Powder snow swirled like twin vapour trails from the wide tires as the big SUV sped along an unmarred ribbon of light snow. The clean whiteness was tinted magenta by the glow of the setting sun. Inside the cab of the high, four-wheel-drive vehicle, the faces of two women were illuminated in the warm glow from the dashboard lights. Sondra Childerhouse’s eyes were fixed on the road ahead, scanning for a landmark at the right side of the road. She was eager to find her destination before the last light left the sky. Her companion, producer and camerawoman Maris Trask dozed in the passenger seat.
Sondra Childerhouse was filled with eager anticipation about her assignment. At 28, an exclusive interview with billionaire recluse Truman Garrison could pave the way for her future as a broadcast journalist. Garrison had been in virtual hiding for ten years, and Sondra had no idea why he had decided to grant an interview. Even more confusing, why did he choose a young woman whose career had begun just a few years before, covering human interest stories for a local New England station.
The tall walls of thick pine forest ended abruptly and broad fields of snow spread away from both sides of the road. A moment later Sondra saw a smaller road that led off into the hardwood forest on her right. It was plowed clean, with snow piled high on both sides. The only sign marking the turn-off was a simple, store-bought plastic one that read, “PRIVATE” in reflective letters that shone when her headlights swept across them. Sondra turned onto the small private road and followed it across the open fields into the deeper darkness of the forest. Large trees with thick trunks were silhouetted against the snow-covered rolling hills beyond.
Sondra’s headlights illuminated the clear, white trail. It wound right and left in smooth arcs until it emerged into a large open area, well cleared of snow. A small tractor with its snow blower in place stood beneath an open shelter beside a large frozen pond. A large house, Georgian style in red brick, stood at the side of the pond. Its porch light illuminated the area, and several ground floor windows and a garret window on the third floor showed light from inside. There was a small, ancient stone house on the far side of the pond. It had a faint glow in one small window and a slender swirl of smoke rose lazily into the still, night air from the stone chimney. Sondra Childerhouse followed the smooth, snow-covered driveway to the front steps of the large house.