Summer Tyme’s eidetic memory & computer hacking skills made her the ideal con artist, until she ran afoul of the mob. She thought she managed to escape their clutches, but now her murderous enemies are forcing her to participate in a high-stakes robbery at the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, where the annual McNeal Foundation Art Auction is to be held. If she fails, Summer and her twin brother will be killed. Things go from bad to worse when spirits of soldiers who occupied the hotel during WWII invade her dreams, unintentionally putting Summer in even more danger. She’s forced to make life and death choices at every turn but, as the spirit of Margaret Plant says, “Life is all about making choices. The Afterlife is about earning Redemption for the choices you made.”
- ASIN: B07D4RC948
- Publisher: Bonnie-Sue Brandvik; 1st edition (June 1, 2018)
- Publication date: June 1, 2018
- Language: English
- File size: 2081 KB
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Screen Reader: Supported
- Enhanced typesetting: Enabled
- X-Ray: Not Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Print length: 460 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN: 0989646270
“Yes, I’m at the departure gate,” Summer Tyme said, hoping her voice sounded more confident than she felt. “But I won’t get on the plane unless you let me talk to Justin.”
“Miss that flight and he’s a dead man.”
She closed her eyes and concentrated, but the mechanically-altered voice provided no clues to the caller’s identity.
“Please let me talk to my brother.”
There was no reply. No background noises. Nothing. She was about to give up when she heard her twin’s voice on the line.
“Hey, there. How’s my number one sis?”
Her knees went weak with relief. But despite Justin’s attempt at bravado, she could tell he was terrified. “One more week, bro. Maybe only six days.”
“Feels like forty-four all ready,” Justin said. “I’ve already told you this sixty-seven times, but I’m sorry I got you into this. I’ll make it up to you if it takes two hundred years.”
“That’s enough,” the robotic voice ordered. “I’ll call you again at ten tomorrow night. Now, go do your job.”
The line went dead, but Summer kept the burner phone pressed to her ear as she played Justin’s words over in her head. The person holding her brother prisoner didn’t know the twin’s conversation contained a secret code that they’d created as children – soon after they’d realized they were different from all the other foster kids. Justin possessed a nearly eidetic memory, and hers was better. Each number, from one to one-hundred, represented a specific question or response, allowing them to communicate privately, even in a crowd.
1: I love you; 6: Are you okay?; 44: Don’t worry, I’m all right; 67: No time to argue
They added the number two-hundred to the code after they learned that their special gift made them valuable to all the wrong people.
200: Forget about me – save yourself.
Summer would rather die than abide by number two-hundred. She turned off the cell and boarded the plane, her mind racing. She had always tried to live in the shadows, concealing her unique ability. Justin, on the other hand, could never resist showing off for the ladies. He had gotten into scrapes before, but nothing like this. This time, intervening on his behalf was going to cost Summer dearly, but the alternative was unthinkable. She focused her thoughts on the job ahead.
“Thank God for open-seating and my mark’s habit of sitting in the last row,” she thought, waiting for the sweaty-faced man in front of her to muscle his huge suitcase into the overhead compartment. She tried to peer around him to the back of the plane, but the seat backs were too high to allow her a glimpse of her objective.
“Jamming yourself into the back row of a plane for safety’s sake is stupid,” she mused, focusing on the black fabric of the man’s suitcase. “First of all, the odds of dying in a plane crash are one in fourteen-million. And even if a plane crashes, most of those are controlled crashes, in which ninety-five percent of passengers usually survive. And if you’re super unlucky and the plane crashes into a mountain or a bomb goes off, well… no one walks away. With odds like that and millions in the bank, why not sit in first class?”
Summer shook her head with distain, just as the suitcase gave up its protest and slid into the overhead compartment. She ignored the sweaty-faced man, refusing to acknowledge his smug look of satisfaction as he heaved himself into his seat, which was an equally tight fit.
Thinking of Robert McNeal in derogatory terms helped ease Summer’s conscience. He was a cheapskate and an idiot – an easy mark, not a victim. She tugged down the hem of her tight, pink knit top as she made her way down the aisle, pretending not to notice as several men cast eyes at her large breasts and slender hips, hoping she would sit next to them. Unfortunately, even a glimpse made them a permanent part of her memory. She searched for more pleasant sights – a little girl clutching a pink bunny – an old woman playing peek-a-boo with a wide-eyed baby – a teenager playing Candy Crush on her iPad…
The last row had only two seats on either side of the aisle. She smiled at her target and pointed to the seat next to him. Then she stretched on her tip-toes to slide her slim carry-on bag into the overhead compartment, taking longer than necessary, in order to give him a good look at her long, tanned legs, and short black skirt. As Robert McNeal stood to let her pass, Summer gave him her best smile – the one that showed off the dimple on her right cheek, her full, pink lips and perfect teeth. When she bent to scoot into the seat next to his, her tortoise-shell glasses slid down her nose. She pushed them back into place, hoping they enhanced her honey-brown doe eyes, and then checked to make sure her shoulder-length blonde hair was still wrapped in a loose bun, with only a few wisps intentionally escaping. In her experience, rich, dumb guys always loved the slutty-librarian look.
Summer studied the man as he settled back into his aisle seat. He was taller than she had anticipated – six feet or more – and better looking than his photograph, too, in a nerdy sort of way. His wore his short, dark brown hair combed back in a wave, and she was certain his black-rimmed glasses were the real deal, unlike the non-prescription pair she was wearing. After fastening his seat belt, he opened a thick book.
Summer’s smile drooped. “What the hell? He barely even looked at me!” She frowned. “Maybe he’s just tragically shy.” Turning toward him, she arched her back and let out a breathy sigh. “I wish I felt as calm as you look. Do you fly a lot?” She blinked her long lashes and rested the French-manicured fingernail of her forefinger against her bottom lip.
Robert glanced up, the sky-blue color of his eyes catching her by surprise. The photograph had most definitely not done justice to those eyes.
“Don’t worry. This airline has an excellent safety record,” he said. Then he returned his attention to his book, thwarting further chit chat.
She slid her finger from her mouth and narrowed her eyes imperceptibly. This assignment might be more difficult than she anticipated, but failure was not an option – not if she wanted Justin to keep breathing.
Summer closed her eyes, considering her options, until the plane began taxiing to the runway. Then she gazed out of the window and watched as the pilot adjusted a flap on the white topside of the wing. The wingtip was painted the same blue and orange color scheme as the rest of the plane, including the Boeing 737 jet engine.
A white stripe marked the concrete runway at five-hundred-foot intervals. As they passed the fourth white stripe, Summer noticed a gray, corrugated metal Quonset hut in the distance. Nearby, a man, wearing a white jumpsuit and an orange, high-visibility vest, was bent over the engine of a white, Ford pick-up. Just after they passed the tenth white stripe, the wheels lifted off the ground and they flew into a cloudless, powder-blue sky – with every detail of the experience locked into her memory forever.
She closed her eyes again and gulped, remembering her recent conversations with the man known only as The Broker. No one knew his true identity, and Summer knew better than to try to uncover his secret. He was an independent contractor in the underworld, able to negotiate and enforce illegal bargains between those with power, and those who were willing to do whatever it took to keep themselves or someone they loved from going to jail or being killed. Once a deal was struck with The Broker, there was no turning back. His reputation was iron-clad. Anyone arrogant enough to attempt to violate the terms of a deal, faced retribution far worse than anything they might have suffered, had they upheld the terms of the agreement. His reputation was the reason Summer had hired The Broker three years earlier, to negotiate her own release from the mob’s control.
It’s also the reason she felt faint when he phoned two days ago and said, “Adolphus has your brother. You have one hour to decide if you want to save his life. Call me back.”
She hadn’t been lying when she told her boss, Denise Matthews, that she suddenly felt sick and needed to go home. Terrified, she had raced to the small cottage she rented near Lake Union in Seattle, trying to imagine what price she would have to pay for her brother’s freedom. She couldn’t allow herself to be pulled back under the mob’s control, but neither could she leave Justin in the clutches of Gordo Adolphus. She knew exactly what horrors he was capable of inflicting.
Summer shuddered, thinking about what happened to Dave and Edward, her former partners. The team had no idea they were stealing mob money when they fleeced five-hundred-thousand dollars from a Las Vegas woman during one of their Camp Sucker scams. But instead of offering them a chance to set things right, Gordo had unleashed his pet monster, Marty Russo, with instructions to make an example of the trio.
When Summer came up missing and Edward’s mutilated body was found in his van, missing several appendages, Dave had turned himself in to the police, hoping to confess in exchange for protection. Unfortunately, he was accidentally put into the general prison population. The next morning, he was discovered hanged in his cell, after having been beaten, tortured and raped.
Gordo had a use for Summer’s phenomenal computer hacking skills, so instead of having her killed, he made her his slave. On his orders, she hacked into financial networks and took part in cons, always aware that one false move would mean her death. When she wasn’t engaged in a con, she was imprisoned in a shabby house with no internet access, along with a few high-end prostitutes. This small group of women were under Gordo’s protection, but they lived in fear, knowing that if they ever disappointed him, they’d be turned over to Marty – to do with as he pleased. There were days when she actually envied Dave and Edward.
Summer had managed to save herself by concealing her eidetic memory until after she had stashed overwhelming amounts of evidence about Gordo’s illegal activities in the bowels of random computer systems throughout the city. Then she escaped and contacted The Broker to negotiate for her freedom in exchange for her silence. According to their agreement, if Summer ever came up missing or died, The Broker would release the irrefutable evidence about the crime syndicate’s activities to the local police, the FBI, and international media outlets. For her part, Summer agreed to disappear, “go straight,” and never disclose anything about Gordo’s business practices to anyone. If she reneged on the agreement, The Broker would assassinate her, along with the only person alive who mattered to her – Justin.
For the last three years, Summer honored the deal by working as a researcher in the criminal investigation department of a law firm in Seattle. The pay was good by legitimate job standards, and she respected the manager of the department, Denise Matthews. The two had bonded over their ability to uncover evidence of criminal behavior by tying seemingly unrelated or minute pieces of research data together. The staff often referred to Denise and Summer as the Blonde Dynamic Duo, because their combined skills helped bring so many criminals to justice. Denise traveled extensively for the firm, and over time, she had come to rely on Summer to run the department in her absence.
But that had all changed two days ago.
Curled into the fetal position on her bed, Summer had returned The Broker’s call, pressing the numbers with trembling fingers. He wasn’t one to mince words. He informed her that Justin stole from a casino owned by the syndicate, which gave them leverage to negotiate a deal with her.
The Broker had quickly spelled out the terms of the new deal. The mob would assert absolute control over Summer, but not on a permanent basis. They were planning a high-stakes robbery. If she played her role in the scam to perfection, Justin would be set free, his debt erased, and she could resume her life as a legal researcher. If she failed or got caught, Justin’s life would be forfeit and she would go to prison, where the mob could make her life miserable – and short.
With a sinking heart, she had agreed to the deal and then called her boss to request a leave of absence from work. Even though Denise approved the leave request, Summer was certain she didn’t believe the story about needing to care for her ill brother in Florida.
The next day, Summer was horrified to learn that she would once again be at the mercy of none other than Gordo Adolphus. He gloated as he explained the elements of the con – his masterpiece, while Marty sat hunched in a corner, lapping up her fear like warm, sweet milk.
Summer was to pose as a graduate from the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, referred to as SAIC by most people. She would pretend to be vacationing in Florida before starting her job search. Her mark was Robert McNeal, Chairman of the McNeal Foundation – a rich, eccentric art dealer, who preferred hosting high-end art exhibits and antiquity sales at historic locations rather than in sterile galleries. After explaining her role, Gordo loaded Summer down with books and an airline reservation, reminded her of what was at stake, and then dismissed her.
The plan had been for her to meet McNeal on this flight from Chicago to Tampa and impress him so much with her body and knowledge about rare paintings, that he would hire her to intern with him at his upcoming art show at the historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel. Her real job was to obtain the bank account information of every one of the wealthy art collectors who registered at the event, and to help steal a masterpiece from the exhibit.
Summer frowned at McNeal. Despite their close quarters, he was so focused on his book, they might as well be on separate airplanes. “Well, so much for Plan A,” she thought, already beginning to plot her next move.