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Chapter 1


Butchern

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Charleston, South Carolina. 1927. Abraham Broder, a friend and mentor to you all, has recently died. You attended his memorial at Beth Elohim Synagogue downtown. It was a beautiful tribute to your friend. You were asked to stay behind after the service ended by his Rabbi. Abraham left you a small package, outside of his will.

The package contains three things and a message.

First, the package contains a small personal information card, like the kind you might find in a bank or dentist's office for record keeping. The only text on the card is a typed name: Stephanie Ramirez.

Second, the package contains a small waxed paper bundle. Inside that bundle is rock of some sort. Half of the rock has been chipped away. The crumbling remains of the chipped half are also wrapped in the bundle. Throughout the cross-section of the rock and among the crumbling remains are tiny flecks of something unusual. Is it glowing faintly? Yes it is.

Third, the package contains a key, the broad-toothed kind that might fit a lock box or locker.

And the message? It is written in Abraham's familiar, blocky and hurried script: "Tell no one."

 

The memorial service was lovely and relatively short for such things. That was Broder's style. It ended near dusk.

The six would-be investigators had received their strange bequeathment together in the Rabbi's office which as much bafflement as the Rabbi himself. They subsequently offered their final condolences, departed the synagogue, and gathered in the Swamp Fox Tea Room which was housed on the ground floor of the newly built Francis Marion Hotel. The Swamp Fox opened directly onto King Street to allow patrons to avoid the hustle and bustle of the hotel lobby.

The six unlikely companions who sat together were familiar with one another through their common association with Broder, but none, save for Livingston and her assistant, were anything like close acquaintances.

 

The server arrived abruptly in a smartly starched white shirt and dark jacket. "What can I get you to drink?" he asked above the polite din of the establishment. It was widely known that with the proper encouragement and due discretion a variety of spirits were still available at the Swamp Fox.

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Tristan politely holds out his hand until the server nods to him in acknowledgment. I'll take an iced tea, of the Montauk variety if you please, he says. Montauk of course being a popular getaway in Long Island, and he hopes that this haphazard obfuscation is enough to get him a glass filled with way too many different spirits rather than a normal tea. In any case, even a "dry" iced tea would go appreciated in the heat, he mused.

 

Offering handshake in greeting to his newfound dining partners, Tristan begins to introduce himself,

The pleasure of meeting is all mine, although I must confess said pleasure is greatly diminished given the unfortunate circumstances. My limited understanding is that all of us had some association with the departed Abraham. My relationship with him was I regret to say a distant and professional one. I teach at the same university as he did, and we would cross paths from time to time. He would then extend periodic questions regarding my expertise - geology, that is - and I would oblige him with answers such as I was able. Sure, we would meet at faculty luncheons occasionally but that was the limit of our combined social endeavors.

 

Tristan pauses to glance at the contents in the package, although in truth he could hardly look away for more than a few moments even as he discussed with his companions.

I suppose why I was brought here by the request of the deceased is therefore my geological knowledge, but that rock is indeed alien to me. What about all of you, do you see some purpose or intent behind the invitations?

 

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"I'll take one of those as well," chimes Kent, with a wink at the server. He has been here several times and is well versed in the etiquette of the place. Discretion is not his usual way, but whatever it takes...

 

He returns Tristan's handshake with a firm grip that lingers for a moment longer than may be comfortable for some. "Yes, sad circumstances indeed, but I don't think our friend would want us moping about too much. Let's be happy to have known him."

 

"Kent. Kent Butler. And in answer to your question, no I have no idea what this is all about, but I'm taking a little break while my publisher looks at my last manuscript, so I've got both the time and the inclination to try and find out. What do you think of that note? Tell no one about what?"

 

He sits back and lights a cigarette.

 

 

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"The same for me," says Malcolm, who isn't a big drinker but also not one to pass up a chance at misdirection. He strokes his moustaches as he considers the others, grinning amiably. "My name's Malcolm Trask, ladies and gentlemen! You may have seen my posters about town, though of course I am more than just a mere purveyor of parlour tricks and crowd-pleasing antics! Mr. Broder knew I shared his interest in the seemingly inexplicable, and in finding the rational explanation for it - we often corresponded about such matters. Perhaps he decided that the best final gift he could give me was another mystery to solve?"

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Martin sat there, a smoke lit hanging in the corner of his mouth and his stare lingering into the void beside them that contained the floor. It was still difficult to accept. The man has helped him in so many ways, he barely even started to pay him back. And now...he never can. Not even a single goodbye. Funny how life can just drastically change like that. It was only with the encircling responses that he remembered he was part of a conversation with fellow acquaintances. None known to him - a reminder of how little he actually knew Abraham - but all must have meant dearly to Abraham to receive the same package. 

 

His tired eyes shifted to the waiter. "As for me, as well. Thank you." His voice was soft, lightly flavoured with a strong British accent. The attention moved from the waiter back to his companions who was already underway of introducing one another. A slight smirk formed on his face with a soft exhale of air through his nose, when the one known as Kent Butler mentioned that they should be happy to have known Mr. Broder.  "If I were to guess-" Martin started, looking towards Tristan. "-I imagine Mr. Broder believes- believed we had whatever skills to uncover what he couldn't. Whatever that is however, he didn't want people finding out. Only way to find out why, is to find out what it is, I suppose." He rose his right hand up to his chin, rubbing a gentle stubble that layered his jawline. "Personally, I wonder how this Stephanie Ramirez ties into all of it..." His voice trailed off along with the thought. 

 

"Forgive my manners, my train of thought got the best of me. Martin Stone, Mr Broder helped me get settled down shortly before I joined with the Post and Courier. Perhaps you've seen a couple of my pieces?" He chuckled, rolling the smoke to the other corner of his mouth. His eyes returned to Tristan. "You said the rock was unfamiliar to you? Perhaps from somewhere out of the states?" 

 

 

Edited by DogTheGoblin (see edit history)
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Livingston surveyed the table as she walked in. She was sure that she had already met all of these gentlemen at some point or other, but she was happy to make introductions again.

 

"My name is Agnes Livingston. I am a Doctor of Medicine. I worked in Mexico and Latin America for many years and have only recently returned to Charleston. This is my assistant  Maria González." She gestured to the tall, attractive young woman who entered the Swamp Fox with her and said the last name with a very convincing Latin accent. "Abraham Broder was a dear friend and mentor to me. He was also a serious sort, so if he left us this message then he considered it important. He was not a silly man, so this is likely no game."

"I'll have water, with ice, please," she said to the waiter when he returned.

 

"I think all four of these items warrant careful consideration. We have a rock of uncertain origin, and we have a geologist in our midst. That is not likely an accident. We also have a name on a card and a key. We shall have to track down each of these separately to discover their meaning. And the fourth, the warning to 'Tell no one.' I suppose we should presume that means that we should be discrete, at least until we have more to go on."

Livingston looked around the table at her fellows. "Perhaps we should take a day to clear our schedules and then reconvene. We should begin with the rock, I suppose. That is the most obvious. Professor Coupard, you have a lab, if I remember correctly."

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"Water too, please," Maria said. Her English was fluent but her accent was thick.

 

She smiled and gave everyone a polite little wave when Livingston introduced her. As soon as the conversation turned to talk of plans, Maria produced a little black book from her handbag and began flipping pages to the calendar. She found the current day, Sunday, and flipped over to the page that covered Monday and Tuesday.

 

Maria leaned over and said quietly to Livingston, "Hay tiempo en su agenda el martes por la mañana."

 

 

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The waiter arrived with everyone's drinks. He was savvy enough (and tip-hungry enough) to have picked up on the drink orders. The "ice teas" were heavy on the cola and syrup, and the over-powering taste of whisky, which was local, burned a little too much, but all-in-all not too bad.

 

"Will you be dining with us this evening?" he asked. He had menus under his arm.

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17 hours ago, LaChupa said:

"Hay tiempo en su agenda el martes por la mañana."

Livingston nodded. 

 

"I am free on Tuesday," Livingston announced to the table.

1 hour ago, Butchern said:

"Will you be dining with us this evening?" he asked. He had menus under his arm.

"Yes, thank you." She took the menu, glanced at it, and quickly ordered the vegetable plate with grilled shrimp.

 

After the others ordered, she broke the silence with a few words spoken thoughtfully.

"Abraham Broder was my friend, and I will miss him. He supported my admission into the College of Charleston when such a thing seemed very unlikely. And he championed my acceptance into the School of Medicine to his own professional detriment. He scolded me furiously when I decided to leave the country to work in South America," she added, laughing. "'You have responsibilities and a cause right here, my dear!'" It wasn't a very good Broder impersonation, but it was recognizable. "But he was my constant companion, by letter, throughout those years and received me back with open arms when I returned. He was a good man. May he rest in peace." 

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Malcolm, being aware that the money from his last show may have to stretch for a while if he's going to be too busy solving Broder's riddles to put together a new one anytime soon, just orders some cabbage soup.

 

"Hear hear!" he says. He raises his cup of fortified tea. "To Abraham Broder, a true gentleman! We'll not soon see his like!"

 

However, then he moves on - it's not his way to dwell on sentiment when there is excitement to pursue.

 

"Having our excellent geologist examine the stone is a capital first move!" he agrees. "And in the meantime, we might also make some discreet inquiries to the people who saw Mr. Broder during his last days. Perhaps someone noticed something in his behaviour or activities that might shed some light on this mystery."

Edited by Sir Lazeabout (see edit history)
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Tristan nods along to his companion's suggestions in cordial agreement. He then perfunctorily glances at the proffered menu and says to the waiter, I'll have the lasagna.

He then carefully covers the rock in a cloth handkerchief and restores it to his position within the bag and begins in a professorial tone.

I will start by confessing that I do not recognize the mineral composition or origin of this specimen at first glance. But that in and of itself is useful to know, for if it were any common or indeed most uncommon rock, I would know it by first glance. Yet we need not despair. As you say, I do have a laboratory at our disposal, and given the siloed nature of academia, am able to work with a good deal of discretion. I can already think of several tests to run. First, I would like to place a small sample of this rock in a cloud chamber to examine whether there is any radioactivity to it. Then, I propose to grind up another small sample and propose the usual tests to obtain a chemical analysis of the specimen using spectroscopy and all that. Perhaps a simple streak test as well, and if we have time x-ray crystallography to divine its crystal structure, and of course the old stand by of microscope and eyeball.

 

But I distract you with the details - it suffices to say I have high hopes for figuring out matters of import provided time, my laboratory, and the university library.

 

He takes a sip of the Long Island Ice Tea, blanching at the high alcohol content - why did he order the dang thing, he wasn't a 19 year old fraternity brother out of the town getting sloshed for heaven's sake - and continued,

Perhaps while I am engaged on this scholarly endeavor, someone will venture to run down some information this Stephanie Ramirez. Tax, property, or postal records could prove useful I suppose. And maybe there are items of interest within Broder's former home as well, such as a safe for this here key, a journal, or some boon hitherto unknown to us.

 

 

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Martin's brow furrowed as he lent back into his chair. He didn't like the idea of radioactivity and possible chances they had all been irradiated... that's how it worked right? Radiation? Well, if the expert wasn't worried, he'd stow his away for now. For now, he rose his drink up into the air to toast the late gentleman. Though his elbow would never leave the table. 

 

"None for me, thank you. I don't really have an appetite right now." He passed the menu onto another of the companions before moving his attention back to the subject at hand. "How long was you considering for these experiments? Figured I'd head over and see what I can dig up on Miss Ramirez. As mister Trask pointed out, maybe those who last saw him might know something. Or, at the very least, help us with what he knew as to not have to retrace his entire process." Martin plucked the smoke from his lips and snuffed it out in the ashtray, washing the taste of ash and nicotine down with the ice tea. The whiskey burned at his taste buds, even with the strong syrup taste. It was good. Just strong enough to take off the sting of loss. 

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"I'll have the mackerel with spinach." Maria butchered the word mackerel. She smiled and handed the waiter her menu and Livingstone's.

 

"I may know how to find Señorita Ramirez," Maria said to Livingstone but loud enough for the whole table to hear. The Hispanic community in Charleston was small, but the Iglesia Madre was something they all had in common.

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"Steak please, burnt to a crisp. If I get even an inkling that that thing was ever alive I'll be sending it back." Kent smiles to show that he's being good natured about the whole thing but he's not kidding - he's never taken to having his food swimming in blood. For one thing, it ruins the vegetables.

 

He listens to the others suggest plans while he enjoys his cigarette and sips on his drink. Not the greatest, but when he thinks of some of the rubbish he threw down his neck in Africa, it's like nectar.

 

"All good suggestions, dear fellows. I think we should just approach things systematically, one by one, so that we can keep ourselves organised in making sense of this whole thing. Looking at this lump of rock seems like as good a place to start as any. Once we've been to the lab we can follow up on those other plans."

 

He takes another drink, the ice clanking together. "Seems like this might be fun!"

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The cabal of unlikely investigators ate their dinner and reminisced about Abraham Broder and what he meant to them. Most of them wanted badly to discuss the mystery that was before them, but on a night such as this is seemed in poor taste to polite company. Also, there was nothing much to talk about . . . for the moment.

 

The investigators worked through Monday at clearing their schedule for Tuesday so they could gather in the geological lab of Professor Tristan Coupard, Professor of Geology.

 

The Math and Science building was built after the Civil War but felt old and well-worn by the 1920s. The geology lab, most of all, looked a bit like something out of the 19th century. The walls were lined with shelves containing samples, jars, and labeled containers of every conceivable shape and size. And all of the more modern equipment was kept protected with old, stained covers.

 

It was about 10am when everyone arrived.

Edited by Butchern (see edit history)
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