The Mothers of America
Police discovered five swords in the bedroom of a Clements High School senior whose home they searched after getting complaints about a 3-D computer "shoot-'em-up" game map the student designed, which depicted a portion of the school.
Casanova walked in half way through a television showing of fearful american mothers making self-righteous and ignorant protests. He was understandably confused.
"What are we watching?"
"Mavav." Blake was engrossed.
Casanova repeated his question, "What are we watching?"
Ludwig elaborated, "the Mother's Against Videogame Addiction and Violence."
"Okay. Why are we watching it?"
"Because it's funny," Blake explained.
"It's more worrying than funny," Ludwig protested.
"Yeah, but it's still funny."
"It's funny until they get a video game banned, or censored."
FBISD officials said Tuesday school administrators weighed the violent nature of the computer game a modified version of Counterstrike along with the discovery of swords in the boy's room, and other undisclosed information, and decided to classify the matter as a "Level 3" situation.
"What the fuck is a Level 3 situation?" Casanova laughed.
"Apparently it's what you get when a replica sword owning college kid designs a level in counterstrike based on his school," Blake explained. "Which would make a replica sword owning college kid a level 2 situation, in of itself."
"Wait," Ludwig remarked, "don't they use guns in counterstrike?"
"It doesn't have to make sense," Blake declared, "it just has to be scary."
"When you have the floor plan of a high school that houses over 2,000 students in a game about killing people, you have to have consequences," FBISD spokeswoman Mary Ann Simpson said. "And also realizing what the reaction would be in the community," district administrators "still felt very confident in their decision."
"There is quite a thick line between fantasy and reality." Ludwig pointed out, "and the idea that video gamers can't tell the difference is quite frankly insulting.
"Especially when, half the time, violent video games are so over the top and ridiculous that it's impossible to take them seriously. Do you know what I'm saying?"
"Oh yeah definitely," Casanova agreed, "like Cogs-of-Peace: giant, muscle bound apes in space armour, carrying guns the size of heavy artillery, and grunting frat boy remarks about american-football while shooting alien invaders repeatedly in the face."
"The aliens aren't invading in that one," Ludwig corrected his flatmate, "in that one: we're the invaders."
"Really?" Casanova laughed, "fair enough."
"Hmm," Blake expressed a murmour dripping with sarcasm, "frat boy space soldiers invading a foreign planet you say? Army recruitment propaganda, perhaps?"
"Could be," Ludwig agreed, "either way, let's turn this shit off and play something interesting."
Second Hand Goods from Tower Games
"Hey guys, where you been?" Blake had been sitting alone, and wondering where his flatmates had got to.
"We bought all the games." Ludwig declared.
"Hey Blake how's it going?" Casanova struggled to hold open the door as he entered. "We went to East Junction, into Tower Games, and bought a whole stack of rare arse games." The third flat mate carried an overloaded carrier bag in each hand as if to demonstrate his point.
"Oh, cool. What did you get?"
Ludwig called out a list as he went through each video game box and checked that the contained discs were both present and unscratched, "Camera Killer Two,
"Dragon Farmer: The Alchemical Revolution,
"and Mobile Suit Attack: The Principality against Earth."
"And I got Ninja's Revenge for two Euros. Move like a shadow. Strike like a snake." Casanova burst out laughing, "it's going to be excellent."
"I thought you were broke?" Blake laughed at Ludwig, whose fiscal planning rarely made ends meet.
"They were all second hand, and Tower Games don't realise what they're worth. That's how I managed to get Windmill Princess for five Euros."
Blake was impressed, "nice."
"Oh yeah, I told the girl behind the counter about that by the way," Casanova admitted.
"Yeah, I was slightly annoyed that you found Windmill Princess first, so I went up to the girl behind the counter and explained exactly how much more than five Euros that game goes for online."
"This was after I'd paid for it, right?"
"Oh yeah, of course. I'm not a dickhead."
"She fancied you anyway." Ludwig began opening his purchases, but accused Casanova simultaneously.
"No, she didn't." Casanova laughed in frustration, "I kept telling you this on the train."
"Yeah, she did. Oh, cool!" Ludwig exclaimed, "Quiet Town comes with some bad ass stickers." He held one up for all to see, "check it out."
"Let me see." Casanova reached out, and Ludwig passed him the first sticker. "Ah, there's good old cone-face," Casanova indicated one of the game's recurring antagonists, "good old sinister cone-face."
Cone-face, as he was affectionately referred to by fans of the Quiet Town series, was a skinny man in a butcher's apron, and whose face was hidden behind a white leather mask that extended his head upwards into a long cone. Hence his popular moniker. He also carried a large rusty axe which, if the player wasn't careful, cone-face would use to great effect.
The player could fight cone-face, in fact sometimes they didn't have a choice, but he could never be killed. Wounding cone-face only slowed him down, but that at least gave the player an opportunity to escape. The best the player could ever do was to evade for long enough that the axe wielding psychopath got bored and wandered off.
Cone-face never ran, he always walked: slowly, inexorably, towards his mark; and more often than actually spying their stalker, the player would hear the scraping of his axe as it was dragged across the floor and they would simply know that a gruesome death was lurking somewhere nearby.
Quiet Town was a masterpiece of suspense, and that was one of the reasons that we were all so fond of it.
Another reason was the games trademark horror-themed- puzzle elements. Camping around the television screen and collectively trying to solve such puzzles was always a lot more fun than playing alone.
"What the hell is this?" Ludwig had been looking for more stickers, but had found a folded piece of paper.
He unfolded it.
Five trump cards tell a story of woe,
which starts with a man who turned lead into gold.
He tortured a lion, to see if he could,
having surpassed the need to think if he should.
A witness stood by, as a brewing storm roared,
an old man standing unnoticed at the tower's door.
Quite foolish, the alchemist, to think that his magic would pay,
just because judgement appeared to be furthest away.
"Okay," Ludwig admitted, "that's kind of sinister."
He showed the piece of paper, and the biro poem, to his flatmates. "What the hell is that? Looks like some kind of creepy poem."
"Wow." Blake was impressed, "that's kind of beautiful."
Casanova looked puzzled, and deep in thought, until he came to a sudden realisation, "oh, it's from the apartment room puzzle!"
"Is it?" Blake was disappointed.
"Oh, yeah, yeah!" Ludwig pointed at Casanova, supporting his conclusion. "The puzzle with the cards. You have to lay the right cards out in the right order, or something."
"That's the one."
"And the different parts of the poem are scattered around the building. Whoever's game this was, they must have written the poem down as they went to help with the puzzle."
"Are you sure that's what these are?" Blake wasn't convinced.
"Yeah, and then they open Room 105. Or they're in room 105. I forget."
"I kind of remember. I don't remember the poem being split up though." Blake protested weakly. "So I'm not sure why anyone would write it down."
"That is kind of sinister still," Casanova laughed, "how are the discs?"
"Erm, the discs are okay. But there's also this extra disc." Ludwig held the disc aloft with his index finger hooked through the centre hole.
"Is that a bonus disc? It is the deluxe edition."
"No, that's in here too. It's got the soundtrack and everything. But this one is, like, a blank DVD or something."
"Oh really? Oh man. That's creepy. Should we put it on?"
"Looks like it's from office world." Ludwig held the bottom of disc up to the light, "and it's not blank: it's got data on it."
"Hey Lud," Blake demanded, "stick it on."
Ludwig shrugged, "alright. I bet it doesn't play though."
The Dark Rite of a Bastard Mage
We put the unnamed DVD into the games console and waited to see what would happen.
"I bet it comes up with invalid disc." Ludwig complained, "It'll be for a computer or something."
"Wait and see, man." Casanova held out hope, "just wait and see."
The circle disc icon spun on screen as the games console read the disc for content.
We watched the icon fade, and be replaced with the symbol for a DVD movie.
Before Casanova or Blake could express any excitement, Ludwig pressed play. He still expected it to fail. It didn't.
"Is it playing?" Casanova optimisitically asked.
"Yeah, man, it's playing." Blake confirmed.
"Ah, shit, it's playing? Ah, shit, it's got to be porn." Casanova laughed.
Ludwig laughed also, "he's probably right you know."
A black display screen-wiped to the corner of a small kitchen. The work surfaces, cupboards, door frames and skirting were all painted the same shade of clinical white, while the walls were painted a matt powder blue. The small kitchen table, and the tidily arranged kitchen appliances, all matched the work surfaces and cupboards.
Blue and white, everything in the kitchen was blue and white.
A young girl in an orange turtle neck, white body warmer, and short green skirt leant, with her hands behind her back, against the table, and stood in the centre of shot.
"Aaah-ooooow!" Casanova exclaimed, "it is porn." He shook his right fist rhythmically in the air in an expression of ecstasy.
Sure enough, the girl in the body warmer soon took off her body warmer, and undid the zip that ran down the side of her skirt. She raised a foot onto one of the kitchen chairs, and used the split in the material to show off her upper thigh.
"Yea-ah!" Casanova continued to shake his fist in the air.
"There's something sinister about that kitchen." Blake suggested, "I don't like it."
Ludwig blinked at his flatmate, "why are you looking at the kitchen?"
"Because there's something sinister about it."
The girl removed her foot from the chair, waved her hips slowly, and bent forward slightly as she slid her skirt loose past her knees.
Casanova stopped dragon-fisting. "It looks like the kind of kitchen you get in student accomodation."
Ludwig stood up, "I think this deserves a beer. Anyone else want a beer?" He made for their fridge, which almost exclusively contained the precious liquid he desired.
"Yeah," Blake agreed with both of his flatmates suggestions. "Or one of those apartments they build around train stations for young professionals commuting to the capital. You know, the ones with the walls made out of cardboard."
"What, MDF?" Casanova suggested, "yeah I used to live in one of those. Those walls are shit."
Ludwig returned with three opened beers, fresh from the fridge.
The girl on the screen sat back on the kitchen table top, kicked off her skirt with both her ankles, and in one fluid motion raised her feet in the air and slipped her underwear up her legs.
"Huray!" Crotch and beer ranked highly on Ludwig's list of favourite things. The crotch preferably female, and the beer preferably cold.
As her underwear reached her knees, the girl in the kitchen peered around her thighs at her camera seductively, when suddenly her look of lust fell into a look of shock. The girl tried to roll off of the tabletop, but because of the way her underwear bound her legs together, she simply fell to the floor.
The girl pulled up her knickers as she got to her feet, and swore loudly at someone behind the camera.
The camera moved closer to the girl.
The girl, still swearing, backed away into the door frame.
The camera lunged forward and pressed close to the girls face. Her eyes closed involuntarily, and she swore again. Buckling under the presssure, the door behind her swung open, and the camera fell to the ground.
A few seconds later, and the camera righted itself in time to see the girl running down a corner of stairway. This time, she screamed.
Blake picked up the remote to the television and muted the sound. Watching the scene unfold was enough, without having to hear it as well.
We watched the cameraman chase the girl round and down the stairway, and into a short hall past hung coats and stacked shoes to, and through, her front door.
For a moment, we thought it would be over then. We each breathed our own sight of relief, but it was preemptive. Rather than lead to the outside world, the girl's front door led into a darkened room.
We watched the girl trip over a chair in her haste to escape.
"This is horrible," Casanova pointed out, "why are we watching this?"
We watched the girls backside jiggle as she crawled on all fours towards another door, this time one that would lead to the outside world, freedom, and safety.
"She's going to be okay, right?" Casanova hoped.
The camera shook widely to the left as we watched the camera's operator kick above his victim to open the door.
The girl scurried out into the night air, flipped onto her back, grabbed the cameraman's wrist and begged.
A flashlight suddenly clicked on and illuminated the tears streaming down the girls face, and her ruined make up.
The cameraman shook his wrist free, but lost his grip on the camera: which was sent spinning to the ground.
The camera settled sideways, and faced away from the scene, but we watched as the cameraman soon adjusted it to capture all of the action.
We watched as he returned to his desperate victim, dragging the heavy head of his axe behind him as he walked.
"Wait, is that..." Casanova had no time to finish his accusation, as the cameraman raised his axe high above his head.
"This is fucked up." Blake confirmed.
The axe came down.
"OH!" Casanova exclaimed, and flinched in his seat so that his knees met his chin and his feet were on the sofa.
"EEEEEE, fuck." Ludwig agreed.
Blake's reaction was not to react at all.
The Formulation of an Appropriate Response
We didn't say anything for a while.
We watched the killer struggle to unstick his axe from the side of the poor girls head, and then we watched his legs dominate the television screen as he approached the camera to switch it off, and then we watched the games console return to the DVD menu screen, but we didn't say anything until, eventually, Ludwig turned the games console off.
"So," Blake broke the silence, "that just happened right."
"Did we just watched a snuff film?" Casanova suggested, "is that what just happened?"
"It seems alot like that is what just happened." Blake confirmed.
"Nah, man," Ludwig assured his flatmates, "that wasn't a snuff film. It was some Blair Witch style hand-held camera Quiet Town themed amateur porn. Some fanboy made it with his fangirl-girl friend." Ludwig drank his beer, "maybe she was into that kind of rape fantasy thing, who knows?"
"That was pretty fucked up." Blake was sure of that.
"Yeah, it was pretty fucked up, but it wasn't real, was it?"
"It looked pretty real." Casanova pointed out.
"Yeah," Ludwig admitted, "but you don't actually see her get killed. You just see her silhouette and his silhouette standing over her. It smacks of budget horror."
"Did you see the way he had to pull that axe out?" Casanova complained, "that was horrible."
"Yeah, but that could have been a piece of wood or anything."
"What, her head could have been a piece of wood?"
"Yeah, a prop."
"Just the looming shadow of that giant cone-face," Blake remembered, "it's the stuff of nightmares."
"Yeah, it was pretty messed up. But not real," Ludwig qualified. "Good thing you turned off the sound though," Ludwig commended Blake's initiative, "otherwise the neighbours might have a few questions."
"Look," Casanova reasoned, "let's just not think about it for now, let's just do something else and we'll think about it later."
"You want to watch it again later?" Blake didn't.
"God no!" Casanova screwed up his face and shook his head emphatically, "God, I'm not saying that, I'm just saying, let's talk about something else." He rubbed his forehead.
"That was heavy stuff."
"Yeah." Ludwig agreed as a reentry into the conversation.
"Should I roll another joint?" Blake offered.
"Yes," Casanova managed to laugh with deadly seriousness, "yes you should."
We thought about the situation for a moment, while Blake laboured over a masterpiece of smoking engineering. When no one said anything, and when we became aware that we were just idly waiting, Ludwig made his own suggestion. "Should I put on the game?"
The premise behind the Quiet Town franchise was that the player would explore a deserted ghost town: inhabited only by monstrous manifestations of the inner daemons that the visitor brought with them.
Such is the malignant air of the place, that the town could almost be said to have a character of it's own: an insidious Daedalus lording a cruel labyrinth with the intention of forever ensnaring poor Theseus.
Attracted by the mysterious promise of redemption and catharsis, Quiet Town is visited only by the desperate, the weak, the damaged, and the insane. Such visitors do not leave. The few lucky enough to find the closure that they seek, the few that manage to fight their way to that pot of gold and the end of a bleak, grey, rainbow, ascend silently into the night sky. Most, instead, are struck down in their quest, rot into the ground, and become a part of the throbbing ebb of Quiet Towns geo-consciousness.
It was obvious that our Theseus, a man named James, was a business man, as he paraded about the streets of Quiet Town in his suit and tie; albeit, thanks to various encounters with barb wire fences, nightmare dogs, and a burning house: a somewhat ruined suit, and a somewhat blackened tie.
"So what is this guy doing here?" Blake hadn't played Quiet Town before, where as Ludwig was something of a veteran.
"He's looking for his wife."
"And what's his wife doing here?"
"You don't know, at this point. In fact, I'm not sure you ever actually find out. You come home from work one day, expecting to find dinner on the table, but instead you find a note from your wife saying she's leaving to go and live in Quiet Town."
"Do people actually live in Quiet Town?" Casanova was intrigued, "I mean, is there like some kind of functioning economy going on that we don't know about? Does cone-face plough the fields, while those giant cockroach things tend the sheep, or what?" He laughed at the prospect.
"Nah," Blake suggested, "Cone-face is blatantly in charge of tourism."
"Yeah," Ludwig agreed, "but no. I don't think anyone actually lives here. It's just some weird nightmare dimension type place."
We searched a house that was a carbon copy of the home James and his wife had built for themselves for clues about his wifes location, and we sat on the edge of our seats, and formulated a desperate escape plan when the house burnt down around us.
We suggested directions as the town's roads were revealed to be blocked, damaged, or otherwise impassable: making navigation frustratingly impossible.
We fought giants: men easily twenty-foot tall, and who unleashed a terrible shockwave of blood when we cut their hamstrings and they fell.
We shot James' work colleague with a shotgun, when he tried to kill James, and we watched as he lifted his dead body up again from the ground, and spat acid from the gunshot wound we'd given him.
We listened for the sound of jazz on the radio, as it signalled the presence of surrounding monsters, hidden in the fog, and we were quick to reduce the volume: as the sound of music soon attracted the same monsters that it heralded.
We snuck into an apartment block, and found another carbon copy from James's past: this time the first apartment which him and his wife had bought together.
We waited for the apartment to erupt into flames, but it didn't. Instead, upon leaving, we found the apartment building now filled with hostile creatures. Our only option was to flee.
And so we fled, and so we ran face first into the dreaded poster-boy of the Quiet Town franchise.
Coneface dragged his baleful axe with one hand, and James's wife by the throat with the other.
"Aaargh!" James's wife begged, "don't."
A gate of iron bars blocked them from us, and so we couldn't help our wife or get at Cone-face. All we could do is watch, and wait.
We looked at him, and he looked back, in judgement.
And our wife sobbed.
When it became apparent that nothing more was going to happen, we left through the nearest door.
The Dawning of Grim Realisation
We found a map in the next room we came to, as well as a ceremonial table that was covered in dust and candlewax.
"Oh, Ludwig," Casanova proclaimed, "this is that puzzle from the snuff poem!"
"Is it?" Ludwig wasn't convinced.
"Yeah, you see those five dust marks on the table?" Casanova stood and pointed at the television screen.
"You mean the marks on the table where there isn't any dust?" Blake corrected his flatmate.
"Sure." Casanova ignored the unnecessary distinction, "that's where you have to put the five tarot cards, but you have to put them in the right order."
"Oh right," Ludwig understood, "so where are these tarot cards then?"
"Erm, I don't know." Casanova admitted, "I guess you have to find them first."
"And the poem?"
"The poem tells you what order to put the cards in. I think it's nailed to a corpse."
"Explains why someone wrote it down." Blake suggested.
"As a reference."
"That's a good point," Casanova was relieved to have discovered a simple explanation, "let's check, the poem and make sure that it matches," Casanova suggested. "If nothing else we can use it to help solve the puzzle."
Blake pretended to help his flat mates search for the piece of paper with the poem on it, but secretly palmed the accompanying unlabelled disc instead.
"I found it." Proclaimed Casanova, "it was in the case."
"Probably should have looked there first really," Ludwig laughed.
We followed the map we'd found it in the hopes of circumnavigating the iron gate that blocked our path.
We investigated abandoned apartment rooms, and found a hole in the wall of one that led us into the adjacent launderette building.
And then we discovered the body of one of coneface's victims.
We found the poem, nailed to the corpse just as Casanova had predicted. The corpse was dressed in the robes of an occultist, and in his hand we found our first tarot card: The Magician.
After some searching, backtracking, and rechecking of every doorway, nook and cranny, we found the other four; and after some discussion we also deduced their order.
It helped that we had the poem written in front of us.
Strength featured an upside down picture of a woman wrestling a white lion.
Next came The Tower, with The Magician leaping from it's highest window as a lightning bolt from the heaven's threatened ruin.
The Hermit was illustrated as an aging man, with a downcast expression, holding a lantern in one hand and a stave in the other.
Judgement was depicted as an apocalyptic event: with a tidal wave looming over the tiny figures of dozens of naked men and women hoping for redemption.
When all five cards were in their appropriate places, the ghost of the occultist appeared: and explained his story.
Being a young man who's knowledge of alchemy granted him the skill to turn lead into gold, the occultist was rich, powerful, and respected.
Such was the level of respect the occultist enjoyed that he found he could direct the law, and that society, swayed by the gold he produced, fell over itself to follow his direction.
Power being only the ability to do what other men cannot, and power being addicting, it was not long before the occultist fell to hubris.
A girl was killed, and for no reason other than so the occultist could test the barriers of morality, and good sense; so that he could push his luck to see how far his success would stretch. With death's hindsight, the occultist realised that he had simply been pursuing failure.
The occultists fortune, in fact, ran out when a drifter quite by chance happened upon his activities; and in the end judgement came crashing down upon him.
"Is it just me, or is this story kind of familiar?" Casanova looked slightly freaked.
"No," Blake confirmed, "it's not you. It totally is."
"I wish it wasn't," Ludwig confessed.
"It could still just be some sort of fanmade thing," Blake tried to reassure his flatmate.
"So is the occultist cone-face, or did cone-face kill the occultist?"
Casanova lit a cigarette, "I thought cone-face killed the occultist."
"So, cone-face is a force of justice then," Blake concluded.
"I wouldn't think about it too deeply dude," Casanova suggested, "I'm not sure that the plot for the game is that well thought out."
"I'm just trying to apply the story to that video we saw earlier."
"I'm not sure that the plot for that video was too well thought out either," Casanova laughed.
Blake gestured for his flatmate to pass him the lighter, "all I'm thinking is that if it isn't just some fan-made video, it might tell us about our killer."
Ludwig stood up, "I'm going to check the internet."
"What for?" Blake was confused, "you think you might find the video on the internet?"
"No, I think that if a girl was killed in a snuff film there might be something in the news about it."
An Attempt to Explain A Somewhat Rash Reaction
"Okay, " Ludwig began to summarise the article he'd found online, "so, it says here, that August last year, the dismembered body parts of a missing girl from East Junction were found by dog walkers."
"Why's it always dog walkers?" Blake wondered.
"Because dogs have a nose for meat, I guess." Casanova explained.
Ludwig swivelled in his computer chair. "I wasn't going to say anything because I could well be wrong," he admitted, "but I actually think I recognised where that video was shot."
"You recognised the flat?" Of all the horrific images, it was the powder blue of the kitchen that Blake couldn't get out of his head.
"No. I think I recognise the office building in the background when they go outside. It was sort of lit up by some street lamps." Ludwig paused in contemplation, "and when I think about it those street lamps were probably the lights that run along the railway track."
Ludwig shrugged, "Maybe. We could always watch it again to make sure."
"I'm not watching it again," Casanova complained, "that was horrible."
Blake shook his head, "we can't watch it again."
"We don't need to watch it again, anyway," Casanova reasoned, "we just need to drop it off to the police and let them deal with it."
Blake sighed. "Actually, we can't do that either."
Casnova was confused, "why not?"
"Because," Blake forced a short, sick and sarcastic laugh, and then went stoic, "I destroyed it."
"What do you mean?" Ludwig calmly enquired.
"I cut it up with a pair of scissors from the kitchen and threw the pieces in the bin."
"Why would you do that, Blake?" Casanova waved his hands in frustration. "Why?"
"I thought we decided that it was a fake anyway." Blake tried to defend himself.
"So why would you do that, then?"
"Well," Blake admitted, "because of MAVAV."
"What?" Casanova's confusion mixed with his frustration to build an expression of pure anger.
"Yeah, no, think about it, right."
"Think about what? Think about how you've potentially destroyed a piece of evidence in a murder case? Thus incriminiating yourself, and maybe even incriminating us."
"That video was just more fuel for the media's portrayl of video games detrimental psychological effects. It would have done nothing other than cause more unnecessary censorship."
"Yeah, and helped bring a man to justice." Casanova turned to his flatmate for support, "Lud, help me out here, that was a fucking stupid thing to do."
Ludwig calmly addressed the accused, "Yeah, that was a fucking stupid thing to do. I mean, I see why you did it Blake, I understand where you are coming from, but it was still a fucking stupid thing to do."
"Alright," Blake held his hands up, "alright, I get it. It was a stupid thing to do. To be honest, I think I might have been a little high."
"It was still a stupid thing to do," Casanova laughed, "now we've got no evidence of what's looking increasingly like the brutal murder of a local young woman."
"We can still do something about it. All we have to do is go out and find some more evidence, something that the media can't use to blame anything other than the culprit himself."
"Do you not think the police would have found that by now," Casanova protested. "That this video might have been the missing link they needed?"
"But we know something they don't. We know exactly what happened," Blake nodded at his flatmate, "and Lud reckons he knows where."
The White Lion
The next day we took a train to East Junction and then followed the path back alongside the tracks. After almost half an hour of walking Ludwig pointed out the office building he thought he'd recognised, and then he pointed out a pub's rear loading area that we all recognised.
"Pint?" Ludwig suggested.
We walked around the block, and entered the White Lion from the front. We each ordered ourselves a pint of beer, and sat as close to the rear access door as we could. We sat at a large round table so that the three of us could sit with our backs to the corner, and with a good view of the room.
We'd barely managed a single sip of drink before Casanova made the obvious question. "So now what do we do?"
"Keep an eye out for clues, I guess." Blake suggested, "anything we could take to the police."
We drank our pints quietly, and surveyed the room. It's familarity was shocking.
"This is really it, isn't it?" Blake's question was rhetorical. There were two doors that we could see: one led out into the loading yard, and the other was behind the bar. The layout was exactly that of the downstairs room in the film.
"Oh yes." Casanova confirmed.
"Well," Ludwig's glass was already half empty, "this is kind of horrible."
"We should probably take a look around the area out back at some point." Ludwig suggested.
A sign on the back door read 'staff only'.
"Not now," he specified, "obviously."
Blake looked sideways across the table, "what, come back at night?"
Blake nodded and shrugged at the same time "could have trouble explaining that if we get caught. Could have trouble finding anything as well, if there is even anything to find."
"Just an idea."
Blake nodded, "yeah, and it's not like I've got a better one."
We sat and drank our drinks until we'd almost finished, and then Ludwig, who had, offered to buy another round.
"I'm not hanging around actually," Casanova excused himself, "I've got an idea of my own."
"You guys staying here?"
When Blake didn't protest, Ludwig confirmed "yeah, I guess so. Where are you off to?"
"To follow a lead. I'm playing detective."
"Okay. Do you want a hand?"
"No, no, it's cool. I've got this one. I'll be back in a bit."
"Okay then, we'll see you later."
When Casanova returned Ludwig and Blake were on their fourth pints, and were beginning to feel the effects.
"Hey," Ludwig proclaimed, "Cas is back."
"Yep, I'm back," Cas smiled, "you guys find anything while I was gone?"
"Lud chatted to the barman," Blake summarised their investigative attempts.
"Oh, yeah," Ludwig confirmed, "I asked about the flat upstairs, and apparently there was a girl living up there who went missing a couple of years back,"
"I take it this is the girl who's body parts those dog walkers found?"
"Seems so. It was pretty obvious that the bar staff didn't really want to talk about it." Ludwig took another taste of fermented barley, "dark stuff."
"Ah shit." Casanova commented, "well, I think I know the name of someone who might be able to shed some light on that disappearance."
"Who's that?" Blake enquired.
"Hang on," Casanova retrieved a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket, "Christopher Newton, and," he held up the piece of paper triumphantly, "I have an address."
"Wow," Ludwig was impressed, "how did you manage that?"
"Wait," Blake interuppted, "who's Christopher Newton?"
"He's our killer."
Blake looked blank.
"He's the guy who traded in the game," Casanova explained.
"How did you manage that?" Ludwig repeated his question.
"Well, I went back to the shop, found the girl who served us the other day, and told her that someone had left some airplane tickets in the case, and that I needed to get them back to whoever had sold the game."
"And she believed you?"
"Not until I showed her the tickets."
Blake was still confused, "what tickets?"
"Just some old airplane tickets I forged the date on with a black marker."
"What about the stubs?"
"She didn't seem to notice. Didn't notice the boarding stamps either."
"See," Ludwig asserted, "I told you she fancied you."
"Yeah," Casanova laughed, "seems so."
The Profile of an Alchemist
"So, who's Christopher Newton?"
"Well, if he's the guy who traded the game in then he's either our killer, or he knows our killer." Blake speculated, "he's the next link in the chain."
"No, I mean, who is he."
Casanova retrieved his phone, "Let me check him out on the internet."
"Is it that easy?" Blake complained.
Ludwig shrugged, "couldn't hurt to try."
After a few moments of intense concentration, Casanova raised his arm and started dragon-fisting. "I've got him!" He exclaimed, "he's here. I've got him"
"So, who is he?"
"Hold on, let me just check this link." Casanova's fingers flew across the screen of his phone. "Yep, okay. So, Christopher Newton, son of Richard Newton, who is the mayor of East Junction." Casanova groaned the sick laugh he reserved for the most dire of situations, "well, shit."
"He's the mayor's son, Ludwig. That's right, isn't it Cas?"
"It seems so." Casanova's attention remained focused on his phone. "I'm just checking that there aren't any other Chris Newtons about."
"Why is that a problem?"
"Because it means he'll get away with it." Blake attested.
Ludwig shook his head, "that's not how it works. The police aren't going to be leniant just because of who his dad is."
"It also means his dad will be able to afford a decent lawyer."
"That doesn't matter," Ludwig protested, "if he's guilty he'll go down anyway."
"Remember we don't actually have any evidence," Casanova reminded his flatmates, "especially since someone destroyed that DVD."
"We could go to the newspapers," Blake tried to move the converation along as swiftly as possible, "I bet they'd love to hear all about the mayor's sons involvement with a missing girl."
"Again," Casanova partnered his point with decisive hand gestures, "we don't have any evidence."
"So, what do we do then?"
An Elaborate Ruse
What we did was construct an elaborate ruse with the intention of tricking Christopher Newton into making an admission.
Even at the time it seemed fanciful, overly complicated, and destined to fail. However, it was the only plan we could agree on thatwould get us the evidence we needed.
It's possible that we confused agreement on the inaproiateness of the ruse for agreement on the ruse itself.
Having orderd a coneface style halloween mask online, we still had to wait a week for it to arrive.
We used that time to buy the other pieces of costume that we needed, and to find a suitable location. Fortunately, Blake knew of just the place.
"Do you remember that old church we used to get high in back when we were at school?" Blake asked.
"Oh yeah," Casanova remembered, "that place was creepy as hell."
"Yeah, I know, right? Wouldn't it be perfect?"
"An abandoned church? I don't know," Ludwig complained, "sounds pretty cheesy."
"Oh yeah, it's cheesy alright." Casanova agreed, "but it will work a treat."
"Do you think?"
"Oh, yeah." Casanova assured his flatmate, "just imagine when he opens that letter, and he reads a photocopy of the poem he wrote, together with a note summoning him to St. Michael's Church at midnight. Don't you have to walk through a graveyard to get in?"
"You can do." Blake confirmed.
"Well let's make it so he has to."
Ludwig wasn't sure that such a feat was manageable, "what, block off the roads somehow?"
"Yeah. If we can."
"I don't see how."
"We could steal a pice of fencing from a building site." Blake suggested, "It shouldn't take much. Doesn't have to be unclimbable, just has to encourage him to find another way in instead."
"Like in a video game?"
"Yeah, like in a video game."
"You guys know this isn't a video game, right?" Ludwig sought confirmation from his co-conspirators.
Casanova didn't dignify the question, so Blake answered for him.
"Of course. It's just quite a lot like a video game."
Ludwig was volunteered to play coneface, because he was the biggest of the three, while Blake was volunteered to play the victim because Casanova really wasn't going to.
"Do we really need to go to these lengths?" Casnova complained, "isn't it enough just to get him to the church, and then all we need to do is truss him up?"
"We want to get him to make an admission, remember." Ludwig pointed out.
"And we think all these dramatics are going to encourage him to do that?"
"It'll put him off guard." Blake suggested, "make it easier to over power him at least, even if it doesn't trick him into making a confession."
"I think it will." Ludwig assured his flatmates, "if we setup some kind of recording equipment, and we put on a convincing show, he's bound to say something incriminating."
"Do you reckon?" Blake was unsure.
Ludwig shrugged, "seems like the sort of thing that might happen."
"Alright," Casanova relented, "I guess we've got the costumes now anyway. Might as well do it properly."
Doing it properly meant scoping out the churchground, which were in the same sort of shape they had been in Blake's school days. Fortunately for Blakes plans, there were already several stretches of metal fencing blocking off dangerous parts of the graveyard. It didn't take much to move this fencing so that the only way in or out of the church building was by taking a winding promenade passed gravestones and cemetary bushes.
The church still had it's pueues, although they'd been stacked neatly against one wall, and it took a fair amount of work to get the desecrated space back into shape.
By the time we'd finished, it was three in the morning, and we found ourselves in an abandoned church that suddenly looked very much like an abandoned church.
Three Hermits Celebrate an Unlikely Success
We retired to a recess away from the floor of the sancuary, where our captive wouldn't hear us.
"I can't believe we did it," Casanova laughed.
"Yeah man, we did it," Ludwig admitted, a large smile on his face. "This is kind of nice."
"Catching a criminal. Actually doing something for a change. You know? Making a difference."
"Oh yeah, man," Casanova agreed. "These last few weeks have had everything: sex, death, puzzles, detective work, and an elaborate scooby doo style apprehension."
"It's true," Blake nodded and put his hands on the hips of his skirt, "even got to have a bit of a scuffle at the end."
"Oh yeah, good work with the axe by the way." Casnova commended his flatemates efforts.
"Oh that," Ludwig clocked the axe still in his hands, "Yeah, I figirued I should do something, but I didn't want to hit him with the sharp end."
"No, quite. That would have been," Casanvoa laughed, "pretty messy."
"To say the least."
Silence settled on us as we reflected on the fruits of our hard work.
"So what do we do now?"
Insulation, the Lack of a Clear and Simple Objective, and General Uncertainty, All Encourage Passivity
"I've been thinking about that actually," Casanova proclaimed.
"I was thinking," Casanova was stood under a stained glass window which framed him with a cherub on each shoulder, "how do you guys feel about black-mail?"
"Really?" Ludwig was surprised by his flatmates suggestion.
"Think about it, if we hand him over the police he'll probably get away with it on lack of evidence, and we'll have to answer a lot of difficult, and then we'll probably end up getting sued by this perverts old man." Casanova turned to Blake, "plus it'll end up in the news and MAVAV, or whoever, will end up getting that ammo you were alking about."
"We could kill him," Blake suggested an alternative.
"Don't be stupid," Casanova complained, "we're not going to fucking kill him."
"Are we not?"
"No, we're not, because although we might be dressed up like it's halloween," Casanova indicated towards Ludwig, "we're not actually monsters!"
"I still think we should hand him over to the police, and let them deal with it." Ludwig complained, eager to be done with the affair as quickly as possible.
"I don't know," Blake indulged his paranoia, "Cas might be right."
"Of course I'm right." Casanova boasted arrogantly.
"That's why I think we should kill him, because neither the police arresting him or us blackmailing him are going to stop him doing it again. And I'm sorry," Blake gestured at Casanova, "but even being able to afford all the best videogames and a sweet sofa to play them on isn't enough to help me ignore that we live in a world with rapists and murderers."
"You can't change the way people are. But you can make them pay for their actions without killing them. And besides, if you kill him, you are just as bad as he is."
"Not really." Blake protested.
"We're not going to kill him," Ludwig attested, "because then we would be killers. And we're not going to blackmail him, because then we'd be criminals. And besides, these things have a nasty way of coming back to bite you in the arse."
"You think so? How many times have you blackmailed or killed someone?" Casanova did his best to shout under his voice, "he doesn't even have to know who we are."
"Yeah, and I don't have to have blackmailed anyone to know that it's a bad idea. I don't want to kill him and then be worrying the rest of my life that it's going to catch up with me, and I certainly don't want to blackmail him and be worried about him catching up with us."
"If you're worried about it catching up with you, karma wise, then I don't mind doing it," Blake suggestion was meant as sincere.
"It's not karma I'm worried about, and it doesn't matter which one of us does it: it would make us all guilty. This whole ordeal has probably terrified him anyway, he'll be too scared to indulge in his sick rape fanasies again. We've done our job, now it's time to go home."
Blake and Casanova's eyes met.
"That would be a lot easier," Casanova realised. "If we walk away now, there is no risk of anyone finding out about this. Where as, if we blackmail him there is always the risk that if he finds out who we are, we'll have someone after us."
Blake was unsure, "do you really think this whole thing will have traumatised him enough to stop him doing it again?"
Ludwig shrugged his shoulders, "who knows? Maybe."
"We could cut off his dick to be sure?"
"I don't know." Blake laughed, "It made me shudder just watching that scene in Battle Royale."
Casanova lit a cigarette, "which one's that?"
"The one where the running girl stabs that stalker guy repeatedly in the crotch."
"Oh yeah," Casanova laughed, "that was horrible."
"We should watch that movie."
"We totally should."
"That does sound good." Blake carefully opened the door to the prisoner's room, checked that the prisoner was still sat tied up where he'd been left, and then carefully shut the door again. "Should I untie him maybe?"
"Fuck him," Ludwig commanded, "rapist fuck doesn't deserve our help."
No sooner had we decided to leave than we noticed flashing blue lights refracting through the broken stained glass windows of the church.
The Inevitable Tidal Wave
Casanova was the last to be ushered into the back of the police van, and then we waited for it to carry us to our destination.
We'd each been interviewed separately, handcuffed, and then left to consider our sins.
At least we were in good company.
"Well," Casanova admitted, "that didn't go so great."
"What happened?" Ludwig was wondering exactly how much trouble we were in.
"He asked me where our evidence was."
"And what did you tell him?"
Casanova held Blake's gaze, "I told him that my flatmate got fucking high and destroyed what little evidence we had, which led us on a merry goose chase to try and dig up some more."
"And what did he say?" Ludwig asked.
"He said that stoners don't have the mental faculties to catch criminals, and that we would have been better off calling the police and letting them handle it."
"You told him I smoke pot?" Blake wasn't sure whether to feel betrayed or not.
"Is that really what you're taking away from this?"
"At least you didn't have to deal with the police psychologist," Ludwig complained.
"What did he want?"
"He seemed convinced that we were immersed in some kind of fantastical delusion. Possibly bought about from drugs, or role playing games, or who knows what else."
"Did you manage to convince them otherwise?"
"What could I say?" Ludwig beseeched his two closest friends, "here we are, dressed up like it's halloween, and with some poor guy tied up in a chair in an abandoned church."
"Newton's not just some guy though."
"And he's not exactly poor," Casanova pointed out, and then realised, "his solicitor is going to ruin us."
"What about the recording?" Blake's voice was full of optimisim.
"I somehow doubt that's going to be admissable."
"Bet you're glad we stopped you from cutting his dick off." Ludwig suggested.
Blake wasn't convinced.
An unpleasant, but inevitable, silence fell upon the police van.
"Do you want to know what the police said to me?" Blake wasn't sure that his flatmates did, but obviously he wanted to tell them.
"Sure," Ludwig agreed.
"He said that video games aren't like real life, and that we should stick to our living room in future, and let other people handle the real world."
"I'm inclined to agree with him," Casanova snorted.
"Didn't you like playing detective?"
Casanova didn't say anything for a moment, but then he relented, "I'll admit it was kind of fun. Although horrible in parts."
"Yeah." Blake agreed, "sitting in the White Lion, waiting for you to get back from Tower Games, being at the murder scene, that was pretty unpleasant."
"At least it got us out of the flat," Ludwig admitted.
"True," Blake agreed.
"They have televison in prison, right?" Casanova wondered.
"They won't have any beer, I'm pretty sure of that," Ludwig complained, "why?"
"You reckon they'll have a games console or two lying around as well?"
Blake couldn't bring himself to look either of his flat mates in the eye as he glumly admitted, "almost definitely."