The Red Box having been secured once again in the Miskatonic University vault, the investigators turn their attention to other intriguing hints from the Armitage Files.
Alton Throckmorton reviews his compiled notes from interviews with N.E.L.A.A. members and cross-references them with some obscure early astronomical texts. He concludes that they’re observing (but not publishing) the location of the Teardrop Nebula, a distant and very faint “star” that’s sometimes considered part of a constellation known as Phasmus (the Ghost).
Celestine Whateley starts work on tracking down the source of the woman’s photograph enclosed in the first of the mysterious documents. From a partial name and phone number, she’s able to deduce that the picture was taken at Garret Bros. Photography in Manhattan. She makes a photostatic copy of the print and writes to the studio asking for any information they can share.
In the course of the previous investigation, they came across some flyers for the Drake Brothers Carnival, coming to Arkham next week (i.e. October 12-20, 1935). Some brief research ensues. Thomas Jackson checks with his contacts in the state police to see if there are any serious complaints against the carnival. There’s the usual drunkeness, fighting, people getting ripped off by the rigged midway games, that kind of thing, but nothing the state police would take an interest in. Dr Whateley’s show business relatives know a little about the Drake brothers. Twins Jasper and Rex Drake had a magic act around the turn of the century and retired from performing in the mid-20s. They tried their hand at producing, but lost everything in the crash. A few years ago they bought up the remains of a traveling carnival.
Sunday, the 13th of October, arrives and Jackson, Throckmorton, and Whateley visit the carnival. It’s obviously cheap and run-down, but doesn’t seem sleazy or dangerous. The document mentions a strongman and a freak tent, so they seek out those attractions. The strongman is billed as Vladimir the Giant, which seems to match one of the names in the document. His act is fairly standard, but quite impressive.
The freak tent is next, and it’s mostly the usual stuff. There’s a “wild man,” an “India rubber man,” and so forth. But the one introduced as “Alfie, the Half-Human Boy” is different. He’s just under six feet tall, or would be if his spine weren’t twisted so that he walks in a constant stoop. He’s bald, with strangely smooth skin and too-wide, staring eyes. The fingers of his left hand are fused into a curved, three-fingered claw, while his right arm is withered and twisted, the hand held against his chest in a permanent loose fist. At first glance, he reminds the investigators of the strange fish-like men who attacked them at Falcon’s Point, but on second glance the resemblance is mostly in the eyes. “Alfie” isn’t scaly, doesn’t have obvious gills, and while he does have a strange, unpleasant odor, it’s more earthy and musty than fishy.
The investigators buttonhole the barker, Kent Murdoch, after the show and ask about Alfie. Murdoch doesn’t know much. In response to their questions, he tells them that Alfie’s probably about 16 years old, can read and write “some,” and doesn’t talk about where he was before he came to the carnival. He agrees to let them talk to Alfie after the last show.
Late that evening, Murdoch shows them around to the “backstage” area where the “freaks” are having dinner. The “wild man” is working a crossword puzzle and the “India rubber man” has the sports page and is reading the baseball scores to Alfie. When they speak to him, he’s very shy and polite. His voice is very low, and he speaks with a strange accent, as though his speech organs are also affected by whatever birth defect or condition he suffers from.
In the course of their questioning, Dr Whateley attempts to learn about Alfie’s background by saying that she thinks she’s seen him before, but not in a carnival, maybe a few years ago. He’s visibly panicked by this and seems genuinely afraid of her until she manages to reassure him that she didn’t mean it.
On their way out, they hear a woman’s scream, followed by a crashing sound and a man’s deep-throated laughter. Running to investigate, Detective Jackson comes across one of the acrobats running from a wagon, crying and clutching at her torn dress. A couple of her male colleagues are struggling with Vladimir, who’s laughing and shoving them around as if it were all a game. Jackson identifies himself as a police officer and gets everybody to calm down. He gives his card to the girl, Letty O’Fearna. Her brothers assure him that it was just a misunderstanding and that there are no hard feelings. Jackson’s not so sure, but there’s not much he can do at this point other than keep his eyes and ears open.
On Monday morning, Dr Armitage calls an Inquiry meeting to announce the appearance of two and a half more pages of mysterious notes. These appeared while he was sleeping and Warren Rice, who was meant to be monitoring him, was unconscious following a mysterious attack of vertigo. Rice thinks he was out for about 20 minutes, but admits that he only looked at the bedside clock and didn’t think to verify the time. He’s fairly certain that Armitage was asleep when he came to, and once he saw the pages he checked that the ink was dry and that there were no ink stains on Armitage’s hands or the sleeves of his pajamas. The pages are handed over to Dr Whateley and another round of speculation as to their provenance begins.