This feature story in Vanity Fair is better than a Dan Brown book (OK, not so hard, but he does sell a lot of ’em): it features the aristocratic de Védrines family who are persuaded they hold the key to great treasure and are targets of a Masonic plot, and so turn over their lives, fortune, and ancestral château to a shadowy “grand master.” Then came captivity and torture—and a bizarre escape!
Far, far down the High Street, long past where Oxford’s golden spires give way to neon strip malls, you come to a dense residential zone of tidy town houses, row upon row. In one of these, in a small room, a woman sits immobile in a chair.
She has been held prisoner in this room for days. Eight? Ten? Hard to keep track, when they won’t let you sleep. In shifts, day and night, her captors take turns berating her:
We know you know the number.
You have to tell us.
Why won’t you tell us?
The woman is 58 years old. Not long ago she was the mistress of a château near Bordeaux—elegant, soignée, an aristocrat. Now she is fed a single meal each day. She is not allowed to bathe or use the bathroom. She is drugged, and sometimes she is beaten.
The captors include members of her own family. They say she knows the number because she is The One—the possessor of knowledge that will free her and the rest of them to fulfill their destiny. They want the number of a bank account in Brussels that will lead them to a secret that will save the world. They were selected for this mission by a global network of secretive grandees, whose head, named Jacques Gonzalez, is said to be a cousin of the Spanish king Juan Carlos, and reputed to be more powerful than the presidents of France, Russia, and the United States.
The woman believes all this, just as her captors do, which makes her inability to recall the number that much more awful. But she cannot. Finally, terrified and broken, she blurts something out—makes it up. A string of numbers. That’s it. That is the account...
[continues in in Vanity Fair]