Thirty Minutes after Midnight
Part 1 – Secrets of Chinatown
After their stay in England as guests of Lord Starling and a tour of the British Isles (Stonehenge, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Buckingham Palace) Jack, Dr Zeus, Yoz and Alex returned to Port Douglas. They spent some of their money on various things; Jack bought his apartment in the Garment District, overlooking the river, and Zeus invested in a posh car, a Chrysler Airflow. It was whilst out in the car one afternoon that the incident occurred: –
“What the deuce!” exclaimed Jack, who was driving. He wrenched the wheel to the side as a light grey sedan sideswiped them as it sped past. He was able to keep control and sped off in pursuit.
“My car,” wailed Dr Zeus. “They’ll pay for that damage.”
Jack managed to keep the sedan in sight, but it was a faster car and was slowly pulling away. Jack pulled out all the stops and closed up to about 30 feet behind the other car.
“I’ll stop them,” said Yozmodius; pulling both his guns he leant out of the window and loosed off a series of shots at the rear tyres. The results were spectacular; the car spun and exploded in a white-hot ball of flame; one body flying out of the explosion.
“What did you hit!” said Jack, aghast. Dr Zeus looked more thoughtful. “That’s not a normal gasoline fire. Stop the car.”
The heat from the fire was intense; the metal was beginning to buckle and melt. There were two bodies in the car; there was no hope of saving them. Yoz and Jack went to the other body. It was a white, middle-aged male wearing a business suit. He wore a wristwatch on his left wrist and a curious metal bracelet on his right wrist. It was metal, broad, thick and heavy, with a series of red panels set in the upper surface. Yoz tried to take it off; it was locked on, with an intricate lock. He tried to pick the lock but it was not a normal one and he couldn’t do it.
Zeus looked in the man’s billfold; his name was Herbert Swallow, an agricultural machinery salesman with an address in Gloverton. There was a photograph of an attractive dark-haired woman, $50 in cash and a matchbook bearing the logo of the ‘Wing Yip’ Chinese restaurant, in Chinatown.
There was a car approaching, a black Duesenberg. It slowly drove past, the rear window open; then speeded up and off into the distance. They put Swallow’s body into the trunk and headed back to Jack’s Waterside apartment.
Zeus took a closer look at the bracelet, but was unable to find out anything more. They decided to split up *, Yoz and Dr Zeus decided to play the part of detectives from the PDPD and Jack and Alex went to check out the ‘Wing Yip’.
The address in Gloverton was typical for the area, a grassy yard and a detached house in a friendly street. A dark-haired woman answered the door. Some fancy (and lucky) Persuasion from Yoz convinced her who they were and she invited them in. She was Jennifer Swallow, Swallow’s wife, and was visibly upset at the news of his death. They were able to find out: –
- a) Swallow was a salesman, he worked for Argyll Agricultural & Tool Suppliers, based in Newton. He left for work this morning as usual. He caught the bus, he didn’t drive. **
- b) He wasn’t worried or concerned about anything as far as she knew.
- c) His job involved selling tractors and ploughs and stuff to farmers.
- d) She gave him the watch for their wedding anniversary; she didn’t know what the bracelet was. They had been married for twenty years.
- e) They had never been blessed with children.
- f) She would, of course, give the police her full co-operation.
They left and headed off into Newton, to check out Argyll Agricultural & Tool Suppliers.
Jack and Alex headed off through the Curtistown Tenements, heading for Chinatown.
“Watch your step here,” warned Alex. “Even the big gangs like my old lot don’t mess with Chinatown. This place is run by the Shadow Sun Syndicate; has been for years. Head guy is called Sun Lo Fat.”
Jack laughed at this. Alex glanced at him, alarmed. “That’s what I mean, bud. Them that laugh at the guy’s name have things … happen to them.”
The ‘Wing Yip’ was a non-descript building on a side street; with an alleyway down one side. There was an upper floor with a few windows. The outside was hung with Chinese lanterns. Inside was a décor of Chinese motifs in red, yellow and gold. A smiling waiter approached them.
“You want table and see menu? We offer plenty good food, the best in town.
“We’d like a table upstairs”, said Jack. “You know … upstairs?” ***
Still smiling, the waiter shook his head. “No upstairs. Private. You order now?”
Jack and Alex ordered a Chow Mein with crispy noodles each while they thought of a plan. Doing some observation, they saw a door behind the front counter that had some stairs up. While Alex paid, Jack tried to go through the door, but was stopped by another waiter.
“No go here. Private.”
“Sorry, I was looking for the restroom”.
At Argyll Agricultural & Tool Suppliers, Yoz and Dr Zeus spoke to the manager. Swallow didn’t turn up for work that morning. Everyone else clocked in as normal. When asked about the ‘Wing Yip’, the manager was surprised that Swallow would go there as neither he nor his wife liked foreign food. Swallow was just a regular guy, he was ok at his job and produced results. A look round his desk produced nothing ****
Back at the apartment they pooled notes and formulated some theories.
- a) Swallow left for work that morning and never arrived
- b) He was thrown from an exploding car that afternoon, wearing a strange bracelet that cannot be removed.
- c) The bracelet must have been put on after he left for work
- d) Everything points to the ‘Wing Yip’, but Swallow hated Chinese food.
They climbed back into the Chrysler and headed back to the ‘Wing Yip’. It was in darkness. Yoz and Dr Zeus left to check out the building; Jack and Alex stayed in the car.
The outer door was locked; Yoz was able to pick the lock easily. The rear door led to the kitchens; there were stairs up and down. Yoz produced a battery torch and went down. The basement contained a series of barred alcoves with lockable gates; cells designed to hold humans. In the centre of the room was a stone bed with chain restraints; over it hung a water-filled stone pitcher. A device to inflict the Chinese Water Torture! Yoz looked for some way to break the infernal device, but there was none. At the far end of the cellar was an area of wall blackened and burnt from intense heat; the remains of part-melted chains hung from heavy staples set in the stone.
Calling to Zeus to follow, Yoz went upstairs. A locked door led to a room with four beds and half a dozen chairs facing a screen. In front of the screen was a cine reel projector. Zeus clicked the switch to ‘on’ and the film began to play.
The film showed a curtain, with a shadow behind it. A voice speaks, a Cultured American, with a trace of a Japanese accent.
“Gentlemen. You have been selected for a mission. Please look and listen carefully to these instructions. There is not time to repeat them. Please watch the film.
The film shows a huge underground warehouse, filled with barrels of fuel oil and aviation fuel.
“This is the Combined Forces Fuel Supply depot, in Oregon. Your mission is simple. You will travel there and leave behind the bracelets that you are wearing.”
“Do not attempt to remove them, the steel is unbreakable. They can only be removed with the correct key. That key is inside the depot. Each bracelet contains a powerful incendiary explosive; timed to go off at thirty minutes after midnight tonight.
“You doubt me? Then continue to watch the film. This man laughed at my name.
[A horrible scene; a prisoner wears one of the bracelets, chained to a stone wall. The bracelet explodes into a burning white-hot flame that engulfs the prisoner; burning them to ashes. The chains have melted; the stones are glowing from the heat.]
“I suggest you hurry. The fuses are set for thirty minutes after midnight and you have a long way to go.”
The projector clicked off and began to rewind automatically.
“So, we have intruders?” The voice came from the door. *****
Outside, Jack sat bolt upright and nudged Alex. Four Chinese figures were approaching the car; four more were going into the door of the restaurant.
Stay Tuned for the next issue of Thrilling Adventure Stories – A Race against Time
* Again! Every Game they do this.
** I did have to keep reminding the players of the time period – not everybody drove or owned a car; not every house had a telephone.
*** Jack was hinting at a private club / speakeasy; even though Prohibition ended in 1933; such clubs continued until the 1940’s, and still do today in the guise of ‘Gentlemen’s Clubs’.
**** Harry “Does he have a computer?”
Matt “In the 1930’s, a computer would be as big as this house”
***** Chandler’s Law
GM: There is an Easter Egg here; has anyone spotted it? Comments welcome