by Van © 2003
Chapter 1: ROBYN'S WELCOME
To see the actors the author would cast in a CHATTEL MOUNTAIN LODGE mini-series (on premium cable, of course) please follow the
link below, and use your browser's "Back" feature to return to this page. New cast members are added as they appear in the stories.
|Tales of CHATTEL MOUNTAIN LODGE||PERSONNEL PROBLEM—1|
Robyn Tolliver was cold and tired and miserable. The cabin of the helicopter was noisy and the headset the pilot had given her didn't seem to work very well. She could barely hear his voice, on the rare occasions the laconic cowboy decided he had something to say. The thriving metropolis of Saddlehorn, Idaho was thirty minutes behind, and had quickly given way to isolated ranches, then mountains, and now a trackless wilderness of jagged peaks, forested valleys, and frozen lakes. She looked down at the snow covered crags passing below. Something like thirty hours from Manhattan, her point of origin... two jets, one commuter hop, and now one helicopter ride; not to mention pointless ground delays, one cancelled flight, and a short night of inadequate sleep in a frigid cabin the Saddlehorn Motel laughingly called a "luxury suite"... Robyn was cold, tired, and miserable.
"Can you turn up the heat?" Robyn asked the pilot.
A tinny voice in her headset answered, "What?"
"Can you turn up the heat?" Robyn shouted.
"Nope," the pilot replied. "Maxed out. Dress for winter next time."
Robyn rolled her eyes. 'Dress for winter...' I thought I had. Knee boots; panty hose; a wool suit with a knee-length skirt and double breasted jacket over a turtleneck, a camel coat, gloves, and a long muffler. I might as well be in a sun dress and sweater.
"There," the pilot said, pointing out the window as they made a slow descent into a valley between two ridges. They were passing over a magnificent building, perched atop the nearest ridge. "Chattel Mountain Lodge," he explained, unnecessarily.
Robyn recognized the log and timber mansion from the file she'd been given to study. The landing area in the valley was little more than a clear patch of snow beside a small barn-like building and a frozen lake. As they landed, Robyn caught a glimpse of a lone figure waiting beside a four passenger snowcat, then the blowing snow obscured everything.
Once they were on the ground, Robyn unbuckled her harness and pulled off her headset, then the door on her side opened and blowing snow was everywhere. Robyn's long, curly, copper-red hair flailed around her face, and the icy particles stung like tiny needles. Someone (someone strong), half lifted, half helped her out of the cabin. Robyn ducked instinctively. The helicopter's blades were still turning. Her helper, a woman in a black snowsuit, pointed towards the snowcat with one ski glove.
"Wait over there and I'll get the luggage," the woman shouted over the idling engine. Her hair was long and black, pulled back in a ponytail and further restrained by a wide fleece headband. Her face was beautiful, but her eyes were hidden behind reflective sunglasses. "I'm Frieda Saberhagen!" she yelled.
"Robyn Tolliver!" the new arrival shouted back. "Pleased to..." Frieda had already opened the cargo space and was pulling out Robyn's one small and two large suitcases. Robyn grabbed one of the large ones and headed for the snowmobile. Her boots were breaking the crust on the frozen snow and she almost tripped twice. Frieda passed her, carrying the remaining bags, negotiating the snow without difficulty in her snowpacks.
Behind, the helicopter revved to full power and lifted into the air. Robyn's hair, coat tails, skirt, and scarf flailed in all directions and she squealed under the assault of driven snow and frigid air. The artificial blizzard passed and Robyn squinted upwards. The helicopter was disappearing over the far ridge... and already the valley was eerily still.
"Don't be cross with Tony," Frieda said as she secured the bags to the back of the snowcat with a bungee cord net. "The weather can turn in an hour this time of year, and you don't want to get caught by a front in these mountains." She climbed into the snowcat and pointed to the seat beside her. "C'mon. You look like you're freezing."
Robyn crunched around to the far side of the cab, opened the door, and climbed in beside Frieda. "I... I'm all out of breath," she said. "The altitude?" Her hair was a cloud of red curls surrounding her flushed face.
"The altitude," Frieda agreed, removing her shades. Her eyes were a gorgeous pale blue. "You'll get used to it."
Robyn pulled a tissue from her coat pocket and dabbed her eyes and nose. "I don't expect to be here that long," she muttered.
Frieda smiled, hit the start button, the snowcat's engine roared to life, and she maneuvered the vehicle towards the trail leading up to the Lodge.
|Tales of CHATTEL MOUNTAIN LODGE||PERSONNEL PROBLEM—1|
Robyn finished brushing her hair and straightened the front of her turtleneck. Frieda had shown her to one of the guest rooms, suggesting she freshen up, then suggested they meet in the Lodge's main office. The central heating was very efficient, so Robyn dispensed with her jacket. In boots, skirt, and turtleneck, she carefully retraced her steps through the spacious and still largely unknown mansion.
The decor was classic Arts and Crafts: rich wood paneling, exposed joists and rafters, and heavy, well-padded, custom built furniture. The door to the office Frieda had indicated earlier was open, and Robyn knocked and entered.
"Come in," Frieda said with a warm smile. "Coffee?"
"Thank you." Robyn moved towards the sole chair facing the massive desk.
"Cream and sugar?" Frieda inquired, pouring coffee from an insulated carafe into a green, glazed stoneware cup decorated with stylized pine cones.
"Black, please," Robyn answered. The chair was... curious. It looked comfortable, thickly padded and well proportioned, but was unusually heavy for a visitor's chair. The hardwood arms and legs were thick and solidly cross-braced. The leather upholstery was soft suede, and was decorated with overlaying leather straps that encircled its arms and legs at irregular intervals.
Frieda handed Robyn a cup and saucer and motioned for her to sit. While Robyn settled into the curious chair, Frieda poured herself a cup and sat behind the desk. "Good trip?"
"Not too bad," Robyn lied, taking a careful sip of coffee and maintaining a stoic front. "Yum!"
"Yes, Hawaiian Kona. The Warburgs insist on only the best." She sampled her own cup. Frieda had shucked her snow suit and was dressed in jeans, boots, and a flannel shirt in an Indian blanket pattern. Her raven hair was long and loose and her expression friendly, but her blue eyes peered at Robyn with laser intensity. "What did they tell you in New York about this assignment?"
Robyn took another sip of coffee and squirmed in her chair. "Uh... not as much as I would have liked. I'm to help you 'evaluate' the minor property of the Lodge. I take it the Warburgs are thinking of selling?"
Frieda smiled, coyly. "If they are, it's news to me," she answered. "What did they tell you about the Lodge?"
"The file is rather limited," Robyn responded, shaking her head. "I was told there are extensive records here, in the library."
"I'll assume you know nothing and start at the beginning," Frieda said. "The Lodge was built in the 1890's. It was going to be one of the Great Railroad Hotels, but there was a financial setback and the direct line through the valley that might have made the Lodge a going concern was never completed."
Robyn sipped her coffee. "Then it was converted to a private hospital."
"The Chattel Mountain Sanitarium for Troubled Women," Frieda nodded. "An asylum catering to very rich clients who required complete privacy and freedom from the press."
"You couldn't get more private than this place," Robyn muttered.
Frieda's smile turned rather coy. "Agreed. Anyway, the asylum went bankrupt following the Great Crash of '29 and Arthur Warburg acquired the property for the proverbial song. Hotel development was considered, but a series of landslides in the late thirties destroyed the railroad spur. Rebuilding the line or converting it to an improved road was and remains prohibitive. The only access in or out of the valley is a very un-improved road that's closed six to nine months of the year.
"We're trapped up here?" Robyn blurted.
"There are the snowmobiles and snowcats," Frieda explained, "and one can ski out in about three days. Do you ski, Ms. Tolliver?"
"A little," Robyn answered.
"I mean cross-country." Robyn shook her head and Frieda continued. "It's a difficult journey. The trail is hard to follow and parts are quite treacherous. I make the trip every two years, just to make sure the blazes were still readable. The last time I did it... I crossed the tracks of a wolf pack twice."
Robyn's eyes popped wide. "Wolves?"
Frieda smiled. "You can hear them sing some nights, from the Lodge; but they never bother me. The doors and windows are all very solid and I keep everything locked up tight." She locked eyes with Robyn and grinned. "You'll be safe and snug up here, I promise."
Robyn dropped her gaze (squirmed in her seat) and drank more coffee. "So, what will I be doing here?"
"There are some very interesting furnishings in the Lodge," Frieda said, "some unique rooms and equipment, all left over from the sanitarium period. The Warburgs want everything catalogued and evaluated for repair and refurbishment. You're to help me in this effort."
Robyn sighed. "Seems like a ridiculous task to assign a financial specialist with an MBA. Sounds like a job for a curator from one of the better auction services."
"Like I said," Frieda said, "the sanitarium was for the very rich. The furnishings and equipment are probably worth a great deal... for an exclusive community of collectors. The use of an auction service is considered... premature. For now, the Warburgs want this kept in-house. Discretion is the order of the day."
"Which explains why I was told not to discuss this trip with anyone," Robyn muttered. "It still seems to me they might have chosen someone better qualified. What sort of 'furnishings' are we talking about?"
Frieda gestured towards Robyn. "Your chair is a perfect example."
Robyn blinked in surprise. "I don't understand."
Frieda's smile broadened and turned a little predatory (or was it Robyn's imagination?) "Do you know the origin of the word 'tranquilizer?' ...as used in medicine, I mean." Robyn shook her head. Frieda sipped her coffee and continued. "Doctor Benjamin Rush, the 'Father of American Psychiatry,' believed that madness was caused by an imbalance of blood flow to the brain. By restricting a patient's movement, he believed the natural flow could be restored."
Robyn squirmed nervously. "Sounds a little... simplistic."
Frieda laughed. "We're talking the late Eighteenth Century here," she explained. "The competing theory was demonic possession. Anyway... set down your coffee. I'll show you." She came around the desk, took the cup and saucer from Robyn's hands, and set it on the desk. She then stepped behind Robyn and did something at the chair's back.
There was a series of quiet clicks and the straps overlaying the cushions and under Robyn's seat and back came loose and the straps on the armrests dangled free. "What—?"
"Hold still," Frieda purred, giving Robyn's shoulder a reassuring tap. "This is just a demonstration. Let me see your wrist."
Before Robyn could react, Frieda had taken her left arm and placed it on the armrest. A strap was passed over her wrist and the metal flange at its end inserted into a slot. It clicked home and the strap automatically tightened, as if a spring clamp inside the armrest had taken up the available slack. "Hey!" Robyn's right wrist was receiving similar treatment before it occurred to her to physically resist. By then it was too late. "Hey!"
"Calm down," Frieda reassured the flustered redhead. "You can't really appreciate this thing until you experience it."
Robyn pulled on her strapped wrists and watched as Frieda added straps over her forearms; and around her biceps, pinning her upper arms against the outer edges of the chair back. "I-I can't move my arms," she stammered.
"That's the idea," Frieda purred, kneeling and capturing Robyn's booted ankles in straps, first the left, then the right. "The therapy supposedly worked better the more the patient was immobilized." She then reached under Robyn's skirt and strapped her knees to the sides of of the chair.
"I don't like this!" Robyn complained, squirming and tugging on her bonds as Frieda added more straps, first around her waist, then from above each shoulder, between her sweater-covered breasts, and to the opposite side of the chair back.
"Which is how the patients felt," Frieda said, "I'm sure." She stepped away to a credenza against the far wall and opened a drawer.
Robyn twisted in the chair as far as the straps would allow and craned her neck to follow Frieda's actions. "Okay... I get it. Would you release these straps now, please?"
Frieda grinned and held up a tangle of leather straps. "The demonstration isn't complete," she explained, and returned to the chair. She shook out the straps and leaned forward.
"That's a gag!" Robyn gasped, pulling on her wrist straps with all her strength. "No—m'mmpfh!"
Smiling sweetly, Frieda thrust a large mushroom-shaped pad into Robyn's mouth and buckled a narrow strap at the nape of the struggling prisoner's neck. The initial strap was followed by several more, caging her head in a network of tight leather. A broad, heavily padded, mask-like strap was added that covered Robyn's grimacing face from chin to nose. Finally, straps from the chair were threaded through rings in the harness, tightened, and pinned Robyn's head against the chair's headrest. "There," Frieda purred. "Only one more thing to do."
Robyn fought her bonds and mewed through her gag. Frieda was turning something on the chair back, and she heard and felt a series of vibrating clicks, a spring being wound against a ratchet and pawl mechanism. The turning stopped and Robyn heard a loud click, a lever being thrown. Frieda walked back to her desk and Robyn continued struggling—only now, whenever she moved, there was a slight give in whichever strap she was testing, followed immediately by two or three clicks and increased pressure. In other words, as she struggled, when she struggled, her bonds became ever more stringent. By the time Robyn figured this out, all of her bonds had tightened significantly.
Frieda sat back in her chair and smiled at Robyn, her expression decidedly more feral than when Robyn had first entered the office. Robyn stared back at her smug, raven-haired captor, her eyes wide above her gag. She was panting through her flaring nostrils, her bosom heaved against the straps pressing her spine into the well-padded chair back. "Now... what were we talking about?" Frieda purred. "Oh yes, the word 'tranquilizer.' You're sitting in an unusually comfortable version of what Doctor Rush would have called a 'tranquilizing chair.' Eventually, it became vogue to apply the adjective to any effort to calm a patient, including the use of drugs... and the adjective became the noun 'tranquilizer'."
Frieda poured herself a refill of coffee. "Back to the history of Chattel Mountain Lodge..." She took a careful sip as Robyn twisted her wrists against the straps. The captive's green eyes were angry (and fearful), and her face glistening with sweat. Her red curls were tousled and disorderly, a thin, twisting strand plastered to the portions of her forehead and left cheek not covered by tight leather. Frieda savored her coffee (and the sight of her beautiful, helpless captive) and continued. "When the Warburgs renovated the upper floors in the 50's, a hidden vault was discovered. Reams of papers were inside, and they turned out to be copies of the confidential notes of the sanitarium staff. A casual study revealed the sanitarium was less a psychiatric hospital... than a private jail. Money can solve any problem, even problematic women. Do you have a teenage daughter who requires more discipline than you can provide? Does your husband have an ex-mistress who desperately needs to be taught a lesson? Is there an overly inquisitive female reporter digging into your affairs? Perhaps a private detective is sticking her pretty little button nose in all the wrong places? For the right price, all such 'problems' can be handled... and they were." Frieda set down her coffee and tapped several keys on the computer keyboard on her desk. "Imagine the value of such documents," she said as she worked. "The Warburg family went from very wealthy to obscenely wealthy in just a few years. Raising capital never seemed to be a problem... and now you know why."
Robyn watched as Frieda stared at the flat screen above the keyboard, then picked up her telephone's handset and hit a speed dial button. Captor and captive locked eyes as a connection was made. Seconds passed, then Frieda spoke into the handset. "Holding for Ms. Warburg."
Robyn's eyes popped wide. 'Ms. Warburg?' Chandler Warburg? The 'Dragon Lady' herself??
Frieda was speaking again. "Good evening, ma'am. You asked me to call when Ms. Tolliver was... settled in?" Frieda's smile broadened. "Yes ma'am... easier than I ever imagined. No drugs were required; not even one of the traps... Yes ma'am. The connection is pending." Frieda tapped a key on the base station, hung up the handset, and shifted her full attention to the computer. Several seconds passed, then she nodded at the screen and spun a small camera pod to face Robyn.
Trapped in her web of tight leather, Robyn squirmed in the soft cushions and blinked at the staring eye of the camera lens.
Suddenly a voice filled the room, emanating from the computer's stereo speakers. "Poor Robyn... poor treacherous little Robyn... Turn the screen. I want her to see me."
Frieda rotated the flat screen monitor, and Robyn beheld a hard, unsmiling, beautiful face she recognized instantly. It was the wife of Ryan Warburg, the CEO of The Warburg Group and Robyn's ultimate boss... It was Chandler Warburg.
|Tales of CHATTEL MOUNTAIN LODGE||PERSONNEL PROBLEM—1|
Chandler Warburg was an ex-model. She was very beautiful, but the "runway scowl" came naturally to her balanced, photogenic features. Robyn had never met her before (if these bizarre circumstances could be called a "meeting"), but like every management level employee of the Warburg Group's many subsidiaries, she was familiar with "The Face." Chandler had no official role in the running of the Warburg empire, but Robyn knew she wielded great power, nonetheless.
Chandler stared into Robyn's eyes. "Conrad Lacey has been arrested," she announced, then a smile curled her lips at Robyn's reaction. "Yes, that's right, your partner in crime is in the hands of the police. Oh, don't act so innocent, Ms. Tolliver. We know you conspired with your former boss to embezzle Warburg accounts to the tune of more than seventeen million dollars."
Robyn pulled on her bonds, ignoring the answering pings and fractional tightening of restraints her actions caused. Embezzlement? Seventeen million?
"Yes, it was quite the clever scheme; very clever, and you might have gotten away with it if one of the bank transfers hadn't been flagged by one of our overseas operatives. And don't feel sorry for Conrad. You may have been lovers, but it appears he was maneuvering things to leave you holding the bag for the entire scheme. We're still sorting out the details, but the NYPD forensic accountants have more that enough to put Mr. Lacey away for many, many years... and he won't be playing golf in a white collar prison."
Chandler's smile turned decidedly sinister as she watched Robyn struggle and mew through her gag. "Yesss... very clever. You covered your tracks much better than Conrad. Our lawyers tell us you might not even be prosecuted, as things stand. We found the full seventeen million..." Chandler leaned forward and her smile became downright evil. "...but your 'flight' and 'disappearance' gives us a unique opportunity: we can declare the 'stolen' seventeen million a loss; then put the now thoroughly laundered funds back to work, off the books and tax free. So... there's only one thing left to decide... what to do with Robyn Tolliver?"
Robyn froze in her bonds and stared above her gag at the flat screen. Chandler Warburg gazed back, clearly enjoying Robyn's plight.
"I sentence you to five years at hard labor," Chandler continued. "Ms. Saberhagen will be your warden."
Robyn's eyes darted to Frieda. She found no sympathy, but rather, the raven-haired beauty was smiling at her with an unmistakable hunger, a tigress eyeing a plump, helpless goat.
"Frieda has extensive experience in such matters," Chandler continued. "She's not simply our caretaker, you see; but a world class dominatrix, catering to the very rich."
"It's sort of a side business," Frieda purred. "And Chattel Mountain Lodge is perfect for such a purpose. Well equipped... No place on earth is better equipped... Private... Simply perfect."
"Everything you own is now mine," Chandler Warburg continued. "You are now mine." Chandler's smile faded. "In the Spring I plan on taking a brief mountain vacation. At that time I look forward to expressing the full measure of my disappointment at your breach of trust." Her image winked out, replaced by the Warburg Group logo.
Robyn continued staring at the glowing screen for several seconds. I... I didn't steal anything! She shifted her gaze to Frieda and forced a pitiful moan past her gag. I didn't steal anything!
Frieda turned the flat screen back around, tapped a few keys, then slowly, gracefully stood, and ambled towards her captive, a cruel smile on her angelic face. "Five years," she purred. Her right hand reached out and caressed Robyn's left breast. "That's five years if you exhibit good behavior. Failure to follow orders will result in punishment and additional months added to your sentence. An attempted escape will result in severe punishment, and an additional year." Her hand squeezed until her knuckles turned white.
Robyn mewed through her gag and squeezed her eyes shut in pain. Then her captor's hand released and Robyn blinked back tears.
"You have beautiful skin," Frieda purred, "and very beautiful hair. I wonder how you'd look if I shaved it all off." Robyn's eyes popped wide and she pulled on her restraints. "Oh, don't worry, Pretty Robyn. It'll grow back... if I decide to do it." Frieda walked to the office doorway, out of Robyn's dramatically limited line of sight. "I'll be back in a few hours to... shall we say... in-process my new plaything. In the meantime, I'm going to go through your things and decide if I want any of it, or if any of it will be useful for your... 'rehabilitation'. Then the remainder goes into the incinerator, luggage and all."
The overhead lights clicked off, the door closed, and a key turned in the lock. The drapes and blinds of the office window were open, providing a magnificent view of the opposite ridge and the peaks beyond. A storm was approaching from the opposite direction and the sky above the Lodge was darkening. Delicate fat flakes of snow were drifting past the triple pane glass. Robyn forced a despairing whine past her gag, tugged on her bonds, and wept. Tears streaming down her face, channeled by the straps and buckles of her gag, and splashed her leather framed, sweater-covered breasts. I didn't steal anything!
Tales of CHATTEL MOUNTAIN LODGE
|PERSONNEL PROBLEM—Chapter 1|