From two-time IPPY-award-winning author Robert Davies comes a genre-defying tale of mind control and reincarnation.
When Evan Morgan’s brother dies, it sets off a chain of events that will alter his life forever…
Evan Morgan is an NTSB crash investigator living in northern Virginia. When he learns his elder brother, Damon, has died suddenly and left all assets and possessions to Evan and their sister Vienne, he’s shocked. Traveling to North Wales seems to be a formality: pick up and dispose of any valuables and head back home. But when Evan arrives in Denbighshire and meets his new neighbor, the alluring and mysterious Aline Lloyd, he dismisses the rumors she’s mentally unstable and decides to stay.
Aline has a secret, but it’s not as it seems. Her secret crosses centuries and requires no doctors or treatments. And when she shows Evan, it will change everything he knows…but not without cost.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.79(d)|
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ON that rainy October morning, I was en route to an investigation in southeast Tennessee where firefighters and rescue teams stepped carefully over twisted aluminum panels and what little else remained of a private airplane. As they usually do, the shreds and tatters of affluence scattered up a wooded hillside gave stark testimony to the suddenness and finality of most plane crashes. Hours later, details would emerge and the backstory local newsrooms were more than eager to run filtered out through televisions as families sat down to dinner.
A dental technologies vice president from Memphis was flying himself down to Chattanooga for a conference about expensive, 3D waterjet machines that create prosthetic teeth. When weather conditions and visibility he believed would improve had not, his single-engine Mooney went into the side of a mountain at 180 mph not far from Wauhatchie. On an instrument flight plan, the controllers in Atlanta would have guided him safely for a handoff to Chattanooga Approach and vectors for an eventless landing. Instead, he committed the sin of ignoring weather updates and zero visibility, a grave error committed by those pilots without instrument training who don't always come home alive. He made no calls to air traffic controllers — no urgent request for positional help. Judging by the impact point and angle of attack as his plane tore through the trees, Mr. Memphis was flying straight and level with no idea he was about to die.
Field reporters, suitably grim in North Face jackets with embroidered network logos, looked at the charred debris field and saw the arrogance of success. They wouldn't say it directly but all of them recognized the signs: a well-heeled, corporate climber with more money than brains who ignored rules when they became inconvenient. The pilot was a prominent industry figure, equal parts "mover and shaker" they used to say. Fourteen hours earlier he became another who paid the price for pushing his luck in fog- bound, instrument conditions he wasn't trained to handle. In the hovering mist the reporters aimed their harsh camera lights at another statistic: a horrible mistake by an up-and-coming executive unaccustomed to making them. This one would be his last.
The preliminaries pointed to simple pilot error and interviews with the dead man's associates only confirmed what was already believed: he had gone beyond himself and his flying skills because no one was there to tell him he couldn't. In the previous year, I had worked the investigation of an identical machine that suffered fuel starvation, compelling its pilot to set down inconveniently early along the furrowed rows of a cornfield outside Indianapolis.
As my plane taxied to a stop, the ramp director signaled between two hangars for our van and I pulled my phone from a pocket to find a missed call. In the drizzle on a shimmering tarmac at Chattanooga Metro Airport, I listened in silence as Vienne's voice message told me Damon was gone.
When I called her, Vienne's voice was weak and distant. I struggled with sadness but also shock because his life had not been led in dangerous pursuits or filled with high-risk adventures that invite disaster and bring little surprise for survivors when the worst finally happens. Damon didn't climb mountains or scuba dive with sharks; he didn't know a wingsuit from a garden rake and zip lining that grandmothers routinely enjoy was at the top of his "never going to happen" list. I won't pretend we were ever close, not the way brothers usually are, but Vienne's disappointment made clear my muted reaction was something less than it should be. In truth, I found myself dwelling on the pathology of his death more than the meaning of it. Arrhythmia — sudden and unexpected — took him as he slept in the sweltering heat of a cheap Nairobi hotel room. He was fit and careful to maintain a proper diet but even that couldn't shield him from what waited inside a genetically flawed heart.
Our brother made his living as an archaeologist, dividing time between lectures for master's candidates and filthy dig sites that always seem to pop up in places where decent living conditions are rare and the fly population is heaviest. He had a remarkable knack for spotting and appraising exceptional pieces, which also kept him in the favor of wealthy collectors, and we later learned a prospective client's interest in Meru tribal art was his purpose for being in Kenya at all.
Archaeology was his passion and reason for living but brokers (and the money they represent) went far beyond compensation for his part-time job at the university in Reading a few miles west of London. I've never been to equatorial Africa but I know Damon wasn't overly fond of the place. I could see Vienne in my thoughts smiling sadly at the irony, insisting Damon would resent dying so far from the fragments of Phoenician pottery and erotic Hindu sculptures cluttering his strange, angular apartment in Spain.
They bought a nook for his ashes at the cemetery in a little town near Malaga because, Vienne said, it was the only place where Damon felt he belonged. She always waited at the halfway point between us, as middle siblings are often obliged to do, but I suspect her tolerance for his eccentricities was tested more often than she would admit. He had a girlfriend I never knew about, too — a primary school teacher he met in Alicante named Isolda Marquez. We met her at the funeral but she didn't say much. Vienne learned an estrangement between them wasn't reconciled before he died so we watched her for a while, knowing how the helplessness of regret could only have made things that much worse.
I remember when he moved there to do research for his doctoral dissertation, and in the photos he took near Gibraltar he was wearing khaki expedition shorts, a Syracuse University T-shirt, and utilitarian sandals with soles made of old tires. Damon was in his element, smiling into an Iberian afternoon behind mirrored sunglasses he was convinced made him appear hip and cosmopolitan. He told Vienne about northern Europeans who flocked there to bask on the Mediterranean shore in winter, pasty white and desperate to escape gray skies when the first storms of winter rolled in from the North Atlantic. She laughed when he complained about swarms of tour groups at the airport pouring out of chartered LTU widebodies from Germany in weekly waves to invade the beaches. They lounged and smiled for photos, tanning with overpriced drinks and the false hospitality of locals who despise them. Beyond the horizon, their envious and shivering neighbors in places like DÃ1/4sseldorf, Helsinki, or Aalborg huddled against the cutting wind.
Damon believed the "holiday army" couldn't truly appreciate the ground beneath their feet and most, he insisted, walked upon it in ignorance. For him, it was a hallowed place where the ancient Arab world collided with the west in a distant past as Europe clawed its way out from the Dark Ages. Two realities blending on those bright shores, he said, long before the industrial power of one subsumed nomadic traditions of the other. Alhazen walked there, and before him, Roman legions and Berber kings in the shadow of the great rock. Damon loved all of it.
Weeks went by until at last a London attorney retained by the university was given the job of organizing those aspects of Damon's estate that applied to the institution. As executor, Vienne went to see after his will and complete the administrative tasks that so often make the mourning process a worse nightmare than it should be. At first, it seemed a simple process and she authorized the release of purpose-built containers with Damon's most valuable artifacts to be sorted, cataloged, and stored in one of the dimly lit basement rooms most college archaeology departments seem to maintain. Some artifacts were more prized than others, loaned or vended off to museums, and the curators at one of those museums — in Sendai, of all places — even ran a lovely show conducted in part as a memorial to Damon's globe-spanning career and his contributions to the discipline.
It seemed odd when we discovered the notoriety he enjoyed and how much his fellow archaeologists admired and appreciated his talents. I knew he had no trouble paying his bills, but a pile of trade publications ran stories about Damon's intuitive success and he became a celebrity in a world filled with the names of people few of us have ever heard. Vienne wondered if my surprise was a product of the temperamental distance between us or simply the different people we became. I knew of Damon's travels and various appraisal jobs for Australian or Saudi billionaires mostly from Vienne, but her perspective on our brother was always better than my own.
After the remaining bits in his apartment were packed and prepared for shipment to America, Vienne called from London to tell me it was time to meet and execute bequeathing tasks. What they found inside his will, she said at nearly a whisper, was not at all expected and she begged me to come at once. Vienne never begged anyone for any reason and when I asked her to explain she simply said, "Hurry" before hanging up. There were surprises left behind, she said, surprises that would alter our perception of Damon forever. I booked the flight arrangements then and there, concerned more for the tone in Vienne's voice than anything our elder brother wrote into his will.
* * *
I MANAGED TO sleep for most of the flight from Dulles, finishing the last drops of morning coffee by the time we broke out of the cloud layer inbound for Heathrow. Vienne had flown in from Spain two days earlier and she was waiting as my taxi squeaked to a halt in front of an imposing hotel off Sloane Square — very British, very grand. Damon's solicitor, a tall, scarlet-faced man called Liam Fields-Donnelley, met us two hours later at his firm's offices on the east side of London near the boundary of Whitechapel. While we waited on a junior solicitor laying out documents in tidy groups on a splendid oak table, I reminded Vienne of the neighborhood's notorious past as Jack the Ripper's hunting grounds. I said so mostly to pass the time but she didn't seem to care. A moment later Donnelley arrived and with him was the first step of my sudden, bizarre odyssey.
"Yes, well," he began as he traced a finger along the lines on a page of notes before him, "we have concluded most of your brother's affairs with his employer — the artifacts he left as legacies to the university."
We waited again as he shifted his eyes between folders as though he needed to convince himself all was in order. On a wall behind us a massive clock the size of a stop sign — transparent to show off its polished brass gears — clunked and clicked the seconds away, and from it the only break from silence I knew was wearing thin on Vienne's patience. Donnelley seemed to know it, too.
"Oh, and Damon's personal effects in Spain have been boxed by our Madrid representative's local agents as well; they were given access to his apartment by way of a surprisingly cooperative former girlfriend, I'm told."
Vienne waited through a last pause as Donnelley shuffled the release papers she would be required to sign, until at last he drew from his folio the reason and purpose that brought us all the way to England.
"Your sister saw the contents before you arrived, Mr. Morgan, but the bulk of his estate and its disposition, such that it is, can be finalized now that both of you are here. The document is rather crude by professional standards, of course, but British law recognizes and accepts its authenticity, regardless that he was not a subject of the Crown. You may review at your leisure and then provide signatures to indicate acceptance."
"It's only us," Vienne said softly, turning sideways in her chair toward me. "Except for the artifacts that went to that college, plus money and some jewelry for Isolda, everything he had passes to you and me."
I looked at her and shrugged but she leaned over and placed her hand on top of mine.
"This might be a bit of a shock, okay?"
Another surprise — another secret; I hate them still.
Donnelley took the silence as his cue.
"I should note the properties themselves carry current-market value, of course, but the bank accounts and precious metals are relatively static, provided you move them without long-term delay. We can recommend a well-regarded finance institution to guide you with these sorts of matters, Mr. Morgan."
"This is why you needed to be here," Vienne whispered as she slid the papers across the table.
I went down the handwritten list line by line and it seemed like a cruel, impossible joke. Had it been played on me by Vienne or on us both by a dead brother with a unique, misplaced sense of humor? It couldn't be real, I decided with a frown, as the contents stared back at me from the noticeably creased paper.
On the page, a single column of items paralleled a precise value in British pounds and US dollars that added to a subtotal before being divided, half to Vienne and half to me. I saw stock, annuities, and rotating investment accounts in Switzerland, Germany, and Belize. Further along, he listed locations of safe deposit boxes in several countries holding considerable gold, some silver, and cash in varying currencies that alone totaled to nearly $2.4 million. Damon gifted sole ownership of his Malaga apartment to Vienne (which I regarded as her reward for having kept in touch better and more frequently than I), but near the middle of the list there was something else: a simple line that described a clean deed for a private dwelling on eight acres in the Denbighshire countryside Damon left specifically to me. It was time to consider how little we knew about the life our elder brother led, and how it could be that so much had been acquired by one who once cared so little for material wealth. No matter the method or mechanism, Damon left this world a wealthy man.
I looked at Vienne and then to Donnelley but they said nothing. There was no mistake, hoax, or misapprehension; without others to whom he felt an obligation, and except for a handsome legacy of cash and the bits of jewelry he left to Isolda, Vienne and I were his sole beneficiaries. Because of Damon's relative youth and healthy condition, Donnelley noted, his risk of death by any means beyond unforeseen injury was low. The work was certainly benign, too; rummaging around in galleries, nodding at auctions, or brushing away the layers of dirt at an active dig site with a toothbrush could hardly be described as thrill-inspiring. However, Donnelley explained, the money Damon's exceedingly rare (and private) collection could bring was considerable and steps were taken. I wondered why he thought to create a will and testament at all, and when Donnelley continued the answer was easy to see.
Many of the pieces our brother gathered over the years, with the understanding he would gift them to the university, carried significant historic value, compelling his employers to ask for a valid will. They did so to avoid difficulty if Damon suddenly died in a car accident, for example, or by some other tragic event. Their own obligation to protect their interests was no less important than his, it would seem, and an understanding between them made a formal will and testament inescapable.
"You are now fully apprised of your brother's last wishes and those parts of his estate he wanted passed to you," he continued. "The documentation will be copied and sent along sometime next week. Are there any questions before we finalize the transfer authorizations?"
I looked on in silence to absorb the changes coming at both of us. The money, at least, was not entirely without explanation; collectors and brokers who take five-star hotels and private jets for granted know an expert eye is worth the trouble and expense, if only to help them establish a price when each piece is in turn sold to others. I admit the actual dollar amount was well beyond anything we imagined, but the fortune Damon amassed from doing for the wealthy what they couldn't do for themselves was at least understandable. I smiled and shook my head sadly at what I didn't know about my own brother's admirable financial condition, but it was the property that grabbed my attention.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Seventh Life of Aline Lloyd"
Copyright © 2019 Robert Davies.
Excerpted by permission of BHC Press.
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