Prologue
A Dim and Cloudy Afternoon
Location:
Sutton Hall, Upstate New York
Date: Friday, April 19, 1935
Time: 05:40p.m.

Thick clouds were slowly gathering to darken the late afternoon sky above Sutton Hall. Sutton Hall was a stately old manor built in the aftermath of the War of 1812, well away from the other country estates as the new arrivals from Mother England could not expect the warmest welcome from native New Yorkers at that time.
The Sutton family straddled the Atlantic for over a century before the upheavals of the Great War prompted them to move entirely to the New World. They enjoyed a bit of a renaissance of their fortunes for a time, before it all came crashing down on Black Thursday.
Now Sutton Hall was showing signs of age and decay. With only a fraction of the help left to maintain it, the estate's decline was inevitable. Still, its glory was not gone completely, not yet, and its dwindling prestige would serve its purpose this evening.
A car made its way along the ruler-straight road to the front gate. The gatekeeper was expecting the car and promptly emerged from the gatehouse to allow it inside. The driveway was just under a quarter mile long, giving incoming visitors several minutes to view the front garden, dotted with Neoclassical sculptures and decorative shrubbery.
As for the manor itself, it like the statuary was Neoclassical in design, the facade evoking the Parthenon with its thick Doric columns and an elaborate frieze depicting the heroics of Theseus. The bone-white facade contrasted sharply with the rich reddish brown of the sturdy brick walls. The large windows were a more recent addition, part of the renovations made during the high times of the Gay Nineties. Another round of renovations was due but not likely to come anytime soon.
The car stopped outside the front door and two footmen went down to open the doors for the passengers: a gentleman and two young ladies.
"Be back for us at ten," the gentleman told the driver.
"Yes, sir, Dr. O'Connor," the driver replied, driving off as the party of three was being escorted into the manor.
The footmen held open the double doors and the three walked into the vestibule, where they were met by the butler, a prim Frenchman with slick black hair and a neat little mustache waxed to needle points.
"Good evening, sir," the butler said. With a nod he added, "Ladies. Madame is waiting in the sitting room. This way."
After the footmen took their coats and hats, the three guests followed the butler to the sitting room, where the lady of the house and the other guests were assembled.
One of the guests was an unassuming man of the cloth. The other was a much younger man, unusually tall and skinny, dressed in an ill-fitting suit much too small for his gangly frame. The two men rose respectfully when the three entered the room, but the lady of the house remained seated.
Madame Lorraine Pfeiffer was infamous for her severe, uncompromising demeanor. Widowed when she was still young, the experience had aged her well beyond her years, though not so much physically as mentally. She dressed plainly and conservatively, leaving only her hands and face exposed. With her hair tied back in a tightly wound bun, she looked more like a schoolmarm from the previous century than the heir of old European gentry.
"Welcome, Dr. O'Connor, Miss Allison, Miss Gwendoline."
She spoke in a carefully cultivated American accent. Her voice and manner gave little warmth, but what little warmth she showed was proof that the O'Connors had found favor with her, which was a rare blessing and no small part of the reason they were gathered here today.
"Please, take a seat," Madame Pfeiffer said, gesturing to the nearby empty seats. "Dinner will be ready soon."
The O'Connors obliged by taking their seats. A few moments of awkward silence passed. Of particular note, the gangly young man and Miss Allison repeatedly exchanged glances, as if by reflex, self-consciously averting their eyes before their gaze could rest long.
The silence was broken when Madame Pfeiffer rose from her chair. The menfolk started to rise as well, but she motioned for them to remain seated.
"I must beg your pardon as I excuse myself for a moment," she said. "I would ask that you refrain from discussing the business at hand until after dinner. By all means, though, entertain yourselves with polite conversation until I return."
With that, Madame Pfeiffer left the sitting room. A few more silent moments passed until the gangly young man dared to break the ice.
"Helluva storm brewin' out there, eh?"

* * *

Date: Friday, April 19, 1935
Time: 06:00p.m.

The places at the table were set and dinner was ready to be served, but Madame Pfeiffer had yet to return. The housekeeper had been busy keeping the maids on task, but now that the time had come, she started to worry. Madame was known for her strict punctuality.
She called on one of the house maids, a petite Malay Chinese girl.
"Miss Lam," she said, "go fetch Madame. It is already past time to begin."
"Yes, ma'am," the girl replied with a bob of her head.
The little Miss Lam shuffled quickly but quietly through the hallways, up the stairs and into Madame's dressing room.
"Madame?" Miss Lam asked. "Are you in here?"
From the dressing room, Miss Lam would be able to hear if Madame was in either her bedroom or bath. She received no reply, but nevertheless checked each room with a quiet knock and a "Madame?" at each door.
Not finding any trace of Madame, Miss Lam moved to the next most likely place to find her: the study. She did not enter at first, as she had in the dressing room. If Madame was in her study, you were not to just walk in, no matter the urgency of your business.
Knocking at the door, Miss Lam asked, "Madame, are you in there? Supper is ready."
Not getting a reply, Miss Lam dared to open the door. As much as she feared disturbing Madame unbidden, she would get scolded much worse if Madame's tardiness became a source of embarrassment.
Staying behind the door, she repeated, "Madam, are you in there?"
There was still no response. Mustering a little more courage, Miss Lam stuck her head into the room.
"Madame?"
Miss Lam would never have expected to see the horrible sight before her. Her eyes widened. Her mouth gaped in shock. Her knees shook so hard that her legs gave out from under her.
An ear-piercing shriek echoed throughout Sutton Hall.
Madame Pfeiffer would not be coming to dinner.