The Engler Estate cover revealTHE ENGLER ESTATE

A Lydia Davenport Novella

In the two years since Lydia Davenport fell into her career as an estate appraiser, she’s wanted the chance to leap into the big leagues. A phone call from a prominent law firm offers the opportunity but there’s just one  hitch – the entire place has to be completed in a record-setting timeframe and she can’t call in back-up. Despite her misgivings, Lydia does her best to jump in feet first. Arriving at the WWII-era residence hotel, she finds the penthouse apartment isn’t quite deserted. Confronted by a phantom with a past and a treasure-trove of stolen art pieces, Lydia has to balance ethics against her personal desires, never mind her increasingly bizarre attraction to a dead man.

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A sense of disquiet crept over me halfway across the room. The feeling of another presence returned.

My step faltered. I halted to study a display of cut-glass crystal objet d’art. I listened for the sound of physical movement. Nothing. It wouldn’t have surprised me one bit if the former resident had returned to keep a sharp eye on the remnants of her corporeal life. She had a lot of good stuff.

Nobody ever talks about it openly unless you’re having after-dinner drinks in a dark corner of a hotel bar, but ghosts are an accepted hazard of estate appraising. Even the non-believers are forced to accept that sometimes things happen during job evaluations. People insensitive to the possibility of some form of continued existence after death learned to withhold judgment. I doubt if anyone working in the industry outright dismisses the idea, at least in private. I’ve known auctioneers, even at famous houses like Sotheby’s and Christies’ who refused to touch or represent certain objects. Some of the more notorious objects acquire reputations that follow them through the professional circuit.

A flutter of movement caught my eye. Just at the entrance to one of the hallway accesses the after-image of a human shape, like the ghostly figure on a film negative, found recognition in my unconscious. Even though my brain told my eyes there was nothing to see, my central nervous system reacted.

I decided to save that hallway for last.

     *     *     *

The master suite always filled me with minor trepidation. Bedrooms were the heart of a residence. The private quarters held the most private possessions, the strongest memories, and the most treasured moments of the occupant’s past. Nobody wants their personal possessions pawed through by a stranger.

I hoped Claire Engler remembered her nephew would benefit from my intrusion.  

A set of double doors opened into a large bedroom. Sunlight spilled through high mullioned windows and made the antique mahogany furniture glow. The turned bedposts shone with polish and the bed linens were a bland white that contrasted sharply to the dark wood. A large richly colored Turkish rug covered the floor. Ornately framed photographs carpeted the bureau top and both bedside tables. An elegant writing desk sat skewed between a marble-front fireplace and a glass-paned door. The adjoining balcony contained a cast iron bench and several thriving pots of geraniums, rich red blooms cascading down the sides in heavy clumps.

The room was lovely but exuded an air of emptiness.

The floor creaked behind me. I recognized the unmistakable sound of a foot fall.

I whirled around.

A man leaned against the doorframe in a negligently elegant pose, the cut of his tailored suit fitting too neatly to be off-the-rack. I could see a dim outline of the doorframe through his shoulder.