The first finger was gone, leaving a stump without scar.


The other hand clung onto a kitchen knife tightly. 


"I can hear them, you know! The rats! Come to take another! If not that, then slit my throat so I don't speak of it!" she said, looking left to right and back again in a highly distressed knife. 


"So who are you! Why should I trust you?"

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"I'm here to help. I'll take care of the rats." He said. "Maybe you should get something to eat, and drink." he looked her over, poor woman. Scarred, disheveled, little to eat, little to drink. "I'm here to help you." He said, again. "As for why you should trust me, well, I know your name is Piper. I know you have friends who are worried about you. That's why I'm here."  He looked around the room. He'd seen bad places, but this was among the worst. It all but made his skin crawl to see human beings living in these conditions. Almost as good to be out on the streets. 


He felt sorry for her, it hurt to see her so badly hurt, so badly treated. He wanted her out of this place, and off to safety.

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"You will?"


The fingers around the knife handle relaxed slightly. Blood rushed back to the white knuckles. 


The door opened to reveal an apartment that was as dishevelled as Piper was. If not more so. The smell hit hardest, but the sight of discarded ready meals, dirty clothes, and miscellaneous filth was not far behind. 


"Come in...uhhhhhh....take a seat...."


"Who sent you? Huh...I didn't know I had any friends left" she mumbled, scratching her hair. Some tangles left her scalp and ended up in her finger nails. All nine of them. 


"I used to be doing okay, you know...getting by. Was planning on opening up a food place someday. Nothing fancy, just somethin..." she started, her eyes getting a little teary. She wiped away the precious moisture. She had little to spare, given her state of nutrition and hydration. 


"Old Dick Young tried to get me interested in cooking at some new place. The Bad Beat, he said. I think I scared him off..."


She showed the Tattered Man her hand again, rubbing the stump. 


"Last guy who tried to employ me...I woke up with something eating my hand....ran away. Nightmares ever since...." she said, shuddering. It certainly looked like she hadn't slept in a week. 


"What's your story? Why you being so kind and noble? Don't you know this is Bedlam?"

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"Ma'am." He said, looking around the room, shaking his head. "I'm trying to be kind because this is Bedlam." He looked around. He decided, first thing, was to see if she'd be willing to get something to eat. "I'm going to try to take care of your rat problem. Do you wanna get something to eat? We could go get something, I could call for take out. Whatever you need." He was moved to pity and sympathy. Poor woman was haggard, ragged, poor. He was going to try to help her, the best he could.

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Piper's eyes were dry and unblinking, bloodshot. 


"Eat, yeah...sure, I'm hungry...." she mumbled. And she clearly was. John could see she was emaciated and more importantly dehydrated. It was a wonder she was still standing. 


"..but...I sure lost my appetite..." she added, rubbing the stump of her hand. 


She wobbled a bit, and dropped the knife. Clearly standing was taking its toll. 


"Oh shit..."


Piper fell to her knees, clutching her matted hear. "It was horrible...horrible...every time I put something in my mouth I think of...Oh god..."


She tore her eyes around the loathsome state of her appartment. 


"God, take me out of here. Anywhere. Ill...try...."

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It was a small diner, but John knew it. The food was decent, appetizing. Mostly it was just comfort food. The kind of place one could get a decent, filling meal for a decent price. It was also dark, which was good. He directed her, gently, towards the back. He decided to let her have the run of the menu. Anything that sounded good, put some meat on her bones. If she got the job at the Bad Beat, she could move into an actual apartment, instead of that run down shack. 


Food would ease her nerves, make her more likely to talk, more likely to be coherent. Though really, he just felt sorry for the poor girl.

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Just drinking water, as expected, lifted her strength. She ordered a salad. 




It was not much. It wouldn't put meat on her bony bones, but at least it had a few vitamins, a bit of protein. 


Even then, she tossed it round her plate. 


"Look, I can't trust anyone right now. But I can't go on like I have" she explained, by way of explanation. "I mean, I would really like to know who you are, but lets be honest, beggars can't be choosers..."


She forced a fork full of leaves and avacado into her mouth. She made herself swallow. 


"It was a few weeks back. I don't really know when. I lost track of time. I got roped into cooking in this old church on the edge of town. Not a church now, a restaurant. Spooky place. Being renovated by a Monsieur Jaune. Creepy guy. But he had a ton of cash..." she shrugged, appropriately. 


"Gave me a bed too. I guess I was excited. Proper chef. You know, foot on the ladder to success..." she said, musing over her dreams. A faint smile wafted over her lips. 


"But it was sick. Rats in the basement. In the walls. A few creepy guys came in and out. Strange foods. Dried. Spices I couldn't recognise. It felt more like a chemical plant than a restaurant. Although I did cook, and Monsieur Jaune liked what he tasted..."


"I could have taken it, at least for a bit. Till I woke up one day with something chewing on my hand...."


She held up her hand showing John the stump. 


"Then I ran...I think something snapped..." she said, clutching her head again. 

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John nodded. That was a name he'd be sure to remember. Need to look into that. He watched her eat. She was nervous, scared, shaky. Perhaps less than she'd been. He glanced sympathetically at her hand. 


"Jaune." He said, thinking. "I think I'll be looking into that." He wondered, then, what was going down in that old church. "I was asked to look for you, Dick Young is still interested in hiring you. I'm going to figure out what that Jaune is up to, and I'm going to get to the bottom of the situation." he couldn't save her finger, but if he could save her mind, her life. That would be good enough.  


He wondered at the rats. Rats weren't too unusual in Bedlam. Lots of rats in the city, both the animal and human kind. However, the way she reacted to the situation, the way she ran, the way she snapped. There was something suspicious, something dangerous, about this...Jaune. He just couldn't put it to words.

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Piper scratched her hair. It was in impressive knots, and came out in clumps. 


Iron Deficiency!


"Dick? Yeah, Dick's a good guy. I mean...if I wasn't like...like this..." she mumbled. 


Once again, she rubbed her stump. 


"You know, I can still feel it...not like a phantom pain, yeah, I read about those. No, its more like I can feel it move. I can feel it wriggle...scuttle..." she shook her head again. "I must be losing my mind. I must have lost it already. But I can feel my finger. Like it is alive. I can feel cold clammy stone. I can feel darkness, wetness. I can feel the rats rubbing on it...THE RATS!"


She screamed the place down for a moment, to the shock of all that were witness. 


Piper grasped John with nine fingers. "I CAN'T get it out of my head...my finger is still alive! Its horrible!"

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That was worse than he thought. Much worse. He considered it. he assumed that Jaune merely mistreated her, or something to that effect. Bad, but mundane. This was, this was worse. Assuming she was honest, and he had no reason to believe she was lying. This meant something supernatural, something beyond the pale. He was no stranger to the strange and unusual. He was a dead man walking, and he knew that ghosts were his source of power. He nodded, slowly.


"I believe you." He said, looking her in the eye. "I myself have strange abilities that would be hard to explain." He hoped she believed him, but, he was prepared to make a demonstration. 


His plan was simple. Find the church, investigate it. See what they were up to. Something strange, something horrifying. He briefly wished he'd have remembered that occult doctor's name. 

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At the Church of St. Howard


'Twas indeed an old church. In an overgrown, forlorn patch of struggling yellow grass. It was overcast in sky and a dreary light fell slowly to earth from grey and black clouds. 


Crows flapped around as John approached. He felt the presence of graves beneath his feet, forgotten for centuries. Nobody seemed to want to remember this church, not even the dead. 


A few lights were on inside, and John could see some signs of renovation, but they were thin. If this was a converted restaurant, it did not seem to be making much effort to attract custom; although one could appreciate from the architecture that should it ever do so, and sprinkle some gay essence on the place, it would be an impressive place to dine. 


"Feeling hungry?"


A voice from behind him. 


Standing there was a man of shortish build, with a rather simian looking face - like a smiling chimp. He was far from handsome but had a confidence about him, an easy smile, and was of intelligent cranium and countenance. A mop of brown hair, a deep olive skin. Together with his accent, John would place him somewhere in south America by origin, maybe Colombian. 


"Not many people come here. Not many people at all" said the man, still smiling and ambling up to John in an easy manner, his hands tucked casually into his leather jacket. 


"You don't seem like many people though, Hombre?"

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"I just saw this place from a distance, looked atypical. Just thought I'd peek inside." John said, lying easily. He looked around. "Church?" He said, glancing around. He was curious, and cautious. He knew better, far better, than to stick around for too long. At least not when they'd see him. Though, he suspected, his presence wasn't a total mystery. 


This man was strange. "John." He said, watching his hands carefully. 

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"Morello. Angel Morello" answered the Man. He took out his right hand and offered it to John. It had, John noticed, a calloused look. Angel was no stranger to manual work, or at least physical activity. 


"It certainly is atypical. The Church of St. Howard. Abandoned in the 19th Century. Many stories. Maybe some are true. Maybe many are true, strange as it seems. But this I have read; it was an asylum, of sorts. Not the good sort, either. The local clergy decided to use it for care, and not the good sort of care, of the insane. Seems more people went mad inside than out of it, or at least that's what the stories say"


Angel studied the building for a time, admiring the architecture. 


"It is beautiful, is it not? Even if it is cold" he sighed. 


He turned back to John. "I intend to go inside. I am an investigator. A seeker. Of sorts. I used to teach History and Occultism in Colombia, so I have a nose for the strange and mysterious" he added, giving his little chimpanzee like smile. 


"And as for you, come now. Everybody who walks within a dozen yards of this place turns away. You only come here if you are driven, so to speak. This much I have observed....and you do not turn away, so I conclude you are driven too....ah! But if you feel you must keep your secrets, I will not pry. I too, like everyone, have my own story, and some chapters are too painful to speak of..." he sighed, looking away, morose or even macabre, at the grey horizon. 


"Still, if I can be of assistance..."

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  • 1 month later...

John nodded. "I wonder what's inside." He said, both genuinely curious, and trying to see what Mr. Morello was there to do. He did not ask. He didn't trust him, though he had no reason to distrust him specifically. He decided then, the best way to handle it was to simply go inside. He would go inside, look around, figure things out. He would not, however, take his eyes off of Morello. He was grateful that his senses were so much sharper. Made it easier to keep his head down. Easier to keep an eye on him without being obvious. Only a fool would openly betray someone while they were being watched.


"Suppose we better get looking."

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A few minutes later


Morello spoke not a word as they approached the Church. But he whistled, an odd tune with a strange time signature. 7/4, if the Tattered Man was any judge. 


The Church up close, had a kind of rusty feel, even if it was stone. A bronzed look of old construction, with lichen and moss dotted around. It looked rather gothic, rather antique. But it was also in fair repair, in no danger of falling down as far as one could tell. And it was beautiful. 


Inside, there was soft lighting - some electric but an abundance of candles that filled the air with a floral fume. 


They were greeted by a middle aged slim woman who looked pale and dark, and wore tinted glasses. 


"Oui?" she asked, in an accent that was not convincing. 


"I am afraid the restaurant is not yet open. We are refurbishing. We can take a reservation if you wish, perhaps next month?" she asked, politely. 


"Unless you are a food critic of course!" she added, with a mixture of sycophantic diplomacy and experienced distaste. 

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John chuckled. "OH, so sorry. We didn't even realize." He looked over at Morello and nodded. "I'll be on my way." He said, nodding politely. "Maybe I'll come back in a few weeks or so, see how the food is." This was not what he expected. There wasn't much to a 'restaurant' here, that was certain. He didn't say anything to Morello. His plan was to find an alternate route. He was sure a place like this would have one, even if it meant sneaking off into the bushes. 

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With a quizzical smile on his lips, Morello followed. He had a calm air, without threat of violence. But there was something cruel about his lips, almost a sneer. A contempt. Or maybe a blunt and effective determination. 


"Whatever gets the job done, my friend" he said, seeming to approve. 


There certainly was a back door, to the kitchens, no less. It was not the most solid of doors, and had not the most solid of hinges. A good kick would send it collapsing (at least from the Tattered Man) and it could probably be wrestled open without much effort. From within, the sounds of simmering and even mumbled chat. 


Beneath the overgrowth however, another option presented itself. A little more secure (padlocked), an obscured cellar door. From beneath, as far as could be determined, silence. John was fairly sure he could put his boot through the door without much effort. 


Although Morello whistled and showed him a picklock...


"I have many talents! As I said. Whatever gets the job done!"

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