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The House of Secrets
By Brad Meltzer
By Tod Goldberg
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 7, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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First, from Tod:
My profound thanks to: My brother Lee Goldberg, who takes late-night phone calls and answers 2 a.m. emails on all manner of criminal issues, never mind putting this whole thing together; my agents Jennie Dunham and Judi Farkas, for their continued sage advice and wise counsel; Dr. Juliet McMullin, for a timely conversation on anthropology and an extensive reading list; Agam Patel, my ever patient coconspirator at UCR, for carrying the load on the days I was busy disposing of bodies; Mark Haskell Smith for, as usual, telling me what I needed to hear on precisely the days I needed to hear it; the faculty and students of the Low Residency MFA at UCR for their continued inspiration and, occasionally, a little help with a sentence or two. And, finally, I am indebted to Brad Meltzer, the best writing partner a boy could hope to have…and the most patient one too.
Now here’s Brad:
I thought we’d kill each other. I mean it. Everyone advised me to work with someone who wrote in a similar style: You’re a thriller writer; find another thriller writer. Instead, I found the brilliant Tod Goldberg. So my first thank-you must go to him. Tod is a master of character. I love twisting the plot. In my head, I envisioned us as a literary Peanut Butter Cup. Together, we’d either mesh perfectly, or, as I mentioned, murder. So here’s what I now know for sure: Wherever your life takes you, spend more time with people who can do things you can’t. (Now that I think about it, I took the same approach in finding my wife.) Thank you, Tod, for being a true partner and dear friend. You amazed me on every page. Plus, I love the fact that no one laughed at our jokes as hard as we did.
As always, I thank my own beautiful werewolf, Cori, who always forces me to dig deeper, in every sense. I love you for believing in Hazel. Jonas, Lila, and Theo, this book is a lesson in family. I am lost without you in mine. Thank you for letting me tell you the best stories. Jill Kneerim, my friend and agent, embraced me from Chapter 1, while friend and agent Jennifer Rudolph Walsh at WME helped us bring this book to reality; special thank-yous to Hope Denekamp, Lucy Cleland, Ike Williams, and all our friends at the Kneerim & Williams Agency.
Thanks to my sis, Bari, who understands what only a brother and sister can share. Also to Bobby, Ami, Adam, Gilda, and Will, for always cheering.
As always, our Hall of Justice was filled with Super Friends who pore over our pages: Noah Kuttler sits at the head of the table. Every time. Ethan Kline brainstorms from multiple countries. Then Dale Flam, Matt Kuttler, Chris Weiss, and Judd Winick help refine, refine, refine.
Every book, there’s one person who steps up in such a profound way it impacts the entire production. For me, it was Lee Goldberg, who said these five magic words to me, “You should meet my brother.” Lee, I’m so appreciative of your kindness and trust. And yes, you were right. The plot for this book was inspired by a trip into the treasure vault at the National Archives, so thank you to my dear friend, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, for inviting me inside. Also at the National Archives (if you haven’t been, go visit), Matt Fulgham, Miriam Kleiman, Trevor Plante, and Morgan Zinsmeister are the kindest people around.
Extra thanks to Dr. Jeffery A. Lieberman for the brain and memory research. He shared so much scholarship and I’m sure we messed it up. Dr. Ronald K. Wright and Dr. Lee Benjamin for always helping me maim and kill; our family on Decoded and Lost History, and at HISTORY and H2, including Nancy Dubuc, Paul Cabana, Mike Stiller, and Russ McCarroll. Without you, Jack Nash would never come to life; and the rest of my own inner circle, who save me every day: Jo Ayn Glanzer, Jason Sherry, Marie Grunbeck, Chris Eliopoulos, Nick Marell, Staci Schecter, Jim & Julie Day, Denise Jaeger, Katriela Knight, and Brad Desnoyer.
The books George Washington and Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Two Patriots by Dave R. Palmer and Benedict Arnold: A Traitor in Our Midst by Barry K. Wilson were greatly informing to this process; Rob Weisbach for being the first; and of course, my family and friends, whose names, as always, inhabit these pages.
I also want to thank everyone at Grand Central Publishing: Michael Pietsch, Brian McLendon, Matthew Ballast, Caitlin Mulrooney-Lyski, Andy Dodds, Julie Paulauski, Tracy Dowd, Karen Torres, Beth de Guzman, Lindsey Rose, Andrew Duncan, Liz Connor, the kindest and hardest-working sales force in show business, Bob Castillo, Mari Okuda, Thomas Whatley, and all my treasured friends there who always, always push for us. I’ve said it before, and I’ll never stop saying it: They’re the true reason this book is in your hands. I need to say a special thank-you and a sad farewell to editor Mitch Hoffman, who may have left the building but will never leave our family. Finally, I want to thank Jamie Raab. Every book, she understands me like no one else. She is our fearless leader and strongest champion. I am forever grateful that she’s in my life. Thank you, Jamie, for your faith.
Thirty years ago
Jack Nash decides, at midnight on a Wednesday in the dead of summer in Los Angeles, that his daughter Hazel is ready for The Story.
He was six years old when his father first told him The Story. That’s Hazel’s age now—exactly six—and she’s wide awake, forever asking why and what: Why does she need to go to sleep? What are dreams? Why do people die? What happens after people die?
“You’ll know when it happens,” Jack tells her.
Six is the appropriate age, Jack thinks.
Five years old was too young. Five is how old his son Skip was when Jack told him The Story and it hadn’t stuck, didn’t seem to make any impression whatsoever. Which got Jack wondering: How old do you have to be to retain an event for the rest of your life?
That was the thing about memory: After a certain point, you just knew something. How you came to know it didn’t matter.
“Okay, here we go,” Jack says. “But promise me you won’t let it scare you.”
Hazel sits up on an elbow. “I won’t be scared,” she says solemnly. Jack knows it’s true: Nothing scares Hazel. Not when she can learn something. She’s the kind of child who would burn her right thumb on a hot stove, then come back the next day and burn her left in order to compare.
In an odd way, it made Jack proud. Hazel’s brother Skip wouldn’t touch the stove in the first place, always so cautious of everything. But Hazel was willing to give up a little skin for adventure.
“It begins with a mystery, a riddle,” Jack says, and he can hear his father’s voice, his father’s words, so clearly. Dad’s been gone five years now, but the memory of his last days is so vivid, it could have been thirty minutes ago. “If you figure the riddle out, you can stay up all night. If you can’t, you need to go to sleep. Deal?”
“Deal,” Hazel says.
“Close your eyes while I tell it to you,” Jack says, slipping into The Voice, the same one his own dad used to use, the one Jack now uses on his TV show, where every week he explores the world’s most famous conspiracies: Who killed JFK? Why did FDR have a secret fraternity known as The Room? Or his favorite during sweeps: Outside of every Freemason meeting, there’s a chair known as the Tyler’s Chair; what are its true origins and secrets?
It’s a show Hazel isn’t allowed to watch. Jack’s wife Claire worries the show will give Hazel bad dreams. But Jack knows that Hazel revels in nightmares, just like Jack used to: Something chasing you in your sleep was always far more interesting than fields of cotton candy.
“This story begins a hundred and fifty years ago, with a farmer,” Jack says as Hazel leans farther forward on her elbow. “The farmer woke up early one morning to tend his fields, and a few yards from his house, he found a young man on the ground, frozen to death.”
Hazel was fascinated by freezing—Jack and Claire constantly found random objects in the freezer, everything from dolls to plants to dead spiders.
“The farmer takes the body inside his farmhouse, puts a blanket on him to thaw him out, then goes and rouses the town doctor, bringing him back to look at the poor chap.
“When the doctor gets the dead man back to his office, he begins a basic autopsy. He’s trying to find some identifying details to report to the mayor’s office. But as he cuts open the man’s chest, he makes a surprising discovery…” And here, Jack does the same thing his own father did, and gives Hazel two brisk taps on the center of her breastbone, gives her a real sense of the space involved. “Right there, on the sternum and on the outside of his rib cage, he finds a small object the size of a deck of cards. It’s encased in sealing wax. And as he cracks the wax open, he finds a miniature book.”
“Would it even fit there?”
“Remember Grandpa’s pacemaker? It’d fit. It’s pocket-sized.”
“What kind of book?” Hazel asks, eyes still closed.
“A bible. A small bible, perfectly preserved by the wax. And then, the man…opens…the…bible…up,” Jack says, laying it on thick now, “and sees four handwritten words inside: Property of Benedict Arnold.”
Jack stops and watches Hazel. Her eyes have remained closed the entire time, but she keeps furrowing her brow, thinking hard. “So?” he says. “How did it get there?”
“Wait,” Hazel says. “Who’s Benedict Arnold?”
Don’t they teach anything in school anymore?
“He was a soldier,” Jack says. “During the Revolutionary War.”
“A good guy or a bad guy?”
“A complicated guy,” Jack says.
“Was the bible put in the man’s body after he died?”
“How do you know?”
“There would have already been a wound on his chest.”
“Was it his bible? Like, did he own it?”
“I don’t know,” Jack says, thinking, Well, that’s not a question I’d ever pondered. Hazel’s eyes flutter open, then close again tightly. She’s checking to see if he’s lying.
Hazel stays quiet for thirty seconds, forty-five, a minute. Then, “Why does it matter how it got there?”
“Because it’s a mystery,” Jack says. “And mysteries need to be solved.”
Hazel considers this. “Do you know the answer?”
“How many guesses do I get?”
“Three per night,” Jack says.
She nods once, an agreement sealed. “Okay,” she says, “lemme think.”
Jack stays with her another ten minutes, then heads to his own bedroom, where Claire is up, reading. “Did you get her to sleep?” Claire asks.
“No,” Jack says. “I gave her a riddle.”
“Oh, Jack,” Claire says, “you didn’t.”
* * *
Hazel waits until she can hear her father and mother talking down the hall before she opens her eyes.
She gets up, walks across her room, opens the closet where she keeps her stuffed animals. The fact is, she doesn’t really care for stuffed animals, thinks they’re kind of creepy when you examine them closely: animals with smiles and fake shines in their eyes, no teeth, no real claws either. She quickly finds Paddington Bear, undresses him from his odd blue rain slicker, fishes out a pair of scissors from her desk, and then, very calmly, cuts open Paddington’s chest.
Inside is nothing but fuzz, white and clumpy. It’s nothing like how she imagines a body will be, but that doesn’t matter. She pulls out all of the stuffing, leaves it in an orderly bunch on her bedroom floor, and then fills Paddington’s empty cavity with a Choose Your Own Adventure paperback, the one where you pretended to be a spy, but where you mostly ended up getting run over by trucks. She then packs the bear back up with stuffing, staples his fur back together, makes Paddington look smooth and new and lovable, then puts his jacket back on. Adjusts his red cap.
Hazel then tiptoes out to the kitchen, finds the stepladder, and slides it in front of the freezer. As she climbs up and examines the few packages of frozen food, she decides Paddington would be best served back behind the old flank steak that’s been in the icebox for nine months now.
When her father asks her how the hell Paddington Bear ended up in the freezer, disemboweled and filled with a book, she’ll give him her answer. It’s impossible, she’ll say.
Nothing is impossible, her father will say, because he is a man of belief.
Then it must have been magic, she’ll say.
There’s no magic, he’ll say.
Then it must have been a person, trying to fool you, she’ll say.
And she will be right.
Let’s see what this old bruiser can do,” Jack Nash says. He’s behind the wheel of his ’77 sky blue Cadillac Eldorado with a trunk big enough to lie down in, and he’s hurtling down Highway 163 through the Utah desert. It’s not even 10 a.m. and Hazel’s sitting next to him, Skip’s in the backseat. There’s a lifetime of polish and pain between them all. But isn’t that how it always is? He presses the gas and the Caddy thunders forward.
“Maybe take it down a notch, Dad?” Skip says. Jack catches a glimpse of his son in the rearview mirror. He’s looking a little peaked. Thirty-nine years old and he still gets carsick. “You get a ticket at your age,” Skip adds, “you’re liable to lose your license.”
Your age. How old does Jack feel? In his mind, he’s still in his thirties—sometimes he feels like he’s a teenager even—but Jack knows his brain is a liar. His body has been telling him the truth for some time now. No one ever says seventy is the new forty. Seventy…that’s the line where if you die, people don’t get to say it was a tragedy.
“Just keep an eye out for cops,” Jack says.
Hazel rolls her eyes, rubbing absently at a small knot on her forehead, a bruise just below her hairline. A wound from a fight she’ll never talk about.
“The speedometer only goes to eighty-five?” Hazel asks.
Jack rolls his eyes, knowing all too well how easily his daughter finds trouble. But that was the nice thing about these old cars built to go fifty-five. Eighty-five seemed extravagant. Cars these days went to 140, 160, sometimes 170. Or their speedometers did, anyway. A false sense of a new horizon, that’s what that was.
This stretch of the 163 is one of Jack’s favorite swaths of land. It’s all red today, from red sand to red glare, everything the color of dried blood. It’s the beauty and grace of the natural world: The massive sandstone spires are the result of millions of years of erosion and pressure, alongside the forbidding truth of the desert, which is that you’re always one wrong move from something that could kill you.
Even the very air itself, which could end you with heat or cold, it didn’t discriminate. Out here, dying from exposure was just dying.
Beautiful. Made you feel alive.
The first time Jack and his kids were here was decades ago. Same car. Back then, Claire was up front next to him, both of the kids in the back, the tape player screaming out the Rolling Stones, Jack’s favorite band. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was his song, of course.
Skip was a teenager and in the midst of another season of The House of Secrets alongside his famous father. From the start, everyone knew it was a ratings ploy, like introducing a new baby on a sitcom, and like the worst of those, they started calling Skip “Scrappy” from Scooby-Doo. Still, it put his face on posters in Tiger Beat. A mistake? Probably. No, surely. But Skip loved it. Hazel was just a kid, but ready for the world…just a world different from the one Skip was living in.
They’d driven from Los Angeles to Zion to Bryce to Moab, Claire’s hand on Jack’s thigh, tapping out the beat. If he concentrates, he can still feel it there, bump-bump-uh-dun-uh-duh-dun-uh-duh, But it’s allll right now…
Jack eases off the accelerator. “We need to talk,” he says, “about the future.”
* * *
Jack Nash has three rules. He came up with them when he started in TV news, before he got into the mystery business. He’d read a bunch of autobiographies and found that every successful person had some sort of code.
The first was that there was a rub in every deal—a snag or a drawback; there was always a catch. Once you understood that, there were no bad deals.
The second was that nothing goes missing. Everything is somewhere.
This was actually a rule of Claire’s, from when the kids were still young. Whenever they said they’d lost something—a toy, the dog, their favorite shirt—she very calmly explained to them that just because something was gone didn’t mean it’d ceased to exist. But then Claire got sick, and he couldn’t help but wonder if that rule needed some amending, because while she was still there, she began to disappear a bit every day. First it was her hair. Then her teeth. And then one morning, he woke up and she was gone entirely.
For a while he still felt her presence in the house, like she was just in the other room, or out in the yard, and he’d absently call out to her, habit somehow getting in the way of grief. Eventually, that feeling went away and now Jack only feels her in the place between sleep and waking, can almost feel her sitting on the edge of the bed, watching him.
Claire’s been gone ten years now. How Jack wishes she were here. She’s somewhere. Jack knows this. He found her in the first place, he’ll find her again. He thinks maybe he’s closer to her now than ever, particularly with how every day he feels a little shorter of breath, how there are days when he can’t feel his fingertips. His doctor told him it was a blood flow problem.
He needed to take his meds.
Slow down. He got a second opinion, a third; they all told him the same thing. Can’t feel your fingertips? Take a nitro. The nitro doesn’t work, call 911. Can’t get to a phone? Get right with your soul.
He was trying by practicing his third rule: Honor the people who love you.
Jack realized early on that rules one and three didn’t quite work together. Sometimes the rub is that the people who love you wouldn’t recognize your logic, not when it comes to matters of business. So maybe they aren’t rules, Jack considers today, all these years later. Maybe they are truths.
And the thing about truth, well, it doesn’t always need to be fact based.
Indeed, when Jack picked his son up in Las Vegas, where Skip had been signing autographs at a convention, and where he’d been living—“for tax purposes,” Skip told him—and when Hazel flew in from some anthropology conference, Jack wasn’t even sure if he could go through with his plan to lay it all out. It was an anniversary trip, he’d told them, for Claire, which got both of the kids to grudgingly agree to check out of their own lives for a week. But the fact was, he wanted to put a bow on another part of their lives too.
“I’m done,” Jack says. “I’m ending the TV show.”
“What? Why?” Skip asks.
“Time to live like a normal person.”
“Isn’t it a little late for that?” Hazel says.
Probably, Jack thinks. “Maybe I have fifteen years left,” he says. “I’d like to enjoy them.”
“Don’t say that,” Skip says. “Soon as you put a number on things, you start counting toward it. That’s bad juju.”
Now Jack was the one rolling his eyes. Skip. A childhood nickname that stuck. No man should enter his fifth decade still saddled with a nickname, Jack thinks, unless it’s something like Alexander the Great, except even Alexander the Great was dead at thirty-two. Skip’s real name was Nicholas, but it was Jack’s own father who’d crowned him years before. As in, Maybe it will skip a generation.
“You’re finally being smart. You should’ve done it years ago,” Hazel says. “You outlasted Jacques Cousteau. Go ahead—pull the plug and enjoy.”
Hazel. She’d taken after her mother in so many ways that it was often hard for Jack to be around her anymore. Her face, her voice, even her hand gestures, reminded him of Claire so much that it hurt to be near her. They also had the same temper—and the same reckless attraction to destruction.
How many times had Jack been woken by the police, Hazel in the back of a squad car? How many phone calls had he made, even in the last year, to keep charges from being filed against her for assault…or mayhem…or whatever charge the police wanted to hang on her? Jack tried to harness it—in his line of work, especially the parts of his life he hid from everyone else, fearlessness was what kept him alive. But then Claire saw what he was doing, and that was the end. I will not let you put her in that business. Over the years, Hazel had found her own business. She was a pilgrim, a professor, and never exactly risk-averse.
“But the fans…” Skip said.
“Don’t,” Hazel warned, her temper already showing. “When was the last time the fans were ever happy?”
She was right about that too.
For the first few seasons, it was enough to find some old NASA employees who swore the moon landing was fake…or the woman who woke up one day and suddenly could speak Latin. All Jack had to do was nod and show that perfect amount of empathy. Just because something seemed implausible didn’t mean it wasn’t true.
But then people started to need more, something a bit less static. And that meant Jack had to go into the field, begin actually investigating the mysteries of the world, even solving them when he could. That was the thing about the mystery business: Every now and then, you had to unravel one, or else the viewers would begin to think everything was fake, or, alternatively, that the world really was a series of vast, unending conspiracies meant to keep them from knowing the truth.
That’s what it always boiled down to. People weren’t happy unless they believed at least part of the world was some grand hoax. It’s what had made Watergate so compelling. Everything everyone suspected was true: Government was corrupt, the world was being manipulated, nothing was on the level…and it took a couple of guys named Bob and Carl to figure it all out. But as Jack knew, most times, mysteries didn’t have satisfying endings. Like the death of JFK. No one wanted to believe Oswald acted alone, because then that story was done.
The world was so different now. Anyone could see anything. And the government? Between the robots, drones, and Navy SEALS, they had more people working for them than against them. Whatever Jack Nash could find hardly mattered. He was a cog. The machine was so big now, it could withstand a few loose screws.
“Can you even be happy?” Skip asks. “Away from it?”
As soon as he found the book. No, not just a book. A bible. The bible. It was so close to him now. If he closed his eyes, he could see it, right in front of him, there in the desert, swirling in the wind.
“That’s the last mystery,” Jack says, his words slurring.
“Dad, you all right?” Hazel asks quietly. She’s looking at him strangely, he thinks. Like she’s studying him, cataloguing him, breaking him into parts, like she does. She puts her hand on his elbow. “You look flushed.”
“Never better,” Jack says. Outside, the desert suddenly blooms white, the sand so luminous that it reminds Jack of the Sahara. “There’s something else I want to tell you.”
“We know, Dad,” Skip says. “Honor the people who love you. You’ve told us a million times.”
“Your color isn’t good,” Hazel says. “Your face is red. Why don’t you pull over? Let me drive.”
- On Sale
- Jun 7, 2016
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing