Part VI - Chapter 31 - The Strangest Interview & Hiring Process

The women left slightly after 8 to be at the mansion for their 9 am interviews. Socrates had forged letters of reference to help each with their interview process. Socrates would arrive at the mansion a few hours later to begin his interview process as a family attorney. Luckily, his career was successful enough that a forgery would not be required for him. Between being an attorney for the Westerfield Club’s robber barons, a handler for agents under President Cleveland, and most recently, a Hollywood consultant, his accomplishments would speak for themselves. Viva and Whip, and hopefully Pete, would be following along in the mid-afternoon. The hiring foreman worked the night shift and would not be awake until after 1 pm.

Rachel and Lenore approached the house with a sense of nervousness. When they had arrived the night before, darkness had hidden how grand the area truly was. In the daylight, it looked like a villa or a large estate. As they passed through the gates, Rachel was awed by the beautiful gardens and the sculpture that they passed. There were several individuals hard at work make the gardens beautiful.

While Rachel and Lenore admired the mansion as they moved towards the doors, Ellie could not take in the landscape or architecture. Her attention was diverted by a severe pounding in her head. Spending all this time trying to get into the eccentric millionaire’s hideaway was now at risk due to the incessant hammering on the property. Ellie chided herself for allowing stress and a headache grade on her nerves and distract her from the priority. She looked at Lenore and tried to focus on what this woman might be experiencing. While Ellie never had children, she could not bear the idea of a son being stolen by a futuristic technology that was slowly killing him. At the thought of what Lenore must be feeling, Ellie pushed her thoughts aside to focus on the interview. She lifted her head and attempted to push through the pain as the crossed the threshold into the house.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard she attempted to bury the pain, a small voice in the back of her mind was screaming, “For the love of god, would you stop the goddamn hammering!”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Rachel sat on a bench and looked around the room to see numerous women, all with references in hand, applying for the two open maid positions. The cooks were taken into another part of the house, presumably to interview or to show off their cooking and leadership skills. An older woman with a sharp nose and wearing a fine yet stiff dress would occasionally come into the room to call out a name before escorting a young lady into, presumably, an office. There must have been a separate exit as the young women would never come back. Ellie was one of the first women called away but Rachel guess that the bar owner was in pain based on how Ellie kept rubbing her temples

“Maybe she eats ‘em,” whispered the red head sitting next to Rachel. She had a thick Texan accent with red hair that seemed to struggle and protest at being pulled back away from her face.

“Excuse me?”

“You looked to be wonderin’ where all them other gals are goin’. Based on the rumors that I hear, she probably eats ‘em or feed ‘em to ghosts,” giggled the red head.

“Miss Tilly Tatum,” called the sharp-nosed woman.

“Good luck!” offered Rachel in an attempt to return the friendliness.

“Luckily, I’m too boney to be supper,” Tilly whispered before winking at Rachel. Rachel studied the girl as she walked away, she seemed to be wearing shoes two sizes too big as they flopped about. She was not only thin but short, not even 5 feet tall. She hunched her shoulder as in a perpetual state of carrying a load but there was a spring in her step that gave the appearance of someone who skips or dances through life.

Rachel pondered the fate of her friends. In that moment, she closed her eyes and imagined a tiny electronic box. Something where everyone who was part of the rescue mission could covertly send status updates on how they were doing with the interview process. At the very least, covertly message where they are currently standing in the mansion to ensure that no one got lost.

Keeping her eyes closed she could eavesdrop the whispered conversations around her without seeming rude or inquisitive. From what the other applicants said in hushed voices the mansion had at least 100 rooms. Many of the female voices were worried, discussing their fear of ghosts or their irritation towards the constant racket. Rachel smiled inwardly as she was able to easily tune out the sound. Growing up on a wild west circuit, she grew up with the sounds of giant tents being pitched prior to a show, packed up, and then pitched up again in another town. In fact, it was one of the few things that she loved about working in Hollywood. The sound of sets being built reminded her of her childhood. Somehow the incessant building made her feel safe despite an inexplicable darkness in the house.

Rachel moved her hands from daintily resting in her lap to grab the bench on either side of herself in nervous energy. She realized that by keeping her eyes shut, she was avoiding not only the gossip but eye contact. In most societal situations, eye contact could be misinterpreted as an invitation to chat which Rachel was not in the mood to do. Rachel had begun to focus on her breathing in an effort to expel the anxious feeling when a cold hand squeezed hers. Despite the cold temperature of the hand, the kind gesture oddly strengthened Rachel. So, when she opened her eyes to thank the stranger, she was shocked to find that no one had moved near her since Tilly and Ellie left for their interviews. In fact, the hallway had emptied down to just two other applicants. Rachel studied the nearest applicant to determine if this individual was the one to thank but the woman shifted her body away from Rachel, lifting her nose to signify an attitude of superiority.

Despite the cold treatment of the fellow interviewee, Rachel decided to ask anyway, “Why did you do that?”

The woman ignored Rachel and began to pick at an imaginary loose thread on her dress. Determined to not be put off, Rachel asked again. “Why did you squeeze my hand?”

“Why would I touch you? A stranger? A competitor for the best paying job along the West Coast, if not the entire country?”

“Excuse me,” apologized Rachel. Rachel was then silent. It was clear that this bespectacled and narrow nosed brunette was used to working in the upper class of servants and only at the best houses. But despite the haughty woman’s nastiness, Rachel was more intrigued by whoever had attempted to offer comfort. As Rachel continued to look up and down the hallway, a cold of chill run up and down her spine. Rachel attempted to draw her wrap tight around her shoulders but nothing could warm her back to room tempterature.

“Rachel Hawkins.” Rachel jumped at the sound of her own name and the references spilled onto the floor. As Rachel stooped to clean up the papers, she saw the tiniest of smiles from the woman sitting on the opposite bench. Rachel quickly followed the sharp-nosed woman through the door but it did not lead to an office like the actress had supposed. Instead, the two women walked through a narrow hallway before passing the kitchen. Rachel caught a glimpse of Lenore who gave Rachel the quickest of winks before turning back to the kitchen staff with hands on hips as she gave orders for meal preparations. “Lenore must have gained the head chef post,” thought Rachel. She was relieved to know that someone had been hired so there would be less pressure on Rachel to succeed in the interview ahead.

Rachel looked back at her guide only to realize that the woman had been speaking to Rachel. Embarrassed, Rachel politely interrupted, “I’m sorry, would you repeat the question?”

“I asked if the hammers bothered you?”

“No ma’am.”

“Are you able to stay awake for long intervals or through the night?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

By this point, they were now passing through a room filled with stained glass. Rachel gasped as she looked around the room in awe; she had never seen so many stained-glass windows before. And here they were, each a stunning piece and all of them waiting to be placed into various parts of the mansion. After a few moments of admiration, Rachel realized that her lack of attention and open gawking might be construed as unprofessional. But instead of an expected scowl, the hook-nosed woman had a hint of a smile of approval.

“Miss Hawkins, I need you to ensure that all of the stained glass with 13 panes are facing the south wall,” instructed the woman.

Rachel was taken aback by the strange request but immediately started the task. Due to Crystal’s strict training, the actress could still determine which way was south despite the maze of winding hallways that she had just walked. After a few moments, Rachel told the woman that she had completed the request.

“Be sure to count all of the panes carefully,” came the hint.

Confused, Rachel went back through to inspect each of the stained-glass panes again. Sure enough, one of the window settings did have 13 panes but the 13th was almost miniscule. As Rachel looked closer, it was clear that someone had cut a pane in half simply to ensure that there was a 13th pane. After Rachel moved it with the rest, she noticed that the woman had been taking notes of Rachel’s progress. “Surely, this is not part of the interview?”

“How long can you stand on your left foot?” asked the interviewer.

“As long as required,” responded Rachel.

“Do so,” the woman commanded. When Rachel lifted her left foot, the woman said, “I need to address something in the kitchen. Please leave your foot in the air until I return and we can continue the interview.”

Rachel stood in the center of the room with one foot in the air and nothing to do but look around. After several minutes, she shifted her references from one hand to another. “Were the papers getting sweaty?” Rachel thought about dropping the pages but the request, while odd, might be part of the interview. If rearranging stained-glass and standing on one foot was part of the interview, she decided that it would be best to hold them until told otherwise. The thought quickly passed through Rachel’s mind that she could put her foot down and the absent woman would never be the wiser. However, it felt as though Rachel was being watched. Based on the various sizes of staircases, doors, and rooms, there could easily be a secret entrance or window that a hidden individual could grade Rachel’s ability to follow instructions.

Several minutes passed before the woman returned.

“Thank you for your patience, Miss Hawkins. I am Mrs. Dechant. You may put your foot down and provide me your references. By the way, thank you for not dropping your references in an effort to maintain your balance.”

Rachel did as she was told before Mrs. Dechant led Rachel through another door which opened into a staircase that had steps barely 2 inches high and switched back and forth. They passed a door on the left which was identified as a bathroom before Rachel was led into a sitting room. Despite the heat outside, the fire was going, which helped Rachel finally rid herself of the stubborn shiver that had seemed determined to remain with the actress following the odd encounter.

A woman, presumably Mrs. Winchester, was dressed in all black, wearing a black veil which hid her face, while sitting in an overstuffed chair next to the fireplace. While Tilly had seemed short at barely 5 feet, this woman seemed tiny. There was a cane leaning against Mrs. Winchester’s chair voicing the woman’s old age. Rachel studied the woman’s hands which seemed bent with arthritis. However, she flipped through the pages of Rachel’s references as though determined to not allow pain to inhibit her life. There was a surprising smell in the air, Rachel was certain that someone had been smoking cannabis in the room.

“No lies, girly. The spirits will tell me if you lie,” came a voice from behind the veil.

Rachel nodded in response. Perhaps this will be the normal part of the interview.

“Are you here just for the salary and benefits?”

“No ma’am. I am here to find my purpose.” So far, so truthful.

The widow tilter her head to consider the response before responding, “And you think that purpose can be found here?”

“I think that I am tired of being treated as a helpless damsel.”

“Men do try to keep us in that role, don’t they?” agreed Mrs. Winchester. “Could that be a smile behind the veil?” thought Rachel.

Before Rachel could stop herself she replied, “On the road as part of a traveling western show and in Hollywood, I always play the helpless girl while I am actually capable of outshooting and outriding my male counterparts.”

“So, you’re a female trick shooter, huh?” admired Mrs. Winchester. After a moment’s reflection, the widow asked, “Have you taken a life- animal or human?”

“No ma’am, just targets,” answered Rachel.

“Ever used a Winchester Rifle?”

“Of course ma’am. When riding horseback, I’ve found that it has the best handling while shooting multiple targets.”

“Are you attuned to the supernatural?”

“As in…”

“Do you believe in auras? Do you see ghosts? Do you believe that there is more than just this life?”

At this question, the hairs went up on the back of Rachel’s neck. “I have not seen a ghost but I am sure that I have felt their presence.”

“Not everyone can identify a presence correctly, so tell me about your experience.”

Rachel told the story of the invisible hand in the waiting area and the cold chill she had been experiencing since the encounter.

“You will notice that there is a cold chill when spirits come into the room. You may even notice that your breath will begin to fog as a ghost approaches you. But you’ll get used to it. It’s especially good to hear that they like you. Wandering spirits are very particular about who comes into the house. Many people think that I have so many fireplaces to warm up my arthritic bones,” Mrs. Winchester gave an impish giggle before continuing, “It’s mostly to keep my bones warm as so many ghosts live in this place.” A thought struck her before she changed subjects, “Has anyone mentioned your aura before?”

The question shocked Rachel for a moment before she continued. “Not that I can recall-“

The widow seemed to stare around Rachel rather than at her. “I can’t seem to get a full read on you…” she paused for a few more moments before straightening and changing the subjected. “We’ll talk more of life purposes, the great cosmos, and of being women in a man’s world as time passes. But I am glad that Mrs. Dechant sent everyone else home. It’s clear that you are the right person for this job, at least for now.”

To signify that the interview was over, the widow flicked her hand to Mrs. Dechant. In a blur, Rachel followed Mrs. Dechant. She thoughtfully reviewed the conversation, unsure what this job might entail and if she had taken on more than she could handle. Rachel became aware that Mrs. Dechant had been talking again about the onboarding process and what the next few days would look like. Rachel did her best to focus on Mrs. Dechant as they walked towards the servants’ quarters but it was hard to listen to the woman as the house was so enchanting.

“You must have thought the interview process as maddening but we need people who can handle the constant noise of the hammering, the ongoing building and rebuilding of rooms, and someone who can balance themselves well. The last thing that we need is for someone to get injured because they lost their footing as they are going about their chores. Furthermore, Mrs. Winchester can be… unique in her requests. She has terminated employees over small faults that have not made sense to the employee being fired. That said, she is also the most generous employer in the country.”

Upon finishing her explanations, Mrs. Dechant left Rachel with the seamstress who would sew Rachel’s uniforms. In the span of a few hours, Rachel had been hired and was moving in her bags to live and work at the mansion all while surreptitiously looking out for James’ arrival.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Whip and Viva were immediately lassoed into the construction crew. Turned out that the foreman was short on workmen and therefore not particular about whom he hired. If an individual could handle the work, the man was allowed to stay. Turned out that most of the crew were seasonal, while only a few man had worked at the house for decades.

It was hard work as they lifted the remaining lumber and materials off the train and into an unfinished section of the house. After a couple hours, Viva began to feel his back begin to ache. “I’m much too old to be workin’ like a dog” Viva muttered to Whip.

“Quit belly-achin’ and give me a hand,” responded Whip.

“You boys can take a break after that load,” called the foreman and a grateful Whip and Viva groaned in acknowledgement.

As soon as they finished the load and sat down out of the way, the foreman came by to check on the two men. “Luckily, for you gentlemen, we rarely get shipments this big from the train lines. So, you won’t have to do this again for another few months. That said, we have plenty of other things like gardening, indoor craftsmen, roofers, and so forth. Based on your qualifications, Viva you will be working with the craftsmen crew while Whip will be working with the roofers. Like I said, we just needed all hands to help us unload today. So, don’t skip out on me during the night,” advised the foreman.

“Will we be boarding here?” asked Whip.

“If you end up being more than a seasonal worker, we’ll take a look at getting you a room. But in the meantime, we’ll help pay for your room in town. Any other questions about the job?”

“Yeah, when’s luuuunch?” inquired Viva.

“We eat at odd hours because of the day and night crews. We’ll get you a meal schedule later but there’s usually something cookin’ at all hours of the day in one of the six kitchens.”

“Six kitchens? That suits me just fine,” smiled Viva.

“Any new workers from out of town?” asked Whip in an attempt to further the investigation.

The foreman stood back up and laughed. He pointed around the area before saying, “In any direction you can throw a rock, you’ll probably hit one.” And at that, he walked away.

“Well, that wasn’t helpful,” sighed Whip.

“I say, we mosey to a kitchen and interview people over food,” commented Viva. “Besides, I can already smell Lenore’s cookin’ and ain’t anyone who can cook as good as her.”

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