“I was twelve when I realized I was a ghost.”
So says Constance Fairchild, an eccentric poetess who is heiress to a fortune—and a girl who, from an early age, has believed that she had been reincarnated.
Orphaned at the age of 14, when her parents die under suspicious circumstances, she is sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, a country that had haunted her dreams. Here, she makes her first real friends and stumbles on clues to her past life.
When several of her friends die under suspicious circumstances, Constance has reason to believe that her legal guardian may be responsible. What possible motive could her guardian have? Searching desperately for the answer, Constance only uncovers further questions that convince her that she may be part of some grand conspiracy. Who keeps planting listening devices in her dorm room? Why were people following both her and her friends? Why did her dead grandfather require emails from him to contain an electronic signature that was lost when he died?
Spanning two lifetimes, this conspiracy—involving pieces of the puzzle that Constance must strive to unravel through her instinctive knowledge of virtual reality, cryptography, and the Internet—threatens to destroy everyone she knows and loves.
Pursued across Europe and New York, Constance searches for answers and tries to survive. With the help of her friends, she manages to expose the conspirators, turn their tools against them, and by the novel's end, she solves the greatest mystery of all: Her reason for being.
“Damn!” he muttered, colliding with the front door. “They could have at least left a light on.” Is Raffles here? he thought. The place looks deserted.
The door opened, though, and a wizened Raffles led him into the darkened house.
“Pardon the mess,” Raffles said when they reached the study. “We’re painting and remodeling.”
Painters’ tarps covered the floor and a burly man in baggy white work clothes stood quietly in a corner.
How can they paint a house at night? he wondered. The only light is a desk lamp!
Casting a sidelong glance at the painter, he handed Raffles the bulging manila envelope.
“Excellent!” Raffles said. “It does everything you say it will?”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course! It wasn’t that difficult, actually. I’m a bit … embarrassed to accept $300,000 for such a tiny job. That’s more than two years salary…”
“Pocket change for me,” Raffles cut in. “As I explained before, the $300,000 is contingent upon confidentiality. You have maintained strict confidentiality, haven’t you?”
“Absolutely!” he said, relieved Raffles hadn’t asked whether copies of the report existed: He’d stupidly lost the original and had had to reprint it.
“I haven’t told anyone,” he added, “not even my wife. She doesn’t know I’m here.”
“I believe you,” Raffles murmured, switching off his hearing aid and nodding to the painter.
The painter produced a revolver.
“Is this some sort of joke…?”
His sentence ended with a gunshot.
Lenin wrote that Zürich had the finest public library he’d ever seen. That odd piece of trivia kept running through my mind as I tried not to cry. It was as though focusing on it would bring order to my world — would undo yesterday.
But, no — I shut my eyes and relived it again.
* * *
It had happened two days after my birthday; I’d turned fourteen. I’d just come home from school and spotted two strange men in the living room, talking to Nanny.
One wore a policeman’s uniform and the other a gray suit. The man in the suit made notations in a tiny notebook and sniffled, as if he had a cold.
“That’s the daughter?” he said, glancing at me.
“Yes, that’s Constance Fairchild,” Nanny replied, nodding. “I’ll tell her.”
“Tell me what?”
Nanny shook her head and sobbed. Finally, she clutched me to herself so hard it hurt. When she released me, she said, “They’re both dead, my dear!”
“Who’s dead?” I asked, with a sickening feeling I knew whom she meant. “What are you talking about?”
“Why, your parents. There was a terrible accident on the van Wyck expressway.”
“En route to Kennedy Airport,” the man in the gray suit added without looking up from his notebook. “You sure she wouldn’t know why her parents were leaving the country?”
“They never told her anything, Mr. Richards,” Nanny replied. “Last year, Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild spent Christmas in Paris without telling anyone except me.”
“They didn’t take her with them?” Detective Richards said.
“No,” Nanny replied. “On Christmas day she had to ask me where they were.”
“And this time they didn’t even tell you?”
“Hm… About 10:30,” Detective Richards murmured, flipping through his notebook. “Mrs. Fairchild shows up at the office — something she never did before. Mr. Fairchild leaves a meeting, telling them he’ll just be a minute. And the two head for the airport. Any idea why they’d do that?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Nanny replied. “They never confided in me — or Constance.”
* * *
“You haven’t touched your dinner,” a flight attendant said. “Was there anything wrong with it?”
“No,” I replied, handing him the tray.
I used the restroom and returned to my seat, grateful I had the row to myself.
The cabin-lights dimmed.
* * *
After they told me of my parents’ deaths, I ran to my room. Nanny followed, asking whether I wanted a sedative. Although I'd always refused them before, I accepted one. I slipped into a dreamless sleep, not even changing out of my school uniform.
I slept until eight, when Nanny roused me.
“Wake up honey. It's time for dinner. And there are some very important people for you to meet.”
“Yes, my dear. Everything will be explained to you.”
In a daze, I staggered into the bathroom and washed my face. Defiantly refusing to dress for dinner, I plodded into the dining room.
A single place was set, at the head of the table. For me, alone. I'd usually dined with my Nanny or Mother, at least. I ate without a word, without tasting the food.
When I finished, I quietly pushed my chair back, stood, and walked into the living room.
Two strangers occupied the couch, talking — a man and a woman. The man discussed severance pay with Nanny, who looked up at me, awkwardly. The woman stood and introduced herself.
“I’m Joyce Mantell, personal legal adviser to your father,” she said, flashing me the kind of pained smile from which torn and bleeding animals are removed each night.
“We must all be strong at times like these,” she continued.
“Did they suffer?”
“Suffer? What are you talking about?”
“My parents. Did they suffer?”
“No! No!” Ms. Mantell said. “Death was instantaneous.”
“I’m glad they didn’t suffer.”
“The important thing now is that you don’t suffer. Other children’s lives might be destroyed by a tragedy like this, but you’re a Fairchild. And your grandfather will not allow you to go wanting.”
I said nothing.
“We’ve been discussing your future,” Ms. Mantell continued. “We, I mean, myself, your grandfather, and your Aunt Augusta, feel you should go away to a boarding school. A place where you can meet other girls your age. And your grandfather has spared no expense. Nothing but the best for a Fairchild!”
I just stared at the woman, and she became more nervous.
Coming to her rescue, Nanny hugged me and said, “Constance, dear. They felt it would be best if you had a change of scenery.”
“It’s one of the most exclusive schools in the world,” Ms. Mantell added. “We all want what’s best for you.”
“Call me Connie,” I said to Nanny.
“Okay, Connie. You may call me Sylvia.”
“What a bizarre child!” Ms. Mantell whispered to the man. “Like a creature from another planet!”
* * *
I thought of the life I’d lost and the people I’d never see again.
Marge was a tall, thin woman with a wonderful laugh. Her delightful way of talking always lifted my spirits.
“Girl, she looked like a smacked ass!” she said once — I’d overheard her talking on the phone. No doubt I looked the same. I felt it.
Nanny — Sylvia — was a sweet, middle-aged Irish woman with wire-framed glasses and chestnut hair. She was the last in a long succession of nannies.
Years ago, I made the mistake of calling nannies I liked ‘Mom’ — thinking or hoping they were. And Mother fired them.
I learned to keep loved ones by keeping my distance.
As a teenager, I no longer needed much supervision. Sylvia was my companion at dinner, though, and during my book-hunts in the city. She called me “her little professor.”
Father was an imposing man of few words who wore a suit except at formal events, when he wore a tuxedo. One felt he wore a suit to bed. I’d been in awe of him.
Mother was beautiful and voluptuous. She'd given up an acting and modeling career to marry Father. I could almost smell her perfume and hear her telling Marge what to cook for dinner.
My parents spent a great deal of time planning and attending parties and receptions.
Mother had always complained that her pregnancy with me ruined her social season in 2000. “The sort of season,” she’d add, “that comes but once in a lifetime.”
Were they ashamed of me?
She and Father spent a great deal of time planning and attending parties and receptions. When they held soirees in our home, they usually asked me to stay in my room.
In their lives, I was as out of place as the picture on my bedroom wall: Hieronymous Bosch's Hay Wain. It critiqued the peasant saying, “Life is a wagon of hay, and we run after it grabbing as much as we can get.”
The painting's central section depicts a mob chasing a hay wagon. Women prostitute themselves for the hay and men kill. At that section’s right edge, people mutate into the animals they’d behaved like. And at the right section, they enter the gates of Hell.
On the rare occasions she entered my room, Mother called it “That disgusting thing!” Did she see herself in the Hell-bound mob?
Mother said it was unnatural for a young girl to spend all her time writing poetry and reading books on philosophy, history, and the sciences. She said there was something terribly wrong with a girl whose favorite books were The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
I was twelve when I realized I was a ghost.
In my quieter moments, vivid impressions or conversations had run through the back of my mind, too fast to capture, like half-forgotten dreams. Or, I’d been haunted by intense but undefined moods or images, and recurring nightmares I barely remembered.
When, at the age of twelve, I read Stevenson's monograph Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation — I knew.
When I confided this to my nanny at the time, Mother sent me to a psychiatrist. I told him what he wanted to hear, once I figured out what that was. Afterwards, I kept my secrets to myself.
Would my parents have learned to love me? Would they ever have been proud of me?
“It’s too late,” I sobbed. “I’ll never know.”
They were my biological link to the rest of humanity, tenuous though that link had been. They loved me once. They must have, although no written records from that era survived. And I must have loved them. I was crying for the family we could have been and, now, would never be. And, perhaps, I was crying for myself.
My former life had ended, and I faced a dark and uncanny future.
I rested my head against the pitch-black window.
* * *
At some point I must have fallen asleep, because I was startled by bright sunlight shining in my eyes. The captain announced we were crossing the Irish coast.
I looked outside.
A low-lying fog clung to the ocean like a translucent white film, and a gray, rocky crag stood in the midst of the water, guarding a mist-shrouded coastline.
I’d never been to Europe. It looked like a ghost-continent. Perhaps it was fitting that I, a ghost, was traveling there.
The captain announced it would be another forty-five minutes to Zürich.
“I gave you some extra muffins,” the flight attendant said, setting up my breakfast tray. I thanked him and devoured the food.
I examined the travel plans Mantell had scribbled on a yellow legal pad. Below them, she’d added, “The Lucerne Academy for Girls is one of the most exclusive schools in the world. So, behave in a manner befitting a Fairchild. And, last but not least, remember to have fun!”
I fingered the passport in my purse. Shipping me off to Switzerland might have been my parents’ idea, and the others were following through with it. Mother had taken me to a photographer a month ago.
Six months ago, she’d asked me where I’d go, if I could go anywhere I wanted in Europe. She’d popped this question out of the blue one evening, at dinner. And, I’d all but shouted “Switzerland!” — surprising even myself. The subject of travel was dropped and forgotten.
Father had made periodic business trips to Zürich — I’d overheard my parents discussing them. And, for years, I’d been haunted by recurring dreams and nightmares about Switzerland.
Was that why I blurted out ‘Switzerland’?
I found a blank sheet of the legal pad and wrote a poem:
My palette is times and
The plane began its final approach, and I caught a glimpse of snowcapped mountains and a large body of water. Then we were on the ground.
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Review by: Mary Simmons, Book Pleasures
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Review by: Mistar Fish, Mistarfish.blogspot.com
Review by: Sam Leonardi, Sammygadgetreviewblog.wordpress.com
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