Jeremy Marsh sat with the rest of the live studio audience, feeling
unusually conspicuous. He was one of only half a dozen men in attendance
on that mid-December afternoon. He'd dressed in black, of course, and
with his dark wavy hair, light blue eyes, and fashionable stubble, he
looked every bit the New Yorker that he was. While studying the guest
onstage, he managed to surreptitiously watch the attractive blonde three
rows up. His profession often demanded effective multitasking. He was an
investigative journalist in pursuit of a story, and the blonde was just
another member of the audience; still, the professional observer in him
couldn't help noticing how attractive she looked in her halter top and
jeans. Journalistically speaking, that is.
Clearing his mind, he tried to focus his attention on the guest again.
This guy was beyond ridiculous. In the glare of television lights,
Jeremy thought the spirit guide looked constipated as he claimed to hear
voices from beyond the grave. He had assumed a false intimacy, acting as
if he were everyone's brother or best friend, and it seemed that the
vast majority of the awestruck audience-including the attractive blonde
and the woman the guest was addressing-considered him a gift from heaven
itself. Which made sense, Jeremy thought, since that was always where
the lost loved ones ended up. Spirits from beyond the grave were always
surrounded by bright angelic light and enveloped in an aura of peace and
tranquillity. Never once had Jeremy heard of a spirit guide channeling
from the other, hotter place. A lost loved one never mentioned that he
was being roasted on a spit or boiled in a cauldron of motor oil, for
instance. But Jeremy knew he was being cynical. And besides, he had to
admit, it was a pretty good show. Timothy Clausen was good-far better
than most of the quacks Jeremy had written about over the years.
"I know it's hard," Clausen said into the microphone, "but Frank is
telling you that it's time to let him go now."
The woman he was addressing with oh-so-much empathy looked as if she was
about to faint. Fiftyish, she wore a green-striped blouse, her curly red
hair sprouting and spiraling in every direction. Her hands were clasped
so tightly at chest level that her fingers were white from the pressure.
Clausen paused and brought his hand to his forehead, drawing once more
on "the world beyond," as he put it. In the silence, the crowd
collectively leaned forward in their seats. Everyone knew what was
coming next; this was the third audience member Clausen had chosen
today. Not surprisingly, Clausen was the only featured guest on the
popular talk show.
"Do you remember the letter he sent you?" Clausen asked. "Before he
The woman gasped. The crewman beside her held the microphone even closer
so that everyone watching on television would be able to hear her
"Yes, but how could you know about-?" she stammered.
Clausen didn't let her finish. "Do you remember what it said?" he asked.
"Yes," the woman croaked.
Clausen nodded, as if he'd read the letter himself. "It was about
forgiveness, wasn't it?"
On the couch, the hostess of the show, the most popular afternoon talk
show in America, swiveled her gaze from Clausen to the woman and back
again. She looked both amazed and satisfied. Spirit guides were always
good for ratings.
As the woman in the audience nodded, Jeremy noticed mascara beginning to
stream down her cheeks. The cameras zoomed in to show it more clearly.
Daytime television at its dramatic best.
"But how could you ...?" the woman repeated.
"He was talking about your sister, too," Clausen murmured. "Not just
The woman stared at Clausen transfixed.
"Your sister Ellen," Clausen added, and with that revelation, the woman
finally let loose a raspy cry. Tears burst forth like an automated
sprinkler. Clausen-tan and trim in his black suit with nary a hair out
of place-continued to nod like one of those bobbing dogs you stick on
your dashboard. The audience gazed at the woman in utter silence.
"Frank left something else for you, didn't he? Something from your
In spite of the hot studio lights, the woman actually seemed to pale. In
the corner of the set, beyond the general viewing area, Jeremy saw the
producer rotating an upraised finger in a helicopter pattern. It was
getting close to the commercial break. Clausen glanced almost
imperceptibly in that direction. No one but Jeremy seemed to notice, and
he often wondered why viewers never questioned how channeling from the
spirit world could be timed so perfectly to fit with commercial breaks.
Clausen went on. "That no one else could know about. A key of some sort,
is that right?"
The sobs continued as the woman nodded.
"You never thought he'd save it, did you?"
Okay, here's the clincher, Jeremy thought. Another true believer on the
"It's from the hotel where you stayed on your honeymoon. He put it there
so that when you found it, you would remember the happy times you spent
together. He doesn't want you to remember him with pain, because he
"Ooohhhhhhh ...," the woman cried.
Or something like that. A moan perhaps. From where he was sitting Jeremy
couldn't be certain, because the cry was interrupted by sudden,
enthusiastic applause. All at once, the microphone was pulled away.
Cameras zoomed out. Her moment in the sun completed, the woman from the
audience collapsed in her seat. On cue, the hostess stood from the couch
and faced the camera.
"Remember that what you're seeing is real. None of these people have
ever met with Timothy Clausen." She smiled. "We'll be back with one more
reading after this."
More applause as the show broke for commercials, and Jeremy leaned back
in his seat.
As an investigative journalist known for his interest in science, he'd
made a career out of writing about people like this. Most of the time,
he enjoyed what he did and took pride in his work as a valuable public
service, in a profession so special as to have its rights enumerated in
the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.
For his regular column in Scientific American, he'd interviewed
Nobel laureates, explained the theories of Stephen Hawking and Einstein
in lay terms, and had once been credited with sparking the groundswell
of public opinion that led the FDA to remove a dangerous antidepressant
from the market. He'd written extensively about the Cassini project, the
faulty mirror on the lens of the Hubble spacecraft, and had been one of
the first to publicly decry the Utah cold fusion experiment as a fraud.
Unfortunately, as impressive as it sounded, his column didn't pay much.
It was the freelance work that paid most of his bills, and like all
freelancers, he was always hustling to come up with stories that would
interest magazine or newspaper editors. His niche had broadened to
include "anything unusual," and in the past fifteen years, he'd
researched and investigated psychics, spirit guides, faith healers, and
mediums. He'd exposed frauds, hoaxes, and forgeries. He'd visited
haunted houses, searched for mystical creatures, and hunted for the
origins of urban legends. Skeptical by nature, he also had the rare
ability to explain difficult scientific concepts in a way the average
reader could understand, and his articles had appeared in hundreds of
newspapers and magazines around the world. Scientific debunking, he
felt, was both noble and important, even if the public didn't always
appreciate it. Frequently, the mail he received after publishing his
freelance articles was peppered with words like "idiot," "moron," and
his personal favorite, "government flunky."
Investigative journalism, he'd come to learn, was a thankless business.
Reflecting on this with a frown, he observed the audience chatting
eagerly, wondering who would be chosen next. Jeremy stole another glance
at the blonde, who was examining her lipstick in a hand mirror.
Jeremy already knew that the people chosen by Clausen weren't officially
part of the act, even though Clausen's appearance was announced in
advance and people had fought wildly for tickets to the show. Which
meant, of course, that the audience was loaded with life-after-death
believers. To them, Clausen was legitimate. How else could he know such
personal things about strangers, unless he talked to spirits? But like
any good magician who had his repertoire down pat, the illusion was
still an illusion, and right before the show, Jeremy not only had
figured out how he was pulling it off, but had the photographic evidence
to prove it.
Bringing down Clausen would be Jeremy's biggest coup to date, and it
served the guy right. Clausen was the worst kind of con man. And yet the
pragmatic side of Jeremy also realized that this was the kind of story
that rarely came along, and he wanted to make the most of it. Clausen,
after all, was on the cusp of enormous celebrity, and in America,
celebrity was all that mattered. Though he knew the odds were utterly
improbable, he fantasized about what would happen if Clausen actually
picked him next. He didn't expect it; being chosen was akin to
winning the trifecta at Santa Anita; and even if it didn't happen,
Jeremy knew he'd still have a quality story. But quality and
extraordinary were often separated by simple twists of fate, and as the
commercial break ended, he felt the slightest twinge of unjustified hope
that somehow Clausen would zero in on him.
And, as if God himself wasn't exactly thrilled with what Clausen was
doing, either, that was exactly what happened.
Three weeks later, winter in Manhattan was bearing down hard. A front
from Canada had moved in, dropping temperatures to nearly zero, and
plumes of steam rose steadily from the sewer grates before settling over
the icy sidewalks. Not that anyone seemed to mind. New York's hardy
citizens displayed their usual indifference to all things
weather-related, and Friday nights were not to be wasted under any
circumstance. People worked too hard during the week to waste an evening
out, especially when there was reason to celebrate. Nate Johnson and
Alvin Bernstein had already been celebrating for an hour, as had a
couple of dozen friends and journalists-some from Scientific
American-who'd assembled in Jeremy's honor. Most were well into the
buzz phase of the evening and enjoying themselves immensely, mostly
because journalists tended to be budget-conscious and Nate was picking
up the tab.
Nate was Jeremy's agent. Alvin, a freelance cameraman, was Jeremy's best
friend, and they'd gathered at the trendy bar on the Upper West Side to
celebrate Jeremy's appearance on ABC's Primetime Live.
Commercials for Primetime Live had been airing that week-most of
them featuring Jeremy front and center and the promise of a major
expose-and interview requests were pouring into Nate's office from
around the country. Earlier that afternoon, People magazine had
called, and an interview was scheduled for the following Monday morning.
There hadn't been enough time to organize a private room for the
get-together, but no one seemed to mind. With its long granite bar and
dramatic lighting, the packed facility was yuppieville. While the
journalists from Scientific American tended to wear tweed sport
jackets with pocket protectors and were crowded into one corner of the
room discussing photons, most of the other patrons looked as if they'd
dropped by after finishing up at work on Wall Street or Madison Avenue:
Italian suit jackets slung over the backs of chairs, Hermes ties
loosened, men who seemed to want to do nothing more than to scope out
the women in attendance while flashing their Rolexes. Women straight
from work in publishing and advertising were dressed in designer skirts
and impossibly high heels, sipping flavored martinis while pretending to
ignore the men. Jeremy himself had his eye on a tall redhead standing at
the other end of the bar who appeared to be glancing his way. He
wondered if she recognized him from the television ads, or whether she
just wanted some company. She turned away, apparently uninterested, but
then looked his way again. With her gaze lingering just a little longer
this time, Jeremy raised his glass.
"C'mon, Jeremy, pay attention," Nate said, nudging him with his elbow.
"You're on TV! Don't you want to see how you did?"
Jeremy turned from the redhead. Glancing up at the screen, he saw
himself sitting opposite Diane Sawyer. Strange, he thought, like being
in two places at once. It still didn't seem quite real. Nothing in the
past three weeks had seemed real, despite his years in media.
On-screen, Diane was describing him as "America's most esteemed
scientific journalist." Not only had the story turned out to be
everything he'd wanted, but Nate was even talking to Primetime
Live about Jeremy doing regular stories for them with a
possibility of additional features on Good Morning America.
Though many journalists believed television was less important than
other, more serious forms of reporting, it didn't stop most of them from
secretly viewing television as the Holy Grail, by which they meant big
money. Despite the congratulations, envy was in the air, a sensation as
foreign to Jeremy as space travel. After all, journalists of his stripe
weren't exactly at the top of the media pecking order-until today.
"Did she just call you esteemed?" Alvin asked. "You write about Bigfoot
and the legend of Atlantis!"
"Shh," Nate said, his eyes glued to the television. "I'm trying to hear
this. It could be important for Jeremy's career." As Jeremy's agent,
Nate was forever promoting events that "could be important for Jeremy's
career," for the simple reason that freelancing wasn't all that
lucrative. Years earlier, when Nate was starting out, Jeremy had pitched
a book proposal, and they'd been working together ever since, simply
because they'd become friends.
"Whatever," Alvin said, dismissing the scolding.
Meanwhile, flickering on the screen behind Diane Sawyer and Jeremy were
the final moments of Jeremy's performance on the daytime television
show, in which Jeremy had pretended to be a man grieving the boyhood
death of his brother, a boy Clausen claimed to be channeling for
"He's with me," Clausen could be heard announcing. "He wants you to let
him go, Thad." The picture shifted to capture Jeremy's rendition of an
anguished guest, his face contorted. Clausen nodded in the background,
either oozing sympathy or looking constipated, depending on the
"Your mother never changed his room-the room you shared with him. She
insisted that it be kept unchanged, and you still had to sleep there,"
Clausen went on.
"Yes," Jeremy gasped.
"But you were frightened in there, and in your anger, you took something
of his, something very personal, and buried it in the backyard."
"Yes," Jeremy managed again, as if too emotional to say more.
"Ooooohhhhhhhhh," Jeremy cried, bringing his hands to his face.
"He loves you, but you have to realize that he's at peace now. He has no
anger toward you ..."
"Ooooohhhhhhh!" Jeremy wailed again, contorting his face even more.
In the bar, Nate watched the clips in silent concentration. Alvin, on
the other hand, was laughing as he raised his beer high.
"Give that man an Oscar!" he shouted.
"It was rather impressive, wasn't it?" Jeremy said, grinning.
"I mean it, you two," Nate said, not hiding his irritation. "Talk during
"Whatever," Alvin said again. "Whatever" had always been Alvin's
Excerpted from "True Believer" by Nicholas Sparks. Copyright © 2007 by Nicholas Sparks. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.