Part VI - Chapter 30 - All Roads Lead to the Mansion

1913 – Shortly After James’ Disappearance

Word quickly spread to the group regarding the loss of Doc and James’ most recent disappearance. Based on the fact that James did not command the bracelet to go “home” despite having a slightly better understanding of the bracelet, all knew that something had gone wrong. As Brisco shared Doc’s cryptic warning, the group decided that it would need all hands on deck to rescue James. As Ellie, Socrates, and Pete were the closest, they would go ahead to San Jose to complete the initial investigation of the area. The added benefit of Ellie and Pete having a deep understanding of how to remove the device, meant that they might be able to rescue James before anyone else would even arrive in San Jose.

Lenore and Rachel would be the next group to arrive as they were able to catch a northbound train that same day. As the women reviewed train lines to plan their journey, they were surprised to learn of a train that went directly to the mansion. Apparently, the mansion was in a constant state of build and there was so much work being done on the house that it made the most sense for locals to have a train pull alongside the property. The level of wealth required to have trains deliver building materials to your mansion seemed unfathomable to Brisco, but it would enable Rachel and Lenore to arrive within a day of the San Francisco group. However, Brisco did not feel comfortable sending Lenore and a wounded Rachel ahead with their only protection being a lying convict, a barmaid, and a lawyer. So unbeknownst to Lenore and Rachel, Brisco had coordinated with Sheriff Aaron Viva and Whip Morgan to board the train in Ventura and travel with the women to the mansion.

Brisco would be driving alone from Serenity. He figured if he pulled over for sleep on occasion, he shouldn’t be more than a couple days behind the group as he had the furthest to travel. For a moment, Brisco allowed himself to think of James’ small make-shift family. Eight people from all over the states were joining together to help save James from an unfathomable and other-worldly danger; it was a true testament to the character of James’ parents, Lenore and Bowler.

But the moment past and Brisco began working out a plan of action as he began the drive towards San Jose. The only problem is, how do you create a plan when you aren’t sure of what you are about to face?

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

San Francisco

After receiving instructions from Brisco, the San Francisco group packed up Socrates’ car with a few bags of essentials before meeting in Ellie’s room. After Socrates loaded his last bag, he joined Pete and Ellie in her room behind the bar. Neither Ellie nor Pete were speaking but Ellie had the bracelet in her lap and was using a couple crude tools to tinker with the bracelet. Socrates turned to find Pete burning a journal and a handful of additional papers. While Ellie had mentioned that it was best to keep the secrets of the bracelet between Pete and Ellie and it should be destroyed in case anything happened at the mansion, Socrates still felt that it was a waste. But neither of them had taken any notice of his concerns. Socrates made a mental note of how easy Brisco was to work with compared to Ellie and Pete. “Brisco may be stubborn on days,” thought Socrates, “but he never lied to my face. I always know exactly what Brisco is thinking.

As if on a coordinated cue, Pete straightened and moved away from the fireplace, satisfied that the notes and journal were destroyed. Ellie also placed the bracelet down and gathered the tiny tools together and buried them in a pocket.

“Think we’re all set, Pete,” Ellie observed as she wrapped the bracelet around her friend’s arm.

“So, according to Ellie’s findings, you should be able to just ‘jump’ to the mansion with her?” asked a dubious Socrates.

“Well, you could come too,” came Ellie’s reply.

“Thank you, but no. I will drive a car as I would prefer to not materialize without an arm or other such important limb.”

“I have yet to lose an eyelash, much less an appendage,” Pete retorted while rolling his eyes.

“You lost your mind years ago, so it’s not like you would notice if there was anything missing,” snarked Socrates.

“Boys! Please!” scolded Ellie before turning to Pete, while holding his wrist. “I have adjusted a couple buttons to accommodate the two of us so you should just be able to say-“

“Winchester Mansion,” commanded Pete.

In a flash of light the two disappeared, only to reappear seconds later. Ellie and Pete did not land but went flying in opposite directions as if they had been catapulted backwards.

“What on earth?” asked Socrates.

“Has it ever done that before?” Ellie called over to Pete, as Socrates lifted her to her feet. “It’s the first time it knocked the wind out of me.”

As they looked at Pete, his nose was broken as though he had run full sprint into a wall and he was unconscious before them.

“I’m thinking this is new,” stated an awed Socrates.

“I guess plan B is that we’re driving with you,” sighed Ellie.

“Driver picks the music,” called Socrates as he left Ellie’s room to find a barfly willing to carry Pete to the car below. As Socrates left the room, he felt slightly relieved. He did not trust these bracelets and did not want to lose anyone else to something so powerful.

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

Train Ride to Winchester Mansion

Lenore and Rachel boarded the train but were annoyed to have the armed companions. While Lenore appreciated the thought, it was still irritating to believe that a mayor and champion-trick-shooter could not handle a bit of danger because they were women. To Brisco’s credit, he had arranged a private compartment for the four travelers, possibly to make up for the insult of sending chaperones.

As Aaron and Whip loaded their bags into the luggage space above their seats, Lenore looked across to see Rachel’s stern face. Clearly Rachel was also not thrilled by the escort. However, shortly after the train pulled out of Venture, Lenore began to appreciate the extra company. Rachel barely spoke two words together and did little aside from staring out the window at the passing landscapes. To Lenore’s relief, the men did their best to distract Lenore with rounds of poker and reliving tales of their days back in Hard Rock. Aaron even serenaded the group with a couple of new songs that he was working on, including “Mystery Train” in honor of their train ride to the mysterious mansion.

About an hour outside of San Jose, something seemed to snap in Rachel. For a moment, Lenore had thought that the girl would join in the conversation but instead Rachel pulled her bag down and began piling out her guns in front of her. Ignoring the shocked looked of the men, Rachel began cleaning her guns and preparing them for battle. Whip and Aaron gave Lenore a look of surprise, but all Lenore could do was shrug and pray that the girl was overreacting.

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

Train Station Stop Beside the Winchester Mansion

Lenore, Whip, Aaron, and Rachel arrived at the mansion much later than expected. Lenore had hoped to arrive during the early evening and ask for shelter for the night, but they did not arrive until shortly before midnight. The small group unloaded their bags and followed the lumber being unloaded. It seemed odd to Rachel that the sound of hammers came echoing through the night. Aren’t most people asleep at this time of the night? And who would continue to build after sunset?

Rachel moved away from the group and towards the front gate and found the front gates to be closed, which was unsurprising given the late hour. Lenore pulled out a map while Viva provided a lighter so that the two could determine how best to get to town and find a hotel for the evening. As Rachel continued to peer through the gates, she jumped when a light was sparked only a foot away.

Rachel turned to find a man in work clothes who had been leaning against the hinges of the gate. He had lit a cigar and was watching Lenore, Whip, and Viva study a map. If he had noticed Rachel, he did not seem to care.

Feeling her confidence return, Rachel decided to pursue a bit of local knowledge. “Excuse me, sir?” she began.

The man continued to watch the rest of Rachel’s party as he continued to smoke. Just as Rachel had decided that he either didn’t hear her or didn’t want to talk, he stated, “She don’t see no visitors. Especially around midnight as that’s the busy time for her.”

Before Rachel could inquire his meaning “midnight being a busy time” for a widow, the bell tower in the large mansion began to peal signaling midnight. Rachel could barely make out two shadows guided by candlelight move towards the center of the house. It was hard to tell the gender or height by candlelight but one of the candles seemed to pause in the window as if to look out at the group standing in the dark street. For a moment, Rachel could swear it was James. But when it moved on, she assumed that it was merely wishful thinking.

At that moment, the smell of tobacco seemed overwhelming and when she looked back at the man in the darkness, she found that he had moved directly to her side. He was barely an inch away and she could feel the ash from his cigar fall onto her skin. She tried to take a step back but he moved with her. Even in the darkness, she could feel his intense gaze and the hairs on the back of her neck went up. Something about the man made her freeze, unable to move away or to speak.

To Rachel’s relief, Whip pushed his way between the stranger and Rachel before saying, “Thank you for your time. We’ll try again tomorrow.”

At Whip’s words, Lenore and Viva looked up from the map and noticed the large brooding man. As he turned to walk towards the house, Lenore took a few steps after him. She was not about to let Whip send the man away without a bit more information. She took a chance and called, “Have you seen anything unusual?”

The man paused in the darkness before turning to look at Lenore and Viva. He took a long puff of his cigar as though to consider her question. “Seen anything unusual?”

“Anything maniacal, violent, or of ill-intent?” clarified Lenore.

He paused to think on her question before slowly answering, “Nothing physically maniacal, violent, or of ill-whatcha-ma-callit.”

“Any new folk arrive at the house?” asked Viva.

“New folk?” repeated the stranger.

Rachel involuntarily shook her head. Is this man dense? Why does he repeat every simple question?

“Visitors, strangers showing up in the house-“ began Aaron.

“More specifically, have you seen a young man arrive?” asked an impatient Lenore.

“No ma’am. Visitors ain’t allowed in. Strangers ain’t allowed in. The only people here are the building crew, the household staff, the family, and their…guests.”

A wave of relief fell over Lenore. Her son had not yet arrived at this sinister mansion. She took a breath before turning back to the stranger. “Thank you for your time. Good evening.”

“It’s no sweat off my back,” the large man’s shoulders shrugged before he continued, “’Sides, night shift gets lonely. We only have the spirits and other workers to chat with at night. I haven’t seen any good lookin’ ladies in a long time.” He gave a smile that caused Rachel to shiver. It was not evil per se, but a face that had seen things best forgotten. The stranger tipped his hat before continuing his walk around the gate and towards the train tracks. Rachel was so lost in thought about the man’s comments that when Lenore put a hand on her should, the girl about jumped out of her skin.

“I’m not sure if it’s the hammering, the darkness, or the bells, but I have an eerie feeling too,” comforted Lenore. “It seems that he isn’t here or he hasn’t arrived yet. So, I suggest that we go find a nearby town and get a good night’s sleep.”

As the group turned to walk away from the house, something began to gnaw on Lenore. Something about the house still made her hair stand on edge. And as much as she tried to allow the stranger’s words to assure her that James was nowhere near the house, something in her gut told her that there was much more to the story than what the stranger had explained, or more accurately, had hinted.

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

The journey to the town’s hotel passed as a blur for the weary travelers. They half stumbled to the front desk barely able to place one foot in front of the other. The hotel seemed to be mostly booked so Lenore and Rachel had to share a room as Whip and Aaron had to awkwardly stretch out in overstuffed chairs in the lobby. Rachel and Lenore had barely closed the door before someone excitedly pounded on the door.

When Rachel opened the door to tell whoever it was to go away, she paused when she looked at the face that belonged to the knock. It was a beautiful woman with long dark hair and clear blue eyes. “I assume that y’all are Lenore & Rachel?” she whispered.

“Ellie?” asked Lenore. As the bartender nodded, Lenore widened the door to allow their ally in.

“I am sure that you are both exhausted, but I needed to let you know that the three of us have got to be dressed and ready to go early in the morning.”

“You found a way into the mansion?” Lenore asked in eager anticipation.

“In a way,” Ellie paused and seemed to consider how to continue. “I’ll explain more in the morning-“

“You will explain it now or I won’t get a wink of sleep!” demanded Lenore as Rachel nodded her head in agreement.

Ellie sighed before sitting down on a chair at the desk in the tiny room. Lenore and Rachel took a hint from Ellie and sat down on the end of the bed. “First of all, we don’t think that James has arrived. There is a young black architect who works at the mansion but he has worked with the widow for over 6 months and goes by the name of Samuel Adams.”

“Isn’t that a beer?” laughed Rachel.

“Girl after my own heart!” confirmed Ellie. “That said, we figure that we should get inside to find out for sure. I don’t know if you have seen it yet but that house is enormous. There are rumors of staircases and doors that lead to nowhere and people getting lost and never seen again within the maze of rooms.”

“And you believe the local superstitions?” scoffed Lenore.

“Personally, I’m not sure what I think. If I was in the safety of my bar, I wouldn’t believe it but something about that mansion…” Ellie’s voice trailed off as a visible shiver passed through her.

“So, why are we getting up early?” Lenore stated. This was a time to get to business as the group was there on a rescue mission and not gathered around a campfire to exchange ghost stories.

“Socrates and I have been trying to find ways into the mansion over the past day to confirm if James had been there or is currently there. The mansion is owned by a reclusive and eccentric widow; she won’t see anyone.”

“That doesn’t sound hopeful-“ interrupted Rachel but paused when she realized that Ellie had not finished telling her story.

Ellie continued, “Socrates and I had an idea. With a place that big, they would need help – maids, cooks, attorneys, etc.”

“You signed me up as a maid!” asked Lenore incredulously. She had built herself up so much further than any other woman of color that she knew of and now she was going to be a servant?

“Actually, they need a head chef and Socrates said that you started out as a cook and restaurant owner?”

“That is true. But why head chef? Wouldn’t they just promote from within?”

“If this was a normal eccentric millionaire, quite possibly.”

“But she’s odd?”

“Beyond odd. We’ve talked with other people in town and they say that she hires and fires staff on the slightest whim.”

“So, how do you know we’ll get the jobs?” inquired Rachel

“We don’t. Which means that all of us are applying for various jobs over the next few days. The two of us are applying for maid positions, Lenore will apply for head chef, Socrates is interviewing to be the new family lawyer, and the rest of the boys are applying for workmen. Well, all except Pete.”

“Why not Pete?” asked Rachel.

“Just like Pete!” laughed Lenore. “So, he’s finding his own angle to get in. Let me guess, long lost family friend? A medium who can help lead the midnight séance?”

“I wish,” replied Ellie. Worry spread across her face before she continued, “He’s been in a comatose state since we first tried to jump to Winchester. It’s why we didn’t get here sooner.”

“Comatose?” asked a concerned Lenore.

“Think it’s something to do with the bracelet,” explained Ellie. “About an hour ago, it turned into a raging fever. I took the bracelet off earlier this evening in a hope that it will help him recover. Socrates is staying with him now.”

“You can remove the bracelet?” Rachel could barely hide her excitement for James’ safety but also felt a twinge of shock that Ellie could make it sound so easy.

Really, not a fan of this limited communication between parties. Brisco is clearly not sharing all information with all involved individuals,” muttered Ellie. She leaned back before stating, “Settle in ladies; we gotta catch up!”

“You know, if telegrams were instant,” sighed Rachel. “This would be so much simpler.”

“Well until an insta-gram exists, we’ll have to use a more caveman approach and just talk,” stated Lenore.

Ellie walked through her part of the story and her dealings with Pete while Lenore and Rachel filled in the gaps with their parts of the story. By the time the women finished filling in the details, the sun was beginning to peek above the horizon.

“Guess sleep is not an option?” sighed Rachel as she calculated how little sleep that she had since the adventure began.

“You could probably catch 20 minutes?” offered Ellie.

“I’ll take it,” exclaimed Rachel. Lenore & Ellie left the room to check on Pete’s progress. When they found that his fever had finally broke, the two changed into their outfits for the day and discussed cover stories with Socrates. Alone in the room, Rachel leaned back onto the bed and closed her eyes without even bothering to take off her shoes. Try as she might sleep wouldn’t come. Her mind kept reeling through Pete’s story, James’ absence, and the strange mansion that managed to frighten both a bar owner and a tough mayor.

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