07: Winfield I: This Old House

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When It Happened (Chronicle Time): August 15-16 2002

Who Was There: George Phillapoussis (Storn), Jonathan Wertham (Matt), Mark Donovin (Eric), Nemura Kentaro (Chris)

What Is Was

Alerted by Cassandra Moon, the Aces head for Long Island and Winfield Hall, the Gilded Age mansion built by Frank Winfield Woolworth, founder of the five-and-dime chain stores. A charity benefit was being held there that night, and something must have gone seriously wrong. The New Inquisition has lost contact with an entire team, and a second team is already on its way to cleanse the site--including Lady Margaret Jameson, Michel Borsavin, and all the other guests. The Aces get there first--in time to see the first team's final act--only to find themselves trapped by the malevolent spirits of Winfield Hall.

The Full Horror

The four men leave Cassandra Moon and head straight for the Renaissance, where Mark gives everyone new suits of body armor and an alarming array of weaponry. They pile into the black Trans Am and George floors it across the Triborough Bridge out of Manhattan. The drive to Oyster Bay is silent and tense. It's well past twilight by the time they reach Nassau County, where the stands of white pine trees, and the bland houses and condos, give way to the last, grand mansions of the Gold Coast's glory days.

A few miles later they reach Winfield Hall's front gate, a thirty-foot-high replica of the Arc de Triomphe. An eight-foot high wall runs around the estate. They hide the car, and steal along the wall until they come to a west gate. It has a padlock and only leads to a service drive and a small path, so the Aces decide entering that way will be less obvious. They try to scrye inside (a Farsight Invocation and Jonathan's "The Body Electric"), but have little luck. The first and second floors only look dark and deserted. They can see a third floor, but neither spell can get a reading of it. And there's no sign of a basement, though it seems certain the mansion must have one.

The men continue along the wall to the back of the estate, and find a stairway that leads up to an old Teahouse Pavilion, covered in wisteria. Beyond it lie Winfield's beautiful gardens, the leaves whispering in the night wind. Making their way through the hedges and rosebushes, they see a tennis court and swimming pool on the eastern side of the estate. A few minutes later, they reach the north side of the mansion, and break in through a window to the kitchen.

The mansion is very quiet. From the kitchen, they pass through a sunroom (the Palm Court); then a beautiful, dark-paneled dining room' followed by a billiards room with mahogany walls decorated with animal trophies and a restored billiards table.

The entrance hall is even more impressive, dominated by a marble stairway (it cost $2,000,000 in 1917), and a medieval-styled marble fireplace flanked by gilt, lion-headed thrones covered with red-velvet and gold-braided upholstery. Above the fireplace is a coat-of-arms, also in marble. A stern, forbidding man is at the top. Below him is the figure of a woman whose face is completely and disturbingly concealed by a closed helm. Below this figure are the heads of three young women. A crack in the wall runs right through the face of the middle one.

Despite their best efforts, the Aces can't find a stairway to a basement. But now that they're in the entrance hall, they can hear voices coming from the other end of the mansion. While the others find some cover, Mark readies his assault rifle and creeps down a hallway to a large set of double-doors. Mark can see a crack of light running between them. But just as he comes in arm's reach of the doors, they burst open, and two nubile debutantes nearly run into him. Stopping dead in their tracks, they stare at Mark, stare at his rifle--and scream.

George tries to beat a fast retreat up the entrance-hall stairway, but a heavyset, glowering man stands at the top, blocking the way. The man points toward the hallway Mark took, and tells George, "You will find the ones you are looking for down there." George backs down the stairs, and joins the other Aces, who are talking as fast as they can. George hears "practical joke" and "arranged for the benefit."

That excuse isn't working on Baron Edward Derby, the loudest of the benefit guests demanding an explanation from the Aces. Fortunately, Lady Margaret Jameson and Michel Borsavin are already behind him, and they quickly vouch for the Aces, assuring the Baron and everyone else that it's all been a misunderstanding.

As the guests quiet down, the Aces have a chance to stare at Winfield Hall's grand ballroom. It's incredibly lavish, with a ceiling of fourteen-karat gold and a huge, seven-foot crystal chandelier. An enormous alabaster fireplace dominates the north wall while the south wall is an alcove flanked by a two pillars. French doors on the west wall lead out to a broad veranda. The huge space is filled with guests--most of them now drifting toward the far doors as the four men come into the room. (Mark keeps the guests' attention while the others quickly stow their weapons in a coat-room).

Lady Margaret gets the band playing again, and herds the Aces over to a tall, handsome man, whom she introduces as Martin Carey, the current owner of Winfield. Carey doesn't say much. He looks dazed, and judging by his empty glass, he must have been trying to drain a few drinks before bullets started flying. Next to him is an attractive woman named Monica Randall. Lady Margaret says she organized the benefit. Randall looks at the men nervously, but she manages to keep her voice from shaking as she welcomes them to Winfield.

They haven't talked for long before the Aces realize there's a problem. All the guests here think it's August 15, the night of the benefit, and the clocks inside the Hall all show 9:17pm. But the Aces came here on the evening of August 16, and their watches show 10:58pm. Worried by the time difference, they look outside, and can now see that there's a heavy mist just beyond the wall that runs along the boundary of the estate. None of the Aces needs to guess what that means, and they aren't surprised when their cellphones only pick up static. They're totally cut off.

Team One Checks Out

The men are still reacting to that when the ballroom doors burst open, and a man and a woman, both in their thirties, stagger into the room, struggling for control of a SIG-Sauer handgun. The guests begin screaming again, and this time they flee out the French doors and scatter across the grounds. The woman yells, "No! No! Stop it, Ralph!" while the man roars, "I have no choice, I have to!" Ralph tears the gun away from the woman, who falls to her knee and then jumps back up. "You're crazy!" she yells. Ralph shakes his head and says, "You don't know what you're doing, Alice. You're compromised! The whole thing's fucked. You don't even know what you're doing anymore. I'm sorry, Alice, I'm sorry--." Ralph fires two head shots into Alice, a perfect execution. His gun arm drops to his side, and he stares at Alice's body, breathing hard and softly whispering, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

The Aces close in on him, but Ralph raises his gun. "Just back the fuck off. You don't know what's happening here." But then his mouth opens. He seems to recognize the four men, and says, "They sent you?" He laughs nervously and shakes his head. "They send you. Guess we just can't handle anything by ourselves anymore, can we? All right, fine. They must have told you how we do things. I'm Ralph Feinman. I'm your contact. Christ, I need a cigarette.... Ok, just give me the code so we can get on with this. The mission's yours." He waits, but the Aces don't have a code to give him.

Ralph starts looking alarmed. He pulls out a cellphone, flips it open, and hears only static. "Fuck. They didn't send you, did they? You don't even know what I'm talking about. What are you even doing here? Jesus Christ, they don't know, they don't fucking know. They never heard. And now you're trapped too." The Aces ask Ralph what he means, but he's looking down at his gun now, shaking his head. "Doesn't matter. You'll find out. I'm out of it. Your fucking problem now." And with that he slips the gun in his mouth and fires.

Securing the Site

The ballroom, not surprisingly, has cleared out. Only Lady Margaret, Michel, Monica and a few scattered guests remain. Carey is passed out on the green velvet couch in front of the fireplace. Then the Aces realize how quiet it is outside. When they look out the French doors, they can see bodies of several guests lying sprawled throughout the gardens. They aren't moving. No one feels like going out there to see what happened to them.

Instead, the Aces decide to explore the rest of Winfield Hall and see what they can find. Monica, it turns out, used to live there. She was the wife of a previous owner, and she knows the place as well as anyone. All the violence has left her shaking, but she trusts Lady Margaret and Michel, and she bravely agrees to guide the four men through the rest of the mansion.

It's an impressive place. The library alone is a gem, and many of the books in it look valuable. Back in the ballroom, Monica shows the men a secret stairway that leads up to a hidden floor level between the first and second floors. It has a small balcony that overlooks the ballroom and access passages that run throughout the house.

The Aces pass through the kitchen. That's where they first came in, but now there's something new there. The body of a man, almost certainly the third member of the first team from TNI. His chest is crushed and his neck strangled by a massive pair of hands. There are footprints in the blood near his body, and the impressions suggest the feet of the murderer are bound in some kind of wrapping. Most disturbingly, the Aces had been in the kitchen only a half hour before, but the clock on a microwave near the body reads an hour later than it should.

The second floor contains nearly a dozen bedrooms, each one decorated according to a theme: Gothic, Tudor, Empire, Empress Josephine, Louis XIV, Ming Dynasty, Edward, Hellene, etc.

Monica Debriefs

On the way back to the ballroom, Monica says the bedrooms were Woolworth's idea. They were going to help his studies of the occult, though she's not sure how. But she does know he was obsessed with Napoleon Bonaparte and ancient Egypt.

Woolworth's second daughter, Edna, killed herself in her bedroom (the Marie Antoinette room) on a stormy night in 1918. That night, Woolworth was entertaining guests in the ballroom, and at the moment of Edna's death, Winfield Hall was struck by a tremendous bolt of lightning which shattered the coat-of-arms in the entrance hall and left the crack in the wall running through Edna's face. Ever since that night the Marie Antoinette room has been noticeably colder than the rest of the house. Sometimes at night people see strange misty shapes in that room. "But then," Monica adds, "I've seen those shapes in other rooms too."

The helmeted figure on the coat-of-arms, the woman above the three sisters, was Woolworth's wife, Jennie Creighton. Monica goes quiet after she mentions Jennie, but there's a look of deep sadness in her eyes.

She goes on to say that this Winfield Hall is actually the second one. The first burned down in a mysterious fire in 1916. Within a year Woolworth had the second one built on the surviving foundation. This Hall is Italian Renaissance Revival style, designed by C.P.H Gilbert with fifty-six rooms. It took seventy-five servants to keep it going during the glory days before World War II.

Woolworth died in his bedroom, the Empire Room, in 1919 from a terrible case of infected teeth (he hated dentists). Ten years later, Winfield Hall passed to R. S. Reynolds (the Reynolds Wrap people), and Monica, when she was a girl, actually got to know Mrs. Reynolds before she passed away in 1963. Then Winfield became the Grace Downs School for Girls. Thanks to her friendship with Mrs. Reynolds, Monica convinced the school to let her set up photo shoots for New York modeling magazines. The school closed in 1975, but the man who bought it that year, Andre von Brunner, took Monica as his wife, and she actually lived in Winfield for four years, until Andre's financial troubles forced a bank foreclosure in 1979. After that, Winfield Hall became the corporate headquarters of the Pell Corporation until Monica's friend, Martin Carey was able to buy it back in 1995.

Since then, she's helped Martin restore Winfield Hall to its former glory, even bringing back many of the original pieces. The benefit that night was partly to celebrate their success. "But now....", she looks around in despair.

It's a complicated past that has left many impressions on the mansion. The four men begin wondering if a seance would help. Michel speaks up, saying, "Of course! Especially with me here." Monica goes pale and says her friend Katia, a numerologist, once helped her host one. That was a very scary night. Michel's confident grin becomes a little strained when she says that. But she doesn't deny that it would probably help get some answers.

She flips through a photo album she brought back from the library and shows them photos from Winfield's past, including one of a man repainting one of the second-floor bedrooms back in the 1960s. Behind him stands a man in a suit, glaring at the camera with a terrifying intensity and malice. Monica shivers and says that's F. W. Woolworth himself--decades after his death. The painter and photographer swore they had been the only ones in the room at the time. With a shock George recognizes the man as the same one who met him at the top of the stairs when they first entered the mansion.

The conversation returns to Edna. Monica says she had a beautiful voice and hoped to have a career in opera until her father crushed her dreams and her spirit. Edna's daughter was Barbara Hutton, the famous socialite who had once been married to Cary Grant, and lived a very sad, shattered life. She had been the one to discover her mother's body when she was only four.

Edna seems important, and since the Marie Antoinette room was the scene of her suicide, the four men decide to go up there and investigate. They begin to move everything around, thoroughly checking the room for clues. Monica, hearing them thump around, comes upstairs to the doorway, and with a horrified look on their face, asks them what they're doing. And just then, all of them have a vision:

A handsome young man, dressed like a chauffeur, is at the wheel of a fast-moving car heading for Winfield. He slams through the padlocked gate west of the estate. He runs up to the mansion and then back to the gardens and the Teahouse, where a young and pretty Edna meets him. They embrace, but she's very scared, looking over her shoulder. Suddenly another man, a guard, bursts from the hedges, and the two men struggle. The guard grabs a sledge and swings it against the skull of Edna's young lover and he goes down. Edna screams soundlessly into her cupped hands and falls to her knees next to the young man, but the guard drags her away and turns the sobbing, delirious girl over to a stern nurse, who forces her back to the mansion. The guard grabs the young man's legs and starts pulling him to the Teahouse. There is a tunnel there, and the young man tries to struggle, but he's too weak. The guard drags him down, and the tunnel door slams shut behind them.

The vignette ends, leaving Monica and the Aces stunned.

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