Saturday, March 30, 2024

Unknown Armies - The Full Boot

Corrupt Chicago PD beat cop Archimedes "Arch" Brabrand had a problem. One of his informants, one Adrian Lebarge, was nowhere to be found. She was his source of information on the city's occult underworld and if something happened to her he'd have to cultivate a new source, which his ego and laziness would not allow.

He started his search downtown, to pester some detectives who owed him a favor. He swaggered into the cube farm where the homicide dicks flew their desks, and was immediately intercepted by Sergeant Gold. The old guy looked terrible, way worse than Arch remembered, and immediately told him to get the fuck out. There was something wrong with his voice and he was much surlier than normal. Like he was covering something up. Arch acted like he was leaving, then doubled back to rifle through Gold's desk. The last month of notes he had taken were borderline incomprehensible, but Arch picked out two things:
  • A list of names and addresses, including Adrian's.
  • Scribbled drawings of a boot, with foam overflowing the top like a novelty beer glass
He hit the streets before Gold caught him snooping around.
Adrian was a source of information on Chicago's supernatural underworld. That made her disappearance a problem for Blue Line, a circle of bent cops like Arch who investigated occult crimes. A pair of Cohles answered his summons to the hot dog shop to go over the facts of the case:
  • Special Agent Manny Mordiggian, Disgraced Psychoanalyst and Hypnotist
  • Robin Goodfellow "Rob" Dogma, Sheriff's Deputy and Super-Strongwoman
Rob tried to look up the "Full Boot" on her phone, since it's what was in the drawing and presumably what Adrian was investigating when she disappeared. She accidentally put her thumb through the screen, coming dangerously close to rupturing the battery case. Manny had better luck. The Full Boot was a bar, in the basement of an old Hibernian lodge. They didn't have a website, but he found a phone camera video of a disturbing dinner show: A man in a black cloak and trousers and a woman in a black mask and unbelted robe, flaying all the skin off the foot of a screaming victim in front of a live audience.

Rob ordered a thing of hot dogs to go, to recover her strength pending future superhuman exploits. Agent Mordiggian made illicit use of the Bureau's facial recognition database to search for the guy in the video and got a hit. The victim hadn't been reported missing but hadn't shown up for work, paid a bill etc in about a month. He lived in an apartment about half an hour outside the city, so that's where the group went next.

The place was empty and the only sign of a struggle was a smear of blood and scraped skin on the popcorn ceiling. Arch broke a piece of tile off for analysis while Manny chatted up the neighbors. He used his creepy powers to get info out of an old Dominican guy who lived across the street: about a month ago he recalled seeing a pair of men pull up in a blue Subaru Impreza, enter the apartment in question and leave with a big carpet over their shoulders. The men were completely affectless, they didn't talk or pay any attention to anything around them. The plates on the car matched one of the other missing persons. 

Manny took the skin and blood sample down to the Bureau's field office and pestered Gavin the Forensics Tech for a rush job. Gavin told him to fuck off and Manny spoke to him in a low voice, using hypnosis to convince him this was a vital case and not one of Agent Mordiggian's stupid fantasy cases about demons and monsters. Gavin came back with results about an hour later: the blood and skin came from a dead body, dead before it scraped its hands on the ceiling.
Rob had the idea to canvas for the other missing persons from Sergeant Gold's list, but as a County cop she didn't have the contacts in the city to cast a wide net. Arch stepped in and went back to the well for another attempt at squeezing assistance out of the homicide detectives.

Arch picked the wrong bakery for a meetup with his buddy from vice. No sooner had he lined up for donuts than Sergeant Gold stormed into the establishment. He looked even worse than last time and he was pissed. He shouted threats of violence at Arch, who sensed it was time to leave. Gold chased him out of the store and was intercepted by Manny, who tried to calm him down with his patented Mordiggian hypnosis.

It didn't work. Or, it stopped Gold from attacking them at least. The Sergeant gave a clicking shriek and rushed back into the bakery, smashing through the window rather than using the door. He broke open the display case with his fists and shoveled the bakery treats into his mouth, ignoring the pieces of glass that got in his mouth. One of them went through his arm and no blood came out, only a blackish pus that indicated advanced lividity. What was possessing him? A demon of greed? Manny tried talking to it, asking who it was. The Sergeant laughed. He remembered a knife, and pain. It shot up and down his body and felt wonderful. Then he filled his mouth with crullers.

The detective Arch came to meet tried to stop the Sergeant from eating glass and was backhanded aside for his trouble. Rob got the detective in a joint lock and pulled him away from the sweets. Like someone had cut his strings, he collapsed in her arms and was dead before she could put him down. The detective shouted for someone to get an AED. The Blue Line gang got out of there before the paramedics arrived.

With Gold out of the picture and the clock ticking before the next performance at the Full Boot, the investigators checked out Gold's house outside the city. They found a couple personal firearms and evidence that he'd been investigating the Full Boot right up the point that his behavior mysteriously changed.

It was time to visit the Full Boot and put an end to their grisly act, before they went to work on an informant that Arch still had some use for. Rob made a molotov cocktail with a bottle of deisel and some storm matches, Manny requisitioned a couple flashbangs from the Bureau's locker without getting caught, and Arch pulled a shotgun out of his car trunk. Manny also had the bright idea for the whole gang to dress up as demons in robes and masks, in case any of the weird demon-zombies had seen their faces and might recognize them.

The walls of the old Hibernian lodge were still scarred from a bomb the Know Nothings set off in 1851. The Full Boot was in the basement, accessible through an alley staircase. The door was guarded by a pair of suited bouncers with blank stares and pieces of skin missing from their bodies. Thanks to Arch's fast talking they didn't notice the shotgun under his robe, or the firebomb under Rob's.
The Full Boot. Low tables, cigarettes in defiance of the indoor smoking ban. Bar counter against one wall, where the soft light made the things in the bottles swim. There was something wrong with the barman. Other side of the room was the stage, with endless bloodstains soaking into the wood.

A group of teenagers at the bar counter. A handful of voyeurs at the tables. A janitor with a big scarf wrapped around her head, covering one eye. An employees only door behind the stage, and no sign of the opening act.

Arch flashed his badge to scare the teenagers off, which also gave the bartender a look at it. He looked like a corpse and had no information to share, so the gang turned to the people sitting at the tables. In quick succession, they met
  • Dr. Warren Marimow, professor of ritual murder. Wrote the book on occult executions in Mexico, Celtic “corn king” sacrifices, African muti killings, and neanderthal cannibal rites. Currently studying human sacrifice-for-charges in the modern underworld.
  • The Motumancer Gabby Ambrosio, exploring the destructive potential of the same magick that killed her greaseball father during the '03 war in New York.
  • A woman who saw Manny use his hypnosis powers to get info out of Gabby and wouldn't give him the time of day.
  • Garden Without Weeds the Agrimancer, working up the courage to kill his children for Major charges.
The group convinced the Agrimancer that murdering his own children for power was a bad idea. They'd seen plenty of blood sacrifice and nobody was ever happy with their decision.

The employees-only door opened and the bar's two zombie bouncers came out, carrying a crow cage with Adrian Lebarge inside it. She was nude except for a big piece of tape over her mouth, which she couldn't reach with her limbs immobilized. Also from the employees only door: Mister Flat Affect, clad in a black blazer and slacks, and his lovely assistant Saint Catherine, clad only in a black mask and unbelted robe. He leaped onto the stage and began the festivities. He had a good show lined up tonight, an act he called Etsikh With Nails. The bartender whispered something to him.

He invited Arch to come up onto the stage and stick in the first nail.

Rob waited for the bartender to get back behind the counter, then threw the firebomb at him. The bouncers pulled machetes and advanced on Arch, who pulled the shotgun from under his robe and blew one zombie away. Manny threw a flashbang and stunned the other, allowing him to finish it off with a coup de grace to the head. Saint Catherine disappeared the moment nobody was looking at her, but Mister Flat Affect pulled a bone out of the pouch around his neck and started casting. Rob flexed her super strength and threw a table at him, knocking him off the stage.

Gabby threw her chair on the floor, inciting the remaining customers in the bar to riot with a Motumancy spell - except for Garden Without Weeds, who by that point had already left. Arch loaded a breaching slug and blew the lock off the crow cage, opening it up to let Adrian out. Manny ran to check the back room with the employees only door. Mister Flat Affect got up and managed to cast a fear spell, assuming a terrifying visage of rotting flesh and enormous bones. Rob threw a chair and killed him.

The backroom had cages and an improvised morgue with drawers for corpses. In the back was a hole, which was far too deep for the fluorescent lights to illuminate. Manny was nearly bowled over by the undead janitor, puppeted by a demon no longer under the Thanatomancer's control, who laughed as she leaped into the pit. The investigators flipped the mortuary slab over and covered up the bottomless pit before fleeing the burning basement - not bothering to pull Dr Marimow and the business-suited woman apart. It wasn't their job to talk people out of killing themselves.
They caught up with Adrian down the street from the now-burning building. Arch gave her his robe and asked if she saw Saint Catherine escaping. Adrian didn't think it was likely that they'd ever find her. She was an Avatar of the Naked Goddess and the second you had one of them pinned down, she disappeared and showed up on the other side of the planet with a new name. So the Blue Line investigators had to be content with rescuing their informant and shutting down the supernatural crime syndicate and torture club at the Full Boot.

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