|The Eccentric Mr. Fresno
The Reading of the Will
While things are still getting set up, the investigators spend a little time studying the décor in the first floor of the Fresno house. Father Wilk notes a dearth of crucifixes or any signs of proper Christian faith but does see some figurines and iconography used in Oceanic religions. Ada notes that Fresno’s book collection, while haphazard, is also extensive. He had read both fiction and non-fiction and has several somewhat valuable first editions in his downstairs library.
Coffee is poured and everyone sits. While Mabel takes notes in shorthand, Mr. Sebastian reads Mr. Fresno’s will.
The terms of the will are frankly bizarre. Mr. Fresno, who has neither spouse nor children, has come up with a list of 140 potential heirs using unknown means. Of these 140 people, seven of them must be “active” heirs of his estate, which includes the property in Port Harbor, two bank accounts, and the contents of the safety deposit box in Port Harbor’s 2nd National Bank.
Mr. Sebastian says that he picked the first seven names on the list—the investigators—but that they will only become heirs if they agree to sign sworn affidavits that they will uphold all the terms of the will. Mr. Fresno also hoped that at least one heir be willing to live on the property, but if no one does, the property should be sealed and not used or rented out for anything else.
A lively discussion follows, during which Dr. Miller excuses himself to telephone his lawyer for advice. Of the investigators, only Val seems interested in immediately signing the affidavit. The rest insist that they must think about it, which Mr. Sebastian is fine with. There are many questions regarding the will and its terms. Mr. Sebastian answers as best as he can.
- He does not know how or why Mr. Fresno came up with the list of 140 names, but he suspects the investigators could find out the particulars upon searching the property.
- There is no penalty if any or all of them refuse to be heirs. He will simply continue down the list.
- In the event all potential heirs are exhausted, the Fresno house becomes property of the town of Port Harbor.
The investigators also ask about Mr. Fresno himself and are told that he was in his mid-seventies, an antiquarian, and a nature lover. He passed away suddenly on September 29th, while hiking on Ringrose Mountain, of an apparent heart attack. By the time rescuers arrived on the scene, it was far too late for him to be revived.
Mr. Sebastian asks the investigators to accompany him to the 2nd National Bank, so that he can show them the contents of the safety deposit box. They agree, and he calls up some taxis to ferry them over.
Once at the bank, Mr. Sebastian procures and unlocks the safety deposit box, revealing a large, medieval manuscript with leather bound wooden covers, brass fittings and a large brass lock. This causes some amusement for Mabel, who forces Mr. Sebastian to pay her a dollar.
“None of us at the office had any idea what was in the box,” explains Mr. Sebastian, “so we started a betting pool.”
“He thought it was gold bars,” says Mabel, primly. “Confederate gold bars.”
Ada, a books dealer, analyzes the manuscript. She judges it to be from somewhere in the Baltics, 9th century. She agrees with Father Wilk that it is probably a religious text, but she also mentions that books with locks were more commonly found on alchemical treatises. She also says that she can’t determine much more about the book until she is able to look inside.
When Mr. Sebastian says that he doesn’t have a key for the book’s lock, the investigators begin discussing how to get it open. Dale thinks the mechanism inside might be so old that it will either fail or break. Crowbars, pliers, and lockpicks are also mentioned. Mr. Sebastian puts an abrupt end to this discussion by mentioning that none of them can do anything to the book until they sign affidavits to become Mr. Fresno’s heirs. Until then, the book is not their property.
At this point, Val, Dale, Martin, and Saul all sign affidavits. Val enthusiastically, the others because they have become quite intrigued about the situation that they’ve found themselves in.
Ada mentions that she knows someone in town who might be able to give her additional guidance on the book. For now, however, the investigators leave the book in the bank.
A Light Lunch
Mr. Sebastian takes the investigators to the Duchess Diner for lunch before bringing them to the Sutter Root Inn next door, where he has reserved them all rooms for the night. The inn serves as a boarding house for elderly single men and for the occasional traveler.
As the others are putting their luggage in their rooms, Val says that she wouldn’t mind staying at the Fresno place. Mr. Sebastian hands her the keys. As she makes plans to return to the house, the rest of the investigators decide to accompany her to do a little more exploring. Mr. Sebastian has the taxis take them back to the house and tells them that, if they need anything else from him, he will be at his office.
The investigators take stock of Mr. Fresno’s house. The man proves to have been a bit of a pack rat. There are boxes and papers and books piled high in every available corner. One formidable pile of detritus completely blocks the door to an upstairs bedroom. The house’s basement and garage are filled practically floor to ceiling with clutter of every possible type. The clutter in the garage has gotten so bad that it has mostly entombed Mr. Fresno’s dusty Model T car.
Val, suspicious that someone might have tampered with the car, goes to investigate it. She finds nothing apart from a startled racoon.
Dr. Miller calls his lawyer back on the house phone. His lawyer says that the terms of Mr. Fresno’s will are certainly unusual, but there’s nothing in it that sets off any alarm bells. He tells Dr. Miller to sign it, but only if he wants to.
The other investigators, meanwhile, move the pile of junk away from the upstairs bedroom door. Opening the door, they discover that this bedroom is Mr. Fresno’s somewhat tidier office. Thinking that the office might give them more information regarding Fresno and his decision-making process, the investigators give it a thorough going over.
The First Visitor
There is a knock on the front door. Dr. Miller answers it and finds an elderly man standing outside. Behind the man, out in the street, a young woman dressed in men’s clothing sits on the running board of a horse-drawn junk cart.
The man introduces himself as Gus Detherage, the junk man. He’s heard that someone’s taking charge of the Fresno place and expects that they’ve got a lot of junk that needs to be taken care of. He and his granddaughter are happy to cart whatever junk they’ve got to the dump.
Dr. Miller sizes Gus up and doesn’t like what he sees. He tells Gus to come back tomorrow once the investigators have taken stock of the property, and to bring a handwritten copy of his rates. Gus obliges and promises to come back the next day (Sunday) at 10:00.
Fresno’s study features, among other things, a locked roll top desk and a trunk filled with about two dozen identical black journals.
Val, who has been given the keys to the property, finds the key to the desk and unlocks it. Inside are, among other things, several decks of Tarot cards, a pendulum, yarrow sticks, Norse runes, and other tools of divination. Dale surprises the others with the depths of his knowledge about these divinatory objects. Acting on a hunch, he prowls around the room until he finds a well-worn map of the continental US. Unfolding it, he finds several faint scrapings that might have been caused by the pendulum tip, as well as neat pencil marks made in various parts of the country. His home city of Detroit is one of the marked places.
The two dozen journals are similarly interesting. Roughly half contain painstaking notes, in pencil, of various individuals. These individuals are arranged in no particular order and their entries are of varying lengths. Some of them have photographs and newspaper articles pasted onto the page as supplementary information. Father Wilk’s entry is found rather quickly. The accompanying photograph seems to have been taken at some point in the distant past. The investigators wonder how Fresno could have gotten the picture, and whether Wilk had met Fresno at some point and not remembered it.
The contents of the other journals are first discovered by Val, who opens one up to a random page featuring a pencil drawing of a horrifying creature. Her frightened yelp draws the attention of the rest of the investigators.
Dale looks through the dropped journal and his eyes happen to land on a page featuring a destructive bonfire with a flame-wreathed figure standing in the center. He breaks out into a sweat, closes the book, drops it, and abruptly leaves the room.
Ada also looks at the journal and discovers a written passage describing a lurid, frankly disturbing scene, that seems to be part ritual sex act and part ritual sacrifice. She is discomfited and closes the book, deciding that maybe these journals should be put aside, for now.
The Second Visitor
Dr. Miller, a trained psychiatrist, follows Dale downstairs to check up on him. Dale explains that he used to work in a steel mill in Detroit, which had been abruptly shut down after an accident. During the accident, Dale mentions that he and several of the other workers saw “something” horrible, and that there is somehow an artistic rendition of that “something” in one of Fresno’s journals.
Dr. Miller tells Dale that, contrary to the usual parameters of psychiatric care that he should trust his own eyes and try to come to terms with what he saw.
Just then, there is a knock at the door. Dr. Miller answers it and finds two young ladies standing on the porch. They are dressed in shapeless robes and cloaks—one all in yellow, the other in bright pink---and are carrying a covered picnic basket between them. They introduce themselves as Sister Ray and Sister Penumbra, and step into the house.
Their arrival draws the rest of the investigators, whom the women enthusiastically greet. The women say that they had heard people were moving into the Fresno place and have brought over a housewarming gift as a way of welcoming them to the community. The basket turns out to contain fresh bread, jam, and other preserves. Val immediately begins stuffing her face.
The women also say that if the investigators find themselves lonely, out of sorts, or just looking to become better acquainted with town life, they have an open invitation to visit their church in the north end of town.
This prompts Father Wilk to ask if the women are part of the Luminous Church. The women are delighted that the good father knows of their organization and are frankly surprised that a Catholic priest has heard of it.
The investigators question Sisters Ray and Penumbra about the church. They learn that it is the Luminous Church of the Ten Heartfelt Fires, which is presided over by Alpha Solaris Maxima Est, High Priestess of the Solar Kingdom and Helios Rebecca, Flare of the Northern Hemisphere, Princess of the Solar Kingdom. The investigators manage to not laugh at these florid titles while asking if Mr. Fresno was a member of the church. The sisters respond that he wasn’t because he had his own rather peculiar religious beliefs. They become increasingly uncomfortable when the investigators press them on this topic.
Sister Ray and Penumbra soon take their leave, but not before passing out a few handbills with the name and location of the Luminous Church. The handbills also note that Alpha Solaris’s Christian name is Mary Ellen Masterson, while Helios Rebecca’s is Greta Brown.
The Third Visitor
The women open the front door to depart, only to reveal that there is yet another person standing out on the front porch. This person is a woman, older and more normally dressed, who regards the departing Luminous Church members with a mixture of bafflement and amusement.
She introduces herself as Maude Collins, a correspondent and colleague of Mr. Fresno’s. She mentions calling Mr. Sebastian’s law office to inquire about the state of the property, where she learned about today’s reading of the will.
Maude says that she, like Mr. Fresno, were both avid readers and antiquarians, and that Mr. Fresno has a certain book in his collection that she would like to obtain for her library. She describes the locked medieval manuscript currently residing in the 2nd National Bank. The investigators tell her that they haven’t seen such a book and ask about its contents.
Maude says that the book is a one-of-a-kind manuscript with an interesting history. It is a 10th century Bible, reputed to have been transcribed and illuminated by a blind Slavic monk. She mentions, once again, that she is desperate to have it, before writing down her contact information and handing it over to Dale. After this, she welcomes the investigators to Port Harbor and, understanding that they must be very tired after a difficult day, excuses herself and departs.
Dale glances down at her contact information and notices that she has written “$300,” which she has subsequently circled three times.
After Ms. Collins’ departure, Father Wilk states, without equivocation, that she is lying about the contents of the book. Firstly, any book that pre-dates the printing press is, by definition, one-of-a-kind. Secondly, if a blind monk had transcribed and illuminated a copy of the Bible, this would have been considered a miracle by the Church. Since Father Wilk has never heard of this monk or of this Bible. Father Wilk admits that he doesn’t know why she is lying about the contents of the book, just that she is.