The Rowland Case
|The Rowland Case|
|Part of Project Red Dragoon|
The runners are hired by Mary Rowland to investigate the murder of her husband, Grant Rowland. The runners discover that convicted murderer Hector Sanchez, who according to official records is supposed to be serving a life sentence in a Supermax prison, somehow got out of prison and was implanted with a prototype piece of cyberware that overwrites a person's memory. Sanchez did the murder in a way that is the calling card of his old gang, The Red Grins. The runners are hounded at every turn by at least two trained professionals, a hacker and a sniper, and potentially a third, as there was another person supposed to be in a max security prison in Texas at the meet.
Eventually the team manage to capture Sanchez and take him to a Laesa syndicate facility in Puyallup for interrogation. After the interrogation as the team are taking him to a doctor to look at this fancy implant, Sanchez is shot by a sniper and upon his death the implant fries itself.
Eight months before the run: Hector Sanchez, mid-level gangster in the razorgang The Red Grins goes to jail with the help of the testimony of two of his fellow gangers, Miguel and Gilberto Ortiz. They testified because they felt his increasingly violent tendencies would turn on his gang.
Five days before the run: Sanchez washes up in Tacoma with a fresh set of cybernetic implants, including one that tries to replace his memories with that of Solomon Hadley, a former UCAS MARSOC marine who died from cancer nearly two years ago.
Four days before the run: Grant Rowland, former UCAS MARSOC marine, is brutally stabbed to death outside his business in northern Tacoma.
The team meet Mrs. Johnson, Mary Rowland, at a nondescript diner in Bellevue. She tells her the facts as she knows them - her husband was brutally stabbed to death, KE are doing very little to investigate, and she thinks it might be related to his career in the Marines, which she knows little about. One of the patrons in the bar is listening in on their conversation, at least until Mrs. Johnson puts up a White Noise generator halfway into the meet. Also unbeknownst to the runners, Hermes manages to breach their DNI and listen in on their comms for long enough to hear their plan - to check into a Tacoma hotel as a base of operations for their work. He gets to work hacking into various hotels in Tacoma and collecting reservations made there. Thanks to their man in the diner, they have a list of SINs to check against.
Research from the Hotel
The team examine crime scene photos and a preliminary autopsy report provided by the Johnson. Moth picks up on the fact that one of the injuries the victim suffered was deep cuts in both corners of the mouth, the eponymous move of The Red Grins, a puyallup razorgang that to Moth's knowledge don't operate outside of Puyallup. Night Claws sends his pet sprite off on a six-hour matrix search on Rowland himself, and after that the team decide to visit the crime scene.
The Crime Scene
At the crime scene, Esper uses Psychometry and gets a quite vivid impression of the murder - the killer overpowered Rowland and stabbed him to death, but to Esper it felt as if there were two minds in the killer's head, and that this was somehow a just act of vengeance for an egregious crime. Through various means the team rule out the usual suspects of this sort of double personality - Schizophrenia, mind magic, spirits, and personachips. They also look up who in the Red Grins might have reason to wish revenge on someone, and find the story of Hector Sanchez and how he was betrayed by his friends. They also discover that the suspicious man at the meet is another man supposed to be serving a life sentence in another high-security prison in Texas. Stormcrow manages to follow tracks away from the crime scene to a manhole cover and into the sewers. Moth, Esper and Stormcrow follow enter the sewers while Night Claw stays on the surface. They follow the trail for a while, but it goes cold. After several hours in the sewers they are less than clean and decide to surface and check into a nearby hotel to clean up.
While the rest of the team are cleaning up, Night Claw suddenly gets a mark on a persona running silent. He finds a decker with a persona like the greek god Hermes and attacks him. Hermes, however, hits Night Claw with a Tantrum-laced dataspike, leaving him puking on the floor while Hermes makes his escape. Once Night Claw is capable of moving again, he swears vengeance on this decker. The team concludes that between the guy in person at the meet and this, they must be quite compromised. They mostly turn off DNI, and Moth stops using the SIN she used at the meet for the remainder of the run.
The team decide to run down a lead they got from the J at the meet - The Garrison, a pub that caters to military and ex-military types in southern Tacoma. They arrive in the middle of a wake for Grant Rowland. They manage to blend in and make inquiries about Rowland and his past, learning that he was well liked at the bar, and that two patrons were former squadmates, one of whom, Rick Nicodemo is at the wake. As they decide to find Rick and question him, he heads outside to smoke, and shots ring out in The Garrison as Rick is shot and killed by sniper fire. The team and all the military patrons inside rush out, and particularly sharp-eyed members of the team manage to spot the killer on a rooftop a good kilometer away. Moth organizes the patrons into pursuit while Stormcrow turns into a bird to chase after the killer and Esper levitates upwards to try to reestablish line of sight.
The assassin tries to make his escape with a wingsuit, but Stormcrow uses an alchemical Destroy [Pants] prep to tear holes in it and cause the killer to crash. Esper promptly turns him to stone with Petrify. They decide to take him to a Laesa syndicate hideout in Puyallup that Moth gives them access to for questioning.
Through a combination of Esper's interrogation technique, Night Claw's matrix search finally concluding, and talking with the surviving squadmate, one Aviram "Ravi" Cohen, the team manage to piece the following together:
Hector Sanchez has been implanted with some sort of prototype headware that replaces his memories with those of Solomon Hadley, the fourth member of Rowland's squad who was left behind on an op in Bogota during the Amazonian Wars. The squad thought it was the right call at the time but Rowland beat himself up over it, and Hadley never forgave them once he got released from the POW camp in which he spent the rest of the Amazonian war. For some reason "Hadley" decided to act on his vengeance, stealing the necessary equipment to carry out the murder in an act that Hector Sanchez might have chosen. Through Psychometry they also learn that this piece of ware was installed in Hector Sanchez head in a lab that is high tech enough that it probably has the capability to install Deltaware.
As they're taking Hadley/Sanchez to a contact of theirs to examine this ware closer, another sniper kills him. After the shooting in Tacoma, the team hunting the runners picked up their trail and followed them to Puyallup. As Sanchez dies, Night Claw notices that the headware briefly goes wireless on and transmits a very large amount of data to a host that disappears once the transmission is completed. He manages to intercept the data and with the help of Esper's knowledge of memories they manage to build it into a readable format. While the data was fragmented, the team have enough to understand that the data transmitted were the memories that Sanchez had experienced since washing up in Tacoma, five days ago.
They inform the Johnson of all this, who pays them and gives them the contact information of an old colleague of hers.
8k nuyen, 6 karma, CIA Bill at Loyalty 1, 2 CDP
Player After Action Reports (AARs)
This was the first job I've taken since learning the art of psychometry. I have long known about the psychic reside that persists on objects and locations of emotional significance, but I had no idea such clear information could be read from it. It has taken a toll on my sanity, I fear. I must constantly guard my mind against such overwhelming influences, and I must take care not to let these experiences affect my memory and emotions too much. As for these killers... I find for the first time a form of influence I do not know, and it scares me. I hope this woman is prepared for a long, difficult fight if she wishes to continue.
"Someone out there is heavily fragging with Prisoners and the Military. And there are two things i want to see the insides of: That one Deckers Persona and maybe Person and that Host. Someone is developing cutting Edge Tech and using prisoners as experiments for rather dark causes. That Hermes Man will have a bad time when i get a hold of him.."
Moth here. Run #5 was quite an adventure. And this is just the start! We’ve discovered something, and we’ve just begun to untangle it.
We knew the job was for a widow to investigate her husband’s death.
It was a great team. Esper is an adept – she has psychometry, which is basically the best thing ever in researching a murder, and the ability to turn people to stone, which is pretty darn good for capturing people. Night Claws is a talented technomancer. He got information we really needed, and intercepted a key data feed with quick reflexes. Stormcrow is a perceptive dryad-bird, with unusual spells that sure prove useful, like one for destroying pants. He also wears a lot of gold, which caught my eye, but he says it’s not real. Still, that’s something for the shopping list!
The johnson met us at a diner in Bellevue. In the Clyde Hill area. Not too far from my house.
She was a widow, as advertised, but not what I expected. Mary Rowland. A serious woman with an almost military quality to her. Black turtleneck. Khakis. Hair in a tight bun. Used to work for the feds. An operative for an agency. Her husband was special forces. She was more angry than sorrowful. Her husband had been murdered five days earlier. She wanted whoever killed him to be in jail or dead. She really didn’t have the resources to pay more than that, but I talked her into connecting us with a really useful contact of hers to sweeten the deal. A CIA handler. She had a white noise generator. (I made a note to buy one. They are really useful!)
Now, while we were talking to her, an orc came in and sat down. There was something odd about him.
At first, I thought they were together. A bit of backup maybe. But we now know he was something else entirely. He is – in fact – a former death row inmate from Texas. An absolute killer. Nothing like he carried himself in the diner. We are pretty sure he’s another subject in the experiment. Which involves death row inmates getting implanted with cyberware that uses another person’s memories to control their behavior. But we didn’t know any of that then!
She and her husband, Grant Rowland, run a security firm. He was killed in the alley beside their business. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe something from his past? But they were the kind of couple who don’t talk about their work much with each other. Straight-laced and dutiful. She had a heavily redacted dossier on him, and I got her to share information about recent security jobs – since that could create a motive also. Maybe someone wanted to impersonate him for something he had access to? But it wasn’t anything worth killing a person over.
She also had the preliminary autopsy from KE. Now, interestingly, KE was just sitting on the case doing nothing. Like maybe some big strings had been pulled. I took one look at the crime scene and recognized something. He’d been cut with a Glasgow Grin. That’s a mark that the Red Grins use when they kill someone that has horribly wronged them. A traitor or snitch. As a made man of the Laesa syndicate, it’s my job to know about local drug runners in Puyallup. They run north of Tarislar. But they are a solid client of ours. A regular buyer for their own distribution. I asked the johnson if her husband had done any work in Puyallup, but he had not. Curious.
She gave us another lead. Her husband frequented a club called the Garrison. I knew that was a place favored by off duty cops and former soldiers.
I rented the group a nice hotel room to start planning and legwork. Night Claws sent out a sprite to get everything that could be known about Grant Rowland (and this proves very useful, but a lot happens in the next six hours first!) I called my papa and got even more info on the Red Grins. Mainly I was looking for something that would feel like treachery to them. Earn a Glasgow Grin. They had a leader a couple years back, Hector Sanchez, who went wrong. Just too violent. The gang turned on him. Bit of a mutiny. Several of them witnessed against him, and he ended up on death row at Seattle penitentiary. He’s still there (or so we thought at this point!) I got the names of the key witnesses. The Ortez brothers, Miguel and Gilberto. But none of it sounded like something Grant Rowland would be part of. But it was curious.
We read through the dossiers. Drew our own conclusions. Grant Rowland was just a stand up guy from all report.
We figured the place to start was the scene of the crime. The alley where he died.
When we got there, Esper revealed that she could use psychometry, which means she can read the psychic impressions of a place or object. See its history. Which is basically the best skill ever for a murder investigation. I think it was harrowing for her, though.
She relived the murder from the killer’s eyes. And it was very strange. She could basically sense two psychic impressions. The killer, and a voice inside them. The voice was angry at Rowland. Wanted him dead for being left behind and sending him away. The physical body of the killer was taking that vengeance. Cutting the Glasgow Grin in all sincerity – this was a man who deserved it! Who deserved worse! It didn’t seem like some cold hearted ploy to frame the Red Grins. This was sincere Red Grinning. There was thinking about returning to the lair. Howling like a wolf? An awareness of the voice in his head but also like a flinching fear that whoever that was might become aware of his awareness.
It put me in mind of Hector Sanchez. He’d been put away. Left to rot on death row. Betrayed by his gang. But he had no motive to kill Grant Rowland that we could find.
But also the killer had pretty high end weapons and security armor. Maybe a little above the Red Grins.
But we were facing a real mystery. What could cause that voice in the head? Esper knows a lot about mind control and ran through one idea after another. Nothing. Night Claws had some ideas about tech, but he didn’t know anything could do this.
Night Claws checked the one camera to the alley but it didn’t show anything more than what we’d found through the psychometry.
Stormcrow worked out that there were boot prints. We followed them to a manhole cover. Was this the killer’s lair? Stormcrow turned into a bird, and Esper can levitate, and Night Claws stayed in the car, so it was only me – the Face! – stomping through sewage. Sigh. At least Esper and I had gas masks. Stormcrow might have been nauseous. It’s hard to tell on a bird.
The path through the sewers ran southeast. A path that took us real close to the Garrison, but also that pointed southeast towards Red Grin territory, and their hangout, a club called the Daring Smile. Curious.
We decided to hit the Garrison first since we were right there. It wasn’t so much that we were sure the killer had come up there. We just lost his trail at that point. But it was on our list.
Obviously I wasn’t going to a bar still smelling like sewage. None of us were. So I grabbed us another hotel room nearby. Just to get all cleaned up, and reconnect. I sent Night Claws who remember was just driving since he didn’t want to go down in the sewer a note on DNI to meet up at the hotel room. Now, this is the point where I learn a valuable life lesson about using my own SIM to rent two hotel rooms on the same job, and that messages sent over DNI are not as secure as talking with microtransceivers.
I step out of the shower still in my robe and Night Claws looked like something was really wrong with him. Vomiting on the floor! I ran over just pausing to grab my medkit, but he was basically okay. Just something deckerish had happened? A guy dressed like Hermes attacked him in his head?
We figured out that maybe this was tied to that weird orc guy at the meet up? Who was maybe tracking us? Or had a decker friend doing so? And they’d been looking for me to use my SIM again. I was in a fret! Had I burned a quality 4 SIM??? I at least knew to not use it any more on this job. Night Claws was mad at the decker and we agreed the problem would be solved when Mr. Hermes was dead. (Spoiler alert: his reckoning must be in chapter two of this adventure. That guy is still out there. But Night Claws is working on finding him!)
But, all in all, we could tell there was a lot going on, and it didn’t all add up. This was way beyond Red Grins. (And, I was really really hoping we could leave them alone beyond possibly a bit of friendly conversation because they are a good paying customer for the syndicate.)
We were on edge about the orc who we could investigate a bit more. We worked out that he was also a death-row inmate! But from Texas. Maybe a Lonestar link, since they run both prisons?
And Night Claws made this really clever thing for us. At this point we kind of worked out that someone was experimenting on death row prisoners. Somehow making them assassins. So we needed to watch for other death row inmates. With the time we had, it made sense to narrow the search to Seattle Pen incarcerated. Locals. But that assassin detector was a slick piece of work. And it looked like some kind of Cthulhu monster.
So we were finally clean, smelling good again (and, for me, that is really really good), and off to the Garrison. Esper had changed to a great disguise as a DocWagon first responder. She had a SIM to match. Just the sort of person to fit in there. And Night Claws and I worked up that we were PIs hired by the wife to investigate the death. He had a legit PI license, and we really were hired by her. The best disguises are made from truth. We figured we could ask openly, and Esper could watch and ask covertly. A solid bit of social flanking. And there was no way to make Stormcrow, a dryad dressed as a rapper, look like he belonged at the Garrison, so we just encouraged him to walk in separately.
Now we realized after we walked in that they were actually having a wake for Grant there. A lot of guys who really cared about him. We waited until an appropriate time and Night Claws and I explained we were looking into the death, trying to get justice for it for Mary. A man named David stepped over towards the wall with us. I showed him Hector Sanchez’s picture. And Mr. Suspicious Orc’s picture (whose name is Oscar Amado). Asked him if he’d been around David. He hadn’t to his knowledge. But he explained that Grant was closest to Rick and Ravi. Rick was there. Ravi wasn’t. They’d all served together.
We figured we ought to talk to both of them. Right about this point Rick steps out for a smoke.
And we plan to go talk to him once we finish with David who is solemnly putting a fancy pin up on this huge world map on the wall at the Garrison where they honor their fallen. A lot of pins. A lot of hot spots.
And that’s when there is the sound of gun fire.
We go racing out and damn if Rick isn’t down. A professional hit. Right between the eyes. Dead as dead can be.
Esper manages to get line of sight on the gun man! He’s like on a balcony 10 stories up on a building way across the way. She points him out.
Meanwhile I’m having a different thought. Ravi. Is he missing because he’s dead? Or in imminent peril? Sure looks like someone’s taking out a whole team that served together.
But I glance up at the balcony. And I’ve got magnification contacts. It was Hector Sanchez!
It's a bar of police and soldiers. Everyone pours out onto the street.
Stormcrow turns into a bird and flies after, keeping him in line of sight.
David gives us Ravi’s address to check on him, once the assailant is dealt with.
We can’t let Hector get away!
I give a speech to this crowd of off-duty and former police and military types. This is the man that killed Grant Rowland! We must get him! For Mary! For Justice! They organize themselves into two squads and join the chase!
And Hector ran around to the other side of the building and jumped off in a glidesuit!
The chase was on!
I was mainly busy busy encouraging everyone to do their best to catch him.
And boy did they!
Night Claws pulled me into the car with him to try to give chase at speed if the man kept flying.
Stormcrow was himself flying. Being a bird. And gaining ground!
Esper was flying and levitating after him too to get close enough for mayhem.
The squads from the Garrison were chasing by foot. More eyes on the prize.
And then Stormcrow did something amazing. Apparently he has an alchemical thing that destroys a person’s pants, making them naked. A party trick. Only if you destroy the pants of a glidesuit, it uhhh greatly impacts its viability as a flying device.
Hector plummeted to the ground. It should have killed him. It would have killed anyone. But he just stood right up, looking like he was going to run for it.
And then Esper turned him to stone!
We had him!
He had a nasty scar running up his face like he’d recently had brain surgery.
We had – at this point – nearly completed the job we’d been paid to do. This was Grant’s killer. We could kill him, or turn him in to the police. Unfortunately death row didn’t seem all that secure anymore.
So probably we were going to kill him, but first, there was a lot more to understand here. Something big. Time to investigate.
The squads from the Garrison caught up with us. They were not sorry to see Grant’s killer turned to stone. It was probably the only thing kept him alive at that point. They knew we were working for Mary, since we told them. They were real content to let us see to it. But also handy with a tip. This had all been real public. KE was probably on their way. We needed to get out of there.
We were – as noted before – not far from Puyallup at this point.
We needed to smuggle a petrified wanted man to a safehouse for questioning. Luckily, I was a professional smuggler for the Laesa, and Puyallup is our territory. At least Tarislar, and naturally we have routes to it, and safehouses along the way.
I got us to a decently guarded safehouse. A hide in plain sight warehouse. Physical guards. A watcher spirit. Cameras. Stormcrow and I manned the camera security, while Night Claws worked the matrix security, and Esper went to work to figure out what could be learned from Hector when he was woken up. My contribution was slapping on a trauma patch so he didn’t die first. And to note that big scar on his face looked like it was from a cheap surgery to remove something from his brain. Something about the size of a bomb.
We removed all his weapons and Esper levitated him so he was really really helpless. She mostly just ruled stuff out though. His memories of his captors and experimenters had been wiped. She could only sort out that it was definitely the cyber tech.
About this time, Night Claws’ matrix sprite returns. This sprite had been busily scrubbing the matrix for info on Grant Rowland. And this is when we got a big reveal. Grant had been on a mission overseas with Rick, Ravi, and a fourth man. Solomon Hadley. Grant had led the op and made the difficult decision when the choice was between leaving Solomon behind to become a POW, or losing everyone, to leave Solomon behind! This was the voice controlling Hector. It was Solomon who hated Grant. It was Solomon who wanted him dead.
We assumed for a good hour that it must be Solomon behind this whole crazy experiments on inmates thing, but soon enough a matrix search revealed that Solomon had just worked a manual job – longshoreman – after his time in the marines, and he had died two years ago of cancer.
So … he was the voice in Hector’s head, but it was … like a dead man’s memories? Making him play out the dead man’s fantasy? And blending it into his own psyche. Hector – if he wanted to kill a man for leaving him behind – would use a Glasgow Grin. That was Hector, but the hate of Rowland came from Solomon.
But … how????
The answer had to be inside Hector. In that implanted cyber tech. Not to mention whatever was in his muscles, making him feel no pain, and survive a fall from that height.
None of us knew enough about cyber tech to understand it. We needed an expert. We were in Laesa territory. I arranged for a syndicate cyber tech to take a look. We just had to deliver him.
And that’s when things went wrong.
Esper re-petrified him for safe transport.
We were carrying him out to the van and a sniper shot him right through the cyber tech. It was the sort of shot would likely have killed any one of us.
There was a moment of terror, but the sniper just bolted. Like his job was done.
The killing blow turned him back to flesh. But the cyber thing was toast.
But Esper and Night Claws were like ninja-fast jumping into action. They realized his death had triggered some data being released from his body. Sent back to a host? Night Claws was able to intercept a copy. Esper was able to translate it – it was liked coded into hormones or something. It was a week of memories. Hector’s memories. From crawling up on the shore, off the Sound, to three murders. One guy we didn’t recognize. Grant. Rick. Further proof he was the murderer.
Night Claws tracked the data. It went to a spire that popped up out of the Sound. Like a matrix-style underwater lair.
We still had the ruined wreck of the cyber implant. Esper realized she could use her psychometry on that! She recovered the memories of the initial implant surgery. A crazy fancy lab. Like beyond triple AAA corp kind of financing. Masked surgeons in a high tech surgical theatre. People watching from behind plexiglass. But too far away to catch their faces. The sort of place every possible identifying logo had been stripped from all the equipment.
That was the real enemy.
We still didn’t understand exactly what they were doing but it involved two people’s memories, creating a person who acted like someone else would. If they were alive. Experimenting on death-row inmates.
This was big!
I had to do some serious convincing to get our Laesa cyber tech to get involved in something so obviously full of crazy money heat. But he took a look and basically confirmed what we had surmised. Only, so far as he was concerned, it wasn’t a thing currently possible to do.
But for now, we had finished the job. Mary wanted the killer dead. That was – in the most literal sense – Hector. He was dead. We had proof he’d done it.
But Mary was really paying for justice.
So we told her everything. Mary was an ex-fed. She had connections. Maybe she had the pull to look into this further? Or resource us to keep chasing it? Only time would tell.
But, as promised, she gave us the 8,000 nuyen each and a new contact. A CIA handler. "CIA Bill" Cooper Quite the resource! And perhaps critical to the next chapter of this adventure!
(There was an after party at my house. Of course.)