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Kerry jarred awake as he felt the bus come to a stop.
"Welcome to the Winchell Hotel." Oliphant said as he opened the door of the bus.
Kerry turned to his side and quietly said, "Teresa, we're here."
"You're insane. You know that, right?" Teresa asked as she opened her eyes.
Kerry chuckled, then said, "Yes. I do know that."
"Wake up the kids." Teresa said with a reluctant smile.
"Yes, Dear." Kerry said with a grin, then got up from his seat.
As he looked back into the bus, he could see that everyone was awake and most of them were already standing.
* * * * *
When Kerry stepped off the bus, he was confronted by the sight of the grand hotel before him. The enormous structure was proudly illuminated and was even bigger than he had imagined.
The height was impressive, but the bulk of it seemed to spread out past him on both sides, almost like a pair of arms spreading wide so as to gather him in.
There was a chill in the air, which considering that it was January in Vermont, could have been much worse.
"Come along, then. Right this way." Oliphant said, drawing his attention to the massive double doors at the entrance.
Kerry glanced back toward the bus and saw that Oliphant's son was unloading their luggage onto a cart.
"Isn't it pretty!?" Zoe asked loudly as she ran to her father and hugged him tightly.
"Yes. It's a beautiful hotel." Kerry said as he returned her hug.
After a moment of hugging, he quietly added, "Let's go and see how nice it is inside."
* * * * *
Kerry stopped just inside the double doors, just as most of the others had done, stunned by the opulent old world luxury.
To his right was a marble fountain, surrounded by a built in marble bench. To his left was a seating area filled with ridiculously ornate furniture. Before him was a reception desk made out of gorgeous old hardwood and he had no doubt that it was original to the structure.
Alana walked up to the large, ornate reception desk and told the woman behind it, "I'm Dr. Alana Travago. Are you Mrs.Whitlow?"
"I'm Levidia Whitlow, but you'll be wanting to talk to Lavinia. She's been waiting for you to arrive. She'll be with you in just a moment."
"Thank you." Alana said cautiously as she looked at the woman's loudly colored blazer, which seemed to be made of something like upholstery fabric.
"Dr. Travago?" A woman's voice called from her left, drawing her out of her contemplation.
Alana turned and was surprised to find that the woman approaching her was wearing an identical jacket.
"My name is Lavinia Whitlow. I'm so glad that you and your group could come."
"Thank you. Do you know, did our equipment arrive?" Alana asked as she fought to maintain her professional demeanor.
"Yes. I had them put everything in the first conference room. I'll show you that once you're all settled in."
"Mommy. Who's that?" Zoe asked her mother loudly as she pointed.
"Shhh. You need to use your 'indoor' voice."
Kerry looked curiously at the sitting area where his daughter was pointing. Although it was every bit as beautiful and luxurious as the rest of the reception area, no one was sitting there.
"Kerry, do you want to go ahead and get your family checked in?"
"Yes. Of course." Kerry said as he turned his attention back to her, then walked forward to the check-in desk.
* * * * *
Levidia recorded all their information in an old fashioned ledger style guest book, then she gave Kerry several keys and a map, showing where their rooms were located. Kerry briefly looked at the map, thinking that it looked something like a cubist representation of an octopus. But he was happy to see that their rooms appeared to be just down the hall from the reception area.
"If you'd like to take a seat, your luggage is being brought in." Levidia said pleasantly as she indicated the sitting area.
As Kerry stepped away, he thought to say, "Mike, I checked you in with us."
The announcement seemed to irritate Mike, but he didn't say anything. He remained standing at Derek's side as he stood in line to make his way to the reception desk.
* * * * *
"Are these the guests that you were expecting?" An elderly woman asked as she walked slowly into the room.
Her dress and jewelry were from a time long past. Although the result was something less than picturesque, it was obvious that every effort had been made to affect the facade of elegance.
"Everyone, I'd like for you to meet Mrs. Haversham. She's the only year-round resident that we have, here. At some point, if you join her for tea, she might be inclined to share some of the history of the hotel with you. She's been visiting here since the early sixties."
"That sounds lovely. Once we've had a chance to get settled in, we may do that." Alana said diplomatically.
An old style phone ringer drew everyone's attention to the reception desk.
Levidia answered it, revealing that it was a 'princess' style phone, and talked quietly for a moment before hanging up.
"Julianna thought that you might enjoy a snack after your long journey. She will be serving a light dinner in the dining room once you've all had a chance to freshen up."
Kerry looked at the map that he'd been given and found the dining room right away. According to the map, it was easily the biggest room in the entire hotel, although Kerry couldn't imagine the scale of it based on what he had already seen.
"Hi! What's your name?" Zoe asked loudly toward a small tree in a planter.
"Inside voice." Teresa reminded her daughter harshly.
Once again, Kerry looked to where his youngest daughter indicated but still couldn't see anything.
As he looked away, he noticed that Alana and Charity had the same contemplative expression that he was wearing.
* * * * *
Once Derek had finished checking in, Mike stepped up to the desk and quietly said, "My name is Mike Hinton. My dad already checked me in. But is there any way that I can have a room that's not right beside the rest of my family?"
"Yes. Of course. Would you like the room beside Mr. Seaver's?"
"Sure. That'll be fine." Mike said as he glanced over his shoulder at the rest of his family, in the sitting area."
"You'll be in wing G, room 210." Levidia said as she quickly marked the location on a map and handed it to him along with a room key."
"Thank you." Mike said sincerely.
"Please, enjoy your stay with us, Mr. Hinton. We're all very glad that you're here." Levidia said warmly.
Unaccountably, a chill raced up his spine. He muttered a quick, "Yeah." before rushing away to join Derek in whatever he was going to do next.
* * * * *
"If you'll follow me, I'll take you to your rooms."
Everyone turned in unison to see Oliphant standing in the doorway leading out of the reception area.
As they gathered the few items that they had carried in with them, Kerry held himself back to see that none of their group needed any additional help.
* * * * *
Kerry wasn't the only one who slowed his steps as they walked down the hallway, marvelling at the exquisite craftsmanship in every detail of the grand old hotel.
The rooms were located relatively close to the reception area, so their wonder was short lived.
"All your rooms are located in this wing. You'll be finding the room numbers on your keys." Oliphant said as he stopped in the middle of the hallway.
Kerry looked at his room key, then looked at the nearest room number. It took him a moment to navigate his way to the room where he and his family were to be located.
As he was opening the door, Toni approached and quickly asked, "What room do I have?"
Teresa ushered Zoe past him into their room.
"When I checked us in, I asked if there were any rooms with three beds. You get to share a room with Lorra and Malika." Kerry said as he handed her a room key.
"Great! Thanks!" Toni said happily as she accepted the key from him.
Kerry looked around and noticed the teenage boys nearby, "Van, I've got your key, here."
"What about Hunter?" Van asked as he and Hunter approached.
"I requested a room with two beds for the two of you. That's alright, isn't it?" Kerry asked, already knowing the answer.
"Yeah. Thanks, Kerry!"
He watched with a smile as Van excitedly showed the key to Hunter, then ran off down the hall with him to find their room.
A moment later he spotted his son and said, "Mike, I have your key, here."
"It's okay. I got a room of my own." Mike said as he held up his key as evidence.
"Everyone, go ahead and take a few minutes to unpack and we'll meet in the dining room. Then I'll fill you in on the plan for tonight." Alana said loudly, so everyone could hear.
Kerry walked to Oliphant, who was still standing in the middle of the hallway and handed him the unneeded key.
"It looks like my son made his own arrangements. So I guess that I won't be needing this." Kerry said quietly.
"Aye, it's a good thing, when a man chooses to go his own way. A father should never wish for it to be otherwise." Oliphant said sagely as he accepted the key.
Before Kerry could respond, he heard Zoe excitedly proclaiming how much she loved their room and turned with a smile at the sound of her exuberance.
When he turned back to excuse himself, so that he could join his wife and daughter, he found that Oliphant was nowhere in sight.
* * * * *
"Isn't this room incredible?" Teresa asked slowly as she looked around in wonder at the sitting room, which seemed to be a suitable venue for receiving visiting royalty.
"Where's Zoe?" Kerry asked cautiously.
"When you asked for a room with two beds, I expected them to both be in the same room. But this suite of rooms has separate bedchambers, Zoe's is right through there. She's busy exploring it, now." Teresa said with a smile as she pointed at a door at the side of the room.
"Did they already deliver the luggage?" Kerry asked as he looked around the ridiculously ornate sitting room.
"Yes, it's in our bedchamber, over this way." Teresa said as she led the way.
Kerry slowly followed. His nerves were on edge for some unaccountable reason.
* * * * *
As Kerry walked into the bedroom, he spotted their luggage placed on opposite sides of the bed.
"How did they know which luggage went in which room?" Kerry asked thoughtfully.
"From the luggage tags, I suppose." Teresa said simply.
"But as far as I know, Alana didn't tell them who was coming. And they didn't assign the rooms until we checked in."
"She must have called ahead and told them before we left." Teresa said reasonably.
"Of course. You must be right." Kerry said with a smile at her as he fought to quell the unease that he was feeling.
* * * * *
"Are you sure that this is the right place?" Teresa asked in a whisper as they walked toward the open double doors.
"That's what the map says." Kerry said simply.
All of them, even Zoe, were silent as they walked into the truly massive room.
Alana, Charity and Max were already present and seemed to be stunned into the same speechless state.
The room was set up to be an enormous dining room, but the stage at the far side of the room had a drop-down screen lowered, which gave evidence that the room could easily be reconfigured to serve equally well as a stage theater or a movie theater.
"Lookit!" Zoe gasped as she pointed upward.
Kerry followed her pointing finger, up and up at the incredibly high ceiling. There was an ivory white balcony surrounding the room above them on the second floor, but the ceiling of the room continued on, three, possibly four more floors beyond that.
The crystal chandeliers were not only breathtaking in their beauty, but also astoundingly huge.
"I suppose that we'll be eating over here, since these tables are set." Alana said quietly, breaking Kerry out of his stupefied state. As he looked around, he noticed that the tables, chairs and even the place settings had been coordinated to match with the ivory and gold style of the room.
"Max, when we get married, I want it to be in someplace like this." Charity said slowly as she tried to take in every detail of their surroundings.
"Instead of someplace 'like' this, why not just have the wedding here?" Max asked simply.
"It's so far out of the way, I'd hate to drag both of our families out here to the middle of nowhere." Charity said frankly.
"We'll arrange it to be on a holiday weekend, when everyone can take a few days off. The ceremony can be during that holiday, so those who can't stay can get back to work, and those who are able to stay longer can enjoy a week at this incredible hotel." Max said with a smile.
"Let's see just how haunted this place turns out to be before we make any firm plans." Charity cautiously suggested.
"From what I've seen so far, it'd have to be pretty haunted for me not to want to have our wedding here." Max said honestly.
"Alana, you're going to have to ask for our help more often. This is incredible." Jack said as he walked into the dining room with Kyla at his side.
"It'd be nice if all our investigations were like this, but this is actually a first for me. Usually, the conditions are a bit more... rustic." Alana admitted.
Jack chuckled at the understatement, then said, "At least we shouldn't have to worry about falling through the floors. For as old as this place is, it seems to be extremely well maintained."
"If I didn't know better, I'd be ready to swear that we'd just stepped back in time." Kyla said quietly. The slight note of anxiety behind her words caught Kerry's attention.
"Where do we sit?" Hunter asked as he rushed into the dining room with Van tagging along like a faithful puppy. Behind them were Toni, Lorra and Malika, obviously speechless and looking around in wonder.
Kerry gestured toward the six tables that had place settings and filled water glasses.
"Just pick any table with silverware. It looks like they set plenty of places for everyone." Kerry answered with a smile.
As he said the words, Toni, Lorra and Malika darted away to claim a table all to themselves.
Hunter and Van moved more slowly, but eventually did the same.
"So, do you think we're ready to investigate a place this size?" Charity asked Alana curiously.
"Although I'd really like to cover every square inch of the hotel and record every moment that we're here, that's completely unrealistic. I think we'll be doing good to hit the majority of the hotspots." Alana said frankly.
"Are we having the meeting, now?" Derek asked as he approached the group, with Mike following a step behind.
"No. We'll have dinner first, then I'll brief everyone on what we'll be doing. How much help do you think you'll need setting up?" Alana asked curiously.
"If the teams will each deploy their own stationary cameras, I think that Mike and I should probably be able to handle it." Derek said seriously, then looked to Mike and asked, "You wouldn't mind, would you?"
"No problem. As long as you show me what to do." Mike answered quietly.
"I think we can do that. Just get with me if you need more help. We have no shortage of able bodied people." Alana assured him, then turned at a movement out of the corner of her eye.
Marsha walked into the room and looked around before approaching the group.
"So, what are we doing?" Marsha asked seriously.
"Mrs. Whitlow said something about us having a light dinner, so I suppose that we should take our seats." Alana said simply.
Marsha walked to the nearest table and sat down.
Derek flashed Alana a dark look, but refrained from commenting. Instead, he walked to another table, followed by Mike.
Alana went to the table where Marsha had sat down and took a seat one away from her.
Charity, Max, Jack, Kyla, Kerry, Teresa and Zoe all filled in around the table, leaving the seat between Marsha and Alana as the only one at the table that was vacant.
As the last person was being seated, a portly young woman walked into the dining room, pushing a serving cart.
"Welcome to the Winchell Hotel. My name is Julianna, I'm the chef. Since this is the off season,� I'll be the one seeing to all your meals. I hope that no one will be minding, but I'm going to be serving the soup and salad courses together." Julianna said as she started serving.
"We weren't really expecting anything, we appreciate you providing a meal for us." Alana said earnestly.
"I think that anyone who rides in from Ballard should have a meal waiting on them when they arrive. As beautiful as this place is, it's a long hungry trip getting here." Julianna said frankly as she continued placing soups and salads.
"This is too pretty to eat." Zoe said as she looked at her salad.
Kerry smiled at the comment, and agreed that the presentation of the salad was a feast for the eyes.
"I'll make it less pretty for you." Teresa told her daughter warmly, then used a fork and knife to cut the half of a red leaf lettuce heart into bite sized pieces.
"This tomato soup, does it have olive oil in it?" Kyla asked hesitantly.
"Just a touch." Julianna said with a grin.
"I usually don't like tomato soup, but this is really good." Kyla said frankly.
"Thank you for saying so." Julianna said as a slight blush colored her cheeks.
As soon as Julianna had the last of her guests served, she pushed the empty serving cart out of the dining room.
"When Mrs. Whitlow said that we'd have a light dinner, I didn't expect anything like this." Alana said honestly.
"Bread should be served with soup and salad." Marsha said abruptly.
Alana glanced at her with surprise, but didn't dignify her statement with a response.
"Don't slurp your soup, Zoe." Teresa gently corrected her daughter.
Kerry quickly looked around the table to see if his daughter were disturbing any of the other diners. Marsha wore a slightly disgusted expression, but he couldn't be sure that it had anything to do with Zoe. In the short time that Kerry had known her, he had seen that disgusted expression more often than not.
* * * * *
Most everyone had completed their soup and salad course and were sitting, waiting to see what was going to happen next.
Kerry was more or less facing the door, so he immediately noticed when someone walked into the dining room pushing a serving cart.
"Good evening, everyone. I'm Norville, I'll be helping Julianna out tonight." Norville said seriously and it looked as though he were working to affect a professional countenance.
When he arrived at Kerry's table, he began to collect the empty salad plates and soup bowls. As he went along, he refilled water glasses, as needed. Just as he was finishing, Julianna pushed another serving cart into the room, this one heavily laden with already plated dinners.
"Tonight we'll be having broiled chicken in wine sauce, wax beans and Delmonico potatoes." Julianna announced as she began to place the plates.
The frown on Marsha's face gave evidence of her displeasure, but to her credit, she didn't go so far as to insult the meal in front of the chef.
"It smells wonderful." Teresa enthused from beside her husband.
Kerry smiled lovingly at his wife.
"Teresa, we've never really had a chance to talk, before. Do you work outside the home?" Alana asked curiously before taking a bite of her food.
"Not at the moment. I've been seeing to the remodeling of the house since we moved in. But as soon as that's done, I'm going to see what work is available in Fallwell for an interior designer." Teresa said pleasantly.
"I'm not aware of any interior designers in the area... Not that I've been in the market for one." Alana said honestly.
"When Jack and I opened our office, I looked into hiring an interior designer to get the office done professionally, but the nearest one I could find was in Brookfield. I ended up just doing it myself." Kyla said frankly.
"So it sounds like there's a market. Once you've gotten everything in order and are ready to take on clients, let me know and I'll spread the word." Alana said with a smile.
"Thanks. As much as I've enjoyed staying at home, I have to admit that I'm starting to get a little antsy." Teresa shyly admitted.
"I think that's perfectly understandable. It's good that you were able to take the time to remodel your house to your own specifications before going back to work." Alana said pleasantly.
"It was nice to have a free hand for a change and not have to accommodate anyone else's tastes. I think that having the opportunity to fully realize my own vision is going to give me more clarity when I'm working for other people." Teresa said frankly.
"You should really stop by sometime, to visit. You saw the house when you did our investigation. Now you can compare that to what Teresa's been able to do. That way when you mention her to your friends, you can give an honest evaluation of her talent." Kerry suggested.
"Yes. I think I'd like that." Alana said warmly.
"This chicken is incredible. I don't think I've ever tasted anything quite like it." Max said suddenly.
"I don't know what it is, but the seasoning does seem to be unique." Jack agreed, then added more quietly, "Whatever it is, it's subtle."
"Have you tried the potatoes? They just melt in your mouth." Charity interjected.
"They're certainly not 'low fat'." Marsha added.
There was a long moment of silence that followed which was eventually broken by Kerry saying, "You know, life's too short to deprive yourself of everything that you enjoy. Sometimes, just every now and then, you've got to give yourself permission to indulge."
Alana smiled at his statement, then added, "Since we're in an elegant place and we're being offered such wonderful hospitality, I think it would be the height of ingratitude if we didn't humbly accept what's being offered to us."
When Kerry glanced at Marsha, he noticed her look of undisguised hatred directed at him for just an instant before she looked away.
A movement drew Kerry's attention and he saw Norville walking into the room, pushing the serving cart again.
Kerry only had a few bites of food left on his plate, and he hurried to eat them. The food was so good that he didn't want to let a single bite go to waste.
"Julianna will be right in with your desserts." Norville said as he approached Kerry's table and started gathering empty plates.
"Thank you. The dinner was incredible." Kerry said honestly.
"Yes. I don't have words to describe how good it was." Alana agreed.
"I'm sure Julianna will be happy to hear that. Would anyone like some coffee with dessert?" Norville asked as he finished gathering the empty plates.
"Do you have any decaf?" Kerry asked hesitantly.
"No, sir. We don't." Norville regretfully replied.
"It's not like we're planning on going to bed anytime soon. We might as well have the good stuff." Charity interjected.
"Good point." Kerry said with a smile at her, then turned back to Norville and said, "Yes, thank you. I'd love some coffee."
Just as Norville was finishing with Kerry and Alana's table, Julianna walked into the room pushing a cart with plated desserts.
"Banana cream pie." Julianna proudly announced as she presented the slices of pie.
Kerry stared in surprise at the piece of pie that was placed before him. It wasn't just a dessert, it was nearly a work of art.
"Did you make this?" Kerry asked Julianna curiously.
"Yes I did, just this morning. I hope you like it." Julianna said with a smile.
"I'm sure I will. It looks amazing." Kerry said honestly.
Julianna had a beaming smile as she left Kerry's table.
"This is good!" Teresa said happily.
Kerry wanted to verbally agree, but his mouth was too full to allow him to do anything more than nod.
* * * * *
As soon as Alana was finished with her dessert, she excused herself and quickly left the table.
The others enjoyed their coffee and some relaxed conversation.
"Can anyone get a signal?" Charity suddenly asked as she looked at the cellphone in her hand.
"I lost my signal about halfway here." Derek said simply from the neighboring table, where he was sitting with Mike.
Everyone in attendance took out their phones and other electronic devices. One by one they all confirmed what Charity had already discovered. There was absolutely no cell service.
"I have master keys, one for each team. Be sure that you get one when you get your maps." Alana called out as she walked into the room with a stack of maps fluttering in her hand.
"Just tell me where I need to go and I'll get started." Derek said as he walked to meet her at Kerry's table.
Alana put the stack of maps on the table, then said, "Mrs. Whitlow told me that the equipment was put in conference room one, here."
Derek looked over her shoulder as she made a mark on the map.
"Since it's a conference room, it will most likely have the seating and electrical outlets that we'll need. I think we should set up Tech in there."
"Sounds good." Derek agreed.
"Once Tech is set up, and the remote video cameras are all linked in, then I'm going to give you 'this' section to investigate." Alana continued, marking one wing of the hotel as she went.
"Is that still on the main floor?" Derek asked cautiously.
"Yes. That should allow you to return to Tech quickly, if you need to. If you go down the hallway, through the G wing that we'll be staying in, that will take you to the H wing and the staff area that you'll be responsible for investigating. The staff area includes the kitchen, laundry and storage among other things. According to Mrs. Whitlow, there is a spiritual entity that will occasionally play pranks on the kitchen staff. Over in the H wing, in room 1257, there's a rumor about a troublesome spirit that reacts negatively to the presence of men." Alana explained.
"That's a lot of ground to cover, but I think I'm up to it." Derek said as he carefully examined the map.
"I have every confidence in you." Alana said with a smile as she moved around the table.
"Kerry, as I mentioned before, I stationed you and Teresa in a central location so you'll be available for the girls, if they should need you." Alana said seriously, then marked a location on a fresh map.
"You'll essentially get the C and D wings on the third floor, which incorporates the rooms numbered in the 3300s. One end of your hallway meets up with the A and B wings, which Toni and Zoe will be investigating. The other end of your hallway will meet up with the F and E wings, where Lorra and Malika will be."
"What about the G wing?" Kerry asked slowly as he studied the map.
"No significant activity has been reported there." Alana said simply, then handed Kerry a few maps and three keys as she said, "You can tell the girls what sections they'll be assigned and give them their keys and maps. When we start the investigation, I'll go to the third floor with you and give you the details about the hotspots."
"Where are the boys going to be investigating?" Kerry asked as he accepted the keys and maps from her.
"They're going to be on the fourth floor with Charity and Max. I'll talk to them in a minute. The boys will get the A and B wings, Charity and Max will get E and F." Alana said, then made a quick note on one of the maps before handing it to Charity.
"Which leaves us." Jack said cautiously.
Alana made a quick note on a map, then handed it to Jack as she said, "You're going to be on the fifth floor all by yourselves. The painting that I was telling you about is in the C wing, room 5369."
"Where are you going to be?" Kerry asked as he stared at the maps in his hand.
"Marsha and I are going to be on the sixth floor, in the D wing, mostly focusing on room 6318."
"You weren't kidding when you said that this place was enormous." Kerry said in wonder.
"A few more things. Since this is their off season, they've drained the pipes, turned off the heat and cut the power to the unused wings of the hotel... which is pretty much all the areas that we'll be investigating. Make sure that everyone's dressed warmly and has their flashlights before they leave. Mrs. Whitlow had Oliphant turn on the elevators for us, so at least we won't have to climb six flights of stairs. But that's about the only convenience that we're going to have."
"If the heat and power is turned off, then we shouldn't have to worry about noise pollution in our EVPs." Charity said speculatively.
"Good point." Alana said with a smile, then looked to Derek and asked, "How long do you think it will be before you have Tech set up?"
After a moment to consider, Derek cautiously said, "If each team will deploy their own stationary cameras, I think we can do our part in half an hour."
"I'll go with you, so I can get our equipment together." Jack said as he stepped forward.
"Oh, yeah. Me too." Charity said quickly.
"Everyone, let's meet back here at 10:15 so we can get this investigation started."
Things are starting to flow, so to speak.
This place seems to be very well taken care of. Usually places that old are beginning to show signs of neglect and a marked loss of interest by its owners and managers.
It seems that the Winchell is still very much loved by its owners as well as its staff.
Everyone is prompt, polite and well prepared to serve and help whenever necessary. In short, the kind of establishment I would love to be able to stay in, but most likely could never afford to do so.
I can hardly wait for the next chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher