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How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

—Plato, The Allegory of the Cave

The Cave Dwellers



The Banks Family

(Cave Dweller family)

Genevieve + David Banks

(husband and wife, deceased)


(daughter, deceased)

The Wallace Family

(Political family)

Betsy + Senator Doug Wallace

(husband and wife)





The Bartholomew/Morrison Family

(Cave Dweller family)

Elizabeth Spencer Morrison

(Meredith’s mother, deceased)

Meredith + Chuck Bartholomew

(husband and wife)

Elizabeth aka Bunny



(Bunny’s cousin, niece of Meredith and Chuck)

The Montgomery Family

(Military family)

Carol + General Edward Montgomery

(husband and wife)

William aka Billy


The Williams Family

(Media family)

Linda + Chris Williams

(husband and wife)




Bunny Bartholomew

(Billy’s girlfriend)

Billy Montgomery

(Bunny’s boyfriend)

Stan Stopinski

(son of the Russian Ambassador—aka “Putin”)

Marty Robinson

(son of Howard University School of Law professors—aka “Smarty Marty”)

Chase Cowan

(son of the director of the CIA and star football quarterback)

Mackenzie Wallace

(daughter of Senator Doug Wallace—aka “New Girl”)

Part One

The names in this book have not been changed so as not to protect them but rather to expose them.


He takes off his jacket and then his mask, lights a match, and dumps kerosene into the limestone fireplace—for ambience.

Dusk in this town is a distraction: broken Metro lines at rush hour, passengers covered in righteous martyrdom riding beneath replicated Parisian circles and monuments of men that smell like piss.

Most burglaries happen in the middle of night: the beeping of alarm systems, the searching for bogeymen in closets. Not on this October day. Above the flooded tunnels where no exits are built, where blue jays fly in the autumn and carved pumpkins grin, a colonial mansion rests on the fringes of Rock Creek Park, a vast and dark wood next to a neighborhood that has no name.

The garage door had been left open, Mr. Banks’s red Ferrari still ticking from the heat of the engine when the unknown man followed him inside. The mailman, just up the sidewalk, had his back turned, a satchel over his right shoulder, earbuds stifling the National Cathedral bells ringing from a tower named for the Christian hymn “Gloria in Excelsis.”

The unknown man places the bottle of kerosene on the mantel next to family photographs with Washington’s Very Important People: ambassadors from European countries, the US secretary of defense, Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, a senator, and members of the Walton family.

Mrs. Banks, the Bankses’ young daughter, Audrey, and the housekeeper have no idea anyone else is in the home. If not for the padded wallpaper the decorator installed weeks earlier to benefit the home theater, they might have heard the whoosh of the firelight, beyond the silence.

The unknown man approaches Mr. Banks first, watching from the shadows of the powder room as he removes his branded cuff links, heated marble below his bare feet, and climbs into gym clothes. He confronts Mr. Banks without a beat in his step, wrestling him to the ground, tying his hands with rope behind his back and then shoving a gag in his mouth, explaining what he wants and what he is going to do to get it.

“Dad?” Audrey yells from her bedroom down the corridor. “You ready?”

She has been looking forward to test-driving the new BMW X5 with her father when he got home from work.

When the unknown man walks into Audrey’s room, she stands staring at him in her St. Peter’s Academy sweatshirt and Kate Spade leggings, confused. They’re both startled by the sudden gust of wind, branches slamming against her windows; then the unknown man lunges for her, grabs her by the face, cheeks bulging between his fingers. He ties her to her favorite chair, the one with little fairy-tale scenes sewn into the fabric, and keeps her mouth ungagged. The walls are too thick—the house is too large for any neighbor to hear the echoes of terror soon gifted to her parents.

Mrs. Banks notices the shriveled petal on her white orchid, French doors open to the loggia behind her as photographs of the family’s Christmas card photo shoot at their château in the south of France slide across her computer screen. She is at her desk scrolling down her contact list, the setting sun creating shadows of wild tree branches climbing the walls, when she hears the first round of Audrey’s primal screams.

In the laundry room, down the basement steps next to Audrey’s playroom, the housekeeper loads bottles of Cakebread Chardonnay into the second refrigerator. She can hear nothing but the tumbling of washer-dryers and the clanking of glass against plastic shelves.

It isn’t known whether or not Mrs. Banks made it into her daughter’s bedroom to see her, touch her, smell her, love her one last time. The only retraceable steps at that hour are those outside of the mansion. The minutes between darkness and light no one ever seems to notice. Where did the light go?

A neighbor swishes through dead leaves walking his French bulldog, inhaling the crisp smell of a distant fire, and thinks: It’s my favorite time of year. A private security car cruises by, as smoke rises from Audrey’s chimney like a misty ghost. The security guard waves to the neighbor, then heads toward the bridge in the deep valley of the park, scanning the woods for female joggers. He stops. Shuts off his headlights. Cracks his window. Waits. Hears the sound of his running engine, the hooting of an owl in a distant tree. Then cruises back up the hill, just missing a young girl riding her bike behind him.



Doug Wallace pants

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