Read Everything Under the Sky Online

Authors: Matilde Asensi

Tags: #Mystery, #Oceans, #land of danger, #Shanghai, #Biao, #Green Gang, #China, #Adventure, #Kuomintang, #Shaolin

Everything Under the Sky

EVERYTHING UNDER THE SKY
A million copies sold worldwide

 

Set during the nineteen twenties, Elvira De Poulain, a Spanish painter based in Paris, receives news that her estranged husband, now running the family textile business in China, has died in his house in Shanghai under strange circumstances and that she must make appropriate funeral arrangements.

 

Accompanied by her niece, she leaves Marseille by boat to retrieve Rémy’s body and claim her share of his worldly goods, unaware that this journey is the beginning of a compelling quest through China in search of the First Emperor’s treasure. After an eventful voyage, they finally arrive, and Elvira and Fernanda soon find themselves immersed in an underworld of gangsters, opium dens and political intrigues.

 

PRAISE FOR
Everything Under the Sky

 

“Asensi delivers fun in this new thriller … an adventure that is so engrossing it could compel the reader to skip meals and ignore chores in a mad dash to read the book's ending … fun … Asensi's descriptions are so precise, colorful and visual the reader often feels like another explorer. The riddles are creative and suspenseful and tense moments are infused with the right dose of humor. The book is rich with historical details … delicious to read.”

— Associated Press

“A cross-country race that showcases both the Spanish author's meticulous historical research and her skill at interweaving it into her suspenseful narrative.”


Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Matilde Asensi
(born 1962 in Alicante, Spain) is a Spanish journalist and writer, who specializes mainly in historical thrillers.
She has more than 20 million readers worldwide and has become the reference of quality bests-sellers in Spanish language. According to the magazine Que Leer she is the ‘Queen of the adventure novels’.
Her books, of an indubitable quality and proven historical documentation, have been translated to 15 languages. The English translation of
The Last Cato
won the
2007 International Latino Award
in the category ‘best mystery novel’ and an honor mention for ‘best adventure novel’. The following year,
Everything Under the Sky
won the second place for the
International Latino Award.
In 2011 she received the Honour Award of Historical Novel Ciudad de Zaragoza for her career in this genre. She also was awarded the Premio Juan Ortiz del Barco (1996) and the Premio Felipe Trigo de Relato (1997).

OTHER BOOKS BY MATILDE ASENSI

The Last Cato
Checkmate in Amber
Iacobus
Peregrinatio
The Lost Origin

Everything
Under the Sky

A NOVEL

 

Matilde Asensi

Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Carter

EVERYTHING UNDER THE SKY.
Copyright © 2006 by Matilde Asensi.
Translation copyright © 2008 by Lisa Carter.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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For Pascual and Andres.
After all the long and hard negotiations, they win.
And on top of everything, I love them.

Chapter
1

O
ne afternoon, amid the interminable seasickness and misery that overshadowed our crossing on the
André Lebon,
a surprising calm fell over the ship. I struggled to open my eyes at least partway, as if that would tell me why the packet boat had stopped pounding against the waves for the first time in six weeks. Six weeks! Forty dreadful days, out of which I remember being on deck just once or twice—and only after a great deal of effort. I never saw Port Said, Djibouti, or Singapore. I wasn't even able to rise enough to look out the porthole in my cabin as we crossed the Suez Canal or when we docked in Ceylon and Hong Kong. Nausea and fatigue had kept me flat out in that narrow bed in my second-class cabin ever since we left Marseille on the morning of Sunday, July 22. Neither the ginger infusions nor the stupefying whiffs of laudanum had alleviated my distress.

Oceans were not for me. I was born in Madrid, inland, on the Castilian plateau, far from the nearest beach. Boarding a ship to float halfway around the world, rocking to and fro, was not in my nature. I would much rather have made the trip by train, but Rémy always said it was too dangerous. Indeed, ever since the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, it was absolute madness to travel through Siberia. Thus I had no choice but to buy tickets on that elegant steamer operated by Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes. I just prayed the god of the sea would be compassionate and not feel some eccentric need to sink us into the ocean, where we'd be devoured by fish, our bones covered in sludge forever. There are some things we are simply not born to do, and I certainly had not come into this world with a seagoing spirit.

Once the disconcerting silence and calm had revived me, I gazed up at the familiar blades of the fan hanging from the ceiling. At some point on our journey, I swore that if I managed to set foot on solid ground again, I would paint that fan just as I had seen it under the effects of laudanum. Perhaps the art dealer Kahnweiler, who was so fond of the cubist works by my countrymen Picasso and Juan Gris, would want to buy it. But that foggy vision of the fan blades didn't explain why the ship had stopped. I was struck by a sense of foreboding when I didn't hear the usual commotion or the sound of passengers rushing up on deck that accompanied arrival at port. After all, we were on the perilous East China Sea, and even in that year of 1923, dangerous Asian pirates still boarded passenger ships to rob and kill. My heart pounded, and my hands began to sweat. Just then a sinister knock came at my door.

“May I, Auntie?” inquired the muted voice of the brand-new niece I had apparently won at a raffle, for which I'd never even bought a ticket.

“Come in,” I murmured, holding back a mild wave of nausea. Since Fernanda came only to bring me the infusion for seasickness, my stomach turned whenever she arrived.

Her plump figure squeezed through the doorway. She held a large porcelain cup in one hand and her perennial black fan in the other. The girl never let go of that fan, just as she never let her hair out of the ponytail pulled tight at the nape of her neck. The robust youth of her seventeen years contrasted sharply with the deep mourning dress she always wore. Her outfit was outrageously old-fashioned, even for a young woman from Madrid, and completely inappropriate for the scorching heat in these parts. I had offered her some of my own clothing (chic, lighter blouses and a shorter skirt, cut to the knee as was fashionable in Paris). But, being the proud heiress of a dry, ungrateful personality, she flatly rejected my offer, crossing herself and staring down at her hands, categorically settling the matter once and for all.

“Why has the ship stopped?” I asked as I slowly sat up, catching a hint of the acrid potion that the cooks routinely prepared.

“We're no longer at sea,” she explained, sitting on the edge of my bed and bringing the cup to my lips. “We're at a place called Woosung or Woosong, something like that, fourteen miles from Shanghai. The ship has to move slowly because we're heading upriver and there's the possibility we could hit bottom, but we should be there within a couple of hours.”

“At last!” I exclaimed, noticing that mere proximity to Shanghai was much more soothing than the ginger tisane. Still, I wouldn't truly feel well until I was out of that awful, salty-smelling cabin.

Fernanda, who kept the cup at my lips no matter how far I leaned back, made a grimace that was supposed to be a smile. The poor thing was exactly like her mother, my insufferable sister Carmen, who had passed away five years earlier during the terrible flu epidemic of 1918. In addition to her personality, Fernanda had inherited her mother's big, round eyes and protruding chin. They also had the same nose, which ended in a funny little ball and gave them a somewhat comical look, despite their constant sour expressions. Fernanda had, however, inherited her size from her father, my brother-in-law Pedro, a man with an enormous paunch, his double chin so big that he'd grown a beard just to try to hide it. Pedro wasn't exactly the epitome of charming either, so it was no wonder the fruit of that unfortunate marriage was this serious young thing dressed in mourning and as sweet as lemons.

“You should gather your things, Auntie. Shall I help you pack?”

“If you wouldn't mind.” I exhaled, falling back onto the hard old bed with an exaggerated display of suffering that, while absolutely real, did come off as rather affected. Still, the girl had offered to help. Why not let her?

As she rummaged through my trunks and cases, collecting the few things I'd used on that arduous voyage, I began to hear noises and happy-sounding voices in the passageway. The other second-class passengers were undoubtedly as impatient as I was to get off the water and back onto dry land with the rest of humanity. I was so cheered by this thought that, moaning and groaning, I struggled to rise and managed to sit on the edge of the bed with my feet on the floor. I was terribly weak, but even worse than the fatigue was the renewed sense of sadness, momentarily erased by the laudanum, that came flooding back.

I didn't know how long we'd have to stay in Shanghai to attend to Rémy's affairs. Still, even though the very thought of the return trip made my hair stand on end, I hoped our stay would be as brief as possible. In fact, in order to conclude matters as quickly as possible, I had sent a cable arranging to meet with the lawyer the very next morning. Rémy's death had been a terrible shock, and I was still trying to come to terms with it. Rémy, dead? How absurd! The idea was absolutely ridiculous, and yet the memory of the day I heard the news remained fresh in my mind. It was the same day Fernanda appeared at my door in Paris with her little leather suitcase, black overcoat, and that prissy bonnet so typical of well-to-do Spanish girls. I was still trying to adjust to the idea that this creature, a complete stranger to me, was my niece, the daughter of my sister and her recently deceased husband. Just then a gentleman from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came to the door. He took off his hat and, offering his sincerest condolences, handed me an official dispatch attached to a cable announcing Rémy's death at the hands of thieves who'd broken in to his house in Shanghai.

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