This week’s seed is a crime scene for Mutant City Blues. As usual, you will have to tailor the seed to suit your campaign and crew, but enough is provided to get ideas and imagery sprouting. Saturday Seeds appear every Saturday (go figure…) on Casting Shadows. Seeds from the blog also appear on Ancient Scroll.
A volunteer firefighter is murdered while fighting a blaze in a Child Services halfway house. Evidence leads investigators to believe the murder ties into a series of irregularities at other fires over the past few months.
Planting the seed
In Mutant City Blues, planting the seed is easy. The case is assigned with several others and expected to be cleared as quickly as possible. At first, no special attention is placed on the case. Over the course of the next few days, however, it catches on with the media and the brass will begin to pile more and more pressure on.
The Crime is homicide.
Volunteer firefighter Dora Walsh, age 42, mother of 3, failed to exit the blazing building as ordered with the rest of her squad. The man in front of her was certain she was right behind him and was frantic to discover when they got outside that she was not. A relief team was sent in immediately to find her, but was driven out of the structure by the collapse of the top storey, and a flare up in kitchen at the rear of the ground floor. Walsh’s body was not recovered until the blaze was put out, some two hours later.
No suspicion of foul play was detected until the body was found, and even then it was nothing more than an oddity until the medical examiner began her routine investigation and discovered that Walsh had been stabbed in the throat.
The body was found in the basement, in a metal cabinet against the rear wall of the halfway house – roughly under the kitchen. Firefighters on the scene were baffled why she would be in the cabinet, and had difficulty speculating what sort of disorientation would have caused her to climb in there. Debate was still raging 6 hours later when the M.E. notified authorities that the case was now a homicide.
Examination of the scene discovered items in the remains of the top two floors the location of which suggested a hidden stash under the floorboards of the top floor. Although ruined beyond use by the blaze, the contents match the general type of items reported missing by occupants in other cases previously thought to have been normal house fires. These occupants had suspected the fire department or neighbors of looting their homes, and have sparked a cautious investigation of firefighters and insurance investigators, but no charges have been made and no suspects have been identified.
This new evidence suggests that the cases may actually have been robberies with arson as a cover. That supposition implies that Walsh was killed as a result of catching the perpetrator in the act of trying to move the stash.
The halfway house was home to teens nearing the age of majority who have served their time in juvenile rehabilitation facilities, but have no families to return to. Many were remanded to such detention and rehabilitation centers for B&E and various classifications of theft. That the stash is in this house denotes a high likelihood that the perpetrator was a current or recent resident of the place.
By the time the investigation reaches this stage, the fire inspectors have determined that the behavior of the blaze did not follow a natural course, nor can they find a sign of how the blaze started. Their investigation is hampered by the amount of destruction, but they are confident in ruling out the numerous possible sources of such a blaze in the house, and stating that the blaze would not have started in normal circumstances, and in several instances it moved in ways which are not possible for fire naturally. It is at this point, almost two full days since the fire that the case lands in the laps of the characters.
Uniformed police officers and investigators from the fire department have canvassed the area thoroughly for witnesses and have duly turned over all case notes and physical evidence. When the HCIU detectives are briefed the case stands as described above, with the following procedures being made ready for transfer to the HCIU:
- Most of the kids from the halfway house ran away after being released from hospital. None made it to the temporary housing assignments arranged for them. Case workers and hospital staff reported that many of them seemed agitated, but blamed that on the experience of the fire. Three of the kids have been found in their old neighborhoods or back with their own gangs. Eight, however, are still at large and must be actively hiding. City Police Officers have been conducting searches. Excellent files and pictures are available for use to aid the search.
- Neighbors have been questioned repeatedly. None believe that they saw anything, or anyone suspicious, but officers discovered sooty hand marks on the side of the home immediately behind the halfway house, and the charred remains of non-descript, off the rack sweats in an abandoned garage about two blocks from there. A partial impression of a shoe print proved to be for a converse sole, size 10. Ash was discovered compressed with the sand in the print. Officers feel confident linking the clothes to the handprint, and back to the halfway house, but have no leads taking the trail any further.
- Unsolved cases of reported thefts linked with fires are being pulled across the city for review.
- Officers have begun a more detailed investigation of pawn shops and fences, looking for some of the more easily identifiable items common to the blazes.
Familiarity with the fire-based abilities on the Quade diagram will quickly allow a detective to form a working hypothesis of what abilities the perpetrator or perpetrators have at their disposal [Fire Immunity, Fire Control].
With the exhaustive case files of the juvenile crimes departments and agencies across the city, some detail may crop up when cross-checked against the hundred of kids in and out of the halfway house which leads to some solid suspects. Gaining access to the files may take patience and a lot of paperwork, but promises a lot of information in return. Additional paperwork may be encountered when trying to access files of youthful offenders whose files are now sealed for having reached the age of majority without further incident.
Three kids from the halfway house have been found, and await questioning. The other eight seem to be hiding from someone as none of their known associates have seen them. Their counselors and other support staff are keen to help, but were completely unaware that any of their charges were mutants. They can provide good insight into the character of each of the current crop, and at least one of them has been working at that home for the last two years, but beyond that will require tracking down previous employees.
The position of the stash in relation to the rooms and beds can narrow the search down to ease of access for 5 kids, but no definite links to anyone currently or formerly living there – just a longer and longer paper trail leading to solid clues for solid effort. The known robbery + fire cases date back three years. There is no way to tell which of the cases might be related and which might not.
What’s going on
A former resident of the halfway house named Gag by the other kids due to an unfortunate incident with a bigger, tougher kid and a red ball, has a tendency to hang around the place and befriend the kids staying there. He is not the only one to do this, but he is one of those who lived in the room that housed the stash in the last three years. Gag, whose name is actually Roy Tellez, is living on borrowed time. He is also in hiding, but it might be some time before investigators get around to learning about him. He is not of any particular importance to the staff or the three kids because he is not all that smart, has no interest in fire, was in the halfway house for very minor crimes, and is gainfully employed as a dishwasher. He is harmless. He is also missing.
Gag is the punching bag of another former resident named Callahan vanZant, or ‘Harry’ to the kids. Harry has been out of the halfway house for just over three years, but sends Gag around with donations of toys, clothes, and other necessities every few months. Gag is under orders to say these donations are his, not Harry’s. During these deliveries, Gag also does some general maintenance and hangs out with the kids as a sort of unofficial role model. It is at these times that Gag is to hide certain hard to fence valuables in Harry’s old hiding space for safe-keeping. This hiding space is not the space where the items were found after the fire. Gag follows these orders out of loyalty, not out of fear. He knows Harry abuses him, but he hopes to win him over some day. Gag is a pretty sweet guy. Gag has no knowledge of the hiding space the stolen items were discovered in.
Harry has possessed the abilities of Fire Projection, Immunity, and Control for a while. He developed Toxin Immunity (inhaled) as well over the past year. He is clever in a furtive sort of way, but his strengths lie more in his caution and carefulness rather than outright intelligence. He has always been a thief, and he enjoys it. He enjoys every step of it. He also has a very good habit of using intermediaries to deal with converting his stolen gains into cash. He makes much less, but he has been successful in staying off the cops’ radar. His arrest and time in rehabilitation were on drug charges. The drugs are a mistake he will never repeat. A possible link to Harry on these charges is the burning death of his former dealer. Investigators believed the man fell asleep while smoking in bed. He was asleep, and he was in bed, but he only smoked after Harry incinerated him.
A week before the fire, Gag had been sent to add more to the stash and discovered it empty. In a panic, he left early claiming a hangover, and told Harry. Harry sent him back in to look for the loot the next night, but Gag found nothing and felt like the kids were watching him, noting how odd he was being. Harry put his fences and resellers on alert, but none of his loot surfaced.
Harry eventually decided to burn the place down and under cover of the fire, search for his stuff himself, or at least have the satisfaction of depriving the new thief of it. He was just uncovering the stash in the floorboards of the boys’ room, when Walsh tried to rescue him, assuming he was a resident. He stabbed her in the neck and carried her down the back stairs into the basement, stuffed her in the closet, and made his escape. He moved cautiously to the garage, changed and burned his clothes, then left. He drifted around the city for a whole day before going home. He went to saunas, a swimming pool, the bus station, he rode the subway, and he took cabs… anything he could think of to elude pursuit.
One of the missing kids saw Harry start the fire, and completely misunderstanding the intent, has told the others that a man is out to get them. He assumed the ‘fire man’ was setting the place ablaze to cook all the residents, as like many halfway houses it is not beloved by its neighbors.
Cracking the Case
To plant this seed you will need to flesh out the personalities involved from the fire inspectors to the clerks at child services. If the players take a run at this through paperwork they will have a long slog which while abstracted in the resolution process and may ultimately lead to Harry as one of many names on a list of former residents, it will cause likely cause the death of Gag. Investigating that death is very likely to lead back to Harry as it will be a crime of passion.
Focusing on witnesses and questioning may lead them to Gag before it’s too late, and then breaking Gag will lead them to Harry. Alternately, the fences may lead them to the resellers, who in turn lead them to Harry.
This is not a complicated heist with far-reaching circumstances, but it should feel like a monster to solve. There are few clues, and fewer motivations. The death of a firefighter is big news, and murder of a mother of three only makes it bigger. Time and political pressure are on.
You will also need to flesh out the false leads, and the ones who just choose to lie to investigators rather than help them. You will need to develop the helpers at the halfway house and all their theories about neighbors, former residents, gang leaders, pissed off boyfriends, and the like to obfuscate matters. Being Gumshoe, the players will be able to see through the smoke, but without smoke… why play? If they are great detectives, let them see why that is so.
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