To Order: The Doorkeeper
Rachel Todd-Elliott and her husband, Christopher Elliott, carry on their work as public figures and selfless philanthropists by beginning a new operation known as “The Doorkeeper Campaign.”
Readers will spend a magical Christmas in a Victorian village where they will hear the message of the gospel as proclaimed by a young girl who has heard the call of God and given Him consent to enter into her life to be used for His service.
Behind the scenes of their public lives, Christopher continues his pursuit to uncover the true identity of the mysterious figure, Adriano Rinaldi, whose star continues to rise among the rich and influential people of Europe.
Is it fate or a devious plot that leads Rinaldi to contact Scott Williams, Chris’s son-in-law, to ask him to conduct his first public interview, in Strasbourg, located in Alsace, France, regarded by many as one of the capitals of the European Union? These events lead Christopher and Rachel down a path of danger and intrigue where they are confronted by the possibilities of unimaginable horrors and must deal with such complex issues as biomedical ethics and medical experimentation and how they affect the world today.
Journey with Rachel and Christopher and a host of other interesting characters as they visit a number of exciting places including the cities of Haifa, Israel, and Strasbourg, France, and learn a little about their culture, cuisine, or current events.
Chapter One-The Trap Door
My head was throbbing with pain, and I felt nauseated; my eyes were shrouded in darkness and my mind was too fuzzy to think properly; everything was just so vague and hazy, and I didn’t know why. Where was I? My body was stiff and fatigued; moving was extremely difficult. My hands and feet were bound tightly together, preventing me from standing up; my fingers could barely touch the floor. My shoulder blades ached from sitting hunched over on a cold, hard surface that felt decidedly like concrete, but I just couldn’t fathom where I was.
Think! I uttered to myself angrily, but, try as I might, I couldn’t; my mind was just too clouded to recall the series of events that had brought me to this dreadful place.
Time passed ever so slowly in the perpetual darkness of my cold and dreary dungeon. My mind floated between coherent and incoherent thoughts until the haze began to lift and I eventually reached a point of relative lucidity. I couldn’t identify my surroundings, but I realized knowing where I was wasn’t nearly as important as finding a way out.
My feet were my best resource, so I used them to feel my way around the hard surface I was sitting on. I scooted myself forward as far as I could until I touched something. The restraints binding my hands and feet made moving slow, but I gradually eased myself forward and, stretching my fingers out as much as I could, I touched a wall. It, too, felt like concrete. Exhausted and feeling a little faint, I rested my head on my knees and leaned the side of my body against the wall. I wanted to lie down and sleep, but resisted the desire to do so; I needed to be awake, working to find a way out. My mouth was tightly tied with a scarf or I would have cried out for help; instead, I broke down and cried a few salty tears of despair.
I had no way of knowing whether it was day or night, and listening intently for any sound that might provide a clue to my location proved fruitless. All I heard was the perpetual sound of slowly dripping water in the distance. Drip, drip, drip, like the ticking of a clock the water fell; tick, tick, tick, its rhythm was strangely comforting and irresistible, and before long, I drifted off into unconsciousness.
When I came to, my back ached more intensely than ever and my bottom was numb to the point of tingling. I needed to find some way to keep my circulation flowing, so I slowly scooted my body, feet first, away from the wall until I was sure I could roll onto my back without hitting my head. Once I was on my back, I did what I could to stretch my limbs and then I rolled over onto my side. I lay silently in that position for a while and then proceeded to do the reverse, lying on the opposite side of my body.
Hunger and thirst were sensations I endeavored to suppress, but my stomach complained nonetheless. I tried to loosen the ropes that held my hands together, but no amount of pulling or straining seemed to ease the tension of the knots; I feared my efforts only made them tighter.
When I could no longer lie on my side, I rocked myself back into an upright position. Not one to remain idle, I began to once again explore the area of my confinement, moving my body slowly across the floor. I moved my feet forward as much as possible then shuffled my body along behind, a few inches at a time.
The room dimensions appeared to be narrow, and the dripping water echoed in such a way that it made me think I was in something like a long corridor, a hallway perhaps. I continued to inch along the floor, always moving forward and apparently downward, taking time to lean to the side to feel for the wall as I went. It had to lead somewhere; I prayed it would lead to freedom.
“Mrs. Elliott,” a voice called out to me in the dark, and the face of a man flashed across my mind. I stopped and listened carefully but heard nothing more. Had I imagined it? I went on crawling slowly until my feet ran into something hard: stairs. Could I climb them, given my condition? I wasn’t sure, but I ventured to try. No, it was impossible! Each time I tried to lift myself I grew dizzy and fell forward. My long, arduous journey hadn’t been in vain, however, as I finally realized exactly where I was.
Papa, my maternal grandfather, had built the estate that I now lived in with my second husband, Christopher Elliott. He had designed the large mansion to include a series of secret passageways that ran throughout the interior of the building with hidden doors in various rooms; there was also a secret tunnel that ran underneath the house and back yard to the small chapel he had also built. A trap door into the tunnel from the chapel was located just behind a small altar, and this stairway led to that trap door.
The realization of my plight took on greater dimensions now that I knew where I was. The fact that few people knew of the existence of this tunnel was a serious problem. Christopher, Patrick, and I were the only ones who used it regularly—Patricia and Martha thought it too dark—and even we had curtailed our use of it since the earthquake. Construction repairs were underway in the basement, which was located on the other side of the tunnel wall I now inhabited. However, work in the tunnel itself hadn’t yet begun.
The tunnel passageway was normally lit up by a series of small lights that ran along the center of the ceiling, powered by electricity that came from a source in the basement. The old wiring and lights, however, were due to be replaced to provide better illumination, and were currently disconnected.
The construction company we had hired to make the necessary repairs was extremely reliable and deemed to be beyond reproach, as the owners were trusted, personal friends of John Edwards. They assured us that knowledge of the tunnel’s existence would be limited to key personnel only. They were fully aware of our need for tight security, especially since someone had attempted to assassinate Christopher months earlier. Therefore, I could only speculate as to who might be responsible for my imprisonment in this secret place. Who else had been privy to the blueprints? I asked myself, knowing they had been carefully guarded.
My mind ached when I tried to figure it all out. A more important aspect of the problem I was now facing was whether or not anyone was now looking for me—and whether or not they would think to look for me here. These thoughts made me realize I might be stranded for a very long time; they brought me to the brink of despair.
Years before when intruders broke into the house and threatened our lives, I had been so thankful for Papa’s ingenuity in creating the passageway upstairs and tunnel down below. I had been able to hide my old nanny, Isabelle, and Baby, my toy poodle, in a niche in the tower passageway before descending into the depths of the earth, and, using this very tunnel, I had made my way up the staircase to the trap door under the chapel and then outside to search for help.
“Mrs. Elliott,” the voice again flew through my mind, and I closed my eyes to concentrate on it alone. “Mrs. Elliott, it’s Hector Guirmo,” the voice said, announcing himself while tapping lightly on the library study door.
“Good afternoon, Hector,” I replied cordially. “Come in, I’ve been waiting for you; it’s rather late, isn’t it?” Hector had driven up from the Tea Cottage with some papers from Noah, my business manager. I looked up from my desk as he entered the room. He was a handsome young man in his late twenties, a diligent worker, and somewhat intense but affable. Hiring Hector had been a stroke of luck for Noah, who needed someone capable to replace his assistant, Roberto Ortiz, who had rather suddenly resigned after being offered an extremely lucrative job in Argentina.
Hector Guirmo, a foreign exchange student, had graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara, majoring in Business Administration. His desire to remain in the United States brought him to our establishment, where he interviewed for a position in our business office; his excellent credentials and sterling letters of recommendation opened the door for his interview, but it was his affability and intelligence that had impressed Noah and convinced him to hire him.
“Yes, it is,” Hector said, apologetically. “Noah just finished reviewing them and asked me to bring them right up. Everything you need to sign is in this portfolio,” he said casually. “All the documents that need your signature are marked,” he finished as he handed me the folder.
“Why don’t you grab a cup of coffee in the kitchen while I go through them, Hector?” I said nonchalantly. “It shouldn’t take long.”
I proceeded to look through the paperwork, signing where necessary; until I was interrupted by Prudence, my personal bodyguard.
“I’m going to the chapel to pray for an hour, Pru, as soon as I finish these documents. Then I’ll take my walk. You don’t need to follow; Chris is going to join me, and we’ll go together,” I said.
Prudence gave me her sternest look of disapproval. “Stay close to the house, and don’t go anywhere without contacting me first.”
“I won’t,” I said with a smile. “I promise.”
She turned and walked away, and moments later Hector reappeared. He stood silently watching me for a few moments then approached the desk carrying something in his left hand.
“I found this on the floor outside the door, Mrs. Elliott,” he said, coming closer. “Is it yours?”
It looked like a black scarf; I reached for it, but before I could take hold of it, he pushed it into my nose pressing his right hand to the back of my head and holding me tightly. I inhaled something that was sweet-smelling but pungent; I struggled to free myself, but he was too strong, and eventually everything went black.
It was amazing how quiet it was underground; I wondered why I couldn’t hear anyone working. Surely the construction crew repairing the basement would be busy working, I thought. But then I realized I had no idea of what time of day or night it was. And by the time Hector had arrived at the main house, the construction crew had departed for the day. Could that be why he came so late?
Ensconced in darkness, I used my time to try to figure a way out; even if I could climb the steps to the trap door above me, I doubted I could open it, as it was extremely heavy. I had to get free from my bonds, but how? The rope I was tied with was thin but strong, cutting deeply into my bare skin.
My body was now shivering from the cold. My cotton-knit, short-sleeved top and slacks weren’t very warm; it had been a lovely morning, sunny and bright, so I had dressed in a lightweight outfit. The cardigan I wore when I was cold had been removed while I was working in the study, so my arms were now almost bare. My legs were warmer than my arms, and my feet were kept comfortable by a pair of closed top shoes. I struggled once again to loosen the ropes, but the pain forced me to stop.
Exhausted, I rested against the wall and, feeling emotionally overwrought, succumbed to tears; wasn’t anyone looking for me?
Eventually, I motivated myself to make another attempt at climbing the stairs. I positioned my back against the steps and tried to move myself upward; it was incredibly difficult, but this time I managed to move up one step. When I tried to move a second time, my shoes slipped on the concrete surface, and I fell over on my side and skinned my cheek. When I regained an upright position, I leaned against the wall and prayed for wisdom. Minutes later the sound of voices startled me; were there people in the chapel above? How could I make myself heard?
I attempted to cry out, but the scarf was tied too tightly in my mouth for me to produce much volume. My shoes were the only possible answer; I stomped my feet on the cold concrete floor, but barely made a sound. I removed one shoe, and, taking it gingerly into my hand, I endeavored to strike the heel upon the floor. It was louder, but not loud enough for anyone to hear, and the voices disappeared as quickly as they had arrived.
My stomach growled as my hunger grew, but thirst became my primary concern; my lips were parched and exceedingly dry, my throat burned, and my head was beginning to throb worse than ever. I tried to push the scarf out of my mouth with my tongue, but that didn’t work, so I slid my face over my knees trying to dislodge it. That was fruitless as well.
How could I be in this situation? I thought to myself, utterly frustrated! Prudence had warned me to trust no one; but mournfully I hadn’t listened. “I can’t live that way, Pru,” I had argued.
I rested my eyes and slept for a while. When I awoke I resolved to try once again to climb the concrete staircase that led to the trap door. My back rested against the wall while I sat on the lowest step; I removed my shoes to steady myself and pulled my feet all the way back until they touched the back of the step. I lifted my body up off the floor with great difficulty, then plopped myself down on the second step, using the wall for balance and leverage. I made it; the next move was easier. Little by little, I painfully made my way up the stairs, moving carefully, knowing it would be painful if I fell. Ten, eleven, twelve, I counted as I went upward; I wasn’t sure how many steps there were, and it was too difficult to see anything in the dark, making it impossible to know how close to the top I might be. Physically drained, I stopped to rest.
It was cold, but I was perspiring from the physical exertion. Rest, just rest, my mind kept saying; I laid my head down once again on my knees, needing just a few moments of sleep before moving upward. Everything was quiet and I must have dozed off, until a noise emanating from the other end of the tunnel jarred me from my slumber and I saw, in the distance, a light approaching.
“Hello!” I shouted quickly. “Help me, please help me!” I screamed, before realizing the scarf had been dislodged from my mouth. Slowly the light drew closer; the person who carried it remained silent. I couldn’t see his face, only his hand; his fingers appeared long, and although they looked delicate, I sensed they were strong.
“Who is it?” I asked in fear. “Christopher, help me!” I screamed as the light drew nearer.
“Don’t worry, Rachel!” a familiar voice whispered softly. I wasn’t sure who the voice belonged to, but it had an inflection that I recognized and my mind searched to recall its owner.
The light was several feet away and still approaching when I began to distinguish the outline of a figure; the closer he drew, the more prominent his features became. He was tall and thin, but muscular; his dark hair hung to his shoulders, his face was…I tried to focus more clearly on it…his face was rectangular and he had a beard and a mustache. His eyes glistened like fire, and he spoke as he walked up the stairs. “Rachel, I’m coming for you,” he said in a daunting whisper. Almost close enough to touch, my heart raced as he reached out his hand toward me, but, when his face finally became visible, I screamed in terror and pulled away, his long fingernails gouging my arm as I did. Fearfully, I began to push myself away, thrashing up the steps, kicking at him with my feet until I lost my balance and went tumbling downward to the bottom of the staircase, hitting my head on the concrete floor.
There was no way of knowing how long I remained unconscious, imprisoned on the cold, damp surface of the tunnel, but when I awoke my mouth was still bound. The fiendish liberator had been nothing more than a bad dream that caused me to fall down the long staircase. Now my body ached more than ever, and I wept miserably because I was in terrible pain. Another attempt up the steps appeared impossible: I was simply too exhausted to even try.
My face rested on the chilly floor where I had fallen. Self-pity will get you nowhere, I said to myself and began to work through the process of sitting up. Once seated upright, I leaned my head against the wall and hit a burr in the concrete. It wasn’t very big, but it might be big enough, I thought, to scratch away the scarf that bound my mouth.
Painfully, I lifted my head again and again, pulling my mouth over the burr, trying to dislodge the scarf, but nothing happened. I had no choice; I needed to venture up the steps again if I was going to survive.
Prayerfully, I began my trek upward toward freedom. Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen…my head touched something. I was at the top; if only I could use my body to force the trap door open, I would be safe. I struggled to stand up as much as my bonds would allow, and then I pushed. Nothing happened.
Despondence crept into my weary soul; it was hopeless. Where is Chris? I thought. And why hasn’t he thought to look for me here?
Too tired to move, I rested at the top of the stairway, allowing my mind to retrace the events of the day. How had Hector known about the secret passage? That was the question that needed to be answered. Had we been careless? He had been up to the estate numerous times in the past several weeks, always eager to be of assistance. And there was that one day—one day in particular that the blueprints had been on my desk and Hector had been in my study waiting for me. I had gone to the kitchen for a cup of coffee and was surprised to find him, alone, at my desk. Is that what happened? Is that how he knew of the secret tunnel? Had he seen the blueprints? Was I to blame?
My body was scrunched on the top step of the stairway, so I carefully moved down one step in order to sit up and lean against the wall. The only thing I could do was wait and hope someone returned to the chapel. Perhaps then I could use my back to pound on the trap door and alert them to my position.
I lost all sense of time waiting in the dark, seeing nothing and hearing no one. Why hadn’t they thought to search the tunnel for me? Was it because I had told Prudence I was going outdoors? Or was it because of something Hector might have said before leaving the estate? He wouldn’t remain on the premises for long, of that I was reasonably sure. It would be far too dangerous. Where would he go? More importantly, what made him do this?
My head rested against my legs; my eyes were closed when the sound of voices coming from above awoke me from my stupor. I pounded my head against the trap door, but the voices quickly slipped away. And then, something amazing happened. The sound of voices echoed down the passageway; someone was calling my name. I tried to scream but my mouth was too tightly covered; all I could do was utter muffled sounds of distress.
Sitting at the top of the stairway, I saw in the distance a light approaching; seeing it made me shiver and cry. There was the outline of a figure; it was a man. I could see his hands; they were strong and muscular.
Fearfully, I raised myself up, and, using my back, I pushed against the trap door again and again, crying uncontrollably as the figure approached.
“Rachel, Rachel, I’m here!” he cried out, shining a flashlight in my direction, blinding my vision. I screamed louder and louder, struggling to open the trap door keeping me captive.
“Rachel,” the voice said softly, “it’s me, Chris. Don’t cry, darling, you’re safe now.” I was frantic when he reached the top of the stairs; he gently took hold of my body in an effort to calm me. He then stood up and pushed the trap door open; light and fresh air quickly streamed in. I was free at last!