This post is one of a series in the ongoing Juniper Campaign posts. If you’re new to the blog, you may want to consider starting from the beginning, or reading the summary to get caught up on events up to this point.
Now that John’s alone, he takes the opportunity to explore the coma ward more thoroughly. Unsurprisingly, he mostly finds old people in comas, including Felix’s new friend Mary Louis. Unlike John’s own grandmother, Mary Louis seems tense, even in a coma. A folder containing her medical charts has been left on a nearby table, and John picks it up and leafs through it. Last updated a month ago, her charts actually show significant brain activity, which spikes every 16-18 months before dropping off.
John texts Shannon to let her know that there have been new developments with his grandmother, but that she’s settled now and that Shannon should feel free to visit any time she wants. Taking the cue, Shannon retrieves her car from John’s place and Felix from his hiding spot in the park and heads off to Shady Acres.
“So you said there was good news and bad news?” Shannon prompts when they meet John in the lobby.
On learning that John’s grandmother is headed for the “clean ward,” Felix lowers his voice. “Then you could check out the ward for, you know, suspicious blood-sucking activities when you visit.”
“I haven’t seen any marks on her neck, if that’s what you’re asking,” John answers. “But I did find Mary Lou. She’s upstairs.” He tells them what he’s learned.
“Have you seen anything else?” Shannon asks. “You said your grandmother’s dreaming might be linked to our current concerns.”
“Well,” John says, “I’m not sure whether I’m just hopeful to the point that I’m seeing things, or whether she actually got up and spoke to me.”
“Well, if she spoke to you and you’re not hallucinating… She spoke to you for a little while?” When John nods, Felix says, “that’s quite the thing to see.”
“Almost at conversation level, too,” John adds. “I said that I had a friend in trouble, and she mentioned that there’s someone around here who … eats people. And he’s going to eat again soon.”
“Are you sure it was your grandmother?” Felix asks. “Just a thought.”
“Honestly, no,” John says. “She seemed confused. May not have even known who I was.”
“That’s consistent with what I saw before,” Shannon says thoughtfully, meaning when Felix was possessed. “Was she particularly crochety?”
“No, no. Friendly, like my grandmother.” John shrugs. “But without much to go on…”
Since the group doesn’t, in fact, have much to go on, some more information gathering is in order. John suggests that the best way to learn more about the weird activities happening on the premises is to talk to some of the residents, so the party splits up to do just that. Shannon, however, quickly runs afoul of the facility’s director, who spots Shannon “pestering” the residents and promptly throws her out; discovering this, Felix decides that he’d really rather not piss off anyone with any sort of authority at all, all things considered, and leaves John to suss out the place by himself.
John, on the other hand, introduces himself to an amiable old man named Daniel Forest, who is more than happy to discuss some of the urban legends surrounding the place. Most of what Daniel says just confirms what John already knows: the place was once owned by mobsters; he’s heard rumours about a resident who can take “a quick walk about in other people’s bodies,” but doesn’t know more than that; and there have been some weird murders in the area recently, including a dead Shady Acres aide and a supposed “dog attack” in the nearby park. John does learn one significant piece of information, though: apparently the doctor in charge, one Bob Johnson, can be bribed.
“Lovely,” Shannon says when John summarizes his findings to the rest of the party. “What kind of things can he be bribed to do?”
“The example that I was given is that he could be bribed to give people extra doses of medication that they didn’t actually need,” John says. “So certainly outside the bounds of strict legality.”
“Interesting,” Felix muses. “I’m not sure how it helps us immediately, but very interesting.”
“Well, maybe he can help us visit places we’re not supposed to be,” John says.
“I don’t know,” Felix says. “I guess I’m just kind of chickenshit at this point, because, you know, but my instinct is that until we really need it, it’s kind of a big thing to burn.”
Figuring that they can always bribe Johnson later, the party decides to take a new tack and do some digging into the recent murders that have happened nearby. Hoping to streamline the investigation process a bit, John calls a friend and private investigator, Ivan Berkowitz, who complains theatrically when he realizes that John is calling for a favour rather than for friendship. “I don’t know, I’m feeling very neglected. You don’t write, you don’t call, you didn’t even come to my sister’s wedding.”
“I’ve been visiting my grandmother,” John protests.
“Yeah, well, your grandma smells funny and doesn’t like me.”
“You’re making that up,” John says, aggrieved. “She’s in a coma, thanks for asking.”
“You’re welcome,” Ivan says, apparently unfazed. John gives it up and steers the conversation towards the murders.
“There were … three, I think? in the last few months,” Ivan responds, summarizing the ones he knows about: a nurse’s aide who was found brutally murdered in his apartment in a nearby building, a young woman who was murdered and left in a nearby park, and a senior citizen who was killed walking home. John’s interest is piqued by the last one, who apparently died as the result of some sort of dog attack, but Ivan doesn’t know any more about it. He offers to give John the files he has on the three victims after exacting a promise from John to help him move some furniture.
“Hey, what do you know about VASCU?” John asks as the conversation comes to a close.
“They’re not too well-known,” Ivan answers; certainly Ivan doesn’t know much more about them than what John, Shannon, and Felix have already been able to unearth. “Or well-liked. They’ve got a good rate catching perps, though.” He continues. “Most of ’em end up dead. The perps, I mean, not the agents. Seems they like to go down fighting. One guy apparently made a dramatic last stand against a tank. Why do you wanna know?”
“Oh, they’ve been sniffing around a friend of mine.”
Ivan is understandably curious. “Who’ve they been sniffing?”
“You’ve seen him on the news,” John says. “Felix Chen.”
“He‘s your friend?” Ivan says incredulously. “Now you’re gonna tell me he didn’t do it.”
“I don’t think he did, anyway,” John says. “Hopefully this business with the feds’ll blow over soon.”
“Oh, it’ll blow over when they catch him and he dies dramatically,” Ivan says. “Sorry, I know he’s your friend and all. But he did kill those four women.”
Since there’s not much he can say to that, John lets it drop, and returns to the party with files in hand, hoping they can make this afternoon’s investigation into some of Juniper’s “dog attacks” a bit more successful than the last one…