The Trapdoor

The Trapdoor

by Andrew Klavan
The Trapdoor

The Trapdoor

by Andrew Klavan

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A reporter must overcome personal tragedy to cover a grisly assignmentThe Dellacroce trial should be John Wells’s biggest triumph. After years of hounding the mob boss, the New York Star reporter has finally brought enough evidence to light that the city can’t help but prosecute. Just when Wells is about to dive into courtroom reporting, his editor pulls him off the story, dumping him on a human-interest fluff piece. The young girls of Grant County are killing themselves in droves, and Wells’s editor wants to know why these teenagers keep putting their necks in nooses. It’s a tedious assignment, but the normally combative reporter doesn’t protest. He knows how it feels to lose a child to suicide. Wells chases the story in Grant County even as the hanging deaths rake up memories of his troubled daughter’s death. When the suicides begin to look like murder, Wells’s reporting puts his own neck on the line.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781453234303
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 11/15/2011
Series: John Wells Mystery Series , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 188
Sales rank: 788,026
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Andrew Klavan (b. 1954) is a highly successful author of thrillers and hard-boiled mysteries. Born in New York City, Klavan was raised on Long Island and attended college at the University of California at Berkeley. He published his first novel, Face of the Earth, in 1977, and continued writing mysteries throughout the eighties, finding critical recognition when The Rain (1988) won an Edgar Award for best new paperback. Besides his crime fiction, Klavan has distinguished himself as an author of supernatural thrillers, most notably Don’t Say a Word (1991), which was made into a film starring Michael Douglas. He has two ongoing series: Weiss and Bishop, a private-eye duo who made their debut in Dynamite Road (2003), and The Homelanders, a young-adult series about teenagers who fight radical Islam. Besides his fiction, Klavan writes regular opinion pieces for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other national publications. He lives in Southern California.

Andrew Klavan (b. 1954) is a highly successful author of thrillers and hard-boiled mysteries. Born in New York City, Klavan was raised on Long Island and attended college at the University of California at Berkeley. He published his first novel, Face of the Earth, in 1977, and continued writing mysteries throughout the eighties, finding critical recognition when The Rain (1988) won an Edgar Award for best new paperback.
Besides his crime fiction, Klavan has distinguished himself as an author of supernatural thrillers, most notably Don’t Say a Word (1991), which was made into a film starring Michael Douglas. He has two ongoing series: Weiss and Bishop, a private-eye duo who made their debut in Dynamite Road (2003), and The Homelanders, a young-adult series about teenagers who fight radical Islam. Besides his fiction, Klavan writes regular opinion pieces for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other national publications. He lives in Southern California.

Read an Excerpt

The Trapdoor

By Andrew Klavan


Copyright © 1988 Andrew Klavan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-3430-3


It happened less than two months later, on a Friday. I was telling stories to Lansing and McKay when Robert Cambridge, the managing editor of the New York Star, walked into the city room. Cambridge likes Lansing because she has long straight blond hair that shines like silk and because she has a long body that rises and falls like a sigh and because she is beautiful. Cambridge likes McKay because McKay doesn't put in for overtime. I, on the other hand, am not beautiful and I put in for every second. Cambridge doesn't like me. Lansing and McKay like me. Cambridge doesn't like that.

Lansing and McKay had found me asleep in my cubicle that morning. Lansing grabbed my shoulder and gave me a shake. I unburied my head from my arms.

"Ow," I said.

"Morning, Wells," said Lansing. McKay was standing behind her, laughing. "It's eight-thirty, baby. The happy bustle of the city room is swirling around you. Rise and shine."

"Oh man," I said. My head was throbbing. My eyes felt like they'd been dabbed at the corners with epoxy. There was some of the stuff on my tongue too. My spine—my rapidly aging spine—had shrunk in the night. "Oh man, oh man," I said.

Lansing laughed a little. She had rich lips, and the way they curved when she laughed would've made a living man breathless. Her oval face was smooth, her high cheeks pink. She was wearing white slacks and a light green blouse that showed off the long terrain of her. "I'll get you some coffee," she said. I watched her walk to the machine on the table by the wall.

"Whatcha got?" said McKay.

I turned to him, tried to prop my eyes open a little wider. For a moment I couldn't remember what I had. "Uh ... oh, I got the guy ... the secret witness ... in the Dellacroce trial."

McKay has the sort of face you expect to find on a jar of strained squash: round, bare, innocent. Now it was his eyes that widened. "You got his name?"

"Yeah, everything. Isn't the paper out yet? Should be page one."

"You hog page one again?" said Lansing. She put a Styrofoam cup on my desk. The coffee was black and steaming.

I rubbed my shoulder. "Don't you guys read this paper?"

"Nah," said Lansing. "We know it stinks, we write it."

"Wells got the witness against Dellacroce," McKay said.

"Oooh, nice. You I.D. him?"

"Nah. If I I.D. him, he might trip and fall into a meat-grinder." I rubbed the stubble on my face, yawned. "I'd rather wait and let him nail Dellacroce. I have this prejudice against people nicknamed Stiletto."

"So why were you here all night again? Drink your coffee," Lansing said.

I reached for my coffee. A pain shot through my shoulder. I flinched.

"What is it?" said Lansing.


"It's your shoulder. Damn it, I wish you'd go home and sleep sometimes."

"I traded," I said. I grabbed the cup with my other hand. Sipped it. "I told Cicelli I had the name, and traded for an indictment." Lansing smiled and shook her head. "Don't look at me like that, Lansing," I said.

"Who'd you get?" said McKay.

At which moment Alex, the copyboy, walked by. He tossed the morning edition onto my lap. "Nice going, Pops," he said.

The paper lay open on my knees. The banner said: TRANSIT CHIEF INDICTMENT SOUGHT.

"Wow," said McKay.

"Did he call me Pops?" I said.

"Nice going, sweetie. You are something," said Lansing.

"That little pinprick called me Pops."

McKay took the paper, a tabloid. He opened it to page three, leaned against the desk in the cubicle across from me and read the story. "Oh," he said. "Oh, nice. Nice, nice, nice, Wells." Lansing leaned next to him, looking over his shoulder.

"Thanks." I took out a cigarette, lit it. Leaned back against my desk, facing them.

"Look at this. I never get stuff like this," McKay said. McKay was our staff poet. The guy you send out to write the kid-with-cancer story. The one who can take a sidebar on a fire victim and make you cry. He wouldn't admit it sober, but he could even quote a couple of poems by heart. He had some kind of degree in it. American literature, I think.

Now Lansing looked up. She nodded. She smiled.

"Don't look at me like that, Lansing," I said.

"It's good stuff," she said quietly. Have I mentioned her eyes? They're blue. And they were sort of wider and softer just then.

I growled at her: "I'm forty-five. They call me Pops."

"Forget it," said McKay, tossing the paper aside. "Alex is seventeen. He calls me Pops. He saw it in a movie."

I started to put my arms behind my head. The pain in my shoulder stopped me.

"What is that, anyway?" said Lansing.

"Age," I said.

"Oh, it is not."

"All right. A woman stabbed me with a sharpened stake."

"Oh God. When?"

"I was with the Gazette upstate. I was twenty-five. You were four."

"Why'd she stab you?" said McKay.

"I was trying to keep her from killing her husband."

"What'd she want to do that for?"

"He shot her lover with a bow and arrow."


"Then he began stalking her, hunting her, see, through the woods. But she turned the tables on him. When I showed up, she had him trussed up with a vine at the bottom of a ditch. That's where the sharpened stake came in. Stop looking at me like that, Lansing."

"Shut up, Wells. I'll look how I please."

McKay, who tends to say something stupid when he's embarrassed, said: "They sure don't make them like you anymore, John."

"Yeah," I said, rubbing my shoulder. "That must be why it's so tough to get replacement parts."

That made Lansing and McKay laugh. Cambridge, who had just come in, was reaching for the door to his office when he heard them laugh. He turned. He saw us gathered by my desk across the room. I guess by now I had my feet up on the little filing cabinet at the edge of my cubby. Maybe my jacket was off, too, and my shirt a little rumpled. My tie could possibly have been undone. And I was smoking. Camridge doesn't like smoking. He's only thinking of me.

So Lansing and McKay laughed, and this caught the attention of Robert Cambridge. He and his snappy brown suit and his tight-lipped smile came wandering up the aisles between the cubbyholes. Their low walls make a mazelike pattern throughout the huge expanse of the city room. They gleam white under the low ceiling of fluorescent lights. At the center of the maze is a long desk where the city editor and the assignment editor sit and chat and laugh. The reporters and the lower rung of editors sit in the cubbyholes under the fluorescent lights and tap at the keyboards of their computer terminals. Except I was sitting in my cubbyhole under the fluorescent lights and I had my feet up. And I don't even have a computer terminal. I have a typewriter. An Olympia Standard. In fact, I was leaning back against my Olympia Standard typewriter when Cambridge reached me. He gave me a good long dose of his tight-lipped smile. He had his leather folder with him too. He caressed it. A bad sign.

And he said: "Hey, guys, how's it goin? What's so all-fired funny around here?" Cambridge is a regular guy. You can tell by the way he talks.

We all murmured: "Bob."

Cambridge waited. "Well?"

"Oh ..." Lansing smiled. She's good at that. She hoped it would help. "Oh, Wells was just telling one of his stories," she said. "You know."

"Yeah," said Cambridge, with an I-know shake of the head. "Nothing like those great yarns from an old pro, is there." He tapped me on the knee with his folder. Somehow, I was suddenly reminded of the fact that at forty-five I am only a reporter, whereas Cambridge is a managing editor at thirty-two. I don't know what made that pop into my mind.

"Listen, Johnny," said Cambridge. He calls me Johnny because my name is John and he is a regular guy. "You got some free time, right?"

I grinned. I tried to look as if I were eating shit. I don't think it worked.

"Well, I have the Dellacroce trial starting Monday...." I said.

Cambridge wrinkled his finely chiseled nose. He brushed the Dellacroce trial aside with a well-manicured hand.

"Forget it," he said. "Carey can cover that. It's not relatable."

I didn't argue. If it wasn't relatable, it wasn't relatable. Cambridge was hired, after all, to make the Star more relatable, which means people will be able to relate to it more. It's a Californian word, I think. They'd brought Cambridge in from a California rag, and it seemed like the word had come with him. In the six months since he'd been here, I'd heard him use it maybe four hundred times. Maybe five. "Johnny," he said to me once on a pretty typical day, "let's concentrate a little less on this mob stuff, this corruption stuff. It's not relatable. We want something like, well ... don't the pols in this city use prostitutes? We could sneak into some high-class whorehouse, right? Take a hidden camera in. Click. I love it. That's relatable."

"Nah," I told him. "I'd be recognized. Anyway, I'm no good at that stuff. I cover courts. Cops. Politics when it's dirty."

"Oh, Johnny, Johnny." And he actually wagged his finger at me. "That's not relatable."

So that was three times in one day. For six months. And he was beginning to feel I was not being totally cooperative with him. Perelman used to feel pretty much the same way when he was Cambridge. He was hired to give the Star zing. He accused me of deliberately not being zingy. Before that was Davis. He was hired to give the Star pizzazz. I can't remember the name of the guy who was Cambridge before that. But now, Cambridge was Cambridge. And Cambridge, I think, had this funny notion that one of us—him or me—was going to have to crack on the issue of relatability. It had become a personal thing with him. So I didn't argue.

"Okay," I said. "What's relatable?"

He glanced at Lansing and McKay with the appeal-to-heaven grin of one really regular guy. "It's sort of like what we discuss in staff meetings once a week," he said. "Look ... are you familiar at all with what's going on in Grant County?"

I had been smirking. I stopped. "No," I lied.

He snorted, shook his head. "I mean, that's a story, Johnny. That's what we mean when we say a relatable story."

"What's happening in Grant County?" Lansing asked.

Cambridge tapped his folder with his hand. "Teen suicides!"

Lansing audibly drew in her breath. McKay turned away and looked at the floor. They knew about me. Both of them knew. And Cambridge. This is the business of unearthing secrets. Its gossips are pros. No one can hide much for long.

Cambridge went on eagerly. "It started farther north, in Edmond. Ten teenagers up there killed themselves in the last eight months. But now it's hit Grant: In the past six weeks, three students at Grant Valley High School have killed themselves. In the past six weeks. Great story."

I sat and stared at Cambridge. He stared back. I took a long drag on my cigarette and let the smoke out at him in a steady stream.

"I think this is worth a series, maybe even a week with a Sunday finish. I mean real hard-hitting stuff. You-and-me stuff. With all the big questions. Is it a national trend? Is it due to the lack of morality in our society? Is it drugs? Is it sex? The whole thing. How does it affect you-and-me? Just keep saying that to yourself, Johnny. How does it affect you-and-me?"

How does it affect you-and-me? I said to myself.

"Hey," said Lansing aloud. Her eyes glistened—a hard, metallic glisten. "Hey, that sounds just like my kind of assignment, Bob. How about letting me have that one, and then Wells can cover—"

"I want Johnny on it." Cambridge said it quietly, but Lansing knew when to shut up too. The man's eyes were trained on me. His thin smile was even thinner than before. I can't swear to it, but I think he was breathing rapidly with excitement. This wasn't a sudden whim of his. He'd been waiting to catch me with my jacket off, my feet up.

"Grant County's kind of far away for our readership, isn't it?" said McKay softly. I silently thanked him for that. It was downright gallant of him, considering. McKay had a baby to feed. I'd gone to his apartment a few times to see it. It was small with a scrunched-up face and it cried a lot. But he was sort of attached to it. It also liked to eat. Daddy needed his job.

Cambridge, though, was too intent on me to notice Daddy much. "Well," he said dreamily, "I guess Johnny will just have to learn to use the computer in our White Plains bureau. He can send his stories from there. Then he can finally get rid of that typewriter...."

The Olympia was sort of a sticking point.

When Cambridge walked away, I snuffed my cigarette in my coffee cup. It had burned down to the filter. I'd kept it going as long as I could.

Lansing and McKay watched Cambridge go. They waited until the door to his office closed behind him.

"What a bastard," McKay muttered.

"Forget it, Mac," I said.

Lansing's eyes were sharp and angry. Her cheeks were flaming. But she kept her voice quiet and tight. "Why did you let him do that? Why'd you let him get away with it?"

I shrugged.

"You don't have to take it, Wells."


"You know you don't. You're the best crime man in the city."

"Well." I laughed. "There is that."

"You've kept us ahead on every mob story for months. You've broken your back on the Dellacroce trial. Everyone in the paper knows it. The people upstairs too."


"It isn't fair."


"Stop saying that."

"It's just a story, Lancer. I've done a lot of them."

She looked at me for a long time with those blue eyes. She looked at me hard. But when she spoke next, her tone was gentle: "You don't have to do it, Wells."

I smiled at her. "Maybe," I said.

She lowered her gaze.

The two of them stood around a while longer. McKay shuffled his feet. Lansing just studied hers. Both of them cursed at Cambridge some more. Both of them agreed: The assignment stank. Then, after a while, they drifted away. Back to their desks. Back to their work. Which was just as well.

I lit another cigarette. I stuck it between my lips. I leaned back with my head against my laced hands.

I thought about Cambridge. I thought about Grant County. I thought about the trapdoor.


It had been a while since I'd thought about that: about the trapdoor. But now I couldn't get it out of my mind. I thought about it dropping open with a sudden thud. I could see the blur of the body falling through it. I could see her dangling there.

It was the same that Monday when I drove to Grant County. It kept playing itself out in my mind again and again as I tooled my ancient red Dart—the Artful Dodge—up Interstate 84. It was a bright morning, early in November. The hills of trees had become hills of color. Overlapping swells of red and yellow and light green rose away into the haze of the horizon outside the car windows. The highway was clear. The air was fresh and bracing. The city was over fifty miles behind me.

And I kept thinking about a trapdoor.

At first I'd see her at the bottom of the stairs, her face uplifted to the scaffold. Her expression seemed calm to me, but somehow empty, as if she were under some irresistible spell. She was wearing a robe the color of port wine. Her hair was as I remembered it, thick and golden. I'd see her gray eyes sparkle a little as she reached the platform, as if she were about to awaken and run. But she didn't run. The noose was lowered over her head, tightened around her neck.

My heart raced as I drove through the lovely countryside. I turned the radio on, loud, to drown it out. I tried to shake myself out of it. Nothing worked. In another minute I'd hear the trapdoor snap open. I'd see her fall through. My hands would tighten on the steering wheel. I'd see her dangling in the air before me.

It hadn't been this bad in over a year. I hadn't thought it would ever be this bad again. The assignment stank, that was the long and the short of it. It stank, and it was supposed to stink. That was Cambridge's idea.

Lansing was right, probably. I could have turned it down. Like she says, I have the leverage these days, and the Dellacroce trial was mine. Maybe it was pride that made me keep my mouth shut, maybe I just didn't want Cambridge to see me quail. Or maybe it was just that Cambridge is the boss and you don't show the boss up over a few personal demons. I'm not sure. Whatever the reason, I'd taken the story. And with the story came the trapdoor. The trapdoor and the port-red robe and the dazed gray eyes and the shadow of the scaffold. The noose. The drop. The dangling girl. Again and again, it played itself over as I drove to Grant County.

Which was kind of strange in a way, really. I mean, my daughter hanged herself, all right. Five years ago. But it wasn't like that at all.


Excerpted from The Trapdoor by Andrew Klavan. Copyright © 1988 Andrew Klavan. Excerpted by permission of A
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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