Chicago Lightning

The Central Chicago Sprawl

Wolf Point, known as the Warrens, once home to an indusrial center along the Chicago River, now comprises Chicago’s central sprawl. Old warehouses and collapsed brownstones fill the neighborhood, along with other dilapidated buildings not yet fallen down or demolished. It is early yet, just after sunup, but nonetheless the streets are crawling with packs of young orks who seem to spill out of the buildings like cockroaches from a trash can.

Smitty carefully weaves his way through the packs of children and parks in front of a brownstone that is only mostly collapsed. Turning, he nods to Mugsy, “Miss Esther will help you out. Just you make sure you let her know that I brought you, otherwise she’s likely to tear your heads off.” His face is still drawn and pale, but he winks at Azog in an attempt at humor.

Comments

Jamison nods. “You’re a good man, cabby. Never let anyone but me tell you otherwise.”

With that, he slides out of the cab, his hands shoved deep into his greatcoat to minimize the chance of someone taking his wallet.

The Central Chicago Sprawl
 

“Ork-town,” Azog grumbles. "Well, at least we’re outside Boots’ territory. Hardly safe, though.

“Smitty, keep the meter going. We’re paying cash today.”

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Azog notices something is unusual about this street. The boys all wear stiff hats, knickerbockers and (most unusually) shoes. The girls all wear plain dresses and conservative bonnets. Overhead, a thick wire runs from roof to crumbling roof, yet no laundry hangs.

A peddler-boy approaches selling rolls and Azog buys one. It tastes strongly of onions.

“Say, what’s up with this place?” Azog asks, scratching his head.

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“Its Kosher, thats what. Come on, we have someone to see. Don’t step on any kids, they’re probably hers.”

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“Oh, like a dill pickle,” says Azog as he clutches his briefcase to his chest, out of reach of the whipper-snappers. “You go first.”

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“Hey, guys?” Jamison seems to be ill at ease. “Who, god save us, are we here to see?”

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“Mugsy’s witch. Stick close and be ready for anything.”

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“She’s a good lady, just happens to live in this place.” Mugsy picks his way through the crowd of orclings towards one of the many run down hovels that line the street opposite the derelict warehouses. He looks for the sign denoting what once was Florscheim Lock & Key, paces the five and a half steps past its hanging remnants and enters what appears to be a nondescript, crumbling red brick row house. The door swings freely and once inside there are stairs to the right that at one time lead up to a second floor but now lead right up and out the rear wall of the building. There is a Persian type area rug that dominates a cracked and dilapidated common room to the left while a hallway at one time ran straight back to the recesses of the house but now is blocked by rubble and debris except for a small opening where the ceiling once met the stair wall. A fissure opens just beyond the area rug and descends into the earth. Orcish children are in various stages of entering and exiting the crack. Mugsy hails one of them and asks, “Is your Mother about?”

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GM: The child stops and stares blankly at Mugsy, then turns and runs downstairs without a word. For several moments nothing happen, and then from below a racket can be heard,the child darts out of the house, and a heavily accented woman’s voice issues from belowk “Yakov, don’t you go running down those steps, you’ll fall and break your poor little schmukus!”

After a pause, she calls again, “Mugsy, I know that it’s you, but I don’t know who are your friends. You never come by anymore, after all I’ve done for you, and all those promises, you never stop by! And you don’t even call ahead, you just show up!” She sighs audibly, “I suppose you and your little friends need my help to stay out of trouble, and you know I can’t resist your darling face! Oh, that face, Mugsy! It’s like butter! Come down so I can see you!”

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Despite himself, Azog roars with laughter and claps Mugsy on the back. “Mugsy, you dog you. Go on, let’s pay your leman a visit! Say, is any of these yours?” He gestures at the scampering throng.

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Jamison smirks, but decides to err on the side of decorum.

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“Esther! I’m flattered you remember me.” He says, and tugs at his collar. He favors his companions with a shrug. “You know how women can be.” He clambers down the fissure and wiggles down into their abode.

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Azog eyes the crack warily and rubs his sleeves before sighing and squeezing after.

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Jamison pulls up the rear, straightening the collar of his greatcoat after squeezing inside. Curiously, the area inside the crack is fairly well lit, and a great deal warmer than his room usually is. He nudges Azog. “Comfy digs. Remind me to look into magic.”

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“Brother, you have no idea what you’re saying,” Azog whispers back.

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The fissure opens into the warren. The difficult thing for humans to understand about orcs and their homes is that they don’t really have need of light. The party descends into darkness (except for Azog of course) and can hear the sounds of things moving in front of and around them as they progress. “Slow down a bit, chums. If I recall there should be a light…” Mugsy’s sentence ends in a muffled thud and yelp. There is an accented ‘sorry’ as things get strangely quiet. (Azog can see that one of the children was trying to light a lamp on the wall and fell onto the PI).

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[You know, I like the dark version. I’m going to work with that.]

Azog gently brushes the scamp aside and reaches to light a War Surplus oil lamp. (The ambient warmth of so many bodies is mussing his thermal vision.)

The party now sees the room clearly.

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GM: The fissure is much wider than it initially appears, wide enough for Azog to descend without scuffing his dudes, though he has to watch his horns so as not to damage the Mezuzah on the side of the tunnel going down.

Azog lights the lamp, which casts the room in a cheery warm glow, revealing 1 15’ diameter room with a simple rug on the floor and a few wooden benches against the walls. There is an alcove carved into the wall, where the lamp sits, and there are three tunnels leading out, two which are covered with curtains.

From behind one of the curtains, another light flares up – also cheery in color – and the three of you hear Esther’s voice once more, “Ohhhhhh my! I can smell your guns from here! You would walk into an old woman’s home with such instruments of violence, without even considering her feelings? It’s not enough that you want to come over and don’t even call, but now you want to bring those smelly things in here? You know I have children in here….and Mugsy I think of you almost as one of my own children, because you never call and I never see you except when you need something, and that’s exactly how all my children treat me.”

The voice is clearly getting closer, and a shadow passes between the light and the curtain. An elderly ork woman, possibly 30, steps through the curtain, “Oh, but Mugsy….look at you. That face! Those eyes! You know, I have daughters. Several of them. You should come to dinner, sometime…” her eyes stray to Azog’s briefcase, “…and who are your friends?”

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Jamison cranes his head to pop his neck. “My name’s Jamison, ma’am. I’m no one important. And I apologize about the firearms, but we’re taking a cab, and there was nowhere reliable to leave them. I hope you’re not too offended.”

With that, Jamison doffs his Fedora. It’s rude to wear a hat indoors, donchaknow.

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Mugsy picks his hat (and himself) off of the floor. “Esther, you look radiant! That shade of green is my favorite and compliments your dress handsomely.” He gazes at her for a moment. “I always remember your nose. Any woman I meet, I always think would look better if they could have your nose. I’ll get to my Troll-kin in a moment. How have you been? You certainly look excellent.”

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Azog sets down the case and holds his broad hat in both hands, exposing his unshaved horns.

“Good morning, ma’am. Uh, lovely place you have here.”

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GM: Esther turns her head briefly hide a blushing grin, “Oh Mugsy, you sweet thing,” she regains composure, “I’m doing well for an old woman whose husband has left her alone in the world with no help and an entire den full of children. My poor, poor Mordechai. It was two years ago today that he got that shpilkis in his genechtagazoink, and only months after that he passed on. It has been a hard two years, I will not deny that, but I carry on! I endure! I hold my head high and I persevere!”

She checks her hair, “But you, Mugsy, and your friends! You smell of guns, dirty money, death, and sewers! Oh my! What trouble have you been into! Sit! Sit, tell me everything!” She gestures for towards the several wooden benches against the wall.

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“This overgrown teddy bear is Azog, a partner of mine. We’ve been in some scrapes lately trying to track down a crime that happened a few years ago. We’re not even entirely sure how we ended up in the sewers as another of our number didn’t make it out. Someone on the other end of this is using some dark magic. They were using it to consort with undead and hold certain individuals against their will. We ended up rescuing those people and one of them proved to be helpful in our crime busting by selling some of the contraband we liberated with the hostages. He gave us this money for it but I’m covering my bases to make sure its not magicked in some way.”

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GM: As Mugsy speaks, Esther’s eyes narrow and she studies first him, then Azog, then Jamison. Each of you, in turn, feels very vulnerable under the scrutiny of her gaze. Finally she nods to herself, “Well, I suppose we had better have a look at this gun-money.” she shakes her head in mock disapproval as she speaks, and reaches out her hands towards Azog. “Come now, Azog, don’t be such a skchaptutz! Open it up and we’ll have a look.”

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Wordlessly, gingerly, Azog steps forward and places the case on the floor in the center of the room. He works the clasps and opens the suitcase to reveal a neat stack of $20 notes. He steps back away from the cash as though it were dangerous, though of course he doesn’t know that it is.

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Jamison leans forward, peering slightly over the lip of the open case. He shakes his head, and whistles, slow and low.

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GM: Esther arches an eye at Jamison, “Oh, so I suppose you just needed to use my den so you could look at it, Mr Chambers? You’re the proffessional here, I see? I take it that since your law career you delved into the dark arts while in hiding? I’ll just sit here until you are finished with your assessment.” She leans back as if making room for him.

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Jamison tries to stifle a surprised laugh, and fails. He licks his teeth, draws a slow breath, and exhales, as if he were marshaling his patience.

“I’d hate to waste anyone’s time. Go right ahead.” With that, he places his Fedora right back on his head, and makes his way back out, trying not to step on anyone.

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Azog’s stiff arm blocks Chambers’ egress. “We’re together on this,” he grumbles softly, keeping his gaze on the loot and the witch.

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GM: Esther fusses about, as if miffed, for a moment as Jamison steps away, but then steps forward and squats in front of the suitcase, unceremoniously she paws through its contents, mumbling as she does. Finally, she snatches one bundle of bills unceremoniously, and tucks it into her blouse.

She stands stiffly and stretches, “You came all this way, will you at least stay for tea? I get so little company these days. Well, with the exception of all these children. Some of them are mind, I will admit, but not all of them. Not by half. Not by half of a half. Still, it’s a home, and we’re a people. But I do sometimes long for actual conversation, Mugsy, not just the chasing after this one and that one. Sit. I will make tea, or coffee if you prefer. Do you prefer coffee?”

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Jamison follows the arm back to the shoulder, and looks Azog in the eyes. “I wasn’t going to beat feet. I just needed a breath of fresh air. Fair enough, though.” He turns around.

“My vote’s for coffee, if I get one.”

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“We’ll all stay for coffee, ma’am,” says Azog, who remembers the hideous ersatz teas of wartime rationing still in circulation among the poorer meta-villages.

Sotto voce to Chambers: “You wanted to see magic…”

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“Of course we’ll stay. The cabbie won’t mind at all. It will be good to catch up, Esther. You’ll be needing help with that, right? I’m sure you have some fine daughters to fetch the water and tea while we conversate? So, you know what we’ve been up to. What other interesting people have you met professionally lately?”

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Azog gives Mugsy a queer eye but says nothing.

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GM: Depending on your patience level, you will stay for at least 30 minutes, and possibly a full hour – all of it spent in idle chitchat. The coffee is passing fair, she prepares it herself while chatting with you. Any direction that you turn towards “business” will be turned aside deftly with some other comment about this or that.

It quickly becomes apparent that she is simply enjoying having someone to talk to.

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“Ahem, so, er… excellent coffee, ma’am, but seeing as we’ve heard you’re the best seer in the Sprawl, my friend here would like to get a look at you in action, so to speak.

“If you don’t mind, there’s a couple a’ questions we’d like to ask: starting with this here pile of cash. It’s clean, right?”

The Central Chicago Sprawl
 

Jamison does his level best to keep conversation topical, which should be easy to do, since he’s old-school upper-crust, and he devours newspapers every morning. Also, he has to make up for the gaffe earlier, since he didn’t get to leave.

He’s willing to talk for as long as anyone will stand, since, in his mind, this day couldn’t get any better. He’s on a roller-coaster that only goes up: Rent will surely be paid, now, and likely, there will be a new radiator for either his room or maybe new dishes for Ruby’s place. The dinge squads came up fast on their hardware, and now, they’re in his pocket, which means more security for Ruby’s place. All in all, a good day.

The Central Chicago Sprawl
 

Mugsy suddenly looks at his wrist. “Oh dear, look at the time. My, this has been pleasant and I really hope this job helps with the kids. Thanks a bunch for seeing us on such terms. You are the best baleboste in these parts.” Standing up quickly, he winks at Esther, gives her a crooked smile, grabs Azog and heads for the exit.

The Central Chicago Sprawl
 

“What, we’re leaving already? We just got here!” Jamison turned to look at Esther. “Ma’am, I am truly sorry about my gruff entrance this morning. I’ve been underground for so long, I’d positively forgotten about the pleasure of polite conversation. I hope today finds you well.” With that, he assaulted the rest of his cup of coffee as only an ex-policeman can do, and made his way to keep up with his friends.

The Central Chicago Sprawl
 

“Waaaaitaminute!” says Azog, tugging back at Mugsy. “I had a question too! I wanted to ask about Lovecraft. Spe-ci-fi-cal-ly, who it was that iced him, and where we can find this person. I think there’s a score to settle there, don’t you?”

The Central Chicago Sprawl
 

Mugsy looks sharply at Azog, quickly glances politely at Esther, smiling knowingly and then ‘takes’ Azog aside. He speaks in hushed tones. “Look I’m no mystical dynamo but it seems we would need some sort of evidence, substance for her to look at. We needed the money for her to check it, we couldn’t just tromp in here and say, ‘we have this money back at home and we were afraid it was tagged so we came to ask you.’ What are you gonna have her check?”

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“Personal effects? Oh, let’s see. He was carrying this on him when he died. He acted like it was real important.” Azog unpockets an antique duodecimo, the one Lovecraft was fawning over before.

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“Acted like it was real important? How? Like ogling it, obsessing over it, petting it, calling it his ‘precious’? That man had some idiosyncrasies that are beyond you and me. I’ve seen people do the same thing to half burned photographs and bricks from their bombed out homes.”

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“’xactly. Should have his essence all over it.”

He addresses the witch. "Ma’am, if you would. A friend of mine died last night. Had is etherphone in his hand when he passed—it was most unnatural. We couldn’t, uh, recover the body, but this was in his pocket and he had been handling it before.

“I’d like to know who it is that kilt him, and where the culprit might be found.”

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“Did I mention he and I just met?” Mugsy mentions as he passes his hand over his mouth.

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GM: As soon as Azog pulls the book from within his voluminous coat, Esther reels back as if struck. Her eyes grow wide, her face pales significantly, and she holds up her hand as if protecting herself, “Dryya, ʼá hʼr, ʼáṗgʻbn myyn lʻbn; rʼatʻwwʻn myr p̄ʼar dy ẕwlyb pwn dyyn stʻdpʼast lybʻ!”

As she speaks, some sort of power seems to emanate from her, and Azog is driven backwards towards the stairwell.

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Jamison is dumbfounded for a moment, his head slapping back and forth like he was at a tennis match. His eyes settle on the witch, and then on Azog. “Troll!” he hollars out. “I don’t know what the Hell you just did, but you did it! BEAT YOUR GODDAMNED FEET, YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOOD FOR YA!”

With that, he charges Azog, and tackles him backwards, away from the witch, who has clearly got some major mojo working, and towards the staircase, which is the only exit…

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Azog’s eyes grow wide as saucers. He looks about to run, but the money is still lying in the case on the floor, now seven or eight feet away.

He breaks the tackle and crawls on all fours against some unseen force toward the suitcase (and the witch). He reaches out to grab the case.

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GM: Neko and LiaoFan, this sounds like a flashy challenge to me, unless you want to really get into a wrestling match, which will be a duel. I need you guys to each pick which Forte you’re using (Jamison to tackle, Azog to break the tackle) and give me your rolls. Azog will be at a -2 due to his being propelled backwards by a strong force, Jamison will be at a +2 because he’s working WITH the force.

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Mugsy scrambles forward and snatches the case. “I was trying to tell you to drop it, Azog!” He yells. “I’m sorry about that.” He tries to tell Esther. He leaves a few more of the notes on the ground and tries to skeedaddle out of the warren.

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(Jamison’s not using any forte, just adrenaline. As far as he can tell, The Vermis is just a black book, but everyone knows what a witch can do, and Jamison’s just trying to tackle Azog out of the way of an imminent explosion, like a grenade going off. Anyhow, two dice.)

6 – 3 (Avg: 4.5)

(So, 9. +2 (for the force being behind me). So, 11.)

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Seeing as the money issue has resolved itself, Azog picks himself up and makes for the exit.

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GM: The trio scrambles outside, fleeing. Mugsy looks over his shoulder and sees Esther curled up in the corner of her den, shaking and weeping – a look of terror etched over her face.

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Azog steps onto the sidewalk and whistles for the cab. If Smitty was faithful, he stayed kept the meter running.

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GM: True to form, Smitty idles at the curb.

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Mugsy fumes into the cab and slams the door. “I don’t know what you just pulled there, Mr. Troll but that book should be destroyed! That lady is a good woman and we left her curled up on the floor in her own house among her own children! Thats twice now you and that thrice damned ether-weaver have interrupted a perfectly good information gathering session! Who on earth do you think killed Lovecraft? Boot’s retainers, thats who! Every body down there who wasn’t enthralled (and wasn’t us) was working for him! Somethings you don’t have to know right away. Did you think we wouldn’t figure out who did him in? Priorities, man! Priorities! I hope to God you didn’t unleash something disgusting on that house or that woman. I thought we established that out of us, I’m the one who does the talking! Can we stick to that, for the love of all that’s holy? I count two times you tried the negotiations and two times some supernatural event has nearly caused a cataclysm. So much for laying low. What are we gonna do now, huh? You have an brilliant idea for that, too?”

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“Hey, don’t you start with me. Your nice old lady is off her cog. I tried to ask a simple question and she opens the gates of Hades on us.

“And I didn’t interrupt anything. You were on your way out without learning anything useful, nears I can tell.

“I know it was Boots responsible for it, but I want the name of the mage that done it! I can’t begin to look for somebody I can’t put a name on and I don’t dare use an etherphone to call.

“Am I making sense, Smitty? Wait up I want to buy a paper. Sweet mercy, that was an expensive visit for learning nothing!”

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“Learning nothing? Why pray tell did we visit this place?”

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“We… I… You… Oh, Job two-nine!” Azog turns and addresses the driver.

“Smitty, here’s a sawbuck. Take us by a newspaper stand, and then the Salvation Army. I want to check in with my lady and see how those poor saps we rescued are doing. Maybe they’ll know something.”

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“Okay, now, are we done?”

“First, you.” Jamison pointed at Mugsy. “I don’t know magick, never have. but I’ve seen alot of witches do their hexwork in my time, and I’ve never seen anyone do anything to anyone without concentrating real hard and going through the motions. If your friend did put some sort of whammy on her, he must be the best witch ever, because he wasn’t even trying! He must be better than that, because, as far as I can tell, they guy doesn’t even know how to do magick!”

Then, he points at Azog. “And you! If you’re going to try something like that, with someone else’s contact, you gotta go through them! If something goes wrong, like it just did, it reflects on them, because they’re the one what knows the guy! I have no idea what just happened, man, but things went sideways, quick, fast, and in a goddamned hurry! We have no idea if we can even rely on that contact any more! We have no idea if we made an enemy out of a person who can tell my entire history to anyone and sundry just by looking me in the eyes! Of course, your man’s gonna be upset! You were out of line!”

Suddenly, Jamison goes white. “Fuck me. I lost my Fedora.”

He starts shaking.

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“That’s retreading ground we’ve already been over. Those guys aren’t going to tell us anything we don’t already know. They only one with a noodle strong enough to know anything through that hex is Allistaire and he is already on our side. I need a bath and some new clothes and we need to make ourselves scarce. This game we just started has to develop and we need to see what Boots will do in response and we need to figure out how ang why he is using ghouls in the Chicago sewers.”

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“OK, fine. But if not the Salvation Army, where? After all, they got cots and a shower. Ruby’s is a bit close to the crime scene, and I reckon Trask will be poking around the neighborhood.”

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“Didn’t they teach you not to interfere in a domestic dispute? I was talking about the book from Hades my unwitting Troll unleashed on that woman’s home! I know full well the strengths of my troll-kin and they don’t lie in subtlety, magic or information gathering.” Mugsy counts these off on his fingers. “The problem is, I haven’t yet convinced him to let me handle the few areas I’m good at where he isn’t. If you have any bright ideas, I’d love to hear them, once we find your hat, that is.”

The Central Chicago Sprawl
 

“I ain’t going back. Pull by a haberdasher on the way to wherever we’re holing up. I’m gonna get some shut-eye.” With that he folds his arms and nods his head.

The Central Chicago Sprawl
 

Jamison clears his throat. “I wasn’t about to suggest we go back now. It’s at the …place we just left. I just don’t know what happens to me, now. That’s not a new hat. I… …I don’t own any new hats…”

Suddenly, his eyes pop open.

“Fellows, I might just have the beginnings of a plan. We can’t make a move right now, right? We don’t know what Boots is going to look to do, or how he’ll move to make it happen, and we can’t go anywhere we would normally go, because the heat’s all over downtown. Is that right? Then, gentlemen, we do the last thing anyone in their right minds, who are in our position, would do.”

Jamison cracks his knuckles, and smiles a grin that would make a sane man scamper up a tree.

“Cabby, we move to the Ambassador East Hotel. Money can and will buy discretion, and with the proper stop by the barber, tailor, and concierge, we’ll fit right in. A ticket to whatever the matinee’s playing will kill some hours, and a restaurant stop will not only feed us, but put us out of harms way. I know the uptown crowd, gentlemen. This will not only work, but work brilliantly!

Azog, my man, call the Ambassador, and tell them that we desperately need to stop by the barbers’. Tell them that we’ll require hot towels for a proper shave,a tailor to take our measurements, and not a great many questions asked. Also, ask what they have on their brunch menu. Gentlemen, allow me to show you how the other half lives!"

With that, what seems to be fifty pounds of tension falls off of Jamison Chambers. He seems to be almost jovial.

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“For once someone who speaks the same language!”

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Azog’s answer is a loud, cavernous snore. But at this hour on a work-day the Ambassador will probably take a walk-in. [I like this plan!]

The Central Chicago Sprawl
MadDogMaddux

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