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Ace

The Afflicted (Semi-Closed)

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This thread is semi-closed:

Spoiler

Want to join? PM @Ace with a description of your character, how they fit into the story, and an idea of how they might be introduced into the narrative. No magical or supernatural characters, please.





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The Setting: Harlem.  August, 1948. 

Three years after the Japanese surrendered to General MacArthur aboard the USS Missouri, officially bringing the Second World War to a close, life is finally starting to return to a semblance of normal. For most, at least. Many of the millions of GIs who have returned home will never feel "normal" again. Some of them will never be able to talk about what horrors they've seen. 

But the radio man says things are looking up. The economy is springing back. (Yeah, maybe in Morningside Heights. You doubt the disc jockey has ever stepped foot above 93rd street.) Most days you can feel a sense of optimism returning to people. New York is even holding its first international Jazz festival this summer, bringing business to several of the nightclubs in the neighborhood. Who knows; You've heard regular joes are going to be able to trade on their service time to get themselves a patch of grass and a white picket fence down in Long Island thanks to Roosevelt. God rest his soul. People are bandying about words like innovation and progress at the news stands. Maybe things *are* about to start looking up for America. 

Depends on where you sit. Here, in this rundown office building on the corner of 125th and Lenox Avenue, the future isn't looking so rosy. In fact, it doesn't look anything but hot. New York City is entering it's twelfth day of an unbearable mid-August heat wave, and up here where the bodies are packed a little tighter, the sweltering weather has either struck people down in a dizzying torpor, or put them deeply on edge. 

 

The Players: 
 

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| Regina Ramos |

Race: Italian / Puerto Rican
Age: 24
Birthplace: New York City
Occupation: Research Assistant / Junior Detective

Background: Regina fought her way, tooth and nail, to a full scholarship at Columbia, where she studied forensic science and sociology. However, despite her excellent marks and consistently high scores on the police academy entrance exam, the NYPD wasn't ready to welcome a Puerto Rican girl from Washington Heights into their ranks. 

Luckily for Regina, when a would-be private eye came sniffing around her circles six months ago in search of a bright mind with plenty of initiative to round out his agency, Regina's professors recommended her unanimously. 

Edited by Ace

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ArtStation - Billy Christian

Cole Sharpe

Race: American/Scottish
Age: 29
Birthplace: Detroit, Michigan
Occupation: Private Detective/Corporal (Ret)

Background

Cole was born to a middle-class family in Detroit; spending much of his early life helping out in his families restaurant. When WW2 broke out, he enlisted in the army and fought with the 7th Infantry Regiment during the Italian campaign. During this time he was awarded The Silver Star; though the circumstances under which he earned it are not widely known. 

Upon returning to the States after the war, Cole found himself unable to return to his old life. He moved to New York, and worked as a bouncer at a local night club while he worked to get his PI license. Now with a few cases under his belt, he went looking for a capable partner. His search would lead him to Regina Ramos, who he took on as Research Assistant/Junior Detective.

 

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Scorching, the newspapers called it. Oppressive. 

New York was suffocating under this spell of muggy, tropical heat for the twelfth straight day. All around the neighborhood, people had been finding different ways to cope with their bodily hell. Elderly women sat on the stoops, in the shade, waving out-of-fashion hand fans at their tomato faces. Someone had taken a wrench to the fire hydrant on the corner and cool water gushed out into onto the pavement in a fountain that was six-feet tall. A group of children played in the spray, splashing, daring each other to stand close to the source and withstand the beating of the torrent. Rousing the dead with their hyena laughs and screams of delight. 

And above this scene, through an open third-floor window, Regina Ramos somehow manages to ignore the bedlam. 

A folding chair has been pushed up to the wall just beneath the open window. A stack of books, at least eight or nine strong, have been piled up on the chair seat in a skewed and unsettling architecture. On top of that, a wire-caged desk fan whirs, its head rotating sluggishly from side to side. The narrow paper ribbons tied around its grill audibly flutter and flap like locusts' wings in the artificial breeze. 

The young detective stands at her desk, hunched over the eyepiece of a comparison microscope. Her thick, dark hair is twisted into a messy knot on the crown of her head and her forehead and neck shine with sweat. On one side of the desk, piles of white and yellow paper appear to have been swept as far to the side as possible before they start spilling onto the floor, seemingly to make room for the steel contraption with ugly, tan-grey that is chipped and flaking away with age. That regard for space apparently didn't extend to the woman's other side, where a half-eaten Cubano sandwich on a tin plate and an open, paper-bound book lay right on top of the litter of notes and file folders. 

CLANG. CLANG CLANG CLANG. CLANG CLANG.

One of the neighbors was at it again. Loud banging and hammering has been audible from one of the suites on the floor above us for three days now. All hours of the day and night; you never knew when it would start up again, or for how long. 

Her brow above the nose wrinkles in concentration as she carefully twists a knob on the side in her fingers, focusing the lens. The strong, incandescent light glares up from the base of the instrument and through its double glass stage, illuminating a single strand of hair pressed between each slide. 

Regina's eyes narrow, peering into the eyepiece for a few moments, then to a diagram on the page of the open book, then back to the microscope. Finally she grabs a ball-point pen and scribbles, murmuring to herself. 

"Test sample shows... uneven... cortex density... compared with... control. Blue tint to... light filtration... confirms presence... of cocaine." 

BA-BA-BAM

Another burst of noise echoes from the floor above. Regina tilts her head and looks up. It had sounded different this time. Hollower... deeper and more resonant: someone knocking on the door. She listens.

CLANG. CLANG CLANG CLANG. CLANG CLANG.

BA-BA-BAM -- It came again, louder, followed by a bellow of outrage. "Hey ASSHOLE. Cut it out in there! YOU HEAR ME!?

CLANG. CLANG CLANG CLANG. CLANG CLANG.

Regina hears another voice chime in. "Unbelievable!," they yell. "Do you believe this guy?!" 

Uh-oh, the young woman's lips twisted into a frown. The tenants were starting to lose patience. She straightened and flipped the metal toggle on the base of the microscope, killing the lamp. The hammering continued, and now Regina was starting to hear office doors thrown open and hard stomping on the floor above. 

She wipes the back of her arm across her forehead, catching the beads of sweat from her hairline, and sighs. "Hey Cole--" Regina raises her voice slightly as she crosses to the frosted door of her office and turns the key in her lock. 

Her partner's desk was in the front room. The agency couldn't afford a secretary, and it hadn't taken Sharpe long to decide that Ramos' mess and the often unpleasant odor of her experiments were not conducive to strong first impressions. Neither, for that matter, was her manner. So, he had ushered her into the private office and set up his own desk to receive and consult with the clients who walked in. 

"Cole," Regina repeated, unrolling her shirt sleeves as she stepped into the outer office. She slid a pair of maroon suspenders back onto her shoulders. "Maybe we oughta step in up there. It sounds like they're ready to break down the door." 

Edited by Ace

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"Jerk's lucky I'm not up there with them," the detective remarked, "Three days of this crap is long enough."

Cole slid the last part of his M1911 back into place before setting it down on his desk to admire his handiwork. The gun that lay before him had seen him through the Italian campaign without every jamming, misfiring, or malfunctioning in any way whatsoever. It was the only firearm he ever wanted by his side; and he cleaned and inspected it every day, despite the fact that he only ever fired it at the range once a week. His old drill sergeant had beaten into him the maxim that if you took care of your gear, your gear would take care of you; and he lived by it to this day.

Satisfied with his work, he looked up to meet the gaze of his student/assistant, and instantly knew that he would be going to deal with the riot brewing upstairs. Regina reminded him of the women he had met back in Sicily; smart, confidant, and not about to take crap from anyone. He had been attracted to her instantly; both on a professional and personal level. Thus far he had only acted on the former; quickly offering her a position at his fledgling private detective agency. He still wasn't sure if he would ever to anything about the later, but probably not. Waiting until it was too late and then regretting it was a well established pattern in his romantic relationships.

Sliding a clip into his gun and chambering a round, he got to his feet and placed the weapon in the holster on his right hip. Glancing at the jacket that hung on a rack near the door, he decided it was too hot to bother with and glanced at Regina.

"Let's take a look."

A short jog upstairs later found the pair in the third floor hallway, where a number of the buildings other occupants had gathered around a single door at the end of the hall. Pushing his way through the throng of people, Cole reached the front just in time to see a solidly built man in his fifties pounding on the door.

"Open this door or so help me god, I will come in there and shove my foot all the way up your-"

"No you won't, Lou," Cole interjected.

Lou whirled around, clearly ready to verbally savage whoever had been bold enough to tell him what he would and would not do. Until he saw Cole that is; along with the firearm resting on his hip. For his part, the detective simply stood there; arms folded, expression firm, but neutral. 

"You taking his side Sharpe?" inquired Lou, "I thought detectives were supposed to serve the people."

"Private Detective," Cole corrected, "Which means I only give a shit if you pay me. Still, I'm not such a heartless bastard that I can stand by and abide lynch mobs kicking down doors and passing their own judgement. If you really can't stand the noise, call the cops. Otherwise, learn to live with it."

Lou glared daggers at Cole, but ultimately snorted and made his way out of the hallway muttering obscenities. Soon enough the rest of the cloud had cleared out too, leaving detective and detective-in-training alone in the corridor. Just as he was about to suggest going back to the office, there was another bout of banging.

"What the fuck is this guys problem?" muttered Cole.

Edited by danzilla3

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"One day that man is going to blow a sprocket," Regina muttered so only her partner could hear, her eyes sidelong, following Lou to the stairwell. Once sure the barrel-chested walking time-bomb was fully committed to his retreat, she glanced around to the other tenants. She attempted an air of compassionate leadership, something she had heard from the crime dramas on the radio when the police chief or the mayor had to give a statement to soothe the frightened mob. "We'll look into this, people.  For now I suggest you all return to your offices."  Most of the small crowd appeared not to hear her at all, but their blood seemed to have cooled a little and gradually they all plodded back to their respective holes. 

She turned back to Sharpe and the mysterious noises coming from inside, and shook her head in bewilderment. "I got nothing." They'd never had reason to meet the tenant of suite 4B. The gold painted lettering on the frosted glass door read, Clark Price, FSA. Property and Casualty Insurance Actuary. A wrinkle formed at the bridge of the young woman's nose. "What would an actuary be hammering on?" she asked aloud, although to no one in particular but herself. 

Regina's lips twisted together thoughtfully. She slowly crouched down to one knee, gesturing for Cole to stand guard, and leaned forward to see if she could see anything illuminating through the keyhole. Before she could peer through, however, she was struck in the nostrils by the foulest, rankest odor she'd ever smelled. "Madre de Dios!" Regina exclaimed, stumbling back to her feet and backwards with both hands flying to cover her nose and mouth. It had smelled like rotted meat, shit, and burnt oil. "My God, Cole, that stench!" 

Her eyes widened a little, and she looked at her partner with a worried realization. A knowing gravity weighed down her voice.  "You had better break down the door..." 

 

Edited by Ace

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Cole turned back to his partner to express his exasperation at what she had just asked him to do. Hadn't they come up here to make sure that nobody did the exact thing that she had just suggested. Yet the words died on his throat when he saw the dread in her expression and felt the weight of her tone. With a sigh, he drew his weapon and squared up with the door. 

"Here we go."

The detective lunged forward with a kick aimed squarely at the area around the door knob which sent the flimsy door flying inward. As soon as it was out of the way, he was hit by a stench so powerful that it almost felt like he had slammed face first into a wall. During the war he had often been around corpses that had been left to rot; but the smell coming out of that office was so much worse. For a moment he felt physically unable to move himself any further inside; his feet suddenly feeling like two bricks of lead. But having come this far, there was no way he could turn back and forced himself forward.

Inside he found a reception area that looked like a whirlwind had torn through. All the desk drawers were open; their contents strewn all over the floors. The phone was off the hook; and he could hear the steady sound of the dial tone from the overturned receiver. On the ground, the chair that was likely used by the receptionist was turned over; the arms ripped off to leave only the seat and back. So far there were no bodies though.

"Room clear, pressing on!"

 

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Regina took a deep breath before following her partner inside. The fetid, decaying smell in the office made her eyes water, and a sick feeling rise to her throat. She steeled herself to the stench and scanned the room, just as her partner had done before her. The room looked ransacked: The drawers missing from the desk. A chair seat toppled onto the floor. Gina gave this a puzzled frown and asked, "Why do you think they took the arms and legs?"

"And look-" She tilted her head towards a bookshelf near the window. Books were piled up messily on the bottom three shelves; not lined up the way you were supposed to stock a bookshelf, but with volumes shoved flat-side down on top of the vertical stacks, some of them leaning against the shelved books with their covers facing the room. Someone had just emptied a shelf in a hurry, stashing books wherever they would fit, and there was at least a two foot gap between the uppermost pile of books and the top of the wooden case. "The top shelf is gone."

But Cole didn't hear her. He was focused on the door to the inner office, and what might be behind it. A hammer was still banging away on the other side of the door, so the two knew they weren't alone. But what had happened here? And why couldn't they get an answer?

Regina sucked a breath through her teeth and lower lip, the way she did in sympathy-pain when Cole would talk about his war injuries, or when one of her brothers said something stupid to their mother and outed themselves from their own lie. "Careful," she urged quietly, sliding her own pistol out of its shoulder holster. The sound of the hammer inside was starting to echo the sound of Regina's own heart. She looked on, fearfully, as Cole slowly turned the knob and opened the door. She braced herself, ready for Cole to rush in, to callout to the man in the room. Ready for bullets to start flying.

But he didn't. Cole stood frozen, staring at something she couldn't see. She heard a low, stunned "What in the hell..." from his lips.

"What? What is it?" Gina pressed, but this protégé wasn't the type to wait for an answer. She approached, still a few feet behind Sharpe and stepping around to the side where she could get a glimpse through the crack he had opened.

Regina almost dropped her pistol when she saw it. "Oh my God..." The woman muttered, her eyes widening in horror, and crossed herself. 

Through the narrow slit between the door and the jam, she saw what this Craig Pierce had been hammering. It was a tower in the center of the room–the kind kids might build out of chairs and end tables, just to see how high they could reach. Seven feet tall, and tilted unnervingly. A tower built out of broken slabs of wood...

— and the bloody corpses of at least twenty-five dead dogs.

Mutts of all shapes and sizes, their faces frozen in a glassy-eyed howl of terror. Boards were nailed into the canine remains— in the center of the skulls, through their jaws and even anchored into their ribcages— like support beams. But it was the dog bodies that formed the true architecture of the structure— and it would have needed the cross-beams for support. The irregular geometry of this tower looked like nothing that should have been able to stand up on its own, oddly concave on one side, so the top layers looked to be holding onto the rest by only a corner, its weight unsupported. 

That split second that her eyes were fixed on this grotesque spectacle felt like a decade. Regina felt lost in time, stunned beyond measure. But the decade in her mind ended abruptly when the banging (which she now noticed had a wet squish and a sickening crunch to it at the end) came to a sudden stop. 

"Close the door!" Regina hissed, hurtling forward to wrap her hands around Cole's hand on the knob. Just as she threw her weight backwards and the door slammed closed, the frosted glass exploded around them with a terrible shatter. She shrieked and instinctively pressed her face into her partner's back, head turned to the side and low, to protect her eyes from the shrapnel. Pierce— at least, she could only assume it was the tenant inside, driven mad by something and building himself an obelisk from Hell— had discovered his intruders and flung the hammer in their direction with all his might, screeching wildly.

 

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