10: Walk on the Squalid Side

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When It Happened (Chronicle Time): September 7-13, 2002

Who Was There: George Phillapoussis (Storn), Nemura Kentaro (Chris)

What It Was

Jonathan and Mark are out-of-town pursuing leads, leaving George and Ken in charge of the Renaissance site. Two days pass, and then the rat problems begin. After a cosmic dream-quest to witness the fate of the Forgotten King and FW Woolworth, they return to an unwelcome visit from Martin Murray. After hearing far too much about Martin's sex life, the two men embark on a seamy little escapade featuring cop-eating rats, the last heir of the Delaports, a mysteriously helpful taxi cab, and the return of Soul-Nut Hole pastries.

[With apologies to Joseph Mitchell ("The Rats on the Waterfront" (1944), reprinted in Up in the Old Hotel) and H.P. Lovecraft ("The Rats in the Walls" (1923))]

The Full Horror

Two weeks have passed, and TNI remains out-of-touch. Lesek Czernin has promised to alert selected people, including the Aces, if anything changes. New York's Occult Underground are scared and worried.

Yet things do seem quiet for now, so Jonathan and Mark decide to leave town to see if they can find more information about orgone and Curtis Book. They ask George and Ken to keep watch on the Renaissance site while they are gone. Just a formality. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Latrell Dupree will still be there to manage security, so everything will be well under control.

And so it is. For about two days. Then the rat problems start. Big brown rats, and lots of them. They eat everything that doesn't move. Including some lead pipes. Including a hole in the newly restored floor of the grand ballroom (the same one Jonathan had brought over from Europe).

Fortunately, Mark left them the number of "Critter Apocalypse," an extermination company with a good, if somewhat strange, reputation. Within the hour, Morry "the Hammer" Bromwitz and his long-suffering assistant, Spencer, arrive. Morry says not to worry because when it comes to rats, "the Hammer is always in gear." A few traps and glueboards later, Morry and Spencer are ready to leave, when George and Ken happen to mention they got his number from Mark Donovin. Morry's eyes bulge, and he orders Spencer to get the hell back into the Renny and get serious. After several more hours, the problem is solved, and they leave with thirty-three dead rats. Crisis averted.

George and Ken spend some time at O'Malley's. George admits he's been reading the cards and driving down random streets in search of Tessa. And that he's asked Katsoulakis to lend him some books about the occult so he can start getting a handle on their situation. Ken talks a little about his goals in life, and his hope that someday he will gain true insight about the human condition. But he also notes that lately, ever since their return from Winfield, he's been feeling very short-tempered. George agrees. He's noticed that about Ken too.

A Dream of Khem

That night the Four Aces dream. George and Ken are going down a stone stairway. Jonathan and Mark are there too, though they do not respond to the two men. The stairway goes down seventy steps, ending in a vast cavern with a gigantic pillar of purple-and-white flame. Two bearded men are standing there, and behind them is a larger stairway that goes even farther down. As the bearded men come forward, each Ace realizes he is now alone. The bearded men welcome him and say that while most who come to that place take the larger stairway, this time he must take another path. The men give him a small loaf of bread and a flask of wine, and warn him not to speak to anyone save the two who will guide him. Then they lead him to another tunnel, and as he steps into it, he finds himself once again with the other Aces.

At the end of the cavern, they step out into an infinity of blackness, dappled by countless doorways, each one opening into a blaze of white light-doors to other Realms. Before them are two men with heads of dogs, which they somehow just know are servants of Anubis. The servants lead them through one of the doorways, and after a flash of radiance, they find themselves in a shadowed land of sand and pyramids. Dark clouds stretch across the sky. A vast, stone canal carries water of blackest pitch from one horizon to the other. In the distance, great storms rain down around pyramids that soar thousands of feet into the sky. And a blood-red sun hangs just above the horizon, making the sands flame like crystals of amber and crimson.

They seem to walk for hours along the canal until they reach a great temple, flanked by two enormous pyramids. In front of the temple is a great throne on which sits the god Anubis. To his right is a dais on which sit row upon row of shadowed men and women-all the pharaohs, going back into the most ancient time. Before them all stands a man tall and proud. Anubis and the pharaohs render a judgment and the man accepts it gratefully. The man then turns to thank the Aces, and they suddenly realize he is the Forgotten King-the mummy they freed by defeating Winfield Hall-and they are told that thanks to them, he can now take his long-delayed place among the akhu, the blessed dead.

The King shimmers and then reappears on the dais, among his fellow kings. And then, from his new state, he turns and nods to the four men once again in thanks.

Then the mood changes, and another man appears for judgment. This man is held down and shackled to the ground by the servants. Anubis and the pharaohs render a different verdict, and the man screams in terror and struggles against his chains. This is the spirit of Woolworth, the man who dared enslave a king. After a moment of silence, a shudder of horror passes through everyone-even Anubis-and the sands pull back to reveal a darkness below. A great black cloud rises up, and its tendrils reach out to Woolworth, ignoring his cries for mercy. The servants tremble and one of them whispers, "Ammut."

The cloud drifts over to Woolworth and the tendrils encircle him, his limbs snapping as they are wrenched slowly from the shackles. The man's shrieks are indescribable as the cloud drags him down into the dark. Then the sands rise up and once again seal the dark pit from the world.

With that, the pharaohs turn to the four men, who can hear their voices in their minds: "Honor to you for the justice you have done. We bid you now return in peace and safety." The two servants lead the Aces away, and suddenly each man finds himself once again in the Cavern of Flame, where the bearded men direct him back to the seventy steps leading up to the waking world.

More Trouble

Each man awakens from this wondrous dream wherever he fell asleep. George and Ken were sleeping on couches in CentCom at the Renaissance.

Ken wakes up to find a big brown rat sitting on him. They stare at each other. And then Ken feels the thump of a turd hitting his chest. Ken clocks the bastard and sends it flying.

That wakes up George, and the two men run to the arsenal, only to find all the weapons covered in little rat-turds. Pausing a moment to ponder what Mark would do to them if he ever found out, the two men alert Latrell. Much frantic cleaning and a slightly hysterical call to Critter Apocalypse follow.

As the dawn breaks, George and Ken finally have CentCom decent. After desperately needed showers and a change out of their turd-covered clothes, they are sitting down to a breakfast from Soul-Nut Hole, when the truck from Critter Apocalypse pulls up. As Spencer gets to work, Morry says not to worry: "The Hammer is in the groove."

A few minutes later, Jamal Rashid stops by. Pausing to note that he finds Soul-Nut Hole offensive but, damn, their donuts are good, Jamal then asks what the Aces know about all these rats. The entire neighborhood has been overrun in the past few days and at least ten people (joggers, deliverymen) have gone missing. George and Ken are giving their story when Jamal glares over their shoulders and roars, "Martin Murray!"

Martin is looking even more sleazy than usual, and he admits he's there to ask for help because he is "sort of" responsible for the rat problem.

Martin's Tale

Martin has been terrified by the TNI lockdown, and since no one in the Occult Underground would tell him what was happening, he started looking for some way to defend himself, just in case. For that he needed minions, and to a grotesque like Martin, New York's infamous rats seemed like worthy candidates.

He started researching rats, and that led him to the Delaports, an old Virginia family with some strange connection with vermin. In 1923, one of them went back to the family estate in England and suffered some horrible fate, and many believed the line died with him. But the Virginia branch survived, and as the decades passed, they struggled along by selling off portions of their Chesapeake estate. Finally, in the early 1990s, Virginia Delaport, who really was the last of the line, sold the rest of the land and tried to start a career in advertising.

Martin was delighted to learn that Virginia had moved to New York and been a complete failure, forced to scrape by on various odd jobs. Now she lived in a dingy little apartment on 139th and Lenox, right above a closed butcher shop called Washington Meats and an old Harlem Yellow Cab depot. Martin left his squalid Lower East Side apartment and spent a couple of days following Virginia around, "getting to know her." (Normal people call this "stalking".) Then he did the old "spill the grocery bag as she's passing by" trick.

Virginia was so desperate for contact that Martin had no trouble starting up a conversation, and soon they were sweeping the roaches out of her bed for some bump-and-grind. She wasn't very good-(at this point, George, Ken and Jamal yelled at Martin to get on with the story)-but he wasn't there for messy sex anyway. With a little encouragement, she started pulling out boxes filled with her family's history. Martin starting going through them and found a document that made him look at the seal ring on her finger.

He asked to see it, and Virginia handed it over. Martin tried a couple of basic incantations to activate it, but nothing seemed to happen. Then Martin ("like a colossal idiot") handed the ring back to her. The next thing he knew, he was waking up on the street outside her apartment. In a flash he realized the ring had probably just needed to touch Virginia again to activate. ("Or perhaps just her blood. If only she'd been a virgin!")

He thought that would be the end of it, but then the rat sightings and the missing persons began, and he knew they would only get worse. So he's come to them for help.

George, Ken and Jamal are feeling ill by this point. Jamal gets up and whacks Martin across the back of the head: "Maybe we should feed your dumb white ass to the rats. That ought to poison them." Then he tells Martin to stay downtown: "You've lost your Harlem privileges."

Chasing Virginia

The men head out to Virginia's apartment. Not surprisingly, it's less than pleasant (the low point being her collection of Swedish dwarf fetish porn). But there's no sign of her there, so the men go downstairs to check on the old taxi depot.

The depot has a garage in back. Inside are stairs to a basement, and two broken-down taxi cabs on blocks, their hoods and trunks open. In one taxi, the passenger-side window and seat are stained, and the back seat has a big hole in it-as if something had eaten through it to devour someone hiding inside.

The men are searching the front office when they hear a call for help from the basement in the garage. They cautiously head downstairs and find a woman huddled against the far wall, wearing a hooded pink jogging suit. In a thick voice she asks them not to hurt her, but as George gets near, she suddenly lunges at him.

There's little doubt this is Virginia, but she's barely human at this point. She is, in fact, a ghoul, and George feels a chill of horror he hasn't felt since the auction (cf. "Prelude"). Another ghoul attacks from behind, but after a struggle, the men manage to kill them. Sure enough, they find a ring on "Virginia's" finger. But by now, they can hear the loud chittering of rats from the garage. Ken puts on the ring and has the disturbing sensation of seeing through their eyes.

They cautiously go back upstairs to find every broken window and exit out of the garage is choked with rats, all of them chattering and watching them. But something else is different too-the taxi cab that had the stains and hole in the back seat now looks freshly cleaned and rests on brand-new tires. The doors facing them are open. Deciding their questions can wait, the three men bolt into the taxi, the engine starts on the first try, and George floors it out of the garage.

After that, the rat problems return to normal. Ken decides to keep the ring of the Delaports (or rather the "de la Poers"). Jamal thanks George and Ken, and Martin goes back to his apartment to lay low.

Previous Recap | Next Recap | Updated 3/19/12, by the Croupier