Section: 1.05 Beneath the Skin Up Section: 1.05 Beneath the Skin Subsection: Wednesday 9 October 2019 

Tuesday 8 October 2019

(12 August 2020)
Jade’s bandmate Duane has a problem. His buddy Raoul Benoit, who has ambitions in street dancing but has to pay the bills, hasn’t shown up since Saturday. And some of the things Raoul does aren’t strictly legal (specifically, smuggling cigarettes across from Georgia), so he doesn’t want to contact the cops. Raoul does run with a crew, but Duane doesn’t have any details.
The group goes over to Raoul’s trailer; it doesn’t appear to have been tossed, though Raoul isn’t a great housekeeper. The fridge is consistent with his not having been back since Saturday.
Jesus finds his social media profiles, including selfies. There’s a group of six or seven people he seems to hang around with quite often.
Natasha traces him to the coast, east of town, and down to an address in Jacksonville Beach, near the swampland – a house with a For Sale sign outside it and no car in the drive. Jesus reckons it’s been on the market for a month or so, a foreclosure deal.
Jesus puts up a drone, and confirms that there’s no sign of anyone outside the house, and the fence backs on to swampland. A neighbour waves a shotgun in a menacing manner, and he pulls the drone back.
Natasha puts in a mobile viewpoint; the house is empty of people and furniture except for the master bedroom, which has one person restrained in a hospital bed. He has a drip attached, and monitoring equipment and cameras, and doesn’t look well. Natasha reckons he’s suffering from something like heat exhaustion, which is a little odd.
The cameras are attached to a wireless router, and the group moves to the nearest place without nosy neighbours – the sewage treatment plant just to the north. Jesus is able to piggyback on the cell signal and trace the video feed (to an IoT server in China). There’s also a stream of the medical monitor data. Jesus records and loops both.
Jade waits in the car while the others go in, looking like a couple with Juan as an estate agent. Most of the locks are already open; and it’s very hot inside, even more so in the master bedroom where Raoul is restrained. Juan gets the restraints open while Natasha evaluates his condition – very hot and dehydrated – and does some emergency healing.
As Natasha removes the lines, Raoul starts to wake up. Juan checks the kit: it’s all from Baptist Medical Center Beaches, a few years old but new enough to be Internet-linkable.
Juan gets Raoul dressed (he has no obvious scars, but some small electrical burns consistent with interrogation) and walks him out, and the others leave too, Natasha belatedly searching for magic (none) and cleaning up any DNA.
Natasha does some dating of events. The medical kit was set up last Wednesday (before Raoul went missing), and he was put there in the small hours of Sunday morning.
Raoul’s story, told to Jade, is that he had a date with a theatre chick (whom he met after the last job, on the beach), and they were drinking… and it must have been spiked, and there was a lot of hot and painful… She calls Duane to come over.
Watching the room at the time Raoul was brought in, Natasha sees him being carried by a shaven-headed, swastika-tattooed, biker or very dedicated biker cosplayer, who puts him in the bed, restrains him, hooks all the equipment up in a professional manner, and goes away. Jade and Jesus reckon that the tattoos would be consistent with the Warlocks MC. (Who have multiple chapters, though this isn’t an area where they’re particularly active.)
Raoul is very hungry, and the group goes for food. The theater chick was called “Ophelia”, and kind of gothy-looking. Natasha tries to dig into the post-drugging memories; most of the time he was left alone, but at least twice someone came in and tortured him (two different people, neither of whom was the biker.) The team starts to speculate about a recreational torture club. Natasha asks him to sketch them, and gets his hazy images of them. There’s also a selfie of “Ophelia”.
Tracing her through social media is rather harder. There are several candidates. Mind you, only one of them is attached to headlines saying “hunt for missing UNF student enters third week”. She’s called Megan Knight; the photo is without makeup, presumably got from her parents, but Raoul reckons it might be her…
(26 August 2020)
Jesus breaks into Baptist Beaches’ email records; it looks as if the missing equipment had been decommissioned and left in a storeroom, and six months later (two weeks ago, 24 September) when someone came to dispose of it it wasn’t there. There’s enough missing that there might be a second bed set up in a similar way. The hospital has made an insurance claim, and been paid, after the usual level of argument.
Natasha looks for Ophelia, using the selfie. She’s not within 300 miles, living or undead. Looking for her body doesn’t return anything either.
The selfie has been entirely scrubbed of metadata. The photo on the news site is about nine months old, and the location on that is consistent with Megan’s home. Jesus does notice that the article describes her as an engineering major, rather than a theatre one.
While whoever’s doing this will now know about the site the team visited, they set up an image with various game pieces to be unique and distinctive – so if they see another camera, they can show it this and try to find a screen showing the image at the other end.
Natasha tries to scry for the biker. He’s not alive or undead within 300 miles, either. Looking for the dead face says it’s somewhere within about a twenty mile diameter, but can’t pin it down. (Which might be something very like that person, such as an accurate full-head mask.)
She moves to a new site, and tries again with a bit more oomph. The viewpoint is dark. When she moves away, she finds she’s in a garage with a crack of sunlight coming under the door. Moving away from that spot shows that the thing she found was in a metal chest of shallow drawers, maybe a tool chest or something of that sort. There are also some glass carboys of chemicals, and a basic workbench, but it’s pretty bare. Looking outside shows that it’s one of a block of garages in a U-Stor Self Storage; she can get the location fairly accurately, and they drive past to verify this.
Jesus takes a pass at U-Stor’s web site, but they don’t have on-line booking or anything that would give him an easy way in. The franchisee at this one is “Wilson and Lane”, and they claim to have resident on-site managers.
The easiest way in seems to be to rent a unit, and Juan does this, with a burner phone and a false address. This is mostly an excuse to sign forms that get put in the big ring binder, and get some of Natasha’s tagged ink into it, though he also gets the customer briefing on how the alarm and access procedures work. His sense of smell tells him that there’s often a dog here, though without a fence round the property it’s probably not free-ranging even at night.
Natasha checks the binder. The relevant unit is rented to Marcus Burns of All Florida Legal Clinics, which is quite close by; he’s paid cash, and he rented it two weeks ago, so there’s no expectation yet that he’ll pay more. AFLC looks from a quick drive-by very much like a one-person operation, between a tattoo parlour and a vape shop. Marcus does appear on the Florida Bar list, so he’s a lawyer in good standing.
(9 September 2020)
Natasha scries again for the biker’s face, this time in flattened form, and with dark vision; it’s where it was, still connected to the rest of the body, and submerged in fluid of some sort, contained in a plastic box within the drawer.
Moving the viewpoint away, this is indeed the same place. She goes through the other drawers looking for other skins; she spots a middle-aged, balding white man and a young blonde woman (probably not either Ophelia or Tiffany Adams), and prints their flattened faces onto Polaroid plates. None of the skins is visibly cut, and indeed the closest thing any of them has to a wound is the tattoos on the biker. Other drawers contain clothes that seem appropriate to each of them.
The chemicals are bulk acetic acid, and some more obscure things – nothing explicitly illegal, and it’s probably all been sourced from bulk chemical supply houses, though possibly it should be stored more carefully. She passes on the names to Jesus, who can’t find anything that would use all of them, though some of them figure in hunters’ field-expedient pelt preservation recipes.
Jesus looks for the chemicals in the context of occult legendry, but all he comes up with is some Eastern European legendry about a body-stealing demon that can be spotted by the smell of vinegar – and the penanggalan of course.
Natasha searches for the flattened face of “Ophelia”… and the magic goes wrong, and she experiences the sensation of being ground up into small pieces and flushed down a drain. Jesus is going to need to clean his car again.
The group retires to Jade’s place to dig into skin-changer lore. The Diné skinwalker is the most obvious avenue they haven’t yet explored, and they get some more details on that. There doesn’t seem to be any particular vulnerability that the legends talk about. On the Eastern European side, one story specifically mentions torturing people to death, though not why. They certainly seem to have at least some of the memories of their victims.
The party plans to lay an ambush at the storage unit. Juan will set up as a window-washer at the barrier, in the hope of smelling vinegar. The night clerk tries to shoo him off, saying that only about three or four people are likely to turn up anyway, but is persuaded that Juan won’t be a problem (and offered a free car wash). Jade gets into position in a tree, and Jesus is nearby in his car.
A couple of people turn up during the evening, not smelling of vinegar.
 Section: 1.05 Beneath the Skin Up Section: 1.05 Beneath the Skin Subsection: Wednesday 9 October 2019