Clockwork 1888 Date: Wednesday, June 1, 1892
As the last of the kills were being weighed at the sewer rat catcher’s weigh station, they noticed a young man who seemed to be going about to the different offices. The wiry young man was probably only about 18 years old and eventually somebody pointed him to them. He wore a red bandana on his head that bore a white star.
Finding them, the young man introduced himself as Ehrich Weisz and spoke his rehearsed speech. “Your New York contact wishes to see you immediately,” he informed with stress on the last word. Inquiring if they could clean up first, the young man repeated the last word, again. So, after just finishing a mission that involved heading into the sewers of Manhattan and finally, the exterminating of a rat larger than a man that was the source of the problem, they went, in reeking clothes, back to the nondescript office on the top story of the six story brick office building in Manhattan.
They finished reporting to their contact, Roland Molineux, and were looking forward to getting back to the Plaza hotel to clean up. Roland then informed that he had received a telegram. “Ehrich, please read the telegram to them,” he requested. Ehrich unfolded a telegram and read, “Browns building construction site, Manhattan, tons of wet concrete stolen last night. Remit $1 Box 15. – T”
“Hmm, a regular contact of mine reports that the concrete didn’t set up properly on a construction project where concrete was poured just the night before,” Roland informed. “Only water with sand at the bottom was left. This is the third such occurrence I’ve heard of in the last year or so and, as I recall, each coincided within a few days of some damage to a nearby construction site.”
“You’d have to check the papers for the dates of those other incidents,” Roland continued, “I don’t recall them. It certainly might be nothing we deal with, but it is very odd. Who steals tons of wet concrete, how in the world could you do so, what would you do with it, and is it connected to the damage at the nearby construction sites? Since you are already here, would you look into this for me?”
“Like this?” Evgenia questioned. “Oh, yes, I agree that maybe you should clean up before starting. I’ll extend the rooms at the Plaza hotel for an additional week so that you can look into this oddity. Each of the other occurrences has been in the paper as a construction delay not mentioning the concrete issue. You should be able to find the dates at one of the local papers,” Roland suggested.
“Who is ‘T’?” Evgenia inquired. “I have a dozen or so people that scan the papers and keep their ears to the street, listening for odd events. They report everything they hear and I pay them well, but they are not part of the Fellowship and don’t know why I want the information. If my contact knew anything else, they’d have sent that along as they know I pay for the amount of information.”
“I label my information gatherers with letters and send their payments to delivery boxes in various bars. Many bars and small businesses today have boxes for mail delivery and charge a small price for customers to pick up their mail there. ‘T’ is just the code for the contact that sent the letter,” Roland explained.
“Can I see the telegram,” Bartley inquired. “Of course,” Roland said as Ehrich handed it to him. It read exactly as Ehrich had read it and there was nothing unique or disconcerting about it. “I think we’ll be on our way, then,” Archibald suggested.
They returned to the Plaza hotel and cleaned up before going to one of the newspaper offices to check on the previous incidents. There were numerous major papers in town and they all had archives with several of their competitor’s papers on file as well. After researching the topic, they found three concrete construction delays of note. The addresses for all the incidents were listed in the articles, but they determined that there would be no clues at them, because it has been months since those incidents.
The first concrete issue was on Thursday, June 18, 1891, a six story tenement house. Construction was delayed two days. Also on that Thursday, damages were noted at the construction site that was ascribed to vandals. Construction at that site was not delayed.
The second concrete delay was on Wednesday, July 15, 1891, a small warehouse. Construction was delayed two days and on Friday, July 17, 1891 there was considerable damage at a construction site that were so severe that work was expected to halt for at least two weeks. Speculation was that the damages were done by either labor union organizers or anarchists.
The damage was described as severe and that the amount of explosives that would have been needed would have been significant. It was speculated that it would have been more likely that one of the heavy equipment machines must have been used, but inspections of those devices showed no tampering. A photo of the damaged site with a crowd of people looking on was included and showed that the damage was indeed quite extensive. Construction was delayed two weeks.
The third concrete event was on Monday, September 28, 1891, for an 18 story office tower. Construction was delayed two days and the ancillary incidents occurred on Tuesday, September 26, 1905. Damages noted at the construction site and were ascribed to vandals. Construction was delayed one day. For the first and third previous “construction delays” due to concrete issues included colorful quotes from a Mr. Conklin who poured the concrete at both sites. The second incident was at a much smaller project and Conklin wasn’t mentioned or quoted in that article.
Each site was in a relatively lightly populated area. Articles on the first and third incidents described the damage as vandalism and said it appeared that some drunks had broken into the sites at night, thrown equipment all over and used trenching equipment or dynamite to damage walls and tunnels. Authorities interviewed discounted the use of dynamite as it would likely have been heard by people residing nearby and canvassing for witnesses at the time produced no such reports. None of the articles link each other or any connection between the “construction delays” due to concrete problems and the vandalism at the other construction sites.
Conklin’s address wasn’t in the articles so they decided to investigate Brown’s Building, the scene of last night’s latest concrete issue. They approached the construction site which was surrounded by a solid wood slat fence. Noise came from behind it and a gated area with men meandering about was just up the street.
They were not dressed as laborers so they developed their story before they strolled up to the entrance. Bartley recalled stories about New York construction workers being in some kind of organization called Tammany Hall. And unless the big boss, “Croker” Bartley seemed to recall, sent new workers, he expected the workers were supposed to scare off would be job applicants.
The construction workers gave them dirty looks as they walked toward the site entrance. As they entered, a dozen or so congregated toward them and indicated that this was a construction area and non workers were not allowed. “For your own safety, you see.”
Archibald took control of the situation and explained that they were working for the city, there to inspect the site of the missing concrete. “The city and Boss Croker aren’t happy about this so you’d best lead us to the foreman,” he instructed in a commanding but polite manner. With that, two of the men were happy to walk them to the foreman as the others returned to work. The foreman easily agreed to show them the area where the concrete was disturbed.
But first, he insisted that they all put on leather protective helmets. Then he led them to the area the concrete was poured and said, “All of the building footers were laid just yesterday and they were to be left to cure for a couple weeks, before significant work was to continue. When I arrived early this morning, a couple workers who were checking the concrete progress alerted me that the concrete hadn’t set right, just like at those other sites. I checked it out and found what looked like pools of water with sand at the bottom. Every bit of the gravel and apparently the Portland cement was missing.”
It was Dracona that noticed what looked like blood was also present in large quantities. Asking about it, the foreman looked nervous and said, “That’s crazy.” But they could tell that he was lying so they pressed him. Then, he admitted that, yes, there was blood in there as well.
Horse blood was added in large quantities to make the concrete more frost resistant. It was a common additive to industrial concrete, but it wasn’t made public as the public might frown on it, thinking it somewhat grizzly. Evgenia had heard that, too, and informed them that it was most likely. When they questioned him about where the blood was bought, the foreman had no idea. “Old Conklin buys it. Ted Conklin,” he informed.
“We’ll need some time to search the area,” Evgenia informed Archibald. “Alone,” she added. “We’ll need you to leave this area while we work. Make sure that we aren’t disturbed by anybody, including you and your men,” Archibald informed the foreman. The foreman understood and implemented their request. Evgenia informed them that concrete was normally measured in cubic yards, each weighing about 3,000 pounds. A concrete foundation for a home would use about 40 yards of concrete so 320 yards was quite a bit of concrete.
Once alone, they searched the area. There were no discernible footprints to track as there had been literally dozens of other people in and out of the area. Bartley cast a spell to detect magic but it showed nothing because the aura power of the magic probably wasn’t strong enough to linger longer than an hour or so.
Turning up no clues that way, Evgenia decided to try to get a reading on the area and entered a trance. “The cement was mixed yesterday and was disturbed late last night,” she informed. “The cement was fine until about 1 am, when it suddenly lost all of the gravel and Portland cement, leaving only the water, sand and horse blood.”
She pulled the vision backward in time a bit. “A dark cloaked man approached the area where the concrete was hardening. He waves his hands about,” she duplicated the motions with her hands, “and chants in an arcane tongue.” Bartley and Dracona both recognized the casting of an arcane summoning spell.
“Suddenly, a giant smooth skinned creature appears in the middle of the area forming from the concrete and draining the gravel and cement into itself. After a few moments,” she continued, “the man turns and leaves and the creature sinks into the ground.” Evgenia left the trance, opened her eyes and said, “He had a matchbook for a place called Burgers Bar.”
They went to the foreman and asked about the other sites. The foreman answered, “I didn’t work at any of the other sites that supposedly had the same problem. But, according to the rumors I heard, there were indeed three other incidents in the last year. I don’t know any details about them.” When asked about what company ran the other projects, he said, “All three, plus this one, were different companies. Many of us construction guys work for whatever project is under way.”
When asked about the construction site vandalisms he said, “I know nothing at all about that. What vandalism? What’s that got to do with cement being stolen? Who the hell would want to steal 320 yards of wet concrete and leave the water and sand anyway? How the hell could you take it?” He shook his head in confusion and looked like he had a headache coming on.
They then inquired about Conklin and which workers had worked at the sites that had issues. The foreman and workers agreed that Old Ted Conklin had worked at all four sites, but he specialized in mixing and pouring concrete. So, he wasn’t there today. They could probably find him at his apartment or the bar down the street from it.
Finished at the site, they decided to make their way to the mentioned bar and check out Mr. Conklin. Inquiring with the foreman, they learned that Conklin had taken many of them to the bar for a burger at lunch. The foreman gave them the address and directions to Ted Conklin’s residence and the bar not far from it. It was close to lunch so they decided to head for the bar.
Burgers Bar was not difficult to find. As they walked in, they saw a very large and intimidating Irish bartender who looked at them like an old horse he didn’t want to buy. Still, he introduced himself as Timothy Burger, the first owner’s son, and said, “Whattaya have?” Glancing around, there were about eight patrons in the bar, who all looked like fixtures to the place.
“My place is for eating and drinking,” Burger informed. “Those not doing those two things can let the door hit them in the arse as they leave. We’ve been serving beer exclusively from George Ehret’s Hell Gate Brewery since 1867. We also carry a variety of harder liquors and also have really good burgers and fried cabbage for 25 cents a meal.”
Agreeing to have the luncheon selection for their meal, they took a seat at one of the tables. When the bartender brought it over, they asked about Ted Conklin. The bartender nodded his head toward an old man in a booth, drinking a beer alone. “Old Ted Conklin has been eating here for a good 30 years,” he told. “The other seven are all regular patrons, too.
After their meal, they decided that Evgenia and Archibald would stay to chat up Conklin while Bartley and Dracona went to search Conklin’s residence. Athros was to stay with Archibald and Evgenia. If Conklin left the bar, Athros would fly over and warn them. So, Bartley and Dracona paid for their meals and left.
Archibald and Evgenia approached and asked if he were Ted Conklin. Affirming his identity, he waved for them to sit down and inquired as to how he could help them. Archibald played as if he were a foreign businessman interested in bringing to England some of the American concrete work.
When asked about the concrete mix, Old Ted Conklin explained its mixture in detail as only a skilled laborer could. ”Yup, gravel, sand, water, cement, and horse blood.” Then he went into agonizing details about the proportions of each and the proper mixing and curing on the concrete.
Meanwhile, Bartley and Dracona headed to Conklin’s apartment. Conklin had a battered old apartment in Manhattan in a brick building. Dracona went to the front door as Bartley made his way around back.
Knocking at the front door, an old man who introduced himself as the landlord looked out into the hall and then came to the door. She inquired about which place was Ted Conklin’s and he told her the apartment number. “But,” he added, “Ted Conklin is likely down at Burgers Bar if that’s who you’re looking for.”
“Oh,” Dracona feigned, “what can you tell me about Ted?” She began her task of distracting the landlord while Bartley stealthily made his way to the designated apartment. The landlord said, “Ted has lived here for about 30 years, about when this apartment building was first built. I’ve been the landlord the entire time,” the old man beamed with pride, “and Ted’s never left. He seems to go to his job regular and always pays his rent on time.”
“Other than sleeping here, he always seems to be down the street at Burgers bar. He has no wife or family and seems happy that way, not bitter. He seems to enjoy his job and his days drinking beer at Burgers. I play cards with him now and again, but since I don’t drink, I don’t go down to Burgers with him.”
By that time, Bartley was through the mediocre locked door, into the apartment and had relocked the door behind him. Searching the apartment produced little of interest and actually, Bartley didn’t find much at all. The apartment was sparsely furnished with an old bed with a nightstand and oil lamp in the bedroom. The closet had about 12 changes of clothes, all mostly the same, and a warm winter jacket and snow boots that had seen better days.
The kitchenette had a small round table and two wood chairs. The stove looked like it had hardly ever been used but the coffee pot looked like it got daily use and was never cleaned. A wastebasket sat in the corner filled with old coffee grinds and several empty cans of beans. The sink had two coffee mugs in it and two spoons, which Bartley figured was probably twice the number of dishes that Conklin thinks he needs.
The cupboards were bare except for 4 bags of coffee, about 50 cans of pork and beans and a can opener. Under the wall heat register, Bartley found a discarded empty pack of matches labeled as being from Burgers Bar. He left it there and stealthily made his exit, relocking the door behind him.
As Bartley came around the corner, Dracona completed her distraction and inquired about when Conklin might return. “Well, if he isn’t working he’ll likely be found at the local bar, just half a block from here,” the landlord pointed the direction, “from 9 am in the morning to 1 am at night he’s drinking entire days away.”
Back at the bar, Archibald asked where he buys the horse blood and Conklin honestly responded, “Bought it at various places. Usually from peoples whose horse is very old and don’t charge much. Sometimes I’ve gotten lucky and heard about a horse going lame and get it free. I can’t recall ever buying it from the same person twice.”
They inquired about the three incidents of missing concrete from the past year and about who else worked at the construction sites who would know when the concrete was poured. He said, “Maybe a laborer or two, but I can’t recall anyone off hand. I’ll think on it. Each project was a different builder. Hmm, I guess the only folks who knew when I was doing a pour at them would be myself and my pals here at the bar.”
“So what do you think about the fourth incident?” Evgenia inquired. Conklin squinted at her and said, “Four? I thought there were only three.” “There was a fourth incident last night at the Browns building,” Archibald informed.
Conklin cursed and made ready to leave to go see for himself. He was irate about it and wanted to know who has been messing with his life work. “Who the hell would want to steal wet concrete?” he questioned as he gathered his things. “What in the world would you do with it? And why do they pour sand and water back into the holes? There’s no effective or quick way to separate it after it’s mixed. It just don’t make no sense. If I catch the fool that’s doing it, I’ll throttle him!”
That was when Evgenia noticed that a man in the bar who had been listening to the stories was actually chuckling about the conversation he just heard. Evgenia remembered the chuckling man’s face from the newspaper picture about the damaged construction site. He looked like one of the guys in the front of the crowd at the construction site that was damaged on July 17, 1891.
Knowing that Conklin was genuinely surprised by the news, and finding another person connected to the incidents, Archibald and Evgenia decided to let Conklin leave to go to the construction site. Instead of following Conklin, they approached the chuckling man. “You found something humorous,” Archibald noted to the man. “I was just listening,” the man said, “nothing else much to do in a bar but listen.” They could both tell that he was not being honest.
Sensing that they were suspicious of him, he informed Burger that he’d be going out the back. He left a tip on his table and retreated behind the bar to the kitchen and then out to the back door of the bar. “Athros,” Evgenia whispered before receiving a small tap that acknowledged that Dracona’s invisible fairy dragon familiar knew what to do.
The back door didn’t close immediately. The man walked almost to the end of the eight foot wide alley before looking behind him to see if he was being followed by anybody. He paused for a moment and then quietly said, “Follow,” before making his way out of the back alley.
Athros noticed a slight movement in a pile of garbage at the man’s request and then tailed the man from above. He walked through the back alleys and across streets for about three blocks before going into a brick office building. Athros made a mental note of the address and then flew back to the bar.
Archibald inquired with the bartender about who the man was. “Luther Grimes. He’s a relative newcomer, only been coming here about three years but he’s terse and unfriendly with the others, keeps to himself and isn’t considered to be one of the boys. If he’s upset you folks, that’s his problem.”
“Would you have his address,” Archibald inquired. “Not proper but I hear he lives about three blocks away from here.” Burger answered. “If you’ve got unpleasant dealings with him, I’d appreciate if you kept them outside my bar, though.”
“Rest assured, Mr. Burger, if our conversations with Mr. Grimes come to anything unpleasant, we’ll be certain to keep them away from your fine establishment,” Archibald assured. About that time, Dracona and Bartley returned to the bar and Dracona informed that Athros had information.