Stanley Coover's home was his castle, literally. All three stories of fourteen bedrooms, ten bathrooms, two grand halls, one reception room, a billiard room, a game room, dancing parlor, gentlemen's smoking room, ladies parlor, plus a kitchen and servants quarters at the very east end, adjacent to, but separated from the horse stables. Add to this floor plan a solarium off the library and a covered patio off the back gallery that ran the full 120 feet of the back of the home. Yes, indeed, Stanley Coover built a Tudor styled mansion the likes of which I had not laid eyes on since window shopping on the Internet, and coming across the Tudor estate of a billionaire technology guru. That estate had recently sold for a sum beyond the imagination of ordinary people. I sighed out loud. The crunching sound of footsteps on the gravel drive caused me to turn around. Zach was here.
"Hey Shannon." He gave me a hug and then kissed my cheek. "This is some place, huh?"
We gazed up at the mansion, lost in its grandeur.
"This place looks to be in fantastic condition. What is it you are hired to do here?" I asked.
"It is in great shape, but not completely up to earthquake code. I'll be working on some internal retrofitting to bring it up to earthquake code. Luckily, I won't need to do anything to the exterior."
One look at the extensive plaster and halved timber exterior told me why he was counting his blessings for not having to touch it. "How long will the retrofitting take?" I asked.
He studied the home and then looked down at some plans he had on his clipboard, he flipped through a few pages. "Should be finished in three weeks, four at the most. And before the job is complete, the Pasadena Conservancy must have it inspected and receive a final approval before they'll pay me. It won't be easy, but the retrofitting that needs to be done is straightforward. And, I'm not working on the stables, at least not for now."
"Is that because they're no longer in use?" I asked
"Yeah, and until the powers that be at the Pasadena Conservancy decide what they want to do with the stables, there's no need to renovate them."
"I guess that's why I was told not to mention the stables in the publicity brochure. According to what I've learned, the Pasadena Conservancy plans to advertise and promote this mansion as a rental location for the film industry to use as a set for movies and television."
"Yeah, it would make a great set for a mystery or horror film, considering its history, a Hollywood movie company could save money by using the ghosts that haunt this place." He laughed, but I was not amused.
"What do you mean? Is this mansion haunted?" I asked.
"It's just rumors, Shannon. All towns have their fair share of mythical haunted buildings, this just happens to be one of those places in Pasadena. And the location, up here in the hills of the Arroyo Seco, adds to the lore. C'mon, I've got the keys and carte blanche to the place. Let's go in and take a look."
We stood in the middle of the first of the grand halls. The stone fireplace was large enough for three men to stand in it. "Brrr, even with the summer heat outside, it's chilly in here. I guess the chill was a benefit to surviving the summers in Southern California?" I asked.
"Sure, especially when this place was built, back then in 1919 the only relief from summer heat was a few electric fans here and there. Did you learn much about the original owner?"
"Do you want a full summary, or a thumbnail version?" I asked.
"Your choice as long as you can walk and talk, I'd like to be out of here and on our way to dinner in an hour."
"Okay, I'll talk and you lead," I said.
In little less than one hour we finished our walking survey of the interior and were at the back gallery, toward the west side. "And so, after Mr. Stanley Coover made a fortune in the railroad industry, he came west from Montana and built this mansion as a winter home. Building commenced in February of 1919 and was finished in September of 1921. The sad thing is that Coover stayed here only one winter. On his return trip to Montana in the spring of 1922 he died in a railroad crash. Two trains were mistakenly scheduled for the same track and they collided head on at a blind curve, near the mountains of Coover's home in Helena."
He shook his head quietly, then looked at me with sad eyes. "Imagine being killed by what you built, what you made your money on, what you spent your life doing? It's sad, yeah, but it's creepy, too."
"Well, yes, I see your point, but accidents happen and I'm not unsympathetic, it's, well, it was fate, I guess." I could see past him and noticed another room, just beyond him was an exterior door. "What about that door a few feet behind you? Is that a room, too?"
He turned to look at the door and then referred to his clipboard notes. "Ah, let's see." He flipped through the pages to the last one. "Bingo! Says here, that is an exterior room, an addition that was added by Stanley Coover's nephew, Reggie Coover. The room was built in 1923 to house Reggie Coover's collection."
"Yeah, I remember something about him from my research," I paused to collect my memory. "Seems to me that Reggie Coover inherited this place, he's the one who gave it the name of Stallion's Gate. Stanley Coover was a bachelor, his one and only nephew, Reggie, inherited all of Stanley's railroad wealth, including this home and the family estate in Helena. I've not done too much research on Reggie Coover, though I know he had a passion for horse breeding and horse racing and he lived here for about five years, sold the place before the Great Depression in October of 1929. I suppose that room held his racing trophies, and photos of his horses, maybe a bronze or two." I looked at Zach and an odd, indescribable look passed between us, then he got a mischievous look and smile on his face. His eyes sparkled.
"A mystery, maybe?" Then without waiting for my reply, he turned to look at the locked door.
"Unless you have a key to that room, we shouldn't go exploring it," I warned.
He held up two keys. "Just so happens, I do have another key, and I bet this is the one for that room." No sooner said than done. He took three quick steps over to the room and unlocked the door. He held it wide open. "After you."
We stepped just inside the entrance. The room was dark and even colder than the grand hall. I reached out and grabbed Zach's hand. "It's as black as night in an unlit cavernous closet. Where's the light switch?" I asked.
"I found it, it's right inside, here." I heard the click of the switch.
The stark brilliance of the expansive ceiling crowded with dozens of dazzling chandelier lamps hurt my eyes. I squinted and then ever so slowly opened my eyes in an attempt to adjust to the brightness. Instantaneously, I wished I had never caught a glimpse of the room's contents.
Icy goose bumps sprinted up my back. "It's horrible!" I gasped and then choked on the acrid air. Zach held on to me as I caught my breath. I looked at him and nodded okay. Only then did we dare turn to face the hideous display.
Dozens of dead eyes stared back at us.