St. Nicholas, Maryland. April 2, 1936…

From the shadows across North Howard Street, Doug Davis peered at the warehouse and waited for total darkness. He was determined to check out the building’s contents, but he wasn’t going in alone; he’d brought reinforcements.

He could dimly see a huge silhouette close by him in the gathering dusk. That would be the man who called himself Prometheus; Davis didn’t care if the guy called himself “Rumplestiltskin” so long as he got the job done. Davis didn’t know the man’s true identity, since he always wore a domino mask, but the investigator didn’t ally himself with Prometheus because of who he was but, rather, what he could do. Prometheus was freakishly strong; Davis suspected that he’d once worked for a circus.

Davis couldn’t see his other companion, but that was completely normal; he knew the man was nearby, vigilant in the shadows of the loading dock. His real name was Jedediah Singletary but only Davis knew that fact;  the criminal element of St. Nicholas knew him as the Twilight Phantom. Possessing the ability to almost totally conceal himself in shadows and dim light, the Twilight Phantom had been the scourge of the city’s underworld at the end of the Prohibition era. Since the repeal of the Volstead Act, though, the Phantom had lived fairly quietly, only donning his trademark black trenchcoat and bandanna when Davis called on him for help with “special” jobs like this one.

“What do you expect to find here, Doug?” Prometheus whispered.

“Those tenement fires? They’re no accidents,” Davis replied. “The one yesterday afternoon killed seven people – two of ’em were little kids. I’m pretty sure the guy who picked the fight with me in the bar is an arsonist – and I found that warehouse’s address in his pocket.”

“Maybe he’s just a firebug.”

Davis shook his head, even though he knew Prometheus couldn’t see it. “Nah, it’s more than that. There’ve been too many fires in too short a time. It’s something bigger, more sinister. C’mon, let’s get started.”

Stealthily the duo left the loading dock, crossed the railroad tracks, and slipped across the street to the warehouse they’d been observing. The huge block building was dark and appeared deserted. Davis looked over his shoulder in time to glimpse a silhouette cross behind them; it looked like nothing more than a bit of black cloth being windblown across the road. Davis and Prometheus hit in the shadows at the building’s corner and waited. After a few moments a third figure appeared beside them as though from thin air.

“The door’s locked, as we expected,” the Twilight Phantom intoned in a voice as deep as blackest midnight.

“Start checking windows,” Davis said.

The trio split up. Davis pushed on the ground floor windows, hoping to find one that was unlocked or loose. The place was locked up tight as a drum. Davis hated to have to waste the time picking one of the cheap padlocks, but it was starting to look like they’d have to break in – no one was going to make this easy for them.

“Hsst!” came a whisper from behind Davis. “I found one!”

Davis turned and followed Prometheus around the corner to the rear of the building. They stopped about halfway along the building’s length and the large man pointed upward to a second story window. “Up there.”

“How the hell’d you get up to that window?? That must be fifteen feet up!”

“Easy – I jumped.”

Davis shook his head. “Brother, you are one strange character, but I’m sure glad we’re on the same side. Let’s go find the Phantom and –”

“I’m here,” came a voice from the shadows behind them.

“OK, great. Now all we need to do is get up there.”

Prometheus laughed. “I’ll carry you. Step right up – next stop, second floor.” Grabbing each of his companions around the waist like sacks of flour, Prometheus tensed his legs and leaped. Light as a feather he landed on the sill of the large industrial window, shouldered open the unfastened hinged pane, and stepped inside. In the dim light the trio could just make out crates and pallets stacked around them. Prometheus set his companions down and announced, “We’re in! Now where do we start?”

“This is just storage,” Davis replied. “The offices will be on the first floor.”

The Vindicators didn’t find a whole suite of offices as Davis had suspected; instead there were just two – a small glassed-in affair containing dozens of waybills posted on pegs, and a larger, more private office which contained nicer furnishings. “If we find any evidence, it’ll be in the larger office,” said Davis. “That other one’s probably just for the shipping and receiving manager.”

The larger office was furnished with a couch, some plush chairs, a large desk, and a few cabinets. Although the furniture was a bit swankier than what Davis would expect to find in a warehouse, he noted that the carpet was a bit threadbare and somewhat soiled; it had definitely seen better days. Davis closed the door behind them, then switched on the desk lamp. “Let’s go to work.”

A quarter-hour later, after a thorough search of the desk and cabinets, the trio had to admit they’d come up dry. “Crap,” muttered Davis. “Nothing. Let’s put everything back and get –”

“Doug,” the Twilight Phantom interrupted. “I feel a cold draft in front of this cabinet.”

“It’s a warehouse; of course it’s drafty.”

The Phantom placed his gloved hands on the side of the large, floor-to-ceiling cabinet and pushed. The wooden cabinet swung outward, revealing a doorway.

“You were saying, Doug?” said the Phantom. His mouth and nose were hidden by his black bandanna, but Davis could tell the Phantom was grinning by the glint in his eye.

“What in the Sam Hill is that?” Prometheus wondered.

Davis looked through the doorway and saw a long, brightly lit stairwell leading downward. “If I had to bet, I’d say that this is a holdover from Prohibition.”

“You mean a mob hideout.”

“You got it. See, St. Nicholas was a center of mob activity, especially for bootleggers. This town has easy access to both Calvert and the Chesapeake Bay, and it’s close enough to both the Pennsie and Delaware borders to suit the crooks — if they were in a vehicle chase with John Law, they could tear ass across the border where a state or county boy wouldn’t have jurisdiction. Johnny’d have to stop at the line and the crooks would get away scot-free.”

“And don’t forget who the historic St. Nicholas was,” added the Phantom. “He was patron saint of bankers, pawnbrokers…and thieves.”

Davis chuckled ruefully. “Prohibition may be gone, but some things evidently never change. Let’s check it out.” Davis stepped through the doorway and began descending the stairs. Prometheus and the Twilight Phantom exchanged glances. The big man grinned and the pair followed the private investigator down the stairs.

After a straight descent of about twenty feet, the trio found themselves in a large well-lit square chamber. The air in the chamber was fresh and cool, not especially humid. The walls were of block construction, probably built sometime after the war. A wooden door was in the center of the wall straight ahead, while the two side walls contained openings to side passages. The chamber’s floor was fairly clean, but the Vindicators could see some debris and refuse in the side passages.

Davis walked to the wooden door and listened. He could hear no sounds from within. Davis saw no hinges and reasoned that the door should thus open inward. He tried the knob and found the door opened easily. He motioned for his companions to join him; together they entered the dimly-lit room.

It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the gloom. Davis smiled to himself, knowing that the Twilight Phantom was in his element. The room was surprisingly similar to the office in the warehouse above, albeit more cheaply furnished. There were a few chairs, a large desk, and some cabinets. But dominating the wall opposite the door was a large fresco of a feathered snake.

“Quetzalcoatl,” said the Twilight Phantom’s voice from somewhere in the shadows. “An Aztec deity.”

“Weird,” replied Prometheus. “What kind of mobster would have that on his wall?”

“One with bad taste,” Davis shot back. “Get to looking.”

A few minutes’ search revealed nothing, although Davis did discover $400 in bills in one of the desk drawers. “Crooked cash. Ours now. We’ll split it later. Let’s find out what else is down here.”

Leaving the room, the companions took one of the side passages from the main chamber. Various wood and metal debris littered the floor, along with small piles of a foul-smelling substance. The farther they proceeded through the tunnel, the dimmer the light became while the piles became more numerous. Davis double-checked to make sure his sword cane was still strapped to his back. He paused to pull a flashlight from his backpack and slipped a set of brass knuckles onto his right hand. He couldn’t see the Phantom but he hoped Jed was carrying his trademark twin truncheons.

They came to a four-way intersection and turned to the right. After another ten paces or so the passage opened into a pitch-black chamber. Davis thumbed the switch to turn on the flashlight. Instantly there was an ear-splitting screech from overhead and something like a heavy black blanket dropped down on them.

It was a quick little melee; when it was done, the trio stood panting and looking at a large black hairy shape on the floor. It was a huge bat.

“Holy mackerel!” Prometheus exclaimed. “That thing must have a five foot wingspan!” It was no exaggeration; the beast was indeed unnaturally huge.

“That passage was an educational experience,” Davis grinned. “Now we know how big a pile of guano a five foot bat leaves.” He couldn’t see the Phantom but he could sense Jed’s disapproving expression. “In case we’re ever on one of those radio quiz shows,” he finished.

The Vindicators could see a large number of shiny objects littering the floor, gleaming in the light of their electric torch. Many coins, mostly dimes and quarters, littered the floor. Davis guessed they were dropped by previous visitors who’d cut and run after being surprised by the bat. The trio quickly gathered up the change and moved on.

They left the chamber into another dimly-lit hallway. Gingerly they picked their way around refuse and debris, moving slowly and silently. They turned another corner and the passage widened. As they approached a “T” intersection, they were surprised when six men rounded the corner from the right. They were dressed in an assortment of workman’s togs and cheap suits. After a startled moment, the six produced an assortment of knives, pipes, and blackjacks. In a flash the fight was on. Davis popped one of the pipe-wielders in the jaw with his brass-knuckled fist and was gratified to see the man drop in a heap. Another assailant flew backwards into the wall and slumped at its base, felled by one of Prometheus’ huge fists. A third thug went down, and the remaining trio dropped back to regroup. Davis took a step back and stumbled slightly; he was surprised to see the Twilight Phantom lying on the floor, a rivulet of blood running across the concrete floor from under his inert form.

“Lucky shot,” Prometheus said. “One of them took a wild swing at me with a knife and missed, but accidentally got him.”

“Grab him up and let’s go. We’re outta time.”

Prometheus picked up the Phantom; he and Davis ran back the way they’d come. Taking the steps two at a time, they ran back through the office and paused in the darkened warehouse long enough to apply first aid to their wounded comrade. The Twilight Phantom opened his eyes and looked around. Then he swore under his breath. “Sorry, Doug.”

“It’s not your fault. We’ve learned enough for one night. Let’s get out of here — but, rest assured, we’ll be back…”

Guess what I played the other night? Yep, it was Hideouts and Hoodlums. It’s plenty of old-school fun, very much like original Dungeons and Dragons. I used the random dungeon generator from 1st edition AD&D to create the underground hideout as the Vindicators were exploring it.

I’d forgotten how much fun (and work) it can be to create random encounter tables, plus devise rules to fill in the blanks. H&H’s equipment chart lists a (rather expensive) first aid kit, but doesn’t include rules for its use. So I treated it much the same as the “iron rations” in the old D&D; it’s good for unlimited uses (restoring 1 HP immediately after each fight) as long as you’re still on an adventure, but as soon as you leave the hideout or wrap up a chapter/session, the kit’s all used up and another must be purchased before the next foray into the hideout.

Good fun. I think I’m going to invest in an extra printer cartridge and print a copy of Hideouts & Hoodlums (it’s presently more than 200 pages for the four booklets); I’m pretty sure I’ll be coming back to it over and over again. I’m a sucker for 1930’s pulps and Golden Age comics (as well as “old school” RPGing) and this game covers the genre pretty well. I’m sure I’ll be grafting bits from other games onto it, too; things from Pulp Hero, Golden Age Champions, deathtraps from Top Secret 1e, rules and price lists from Gangbusters, Gangsters, and probably the “chase scene” rules from the old TSR Indiana Jones game. Hideouts and Hoodlums seems to have a whole lot of potential for some awesome RPG fun.

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2010, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.