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The Forbidden Door (Jane Hawk #4)
Author:Dean Koontz

The Forbidden Door (Jane Hawk #4)

Dean Koontz



For all our children’s fate …

The bomb in the baby carriage —RUDYARD KIPLING, “For All We Have and Are”





Staccato signals of constant information A loose affiliation of millionaires And billionaires and, baby, These are the days of miracle and wonder.

—PAUL SIMON, “The Boy in the Bubble”





Creating a neural [brain] lace is the thing that really matters for humanity to achieve symbiosis with machines.

—ELON MUSK





1


AT FIRST THE BREEZE WAS no more than a long sigh, breathing through the Texas high country as though expressing some sadness attendant to Nature herself.

They were sitting in the fresh air, in the late-afternoon light, because they assumed that the house was bugged, that anything they said within its rooms would be monitored in real time.

Likewise, they trusted neither the porches nor the barn, nor the horse stables.

When they had something important to discuss, they retreated to the redwood lawn chairs under the massive oak tree in the backyard, facing a flatness of grassland that rolled on to the distant horizon and, for all that the eye could tell, continued to eternity.

As Sunday afternoon became evening, Ancel and Clare Hawk sat in those chairs, she with a martini, he with Macallan Scotch over ice, steeling themselves for an upcoming television program they didn’t want to watch but that might change their lives.

“What bombshell can they be talking about?” Clare wondered.

“It’s TV news,” Ancel said. “They pitch most every story like it’ll shake the foundations of the world. It’s how they sell soap.”

Clare watched him as he stared out at the deep, trembling grass and the vastness of sky as if he never tired of them and saw some new meaning in them every time he gave them his attention. A big man with a weathered face and work-scarred hands, he looked as if his heart might be as hard as bone, though she’d never known one more tender.

After thirty-four years of marriage, they had endured hardships and shared many successes. But now—and perhaps for as long as they yet might have together—their lives were defined by one blessing and one unbearable loss, the birth of their only child, Nick, and his death at the age of thirty-two, the previous November.

Clare said, “I’m feeling like it’s more than selling soap, like it’s some vicious damn twist of the knife.”

Ancel reached out with his left hand, which she held tightly. “We thought it all out, Clare. We have plans. We’re ready for whatever.”

“I’m not ready to lose Jane, too. I’ll never be ready.”

“It won’t happen. They’re who they are, she’s who she is, and I’d put my money on her every time.”

Just when the faded-denim sky began to darkle toward sapphire overhead and took upon itself a glossy sheen, the breeze quickened and set the oak tree to whispering.

Their daughter-in-law, Jane Hawk, who was as close to them as any real daughter might have been, had recently been indicted for espionage, treason, and seven counts of murder, crimes that she hadn’t committed. She would be the sole subject of this evening’s Sunday Magazine, a one-hour TV program that rarely devoted more than ten minutes to a profile of anyone, either president or pop singer. The most-wanted fugitive in America and a media sensation, Jane was labeled “the beautiful monster” by the tabloids, a cognomen used in promos for the forthcoming special edition of Sunday Magazine.

Ancel said, “Her indictment by some misled grand jury, now this TV show, all the noise about it … you realize what it must mean?”

“Nothing good.”

“Well, but I think she’s got evidence that’ll destroy the sons of bitches, and they know she’s got it. They’re desperate. If she finds a reporter or someone in the Bureau who maybe she can trust—”

“She tried before. The bigger the story, the fewer people she can trust. And this is as big as a story gets.”

“They’re desperate,” Ancel insisted. “They’re throwin’ all they got at her, tryin’ to turn the whole country against her, make her a monster no one’ll ever believe.”

“And what then?” Clare worried. “How does she have any hope if the whole country’s against her?”

“Because it won’t be.”

“I don’t know how you can be so sure.”

“The way they demonize her, this hysteria they ginned up in the media—it’s too much piled on top of too much. People sense it.”

“Those who know her, but that’s not a world.”

“People all over, they’re talkin’ about what the real story might be, whether maybe she’s bein’ set up.”

“What people? All over where?”

“All over the Internet.”

“Since when do you spend five minutes on the Internet?”

“Since this latest with her.”

The sun appeared to roll below the horizon, although in fact the horizon rolled away from the sun. In the instant when all the remaining light of day was indirect across the red western sky, the breeze quickened again and became a wind aborning, as if all were a clockwork.

As the looser leaves of the live oak were shaken down, Clare let go of Ancel’s hand and covered her glass, and he shielded his.

There was no privacy in the house, and they weren’t finished counseling each other in matters of grief and hope, preparing for the affront that would be the TV program. The wind brought the dark, and the dark brought a chill, but the sea of stars was a work of wonder and a source of solace.





2


TEN MILES FROM HAWK RANCH, Egon Gottfrey heads the operation to take Ancel and Clare Hawk into custody and ensure their fullest cooperation in the search for their daughter-in-law.

Well, custody is too formal a word. Each member of Gottfrey’s team carries valid Department of Homeland Security credentials. They also possess valid ID for the NSA and the FBI, though they work at those two agencies only on paper. They receive three salaries and earn three pensions, ostensibly to preserve and defend the United States, while in fact working for the revolution. The leaders of the revolution make sure that their foot soldiers are well rewarded by the very system they are intent on overthrowing.

Because of Egon Gottfrey’s successful career in Homeland, he was approached to join the Techno Arcadians, the visionaries who conduct the secret revolution. He is now one of them. And why not? He doesn’t believe in the United States anyway.

The Techno Arcadians will change the world. They will pacify contentious humanity, end poverty, create Utopia through technology.

Or so the Unknown Playwright would have us believe.

The Hawks will not be arrested. Gottfrey and his crew will take possession of them. Neither attorneys nor courts will be involved.

Having arrived in Worstead, Texas, shortly after four o’clock in the afternoon, Egon Gottfrey is bored by the town within half an hour of checking into the Holiday Inn.

In 1896, when this jerkwater became a center through which the region’s farms and ranches shipped their products to market, it had been called Sheepshear Station, because of the amount of baled wool that passed through on the way to textile mills.

That’s the story, and there’s no point in questioning it.

By 1901, when the town was incorporated, the founders felt that the name Sheepshear Station wasn’t sophisticated enough to match their vision of the future. Besides, snarky types routinely called it Sheepshit Station. It was then named Worstead, after Worstede, the parish in Norfolk, England, where worsted wool was first made.

Anyway, that’s what Gottfrey is supposed to believe.

More than fourteen thousand rustic citizens now call it home.

Whatever they call it, Egon Gottfrey finds it to be a thin vision of a place, incomplete in its detail, much like an artist’s pencil study done before proceeding to oil paints. But every place feels like that to him.