Snippet #2768254

located in Steampowered London - 1885, a part of Death Comes to London, one of the many universes on RPG.

Steampowered London - 1885

A metropolis of clockwork and steam.

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Character Portrait: Ephraim Ramsey Character Portrait: Amelia Lancaster Character Portrait: Beatrix Castine
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London - Circo Della Notte Grounds
June 19, 1885 - 13:53 p.m. - Sunny
Ephraim Ramsey


It took considerable effort for Ephraim not to sneeze. The tent, made of garish dark purple fabric with embroidered starts, was filled with the smell of cheap incense, the kind made and purchased by people who could not afford the more delicate sorts that one might find in certain temples or shrines elsewhere in the world. He did not hold this fact against the tent's owner—merely the fact that she seemed to use an absurd excess of it.

He glared momentarily at the stick of it placed in a simple wooden censer, grey smoke curling benignly from the end. But the expression passed as quickly as it had appeared, and he refocused his attention on the subject of their interview—Miss Rowena Marsh, the troupe's senior soothsayer. He figured she had a modicum of real talent, which she likely oversupplemented with crystal balls and tea dregs and the like to make it look more 'real' to people who didn't know the first thing about metacognition.

Fortunately, most of the paraphernalia was absent at the moment. She and Miss Lancaster sat at the small, round table draped in heavy blue velvet, while he and Miss Castine stood at what distance the cramped tend would allow. It was where she conducted business, not where she slept, so sans the other drapes, strings of glass beads, muted sources of light, and the damnable censer, it was mostly empty. It managed to feel cluttered regardless.

"That is correct," he clarified, resisting the urge to grimace when his nose itched. "We are, in fact, here to investigate. As Miss Castine trusts you not to be the culprit, any insight you have would be of great value."

Maybe.

Miss Marsh simply nodded, strands of her greying red hair moving with the motion. “Is there something specific you'd like to know?" she asked. Miss Castine glanced up at Ephraim before her eyes moved back to Miss Lancaster and Miss Marsh. Miss Lancaster nodded once, her eyes shifting briefly to Miss Castine and Ephraim.

“You're aware of what happened with Mr. Taylor, correct?" she asked, her attention back on Miss Marsh. The woman tilted her head lightly to the left, but nodded. “We have reason to believe that his lion was infected with rabies, however; Mr. Jaziri spoke quite keenly on Mr. Taylor's habits. Was there anything unusual happening the nights prior?"

Miss Marsh took a long breath before she answered. “You'll have to be more specific, dear. If you haven't noticed, you're in a circus. Everything here is unusual."

She had a fair point, in all honesty. This was not, as the saying went, Ephraim's first circus. "In particular, we want to know if anyone was out of place, doing anything that departs from their own sort of usual. Anyone especially nervous, excited, moving around at strange hours for themselves, perhaps lurking around the animals tent when they had no reason to be there."

The trouble was, they couldn't make their questions too specific, lest they exclude information that could be relevant. Strictly speaking, for example, he didn't care in the slightest who in the troupe was sleeping with whom or feuding with their tentmate or whatever else, but anything could be a cause or possible motive at this stage. Other than being motivated by revenge—or at least claiming such—and targeting only members of the troupe, there was little commonality. The victim before Mr. Taylor had been 'accidentally' hung by some of the trapeze netting, and the two before that had simply disappeared, their causes of death unknown. It was technically possible they were still alive, but he doubted it.

Miss Marsh smiled in Ephraim's direction. “Well, when you put it that way," she started, leaning back into her chair. “Other than the usual sneaking into each others' tents, the only person I could say would be," she paused for a moment and narrowed her eyes. “Mr. Davis."

“In what way?" Miss Lancaster asked as she arched her brow.

“The man is known to be a stickler for routine, despite his grotesque manners," she began, pursing her lips into a fine line. “But a few days ago, he was pacing back and forth near his tent, and disappeared for a few hours.

“He doesn't normally disappear all night," Miss Castine added. Miss Marsh nodded her head as if to agree.

“How is that unusual, though? He could have been restless," Miss Lancaster spoke, her brows furrowing in frustration, it seemed.

“When you've been here as long as I have, you learn people's routines. Who they're with, where they're going, and at what times. Some of the people around you aren't exactly as concerned with reputations and what-have-you."

"He shares a tent, does he not?" Ephraim asked, eyes narrowing. There were a lot of things such behavior could indicate, and he wasn't one to jump to the obvious conclusion just because it was easy.

“He does," she answered, though she didn't give the names of his tentmates.

“And who would they be?"

“Harris and Parker share a tent with Mr. Davis," Miss Castine answered, smiling as if she were happy with herself for answering the question.

“Perhaps he had a falling out with one of them which caused him to seek shelter elsewhere for the night?" Miss Marsh stated, glancing in Miss Lancaster's direction, a sly smile crossing her face. Miss Lancaster merely kept her expression, smooth.

“It would be worth a look," she muttered.

“Oh, but I did see Mr. Parker go after Mr. Davis. He didn't look too happy, whatever their conversation might have been about," Miss Marsh added.

Ephraim nodded slightly, doubting that there was much more Miss Marsh could tell them about this particular issue. Instead, he changed the topic. "Any other recent disputes or arguments? Particularly relevant rumors, perhaps?" He shifted his weight slightly, crossing his arms over his chest. It wasn't meant to be an aggressive posture, so he kept them loose, as there was nothing to lean on to look less imposing.

His eyes occasionally drifted to Miss Marsh's death clock. It was oscillating in a peculiar way between two figures: either a week from this date or else about three and a half years. He supposed she was quite elderly by human standards, and carnies lived harder lives than most. The week figure was interesting though—far enough out that he wasn't sure if it had anything to do with the case or not. Either way, she was likely not the next victim of choice.

Miss Marsh laughed softly as she fixed her gaze on Ephraim. “Depends on what you interpret relevant to be," she stated. “Rumors litter the circus grounds: from scandalous affairs, to widowed ghosts haunting some of the men," she continued, her smile growing almost into a grin.

“Ghosts?"

“Oh, yes, plenty of ghosts, Miss Whitaker. They're attracted to people like us," Miss Castine stated as if it was the most obvious thing to her. Perhaps to Miss Lancaster, it wasn't.

"There's also a rumor that says Mr. Bianchi is haunted by his sister's ghost, for example," Miss Castine stated, though she frowned slightly at the statemtent.

“If I may ask, what happened to her?" Miss Lancaster seemed interested in the subject as she leaned a little towards Miss Marsh.

“It was before our time. They say she died in an accident of sorts, but others say Mr. Bianchi accidentally strangled her in a fit of rage."

"The sister's name... Martina?" Ephraim knew he was right before Miss Marsh nodded, though she did.

They weren't wrong about ghosts tending to frequent this sort of place, nor to gravitate towards people with abilities such as theirs. "Have there been any sightings of her in particular in recent memory?"

Miss Marsh pursed her lips together, her eyes narrowing in thought. “She's been spotted a few times, but I think the most recent one was just before your group arrived," she responded, her lips parting just slightly as if she'd remembered something else. “I believe it was actually the night before, and I think it was Mary who spotted her. Poor girl, it was the first time she'd seen something like that," she added.

“She was shaking pretty badly after the whole thing. Even Master Bianchi tried to calm her down," Miss Castine added.

“Have you ever attempted to speak to Mr. Bianchi's sister?" Miss Lancaster asked, her eyes narrowed as if she were trying to figure something out.

“Normally, I do not converse with the dead. They do not put food on my plate or money in my pockets."

“I've tried," Miss Castine interjected, glancing up at Ephraim as she did. “I've tried going to the spots where she was last seen to see if I could glean anything from her, but..."

“It's always nothing. It's like her essence is too far gone that she leaves nothing behind," Miss Marsh answered, sighing in her chair and leaning back in it.

Ephraim thought the answer may be a little more obvious than that, in truth, but for the moment it was only a suspicion. Still, it was worth noting that this so-called ghost had appeared the night before the first note showed up. Along with Davis's suspicious activity, he was beginning to form a hypothesis.

Still, it was better not to become attached to any version of events, so that he could take in new evidence without bias, and he set it aside for the moment. Sensing that there was little else Miss Marsh could give them, he nodded courteously, not betraying his haste to get back out into relatively-fresh air.

"Our thanks for your assistance, Miss Marsh. We will trouble you no further, unless perhaps my apprentice has anything further?" He lifted an eyebrow at Miss Lancaster as he said it.

Miss Lancaster's lips were pursed into a fine line, perhaps more in thought than in frustration. “I don't," she finally answered. She stood from her chair, and glanced at Miss Marsh. “Thank you for the information," she spoke before turning her attention towards Ephraim.

“If I may offer one more thing," Miss Marsh stated, causing Miss Lancaster and Miss Castine to turn towards her. “Be wary of Mr. Parker. He might seem harmless, but," she trailed off, a slight shrug of her shoulders as if to suggest otherwise.

Ephraim only nodded slightly in response. 'Not-harmless' could apply to a great many people here, he suspected, but if she saw fit to warn him, he would take it into account.

Pushing aside the flap of the tent, he inhaled perhaps a tad too deeply too quickly, and the sneeze he'd been fighting off snuck up on him. Turning slightly so that he'd expel it into his elbow rather than onto either of his companions, he sniffed, blinked, and straightened.

"What is your recommendation for our next course of action, Miss Whitaker?" He'd been doing that fairly often today especially; asking what she would do with the investigation rather than telling her what they were collectively doing. Occasionally, he'd had to guide her back onto the optimal track, but for the most part she was acquitting herself well. She'd thought the senior fortune teller might be useful, even without the advantage he had of being able to sense Miss Marsh's gifts. Most people would dismiss her as a charlatan and assume she had nothing to offer. In this respect, Miss Lancaster had proven commendably unconventional.

“We need to find out what the others know of 'Martina'," she replied after a few moments of silence. “I think there may be more to this 'ghost', but asking Mr. Bianchi outright doesn't seem like the plausible course of action at the moment." Her brows smoothed out from where they had been furrowed, and she glanced out into the grounds.

“Perhaps we should see if anyone was with Mr. Bianchi at the time his sister was still presumed alive and around," she stated, glancing back up at him.

"A fair place to start," Ephraim agreed. He turned his attention to Miss Castine. "Of those working here, which have been present that long? If you know."

“I know Mr. Davis, Mr. Vitali, Adam..." her voice trailed and softened at the mention of Mr. Taylor's name. “Mr. Harris, I think, and Miss Johnson were all here before I was part of the troupe. I've only been here for," she paused her eyes losing focus as if she were trying to recall the years she'd spent with Mr. Bianchi's group.

“I've been here for ten years," she finally spoke. Miss Lancaster sighed heavily, perhaps because Mr. Davis's name was among those listed.

“We should start with one of them."

By now, Ephraim knew that at this time of day the roadies would be getting things set up for the evening's performances, which for the first time, he and his associates would be actively participating in. Considering the evidence Miss Blythe and Mr. Jaziri had turned up, it was quite possible that the show itself could become a target of sabotage soon, or already had been somehow. Trying to speak with one of them could serve two purposes, but it was also likely to be busy enough that they'd draw attention.

It was one thing to tell Miss Marsh of their true purpose, another thing entirely for everyone else to know.

"We'll have to be subtle," he noted. With a glance at Miss Castine, he inclined his head. "Our thanks for your assistance, Miss Castine, but as Miss Whitaker and myself are commonly seen together anyway, it may make more sense for us to attempt this alone."

“Oh, you're very welcome," she stated, curtseying as best as she could. It was obvious that she wasn't used to doing things like that, but she straightened back out. “If there's anything else you require from me, please let me know! I want... I want to do as much as I can to help you," she stated, smiling up at Ephraim.

“Thank you, Miss Castine," Miss Lancaster stated, doing her best it seemed to give Miss Castine a reassuring smile. “If you notice anything strange, or see anything," she began, putting an emphasis on the word, “do let us know." Miss Castine nodded her head and departed from Ephraim and Miss Lancaster.

Miss Lancaster pulled in a long breath before she seemed to relax. “I agree, we should be subtle about it, which means," she stated, removing the large coat she'd been wearing, and folding it over a nearby post. It left her in a longsleeved shirt, loose enough that it folded slightly over the underbust she had on. “This should make it just a bit easier," she stated, pursing her lips a bit.

The set of Ephraim's mouth did not change, but his eyes narrowed faintly. He could see the reasoning of course: at least one of the men with whom they wished to talk had expressed a marked—to the point of being distasteful—enjoyment of Miss Lancaster's physical form, and sans the coat her figure was much more obvious and overtly feminine.

He took the coat from the post and draped it over his arm, choosing not to remark upon it. "If you find the idea uncomfortable, we need not pursue at this angle," he said quietly, studying her face for any sign of uncertainty. "This job does not mandate that you use your physicality in such a manner, and I will never ask or require you to."

“Hm, I am quite aware of that, thank you, Mr. Ramsey," she spoke, but her face smoothed back out. “I find it easier this way to draw out the information we'll want. It's not a... tasteful tactic, but it is one nonetheless. And it makes it easier to ask questions without being too obvious about it," she continued. She rolled out her shoulders once more, before taking a step forward.

“Men's minds are simple that way, no offense," she shrugged, and continued forward.

"As I'm not a man, I can hardly take offense," Ephraim replied flatly. Frankly, he thought humans' minds were relatively simple in this fashion, to varying degrees, but he did not say so, merely following at a slight distance behind her.

Davis was not hard to find, though he didn't seem to be with Harris this time, rather working by himself, though within visible distance of a few others, meaning that their decision to approach in a smaller number was likely the right one. Ephraim stopped a fair distance before Miss Lancaster did, out of human earshot but well within range of his superior hearing, and set her coat down on a crate, seating himself in front of it and removing the flask from his belt.

To any passerby, he'd be the new fellow taking a break to have a drink, paying no mind whatsoever to whatever his attractive counterpart was discussing with the senior roadie.

Of course, he could hear absolutely everything, and see from the corner of his eye, too. Davis had glanced briefly at the approaching figure, as if to mark their passage before returning to hammering the stake for the largest performance tent. But he did a double-take when he recognized Miss Lancaster and straightened, his leer no less obvious now than it had been last time.

“Afternoon, Miss," He flashed crooked, yellowing teeth in what might once have been an effective smile for its purpose. “See y've lost the dead weight. Ya lookin' fer a real man this time?"

To her credit, Miss Lancaster merely smiled, tilting her head as if she were slightly confused. “Temporarily misplaced, I would say," she responded, placing a hand to rest on her hip. “I was taking a break from practice and thought that you could use a hand with..." she made a gesture in the direction of the stake. “But if you're a real man, you really wouldn't need help from little 'ol me, right?" she continued, the force of her smile narrowing her eyes.

“I was also wondering if you could help me with something," she stated, her smile fading slightly as she did.

Davis leaned on the long mallet he was using to pound the stake, eyes narrowing uncertainly, like he wasn't sure if he'd just been challenged or insulted somehow. In the end, though, the query at the end apparently made it simple enough for him to bypass the words with a broad-shouldered shrug. His eyes, Ephraim thought, lingered somewhere in the vicinity of Miss Lancaster's chest before crawling up to her face.

“There's a lot I could help you wif, love? What's ya got in mind, eh?"

“Well," she started, folding her arms over her chest, “I've been hearing some disturbing tales about ghosts haunting these grounds. I want to know if it's something I should be worried about." Her voice held a sort of quiver to it, as if she were trying to feign a sort of fear of the subject.

“Is it true that Mr. Bianchi's sister is one of them?"

If anything, Davis seemed displeased that this of all things was the topic of conversation. Ephraim took a sip of the water inside his flask, nodding to Mr. O'Donaghue as he passed but saying nothing.

“Who?" Davis asked. “Martina?" He shifted vaguely uncomfortably for a minute. “I dunno nuffink about that, love. That's Mr. Bianchi's business."

“Did you know her?" she asked, tilting her head slightly to the right. “Because if you're saying that there are no ghosts I should be afraid of, it'll help me sleep a little better, tonight," she added, offering Mr. Davis a meek smile.

He shook his head slightly, unusually pale even for his native complexion. “I ain't sayin' nuffink about Martina, lass, and you best stop askin'. Mr Bianchi don't like 'earin' about 'her, and it'll get back to 'im."

“I was just asking about ghosts, Mr. Davis," Miss Lancaster spoke, letting her arms fall to the side. “When I was a little girl, they used to haunt me," she stated in a soft voice, her eyes falling to the floor. “I just wanted to make sure that there weren't any ghosts, here, that I had to worry about. It'd be a nightmare all over again," she continued, pursing her lips together.

“I guess I'll leave you to your work, then, Mr. Davis. Sorry to have bothered you," she stated, and nodding her head in Mr. Davis's direction.

Whatever sympathy he might have pretended to dredge up at Miss Lancaster's feigned plight was obviously drowned by the desire not to speak of Martina Bianchi. He only nodded and returned to his work, without so much as another pass at her.

When she returned to his side, Ephraim offered her the flask. "It's just water," he explained. It was midafternoon in June, after all. "Tell me what you took away from that."

She took the flask from him, and took a drink before she answered. “He knows something about Martina. His aversion to the topic, the way his pallor changed, he was either there, or he knows what happened between Mr. Bianchi and his sister." She handed him the flask back, and glanced around. Her brows furrowed slightly as if she were trying to figure something else out.

“He doesn't strike me as the type of person to be afraid of small things like that, but whatever it is he knows, he's not going to talk about it. No matter the extremes I were to go to."

Ephraim nodded. "Very good. And for all his faults, Mr. Davis does not seem the kind of man to avoid gossip or an opportunity to avail himself of a social advantage simply for politeness or fear of his employer, despite his assurance that Mr. Bianchi would find out. Which suggests that something else about the situation frightens him so. What might that be, do you think?" Capping the flask, he stowed it at his him and regarded her silently, still sitting on the crate. The fact that she stood drew their heights closer to even than usual, though there was still a difference.

“I would have to assume it's the recent events and deaths," she answered, her eyes narrowing slightly towards the circus grounds. She glanced back at him, though, and arched a brow. “Nothing scares a man more than the prospect of an early demise," she stated.

It wasn't far off the mark, he didn't think. "Quite so. All that remains is to discover why he believes information relating to Martina Bianchi constitutes a threat of early demise."