Story

PROLOGUE
Chicago, late July, 1923. The Investigators read current newspapers featuring stories of President Harding’s 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.

CONTACT
Investigators are contacted by Ilsa Nesbitt, secretary of Robert Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln. She requests that they come to Lincoln’s 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 father’s 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 Lincoln’s 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 father’s assassination, but he has never believed any of them. In 1865, he trusted Edwin Stanton, his father’s 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 Ford’s 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 they’re the missing pages. He found them, he says, among the effects removed from his father’s first coffin when the grave was relocated to Springfield, Illinois. He doesn’t 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 Booth’s 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 Babcock’s 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 Booth’s 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. Babcock’s rant is nearly overwhelming, but somewhere in the mix of his wild ideas lurk a few nuggets of truth.

READING & RESEARCH
The Investigators read the diary pages, parts of which are in Civil War era code. Surprisingly, despite the ready availability of Keeper-supplied reference materials, they make virtually no effort to research the “facts” of Lincoln’s assassination, relying instead on their very dim memories of grammar school history class. (As a result, some of the plot’s subtleties are lost to them.)

CALLING HARRY WELLS
They do recall that four people were hanged for plotting with Booth to kill Lincoln, and in an attempt to track down living descendants of the hanged Booth conspirators, the Investigators call Harry Wells, an old friend of Max Holtemann’s who works for the US Treasury Department in Washington DC. Wells agrees to help, and, in exchange for doing them this favor, asks them to do something for him. He has been investigating a consulting firm located in Illinois called Davis & Brown. Wells has been looking into certain peculiarities with the finances of the company, and asks the Investigators to visit their offices and look around. It will save him a trip to Illinois, since they’re already there. If they notice anything suspicious, they should notify him and he’ll come out to make a personal inspection. They agree. He promises to call in a day or two with all the information he can find about the conspirators’ descendants. (Sounds kind of convenient, yeah, but for game purposes we needed to streamline the plot somewhat.)

A SEANCE
The trance medium mentioned by Robert Lincoln, from whom he attempted to learn Booth’s true fate, is a creepy Rumanian guy named Grigori Blarzca, whose professional name is “Dr. Black.” Having conducted sittings for Robert Lincoln, Dr. Black can tell them a number of interesting things about the Lincoln family. For example... Mary Todd Lincoln was a devoted believer in spiritualism, and often had seances in the White House to contact her two sons who had by then already died in childhood. Abraham Lincoln attended some of these seances. Dr. Black tells them that Lincoln was gifted with some ESP, and had prescient dreams foreseeing his own assassination. He tells them that magic and the occult were undergoing something of renaissance in the 19th century, and that there are many rumors of occult goings-on at high levels of government in the 1800s, implicating people like War Secretary Edwin Stanton in some of these rumors. He says that he knows Robert Lincoln is wracked with guilt about his father's assassination, having turned down an invitation to join them at the theater that night in order to see a lady friend. He informs them that in 1872 Robert had his mother committed to an insane asylum, and that -- despite being released -- she was quite insane when she died in 1884. He tells them that Robert Lincoln is an extremely private man who knows much more than he tells, and is rumored to have burned many of his father’s private papers: who knows what he is trying to hide? He tells them of the sad fate of Major Rathbone and Clara Harris, the Lincolns’ theatre companions: how after moving to Europe he eventually went mad and killed her, then committed suicide. He also tells them what befell the unfortunate Swede who owned the boarding house where Abraham Lincoln died: how his body was found in Washington, poisoned with Laudanum.

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...

Mother, come back from the echoless shore
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care;
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers, your loving watch keep
Rock me to sleep, mother rock me to sleep.

After Dr. Black emerges from his trance, he says he does not know the poem and can’t explain where it came from. He says that when attempting to contact Booth he was overwhelmed by misery and regret, but can get no firm connection, like he normally gets with a departed spirit. His feeling is that the emotional impressions do not come from beyond the veil, but are more like a telepathic link. He has never gotten a clear communication with the entire personality of Booth, he says: only isolated fragments like this one.
Fascinated and wanting to know more, the Investigators persuade Dr. Black to attempt to contact the four people hanged for conspiring with Booth: Lewis Paine, David Herold, George Atzerodt, and Mary Surratt. The attempt produces extremely strange results which deeply disturb Dr. Black. He says, after lengthy attempts filled with psychic fireworks, that he can feel their presence quite clearly: more clearly, in fact, than he has ever felt a spiritual presence before. And yet, although it seems as if they are physically present in the room, they do not communicate. He finds it strange and frightening, and says he’s never experienced anything like it.

Dr. Black is tired, but the Investigators prevail upon him to make one more effort. They want to talk to Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s 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 it’s 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.

LEAVING FOR DAVIS & BROWN
Harry Wells calls the Investigators back. He tells them that Peter Surratt, the grandson of Mary Surratt, lives in Milan, Illinois, not far from Moline, where Davis & Brown, coincidentally, is located. Also, Ruth Ashley, the daughter of David Herold, lives in Rock Island. (Small world, isn’t it? Seems like a shocking coincidence, but there’s a reason for it....) The Investigators get the brilliant idea to go to Moline, investigate Davis & Brown for Harry Wells, and pay a visit to these descendants at the same time. Wells cautions them to be careful: not to tip the people at Davis & Brown that they are under suspicion of any kind.

DAVIS & BROWN, DAYLIGHT
Moline is a few hours by train from Chicago. The train arrives at 4:30 PM, giving the Investigators just enough time to drop in at Davis & Brown before it closes for the day. The offices are nice, well-appointed, and staffed by four women. Two secretaries in the main office, and two executive assistants, Nina and Ruth, who seem to occupy inner offices marked, respectively, “Mr. Davis,” and “Mr. Brown.” One of the secretaries comes and goes from a file room of some kind into which the Investigators get a momentary glimpse: it’s loaded with records and file cabinets.

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 they’re 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 they’re 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. Brown’s office. Something about Ruth seems disturbingly familiar to Investigator Creelle Ryan, although she never gets a very good look at her.
After the cover story melts down into an embarrassing debacle in the conference room, the Investigators leave Davis & Brown with the conviction that Nina and the firm are hiding something, and with the resolution to break in later and search the files.

PETER SURRATT
Leaving D&B, the Investigators proceed to the home of Peter Surratt. Although Peter answers the door suspiciously, within moments he apparently thinks that the Investigators are friends of a friend of his, and invites them in. Peter is wearing an apron, and is holding some cooking utensils. He confesses that he’s been cooking up some alcoholic beverages, and invites the Investigators to imbibe. Taking them to the kitchen, he shows them his setup, and tells them proudly that he’s invented a new cocktail with vodka and orange juice which he calls a “crescent wrench.” He also came up with a tasty concoction of vodka and tomato juice, with a celery stick, called a “Bloody Gertrude.” He happily pours up some rather foul-tasting drink for everyone.

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 don’t 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 Nina’s 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. It’s 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.

DAVIS & BROWN, BY NIGHT
They go immediately back to D&B and break in. They find little in the offices of Mr. Davis and Mr. Brown, but the main filing cabinets in the front office contain voluminous folders, each with the name of some rather famous person, mostly political figures and business tycoons. Some names are familiar from the current news, but some are from the pages of Booth’s diary. The folders all vary in age: some contain documents that seem to date from the Civil War, others are quite current. Much of the material is in some kind of code, although the codes are unlike the code from Booth’s diary. Some of the files, especially those of Harry Daugherty (the US Attorney General), Henry Cabot Lodge (prominent Republican), and Edward Chandler (Chairman of New World Incorporated) are extremely fat. There is a file for Robert Lincoln which has documents dating from the Civil War until the present day.

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, don’t 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 Johnson’s instructions. One from Herold informs Lafayette Baker that he fled from the scene of Seward’s attempted assassination because he believed Paine was botching the job. One from Paine simply says he’d 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.
Both folders contain many many pages of accounting ledgers which record the comings and goings of vast amounts of money. The ledger pages are of various types and date from various years, but are in good order.

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 Babcock’s 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 they’ve 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.

CONCLUSION
The Investigators decide to go to Pristine Hills, the place most recently mentioned in the Davis & Brown file, to investigate further. The place is out in the countryside of Illinois: there are no people around.

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 they’re 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.

Backward, turn backward O Time in your flight,
Make me child again just for tonight
Mother, come back from the echoless shore
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care;
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers, your loving watch keep
Rock me to sleep, motherrock me to sleep.
Mother, dear mother, the years have been long
Since I last hushed to your lullaby song,
Many a summer the grass has grown green,
Blossomed and faded our faces between;
Yet with strong yearning and passionate pain
Long I today for your presence again
Come from the silence so long and so deep.
Rock me to sleep, mother, rock me to sleep.

As the poem ends, a wizened old head peeks out from the top of the hay bales. An incredibly old looking man, his body fettered with chains, crawls out from the top of the hay and climbs down to the floor of the barn. He seems harmless. He is unshaven and wears filthy rags. His sparse white hair is long and matted. He is connected to the roof of the barn by a length of heavy chain attached to a harness around his torso. Upon reaching the ground, he stands very still, staring at the Investigators. Suddenly, he rushes at them, running at full speed until he is violently brought up short by the chain. He stands, straining against his bonds, clawing the air in an attempt to reach the Investigators. He hurls abuse at them in a voice weak but still well-trained. There’s no doubt he has acted on stage.

Yes, it’s 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 it’s hard to follow. He can’t 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 won’t 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 Stanton’s 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 Lincoln’s skull and remove a small portion of Lincoln’s 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. It’s all that’s 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 she’s 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. He’s been wounded by a bullet from Ruth’s 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 day’s 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 Harding’s 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 can’t 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.