The Forbidden Door Page 2

As Gottfrey walks past, Rupert only clears his throat.

On another bench sits Vince Penn, half as wide as he is tall, with a flat face and the big hands of a natural-born strangler.

Vince holds a handful of pebbles. Now and then, he throws one of the stones with wicked accuracy, targeting the unwary squirrels that have been conditioned by Worstead locals to trust people.

South of the park stands a two-star mom-and-pop motel, Purple Sage Inn, as unconvincing as any location in town.

Parked in front of Room 12 is a bespoke Range Rover created by Overfinch North America, a vehicle with major performance upgrades, a carbon-fiber styling package, and a dual-valve titanium exhaust system; it’s a recent perk for certain members of the revolution. The Range Rover means Gottfrey’s two most senior agents—Christopher Roberts and Janis Dern—have checked in.

Counting Egon Gottfrey and the two men who are at this moment conducting surveillance of the entrance to Hawk Ranch, ten miles east of Worstead, the team of nine is complete.

In this operation, they are not using burner phones, not even Midland GXT walkie-talkies, which are often useful. In some parts of the country, Texas being one, there are too many paranoid fools who think elements of the government and certain industries conspire in wicked schemes; some are in law enforcement or were in the military, and they spend countless hours monitoring microwave transmissions for evidence to confirm their wild suspicions.

Or so the Unknown Playwright would have us believe.

As Gottfrey continues his walk through town, no longer to confirm the presence of his team, merely to pass time, the sinking sun floods the streets with crimson light. The once-pale limestone buildings are now radiant by reflection, but they appear to be built of translucent onyx lit from within. The very air is aglow, as if all the light in the invisible spectrum—infrared and other—is beginning to manifest to the eye, as though the illusion that is the world will burst and reveal what lies under this so-called reality.

Egon Gottfrey is not merely a nihilist who believes there is no meaning in life. He’s a radical philosophical nihilist who contends that there is no possibility of an objective basis for truth, and therefore no such thing as truth, but also that the entire world and his existence—everyone’s existence—are a fantasy, a vivid delusion.

The world is as ephemeral as a dream, each moment of the day but a mirage within an infinite honeycomb of mirages. The only thing about himself that he can say exists, with certainty, is his mind wrapped in the illusion of his physical body. He thinks; therefore, he is. But his body, his life, his country, and his world are all illusion.

On embracing this view of the human condition, a lesser mind might have gone mad, surrendering to despair. Gottfrey has remained sane by playing along with the illusion that is the world, as if it is a stage production for an unknowable audience, as if he is an actor in a drama for which he’s never seen a script. It’s marionette theater. He is a marionette, and he’s okay with that.

He’s okay with it for two reasons, the first of which is that he has a sharply honed curiosity. He is his own fanboy, eager to see what will happen to him next.

Second, Gottfrey likes his role as a figure of authority with power over others. Even though it all means nothing, even though he has no control over events, just goes along to get along, it is far better to be one through whom the Unknown Playwright wields power rather than to be one on whom that power is brought to bear.


THE ROOM ILLUMINED ONLY BY the netherworld glow of the TV, the vaguest reflections of moving figures on the screen throbbing across the walls like spectral presences …

Ancel sitting stiffly in his armchair, stone-faced in response to Sunday Magazine’s lies and distortions, the program mirrored in his gray eyes …

Clare couldn’t stay in her chair, couldn’t just watch and listen and do nothing. She got up and paced, talking back to the screen: “Bullshit” and “Liar” and “You hateful bastard.”

This was nothing like any previous edition of Sunday Magazine. Always before it had avoided both puff pieces and vitriolic attacks, striving for balance, at times almost highbrow. But this. This was the worst kind of tabloid exploitation and alarmism. This special, “The Beautiful Monster,” had one intention—to paint Jane as an evil angel, a traitor to her country, who wasn’t only capable of horrific violence but who also perhaps took pleasure in wanton murder.

At the half-hour break, the program host teased the blockbuster revelation that they had been selling in the promos for days. In a portentous voice, he promised to feature it in the next segment.

As the first commercial played, Clare perched on a footstool and closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself, chilled. “What is this, Ancel? This isn’t journalism, not one iota of it.”

“Character assassination. Propaganda. These people she’s up against, they’re veins of rot runnin’ through government and tech companies, hell-bent to destroy her before she can tell her story.”

“You think people are still going to defend her after this?”

“I do, Clare. These fools are hammerin’ too hard, makin’ her out to be some girl version of Dracula and Charles Manson and Benedict Arnold rolled into one.”

“A lot of stupid people will believe it,” Clare worried.

“Some stupid. Some gullible. Not everyone. Maybe not most.”

She said, “I don’t want to watch any more of this.”

“Neither do I. But that’s not a choice, is it? We’re one with Jane. They blow up her life, they blow up ours. We’ve got to see what’s left of us when this show is done.”

After the break, Sunday Magazine harked back to Jane’s photo taken on completion of her Bureau training at Quantico, where she’d met Nick when he was assigned to Corps Combat Development Command at the same base. There were wedding photographs: Nick in his Marine dress uniform, Jane in a simple white bridal gown. Such a stunning couple.

Seeing her lost son and his bride so happy, so vibrant, Clare was overcome with emotion.

The narration moved to film of Nick receiving the Navy Cross, which was one step below the Medal of Honor, Jane looking on with such love and pride.

Clare got up from the footstool and went to Ancel and sat on the arm of his chair and put a hand on his shoulder, and he put a hand on her knee and squeezed and said, “I know.”

The narrator began to talk of Nick’s suicide the previous November.

He and Jane had been at home in Alexandria, Virginia, preparing dinner, having a little wine. Their boy, Travis, was on a sleepover with another five-year-old in the neighborhood, so that his parents might have a romantic evening. Nick went to the bathroom … and didn’t return. Jane found him clothed, sitting in the bathtub. With his Marine-issue combat knife, he’d cut his neck deeply enough to sever a carotid artery. He left a note, the first sentence in his neat cursive, which deteriorated thereafter: Something is wrong with me. I need. I very much need. I very much need to be dead.

More than four months had passed since that devastating call from Jane. Clare’s tears now were as hot as her tears then.

“That,” the narrator solemnly intoned, “was Jane Hawk’s story, and the investigation by the Alexandria police confirmed every detail. In the days following Nick’s death, friends say Jane became obsessed with what she believed was an inexplicable rise in suicides nationwide. She discovered that thousands of happy, accomplished people like her husband, none with a history of depression, were taking their lives for no apparent reason. On leave from the FBI, so deep in grief that friends worried for her mental health, she began to research this disturbing trend, which soon consumed her.”

Suddenly it seemed that the tenor of the show might change, that all the terrible things said about Jane in the first half hour might be considered from a more sympathetic perspective, raising doubts about the official portrayal of her as traitorous and cruel.

The program turned to a university professor, an expert in suicide prevention. He claimed that nothing was unusual about the increase in suicides over the past two years, that the rate always fluctuated. He claimed that the percentage of affluent, apparently happy people killing themselves was still within normal parameters.

“That can’t be right,” Clare said.

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