“You know, I think I’m going to have to set up the guest bedroom for you,” Bill said. “I guess with Bethy gone you need more company.”
“No, no need for the guest bedroom, I’m almost through with my serial visits,” I said. I took a bottle out and handed it to him.
“Rémy Martin, VSOP, very nice,” Bill said. “So what did you want to discuss tonight?”
“The Halley Branch,” I said.
“And you think VSOP will cut it?” he asked. “I think I’ll hold out for the good stuff. Get me a bottle of XO.”
“Maybe when this is all said and done I’ll look into it, but I’m not made of money.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Well, come on in and I’ll pour us each a glass.”
We went into the kitchen. Bill got the brandy glasses down and poured us each some of the Cognac.
“Hmm, it always seems to come down to the Halleys,” Bill said. “In some ways they most carried on Miles’ legacy in other ways they stood completely separate.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Of course they had most of Miles’ businesses so they were able to continue them, add them to their own and grow everything,” Bill said. “Miles was also a very giving man and they continued that all of the way up until Benjamin went off of the deep end after the death of his first wife, Dorothy. They were very generous, though in some ways much of their giving turned out to be self-serving. If they gave a town something, later when they needed something from the town, well, you know. Same with helping individuals. It often seemed the people they helped later returned the favor in different ways.”
I took my first sip of the cognac. As always the first sip was a little stronger than expected so I frowned into the glass.
“I always was under the impression that they were most wicked, yet this is far from wicked,” I said.
Bill opened his eyes, which he had closed to savor his first sip.
“These were complex people,” he said. “Besides the way they treated Ebenezer and Faith, Mary and Gustave were pretty decent people. A little odd, but not bad.”
“OK,” I said. “So when did they turn bad?”
“Turn bad is the wrong term,” he said. “Mary and Gustave’s son, Thomas, may be the beginning of the oddities. In fact, in ways he was the most eccentric.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Where to begin?” He laughed. “Actually, I think that is best answered in a totally different direction. I want to talk about them as a family, not as individuals first.”
“Looking at the history of the Halley Branch I saw many patterns,” Bill said. “I found that all of their lives had weird parallels. I mean, there were so many differences that some might call it a stretch to say their lives paralleled one another, but the patterns exist.”
“Such as?” I asked.
“Just looking at a history of their lives,” he said. “All of them had their mother die at a relatively early age. Thomas’ mom, Miles’ daughter Mary, lived until Thomas was 17, but Benjamin’s mom died just a few days after he was born. George was about three when his mom died and Jeremiah was one. His mom died during all of the battles about the cemetery plots, while the mausoleum was just finishing the 1803 restoration. No two died of anything remotely similar.
“Besides that they had normal childhoods.”
Bill stopped and sipped his drink. I swirled mine and sniffed it. I had too much to drink the last time I had visited and was trying to limit myself to one.
“They were all smart and did exceedingly well in school. They all went to Harvard. They all started their own business. But then every single one had their dad die when they were in their twenties. Thomas was 29 when his dad died, but he himself passed away when George was only 19, so he was an exception.”
“You keep talking patterns and then exceptions, but how many are we talking about?” I asked. “I mean, after Gustave there were only four, right?”
“Well, except for Mary dying when Thomas was older, the exceptions are close enough so the pattern is still there,” Bill said. “And continuing the pattern becomes stronger. In all cases the son inherits early, before reaching 30, marries within a year of his father’s death, two at the most, and then has a child, always a son, a year later. Benjamin broke that last one by not having a son and some say it drove him insane. Now these numbers are all grouped very closely so the pattern is very clear here.”
“So no Halley ever saw their son marry,” I said.
“No, and no Halley met a grandparent, male or female,” he said. “The sons were always very similar to the father, but after the father’s death they became even more like them. There were usually rumors that the sons knew things that only the fathers should know. This was with every child. Other rumors about the Halleys and their relationship with their fathers, usually dark.
Bill stopped and poured himself another drink. I could hear a knock on the door and I heard his wife, Cynthia, answer it. A few seconds later Stan swept in.
“What in the hells going on?” he asked. “You’re fucking telling him about the Halley Branch, aren’t you? You have no right. You’ll twist it all to hell.”
“Good to see you to, Stan,” Bill said. He looked calmly at his brother.
Stan looked like a stereotype of his first chosen profession. With his long, wild hair and beard no one would doubt he held a PhD in philosophy. What might shock people was that he was currently a CFO for a Fortune 500 company. Stan put his arms on his hips and glared at his brother.
“I’ve only been telling him the truth,” Bill said.
“Truth?” Stan asked. “Isn’t it up to the philosophers to say the truth? I don’t doubt that you are cherry picking the facts that fit your needs, but it certainly isn’t ‘The Truth’.” He used his hands to show the quotation.
“So what would you say?” Bill asked.
Stan turned to me.
“Did he tell you that the most controversial writings of Miles Hawkins belonged to the Halleys?” he asked. I shrugged. He did tell me they had some of the papers, but not the most important.
“OK, he told you little of old Miles’ philosophy, I’m sure,” he said. I nodded. “I bet he did little beyond mentioning the life force, did he?”
“Well,” I said, “he told me the life force was like the electricity to a computer and when it was taken away the body would start to decay. If he told me more I don’t remember.”
“The life force is vital, it is both the glue that holds the philosophy together and life together,” Stan said. “This spark only happened once on this planet. Only one time. A few billion years back. It has been passed down from when life first arose on our planet to the present. But like everything else, it has evolved. The life force is a fire that burns in us all, even in a virus. It binds everything. We get it from our mothers, but it is influenced by our father’s genes. It is what makes us alive. It is individual to each of us, yet the same through the species.
“Quick, why do we die?”
“We die when oxygen no longer gets to our brain,” I said.
“Standard answer, but how many animals have lived with no brain?” he asked. “More than you would imagine. Google ‘Mike the Headless Chicken’. It isn’t our brain, we die when the life force is extinguished from our body.
“Now there is a lot that goes with it,” he continued. “For instance, if your life force is out but still smoldering, someone else can relight it. Think of a match glowing red and someone putting a burning match under it without them touching. The almost dead life force will actually gain some characteristics of the donor. If a life force is totally extinguished, it is also possible for a person to relight it with the new flame being almost identical to the one that rekindled it, at least until it is changed by life’s experience. But this rekindling is difficult unless the donor dies. If I had the power, I could kill Bill, totally remove the life force, but then transfer your life force into him and reanimate the body. Unfortunately your body would lose its life force in the process and you’d die.”
“And the mind and soul in all of this?” I asked.
“It depends,” he said. “It might be possible to force another mind and soul into the body, but in the long run it most likely won’t be successful, even if they are very similar, the body would reject them. However, if Bill were dying you could accept his mind and soul into your body and they would join with yours, become one with the combine experiences. Of course only one soul would survive, usually the strongest.”
“What’s this have to do with the Halleys?” I asked.
“Why, everything!” he said. “Every stitch of Miles’ writing that had to do with reanimating a corpse, with possessing a body, with anything like that, was found only in manuscripts owned by the Halleys. And they expanded on it. Gustave once claimed that when Mary died he absorbed her mind so she never truly passed away. He then said a few things that supposedly only she would know.”
“So you are suggesting that at least some of the Halleys practiced this?” I asked.
“More than that I…,” Stan said, but was cut off.
“Stop it Stan!” Bill said. “No, don’t fill his mind with your crap. He’s having his own problems right now, he doesn’t need your lunatic ideas.”
Stan glared at him. “And exactly what do you know about Trevor’s problems?” he asked.
“I know enough to know he doesn’t need this,” Bill answered.
Ignoring him Stan turn to me. “A few more tidbits and I’ll listen to my younger brother,” he said. “First, if you reach out and touch someone.” I felt him in my head. “You can feel the soul. It is the colors, the temperatures, the good and evil. Miles said there is a balance of twenty seven values in the soul, with good and evil the only ones we have a name for. You can also feel the body, which would be the emotions, the nerves, and even touch and pain.”
I nodded. I had felt all of those things and I could feel them in Stan as he talked.
“And you get the mind,” he said. “It might be general or you might be able to read and even manipulate the thoughts.
“But the life force?”
“What about the life force?” I asked.
“Only those with a close, deep connection can feel the life force of another,” he said. “It is rare. Yet this is the very thing the Halleys claimed to know how to manipulate. They were masters of the life force.”
“OK, enough of this crap,” Bill said. “You barge in, interrupt our conversation and then get into this voodoo magic crap. Why don’t you just get the fuck out of my house?”
Stan shrugged his shoulders. I could feel him laughing on the inside. And then something remarkable happened. In my mind Stan told me he would give me a peek. It was the general shape and color I had felt from him that he said was his soul, but it was different, it was of this world. For a second I saw his life spark. And I realized I had seen the life force in Milly.
Stan smiled bowed to me, gave his brother a hug, which wasn’t returned, and left.
“I sometimes hate him,” Bill said. He drained his glass and filled it again. He took a big sip from the new glass.
“And you,” he said pointing his glass at me. “You were nodding and shit like you knew just what he was talking about, like he was making sense.”
“But was it true?” I asked.
“What, that magic crap?” He asked.
“No, that the Halleys were very much into it?” I asked. “I mean, did they study all of the stuff about the spark of life? You told me that Miles had written about a body with the spark of life but no mind or soul as a zombie and other stuff like that. Was all of that in the Halley collection? Where they obsessed with it?”
Bill finished the drink and slammed the glass down.
“Yes!” he said. “And what in the fuck difference does it make? They had some odd beliefs and did weird stuff, but I doubt if they made a zombie or killed people and put some else’s soul in there. Can’t people have some odd beliefs without being evil sorcerers?”
“OK, OK,” I said. “Sorry, I don’t mean to upset you. I just need to know as much as possible about them.”
“Yeah, I didn’t mean to get so mad, it must be all of the booze,” he said. “But what do mean you ‘need’ to know?”
“Oh, you know, I’m just trying to get this picture and, well,” I said. I couldn’t tell him I had been battling Benjamin and this whole spark of life stuff started to put a new twist on it.
“OK, well, I’m getting tired,” he said. “We’ll talk later. And sorry again. It was too much booze and that damn Stan. He knows the buttons to push to get my blood boiling. And how did he know, anyway, did you call him?”
“No, of course not,” I said. My first glass of cognac was still half full. I hated to leave it, but I need all of my faculties to drive.
“Look, I’ll call you later,” I said. “Thanks for everything. And keep the bottle, it’s yours.”
“Later,” he said.
I walked out to the car and shivered. So much struck a chord. I reached out and felt Milly, felt her life force. Did I relight it, was part her part of me? She knew I was there and felt happy. I whispered good night to her and left her head. As I was leaving her I could taste Amelie.
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