[This thread shall chronicle the story of Crime Grandma— more formally known as Melinda Fitzmaurice, 59, a horrible old woman who hurts people for fun. A brigand, a thief, a liar and an unrepentant murderer, Melinda often finds herself in all manner of dangerous and outlandish situations, and these tales of mischief and mayhem shall be primarily relayed here. Mild to major embellishment or outright revisionism of true events may have taken place at one point or another. On a somewhat more serious note, this is my first time writing something like this for these forums— I hope I’m not in breach of any unspoken rules, and I hope that you all enjoy what I’ve written. We shall begin with…]
CRIME GRANDMA GOES ZAILING
May 19th, 1896, Afternoon
Murray and Sons Books and Paper was a tidy little cubby-hole of a shop, a few street-corners west of Mahogany Hall. Nestled into what was possibly once an apartment and more likely once some form of sophisticated rat nest, it was dominated by crooked shelves competing for limited floor-space, bowing under the weight of dozens of penny-dreadfuls and questionable poetries. It was cheaply-lit, always higher in stock than in demand, and staffed primarily by either Murray, who was nearly blind, or his sons, who didn’t particularly care what happened in the shop as long as they were permitted to go home and take honey at the end of the day.
The shop saw very little theft. Most thieves either didn’t care for the particular kind of book that Murray and Sons sold, or possessed enough shame to know when “easy” became “too easy.”
Melinda Fitzmaurice walked through the door, opened her purse, dumped about nine books in, and walked out the door without so much as reading the sign on it.
Walking back to her flat after a long and arduous day of doing much the same thing to a variety of establishments, Melinda considered her score from Murray and Sons. Kindling, kindling, kindling, switch out for the Bible at the nearest chapel just before Mass oh wouldn’t that be rich, kindling— ooh! She plucked one battered book from within the cavernous depths of her handbag, recognizing the author’s name inscribed on the binding. Yes—this was Love Upon The Savage Zee, by Winifred Abbot Winslow—or as Melinda’s literature-inclined acquaintances called her, “The Word-Butcher!” Her works held an inverse prestige as among the worst in London, and Melinda was not about to miss out on some high-and-mighty mocking. She dashed through the door to her building, crossed the brief lobby, and darted up the stairs to her room.
This would be good.
May 20th, 1896, Just After Midnight
Why was this good?
Melinda sat curled on one corner of her bed, surrounded by a long row of wilting candles. She read with fervor. As the bitter sea rose, I understood finally the gravity of this situation mine. “Berthenow!” I yowled for my love, heart like a churning omnibus. No. No, no, no. This was supposed to be bad! It was bad! ‘Like a churning omnibus-‘ Melinda tossed her book across the room, knocking over a gaudy vase. She crossed her arms. It was horrible, dreadful literature, something a decently intelligent badger could have written. But she found herself inclined to uncross her aching legs, collect the book, and find her page again. Why?
Maybe it was the protagonist—fair young Theodorica, passionate and fragile. Melinda had been fair and young, at one point, and in fact still liked to think of herself as such. (What she did to those who implied otherwise, anyway, is best left unmentioned in polite company.) She was certainly passionate. And she made a decent amount of her rent off pretending fragility! Melinda paused, and then almost chuckled. No. It wasn’t the protagonist.
Maybe it was her lover, then, the muscular Berthenow. Very muscular. In fact, when Melinda considered Berthenow, she found herself hard-pressed to find any adjective for him other than “muscular.” She gave a mental humbug. If she wanted muscular and not much else, Clay Men were easy enough to find.
What Melinda found herself returning to most often, in fact, was the author’s descriptions of the zee. A vast expanse of green-black water, rippling like glass across a giant’s back, rife with monster and sea-bandit a-score, pitched moonish by the weird glow of the almost-stars…. She wasn’t sure what “like glass across a giant’s back” was really supposed to mean. But the image held in her mind. It seemed very much to her like a place she might want to go.
Yes. Yes, that was it!
Melinda snapped up from her bed in a rush, sending candles—some of which were lit—hurtling toward the curtains. She collected a small suitcase from beneath the bed and stuffed it liberally with assorted clothes before snatching her handbag, popping her dentures back into her mouth, and rushing out the door of her flat, which was by then quite on fire.
That next morning at Wolfstack, the HMS Sir Henry Hudson’s crew nursed their hangovers as they piled their ship with an assortment of supplies—flour, clothing, medicines and tonics, various funging tools—bound for their destination of Demeaux Island. One man sprained a wrist when some crates of dried fruit proved heavier than he’d thought, but outside of that, the work was a standard drudgery. The captain went around inspecting knots and beleaguering men for their tardiness, despite being almost half an hour ahead of schedule. The ship blasted out of port at seven o’ clock sharp, thirteen souls aboard.
From inside her crate, Melinda gnawed on a plantain chip.
May 25th, 1896, Late Morning
Near Demeaux Island
Captain Beaufort Worth of the HMS Delight was not what most would call an attractive man. His face was a harsh and angular affair, similar in shape to a brick, and his ascending years had snared it with the deep ruts of well-set wrinkles. A knife fight in his early career had laid several wide scars along his lips. His beard would have improved matters somewhat, if he’d treated it to more than its annual grooming schedule.
Captain Beaufort Worth, therefore, was brought to a broad and yellow grin by the delightful lady who’d been clinging to his arm since they’d left port at Demeaux Island. As he gave the deck a perfunctory march, he bellowed a dirge of a sea shanty, grinning even wider as his new mistress gave a tidy laugh. His crew followed along with a wince. The bo’sun received a clap between the shoulders for failing to do so. The chief engineer quietly darted below decks. The helmsman stifled a question as to where, exactly, they were going. The mistress laughed again, and to Beaufort, little else mattered.
She wrested her arm from his and hopped along the deck, snapping her fingers. Beaufort frowned for a moment, but this was dashed by her voice: “A picture!” she cried, dashing into her purse. “I must take a picture of you with my Newman box! How delightful this moment is- I’ll remember it for the whole remainder of my years!”
“Oh, don’t say such things, my darling!” said Captain Worth. “You don’t look a day over forty!”
His mistress laughed and, had Beaufort been more experienced in such matters, he might’ve noticed it was almost identical to the last five laughs she’d given him. She pointed to the portside railing behind him, near the bow. “There—lean against that railing! Hard as you can! Look as noble as you may!”
The captain kissed his new mistress firmly just above the eyebrow, rolled his sleeves up to just below his elbow, and marched to the portside rail, leaning with his arms splayed along the top rung, smirking face angled towards the bow of the ship.
For a few uncomfortable moments, the captain’s lover continued to dig around in her purse. What eventually emerged from the purse, however, was not a Newman box.
It was a gun.
Two bullets and a splash later, and Captain Beaufort Worth was quite dead.
Melinda gave a smile—this one was real. Hm. Seven, then? She mused. Six, maybe. Didn’t quite make certain with that footman.
Melinda looked up. Every set of eyeballs above decks was on her, now. For a moment, all were silent.
“Well,” Melinda said, pivoting to face the majority of the crew. “That was quite the sad little affair, hm? Wish it could’ve been done another way, but—mum! Needed the ship! Now, as your captain, I feel I have some requests to make. First order of business, if you’d show me to the captain’s bunk, I have some—“
“Wait. Wait!” cried one zailor, a gaunt man in a pointed cap. “You’re not captain!”
“Of course I am you dunce!” Melinda said, sighing as she spoke. “I killed the last captain. Therefore, I’m the new captain. Standard nautical law. Now—”
“That’s not right!” The bo’sun said, shaking her head. The other zailors began to hum and ha in agreement. The man in the cap nodded, and continued: “There’s a very specific chain of command in these events! I’m first mate, which—which makes me captain now, in this circumstance. Not you! In fact, what you’ve done—that’s called mutiny! Altogether different thing!”
Melinda grimaced to herself as the voices rose. Had Love Upon The Savage Zee been wrong? She blinked it out of her system and shouted above the mounting crew. “Ah, but you see! I have a gun and you don’t! That means, I’m captain!”
“I have a gun.” The first mate said, drawing a pistol.
“As do I!” said the gunnery officer, drawing his.
“I—“ the bo’sun patted her coat, wincing. “Wait. Could I go and get mine?”
“You absolutely may not!” Melinda cried, gesticulating her pistol hand in the bo’sun’s general direction. Several zailors ducked.
“That’s irrelevant- this is already over!” said the first mate, stepping forward and levelling his weapon. “We have two guns, you have one. It’s simple mathematics. Surrender now, and you can at least expect a fair trial back in London.”
Melinda fell silent, thinking again. After a moment’s pause, she extended both her hands at chest level— one with its palm out flat, the other tightly gripping her revolver.
“Both of you.” She said. “Give me your guns.”
They both blinked. The gunnery officer began to lean forward—but the first mate blocked him with a hand.
“Do not do that!” he shouted. “Why would you do that?! If you do that, she will shoot you!”
“I won’t.” Melinda said, shaking her head.
“Give me your gun, then, you little b-----d! I’ll prove it!”
“Fine!” The first mate said, lobbing his gun at her feet. Then, “wait, why did—“
One shot later, the first mate was yowling as he clutched his lower chest. Melinda and the gunnery officer held their guns in both hands, tightly, arms shaking, barrels pointed at each other’s foreheads. Zailors rushed in each direction. A cry for the surgeon. A flash of gray steel—
—And Melinda was hit in the head by a flying wrench.
All eyes turned to the chief engineer, having just returned above decks.
“Huh.” She said. And then she went back down to keep working on the engine.
May 25th, 1896, Evening
As the HMS Delight rested in its moors, the air aboard was sombre. The bo’sun had volunteered to try and badger the locals for spare supplies, and the rest of the crew busied itself with simple games in the galley. The cook dealt cards from a withered pack. A small cushioned bench was laid out, and the first mate (or rather, captain) was brought to lay on it, adorned in fresh bandages, and play with his new crew.
“How should we tell his wife?” he said, grunting occasionally from the pain just below his diaphragm. “Well, perhaps omit the mistress part, but—well… hm.”
The room fell silent again. Hands were dealt, bit by bit, with little fanfare. Eventually, the gunnery officer knocked on the door.
“Ah.” He said. “Mitch—er, cap’n, sir.”
“Y’know how you told me, ah, to take the mutineer and lock her in the brig?”
“I did do that, yes.” The captain squinted.
“Well, I did that, and I made sure to lock the door, like you said, and I told ‘er we’d turn her into rubbery lumps if she so much as thought about breakin’ out, like you said.”
“Alright.” The squint was unbroken.
“But, y’see, the funny thing—“
“Oh dear Lord.” The captain said, balling his fists. “She’ll have headed for the island by now! I’ve heard the stories about this place, its rituals and its masks—if she manages to get one on and switch with someone—“ he tried and failed to sit up. “Fetch the bo’sun—scour the island! We can’t let that hag escape!”
The gunnery officer nodded, saluted, nodded again, and barrelled up the stairs above decks.
Meanwhile, within the Customs Office, the bo’sun examined a jar of pickled crab legs.
“Hm. They’re good n’ long, I’ll give you that.” She said, nibbling on the tip of one. “But they’re not particularly filling, is the thing—quite difficult to eat. And they do taste like they’ve been digested prior.” She tapped a fist on the surface of the table. “Tenth of an echo by the jar. Take it or leave it.”
Her haggling partner stood on the other side of the table. They were wearing a white shawl and a mask in the shape of a moon-moth’s head. “Hm.”
“Hm?” The bo’sun inquired. “Just ‘hm?’ You can’t go around making deals based on ‘hm’s, sorry. I’ll need an affirmative, or a negative!”
There was a moment’s rest. The moth mask was not particularly expressive. “Three tenths per jar."
“Robbery!” cried the bo’sun, lashing an accusatory finger. “Highway robbery!”
At that moment, the gunnery officer barrelled panting through the office door, followed closely by two thirds of the crew. He came to lean against the table, nearly breaking several sealed jars. “Enough—wait, what was that about robbery?”
The bo’sun looked stunned. “It—it was a figure of—“ her voice grew quieter, “was I really that loud?”
“No.” The gunnery officer shook his head. “Forget about it, just—the prisoner’s escaped. You seen any shifty figures around here?” The gunnery officer squinted at the Moon Moth, but quickly filed his suspicions away. Too tall.
“Escaped!” shouted the bo’sun. “Only one way she could’ve gone—and if she’s already on the island—we’ve got to find her before it’s too late!” She rushed to a side wall, where three masks hung: one bat, one locust, and one frog. She gestured behind her to the Moon Moth. “This… thing, said we need to wear these masks to go onto the island. How does it go again….” Locust is hungry, bat dies, frog is… frog? The bo’sun snatched the locust for herself, struggling to slide it on—her mother had always told her she’d had an oddly-shaped head. She’d never liked her mother. She passed the frog mask on to the gunnery officer, who squinted but slipped it on. The ship’s cook stepped forward from the crowd of zailors and helped himself to the bat mask.
“Ah—that might not be the best idea—“ said the bo’sun.
“Ah, don’t worry!” said the cook. “I’m quite fond of bats!”
Much to their shipmate’s chagrin, these were the only masks available—dreams of improvised masks were quickly dashed when a shirt with eye holes chewed out of it was declared inadequate. The three masked shipmates walked alone into Visage proper, and quickly skulked off towards a nearby building, glancing around for familiar characters.
Well, two of them did, anyway.
“Quite the arrangement you folks have- gk!” went the cook, lingering near the Customs Office. He’d been rudely interrupted by a dagger to the windpipe.
“Apologies, figured I’d get that out of the way.” Moon Moth said to him, their voice level as he drowned in his own blood. “Something tells me that this will be a long night.” Then, they shuffled after the other two visitors.
They tucked into the first building, a strange open chamber littered with offerings and flooded by water. “This,” said the Moon Moth as they arrived, “is the Flood Court. Offerings are made—“
“Good, good.” The gunnery officer went, a little unnerved by the croaking drone that the mask funnelled his voice into. “All well and good, but, can you tell us, where you think this person we’re looking for might have gone?”
“Did anyone come in just before me, in fact?” offered the bo’sun, from behind her faux-mandibles.
In one corner of the room, a figure in a jackal mask turned towards them, watching intently. The Moon Moth spoke slowly. “Perhaps you do not understand. Such is not the purpose of this place, nor the purpose of you being here—“
The bo’sun’s eyes widened and she grabbed the gunnery officer by a lapel, attempting to whisper into his ear. “It’s that one— in the jackal mask! Look at how it’s watching us. Wait, what if it’s the Moon Moth? Seems awfully intent about not helping us properly!”
“Can’t be the Moon Moth.” Said the gunnery officer. “Too tall.”
“What if she found a set of heeled shoes?” The bo’sun offered.
“Oh God, what if she did….”
“I can hear you, you know that, right?” The Moon Moth said.
“Too late! We know it’s you!” The bo’sun cried. The gunnery officer drew his revolver; the bo’sun patted her jacket and grunted in frustration before soundly punching the Moon Moth in the chin.
The mask broke into three pieces.
The face beneath was that of a woman in her senior years, yes— but it was not one either of them recognized. She landed hard against the marbled floor, letting out a brief cry of pain, before glancing to the Jackal with wide eyes and scurrying out the door.
Luckily for her, the Jackal—and the Crocodile, and the Cobra, and the Scarab—were all rather preoccupied with the visitors. Each one drew a gleaming curved knife.
“Hold on.” The gunnery officer said. “I might’ve forgotten to bring bullets.”
Melinda rubbed the welt on her forehead as she sat at the edge of the zee, nestled between a black-barked palm tree and the crumbling village wall. She was reasonably certain that no one would see her for the time being. She’d removed her shoes, and was dipping her toes tentatively in the cold green water as she contemplated her journey. This whole affair was very different from what she’d been hoping for. If she couldn’t just go around killing zee-captains and commandeering their ships, what was even the point of zailing? Furthermore, was she stuck here? She would very much prefer to not be stuck here.
There was a great shuffling of feet and cacophony of voices—in her peripheral vision, Melinda saw movement aboard the Desire. She tucked herself more firmly into her corner as most of the ship’s crew ploughed out onto the wharf, before hurrying up towards the Customs Office. Good, thought Melinda. They’re onto me, but not quite on. (Melinda had, admittedly, gone to the Customs Office as her first move; she’d just taken one look at the Moon Moth, turned, and walked right back out the door. She wasn’t terribly fond of masks unless she was the one wearing them, and she wasn’t terribly fond of moths at all.)
She’d just begun to relax again when someone hopped the wall not four feet behind her. Melinda started, spinning around the palm tree and drawing the fishing knife she’d gained in her escape. What she found was not a burly zailor, endeavouring to her capture. What she found was a woman about her age, panting raggedly and slumped against the wall. She was taller than Melinda, but a fair bit skinnier, and seemingly unarmed.
“Who the hell are you?” Melinda asked.
The stranger glanced at her, as if just noticing she was there. Her face was narrow and sweaty, and pale even by Neathy standards, with a prominent nose pressed raw in a strange pattern, like one’s ankles might be by a tight pair of socks. Her chin, Melinda noticed, was also beginning to bruise from some recent blow. If it came to a wrestling match, she’d keep that in mind.
The stranger panted.
“I said—who the hell are you?”
“Emile.” The stranger said. “My name is Emile.” She said her own name as if it were a complex word in a foreign language.
“Alright.” Melinda said. “You going to try anything?”
Emile blinked for a moment. “No?”
“Alright. Any valuables? Hand over your valuables. Give me your valuables.” She poked her with a finger and menaced with the knife.
Emile winced. “I don’t… have any.”
Melinda would normally have stabbed her then, but didn’t see the point. The woman certainly didn’t look like she had anything valuable. She looked like an unfortunate from a Hugo novel.
Melinda stood, groaning as her knees berated her, and stretched briefly before stepping over Emile and heading towards the Desire. She ought to get back to the ship before the crew-at-large did—she might at least be able to ambush a couple before they all shot her to death, in that case.
Emile stood, with roughly equivalent pain, and followed.
“Stop. Stop that.” Melinda said, waving her knife behind her. “Stay back.”
“I was a… a zailor. A long time ago… before any of this.” Emile said, gazing towards the ship. “Do you think they’d take me on board?”
“No. Go away.”
“Are you a zailor?” Emile started, taking a step backwards. “You don’t… look like one.”
Melinda froze. Then she smiled. Then she giggled, and span around to face Emile. Emile took another several steps backwards at this. “Alright, changed my mind, come along!” Melinda said.
“I have a knife! Don’t ask questions!”
Inside the Customs Office, an argument had begun to take place, largely between the third mate (now second mate) and a particularly loud coalman. One party declared that their investigators were taking too long, and that the most sensible decision was to return to the ship, crack open the weapons locker, and storm Visage by force, butchering anyone who got in their way. The other claimed that this was ludicrous and bound to get them all killed, and that the most sensible solution was instead to go back to the ship, splice the old mainbrace, bring the remaining liquor over for the Visagers to drink, and by the time all was said and done, they’d be far too drunk to care about this whole strange business with the masks. Then they’d crack open the weapons locker, storm Visage by force, and butcher anyone who got in their way.
Further details are unimportant. The point was, this conversation was quite loud and quite engrossing— so much so, in fact, that the zailors within did not notice when the anchor was raised on the HMS Desire—and they only barely noticed when the engine was called to start, and they only really fully noticed that something was wrong once the HMS Desire had begun to zail crudely away, spinning and jumping at odd angles, dragging its still-extended gangplank along the dock, before finally breaking away from Visage and onto the wide black zee.
They’d be eating a lot of pickled crab legs, that night.