Chicago, late July, 1923. The Investigators read current newspapers featuring stories of President Hardings trip to Alaska, and escaped lunatics headed toward Chicago area. In this prologue, we took a little time to remind the players of important people in 1923, point out the massive corruption of the Warren G. Harding administration, and explore the characters personal feelings toward the idea of injustice, which were important to the development of the reincarnation subplot. Also, a couple of them were given nightmares in which they suffered feelings of confinement: being locked in a jail cell, forced to wear heavy chains and bags over their heads, featuring phobias about being strangled to death.
Investigators are contacted by Ilsa Nesbitt, secretary of Robert Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln. She requests that they come to Lincolns home on a specific time and date, and implies that he wishes to hire them to undertake a case. She is professional, but haughty: almost rude.
MEETING BABCOCK AND LINCOLN
Investigators arrive at the impressive Lincoln mansion in the Chicago suburbs. They are greeted by Nesbitt, who does not seem at all pleased to see them or impressed by their line of work. They are checked out, if not actually frisked, by Secret Service agents Smokey and Bootsie before being allowed upstairs. Nesbitt explains that Lincoln is very ill and lists many restrictive and seemingly arbitrary ground rules (one of the rules is you must never mention typewriters). Investigators are forced to wait while Nesbitt goes upstairs. The house is weird, and feels like a mausoleum. An aura of madness lurks about the place. While waiting, Investigators have a chance to speak with a strange, rather hyperactive man named Bernie Babcock, who is also waiting in the hopes of seeing Mr. Lincoln. Babcock has no appointment and will never be admitted, but hopes that if he keeps coming back to the house and waiting, eventually Lincoln and his staff will give in. When he learns that the Investigators are being permitted an audience with Lincoln, he gives them a sealed envelope and asks them to give it to Lincoln for him. He resists saying exactly what it contains, but suggests that it is valuable evidence about his fathers death and that Lincoln will be very glad to see it. Babcock makes them promise to show the envelope to Lincoln.
Nesbitt returns and shows them upstairs to Lincolns private bedroom. Lincoln is in bed, attended by a nurse named Evelyn Crabtree. He is in his eighties, and wears bizarre glasses with red lenses. Bloodstained tissues litter the bedspread. Medications of various kinds sit on the bedside table. The dim room is decorated in quirky Victorian fashion, with lots of old typewriters, and feels stuffy and sepulchral. Lincoln waves them in, then orders Nurse Crabtree, Miss Nesbitt, and the Secret Service men to wait outside, giving them privacy.
Lincoln removes the bizarre glasses to reveal that his eyes are very red: he suffers from acute conjunctivitis. He tells the Investigators he has heard from a trance medium he consulted that they have had some success investigating bizarre cases, and that for that reason he has sought them out. He has an unusual case he wants them to consider.
Lincoln tells them that he has always been aware of the many conspiracy theories surrounding his fathers assassination, but he has never believed any of them. In 1865, he trusted Edwin Stanton, his fathers Secretary of War, to handle the matter completely. He was too grief stricken, guilt ridden, and worried about his mother to give the matter much thought. For many years his mind has completely rejected the thought that anyone besides Booth could have been responsible. But lately he has been troubled by very disturbing dreams of his father, and he has recently seen evidence that has made him wonder what really happened that fateful night in Fords Theater.
He tells the Investigators that Booth kept a diary which was recovered by the authorities, but which later turned out to be missing 18 pages. Then he pulls out a packet of papers tied with string, and says theyre the missing pages. He found them, he says, among the effects removed from his fathers first coffin when the grave was relocated to Springfield, Illinois. He doesnt know who buried them with his father or why. Having read them, he believes there was something more going on in Washington in 1865. He points out that there were many strange irregularities surrounding the identification and disposal of Booths body, and a lot of unanswered questions about the subsequent trial of Booth's alleged conspirators. He believes that the persistent rumors are true, that Booth may still be alive. He offers the Investigators the following job: find John Wilkes Booth, or prove, beyond a doubt, that he is really dead.
Lincoln gives them the missing diary pages, and pledges to give all the help his wealth and position can supply, and writes an initial check for a large sum of money. The Investigators try to give Lincoln Babcocks envelope, but he waves it away, claiming to be too tired. Then Nesbitt and the nurse come in and rudely terminate the interview.
Outside, Babcock asks them if they gave Lincoln the envelope. They tell him that they tried, and they all go downstairs to discuss things. Nesbitt forces everyone to leave the Lincoln mansion, and they continue their conversation outside.
Babcock is a gold mine of crazy conspiracy theories. He tells them that he is writing a book in which he hopes to demonstrate that Booth did not die in Virginia in 1865, but in Oklahoma in 1910. He opens the envelope he wanted to give Lincoln and shows them the contents: newspaper clippings and affidavits from a man named Finis Bates testifying that he knew a man in Texas named John St. Helen who, in the late 1890s, confessed to having been John Wilkes Booth. The newspaper clipping is from 1901, and tells of the death of a man named David George, who also claimed to be Booth. Babcock says he believes that John St. Helen and David George were the same man, and gives them his account of Booths travels under various aliases (as found in the real-life book Booth and the Spirit of Lincoln, (c) 1925 by Bernie Babcock). He also outlines several conspiracy theories, including the popular one suggesting that the Pope was involved. Babcocks rant is nearly overwhelming, but somewhere in the mix of his wild ideas lurk a few nuggets of truth.
The Investigators request a sitting, hoping to communicate with the ghost of John Wilkes Booth. After some resistance, Dr. Black agrees to make the attempt. After a very creepy entrance into the spirit world, in which the Investigators can feel a physical presence in the room, it yields an emotional experience for the medium: he bursts into tears and recites a brief sentimental verse...
Dr. Black is tired, but the Investigators prevail upon him to make one more effort. They want to talk to Edwin Stanton, Lincolns Secretary of War. Robert Lincoln had mentioned that Stanton had handled the original investigation of the assassination. This time the results are extremely frightening, as Dr. Black seems to be possessed by a demonic force. He thrashes about, screaming and weeping unintelligibly. If this is Stanton, then he is mad or in the clutches of hell. The Investigators break Dr. Black out of his trance.
When its all over and done with, the exhausted Dr. Black stares at the Investigators with a look of strange apprehension. He warns them to be careful, that they may be meddling in something far larger than they are equipped to handle.
The Investigators breeze in, assuming the whole thing will take about five minutes, not having any idea what kind of consulting firm Davis & Brown is. It turns out that neither Mr. Davis nor Mr. Brown is in: Nina tells the Investigators theyre both in Russia doing research. The Investigators tell Nina that they are there to get some consulting, and when Nina asks what kind, they launch into the lamest cover story ever created. Nina takes them into the conference room and makes them drag out this cover story to absurd lengths. Everyone knows theyre lying, but humorless Nina lets them dig a deeper and deeper hole and bury themselves. Ruth comes in for a second, then retires to the office of Mr. Brown. The Investigators notice her later staring at them through the half-drawn blinds of Mr. Browns office. Something about Ruth seems disturbingly familiar to Investigator Creelle Ryan, although she never gets a very good look at her.
Peter is completely drunk, and difficult to interview. He focuses what little attention he can muster on Chip Wembley, saying he finds him familiar. The Investigators spin yet another wild lie as a cover story, telling Peter that they are from Hollywood and are interested in making a movie about his grandmother, and want some information. Peter is happy to help, but is so soused that they dont get anywhere. Suddenly, two people walk in the door.
It is none other than Ruth and Nina from Davis & Brown. When they enter, Peter jumps up and says to Nina, Darling, look who dropped by! He introduces Nina to the Investigators as his wife and Ruth --Ruth Ashley -- as one of Ninas co-workers.
The embarrassment is extremely acute. Peter rapidly tells Nina what the Investigators have been saying to him, about the movie. This is not the cover story they gave Nina earlier. Nina is rude to Peter, and forces the Investigators to elaborate on their movie lie to absurd lengths. Its extremely uncomfortable. Ruth watches in cryptic silence, fixing her stare on Creelle Ryan, to whom she seems oddly familiar. With profound awkwardness, the Investigators finally manage to leave.
In a safe in the records room they find a few Civil War era files. The names are familiar: Mary Surratt, George Atzerodt, Lewis Paine, and David Herold. These files contain envelopes sealed with string and wax. The Investigators break the seals. Inside the envelopes are letters written by the four conspirators, apparently during their trial. They are addressed to various people, including Edwin Stanton, President Andrew Johnson, and others. The letters imply quite clearly that the four conspirators are shocked that they are on trial, dont know what is going on, and all beg for help. A letter from Mary Surratt begs Stanton to order that the chains on her legs and arms be removed or loosened. One from Atzerodt begs mercy on the grounds that he was only following Andrew Johnsons instructions. One from Herold informs Lafayette Baker that he fled from the scene of Sewards attempted assassination because he believed Paine was botching the job. One from Paine simply says hed appreciate some cigarettes. Suggestive as the texts of the letters might be, the really disturbing thing about them is the handwriting: it is very similar to the handwriting of the Investigators themselves (although this subtle detail was pretty much lost on the Investigators at the time, partly because the forgery job was pretty lame).
Also in the safe they find two additional files. Both of them are extremely fat, and, although old, neither is sealed. It is obvious that both are still in active use. One is labelled Jefferson Davis, the other is labelled John Brown. Davis & Brown: the president of the Confederacy and a famous abolitionist.
The Brown file starts with ledger pages dated from April of 1865 and titled The Brown Account. They show large sums of money coming from a place called The Chaffey Company in New York and paid out to various people. The first beneficiary of the account is a man named Robert Jones, and he is replaced by various other men, including Thomas Henry, Joe Vicks, and David George (Remember the newspaper clipping from Babcocks envelope?). The Brown Account ledger has entries dated up until 1910, at which point the file ends.
The Davis file, which is much fatter, contains the ledgers for a company established in 1869 which was originally called Davis & Co. The entries are much more varied and businesslike, and no pattern of spending immediately leaps out. The Chaffey Company appears from time to time in the ledger. Right around 1910 the name changes from Davis & Co. to Davis & Brown, and the ledger shows large salaries going to both a Mr. Davis and a Mr. Brown. Leisurely study of the file discovers frequent large payments of rent going to a place called Pristine Hills, the rural address of which is in an Illinois town not too far away. The Davis & Brown file contains dated entries extending right up to the present day, including continued rent payments to Pristine Hills.
The Investigators come to the conclusion that there is no real Mr. Davis or Mr. Brown, and that the company is just a front for the transfer of huge amounts of money for some secret purpose, all tied in to the Lincoln assassination. They are alarmed by the files which suggest ties to powerful government officials and prominent businessmen. They suspect that Mr. Brown is the code name for John Wilkes Booth, and that he did not in fact die in 1865 as they were taught in grammar school history, but has been drawing on this secret money source for the last 58 years under a series of false identities. They do not know who Mr. Davis is the code name for, but are determined to find out.
The Investigators leave the offices and try to place a call to Harry Wells to tell him what theyve learned. They are shocked to find out that no one at his office will admit to ever having heard of him. It seems that every trace of Harry Wells has been erased. They are on their own, and fearing the worst.
Approaching by night, they discover what appears to be a horse farm. The gate that blocks entrance to a long driveway has prominent No Trespassing signs all over it. The farm seems to be devoid of people, although it might just be that theyre all sleeping. A barn, reminiscent of the Garrett place where Booth supposedly met his death, looms in the darkness. Horses watch the Investigators in silence as they climb the fence.
Dappled moonlight filters through the roof of the decrepit barn. It is filled with bales of hay in piles reaching almost to the roof, with horse tack strewn about the floor and hung on nails in the walls. Knives, pitchforks, and other implements are handy. In one corner, the Investigators spy a strange sleeping animal in a large mesh cage. The animal is not large, about the size of a cat, and is rolled up in a ball. Its face is hidden from view, but its body appears very strange in the dim light: hairy around the shoulders, but slimy and slug-like towards the tail. It seems to have no hind legs. When they shine a flashlight on it, it wakes up, uncurls, and turns to face them, opening its eyes, hissing and arching its back. Its face is hideous: large, almost human eyes stare from a bony visage, the skull nearly visible through the pale, thin, blue-veined flesh. A double row of sharp teeth, punctuated by large fangs, is revealed when the thing opens its mouth. Its bony paws seem almost like stunted human hands as it pushes itself backwards away from the Investigators, swinging its knobby head from side to side.
Suddenly, they hear rustling from the tops of the hay bales on the other side of the barn. There, near the eaves holding up the roof, the terrified Investigators hear the clanking of a chain, and then a feeble old voice begins to recite a strange poem.
Yes, its John Wilkes Booth. Now 85 years old and looking even older. At first he rails at the Investigators, but then he seems to recognize them. He grows calm and calls them all by name: but he calls them Mary, George, David and Lewis. He begins to speak freely but disconnectedly about the past. His attention shifts between the Investigators and the hideous animal in the cage, to whom Booth refers as The Tyrant. Wave upon wave of regret, misery, nostalgia, anger, indignation, self-pity, fear, and abuse spill forth. He sings Dixie until the caged animal hisses and cringes; he recites bits of Shakespeare. Booth is so absolutely insane that its hard to follow. He cant really anser any of their direct questions, but his ramble suggests that he thinks the creature in the corner is Abraham Lincoln, and that the Investigators are the four hanged conspirators.
Then Nina and Ruth show up with guns, and a young woman as a hostage. Nina, confident that with the hostage as a human shield they wont try to kill her, congratulates the Investigators for being too clever for their own good. Yes, Booth is still alive, she says. In fact, Booth can never be killed. Immortality was his reward for having assisted Edwin Stanton in his evil plot to get revenge on Lincoln. Stanton, it seems, was an active occultist who served the Great Old Ones. Lincoln discovered some of Stantons occult books and burned them. To get revenge, Stanton arranged for Booth to kill Lincoln with an infernal knife of his own devising: it would penetrate the back of Lincolns skull and remove a small portion of Lincolns brain. In exchange for performing this deed, Booth would be granted magical immortality. When Booth delivered the chunk of brain to Stanton and his powerful friends, Stanton used it to create the hideous creature now residing in the cage. Its all thats left of Abraham Lincoln, and it too will live forever to be tormented and used in blasphemous rites. Booth was allowed to live under assumed names, being paid from secret government accounts, until he realized that his immortality was really a curse: a nightmare from which he could never awaken. As he grew old and senile, he began confessing his true identity to people. And although few believed him, he was endangering powerful men and the secret they wished to keep. He was taken out of circulation and imprisoned there with the hideous Lincoln thing: the two will live together, side by side, in a perpetual hell.
Although Stanton himself has since died, there remain powerful friends in government and business devoted to Great Old Ones, and they guard the secret of Lincoln and Booth: people like Attorney General Harry Daugherty and NWI chairman Edward Chandler. They have plans that no foolish mortal will be allowed to jeopardize. Nina aims her gun to begin killing the Investigators, but just as shes about to pull the trigger, she herself is shot by someone from the darkness. Nina collapses, pretending to be dead, and pandemonium ensues, during which the Investigators kill Ruth. The Investigators never bother to check on Nina, assuming that she is dead. She lies in wait for a chance to strike. Meanwhile, the Investigators find the mysterious gunman from the darkness, who turns out to be none other than Harry Wells. Hes been wounded by a bullet from Ruths gun, and lies bleeding on the ground. He caught on to the conspiracy in Washington while investigating Davis & Brown, and rushed to Moline to intercept the Investigators. He manages to speak to the Investigators before dying. He mutters something like the Secret Service, they know... Daugherty... Chandler... the Service all along (cough cough)... The Investigators ask him what tipped him off, and he weakly gestures to his coat pocket. Inside is a folded-up copy of the days newspaper. With his dying breaths he tells them to take it, and be careful. When they take out the paper and unfold it, the headline shocks them: HARDING FUNERAL TRAIN ON WAY. While they were absorbed in their investigation, President Harding died suddenly on his trip in Alaska. Wells clear implication is that Hardings death was not accidental.
The Investigators free Booth, who wanders aimlessly around the farm. They turn their attention to the hideous creature in the cage, and attempt to communicate with it. Although it cant speak, they feel sure from its reactions that it is, in fact, Abraham Lincoln. Chip Wembley shoots it, thus closing the karmic circle by committing the act for which he and the other Investigators were unjustly punished in a previous life.
The Investigators decide to take Booth with them. Just as they are all about to leave, Nina jumps up and tries to shoot everyone. There is mass confusion. Nina gets shot again, this time by the Keepers.