Author Topic: The Man in the Red Mask  (Read 986 times)

LordWorthing

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The Man in the Red Mask
« on: May 24, 2021, 02:47:59 am »
This story was the product of my twin brother Adam's ideas and efforts in developing a cosplay persona. The persona was that of a criminal mastermind at work in the Underworld of London, or anywhere in which his interests called "him" to be within my An Age of Steam, Steel and Iron background. Like me, Adam had interests in a variety of literary and artistic circles and was influenced by the chance remark, concerning Professor Moriarty of Sherlock Holmes fame. The remark being, that the "Professor was responsible for half that is evil and all that is undetected in London". Adam, responded half serious and half in jest, "who is responsible for the other half?" Lord Hood was born, and very shortly after my brother put together his cosplay and began attending conventions with me this ongoing story developed.

When I figure out how to insert a photo of the Lord Hood Cosplay, I'll add it to the story installments.

I trust people find this story as interesting as my other "Attendance at the Kendal Ball." As always, questions and comments are welcome.

The Man in the Red Mask (Part I)
City of London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, January 1889.


To know a man, you must know his background, his family, his vices and virtues. To destroy a man you need to know his name, his abode, his habits, his place of work or occupation. What does one do, when the man in question has none of these? All about him is wrapped in silence, shadows and secrecy. He volunteers nothing and nobody who knows anything will speak of him. In a certain section of London, there was one such man, a gentleman by his dress and manners and possessed of both means, educations and more then average intelligence. He had many accomplices, spies and informants spread throughout the great city, he heard all the whispers and goings on in the London Underworld and little that went on escaped his notice. This man operated and did business in the twilight between law abiding society and it's polar opposite the world of crimes and criminality.

He, if he was indeed such as no one had ever seen his face beneath the mask he habitually wore or heard his real voice, went by various names in that society of that twilight world.  The Red Mask or  the Red Hood were amoung the more popular and printable names given to him by other criminals. He was known as Lord Hood by his own preference to those who worked directly for or alongside him on a given commission.

Lord Hood was something unique in the criminal underworld, he was what was beginning to be called a 'mastermind'. His occupation, if one could call it that, was the planning of crimes, sometimes he involved himself directly in their execution at other times he stayed on the sidelines as an advisor or acted from the shadows in a supporting role as the need arose. He worked for a set commission of seven percent of the take, though he would sometimes demand a higher fee if he had to become involved directly or the degree of risk in the attempting the crime was higher then what he regarded as usual. Lord Hood as a matter of habit and professional interest frequently took jobs that other criminal gangs or individual masterminds would not touch, either through a perfectly natural but unspoken fear of failure or because they thought the said crime was beneath their notice or reputation to involve themselves in.

Another quirk of his, was that he would never work with the same individual, group or gang of criminals, more then three times in a given year. On reflection most of the professional criminals in London, saw the sense in it. Some of the jobs Lord Hood's name was attached to over the years had been both notorious or sensational in the extreme and an interval to let the 'official' heat to blow over was not a bad idea in their opinion.

Lord Hood had first appeared as far as the London Underworld was concerned in 1880, and it was whispered though no one could confirm it, that he had been an apprentice of an American mastermind of some notoriety, in some New England port city or other, called the Red Hood. Whatever the truth of the matter, Lord Hood had evidently learned his trade well and begun work in the city offering his services as a consulting criminal to the smaller gangs and criminal outfits. His first commission according to popular rumor had been planning the Great Cliffton & Downs Bullion Train robbery, some Fifty thousand pounds sterling had been stolen by the Stafford Reubens gang, a relatively minor not to say at the time insignificant criminal gang of robbers, muggers and occasional safe crackers. Lord Hood was paid some three thousand and five hundred pounds for the affair, while the members of the Reubens gang had each received nearly five thousand pounds a piece!
An Age of Steam, Steel and Iron

It is the year 1889 A.D., an age of enlightened discovery, of unrivalled and often fantastic scientific and technological progress: powered by coal, steam and electricity. It is also an age of empires and empire building, of fierce and often complex competition for wealth and material resources by both governments, corporations and private individuals. The Nations of Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia vie for power, prestige and prosperity on the world stage and across the solar system.

LordWorthing

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Re: The Man in the Red Mask
« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2021, 02:53:17 am »
 The Man in the Red Mask (Part II)
City of London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, January 1889.



This particular night in London, was nothing so grand a caper but never the less was something important as far as Lord Hood was concerned. In point of fact he had two commissions to concern himself with this evening, once professional and one personal. He stood alone in a darkened room, save for a single lamp, which stood alone on a table beside him. Lord Hood drew a valuable gold pocket watch from the right hand pocket of his red brocade vest and examined it critically for several moments after popping it's decorative lid. The man he was waiting for was late, not surprising considering the man, but most unfortunate for the man in question. His masked face turned abruptly towards the door. A doubt knock announced his visitor, as the automaton on the other side of the door opened it to admit his visitor.

A smallish, ruffled gentleman with a halted shuffle entered the nearly blackened room. Tom Hachett was his name and he was an informant for hire by trade. The man was not much to look at, eyes pale blue and red rimmed from too much opium smoke, his sandy blond hair, unkempt as was his short beard and mustache. His face was a pale, wasted oval marred further by a weak mouth and a great beak of a nose which was a bright mottled red from a life time of drinking too much cheap gin. He had a slouching carriage that spoke of a lazy disposition and his soiled, much patched clothes said much both about his standards of personal cleanliness and the alarming state of his finances. That said Hachett had a brain in his head and kept his ears and eyes open and knew quite a lot that was going on at street level in the city of London and the surrounding boroughs. In that regard he was most useful to Lord Hood, although not regarded as an altogether reliable or trustworthy agent come to that. Hackett had a number of vices, expensive vices, when one considered he often spent as much as five times his annul income on them. He was frequently broke as a result and would sell his carefully garnered information, street gossip and rumour to whomever paid his next bar tab as often as not.

Lord Hood looked wordlessly at Hachett, who practically cringing when he saw the red mask and red brocade waist coat seemingly floating in black darkness before him, picked out by the dim illumination of the lamp. The pocket watch lid clamping smartly shut made Hachett jump in barely suppressed alarm. The black, reflective and completely soulless eyes of the red mask gazed balefully at Hachett, who just managed to not swallow reflexively in fear. The gold pocket watch, slipped back into his vest pocket and Lord Hood's hands dropped behind his back as he gazed at Hachett for several long moments.

"You are late, Mister Hachett." Lord Hood's voice was a flat, distinctly mechanical and almost a perpetual sarcastic monotone. Hachett reflectively tugged at his tall shirt collar, and swallowed several times before responding.

"Yes, Your...um... Lordship. Me 'pologies for being behind my... appointment." Hachett stammered. He rummaged around in his coat for the packet he had for his employer. He placed it on the table, where Lord Hood could clearly see it in the lamp light. A black gloved hand picked the packet up, and broke the seal with a knife. For several moments he did nothing but read the various written reports contained in the packet. Lord Hood suddenly nodded to himself, carefully replaced the documents in the packet and placed it back down on the table.

"Very Good, Hachett, I commend your diligence." Lord Hood remarked before withdrawing a large envelope stuffed with British bank notes. He placed it at the edge of the table facing, Hachett. Hachett cautiously picked up the envelope, opened it and make a quick count of it's contents. Sighing softly when it tallied with his previously agreed fee. Lord Hood, watched Hachett's red rimmed eyes carefully saw the look of relief mixed with avarice.

"You may go, Hachett."

LordWorthing

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Re: The Man in the Red Mask
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2021, 02:57:07 am »
 The Man in the Red Mask (Part III)
City of London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, January 1889.


Most gentlemen would have reacted with scorn or anger at watching Hachett count the money he had just been given, considering it a slur upon their professional integrity or personal honour. Lord Hood, however took no umbrage at this practical action. Like Hachett, he had been on occasion in his career subjected to the all too frequent caprice of clients or partners. Hachett nodded his thanks, and quietly left the room. Lord Hood meanwhile picked up the packet again from the table and turned out the lamp, plunging the room into complete darkness. His business concluded for the evening, he left the derelict building as secretly as he had entered it and proceeded back to one of the many buildings spread throughout the East End of London, that served him as residences, storehouse, and archives.

Liam Cassidy one of his trusted lieutenants met him at the door, when he entered the old urban mansion that stood like a towering sentry above the sprawling walled park that surrounded it and isolated it from the rest of the city. One look at the handsome Irishman's scowling face told him something had come up, a something that he did not approve of.  Lord Hood, motioned silently for Cassidy to follow, and made his way to the spacious, luxuriously appointed room that served as his personal study and business office.

"What is it, Mister Cassidy?" He finally remarked when he had seated himself in the large, comfortably stuffed chair behind a huge desk that wrapped around it like a horseshoe. He arched his masked head and looked at his man with a hidden but obviously quizzical expression, as he steepled his hands together just below his jaw. "You, appear to you have swallowed something particularly sour this evening."

Cassidy, standing before the desk, grunted in acknowledgement of his employer's arch and bantering remark. The soot black haired and bearded, sparkling blue eyed and powerfully built Irishman mulled over how to voice the subject which was clearly on his mind. Then shrugged expressively and decided to express himself bluntly as was his usual custom.

"That rust bucket, Sixer, is here to see you."

LordWorthing

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Re: The Man in the Red Mask
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2021, 03:06:52 am »
The Man in the Red Mask (Part IV)
City of London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, January 1889.


Lord Hood, leaned back in his chair at this bald statement as he considered Cassidy's response. He was all attention, as Sixer was not in the habit of just ambling over for an evening visit, even though he was a welcome visitor at any time as far as Lord Hood was concerned, certainly not at 3 am in the morning. It also explained Cassidy's vile expression and mood at the moment. Cassidy absolutely, positively loathed any and all constructs.

"Where is Sixer?"

"In the next room. He brought someone with him to see you, a girl."

Even more interesting. Lord Hood, thought absently to himself. In the past if Sixer came to see him, he always came alone. That he had brought someone with him was both out of character and extremely unusual.

"Did Sixer, say why?"

"No, the blasted oversized tin can, declined to discuss it with me, said it was a matter of business." Cassidy's rich tenor voice became tight with a mixture of both disgust and baffled frustration. His dark scowl deepened as he spoke.

Lord Hood was suddenly and inordinately pleased that he always wore a mask when dealing with people even his own underlings. The amused grin on his hidden face at that moment would have done absolutely nothing for Cassidy's mood.

Sixer was an industrial construct, a load lifter and general labour automaton who worked on the dockyards along the Thames, particularly those alongside the East End. Few people realized the old automaton was sentient, then again so few of his type of automata were, being of the oldest generation of such working machines. Few of them were even truly intelligent, let allow semi-sentient, but Sixer was and behind his dented, rusted and utterly non-descript exterior was a surprisingly keen mind.

Sixer's knowledge of the dockyards was invaluable to Lord Hood, he had after all been there for decades and knew all the movers and shakers within the riverside communities both legal and illegal of London. As everyone assumed Sixer was a dumb, mute piece of machinery, they often said a surprising amount of useful and confidential information in his hearing without them even realizing they were doing it. Information which, Sixer was prepared to sell for a price to those who might have a use for it and knew how to contact him.

Both men turned when a maid entered the room, through the study's main door.

"Yes, Arabella, what is it?" Lord Hood, asked as he swiveled his chair to look at the maid. His mask arched fractionally to one side in silent question. Cassidy he noticed looked away from the woman in barely disguised disgust, the fact that she was a servant had nothing to do with it. The fact that Arabella was a flesh construct did however.

"I have your guests, or perhaps clients would be more apt in the circumstances, comfortable and awaiting your convenience in the waiting lounge, My Lord. Are there any special instructions?"

Arabella Heterochromia had come into his service, pretty much on a whim, when he first established himself in London, some ten years ago. Lord Hood had never had the slightest reason to regret that decision, no matter the trouble it had caused him at the time. Arabella was a first rate domestic servant and an agreeable companion as well as a competent operative and a keen observer of people when needed, qualities Lord Hood rated very highly.

"Very good, Arabella." He paused a moment before continuing. "Neither are causing you any trouble, I trust?"

"Not at all, My Lord. Cora is keeping an eye on them, just in case. Though I do not think they are here to cause you problems, although I think it is very possible they are here to see if you can solve a particular problem for them."

"Interesting, I wonder what it is they could want? Sixer is not one to ask for favours, he does not like owning people anything if he can help it. The girl... do we know her?"

"I do not believe she is known to us, My Lord, at least I do not think she has ever asked for your services. Point of fact, I do not think she could even afford your normal fees, just by looking at her."

"In that case, I had better see them." Lord Hood said quietly after glancing at his watch, it was extremely late, and both Sixer and his young companion likely had business of their own to attend to.

"Your, not serious?!" Cassidy snapped, his disapprove and disbelief all too clearly written on his handsome features.

"I am not in the habit of turning down a potential client until after I hear what it is they want me to do for them, Liam - you should know that by now."

LordWorthing

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Re: The Man in the Red Mask
« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2021, 03:13:06 am »
The Man in the Red Mask (Part V)
City of London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, January 1889.


In the adjoining waiting room, the two guest waited for their audience with Lord Hood. Sixer stood stiff and absolutely still next to a couch decorated in woodwork and plush cloth, which held the only other occupant of the beautiful appointed and decorated room. Only the deep, steady amber glow of it's eyes within the deep, dark slot that was the only feature of what might be called it's face, and the soft click of gears and hiss of pistons revealed that the construct was active. The girl on the couch was about sixteen years of age, wore much patched and threadbare clothing which had clearly seen better days but the very fastidious care shown in keeping the garments in some state of respectability showed they were probably the best clothes she owned.

"Sixer... do you really think he will see us...?" The girl asked softly, her tone was a mixture of hope and creeping doubt. She clutched a battered, badly discoloured tin box, held fast by two sturdy leather buckle straps and a heavy if crude pad lock, in both her arms. It rattled and clinked when she moved as if jammed full of a great many loose objects.

The towering automata, he stood easily seven feet from his metal boot soles to the top of his head, turned his great bucket like head to look at her. One arm extended and came to rest on her  shoulder. The massive metallic fingers touched her now slumping shoulders with surprising gentleness.

"We have come this far, let us see how far our luck carries us."

"That Mister Cassidy, did not seem to pleased with us turning up, Sixer." The Girl said after a moment. Sixer shrugged his great metal shoulders as he responded.

"I suspect he regards us both of us as a nuisance and whatever errand we are on as being of no consequence. Then again it may just be because, Mister Cassidy, and I do not get along, never have. I am a construct and he is a Irishman and a Luddite."

"So, he hates you."

"Yes." Sixer said simply, although the truth of the matter was more complicated then that. The widespread usage of constructs during the late seventeen, the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century had created both widespread profits for corporations and equally widespread economic dislocation in various places not just with working jobs but in the communities that typically supported working folk but which constructs did not require. Things had begun to settled down in the last few decades and a balance of sorts had been established which worked to most peoples benefit. The Irish had been one of the traditional British labour pools hardest hit by the initial changes and upheavals, a great many of them lost either their situations or their long term job prospects to constructs and not unnaturally resented it. Many Irish as a result had joined anti-construct and anti-machine political groups and caused all sorts of trouble for constructs like Sixer.

"That's not fair, Sixer. You are nicer and a better person, to me and the gang, then a lot of humans I know."

"Life is seldom fair for any of us, machine or human, but thank you for the accolade, young lady."

The girl smiled at Sixer's last words, then looked down at the tin box in her arms, doubt crept back into her expression.

"Do you think, I -- the gang and I, can afford, Lord Hood's services. I heard he is expensive..."

Sixer considered the question for a moment. Quite frankly, a pack of street children, Street Arabs in popular parlance,  did not have the resources to pay for a private detective let alone a criminal mastermind. Still, Lord Hood could be engaged if one knew how to get his interest, Sixer felt that the prize in question would appeal to him. If they asked carefully enough, although Mister Cassidy would be a problem though, Sixer thought glumly.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2021, 06:36:40 pm by LordWorthing »

LordWorthing

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Re: The Man in the Red Mask
« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2021, 03:15:32 am »
The Man in the Red Mask (Part VI)
City of London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, January 1889.


"Arabella, please have Cora conduct our two clients to the study, and we will see both what they want and what we can perhaps do for them." Lord Hood said abruptly as he swiveled his chair to look back at Arabella the maid. She bowed pleasantly and withdrew from the study to collect the guests from the waiting lounge.

Hood turned his attention back to a fuming Cassidy, who refused to give his maddening employer the satisfaction of saying anything further in a conversation he knew he had already lost. Which amused Lord Hood, who was by now fully in one of his more whimsical moods, still further.

The study doors opened a few minute later, Arabella in the lead, followed by the towering Sixer, who had to duck his tall head to avoid slamming it abruptly into the top of the decorative door frame. Just a pace behind Sixer followed a young, scruffy girl, and the other maid Cora.

"The Construct, Sixer and associate, Miss Whitelock, to see you, my lord." Arabella stated formally.

"Thank you, Arabella." Lord Hood responded with equal formality. "To what, do I owe the pleasure of your company, Sixer?"  He remarked after a momentary silence. Sixer's amber eyes blazed out of his visor slot, the click and whir of gears and cogs sounded quietly though the room, as the towering automaton considered his words carefully. Lord Hood surreptitiously turned his attention to the young girl, standing beside Sixer with that odd mixture of fear and bravery, that only the very young had the ability to project.

At first glance, Miss Whitelock did not appear like much, she was a scruffy street arab, which wandered or scampered about the streets of London and many of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland's major cities everyday. First appearances were however - in Lord Hood's considerable criminal underworld experience - never to be relied on, as they were usually either at worst out rightly wrong or seriously misleading at best.

Lord Hood, motioned to the young girl to come closer, his masked head cocked slightly askew in silent inquiry. Miss Whitelock looked up at Sixer, who in turn nodded, or at least gave the appearance of nodding, his range of movement in that regard was somewhat limited. A gentle pat on the shoulder with one of his great, metal hands by way of encouragement seemed to settle the girl's disquiet and apprehension.

Whitelock, regarded the dark, reflective lenses set into the blank, blazing red face mask that enshrouded Lord Hood's head with something like awe and not a little fear. She knew something of Lord Hood's reputation for financial and criminal success and sheer ruthlessness in London's underworld but she had also heard second hand from others and through Sixer, that there was another side to Lord Hood, that sometime he took special or interesting jobs into consideration. Whitelock clutched the box close to her chest, what it contained was everything she and her gang had managed to scrimp, save, beg, borrow or outright steal. It was not going to be enough, she thought desperately, not for the fees that Lord Hood normally commanded.

Lord Hood, watched the girl's fingers go white knuckled where they were visible through her finger less gloves, as she hugged the box to her. He noticed the nondescript, much patched and repaired, mismatched clothes. The copious amounts of dirt and soot that clung to her hands, face and every article of clothing she wore. The wisps of unruly, black or white hair that emerged from under the knitted cap, pulled down almost over her eyebrows. A scarf of inordinate length, and an even more astonishing, array of colours was wrapped around her neck, shoulders and the lower part of her face.

Lord Hood, also noticed, that while her appearance spoke of her extreme poverty, it as said something else about her, pride. Her clothes were in a deplorable state, it was true but that was not due to lack of attention. All the repairs, mends and stitches he could see and there were many, were done with some care and not a little skill to make the threadbare clothes serve a while longer. They had been cleaned and brushed very recently and repeatedly, a trip through the East End of London had not helped them of course, but the very effort to make what were probably her best clothes just an extra bit presentable showed through.

Lord Hood, noticed that girl's breathing, was hushed, strained and vaguely constructed: like she had a mechanical voice box or rebreather, under her scarf. He could just make out two edges of metal, emerging just over the top of the scarf, to either side of her face and level with her ears.He also noticed that the fingers on one of her hands appeared to be made of metal. Her eyes were covered by a particularly odd yellow film, both the whites and the irises, that was not caused by jaundice.

Lord Hood regarded Miss Whitelock for several long minutes, before suddenly coming forward in his seat and asking.

"What can I do for you, Miss Whitelock?"