It is a warm summer evening, and by the light of a full white
moon, I, John Whitman Sutter, am watching my wife, Susan Stanhope
Sutter, as she rides her horse Zanzibar across the quiet acres of
Stanhope Hall, her ancestral estate.
The rising moon is eerily bright, and it illuminates the
landscape with an unearthly glow, which transforms all color into
silvery shades of blue and white.
Susan passes through a line of tall pines and enters a
neighboring estate called Alhambra, and I wonder why she has
trespassed on this property, and I hope she has gotten permission
from Alhambra’s new owner, a Mafia don named Frank
Majestic trees cast long moon shadows over the grassy fields,
and in the distance I can see the huge stucco villa which is dark,
except for a light from the closed glass doors of a second-story
balcony. That balcony, I know, leads to the library where Frank
Bellarosa sits in his leather armchair.
Susan draws near to the house, then dismounts and tethers
Zanzibar to a tree. She walks to the edge of a long marble
reflecting pool set in a classical garden of mock Roman
At the far end of the pool is a statue of Neptune, holding aloft
his trident, and at his feet, stone fish spout water from their
gaping mouths into a large alabaster seashell, which overflows into
At the opposite end of the pool, closest to me, is a statue of
the Virgin Mary, which is new, and which I know was put there by
Bellarosa's wife as a counterbalance to the half-naked pagan
A soft, balmy breeze moves the cypress trees, and night birds
begin their song. It is a beautiful evening, and Susan seems
entranced by the moonlight and the enchanted garden. I, too, am
mesmerized by this magical evening.
As I turn my attention back to Susan, she begins to take off her
clothes, and she drapes each piece over the statue of the Virgin,
which surprises and bothers me.
Susan moves to the edge of the pool, her red hair billowing in
the breeze, and she is gazing down at her naked reflection in the
I want to take off my clothes and join her, but I notice that
the light from the library has gone out, and the doors of the
balcony are now open, though no one is there, and this gives me an
uneasy feeling, so I stay where I am in the shadows.
Then I see a man silhouetted against the white walls of
Alhambra, and he is moving in long, powerful strides toward the
pool. As he comes closer, I see that it is Bellarosa, and he is
wearing a black robe. He is now standing beside Neptune, and his
face looks unnatural in the moonlight. I want to call out to Susan,
but I can't.
Susan does not seem to see him, and she continues to stare down
at her reflection, but Bellarosa’s stare is fixed on Susan. I
am incensed that this man is looking at my wife's naked body.
This scene stays frozen, Susan and Frank as motionless as the
statues beside them, and I, too, am frozen, powerless to intervene,
though I need to protect Susan.
Then I see that she has become aware of Bellarosa's presence,
but she does not react. I don't understand this; she should not be
standing naked in front of this man. I'm angry at her, and at him,
and a stream of rage races through my mind, but I can't put this
rage into words or sounds.
As I stare at Susan, she turns her back to the pool, and to
Bellarosa, and I think she is going to leave. Then, she turns her
head in my direction, as though she's heard a sound. I make a move
toward her, but suddenly she lifts her arms and springs backward
into the pool, and in long, powerful strides, she moves naked
through the moonlit water toward Frank Bellarosa. I look at him,
and I see that he is now naked, standing with his arms folded
across his chest. He is a large, powerfully-built man, and in the
moonlight he appears as imposing and menacing as the naked stone
god beside him.
I want to shout out to Susan, to warn her to come back, but
something tells me to stay silent – to see what happens.
Susan reaches the far end of the pool and lifts herself into the
water-filled seashell, where she stands near the towering statue of
Neptune. She is looking up at Bellarosa, who has not moved from the
edge of the pool, except to turn his face toward her.
They stare at each other, unnaturally motionless, then Bellarosa
steps into the shallow water of the seashell where he stands in
front of Susan.
They are speaking, but all I can hear is the rushing sound of
the spouting water. I am enraged at this scene, but I still can't
believe that Susan wants to be there, and I wait for her to dive
back into the pool and swim away from him. Yet, the longer she
remains standing naked in front of him, the more I realize that she
has come here to meet him.
As I let go of any hope that Susan will dive back into the pool
and swim away, she kneels into the shallow water, then moves her
face into Bellarosa's groin and takes him into her mouth. Her hands
grasp his buttocks and pull him closer to her face.
I close my eyes, and when I open them again, Susan is lying on
her back in the scalloped seashell, her legs are spread wide and
they dangle over the edge of the waterfall, and Bellarosa is now
standing in the reflecting pool, and he buries his face between her
thighs. Then, suddenly, he pulls Susan’s legs up so they rest
on his shoulders, and he seems to rise out of the water as he
enters her with a powerful thrust that forces a deep cry from her
lips. He continues his rough thrusts into her until she screams so
loudly it startles me.
"Mr. Sutter! Mr. Sutter! Sir, we are descending. Please fasten
"We're descending,” a female voice said. “You need
to fasten your seatbelt and put your seat in the full upright
"Oh…" I adjusted my seat and fastened my seatbelt,
noticing that Little John was also in the full upright position. My
goodness. That's embarrassing. What brought that on…? Then, I
remembered my dream…
I never asked Susan how, when, and where she began her affair
with Frank Bellarosa – this is not the sort of information
one needs to hear in any detail – but it was something that
remained missing from what I did know. So, my shrink, if I had one,
would say that my dream was an unconscious attempt to fill in this
lacuna – the missing piece of the affair. Not that it
mattered a decade after I divorced her. In legal terms, I charged
adultery, and she admitted to it. The state did not require any
juicy details or explicit testimony, so neither should I.
The British Airways flight from London to New York crossed over
the Long Island Sound, descending toward John F. Kennedy
International Airport. It was a sunny day, a little after 4:00
p.m., Monday, May 27, and I remembered that today was Memorial Day
in America. Below, on the North Shore of Long Island, I could see a
place called the Gold Coast, where I used to live, ten years ago.
Probably, if I looked hard enough, I could see the large
neighboring estates called Stanhope Hall, and what was once
I now live in London, and the purpose of my return to America is
to see an old lady who is dying, or who may well have died during
my seven-hour flight. If so, I’d be in time for the funeral,
where I’d see Susan Stanhope Sutter.
The presence of death in the coffin should compel us into some
profound thoughts about the shortness of life, and make us rethink
our many disappointments, resentments, and betrayals that we
can’t seem to let go of. Unfortunately, however, we usually
take these things to the grave with us, or to the grave of the
person we couldn’t forgive in life.
But now and then, we do find it in our hearts to forgive, and it
costs nothing to do that, except some loss of pride. And maybe that
was the problem.
I was sitting on the starboard side of the business class cabin,
and all heads were turned toward the windows, focused on the
skyline of Manhattan. It's truly an awesome sight from three or
four thousand feet, but as of about nine months ago, the main
attraction for people who knew the city was the missing part of the
skyline. The last time I'd flown into New York, a few weeks after
9/11, the smoke was still rising from the rubble. This time, I
didn't want to look, but the man next to me said, "That's where the
Towers were. To the left." He pointed in front of my face.
I replied, "I know," and picked up a magazine. Most of the
people I still knew here in New York have told me that 9/11 made
them rethink their lives and put things into perspective.
That’s a good plan for the future, but it doesn’t
change the past.
The British Airways flight began its final descent into Kennedy,
and a few minutes later we touched down.
The man next to me said, “It’s good to be
home.” He asked, “Is this home for you?”
Soon, I'd be in a rental car on my way back to the place I once
called home, but which was now a place that time had partly eroded
from my mind, washing away too many of the good memories and
leaving behind the hard, jagged edges of the aforementioned
disappointments, resentments, and betrayals.
The aircraft decelerated, then rolled out onto the taxiway
toward the terminal.
Now that I was here, and would remain here until the funeral,
perhaps I should use the time to try to reconcile the past with the
present – then maybe I’d have better dreams on my
Excerpted from THE GATE HOUSE © Copyright 2011 by Nelson
DeMille. Reprinted with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All