Dresden Files: Venice
Old Debts, Old Friends
The annual police charity ball is taking place this year in the Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto, after a few last minute hiccups at the normal venue, the Hotel Italia (they had a bad rodent infestation apparantly). Amongst the guests are Dolores Alegra Malspina who is accompanying Inspector Masa Ursetta, and Luca Porrini who has a ticket courtesy of his girlfriend Svetlana Korai whose dance troupe Masquerade are performing. Sitting through the opening dinner, Dolores and Luca have distinctly different meals; with Dolores on a table comprised of senior police officers and their wives, where she manages to make polite conversation and avoid any discussion of her relationship with the Inspector. Luca meanwhile was seated on a table with the dancers partners / significant others (six men and two women), where the wine and conversation flowed much more freely, making it a pleasant and enlightening experience. With dinner complete the guests move from the Tiepolo room to another stateroom where the first entertainment of the evening was due. On que, Masquerade made their entrance, provocatively weaving between the tables and teasing the guests. Luca found himself in the envidious position of having a scantily dressed woman, whom he thought at the time was Svetlana Korai, plant herself in his lap and wriggle, only later did he find out how wrong he was! To hoots, hollers and whistles, the girls performance went down very well with the younger members of the audience, and was a least tolerated by the more staid members of the gathered constabulary. With the last strains of the music dieing away, and only a trace of scent left to mark the dancers passing, the evenings compare invited the guests to join him in the Alcova. With everyone finally gathered, there was a flash of smoke and out stepped the traditionally dressed magician, his face obscured by a the Mask of the Harlequin. Puzzled, Dolores was sure she recognised the mask, but could not remember why, or where from. Meanwhile the magician launched into the swords and box routine, inviting Luca onto the small stage to check both the box and the very sharp swords. His assistant appeared moments later from behind a curtain, a position Luca was failry sure she could not have hidden in. Securing her within the box, the magician preceeded to thrust more than thirty swords through the box, before with a flourish dissapearing behind the cabinet. The following silence dragged on for several minutes till eventually one policeman stepped up to open the cabinet, revealing the assistant dead, her body impaled by the swords and blood pouring out. A chorus of “Police, Nobody move!” was not the end to the evening most expected.
Having given his statement Luca Porrini headed through the chaos to find Svetlana Korai who was upstairs in the assigned dressing area, sharing a bedroom / changing area with half a dozen of the other dancers including Rachelle Lenco with whom Luca had a close encounter earlier in the evvening. There is little investigating he can do in the bedlam back stage, but he does discover that the magician had no changing room, arriving fully dressed and masked just before the perfromance. Instead he waits for her to change before the pair make a quick exit. Meanwhile Inspector Masa Ursetta escorts Dolores Alegra Malspina through the myriad of questioning policeman and quickly home via a water taxi.
Moving through the darkened Ponte Antico shop Dolores Alegra Malspina notes a strange flickering light, but as she approaches it fades away. Checking through the shop records, Dolores discovers that ‘’according to Uncle Guilios notes’’ the Mask of the Harlequin was made by a Malspina ancestor for a minor noblemam Ilario Mortinengo in the 1860’s. It’s function, to render the wearer completely non-descript. She goes to bed distinctly concerned.
Nina DaCosta is already at the Ponte Antico shop when Gina Tortelli arrives the following morning. She has already heard of the murder last night, and Gina notes she has a new dress on today. Going online, Gina discovers the police are not releasing many details, but that the incident has been linked to a number of others including one in Florence and one in Rome within the last year. Having chatted to Dolores Alegra Malspina, Gina then looks into Ilario Mortinengo, finding only that he was born in 1863, and has no noted date of death. Having taken a lazy morning with Svetlana Korai, Luca Porrini arrives after lunch and he ad Gina continue the research discovering that the Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto was once owned by the Mortinengo family. It’s at this point that Nina DaCosta pops in, she can now communicate with the shop ghost Claudia De Tisi Mortinengo. Asked if she knows whether she is dead, Nina DaCosta comments she has screamed and dissapeared, so probably!
Intrigued as to who the magicians assistant was, Luca Porrini puts the word out and finally arranges to meet a contact Nunzio Arbatti as he leaves work at the coroners office. From him he learns the victim was Gisella Capardi, as suspected she died from over two dozen sword blows, with no obvious sign of drugs in her system. Luca also learns that the coroners office is heavily overworked, with over seventy bodies in storage including three that were pulled out of the canal. Calling the shop, Luca tells Gina Tortelli what he has discovered, she does a search and notes that amongst the girls Gisella Capardi beat in the paegant a few years ago was Delphina Tormelli, probable daughter of Don Joseph Tormelli!.
!!! Part Two
Nina DaCosta and Gina Tortelli are just closing up at the Ponte Antico shop when Inspector Masa Ursetta enters with a large bunch of flowers. The girls head out to the back to make coffee as Dolores Alegra Malspina comes down to the shop to accept the Inspector’s flowers and apologies for the poor end to their evening last night. Chatting with Inspector Masa Ursetta Dolores discovers that few people could remember any details of the masked magician (unsurprisingly given the properties of the Mask of the Harlequin). Dolores helpfully sketches the mask, and provides a list of Venetian mask makers that may know about it. Additionally she promises (with her fingers crossed) to check the shop records for any details of its construction. The conversation drifts (with Dolores gentle prompting) to other details of the evening, with the Inspector revealing Gisella Capardi‘s identity and the fact she was hired two days earlier at an audition at the local dance school she attended. Promising Dolores dinner as an apology for last night, the Inspector departs. Having done further research, Gina informs them that Claudia De Tisi Mortinengo was a victim of the massacre the night they attacked the Drone queen, and that probably she was a victim of Hector. This leads to a discussion as to how to get rid of the killer automotan. Just then the front door opens (but it was locked), Gina goes downstairs to investigate and encounters the Magician (Ilario Mortinengo). He politely asks to see Dolores, and when she appears he offers her a leather pouch. Checking the shop records she discovers the price for the mask was an amount of gold and ’The Heart of Luca De Tisi’, apparantly he has settled the bill. Nervously they watch him depart, and Gina moves smartly to ensure the door is firmly secured. Googling Luca De Tisi, Gina finds two entires a 19th century Venetian buisnessman and a modern day gondolier, Claudia De Tisi Mortinengo’s uncle (that family it seems is having a bad month!). Dolores suspects that her ancestor wanted the heart for a love spell of some description.
Luca Porrini arrives at the Ponte Antico shop just as Gina Tortelli and Dolores Alegra Malspina finish manouvering Hector into a basement storeroom and surrounding him with a very thick circle of salt. Upstairs Gina attempts a divination spell using the bag that Ilario Mortinengo handed the heart of Luca De Tisi over in. ‘Now you see me, now you don’t’, ‘sociopathic serial killer’ and ‘lethal strike’ were not the most comforting responses she could have recieved in compensation for the ‘’mild headache’’ the magic caused her. Meanwhile Luca does some online detctive work, finding four other possible victims of Ilario Mortinengo, three with the family name Mortinengo, he strongly suspects a family feud and possibly some paid work. Realising they have still not determined how Gisella Capardi appeared in the Alcova, the three decide to pay the room a return visit later that night.
!!! Part Three
In the darkness of the late night / early morning Luca Porrini leads Gina Tortelli and Dolores Alegra Malspina across the courtyard and up to the ‘’unsecured side window’’ he had noticed on his earlier visit. With Dolores hidden by her ‘veils and illusions’, Gina by a temporary mask created by Dolores, and Luca relying on his natural stealth the three slip into the darkened Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto. By the dimest of torchlight (electric) the three slip through the building heading for the Alcova. They are forced to take cover for a few minutes when DS Bopo Orbel passes by, but with their supernatural assistance make it without any real difficulty. Examining the area around the curtain where Gisella Capardi appeared from, Luca notes an unusual crack in the frame; a little pushing and pulling later, it slips aside to reveal a secret passageway; with a girls footprints still clearly visible in the dust of the floor. With Luca in the lead, and Dolores bringing up the rear, the three enter the very narrow passage and follow the footsteps back along it. Along the passage, up a set of stairs, and a dozen yards further on, the tracks finally exit through another concealed door. Opening it cautiously the three emerge into an ornate bathroom, where they suspect Gisella Capardi changed for the show. A search around reveals no further clues and they decide to follow the passages to see where else they may lead. Twenty minutes later they emerge into an old fashioned bedroom, complete with antique dresser, four poster bed, wardrobe and curtained window. Both Dolores and Gina feel a little disconcerted by the door and when they turn round to find it has been replaced by a guilded mirror, their worst fears are confirmed, they have slipped though into the Nevernever. Peeping out of the window, Gina spots a creature with large hands and too many limbs, wearing a frock coat and top hat, dragging a gasping woman across the cobbles, and leaving a bloody smear in her wake. She rapidly closes the curtains when it turns to look at her! As they discuss what to do next, footsteps approach and the door is opened, Gina and Luca dive under the bed whilst Dolores remains motionless, relying on her magic to remain unseen. Dressed in an elegant full ballgown, the woman limps slowly across from the door to the table, where she sits, and removes her mask, revealing a face part skeletal with damage and decay. Dolores manages to stifle a gasp at the sight. Without turning, the woman opens a conversation with her, enquiring after a moment whether she would assist with the laces of her gown. Dolores does so, and during their conversation gets the distinct impression that the woman thinks she is dead. They agree to exchange names, and the woman identifies herself as Lady Bettina Mortinengo. As her dress comes off her body shows further signs of damage, part of her torso is missing and a special corset is all that keeps her chest and ribs together. Remembering her manners, and feeling she might need the backup, Dolores calls Gina and Luca out from under the bed. Bettina Mortinengo ducks behind her dressing screen to pull on a robe and simple mask, leaving her ornate costume mask on the table. As the guarded conversation continues, it becomes apparant that Bettina Mortinengo believes the group are also dead, when she discovers this not to be true, she indicates that “uncle Ilario” would be very unhappy about this. Dolores picks up the ornate white mask she was wearing, examining it with some curiosity. There is a howling from elsewhere in the house and the three decide it is time to leave. As the thundering of paws draws closer, Gina’s magic opens a passage out of the Nevernever, and Luca hauls everyone through, including Dolores who is still holding the white mask. Gina is ‘’haemoragging blood’’ due to her exertions and the group pause to clean her up before rushing along the passage. Behind them the creature rips through into reality to follow them, arriving back at the bathroom the group prepare to burst in, only to find DS Bopo Orbel is busy there! With nowehere to run the group turn to face the creature, Luca stepping in front of the ladies, and looking for room in which to fight. Walking astride the walls the creature appears, lithe black and with a narrow head on a long neck, armed with fearsome teeth.
!!! Part Four
The creature lurches forward with blistering speed, ripping at Luca Porrini with its teeth and leaving a moderate ‘’chest wound’‘. Claws out, Luca retailiates cutting into its skull and leaving a mild ’’slash to the head’’. Understanding it ‘’Sees only the blood’‘, Dolores Alegra Malspina conjures forth a wash of blood covering it and leaving it ’’Blood Blinded’’. Despite that Gina Tortelli‘s solidified ice crystals slam just past it punching into the lathe and plaster wall. Lashing out, it narrowly misses Luca, who dishes out a serious ’’fractured skull’’ for its pains. Finallly Gina boils the blood pouring across its head, and Dolores conjures acid to complete the task and the creature collapses dead to the floor. Breathing heavily the group pause as just the other side of the wall the toliet flushes and amazingly DS Bopo Orbel notices nothing as he collects his paper and heads back out to patrol the building. Dolores collects a few choice bits for her magic collection before the group stuff the remains of the creature into Gina’s all encompassing bag, and make a swift exit and return to the Ponte Antico shop.
Having cleaned themselves up, Gina Tortelli and Dolores Alegra Malspina consider what they hvae learnt, it appears the Nevernever in the area of the Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto reflects a twisted verson of the real Venice influenced by the warped mind of Ilario Mortinengo, and that the portal they stepped through could be natural or created by him. With little more to do that night, Luca and Gina head home leaving Dolores to lock up before bed.
Gina Tortelli arrives a few minutes before 9am, to find Nina DaCosta has already opened up and is cleaning the display cabinets. Noting she still wears the black enamel choker, Gina asks Nina DaCosta about it, and is told it was inherited from her uncle, something she does not entirely believe. However she cannot press the questions further as at that point a tall man in a white suit enters. Greeting Nina DaCosta, who recognises him as Cesare Domino, he asks to speak with Dolores Alegra Malspina. Gina’s assesment of him as a ‘’hired killer’’ does little to calm her nerves, although she does relax a little, when handing over his card to Dolores she relises he is the warden of the White Council from Florence (obviously Nina DaCosta knew him as she was brought before him when her gift became known). Retiring with Dolores to her office, Cesare Domino asks a series of probing questions about the amount of bodies that have recently turned up in Venice. Dolores decides the truth is safest and tells him about the drones and the destruction of the hive (although she does leave out Hector’s potential involvement). He in turn tells her Ilario Mortinengo is on the council’s hit list and any member is authorised to kill him on sight. Cesare Domino is also personally interested in any information Dolores has about Catarina, and she tells him she will do what she can in that respect. As he leaves, Dolores seriously contemplates dropping his card in the salt cellar!
Dolores Alegra Malspina has barely returned to her workshop to continue work on her commission when Gina Tortelli notices Bettina Mortinengo has appeared in the shop! As Nina DaCosta keeps the other customers distracted, Gina escorts the undead lady to see Dolores. Dolores offers to return the white mask but Bettina Mortinengo delcines, instead accepting Dolores offer of a new mask, custom designed to fit her unusual face. The ladies discuss the details of a half-face mask, and upon an agreement being reached the undead woman simply fades away. However Dolores notes the chair she sat upon has residual body heat, whatever she is, Bettina Mortinengo is more than a ghost!
After a busy night, Luca Porrini is taking a quiet day at home with Svetlana Korai who is very pleased that her dance troupe Masquerade have got several bookings after their opening night at the police ball. She has a rehearsl that evening and a performance at the newly re-opening Hotel Italia tommorrow. Luca also spends some time setting up his PI website and getting entries in various local listings. After lunch he gets his first call, fromm Miss Alessia Agostino who wishes to engage his services, he arranges to meet her at Salute at 3pm.
A busy afternoon at the Ponte Antico shop includes a visit from a man whose appearance has a distracting effect on both Gina Tortelli and Nina DaCosta. Attracting service from both ladies he soons accumulates purchases exceeding a thousand euro’s, and Gina notes he has the aspect ‘’sex appeal on legs’‘. He enquires about a gloss black ladies mask, which Gina vaguely recognises but can’t recall. Gina consults Dolores Alegra Malspina, who remembers the mask, as belonging to Delilah, however when they return to the front of the shop Nina DaCosta‘s attitude to the man has changed markedly to one of distrust and disatse. As Dolores goes to speak with him she sketches a bat to to Gina and indicates the man. Assesing his aspect as she allows him to take her hand, Dolores percieves he is a ’’natural predator’’, and this is enough for her to decide to lie to him and state she does not remember the mask. She does hoever get his name, Sabino Agostino, and they part on good terms. At which point Dolores decidees to clsoe the shop for the evening, and over several bottles of wine she and Gina give Nina DaCosta a brief run-down of the supernatural state of Venice.
Whilst Gina Tortelli attempts a divination and discovers Ilario Mortinengo is ‘’sustained by an enchantment’’, Luca Porrini heads to Salute to meet with Alessia Agostino. She explains she wishes to hire Luca to find a sculptor who lives in Venice. She has several pictures of the sculptors work, much of which has been sold through third parties and discreet auction houses. Luca quotes his rate +50% and she agrees immediately, handing over an envelope of cash and her card with her contact details, before rising elegantly to leave. Luca pockets her coffee cup for the ladies to investigate further later.
Arriving at the Ponte Antico shop, via the gelateria, Luca Porrini presents Gina Tortelli and Dolores Alegra Malspina with pastries and explains his case. Dolores points out the artistic similarities between the photos Luca has and the statue of herself she received anonymously (but suspects is from Delilah), whilst accepting the coffee cup and card from Alessia Agostino, Gina’s divination reveals the aspect ‘’Art for Arts Sake’‘. Investigating a creak on the stairs, Gina gets a vague impression of a shape climbing them, but on dusting the zone with Shake’n’Vac she spots nothing. Fearing more ghosts the three decide on a seance and within a few moments a young woman in a cocktail dress materialises, her head bent unnaturally sideways. She is Claudia DeTisi Mortinengo and it appears she had an unfortunate encounter with Hector. Luca is concerned that she appears rather solid, but Gina and Dolores are more interested in answering her questions about where Nina DaCosta is, and why she herself is here (a bit metaphysical there!). Conversations are disturbed however by the arrival of Ilario Mortinengo, who has come to collect his relative (in the menacing lethal sense). As he draws a wickedly long knife, Gina finally realises he is a spectre – the unliving embodiment of the curse on the Mortinengo family.