The City of a Thousand Crimes

Prelude: The Long Trip There

Prelude to The City of a Thousand Crimes

Original session date: June 2011

Philip Marlowe and Mason Graves find themselves standing alone by the broken body of the deputy, surrounded only by the wail of the rushing wind. Marlowe drops to the ground and takes a moment to dig through his jacket pocket. He retrieves a lone cigarette, raises it to his lips, and ignites the end with his lighter, all without speaking a word. Graves takes a pair of handcuffs off the deputy’s body and spends a minute examining the surroundings. He walks over to the shed where he had discovered the body of a man the day before. He notices that the body is gone and there are fresh drag marks leading up the hill, most likely to a grave site.

Graves looks off in the distance and sees the shanty town sprawled out before him. Marlowe finishes his cigarette and sees Graves walking away toward the collection of makeshift shelters. He stands up slowly and starts to follow. Graves finds Joe, the man whose house him and Marlowe had slept in the night before, and asks him where he might find a vehicle. Joe refers him to the Kellys, a family in town. Graves and Marlowe find the house, and Graves knocks on the door. He hears shuffling inside and watches the door scoot open slowly.

At the door stand a short stocky man wearing denim overalls who introduces himself as Tom Kelly. Marlowe questions the man about his automobile, when Kelly confirms that he indeed owns a truck, Marlowe demands use of it. Kelly takes a moment, says that he needs to talk to Paul, and walks away. While Marlowe is talking to Kelly, Graves notices a young girl crying inside the house. Tom Kelly returns with an older man who introduces himself as Paul Kelly. Marlowe sees what appear to be strings rising from the man’s arms, as if he were a puppet, but remains silent. He tells the investigators that he will indeed allow them the use of his truck, and asks them inside for dinner. He introduces the two men to his family, and Marlowe notices that the young girl seems to become very nervous whenever he, his partner, or any of the men come near.

Kelly gives the investigators a little food and drink and points them around back and tells them that they can find the truck behind the house. Graves inquires into the well-being of the young girl, and Paul reassures him that nothing is wrong. The young girl begins to cry. Marlowe and Graves depart the house. The two men drive the truck back to the center of the village. Graves spots Joe sitting against a wall and asks him about the girl. Joe tells him that no one in town really knows what the problem is, only that it seems to have occurred recently. He also tells Graves that her name is Shelly and that she has only ventured outside to make use of the bath house. Marlowe notices that Joe doesn’t seem to be being completely truthful with his responses, but when he questions him further he declines to make any elaboration.

Graves notices Joe’s eye flicker to a house across the way, and Graves turns around and sees a young woman changing through the window of a house. Graves, strangely enough, charges across and walks into the house. The girl screams and a man walks out and demands that Graves leave. Graves asks the man if he knows Joe and tells him that Joe has been watching his wife change. The man becomes furious, charges over, and confronts Joe. Before Joe can respond, the man cracks him across the face with the butt of his shotgun and storms off. Graves questions the man about the Kelly girl and he says that he knows nothing of the family except that they give him the creeps. Graves returns to Marlowe, who is standing over Joe, who is writhing in pain on the ground. Marlowe demands to know what Graves said to the man to make him so angry and Graves tells him that didn’t say anything at all. Joe demands that the two men leave. Marlowe and Graves climb into the truck.

Before the two investigators can drive off they notice a car approaching the village. It comes to a park right outside of the town and a finely dressed man steps out. Graves drives the truck over to the man. The man introduces himself as Ned Thompson, and tells Graves that he is a journalist. When the two men make it clear that they have never heard of this man, he seems a bit taken aback. He tells them that he has been sent here to investigate a string of disappearances. He asks the investigators if they have any leads on the case, and the detectives decline to comment. Thompson asks to join the detectives in their case, and Graves takes a brief moment to consider, but declines. Thompson notes that he has a friend with him, and introduces him as Jacques , a Frenchman from Louisiana. Marlowe further questions him about the disappearances, and Thompson tells him that he really doesn’t know anything. Thompson asks the men again if he could join them, and after a moment of consideration, they accept. The detectives climb into Thompson’s car, and they set off for the Lancaster Ranch. When the men reach the ranch, they notice that it is very lavish and well-kept.

They buzz the gate and after a while a black man comes out to greet them. He asks the men who they are and they all introduce themselves. Marlowe and Graves flash their badges as credential. The man departs and returns after a few minutes, telling them that Mr. Lancaster will see them now. He brings them into the main room and tells them that the master will be down in a minute. A tall lanky man descends the stairs and introduces himself as Lancaster. The investigators introduce themselves. Thompson is thrilled when Lancaster admits to hearing of him before. Lancaster asks the men if they are here for the convention. When Graves questions further, he shows them the room where the convention is supposedly being held. Lancaster seems shocked to find the room completely empty, saying that the guests must have left for another room. Lancaster continues talking about how well the crops are doing, and the town, and the railway; all things that the investigators know don’t exist anywhere around.

Marlowe comes to the belief that this man is clearly insane. He refers the men to the “ Negroes in the barn” and departs upstairs. The men start to walk out to the barn and notice a small girl playing outside. Graves attempts to call the little girl over but she pays him no mind. He approaches the girl and asks her about her father, the convention, and the community. Marlowe is taken aback when he sees the girl playing with a marionette puppet, feeling like its movements seem vaguely familiar.

The men enter the barn, and six black men immediately stand up from the table where they were playing cards. The men ask the investigators what they want and Graves flashes his badge and introduces himself as a marshal. Graves asks the men about the convention, and the men admit that there has not been a convention in three years. Marlowe and Graves continue to question the man about the Kelly family. The man swears he knows nothing but Marlowe can tell he is lying. He presses the issue but the man swears that the only thing strange going on is the missing trees in the orchard. Graves pulls out his handgun and points it at the man’s face, demanding information.

The man takes off running, and Marlowe and Graves give chase. Graves pulls his rifle and fires a shot, grazing the man’s leg. The man falls to the ground and the detectives catch up. Graves grabs the man and the man just keeps repeating “But she wanted it! I know she did, she came to my house!” Marlowe and Graves realize at this point that this man raped the Kelly girl. Graves demands to know why he did it, and the man simply repeats his story. Graves drags the man back to the barn. The investigators demand information from the men but they refuse to come out with anything. Graves pulls out his handgun and points it at the men. The detectives decide to separate the men one by one and question them separately. Each man admits to knowing that Jimmy raped the girl, and they also admit to Jimmy threatening them with violence if they told anything. Graves walks over to Jimmy, puts the barrel of his handgun in his face, pulls the trigger, and blows his brains all over the floor. The other men are shocked and beg not to be shot. Graves assures them that they are safe, and the men recommend that they check out the missing trees.

Marlowe expresses doubt about continuing the investigation. Thompson tells them that there have been reports of over twenty people missing in the area. Graves tells Marlowe that the investigation must be continued. Marlowe decides to check out the orchard and Graves says that he will investigate the house. Graves stealthily moves through the house, observing each room, and at first finding nothing of interest. After a while he spots a cellar entrance and decides to enter. When he reaches the bottom he finds a door leading to a tunnel system. He decides to follow it. He follows it for what seems to be at least a quarter of a mile and is amazed that it is so long. He figures it must be an old bootlegging tunnel from the town’s glory days. He thinks that if he follows it he would probably end up back at the old ghost town. As he continues along he gets an uneasy feeling that this tunnel is not well built and could be dangerous.

Marlowe finds himself wandering through the orchard with one of the men from the barn as darkness sets. He trades a dollar for a piece of fabric from the man’s clothing, and he fashions a torch. The man guides Marlowe to about the middle of the grove and shows him where one of the trees has been ripped up. Marlowe hears what sounds like leaves rustling and thinks that there must be a tree being stolen nearby. When he arrives at the scene he sees a missing tree but not a soul in sight. As he climbs down into the hole he hears a quick sound and asks his companion if he heard it too. There is no response. He climbs out of the hole and spots what seems to be a silhouette sitting up against the side of a tree. He approaches and is struck with horror when he discovers that it is in fact a life-sized mannequin sitting on the ground, staring directly back at him.

Marlowe turns to run, but falls to the ground. The mannequin stands, and begins to reach down towards him. Marlowe swings his torch at the mannequin and the fabric on the torch sticks to the mannequin and lights it on fire. The flames begin spreading up its arm. Marlowe slides forward and topples back into the hole. The trees around him are now on fire, and the fire is spreading. Marlowe fires a shot at the mannequin but misses. The mannequin starts darting towards Marlowe, and comes so close it is able to grasp at his clothing. Marlowe starts taking off running, but trips over a root, and is set rolling. The mannequin stays on his heels, and the flames have almost completely engulfed it by now. Phillip Marlowe stares into the charcoaled wooden face as it opens its mouth. He can almost see what appears to be a smile appears before everything fades to black…

Marshal Graves comes out of the tunnel and emerges in what seems to be a church. He looks around and notices that the church appears to be well-kept and sees what appear to be used candles. He promptly turns around and leaves.

Phillip Marlowe comes to and sees that the orchard is burning down around him. He looks at his feet and sees what appears to be a pile of scorched wood. He stands up and begins running. After a few minutes he emerges onto the road. Tired and frazzled, he starts walking down the lonely road.

Marlowe and Graves make it back to the Lancaster house. The black men run up and question him about the whereabouts of their friend. Marlowe tells them that he lost him in the orchard. The Kelly family approaches and starts acting very strangely. Marlowe calls them out on the flaws in their logic and they ignore the remark. They all start walking into the house. Marlowe and Graves follow them and see that they enter the basement tunnel to the church. The men hop in the car and tear ass to the ghost town. They enter the church and wait for the family to approach, hoping they are not too late. As they wait in hiding the Kelly family emerges from the tunnel. They stay in hiding and let them pass. As they head upstairs our party sneaks up behind them. Marlowe hears that Paul is reciting bible passages, and that all the passages relate to puppets. Graves tries to move closer and the family notices the men. They all turn to them and the father begins reciting the fish poem from the parchment. The entire family goes dead eyed. Mason Graves pulls his gun from its holster, steps forward, and shoots Paul dead in the face. Marlowe sees the strings that have been haunting him since he first read the poem burst apart and he sees the rest of the family go limp. He hears the sound of wooden hands beating on the door. He sees a green light pouring through the door, like a flood. It washes over him. Marlowe goes blind, seeing horror after horror repeated over and over in his head Graves, Marlowe, and the two reporters grab the body of the young girl and make a run for the tunnel. They jump onto the cart and move through the tunnels back to the house.

When they reach the house they start moving down the hallway. As they move through the hall the candles burn out behind them. They emerge into the dining room and see Mr. Lancaster and Sally sitting at the end of the table. Lancaster says “Welcome back,” and Sally holds out her marionette doll and asks “Would you like it?” The house immediately goes pitch black. Graves tries to light a candle but it refuses to light. Marlowe has begun to regain his vision, and he stumbles into the portrait room. He looks to his left and gazes upon the first portrait and sees that it is Sam, the worker from the field. The second portrait is of Ned. The third, Jacques, the photographer. The fourth, Mason Graves. Lastly, he gazes upon his own face in horror. Everything goes black.

The two wake up slowly, and they realize they are in Phillip’s car. He has crashed into the sign at the beginning of town. The two partners exchange glances and Marlowe starts the car and they start down the road. They step out of the car to look at damage and find it’s not too bad, but Marlow notices what looks like a doll in the back seat, but shakes it off. The men get back in the car, and drive to Los Angeles.



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