The Midnight Zeppelin

Introduction

Seven aquaintences, with three things in common:

  • The were all born on January 1, 1900.
  • They have all been recently inducted in to the selective and eccentric social circle known as the Century Club.
  • And each received an unexpected invitation to a society ball.

On the back of the invitations was a list of names: Our heroes, plus one Derek Fiero, a fellow inductee to the Century Club. At the bottom of the list was written "Wheel and Keg – 2000". Enclosed with the invite was a gold-embossed playing card, the trademark of the vigilante known as the Ace of Spades.

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Party Crashers

With a little investigation, Don Seeker learned that Ian Benden – black sheep son of the sponsors of the ball – owns the Wheel and Keg tavern, a working-class establishment a few blocks dockside of the site of the ball. Don makes an appointment with this gentleman, and is directed to a Suite 507 of slightly seedy office building, which the Bendens also own. Unsurprisingly, Don is ambushed, and given a very clear message to "Stay away from the party."

Don stakes out an empty market across the street from the Wheel and Keg, and intercepts the rest of our heroes before they enter. After seeing Don's assailant enter the tavern, our heroes decide to see what's going on, crossing the street in ones and twos. Vera tells the bartender that she wants to talk to "the boss" and slides the ace of spades across the bar.

It's a boisterous place, which quiets down when Laura and Blake enter, but people resume talking to try to ignore their bickering. Vinnie and Stefan go directly to the back room; Vinnie knows the password.

Thugs sidle up to each of us. Vera kills one before he even knew she was on to him. Blake's "wild swing" takes one out and draws enough attention that Laura and Don are able to get the drop on their assailants. Laura says "Shhhh!"

Vinnie hears the commotion and begins wading through the higher-class crowd in the back room to return to the fray. Stephan provides a distraction by inducing a gentleman near him to buy a round for the house.

Dan spots his assailant – one Farris Desmond – on the stairs, and he descends into general view just as the fight comes to a standstill. He says he'd have to tell his boss that we never showed. We depart for the ball at the Birchland Hotel, with nary a ruffled ascot.

Once we arrive at the party, there is much to puzzle out. Vinnie wonders what the Rigatoni brothers are doing here. Ian Benden is talking to celebrated journalist Guillermo Pietro. Don navigates close to the Senior Bendens on the arm of the Widow Moschevitz, but when she learns what he intends to asks them she diverts him away with a fainting spell. It seems we were not exactly invited to the ball.

Blake, Laura, and Stephan are schmoozing the room, while Vera is fading into the woodwork. Blaze notices a round shadow sliding over the skylight, just in time to warn Vera, before it starts raining ninjas.

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Ninjas Through the Skylight

Chaos ensues. Vinnie and Rosalita (after she steps out of her hoop skirt) fair better in the melee than Blake and Laura. The center of the ballroom is taken over by a duel between Ian Benden and an unusually large ninja. The Widow Moschevitz ensures that Don is far from the fighting. Stephan and Vera are nowhere to be seen.

Blake decides heads up the stairs, to get closer to the zeppelin hovering over the hotel, and the evident source of the problem. Laura takes a shortcut up the tapestries. Blake finds a biplane on the roof, emblazoned with the Ace of Spades. He starts it up, Laura jumps on the wing, and they fly up and – incredibly – hook the plane onto the fabled Midnight Zeppelin in flight.

Down on the dance floor, Rosalita notices a person-sized bundle being attached to one of the ropes. She fights her way to it and cuts it down before it gets off the ground. Unfortunately, this leaves her surrounded by the few ninjas Vinnie hasn't pummeled yet. The bundle turns out to be Rosalita's young schoolmate, Rita Parker.

Back in the zeppelin, Laura and Blake find Vera, who has already dispatched most of her captors, and discovered that they speak Italian. The leader of the Italian ninjas is waiting for them beyond the cabin door. Using the clothing of one of the erstwhile ninjas, Blake manages to distract him long enough for Vera to get the drop on him.

Once securely hogtied, the leader provided some information. He and his men are Italian mercenaries. They were hired to raid the party, and kidnap anyone they found asleep. The ninja outfits were a last-minute addition. He clammed up when asked the identity of his boss. When Vera threatened him, he said that he was just as dead if he spilled the beans, and figured she'd be quicker about it.

We negotiated a deal where we let him live and he instructed the pilot of the Zeppelin – who was invulnerable behind a welded bulkhead door – to drop us off on a nearby skyscraper.

Meanwhile, Vinnie renews his acquaintance with Officer Kelly when policemen charge in and attempt to restore order. Before she and Vinnie are carted off towards the paddy wagon, Rosalita discovers that one of the ninjas is her cousin. Fortunately, their bail is paid promptly, and no one has to go to jail.

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A Bad Heir Day

Some days later, while Blake is at the Century Club he receives a request for a dinner meeting from Rita Parker's father, Dr. Wilhelm Parker. The good doctor was impressed with our heroism, and he is worried that his daughter is still in danger. He would like us to watch her, but he doesn't want Rita to know she's being watched. We accept his request. Stephan is unreachable.

While Cliff Hanger investigates Dr. Parker (he's clean), Laura and Blake try to research the Ace of Spades. Who might have the resources to pull off something like this? Someone in the Century Club. Laura learns about a vigilante/liberatator called the "Ace of Spades" from South America, who uses the logo we received. There was a Brazilian reporter at the party talking with the Bendens.

Vinnie and Rosa check out Italians, then go to Benden Manor and check the security at the Benden mansion. It isn't great. When they check in with Rita, they discover she's not in her room.

Checking the grounds for tracks, we find our way to the garage. The car Rita usually uses is missing, and so is her driver. The staff thought she was in her room. She went shopping in the morning, and the car came home.

Blake finds the name Billy in her diary and questions the stable boy. Appears to be the wrong Billy. Says she hangs out at the library. Vera continues to read diary while Laura and Blake go to library.

Vinny and Rosa check local speakeasy. Vinney and Rosa didn't find any info and move on to next speakeasy. Have trouble getting in – "This is the pointy end." At a German speakeasy they find a girl who knows Rita, but says she won't come here. Rita's been upset since party.

The librarian knows Rita; she's been in Working on a charity project, as recently as yesterday. She came in with man once or twice, looking at legal and geneology books. Turns out the man is one Billy Calhoun, an Australian War Veteran, of which "Daddy wouldn't approve." An odd fellow was in at the same time as Rita: Swarthy, bearded, and moving oddly. Spoke with a Russian accent.

A clerk at the Veteran Hospital knows Rita. She volunteers frequently, trying to get medical assistance for Veterans. She was last in 2 days ago. Billy was a patient there, we obtain an address and rendezvous there.

Vinny and Rosa check in with Dr. Parker and the Century Club. Her parents didn't know about her project. Asking him about about Russians, Dr. Parker knows one family, the Contantines. Vera joins the Manhattan team, checking out targets on Dr. Parker's patient lists. Eventually, they remember to check the apartment. Rita has been there all along, but her driver and car are still missing.

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Night of the Cephalopods

Stephan joins us at the Parker apartment – first place he looked. Laura and Cliff head of to do some investigations while Vera secures the room and Vinne stands guard. Rosalita is chaperoning Blake and Stephan's conversation with Rita Parker

Investigating connections between the Century Club and the Ace of Spades, Laura uncovers the name Guillermo Benito – a reporter who was at the party. He's reported on the Midnight Zeppelin's clashes with the Ace, and written unflattering articles about Ian Benden.

Cliff notices a man wearing a long ugly topcoat watching the hotel. When he departs after a second similarly dressed man shows up, Cliff corners him in an alley. In a Russian accent, he admits that h works for Piotr Gogorovich. When Cliff releases him, he tries to retrieve his engraved cane, but Cliff beats him to it.

As Laura returns, she notices an Army truck circling to the back of the apartment building. We gather in the apartment, with Vera hiding in the hallway.When the freight elevator opens and two many legs to count spill out, she runs. Rita hides under the bed. Something green and glow flashes past Blakes head. Vera, Vinnie, Blake, and Rosalita engage the Russian thugs now flling the hallway. Laura and cliff are in the aprtment watching the windows, and Stephan protects the liquor cabinet.

Vera puts a stop to th chanting coming from the back of the throng, and we begin mowing down thugs. A crash from the bedroom sends Laura running. Cliff and Stephan hallucinate about cephalopods but manage to stop the guy who came in the window.  We get the name of the guy who gives the orders: Vitaly Constantine.

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Suffer the Constantines

We pile the bodies into the service elevator and leave an anonymous tip. Blake spins the story for the hotel staff.

Cliff and Vinnie are both called away. Vera suggests hiding Rita Parker, and knows of a good place. While Stephan escorts them there, Laura and Rosalita investigate Vitaly Constantine and the Russian thugs.

One Sadie Nash calls upon Blake at the Century Club, and shows him an ace of spades. It came from one of her donors, a latin gentleman who insists on being anonymous. She runs a boarding school in Brooklyn and says that a "mutual friend" indicated that we had a young girl in need of schooling. We deliver Rita into Sadie's care. Sadie gives Vera a purple candle.

Laura finds that the Contantine family escaped the Russian Revolution on the Midnight Zeppelin, and that Vitaly and our friend Ian Benden have several common acquaintances. Rosalita finds stories about carved canes shoot green fire, and frightens an antique dealer who professes some loyalty to Constantine. Laura learns that Wilhelm Parker's mother was Russian nobility.

On the way to the Black Plate Diner Vera dispatches the guys in a suspicious panel truck. While at the diner, we notice a mysterious woman watching us.

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An Unexpected Party

The mysterious woman who followed us to the Black Plate says her name is Joan Cross. She was following Blake because he's investigating Vitaly Constantine and she wants to set up a meeting. Vera and her dog Reggie tail Joan out of the diner, but she acts like someone who is being followed, so Vera confronts her. Joan's sleight of hand techniques ar very different than Vera's. Rosalita looks into Joan's background only to find that she has none.

While Blake works up some invites to the party to be held at Constantine Manor,  Laura researches Russian secret societies. There are more than a few, since the Revolution. The Thule Society comes up in connection with previous mystical researches. The Century Club has opposed them in th past. Alex constantine doesn't seem to be connected to the Thule.

Between Blake and Vinnie, we have six invitations to the party, but we have to take someone's bubbleheaded neice along. Vinnie striks out trying to score an invite from Alex. Vera cases Constantine Manor, but security is too tight for a close look. With Vera's prompting, Blake picks up three corsages.

Upon arriving at the party, we find not a society soiree, but a smoky opium den. As Vera makes an entrance on the arm of an oriental gentleman, Laura fades into the woodwork to do some snooping. After Rosalita does some wardrobe magic to transform into something less formal, she and Vinnie attempt to blend in. Blake and the bubbly neice stand out, and not in a good way.

Down the hall, Laura goes through the butler's desk. He's covering up something for his boss – that much is clear. Then she finds the baseent door…

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The Party Heats Up

After Blake and his ditzy date leave the party, Joan Cross sidles up to Vinnie and makes him an offer he can't refuse, asking him to bodyguard her. He refuses. A bald man tries to hire Vera to "remove" Vitaly Constantine, and negotiations ensue.

Down in the basement, Laura finds a giant chessboard. The "pieces" appear to have once been human. Laura rescues Cliff from a cage positioned on the white side of the board. Before they can leave the basement, they find Alexi the Butler hlding a shotgun on them.

Blake returns and tries to make contact with Joan, but is intercepted by Vitaly. Blake asks about the carved canes. Vera tries to strike at Vitaly, but holds off at the last moment. Plan B involves Joan, but she is nowhere to be seen. Time for Plan C. When Vitaly suddenly sprouts knives, Blake "stumbles" into a table and starts a fire, which vodka fails to extinguish.

Cries of "Fire" distract the butler enough to give Cliff a shot at him, but not before Laura is shot herself. The butler is built like a bear, but eventually they manage to knock him unconscious. In the chaos of the hallway, Cliff finds Joan bleeding on a familiar throwing knife. He tries to save her, but fails.

In the aftermath, we learn that Vitaly was training Gus Milo's thugs in Thule Society mysticism. Word on the street is that Vitaly is dead. Bald Piotr Gogorovich steps into his place at the head of the local Thules.

Vera goes to the borscht bar Piotr frequents, while everyone else does some laundry across the street. Piotr says he finished off Vitaly, and so Vera won't be getting ay further payment. He asks her if "This will be a problem?" Rather than prevaricate, Vera exits abruptly.

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Investigatin Gus

Vinny and Vera check on Rita Parker, and she's doing fine, although there have been inquries about her. Yes, there have been Russians about. Laura turns up some information on why Rita is a target. Vitaly Constantine wanted her to play the Queen in his symbolic chess game. Cliff recalls that the Queen, a Knight and several Pawns were missing from the game he was playing, and his Bishop was continually in peril. Cliff fills us in about Gus Milo and his relationship with Malinda Ruiz, suggesting that we might get to him by going through her.

Blake and Rosalita find a gypsy medium at Coney Island: one Madame Zorka. Whenthey tell her they want to speak to the spirit of Vitaly Constantine, she invites them to her camp at moonrise, instructing them to "Bring ze Bishop and ze Cannon." We go, and a sentry leads us through a mazelike forest. We are informed that although Madam Zorka will answer a question for ach of us, she will not contact the spirit of Vitaly, "because he is protected by Mother Bear."

Laura asks what someone might acomplish with a symbolic chess game. "It is a vay to kill someone who cannot be killed."

Rita asks why Madame Zorka keeps calling her Little Queen. "Because you have crown over head. You are placed to protect your side."

Vera asks about the consequences of putting Piotr into power. "Your side has two Queens now."

Cliff asks who the King is. Madame Zorka looks around and says, "The King is not here. He is protected."

Vinnie asks why he is here. "The zide is stronger when the Cannon defends." 

Blake holds up  the engraved cane and Madame Zorka hsses and spits. "I am owe you qvestion, Good Knight. Ve are done now."

While Vera scouts out the Four Seasons where the leadership of the Thule Society seems to meet on a regular basis, Laura takes this new information back to her arcane studies. There are very strong indications in all of this that the opposing King in the symbolic game we are playing can fly. It also appears that Vitaly was a highly placed follower, not the head of the Thule. Vera finds a way to secretly get us into the room where the Thule meet. 

We decide to get another look at Vitaly's basement. Vera's hackles go up as we approach the front gate, but Cliff knows where the back gate is, and we go in that way, past a new padlock. The wind seems stronger near the house, and we hear a meancing growl. Thinking hellhounds, we pursue the better part of valor.

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Chess with Malinda

Once again, we meet up at the Black Plate Diner. Stephan is there, just coming off the bender he began at the Cephalopod attack.We believe the Symbolic Chess match is still going on, and that we were put into play by the [[Ace of Spades]. Our plan is to infiltrate the Manhattan Chess League. It's a good thing Stephan is back; he's the only one who knows how to play.

Stephan and his entourage arrive at the League. Malinda  Ruiz is easy to spot: she's the stunning Latina playing three boards at once. While Blake lines up a game for Stephan, Vera turns on the femme fatale. Malinda notices immediately, a she-wolf challenged for dominance. Vera shoots her a look that says, "Is there a Mr. Bitch?" Once she finishes off her games (with distractive assistance from Blake), Malinda sashays over to relieve Stephan's opponent. Impressed with our methods, Malinda beats Stephan more slowly than she could have, so that she has time to chat with us. She wonders if we could be of assistance to her. She needs to "make a delivery" at a salsa club across town. We acept.

During the taxi ride, Blake wonders if Malinda could be the chess master we are up against, but his musings are interrupted when he, and Malinda notice that we are being followed: two tall gentlemen with nice hats. She assumes it's Ian Benden, stalking her again.

Inside the club, Malinda immediately makes her way to a grand table at the back, and chats cozily with some wealthy low-life. Our tails are seen interviewing the bouncer. Stephan pegs them as Federal agents. After Blake and Laura, and Vinnie and Malinda have a dance, we determine that the Feds are waiting for us in the parking lot, but Vera doesn't see them. However, our cabbies look different.

So we steal the Feds' car.

Malinda agres to owe us a favor if we work to take the Thule Society out of the picture. She thinks that although her boyfreind Gus Milo and Vitaly Constantine got along well, the Thule are a waste of Gus's time and resources.

Malinda produces a telegram addressed to her boyfriend Gus Milo, which indicates he has committed the majority of his forces to protecting a "shipment". It doesn't specify what is being shipped, but Malinda says that doesn't matter because "Gus has changed his plans. However, if this telegram were to… fall into Piotr's hands, he would likely see the time of the shipment as an irresistible opportunity to strike against Gus. And if… someone were to find out where Piotr stores those flashy sticks, and make them… unavailable just as Piotr commits his forces… Checkmate, and the Russians are out of the game." Wow, she even slinks when she talks.

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