The Armitage Files

Let's all drink to the death of a ... strongman

In which a troubling conclusion is studiously not leapt to

Celestine Whateley gets a reply to the letter she sent to the Garrett Brothers photography studio a week or so back. They’ve identified the picture as part of a portfolio that was commissioned in 1924 by a young actress named Claudia Brazda. They don’t have a current address for Miss Brazda, and they’re fairly certain that she’s not acting on the New York stage under that name. They also enclose a complete print of the damaged photo in question, which shows an attractive woman of about 20, with dark hair and eyes, probably of Central European descent.

Dr. Whateley also consults an atlas to look for nearby places called Red Hollow, hoping to get a line on the “Red Hollow Case” mentioned in the latest document. She finds three things with “Red Hollow” in their name: a town in southern New Hampshire, a small valley outside Worcester, Mass, and a Red Hollow Road in rural Maine. Red Hollow, New Hampshire, seems the most likely location for an Inquiry investigation, given that it’s in the Miskatonic Valley and no more than ten miles (as the crow flies) from Dunwich.

Thomas Jackson is at the carnival when a large electrical generator “accidentally” falls off a flatbed truck, badly injuring roustabout Chad Mitchell. After sending a uniformed officer to radio for an ambulance, Jackson helps lift the machine off Mitchell’s leg. He confirms his suspicion that this is the “Mitch” who had a fight with Vladimir Krotka two nights before. Checking the back of the truck, he sees that a bolt has been loosened and bent, in such a way that a shove from a very strong man could topple the generator from its platform. He pulls a partial set of prints from the bolt, and with the uniformed officers in tow, finds Vladimir and “persuades” him to cooperate by being fingerprinted. He finds one of the O’Fearna brothers, warns him to make sure Letty, he, and his brothers stay away from Vladimir, and takes the prints into town to the police lab.

About 2:30 the next morning, Jackson gets a call from the night desk — Vladimir Krotka has been brought to the morgue, apparently mauled by a wild animal of some kind, probably a bear. There’s not much for Jackson to do at this point, other than tell the sergeant to make sure that Ephraim Sprague does the autopsy himself.

Later that day, Jackson gets the report from Sprague: Vladimir was definitely killed by an animal of some kind. The claw and bite marks are organic and irregular, not made by any sort of weapon or tool. He doesn’t know what type of animal it was, but from his measurements of the wounds it’s likely the size of a small bear or a large mountain lion. The animal may have an injured paw, as the claw marks are mostly on one side of the body. This puts the investigators in mind of Alfie Pivar’s withered arm, but of course Alfie doesn’t have two-inch claws on his other hand.

Jackson and Whateley go to where the body was found. They don’t see any animal tracks, although there are plenty of human footprints. Trampled undergrowth, broken branches and a considerable amount of blood point to a protracted struggle. Dr. Whateley catches an odd smell that reminds her of old Wizard Whateley’s barn. Jackson finds a smear of black ichor on a broken branch and collects a sample for analysis.

Jackson goes on to question witnesses at the carnival. Rex Drake gives him the basic story. He and his brother were worried that Vladimir might try to run away or possibly attempt some kind of revenge agent the O’Fearnas, so they arranged a schedule with the night watchman where the three of them would periodically stop by Vladimir’s tent and make sure he was inside. Shortly after midnight, Rex noticed the tent was empty and collected the watchman and a couple of roustabouts for a quick search. They heard noises in the woods, what sounded like a man fighting some kind of animal, and shortly found Vladimir lying bleeding on the forest floor. Drake sent one of the men to the nearest farmhouse to phone for an ambulance and tried to administer first aid, but it was too late. Other witnesses confirm Drake’s story.

They check on Alfie, who looks just as they saw him last. He shows no signs of injury, although they can’t be certain that his strange skin would show bruises. He tells them he was asleep during the attack.

Back in Arkham, Jackson assigns a patrol car to the carnival area overnight. Noticing that the ichor sample has decayed rapidly, he quickly takes what’s left to Harold Shear in the chemistry department.

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