Regular readers will know that Doctor Ross Leboeuf's wife has been revived from a coma thanks to the detectives' efforts against a cabal of demon worshippers she used to be a member of [see the previous story arc - 'A Case of Courvoisier']. That cabal has now been entirely eliminated, with the exception of Mrs Leboeuf, who has now revealed that while she was in a coma, her spirit was wandering the parallel realm of the Hunting Grounds, seeking her missing sister, Tammy Portunate. The demon summoned by Father McNelis, a rogue Jesuit lecturer from Loyola University, helped her to get access to the Hunting Grounds, but she has failed to find her sister.
Tammy Portunate used to be a member of the inner circle of famed New Orleans spiritualist and medium, 'Mammy' Laurelie Martine, who frequents the salons of the wealthy and the influential in the Big Easy, helping them to re-connect with the departed.
Doctor Leboeuf sent his wife out of town to recover with relatives up state, while he and the rest of the team headed to the Yellow Sign book store to converse with Hetty Sanderson, sister of deceased cabal member William Sanderson (and for Professor Ramsay Gordon to once again make eyes at her while entertaining her with his mad science). Hetty was able to tell them that actual physical entrance to the Hunting Grounds is considered impossible, and that few practitioners of voodoo are able to sustain themselves astrally there for very long, unless assisted with very powerful magic. She has heard that ritual masks are sometimes used to help them.
No voodoo priests have been able to enter the Hunting Grounds regularly since Baron Simone Lacroix, who once presided over the railway company Bayou Vermilion from his headquarters in New Orleans, and who vanished in the 1880s.
The detectives mulled over whether to write a letter to Mammy Martine, requesting a meeting, before returning to their offices (no letter has been sent). Here they ran into Art Torobelli, a boxing trainer, who was in need of their help. He has approached them on the recommendation of local mafia capo, Mike the Stick [see 'A Case of Courvoisier for further information on Mike the Stick].
Art has been training promising young boxer Wayne 'The Battler' Barbeau, aka the Bayou Bantam, for the past couple of years. Barbeau walked into his gym off the street one day, and Torobelli took him under his wing, training him up to be an undefeated bantamweight boxer. He is due to fight Lou Salica in New York in three days' time. However, Barbeau went missing on the way home from the gym yesterday and has not been seen or heard from since.
|Someone's missing a boxer, and the Stick wants him back.|
Barbeau, it seems, has no recollection of his past prior to 1933. A photograph of him shows a highly athletic and incredibly well-muscled young man, sporting a tattoo on one arm with the characters 'A51'. Prof Gordon immediately makes the connection with Area 51, a rumoured top secret Confederate weapons research facility in New Mexico. The detectives agree a daily rate of $30 with Torobelli (which Torobelli tells them will be honoured by Mike the Stick) before heading over to the trainer's house to meet Torobelli's wife. Torobelli emphasises that Barbeau is the best boxer he has ever coached and "could go all the way to the top."
Searching Barbeau's room (he lodged with the Torobelli family in Lakeview, two blocks away from Leboeuf's place), the detectives find some ragged military uniform, the fatigues he was wearing when he arrived at the gym. They bear a serial number over the left breast. Mrs Torobelli also tells them the young man used to have nightmares, complaining of a sensation of falling and drowning.
The detectives spot a man watching the building from the opposite side of the street. Using a combination of feigned drunkeness, a confusion hex, and an invisible approach from Prof Gordon (invisibility belt patent science invention), they apprehend Nate Braddock, a journalist working for the Tombstone Epitaph. It quickly becomes obvious that Braddock is following them because "interesting things seem to happen around you guys." In particular, he is investigating a possible gang war brewing between the Black Hand and the Red Sect, following the fatal shooting of Red Sect houngan Bon Bon Lescartier. The Red Sect are blaming the killing on the Black Hand, and Lescartier's mother, Mammy Martine, a senior figure in the Red Sect according to Braddock, has put a $5000 bounty out for information leading to the identity of the killers. The detectives point Braddock in the direction of the old plantation in Jefferson County [see 'A Case of Courvoisier'], warning him that there may still be walking dead at large there. Braddock seems grateful for the lead and promises to stay in touch.
Retracing Barbeau's route from the gym on foot, the detectives expend plenty of shoe leather and the bulk of the day questioning potential witnesses. Finally, some street urchins are bribed with candy to reveal that they saw Barbeau abducted by three men who jumped out of a large green truck with a white star on the side. They were well-dressed, athletic, with short hair cuts.
|The kids see everything that goes down in Lakeview.|
At the gym, the detectives use keys given to them by Torobelli to search Barbeau's locker. Here they are confronted by another boxer, Barbeau's sparring partner, Al Smith. Once comfortable with their bona fides, he tells them of a clean cut stranger who visited the gym frequently in the past few weeks to observe Barbeau sparring and ask questions about his strength and ability. Smith had assumed he might be a scout for Salica in New York.
The detectives now conclude that Barbeau has been kidnapped by the Confederate military. They review potential military facilities in New Orleans, including the Army supply depot and the Jackson Barracks in the Lower Ninth ward, but finally decide the disused naval base in Algiers on the south bank of the Mississippi looks like the most likely candidate. As dusk falls, they arrive outside the base, and note that the gate has a brand new and shiny padlock and chain on it. As Doc Leboeuf contemplates cutting the chain, Lee Deville and Gordon spot a man in a car watching the gate from a distance. The sedan is familiar to Deville, as is its occupant, a private eye called Gavin Phillips, with whom he worked a case once, before his untimely death and return as a manitou-infested husk (Phillips notes that DeVille looks unwell). Phillips claims -unconvincingly - he is simply out for a recreational spin in his car, before driving away.
Before the detectives can break into the base, they spot a flying boat landing on the river. They hurry to cut the chain, and start to explore. Most of the buildings are shrouded in darkness, but they soon find the plane moored at one of the wharves, with two pilots sharing a cigarette next to it. A nearby warehouse shows signs of light from behind blackout blinds. Gordon quickly customises a pair of sleeping gas grenades, which he tosses at the pilots, knocking both of them senseless. The detectives bind and gag them, and take them onto the plane. Here they find a flight plan, showing the plane has come from a remote airfield in New Mexico.
|A return ticket to New Mexico for the Bayou Bantam?|
An action card (and a bennie) is now spent to allow the heroes to sneak up on the warehouse and peep inside. LeRalf is busy setting up his Tommy gun on a pile of crates nearby, while Prof Gordon activates his invisibility belt again. The detectives spy eight men inside clad in long black overcoats guarding a man in a reinforced cage. An officer in military uniform carrying a doctor's hold all is talking to him. The man in the cage is obviously Barbeau.
As the detectives consider their options, they hear a loud, repetitive crashing noise from the other side of the warehouse. The men inside seem equally surprised. Shortly thereafter, a huge, 10 foot tall mechanical man breaks through the rear wall of the warehouse, trailing clouds of smoke and steam...