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Authors: Tom Dolby

The Trust

BOOK: The Trust
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THE
TRUST

A SECRET SOCIETY NOVEL

Tom Dolby

“Delusions are as necessary to our happiness as realities.”

—Christian Nestell Bovee

“If I’m wrong, I’m insane . . . and if I’m right, it’s worse than if I’m wrong.”

—William Goldman,
The Stepford Wives

For my family, old and new,
and especially for W.D.F.

Contents

 

 

    

Chapter One

    

Chapter Two

    

Chapter Four

    

Chapter Five

    

Chapter Six

    

Chapter Nine

    

Chapter Ten

 

 

 

 

NEW YORK CITY, 1992

O
utside the Metropolitan Museum of Art one cold February evening, photographers swarmed around the entrance, pushing and jostling, angling for the perfect shot. The Met’s grand staircase, swathed in black carpet and dotted with snowflakes, was the runway for a flock of Manhattan luminaries who ascended the steps to the museum and into the event of the winter season, the Dendur Ball. Most posed and preened for the cameras, savoring their moment in the spotlight before they were ushered into the museum.

An exquisitely beautiful woman in her late twenties, with long dark hair, fair skin, and a thin, regal neck, walked across the street with her husband, dodging the limousines and town cars that were stacked three deep on Fifth Avenue. She clutched her dress so it wouldn’t catch on her heels, and held her petite handbag in one hand and a sheer wrap that fluttered in the wind in the other. She didn’t come in a chauffeured car or a taxicab like the other guests at the ball. She didn’t need to, for she lived right across the street.

The crowd parted ways for the two of them, as if they carried an electric charge, an irresistible field announcing to all that she was in their path. He was handsome and dressed in a classic black dinner jacket, but it was she who commanded attention as she ascended the staircase, photographers and reporters shouting her name. She appeared barely to hear them as she climbed slowly and carefully. At the top of the steps, she turned around and glanced not at the crowd, not at the white-hot flashbulbs, but at the swirling snow around her.

She delicately stuck her tongue out and caught a snowflake on it, closing her eyes, as if to make a wish.

Her name, photographers whispered to the uninitiated, was Esmé Madison Evans. She was wearing an ivory column dress that had been designed by Sebastian Giroux, the up-and-coming young couturier. Around her neck was an exact replica of the new jewel of the Met’s Egyptian wing, an artifact temporarily on loan from the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo for a special exhibit. Around the neck of Esmé Madison Evans, wife of Patchfield Evans, Jr., was a replica of the Scarab of Isis, a necklace that, until tonight, had never been viewed in New York City.

T
hey gave me two choices,” Patch said.

It was New Year’s Eve on Isis Island, a small, private body of land off the coast of Maine, and Patch was sitting on a rocky overlook, surrounded by his friends. The four of them were united once again after several trying months: Patch, Nick, Phoebe, and Lauren, as well as a new addition to their group, Thad.

Patch had known Nick for so long, it was as if they were two sides of the same coin, and yet tonight it felt like he hadn’t seen his friend in years. The two had been at odds with each other during the fall semester, and it was only as of the previous evening that they had reconciled. Nick was now sitting with his girlfriend, Phoebe, while Lauren and Thad sat together as well, though the latter two were only friends.

Unlike the others, who wore the latest cold weather gear, Patch was bundled in a ratty, oversize parka. On his head, where his brown hair had been shaved close to his skull as part of his disguise to get onto the island, he wore a wool hat. His left eye, swollen and bruised from a scuffle with Nick a few days ago, was slowly healing.

He was, he imagined, a sorry sight.

Patch had not had the luxury of packing carefully. Everything he was wearing he had carried on his back when he had snuck onto the island several days ago, posing as a member of the catering crew.

Now he was with friends, was ostensibly safe. As safe, he thought, as any of them could possibly be, given everything that had happened.

What had really happened? How had they all ended up here?

Patch knew the facts, but they didn’t settle the unease that he felt settling over the group. It was the evening after all the Initiates in the Society had been advanced to the level of Conscripts, the evening after so much had been revealed to them. Last night, Patch had been reborn into the secret group, and the fate of Alejandro Calleja, their classmate and Lauren’s boyfriend, had been divulged by Nick’s father, Parker Bell, the Chairman of the Society.

Alejandro had disappeared after a Society party two weeks earlier, but now they learned that his cold cadaver was sitting in a morgue downtown, where toxicology screens would reveal the drugs he had taken. The fourteen new Conscripts had all been told that his was a cautionary tale, a warning about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

But Patch knew the truth, as did the other four. Alejandro had not done this to himself, nor had any of their classmates been complicit in it, even though the rest of them believed that they had been. The Society’s Council of Regents, aided by their private security force, the Guardians, had been responsible.

The older members—the Elders and the Council—had gone home that morning to spend New Year’s Eve with their families. Isis Island now seemed empty in comparison to the chaos of the past few days.

The five of them sat on a lookout point that had a view of the Great Cottage, the shingled building on the island where the majority of the Society’s activities took place at its remote retreat. Below them, Patch could see the other Conscripts blithely popping open bottles of champagne on one of the rustic porches off the foyer, ready to ring in the new year. Unlike the five of them, the rest were oblivious to what the Society was really about. Even if Patch and his friends tried to convince them, they wouldn’t believe them anyway.

“What were your two choices?” Lauren asked Patch, as she rubbed her hands together in an attempt to stay warm.

“I had to agree to turn over the material I had filmed from the initiation—there was no question about that. I could then either be set free or I could become a member. The second option was the only one that I knew would truly keep me safe. Whatever that means.”

“You really think we’re safe now?” Lauren asked.

“I don’t know,” Patch said. “After what they did to me, not to mention to the others—I can’t believe that it couldn’t happen to any of us.”

They all looked out at the horizon, at the clear sky, full of stars. The previous four days had been so filled with uncertainty and tension that it was a relief to have some quiet. Patch’s joints were still stiff from the time he had spent in captivity, but he tried to block it from his mind—the terrifying, wrenching feeling of being trapped in a coffin, fed nutrients from an IV in his arm. He shivered. The memory wouldn’t go away.

“So what now?” Nick finally said.

Patch thought about everything he had been through, the horrible questioning by Nick’s father, and how Patch had made the only choice that would guarantee his freedom. He had hoped being a member would answer the questions he had about his mother, Esmé, and her madness; he hoped someone might explain how, when he was six years old, she had developed a mysterious borderline personality disorder that had kept her institutionalized. He hoped it would answer the questions he had about the Bell family, and the ones he had about his grandmother, Genie. Patch thought about all the things he had needed to experience over the previous few months to get to this point: the Society initiation in the Meatpacking District, the visit to his mother in the facility in Ossining, his infiltration and kidnapping. The other members, even the four he was sitting with now, would never understand what he had been through.

Because of this, even if he was now officially a Conscript, now officially one of them, he would always remain an Outsider. It was a phrase he had heard the Society use in some of its communications:
Outsiders are
those who do not belong
.

“Phoebe, you’ve been quiet,” Nick said. He nudged her carefully.

“Yeah,” she said slowly. “I’ve been thinking about something.”

“What’s that?” Thad asked.

“I think Patch is right that we should be careful. All of us. I don’t believe the worst is over.”

Fireworks went off in the sky above Isis Island, and they could hear the ten remaining Conscripts in their class and the fourteen in the class above them whooping and shouting, toasting the new year from the lodge’s balcony. Before yesterday, the Society had succeeded in its goal to create two classes of fourteen each. They had started with fifteen in the fall; then there was the death of Jared Willson, from the class above them, and the death of Alejandro Calleja. In each class, someone had died, thereby binding together all the other members with the horrible truth about their classmate’s death. It had forced them all to trust each other while as recently as four months ago, many had been strangers.

Classes of fourteen were supposed to be stable, immune to corruption. Classes of fifteen were unbalanced and open to insurrection. The Society had historically taken classes like theirs, classes in danger of anarchy, and had instituted this practice of reducing the group to fourteen members.

They called it the Power of Fourteen.

In short, Patch thought, it was an extremely genteel explanation for ritual murder, all under the justification of protecting a way of life.

“What do you mean? What do you mean by ‘the worst isn’t over’?” Nick asked Phoebe.

Before Phoebe even spoke, Patch guessed what she was about to say: The Power of Fourteen was no longer. With Patch having joined the class the previous night, they would be fifteen again.

BOOK: The Trust
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