Last night, as the title suggests, we finished the first op. It was...not the way I expected the ending to go, but that's not a bad thing. Check it.
The characters went to Osijek, deciding to be proactive and do a little digging into a man they knew was involved, Dr. Radovan Macan. They rented a house amidst a bunch of student housing, and got to work. They learned that Macan had been at the university since 1976 (it was founded in 1975), and that he worse his age extremely well. He had, when he first got there, made his bones doing research into the effects of x-rays on soft tissue, but he hadn't done much of note since then...which was weird, because he also wasn't a clinical doctor, and he only taught one course a semester. Hanover hacked his bank account, and found that he had a lot of money saved up...but it wasn't from sordid sources. He just barely spent any.
Lockwood hacked his school account, but there wasn't much there, either. He seldom used email to communicate, and most of the incoming was from his students (asking for clemency). The agents realized that to figure this out, they would need to do physical investigation.
So, they tailed him for a few days, and his habits were...odd. He left his apartment very early in the morning, always accompanied by two men. A third man joined them as they walked to the university. They'd go into his lab (which was windowless and required keycard entry), and then work all day. If he had a class to teach, he'd do that, but the men apparently stayed in the lab.
Lockwood took a cover as a student, and sat through a couple of his classes. He was cold, formulaic, and brusque, and the students knew better than to ask him questions, because he didn't call on them in class and his office hours are "by appointment only." It was pretty obvious he wanted to be back at work. He had a grant from a medical company, and was supposedly doing research on x-ray effects on blood. The medical company, based in Paris, was called Tasse Medical.
He'd stay in his lab until the building closed, and then he and the three men would walk home. But one of the men would leave, while he and the other two went upstairs...and it was never the same one two nights in a row. Upstairs, his light stayed on until late into the night; he apparently only slept a couple of hours a night.
The next night, the characters figured they'd better do some tailing. So Rousseau and Hanover followed the third man as he left the good doctor and the other two, while David and Lockwood broke into his lab.
Getting into the lab wasn't hard, but it was strange. The lab had multiple x-ray machines from across the decades in various stages of repair. Lockwood figured he was trying to miniaturize it, making a collar that shot x-rays directly into the neck...but why? That wasn't safe at all. They also found a refrigerated room, and several blood bags, all sent from a lab in Paris and shipped by a man named Luc Lemarque. David read the research, and realized that these blood trials involved putting some kind of nutrient into the blood - but apart from acting as a slight preservative, he wasn't sure what it would do. For the recipient, it seemed like "very little." The company sending the blood looked like a small testing facility, so it wasn't Tasse directly, though Tasse might farm out the testing to the place.
Meanwhile, Rousseau and Hanover followed the man into the red light district, and watched as he approached a prostitute. Hanover positioned himself so he could watch them go into an alley, while Rousseau hung back to overwatch. Hanover saw the man push the girl's head against the wall...and then he bit her throat. Hanover watched in horror as he drained her dry, then picked her up (holes in the throat clearly visible, but oddly not gushing blood) and tossed her casually into a dumpster. Hanover fell back, collected Rousseau, and met with the group back at the house.
Showing the pictures around, they started to put the pieces together. The men with Macan had shown up as missing people, but they'd gone missing in red light districts from cities "serviced" by Hi-Klass Escorts. The escort service was involved in human trafficking, from as far away as France...which was where the blood samples were coming from. The blood nutrients (which the players nicknamed "Bloody-Os") would do very little for the people holding the blood, but to a vampire drinking the blood, it might be of benefit. The agents realized that this all went much higher than Macan himself.
Hanover was ready to bug out and get clear of this, but the others weren't sure if they could. They looked into recent news stories, and found that a corpse per night had been found since a couple of days after their incident at the train station (where they'd first seen Macan). They decided to get more data. They had bugged and camera'd Macan's lab, and broke into his apartment to do the same.
The place was sparse, but had stacks of books, mostly from the library. Macan apparently read everything he could get his hands on. His kitchen had cheap, bulk-available food (oatmeal, ramen), and a blood bag in the fridge...one from the lab. Several more empty ones were found in the trash. The bedroom looked used, but the spare bedroom had a big, industrial-grade air conditioner, and showed signs of being duct-tape sealed from the outside - odd.
That night, the characters watched the footage. Macan and the two men went upstairs (the third walked on, apparently on the hunt - Macan was rotating these people). They got upstairs, and Macan handed the men the blood bag. One drank half, the other drank the rest, not spilling a drop. Macan led them into the spare room, turned on the air conditioner, and taped up the room. And the men just sat there. All night.
Macan himself made a bowl of oatmeal and read until 3AM, and then went to bed. Not a word was spoken all night.
Suitably creeped out, the characters put together a few more pieces. The three men seemed to be bodyguards, maybe test subjects? Clearly they were vampires; they had the same body language as the men at the train station and in Budapest, so they were strong and fast. But why the cold? Maybe they rotted if they got too warm? And then what was Macan? He was clearly strange, but they'd never seen him drink blood.
Hanover started hacking again, looking to trace Hi-Klass' money. He traced it to a Russian bank, and then to a bank in Vienna, and then to a London shell company, and then to the Isle of Man...just like when he was hunting down the money they'd been paid with for the Lennart job. But when he tried to track it back further, the security came down (again), and he realized he'd been made. He told the others, and they swiftly packed up and left, heading to their second safe house (which, with Preparedness, they'd already set up).
A little annoyed at Hanover, they watched as two SUVs with tough-looking Russian men with guns got out and checked their old place. That was fast, but on the other hand, no vampires that they saw. Separate issues?
They watched Macan during the day, and when he and the three men got to school, he put them into his fridge-room there, where they sat, silently, all day. He worked in his lab, and took a call at one point. The characters didn't get much from the call, just "Yes. No." But then, "Yes, they might still be in town. I don't know. We can't keep this up. I can't keep up three for too long. I do need more, send me twenty."
The "more" he was talking about was, presumably, blood bags, since he was out. And apparently this conspiracy involves the Russian mob, up to a point, as well. The characters decided to do a little experiment. They broke into his apartment again, and Rousseau rigged the air conditioner to switch to heat at about 3:30AM. They all stayed up to watch, and when that happened, the men grew uncomfortable and pounded on the wall. Macan undid the tape, winced at the heat, and yanked the plug from the wall (prompting the agents to note that the vampires weren't very bright). He then opened the air conditioner's machinery, but Rousseau had covered her tracks well enough that it looked like a malfunction. He fixed it, and went back to bed.
The characters discussed blowing up his lab with the vampires in it, but they reasoned that if they did that, it would tip their hand to the larger conspiracy, and the only real advantage they had at this point was the intel they had ahead of the conspiracy. As such, while taking a loud approach might be satisfying (and save some lives), it really wasn't worth the risk. (And here we see Drives come into play; rather, we see which Drives they characters don't have.) They decided to bug out, go to Hanover's cabin in the Alps, rest up, train, and then go to Paris and look into Luc Lemarque and Tasse Medical.