Adam Farmer tells the story as he pedals his old bike from
Monument, Massachusetts, to visit his dad in Rutterburg, Vermont. He carries a package for his dad.
In the first of a series of taped conversations between Adam
and a man named Brint, Brint asks Adam to remember his earliest memories. The story then turns into a third- person
point of view, Adam describes taking a long, tiring bus trip with his mom and dad in the middle of the night. The
Farmers end up in a different house, where everything felt different.
During his journey, Adam gets directions to Rutterburg from
an old man at a gas station. Adam tells him he will stay at a motel in Belton Falls that he once stayed in with his family,
and he lies that he is visiting his dad in a hospital.
Brint askes Adam about the name Paul Delmonte,
who Adam does not know.
As Adam pedals alongon his journey, he sings the song
"The Farmer in the Dell," which was the Farmer family theme song. Adam's fears are realized and he is confronted by a German
shepherd at the bottom of a hill, but he manages to get by the dog.
Brint asks Adam about the mysterious "clues" he mentioned earlier
in their converstation. Adam said that the dog might be a clue. Adam remembers walking to the library with his dad
when he was younger. His dad suddenly pulled Adam onto a different path through the woods, where him and
his dad and a dog fought. Adam remembers that something was strange about his father in the woods.
Adam tells Brint about his girlfriend, the mischievous,
talkative, but ultimately understanding Amy. He remembers a day Amy called to tell him that, while at her dad's newspaper
office, an editor had dropped in for a visit from Rawlings, Pennsylvania, where Adam had told her his family had moved from.
She said that the editor did not know of a Farmer family. Adam lied to Amy that they only lived in Rawlings for a few months,
but he became more curious about his family's past.
Brint asks Adam if he thinks his father lied to him about
coming from Rawlings, but Adam says no. Adam remembers the one time he investigated further. His father kept documents in
his bottom desk drawer at home, and Adam unlocked it one day while his father was outside. He found his birth certificate
from Rawlings. He also found another certificate in a sealed envelope—for him again, but with the wrong birthday.
tells Brint he thought the second certificate was a mistake. But he remembers spying on his parents and wondering what secret
they seemed to be hiding that made his mother sad and closet herself in her room all day. The only day she was happy was on
Thursdays, when she had her "special" telephone hour at night that Adam was not supposeded to interrupt. Adam often wondered
whom she would be calling, as she had no friends, and they had no living relatives, or thats what his dad had told
him before. One Thursday night, Adam eavesdropped on his mother over another phone call. He overheard an older woman named
Martha asking about her nephew, Adam, and realized that his parents had lied to him.
Resting from his bike ride and eating at a diner in Carver,
Adam is harassed by a teenager, Whipper, and his two buddies. Adam leaves the diner, with his dad's present in his hand. Before
leaving Carver, Adam makes a call to Amy. A man answers and says there is no Amy at there. Adam sees Whipper and his
friends coming, and makes a quick getaway on his bike.
Adam brings up someone called the "gray man" to Brint. He
is not sure who he is, but knows that he is an important clue. Brint brings up Paul Delmonte. Adam asks if he is the gray
man, and says that when he was brought up earlier, he was lying when he told Brint he did not want to talk about Paul.
He actually does not know who Paul is.
Adam pedals outside Carver. A car, driven by Whipper and his friends from the diner,
knocks him into a deep ditch next to the road. A kind old man and his crazy wife help Adam out of the ditch and
give him a lift to a town near Belton Falls.
Adam tells Brint he remembers who the gray man is now. He
was someone his father called Grey, who was always there in their lives, but seemed like he was invisible, which is why Adam
called him the "gray man." Grey came to their house once or twice a month, on Saturdays, to talk with his dad in the
cellar. He remembers one Saturday when he tried to spy on his father and Grey, but the cellar was soundproof. His father, not
to his knowledge, saw him, and later Adam spied on his parents as they discuss Adam's growing suspicions.
With Brint, Adam says that his father told him his real name
was Paul Delmonte that that Adam Farmer was a fake. His father also said that his own real name was Anthony Delmonte,
and that he had been a reporter in the small town of Blount, New York, for the Blount Telegrapher. He was soon promoted, and
later uncovered certain important documents at the State House in Albany which linked officials in the corrupt state and federal
government to organized crime. Anthony testified in Washington, D.C. before a closed Senate committee, and in return he was
promised protection and his identity kept secret. For a year, he hid in hotel rooms and only occasionally visited his guarded
Adam says his father did not tell him everything about the
situation so that Adam would be protected against betrayal if he were questioned. Adam tells Brint that his father finally
returned to his job in Blount, thinking that the whole ordeal was over. After near-fatal brushes with a car bomb and a hired
killer, Anthony realized he was not safe.
Adam tells Brint that Grey was one of the first men behind a new government program
to protect witness who testified against powerful organizations, called the U.S. Department of Re-Identification. Grey's men
had foiled the two murder attempts, and when Louise received a threatening phone call one night, Anthony jumped on the
offer to join the department. Grey relocated them with new names but kept them in the Northeast so they would not stand out.
Grey arranged for the newspaper to report that the family had been killed in a car crash.
Back in his journey, Adam emerges
from a drugstore in Hookset to find his bike had been stolen. He looks for it in a deserted area. He spots a large man with
a Southern accent, Arthur, who is virtually encaged in the second-floor fire escape of a nearby building. Arthur tells him
that Junior Varney took the bike.
Brint pushes for more specific details about Anthony's
trial and testimony, which Adam says his father did not have time to tell him about.
Adam remembers asking his father more about the move. Anthony
explained that it hurt to give up journalism for insurance, but it hurt Louise more because she had grown attached
to Blount. He told him that Grey comes to Monument to update him on developments, ask about any forgotten details about the
case, and bring bonus money. He says that, although the evidence he gave has been used, no one knew if he had divulged all
possible information, which is why he believed Grey checked in for more details, even though he always tells him there is
Brint asks several times about Anthony's information, but
Adam says he never questioned his father, and is taken aback by Brint's aggressive requests. He thinks that Brint may be one
of his father's enemies, but he acknowledges his dependence on Brint for recovering his memory.
In the first person account of Adam's journey, he fights
Junior Varney outside his house, takes his bike back, and rides away.
Adam tells Brint a memory of the time the Farmers had to
leave town for a few days, as one of Grey's men had overheard a conversation on a wiretap in which Monument and the next day's
date were mentioned.
On the bike trip, Adam finally reaches the "Rest-A-While"
motel in Belton Falls, the one he stayed in with his parents last year. It appears closed and deserted. He calls Amy on a
pay phone. Adam is connected to the same man as before, who says he has had the number for three years. A gas station attendant
tells Adam the motel has been closed for a few years.
Adam describes the family's road trip to Brint. They stayed
at the "Rest-A- While" motel, and the next morning headed out to the next town. Thinking a car was following them,
they pulled over to the side of the road as if to admire the view. As the other car passed, Adam's father assured them that
they were Grey's men. They drove on until they reached a breathtaking view, and the Farmers stepped out of the car. Suddenly,
a car came out of nowhere around the curve and crashed into them. Adam was sent flying and his mother was killed instantly.
He heard three voices that said his father got away, but that "they" would get him. Adam saw a tall man in gray pants walk
toward them. The man told the other men to keep Adam, as he may be "useful." Adam was taken by them and fell into a hazy dream.
Brint asks Adam who the man was, but Adam does not respond
Adam reaches Rutterburg, the final destination of his journey.
He turns a corner and sees "the hospital" and meets Dr. Dupont. Adam looks out the gates and vows to ride his bike out there
someday. He and the doctor walk past many of the employees and patients. They enter Adam's room, and Adam asks him if his
father is dead. He fears going to "that other room" where he answers questions. The doctor does not answer, but Adam recognizes
the sad look on the doctor's face that tells him his father is dead every time Adam brings him up.
Adam sings "The Farmer in the Dell" as the doctor opens up
the package and takes out Pokey the Pig, Adam's old stuffed animal. Adam finishes the song, which ends with "The cheese stands
alone." The doctor calls him Paul, and Adam wonders who that is. He knows there is another name, but he cannot think about
it. He knows who he is, he thinks, "I am the cheese."
Brint files his annual report on "File Data 865–01,"
the information Adam's father may have known about, with references to "Subject A" (Adam), "Personnel #2222" (Grey), and "Agency
Basic Procedures." He says it was impossible to elicit the "suspected knowledge" of Adam sought by "Department 1- R." This
is the third annual questioning of Adam, and he continues not to reveal any information given by "Witness #599–6" (Adam's
father). Brint issues three possible advisories for Adam's case. One, that Department 1-R revises a policy that disallows
"termination" (death). Two, that the Department reinstate the suspended Grey, since it is unclear whether Grey allowed the
termination of Adam's parents by "Adversaries," and "only circumstantial evidence" shows that Grey notified them of his Adam's
father's location. The final advisory states that since Adam is the final linkage between Adam's father and File Data 865–01,
Brint recommends that Adam be confined until termination is approved, or until he "obliterates."
The final page of the novel reprints the first paragraph
of the book, where Adam begins his journey to Rutterburg.