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Author: Julie Hoverson
When highbrow meets lowbrow, is it a meeting of the minds or a clash of the titans? It's a case of folklore vs. booklore when calamity strikes a tiny isolated community - and learned outsiders try to seek out the truth. Who is really better suited to deal with a vampire, a physicist or an exorcist?
Puzzle Solving 3
Psychic Abilities 1
This scenario ultimately involves nothing supernatural at all, though the players should not realize it until the very last moment. Keep them thinking there is something spooky going on. One way to facilitate this is by emphasizing the paranoia level of the townsfolk. Non-supernatural games are a good way to balance the more traditional scenarios - after all, if everything the PCs meet is evil and monstrous, it becomes a bit repetitive.
This is written for the old west setting of the game Deadlands, but could easily be adapted for any time with isolated towns and superstitious locals. The time of year is not vital, though it should not be winter, since Owen would have a much harder time surviving in the wild in the winter.
The PCs have been sent to the township of Yoakum's Despair [pronounced yo-kum] to investigate the disappearance of a U.S. Marshall named Owen Cranston, but will quickly find out that no one around seems to have seen him. They will also discover that the town believes there is a vampire on the loose - which might, of course, have something to do with the lawman's disappearance. So far, there have only been two strange deaths - brutal slayings of a pair of local troublemakers, Rufus McTavish and Haglund Dottle, but the appearance of a "vampire hunter" ("Professor" Llyman Llyons) in town has solidified the locals' belief in the supernatural.
Strangely, though they haven't taken to the PCs, the locals don't seem to have any problem trusting Prof. Llyons or the strange pronouncements of his assistant Arabella the Sleepwalker - especially not after she appears to speak in the voice of one of the murdered men. Llyons is a traveling showman/swindler, selling snake oil remedies and anything else which comes to mind. Much of what he says about vampires is pure "hooey", but he has impressed the townsfolk enough to win their confidence. He knows precisely how to play on their most deeply-held fears and superstitions.
In town, the PCs will stay at McMillan's (the only hotel), welcomed by the proprietor Wilkie Waller. They are merely tolerated by the populace until the next event (the disappearance of Zee-Ann Yoachim, a local woman) brings the people running for help - to the PCs and the Prof. Llyons both - seeking a quick fix for their troubles. This third victim is a pillar of the community, such as it is, and her disappearance is considerably more shocking than the deaths of Rufus and Haglund. Zee-Ann Yoachim's [Yo-a-kim] husband Latimer is a wealthy and reclusive miner, who comes into town to report her abduction.
The PCs are asked to investigate her disappearance, and have to compete somewhat with the Professor for the affiliation of the locals, especially after the woman's body is found out in the woods with her throat torn open. After a thorough investigation, the PCs should realize that the woman was murdered by her own husband, but no one will believe this story as long as the "vampire" is still at large.
Soon after Zee-Ann's murder, Maisie Waller, the six year old daughter of the hotel proprietor, goes missing - an event which brings the town's panic to a peak. While searching for her, the PCs will encounter the alleged vampire - while he is bringing the child back to town.
The "vampire" is actually U.S. Marshall Owen Cranston who, when a case brought him into the region, was attacked by Rufus and Haglund, took a severe blow to the head, and was left for dead in a shallow grave. He awoke with no thought but vengeance. He killed the two who thought they'd killed him in a haze of pain and fury. Several days later, after he'd begun to recover a bit, Cranston saw Latimer Yoachim carrying his dead wife out into the woods to hide her body before going to rouse the town. Cranston is not Harrowed (though the PCs may very well suspect this), just ill and confused.
Cranston has concussion and has a couple of related problems. He can't focus his eyes very well, and he seems to have trouble hearing, or at least comprehending what he hears. It is a miracle that he is walking around at all, especially after spending several days wandering in a daze among the woody ravines of the region. Maisie seems to be the only one who can make him comprehend - she does so with a combination of yelling and complex hand gestures. Cranston can answer for himself, once a question has sunk in, though his speech is thick and slurred. As soon as the townsfolk discover the PCs have brought in a suspect, they converge on the hotel in a mob. The PCs will have to calm the crowd and reveal Zee-Ann's murderer in order to get any justice The easiest way to do this is to hold a trial, and present their evidence for everyone to see.
Getting the PCs Involved
If the PCs have some official status with the U.S. government, they will simply be dispatched to look into Owen Cranston's disappearance. Pinkertons are the logical choice for such an assignment, since the particular area where Yoakum's Despair lies is in the disputed part of Kansas, where neither marshals not rangers have any real standing. If the PCs have no such status, it will be a bit more difficult to involve them. You may have to resort to them being (a) just passing through; (b) old friends of Cranston; or (c) looking for Cranston for some other reason. (b) and (c) are a bit lame, since Cranston is on a mission, and his whereabouts should be reasonably secret, but use whatever you must to start the game.
If there is no lawman PC in your group, you should consider including an NPC who is a government representative with some kind of official status - another Marshall, a ranger, a judge, a governor, etc. Even though he may have no technical standing in the region, a badge is sometimes all it takes to stand for the law. The NPC does not have to be part of the party, but needs to be close enough to be summoned quickly enough to preside over a trial. Yoakum's Despair has no legal representative of its own, though in a pinch the mayor could be prevailed upon to stand for something - probably.
Timeline for "Learned Company"|
- Thursday - U.S. Marshall Owen Cranston is attacked by Rufus and Haglund and buried.
- Early Friday - Cranston digs his way out, takes down Rufus by twisting his head nearly off.
- Friday - Cranston attacks Haglund, and beats him to death with his own torn-off arm.
- Saturday Morning - The PCs are dispatched to look into the disappearance of Cranston (the murders have not been reported to outside authorities). Cranston was supposed to telegraph in when he reached Yoakum's Despair on Thursday.
- Monday - The PCs arrive to find the town divided as to the true danger. Professor Llyman Llyons has arrived and is trying make a buck by convincing the populace that they have a vampire on the loose and that he is their only hope. Most folks think the killings were done by someone with a grievance against Rufus and Haglund.
- Monday night - Zee-Ann Yoachim is reported missing by her distraught husband Latimer, and when her body is found (at first light Tuesday), the village goes wild with panic.
- Tuesday Morning - Professor Llyons presides, reluctantly, over a cremation party where the two outlaws are being "treated" so they won't rise up as vampires. Suddenly everyone is willing to believe the Professor and he does a brisk trade in protection charms and tonic.
- Tuesday Evening - The hotel keeper's daughter Maisie has gone missing, and the general panic level rises. She has been found (and is being cared for) by Cranston.
- Wednesday Morning - The PCs come across Cranston and Maisie (who has finally talked Cranston into coming into town for medical attention).
The PCs will have to defend Cranston from a lynch mob out for his blood the moment the mob gets word of his existence. The PCs will have to hold a trial and prove Cranston's comparative innocence and uncover the identity of the woman's killer - her husband Latimer.
Riding into Town
The town of Yoakum's Despair is a small huddle of clapboard buildings tucked into a deep and shady valley. Finding the way here was not difficult, though the distance the PCs had to come was considerable. The town appears especially small since, in the style of many frontier towns, very few of the locals actually live within sight of the main road. There are two saloons (the Golden Nugget and the Last Hope), an undertaker, a hotel and a general store/post office. The undertaker's window has a faded ad posted in it "Guns & Amm'n here". The various shopkeepers and their families live in the establishments (or attached rooms out back), and everyone else lives in homesteads which are out of sight in the wilderness.
It's mid-afternoon when the PCs ride up, and there are few people around. If it weren't for the horses tied up at the Golden Nugget saloon, this would look like a ghost town. The town is cool, since the tall trees and even taller hills around give a lot of shade.
Inside "McMillan's" (the hotel), the PCs are warmly welcomed by Wilkie Waller, the proprietor (McMillan gave up and went back east nigh on four years ago, but Wilkie hasn't bothered to change the sign), who loves to talk about anything and everything. He is a round and friendly man of middle age, and business has been slow, so he's also happy to oblige any requests - for a reasonable price. Rooms are cheap, baths are expensive, and anything the PCs might want from the store, why they can just ask and he'll have it fetched on over for them. The hotel is not the best, being slightly lower in quality than the average frontier hotel, with drafty rooms which are a mite chilly and damp, old worn furnishings and no food available on site (they have to go to the saloon or have Wilkie go for them). It is, however, clean and Wilkie is a very willing host. Besides, there's no other place to stay in town. There are six rooms. If there are more than six PCs, they will have to double up - no unmarried couples of opposite genders, though.
There is a small barn out back where the PCs can take care of their horses, though Wilkie'd be just as happy to handle stabling and grooming for them (for a nominal fee). The only other horses in the stable belong to Professor Llyons, as does the caravan-type wagon parked out back next to the barn. According to Wilkie, the Professor is too cheap to get a room, but he's willing to pay for the best fodder for his horses.
While they're checking in, the PCs may notice a pair of bright, curious eyes peeking out from behind something - a piece of furniture, a door, Wilkie, etc. This is Maisie, Wilkie's daughter (he's a widower of four years, god rest his wife Rosie-Mae's soul - she took cholera), who is six (she's as big a talker as her father, and will tell everyone her age at the first opportunity). Maisie finds a lot of things fascinating, and will take a shine to anyone who can do tricks (i.e., huckster-type magic, sleight of hand, juggling, etc.). She will select the most "interesting" member of the party as a special friend whom she will confide in later in the scenario. If no one does tricks or anything fun, she may still be intrigued by someone who will simply listen to her for a while. An audience is something she doesn't get very often. After the PCs have had a bit of time to settle into the hotel, they will notice a crowd gathering in the street. They may see the commotion out through the windows of the hotel, or step outside to go to the saloon and walk right into it. The crowd seems to be moving around the hotel into the stableyard where the Professor's wagon is parked.
The "Real" Inquiry|
Any asking around the PCs do about U.S. Marshall Owen Cranston will turn up nothing. No one has seen him, no one knows him, and he never appears to have made it into town. This in itself should seem particularly suspicious, especially considering how mistrustful the locals seem to be of outsiders, but they seem pretty genuine in their ignorance of his whereabouts (or of his existence - they've never seen him). If the PCs don't make the connection, have Wilkie or the Professor suggest at some point late in the scenario that perhaps Owen was another victim of the vampire whose body just hasn't been uncovered yet.
The Professor's caravan is a gaudily painted wagon in the style of a gypsy's caravan. On the near side is a painting of a sunrise, in front of which stands a classically posed (i.e., semi-unclothed), voluptuous female holding a bottle as if in a toast, and under it the words "TO YOUR HEALTH". Below the painting is a fold-down stage, supported by swing-out legs and chains which hang it off the side of the wagon. Standing on the platform is Professor Llyons, a gaunt middle-aged man with black hair which is heavily greased into a center part, wire-rimmed pince-nez glasses, and a small mustache and goatee. He is a compelling speaker, and the crowd seems to be, if not hanging on his every word, at least anxious to come and to hear him speak. Next to him on the platform sits a young woman in a rocking chair, leaning back at a precarious angle. The woman (later introduced by the Professor as Arabella) is dressed in a yellow shirtwaist (blouse) and brown skirt and has masses of loose wavy brown hair which cascade down to her waist, but is otherwise unremarkable. She seems to be asleep (at least her eyes are closed).
As they approach, the Professor's spiel, which has already started, becomes audible - and puzzling.
"...and if not stopped, one will make two and two will make four and four will make eight - I am certain there are those here who understand the implications of such a progression! Soon, there will be no one left but the fiends, and this valley will be overrun by the children of darkness. On the other hand, for those of you perspicacious enough, with foresight enough, to take steps now, I have a simple preventative cure for such troubles. Yes, and I am selling it - not for five dollars a bottle, or for two dollars a bottle, but for a mere two bits, yes twenty-five tiny cents per bottle, and I give a four cent refund on every bottle returned to me after use. For this very reasonable price, you get Professor Llyons' special tonic, good for what ails you - it cures the liver, raises the spirits, brightens the eyes, and in some cases has been known -when applied externally - to return to the scalp the luxurious hair of youth. It is also a sure preventative for the warding off of the undead, the bogeyman, the fiends of the night, and especially the greatest fiend of all - the vampire."
At this point, some people begin to press forward with their money, while others remain skeptical. A haggard, middle-aged, plain-faced Scottish woman pushes through the crowd. The tiny woman has to bodily shove people out of the way to reach the stage, which would be a bit comical if it weren't for the obvious strength she has. Once she gets close, she shrieks at the Professor (quieting the crowd around the stage) "What about me Rufus? He was nae saint, but he were all I had, now he be dead and cursed, as you say? What can I do for laying him to rest?" Her voice is particularly strident and cuts through the crowd's few remaining murmurs like a knife.
The Professor opens his mouth to speak, but is cut off before uttering a word by a voice from beside him. The sleeping woman has opened her eyes, which are all whites - no pupils - and she speaks in a frighteningly deep and stilted voice, which sounds like it comes from somewhere far away, "Shut up woman, 'ere I thump ye. I'll not find peace while ye shriek like a banshee! The Professor knows what to do, an I shall sleep like a bairn. List ye to him and don't begrudge the cost. I were miser in life, but death makes me know that peace is greater than gold." During this whole speech the woman on stage neither moves nor gestures, which makes her odd statements all the more eerie. When she finishes speaking, her eyes snap shut again.
The crowd is hushed, awed by the apparent voice from beyond. The Professor seems almost equally surprised, but quickly turns to address the audience. "As I have said before, my assistant Arabella speaks for the dead, as well as seeing the future while she lies dreaming. Is there anyone here who does not believe that that was the voice of the departed? You sir?" He points to someone random in the crowd. He picks on a couple more people, then concludes by addressing the bereaved woman "now, my good lady, if you will kindly wait until I have dealt with these fine people, I will be able to give you my full and undivided attention." The haggard woman seems willing to wait and moves to the side to let the buyers pass - and there certainly seem to be more people lining up for the goods after the ghostly manifestation. The show is effectively over at this point, though the PCs may try and speak to the Professor alone at some point. If they approach the bereaved woman, Glenna McTavish, she will be unwilling to talk if it means putting off her meeting with the Professor. If they try and get Arabella alone, they will find this a difficult task. As soon as he finishes selling, the Professor helps her to stand and guides her (apparently still asleep while walking) back into the wagon. Shortly thereafter, he takes the rocking chair inside as well.
What the PCs would know about vampires, if anything:|
The PCs may or may not believe in vampires, but not much "information" was available on such creatures before the popularization of such books and stories as Carmilla (1872) and Dracula (1897). Even those books already written in 1876 (the time setting for Deadlands) were almost entirely distributed in England, or the civilized areas of America - certainly not in the backwaters and boondocks. Educated people may have heard the term "vampire", and associate it with blood-drinking, but the books were also considered fairly risque (thought by some to be scandalously close to pornographic), and were thus often hard to get copies of. It is up to the GM to decide what the PCs might reasonably know. General folklore holds that vampires are the spirits of the dead who revisit their families and bring wasting diseases (such as consumption), rather than physical entities who come and do bodily harm.
Talking to the Prof
At this point, the Professor knows most of the details about what happened recently, and will be happy to expound his theory that the brutal slayings of Rufus McTavish and Haglund Dottle was certainly the work of a vampire - a creature the Professor read a short article about in a newsletter of the Spiritist Society in Boston. His reasoning for this is partly because of the strength the killings would require, and partly because of a statement Arabella blurted out just before they reached town ("He is rising from his grave - BLOOD!"). The Professor doesn't really believe there is anything unusual going on and is mostly cashing in, but he is a smooth customer and will certainly seem to be in earnest. As events transpire, he will get more involved in the possible truth of his theory, but will be willing to discard the theory if something more reasonable is presented to him. He can be a valuable ally, though he will probably start the scenario somewhat at odds with the PCs because of his obvious willingness to exploit the town's misfortune.
If the PCs can somehow get into the wagon while the Professor is engaged elsewhere, they will find Arabella sitting in her rocking chair in the corner of the wagon. She appears exactly the way she did on stage, sleeping. Talking to her will elicit no response, and even physical contact or violence will get no reaction out of her. At the GM's discretion, she may open her eyes (with only the whites showing - as on stage) and say something in the voice of a deceased NPC or villain from a previous scenario. This should be very unsettling for the PCs, even though it has little to do with the present occurrence. If the Professor discovers them in the wagon, he will be furious. He is deathly afraid that someone, someday will wake up Arabella and that she will desert him. He doesn't really realize it yet, but he is more afraid of losing her silent company than her occasional bouts of money-making prophecy.
The inside of the Professor's wagon is a cluttered and tiny but well organized room. There is a single bunk suspended high over a storage cabinet (which might lead to some risque ideas until they realize that Arabella spends nearly all of her time in her rocking chair), a small table at the back (next to which the rocking chair will be settled, unless it is on stage, in which case there will be a large empty spot here which may draw the PCs' attention), and a lot of boxes filled with bottles of "tonic," which is essentially alcohol mixed with herbs and boiled nettles - giving it a strong laxative effect. There are labels and glue around, but no valuables - the Professor keeps all his money with him at all times. The one thing of interest would be Arabella's valise, which is tucked under the table and which contains two shirtwaists, various woman's underthings, a book (hand-written in an odd language no one can understand - the lettering is distinctly un-English) with the name Arabella written on the flyleaf, and an awkwardly-posed, hand-tinted photograph of a woman (who looks a lot like Arabella, but could be a sister or cousin) holding a baby.
The PCs Inquire
After the show, the PCs may be curious as to what has the townsfolk so afraid of vampires. Their best bet for general information on the town is Wilkie, the hotel proprietor, as long as they can stand his inability to stay on a single topic. He will gladly tell them about the murders (especially if they're lawmen), as well as any other details the GM wishes to give to the PCs about the victims' lives, wives, childhoods, attitudes, etc. "Oh yeah, it was somethin' awful! Rufus was took from behind and his head was nearly twisted off like a turkey at Christmas, and then Haglund were beaten to death - with his own arm what the fiend ripped off him. It's wicked, but at least they won't be stealin no more pigs - that's what I say."
If they opt to investigate further into the deaths, the PCs may either check out the dead bodies themselves or the scenes of the two men's deaths. The bodies are at the undertaker's shop, and it's not difficult to find someone who will show the PCs where the two were killed.
Both bodies are laid out side-by-side in the back room at the undertaker's. Both men were big and ugly, though now they are pallid and limp looking. The undertaker, Mr. Merth - a pallid and limp fellow himself - has done an excellent job of restoring their "good looks" - twisting Rufus' head back into place and stitching back on Haglund's missing arm. Apart from these obvious wounds, there are various indications (bruises, scratches, etc.) that the two men were in a violent scuffle, possibly as much as a day before their actual deaths. Since they've been dead for a couple of days, they're pretty rank. It's only been the controversy about the possible vampire which has kept them from being interred already.
If the PCs don't view the bodies before Mrs. Yoachim's body comes to light, they will have to fight the cremation party to get a look.
The places where both of the men died are very similar. They are two apparently random spots in the woods, and as it has rained at least once since the deaths, there is almost nothing to mark either of the sites to a casual observer.
About half a mile west of the scene of Rufus's death (not near enough to be discovered by casual inspection) is a shallow grave under a large tree. Unless someone has some specific skill in farming or mining (or previous experience with diggin' out of graves), it will be almost impossible to distinguish that the grave was dug out from below. They can tell, however, that the grave was dug out by hands (not implements), and that the occupant and the digger must both have been very large men.
The site of Haglund's murder has heavy rusty bloodstains which still show faintly in the dry dirt under a tree. Someone searching this area will also find a shard of metal - a broken piece of tin the size of a thumbnail. It doesn't look like much, but if they could find whatever it was broken off of... (The piece is broken off of Cranston's U.S. Marshall's badge.)
The People of Yoakum's Despair|
The people of Yoakum's Despair are mostly immigrants who came to the United States in the last couple of generations (though some are a bit more established), and are typically drawn from the lower classes of their native countries. Most of the folks in the area are of German and Scottish extraction, though there are also some Dutch, Portuguese, and English as well as a considerable number of Native Americans of various tribes who were relocated to the Ozarks from their homes farther east, and who haven't been pushed west again - yet. People in the Ozarks are mainly prospectors or miners, rather than farmers, since the ground is so hilly, but there are plenty of chicken, pigs, and sheep raised in these parts to make up for the crops which don't grow so well.
After dinner, one of the PCs (Maisie's favorite) will find himself being followed by the child, who begins to ask questions as soon as she realizes she's been caught dogging him. If the PC does not immediately shoo her off, she will begin with queries like "How many people have you killed? Have you killed Indians? I have a friend who's an Indian." "Have you seen a notion?" ("a notion - a big bunch of water"; an ocean), and finally end with "I have a friend who nobody else sees. He lives in the woods and is really ugly. He's nice, but he doesn't seem very smart. I tell him to come and have dinner, but he won't come. He's hurt. He meets me when I go to the two big trees near the waterfall." Anything she says about him is easily dismissable as a child's vivid imagination.
If the PCs seem too interested in her "friend," Maisie will shift the conversation and begin to talk about a dream she once had about having a talking chicken for a pet. If they get angry, she will run away - until bedtime, anyway.
If the PCs are nice enough, or give her a present (sweets, for instance), she will say that her friend gave her a present, and she keeps it hidden with all her other "especial things". She won't say more, and if pressed will run away. A clever PC could trick her into revealing her especial hiding place (in the hayloft under a loose board under the hay) by giving her an especial present and then following her when she goes to put it away. If they find her cache, it's an old, water-stained cigar box containing four pretty stones (one of which is a tiny gold nugget and one which is fool's gold), an interestingly gnarled tree branch which she insists looks like Jesus, four links of a silvery chain, a red foil candy wrapper, a dried flower (from her mother's funeral), and a broken Marshall's badge (the gift from her friend). The missing piece of the badge fits exactly to the chunk of tin found at the scene of Haglund's murder.
The Cry in the Night
In the middle of their first night in town, the PCs are awakened by a frantic man seeking someone in the law enforcement line. Since the town has no lawmen of its own, he is referred to the PCs (or the NPC lawman). If the PCs are not affiliated with the law, they will nonetheless be woken by his yelling and may still choose to get involved.
The man is Latimer Yoachim, a wealthy eccentric known 'round these parts for his hot temper and his hidden silver mine. He lives in a big house (by local standards) about five miles out of town. He has his trousers and coat on over his nightshirt, and his hair is disheveled. He is obviously disturbed and claims that his wife has been abducted. "I woke up, and the winder was open, and she were gone! It's too dark under the trees to follow any trail, but I figgered you might could do something - at least come up at first light to help search."
Interrogating him further gets no additional information on the topic of her disappearance. If the PCs are interviewing him anywhere where the general populace might overhear (i.e., not in their own hotel rooms), someone will overhear them and bring the Professor. The Professor will insist that the only thing to do is go out to the house immediately to get a "feeling" for the abductor, so that he can decide what would be the best way to deal with such a supernatural malefactor.
If the PCs choose not to accompany the Professor out to Latimer's house, they will encounter him in the morning when the search for the woman begins (always assuming they decide to participate in the search at all).
Latimer will take the Professor up on his offer of assistance and will take him out to the house, along with anyone (PCs particularly) who elect to come along. The Professor will hitch up the horses and take his whole wagon with him out to the Yoachim place, which also ensures that Arabella will not be available for questioning while he's away.
The house is a fairly new two-story affair, built in a shallow valley some five miles from town. The spot is nice, with a good view of the valley out front and trees which come right up to the back of the house. The master bedroom is at the back, and the windows look out into the darkness under the trees. The other three rooms on the main floor are the parlor, the dining room, and the kitchen. There is a back door which opens onto a well-worn trail leading to the outhouse. Upstairs is the servants' room and a storage room. There are two servants in the house - Bessie the cook and Lurie Jo the maid. They will remain upstairs, awake but afraid to come down, until morning.
Everything in the house shows a combination of two personalities, one with lots of money, and (a feminine) one with taste. The walls are rough and sloppily whitewashed, but are hung with pleasant framed sketches done in pastels. The bedroom has a huge comfortable feather bed, and a woman's clothes laid out over a chair on one side of the room. ("See, she must have been carried off, she didn't even get herself dressed!") The other side of the room is decidedly masculine, with soiled, carelessly-discarded clothing all over. Latimer must prefer his stuff left alone, or his wife should have cleaned it up - on the other hand, this may also point at something unusual having happened last night.
The large sash window which overlooks the forest has been opened, and a scrap of fine cotton fabric is snagged on the rough-hewn sill. ("He must have caught her nightdress when he lugged her out the window!") There is only one anomalous thing in the room - in a small china bowl on the nightstand on the lady's side of the room, next to the chair where her clothes have been laid out, is a single earring. It has a tiny diamond shard and a larger blue crystal, possibly a sapphire. The clothes which are laid out are green and would hardly go with such an earring. This will probably not strike most PCs (especially since most are male) as unusual but the idea that this is a bit odd will come when they eventually interview the maid Lurie Jo.
How the murder happened|
This is background information, both in case you want to flesh out Latimer's eventual confession, or if you want to throw in more clues as to the sequence of events.
Last evening, Latimer and his wife had a fight, and his temper got the best of him. After knocking her around (which he did a lot), he went too far and strangled her. In a panic to cover up her death, he decided to make it look like the "vampire's" handiwork. Leaving her body on the floor in their room, he first sent the servants away to help an ailing neighbor. Once they were well gone, he pulled his knife and slit her throat - after all, no one would buy a vampire story without blood (at least according to that salesman in town). Since she was already dead for some time, the blood did not spurt, but merely covered her dress and the sheet which slid off the bed during the fight - he let the sheet soak up most of the blood, and waited until it had stopped flowing before doing anything else.
His original plan was to take her out in her gown and leave her, but he decided this would be a little too suspicious - he wanted it to appear that the death had happened very late at night. He dressed her in her nightdress, forgot to remove her earrings, and put her ruined dress into the fireplace, though he didn't burn it until later. The sheet joined the dress. Though the blood had ceased to flow, there was still traces of it on her neck, and some got onto her nightcap.
Latimer then carried his wife's body out through the window, leaving a very conspicuous scrap to lead searchers outside. As he took her off into the woods, he didn't notice when first her nightcap was snagged in a bush and then one of her earrings dropped from her ear. When he found a satisfactory spot, he was about to leave her when he noticed the other earring, which he took with him back to the house. After arranging the scene of the crime, he left by another route, very carefully using rocks to avoid leaving a new trail or messing up the old one.
Back at the house, Latimer carefully cleaned the floor and himself, and set fire to the bloodied garments. He searched all over for the other earring, hoping it had fallen out in the house somewhere, but did not find it. He put the remaining earring back into the dish on the vanity (rather than ditching or destroying it) partly out of habit, and partly due to its value.
At the moment, Latimer has hidden the murder weapon - his skinning knife (the servants might comment on it if asked about it - no one else is familiar enough with Latimer to note its absence). When Maisie disappears, he will be seen wearing it again, since he wants protection in case the real vampire shows up.
After arriving, the Professor will lead Arabella out of the wagon and into the house. When they enter, she takes the lead and walks unassisted to the bedroom, followed closely by anyone else who has come to the house. In the middle of the room, at the foot of the bed, she turns toward the window, her eyes flip open and she cries out in a weak but somewhat refined lady's voice "you saw him kill me! help! Come back for me! I saw you in the woods...please..." her voice then changes from panic to sugar and her face turns clever, "he'll never find it - I left it beneath the stream!", then she laughs hysterically, sways and almost falls, but the Professor catches her. He is white as a sheet. He has never seen her do this before, and is concerned for her. If she is carried to the bed, however, she will begin to shriek, and the Professor will demand that she be allowed to return to the wagon immediately. Anyone from town, including Latimer himself, will side with the Professor if it comes to an argument.
The Professor is too shaken to do much else, but he advises Latimer to pray, and to pour his special tonic (only 25 cents a bottle) across every entrance - windows as well as doors - to the house, to keep out any further evil spirits. He then goes out to the wagon to get some rest before first light.
The comment Arabella made about the stream was a clue that something is hidden under one of the sketches in the living room. One of the pictures is of a stream, and behind it are hidden letters from Zee-Ann's family welcoming her if she decides to leave her husband and return home. There is also a train ticket. After his wife's body is found and dealt with, Latimer might be seen searching outside around the nearest stream, looking for the letters.
At first light, in the chill of the morning dew, the search for Zee-Ann (or her body) begins.
Outside the window, the signs of someone's passing by are obvious, though there are times the trail to where they finally find her body (a couple of miles away) becomes indistinct. Not so indistinct that the PCs, or if not them then Latimer (who appears to be a really good tracker), cannot pick it up again, though. There are two things to find along the way, and if Latimer finds either first, the PCs will likely never see them.
Zee-Ann's nightcap - About 3/4 of a mile along the trail is a piece of white fabric caught in a bush. It is the missing woman's nightcap, the kind that covers the hair and gathers around the edge with a ruffle. There is blood on it, which implies that she was already bleeding by the time she got this far.
A single blue and crystal earring, which matches the earring in the dish on her dresser - If the PCs have not seen the one on the dresser, this one may not arouse any suspicions, and Latimer will say his wife lost it a while ago - but if it did fall off of her last night, it begs the question "why was she wearing an earring while in her nightgown?"
Eventually, they will find the woman's dead body - a horrible sight to see. She lies in a small clearing, her skin as white as her nightdress, and her throat all torn up. The funny thing is, there's almost no blood anywhere around - none on the ground, very little on the nightgown, and some dark clotty bits on her neck.
As soon as the body is brought back to the house, The Professor will take one look and high-tail it back to town in his wagon - this is a bit out of his league.
Back at the House
It is possible to talk to the servants about Mr. and Mrs. Yoachim, but it will take some time to make them comfortable enough to speak. They are very frightened, both of whatever might be lurking in the woods and of losing their jobs if they speak out of turn. As long as Latimer is even near the house, the servants will not talk to anyone.
Bessie (the cook) March is an older lady who is unlikely to give any direct information, but can be tricked in to admitting some things. For instance, if the PCs approach her as if they know more than they do, she may confirm some of their suspicions. ("Were you there when he hit her?" "Which time?...")
Lurie Jo (the maid) Reedie is a waiflike teenage girl and especially afraid of being sent away since she is an orphan with no one to turn to if she loses her position. However, Lurie was very fond of Mrs. Yoachim and wants to see her killer brought to justice - and she already has her suspicions as to who that killer might be (the Mister). If the PCs can guarantee her a job somewhere, she will talk a lot more freely. She knows:
- Last night the Missus was wearing a blue dress which went with the earrings and the dress is now missing. A sheet is missing also.
- Both she and Bessie were sent out by the Mister last evening to help an ailing neighbor and they didn't return until very late, after the Mister had already retired for the evening.
- The Missus went to bed early, before they left, according to the Mister.
- This morning the fire was already burning when she came down - usually she banks it at night and starts it again first thing.
- The Mister has quite a temper and will beat his wife or Lurie for the slightest excuse. Lurie can take it, having come from a brutal orphanage, but the Missus was from back east and wasn't used to such treatment.
- The Missus had done something recently which really riled the Mister, but Lurie doesn't know what it was.
If a PC with medical experience examines Mrs. Yoachim after they have taken her back to town and he can clean up the wound a bit, the will determine that (these are listed in order of difficulty of determination):
There are bruises all over her body, many of which are fairly old. (Reprehensible as it is, wife beating was not a crime in this historical period.)
The wounds at the neck, however savage they may be, were made with a knife.
She did not die from the neck wound, but died instead of asphyxiation.
There are bruises around her neck which the knife wounds may have been made to obscure.
She died sometime last night, possibly as early as dinnertime.
Between the servants' information and the body's condition, it will be an obvious open-and-shut case to most PCs by this time, but solving it doesn't help if you can't convince the people you're right. Especially since meanwhile:
By the time the PCs have a chance to fully examine the body and talk to the servants, the Professor has had a chance to rouse the populace.
News travels fast, even in rural communities, and people have come into town from miles around to find out what happened to Mrs. Yoachim. By noon, there is a huge crowd of locals who have been roused to a fever pitch of fear - the fear of being yanked out of their beds and slaughtered. Whether he actually believes it or not (he doesn't), the Professor is sticking to his story of a vampire, and is making a bundle selling charms and trinkets as well as his tonic. Arabella is not on stage with him. Her performance at the house scared him and he's afraid of what else she might come up with - and what the public might think of it. Even if what she says may lend credence to his tales, he doesn't want things to get out of control.
The Cremation Party
As soon as he has the crowd behind him, the Professor will go to the undertaker's, accompanied by the crowd and the mayor, and will demand that the bodies of the dead ruffians be burned - to make sure that they won't rise from the grave. The families of the dead will protest, but eventually will give in. If the PCs stay away from town until mid-afternoon, they will arrive just in time to see the cremation being carried out in the center of town with the huge pile of firewood burning merrily around the two dead guys.
Everyone attends the cremation, particularly since they've been in town all day and excitement and mob mentality are running at a fever pitch. When, in late evening, Wilkie cannot find Maisie and raises a fuss, the response is immediate. The crowd goes wild. Even the Professor can't keep them under control any more, as they take lanterns and go rushing about the countryside in a frenzied search.
If the PCs spoke to the child earlier ("the Hint") and remember where she said she saw her friend (the two big trees near the waterfall), one of the townsfolk can direct them to the spot, though they will have to be careful who they choose to ask for directions. If they ask someone who is too keyed up, they may end up following a mob, rather than leading a hunt. If they do come with a mob, Cranston and Maisie will both hide up in one of the trees (at Maisie's insistence) until everyone leaves. If the PCs come alone or with one other person (such as her father), Cranston and Maisie will approach them.
Cranston looks awful, and smells pretty bad too. He has been walking around wounded and semi-conscious for several days now. Maisie doesn't seem to mind how he looks. When the PCs talk to him, they will have to let Maisie "translate" for them, since he somehow seems able to understand her when he can't understand anyone else.
He can't give them any information at this time, but they should realize that some rest and a bath and some good food might fix him up enough to talk. If Maisie returns in one piece, Wilkie will let them hide Owen at McMillan's and will let the PCs buy him a bath and keep him in one of the PCs rooms (even if they didn't fill up the hotel, the people coming in for the mob have crammed it to capacity). Someone sees Owen by morning, and, at first light, the mob appears screaming for blood.
The attack on Owen, in case the PCs can get the story from him somehow, happened as follows:
He was tracking a outlaw (whose name he won't mention, since it's a secret) and was set upon by two local ruffians - Rufus and Haglund. They tried to surprise him, but he was a bit too fast for them. They were already too close to go for his gun, so he took them on hand to hand. He doesn't know why they seemed to be unarmed (Haglund had no gun, Rufus sold his last week for drink money). The fight was vicious, and finally ended when Haglund grabbed up a rock from the ground and struck Owen hard on the head. Owen went down, and while looting the body, the two men were convinced he was dead. They didn't find his badge, which was tucked into his boot - and his boots weren't worth stealing. They quickly dug up some loose soil and buried him, strewing dirt and leaves over the marks of the fight to try and conceal what had happened. They had never intended to kill anyone.
After this point, Owen has very few, hazy memories, but clearly recalls seeing Latimer carrying a limp woman into the woods.
Once the mob discovers Owen's existence, the PCs will have to use every ploy they can (including calming down key members of the populace, public speaking, and perhaps random gunshots into the air) to get the crowd's attention and calm them. If they have not alienated (threatened, ridiculed, etc.) the Professor, he will be more than happy to help, since the mob is now beginning to frighten him as well. If he feels it will help, he will even bring out Arabella, since (even when hysterical) the crowd seems particularly impressed with anything she does. Arabella may even be used to speak for Owen, though he is not dead, if things begin to look ugly.
The trial can best be held on the roof of the porch of the hotel, with the PCs and Owen (as well as any NPC lawmen or local folks) in full sight of the crowd, but out of their reach. Cleaned up, Owen looks better, but half his head is scabbed over, and he still has trouble comprehending what people are saying to him. Maisie can translate, but the crowd may erupt if she gets too close to the "vicious vampire".
The mob will not accept the PCs' word for Owen's innocence, but must be shown the truth forcibly. Latimer is unlikely to confess to killing his wife unless he is either caught in a lie or is physically threatened. If he does confess, even if he later recants, the mob will be both incensed at him and shocked enough to listen to the rest of the PCs' evidence.
The Angry Mob|
A mob can be more frightening than any supernatural creature. Once a mob whips itself into a frenzy, it is difficult, at best, to head off. The current mob is not quite at the boiling point yet, but the slightest nudge could send it over. At the moment, they are content to hurl invective and demands for the death of the vampire, but it takes only a single incident to send them into full stone-throwing, gun-shooting, lynching frenzy. Once they reach that point, people will be hurt. The mob will attack those protecting Cranston and will not stop at simply moving them or knocking them down, but will go for the blood of anyone trying to "defend that monster". Anyone, either friend or foe, who falls or is knocked down in such a scene will be trampled. If the PCs allow the mob to erupt, they will probably not be able to prevent the lynching of Cranston.
United States Marshall Owen Cranston - the "vampire" - is a huge, burly man, who currently sports a lot of dried blood - on his head, matted into his hair, and caked into his clothes - and looks extremely villainous. While in the area on a case he was attacked by a pair of ruffians - a simple robbery - and hit hard on the head. They buried him, thinking he was dead. When he awoke and dug himself out, he had no idea where or who he was, but had a strong image of the people who hurt him. He tracked them down despite his addled mind, and killed them both in a fairly brutal manner. Later, he encountered and made friends with Maisie, the innkeeper's daughter and became her "friend no one else can see".
Soon after that, while still hiding confused in the woods, despite the child's urging for him to come into town to see the doctor, Cranston witnessed Latimer Yoachim carrying his wife's dead body through the woods. Once Cranston gets a couple of nights of good sleep and healthy food under his belt, he will begin to regain his memory - or he could be hypnotized in some way. He will always react violently to the presence of Latimer Yoachim, whether he appears to recognize the man or not. Use the Texas Ranger template in the Deadlands rulebook for Owen's stats.
Latimer Yoachim - husband/murderer - is a petty despot, ruling his wife Zebrinia (Zee-Ann) with beatings and his servants with terror, he still has managed to keep a pleasant face to the rest of the town. Most of the people around think him to be a civil, though somewhat antisocial, fellow. He and his wife are only seen at church and special occasions. He purposely built his home far away from town "for the view" but really so his brutality would not be known to anyone else, since he is a little extreme, even for his day and age. Use the Muckraker template in the Deadlands rulebook for Latimer's stats, but remove the following: Lockpickin', Disguise, Journalism, and all Edges and Hindrances.
Wilkie Waller - innkeeper - is a widower with one child. He is a perfect innkeeper - fat, jovial and always right there when you need something. He is a chatty fellow, and the PCs will probably end up knowing far more about him and the town than they would ever want to know after an hour or two with him. Until Mrs. Yoachim disappears, he is unconcerned with the panic. After her disappearance, but before Maisie disappears, he takes precautions, but with a wink and a "just in case" attitude. After his daughter vanishes, he panics, and nothing in the hotel gets done until she is returned. For Wilkie's stats, use the Saloon Girl template, but remove all Edges and Hindrances.
Maisie Waller - Wilkie's daughter - a precocious, imaginative 6 year old, Maisie talks about anything and everything, including fairies, ghosts and a new secret friend whom nobody else sees. Every time the tales begin to flow, though, the innkeeper comes and finds an errand that needs doing. Maisie is fascinated by any types of tricks, such as sleight of hand or juggling, and will take a shine to "the most interesting" PC and eventually confide in him or her. Maisie does not stutter, but when she speaks she often repeats herself "I I I know a secret SECRET secret," for emphasis. Maisie should never enter combat, so her stats are left to the GM.
Professor Llyman Llyons - the vampire hunter - a showman, a con artist and snake oil salesman, the Professor's main interest is making money - though he is not a bad man, and does not deliberately harm anyone with his tonics. He is also not a brave man and will cave in under any kind of physical threat. As long as the crowd supports him, he may bluster and rant, depending on his audience to protect him from any interference. If the PCs publicly prove him wrong in his vampire theory, he will declare that he has managed to, through the kindness of his heart, dispel the evil pall which hangs over the town, and that it is time for him to move on to the next trouble spot. For the Professor's stats, use the Huckster template, though he has no hexes. Add Persuasion at 4.
Arabella the Sleepwalker - the Professor's assistant - an older woman than she appears on stage (probably in her mid-30's), Arabella is an enigma, even to the Professor, though he will never admit it. Arabella has no skills or stats. The Professor's story is that he found her one day sitting at the side of a well-traveled (though empty) stretch of , sitting on a valise and apparently waiting for a ride. When he stopped to help, she climbed aboard his caravan, though her eyes never opened, and she never spoke a word. At first he thought she was blind and mute. He found the name "Arabella" inscribed on the flyleaf of a book in her valise, and nothing else to indicate who she was. Mute or not, she could hear and follow directions. He would have left her off in the nearest town, but she woke him in the middle of the night and spoke to him. It was the voice of his dead mother, so he claims, and it was this that made him decide to keep Arabella with him "hoping to bring comfort to the bereaved just as he was comforted" by talking to the dead.
Most of this story is true. Arabella never seems to "awaken," even away from the public eye. There are times when she speaks, either with the voices of the dead or with prophecies (which have been true enough to occasionally earn the Professor some folding money), but she also is suggestible, and the Professor has found that if he gets someone to talk about a loved one in front of her, Arabella will usually come out with false messages. She is eerily correct with her voices and comments often enough that she has some credibility (and scares the Professor just a bit).