Along came a spider, p.10
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       Along Came a Spider, p.10
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         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  He was trying to be humorous. He didn’t care whether I reacted or not. He seemed like a man who’d been desperately down and out, but he had been given a last chance at some money. The dirtiest money in the world.

  There was a narrow landing strip on the beach. The hard-packed sand ran for several hundred yards. The plane was set down easily and expertly. The pilot made a quick U-turn, then taxied straight for a stand of palm trees. It seemed like part of a plan. Every detail in its place. Perfect so far.

  The was no quaint island shack here. No small reception area that I could make out. The hills beyond the beach were lush and thick with tropical vegetation.

  There was no sign of anybody, anywhere. No Maggie Rose Dunne. No Soneji.

  “Is the girl here?” I asked him.

  “Good question,” he answered. “Let’s wait and see. I’ll take first lookout.”

  He shut off the engine, and we waited in silence and suffocating heat. No more answers to my questions, anyway. I wanted to rip out the armrest and beat him with it. I’d been gritting my teeth so hard I had a headache.

  He kept his eyes pinned on the cloudless sky over the landing strip. He watched through the windshield for several minutes. I was having trouble breathing in the heat.

  Is the little girl here? Is Maggie Rose alive? Damn you!

  Bugs landed continually on the tinted glass. A pelican swooped by a couple of times. It was a lonely-looking place. Nothing else was happening.

  It got hotter, unbearably so. Hot the way a car gets when it’s left in the sun. The pilot didn’t seem to feel it. He was evidently used to this kind of weather.

  The minutes stretched on to an hour. Then two hours. I was drenched in sweat and dying of thirst. I tried not to think about the heat, but that wasn’t possible. I kept thinking that the FBI must be watching us from the air. Mexican standoff. What was going to break it?

  “Is Maggie Rose Dunne here?” I asked him a few more times. The longer this went on, the more I was afraid for her.

  No answer. No indication that he had even heard me. He never checked his watch. He didn’t move around, didn’t fidget. Was he in some kind of trance? What was this guy?

  I stared for long stretches at the armrest he’d cuffed me to. I thought it was as close to a mistake as they’d made yet. It was old, rattled when I tested it. I might be able to rip it out of its socket. If it came to that, I knew I was in trouble. But I had to try. It was the only solution.

  Then, as abruptly and unexpectedly as we had landed, the Cessna rolled back out toward the beach runway. We took off again.

  We were flying low, under a thousand feet. Cool air came into the plane. The roar of the propeller was growing hypnotic for me.

  It was getting dark. I watched the sun do its nightly disappearing act, slipping completely off the horizon that lay before us. The view was beautiful, and eerie, under the circumstances. I knew what he’d been waiting for now. Nightfall. He wanted to work by night. Soneji liked the night.

  About half an hour after dark, the plane began to descend again. There were twinkling specks and spots of light below us—what looked like a small town from the air. This was it. This was showdown time. The exchange for Maggie Rose was about to happen.

  “Don’t ask. Because I’m not telling you,” he said without turning from the controls.

  “Now why doesn’t that surprise me?” I said. Trying to make it look like I was shifting positions in the seat, I gave the armrest a yank and felt something give. I was afraid to do more damage.

  The landing strip and the airfield were small, but at least there was one. I could see two other planes near an unpainted shack. The pilot never attempted radio contact with anyone on the ground. My heart was racing.

  An old-fashioned Flying A sign balanced precariously on the building’s roof. No sign of anyone as we bumped to a stop. No Gary Soneji. No Maggie Rose. Not yet, anyway.

  Someone left a light out, I thought to myself. Now, where the hell are they?

  “Is this where we’re making the exchange for Maggie Rose?” I went at the armrest again. Another yank with most of my strength behind it.

  The contact man got up from his seat. He squeezed past me. He started to climb out of the plane. He was holding the suitcase with the ten million.

  “Good-bye, Detective Cross,” he turned and said. “Sorry, but I have to run. Don’t bother searching the area later. The girl isn’t here. Not even close to here. We’re back in the states, by the way. You’re in South Carolina now.”

  “Where is the girl?” I yelled after him, straining at the handcuffs attached to the armrest. Where was the FBI? How far behind us were they?

  I had to do something. I had to act now. I stood up to get some leverage, then pulled with all my weight and strength at the small plane’s armrest. I yanked the armrest again and again. The plastic and metal piece ripped halfway out of the seat. I kept at it. The other half of the armrest broke off with a ripping noise like a deep and painful tooth extraction.

  Two running strides and I was at the plane’s open doorway. The contact man was already down on the ground, getting away with the suitcase. I dived at him. I needed to slow him until the Bureau got there. I also wanted to flatten the bastard, show him who was doing the controlling now.

  I hit the contact man like a hawk striking a field rat. We both struck the tarmac hard, woofing out air. The armrest still dangled from my handcuffs. Metal raked across his face and drew blood. I belted him once with my free arm.

  “Where is Maggie Rose? Where is she?” I shouted at the top of my lungs.

  To my left, over the shiny darkness of the sea, I could see lights floating toward us, approaching fast. It had to be the Bureau. Their surveillance planes were coming to the rescue. They had managed to follow us.

  Just then I was hit on the back of my neck. It felt like a lead pipe. I didn’t go out immediately. Soneji? a voice inside me screamed. A second hard blow cracked the back of my skull, the tender part. This time, I went down for the count. I never saw who was doing the swinging, or what he had used.

  When I came to, the small airfield in South Carolina was a raft of dazzling lights and activity. The FBI was there in full force. So were the local Carolina police. EMS ambulances and fire engines were everywhere.

  The contact man was gone, though. So was the ten-million-dollar ransom. He’d made a clean getaway. Perfect planning on Soneji’s part. Another perfect move.

  “The little girl? Maggie Rose?” I asked a balding emergency doctor tending to the wounds on my head.

  “No sir,” he said in a slow drawl. “The little girl is still missing. Maggie Rose Dunne was never seen around here.”

  CHAPTER 25

  CRISFIELD, MARYLAND, lay under gloomy, elephant gray skies. It had been raining on and off for most of the day. A lone police car raced along rain-slicked country roads with its siren screaming.

  Inside the car were Artie Marshall and Chester Dils. Dils was twenty-six, which made him exactly twenty years younger than Marshall. Like many young, rural policemen, he had dreams of getting out of the area—the same kind of hopes and dreams he’d had while attending Wilde Lake High School in Columbia.

  But here he was, still in Crisfield. Twin Peaks II, he liked to call the town of under three thousand.

  Dils almost physically ached to become a Maryland state trooper. It was tricky sledding because of the demanding trooper exams, especially the math. But becoming a trooper would get him the hell out of Somerset County. Maybe as far away as Salisbury or Chestertown.

  Neither Dils nor especially mild-mannered Artie Marshall was ready for the exposure and the quicksilver reputations they were about to get. Just like that on the afternoon of the thirtieth of December. A telephone call had come into their station house on Old Hurley Road. A couple of hunters had spotted something that looked suspicious over in West Crisfield, on the way to the camping ground on Tangier Island. The hunters had found an abandoned vehicle. A blue Chevy minivan.
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  For the past several days, anything and everything vaguely suspicious immediately got associated with the big Washington kidnapping. That pattern had gotten old real fast. Dils and Marshall were ordered to check it out, anyway. A blue minivan had been used to take the kids from the school.

  The afternoon was dying when they arrived at the farm out on Route 413. It was even a little spooky heading down the badly rutted dirt road onto the property.

  “Old farm or something back here?” Dils asked his partner. Dils was behind the wheel. Doing about fifteen on the muddy, rutted road. Artie Marshall preferred to ride shotgun, sans the shotgun.

  “Yeah. Nobody lives here now, though. I doubt this’ll amount to anything monumental, Chesty.”

  “That’s the beauty of The Job,” Chester Dils said. “You never know. Monumental is always out there somewhere.” He had a short-standing habit of making everything a little more glamorous than it actually was. He had his dream and all his big ideas, but Artie Marshall thought of them more as the immaturity of a younger man.

  They arrived at the dilapidated barn that the hunters had mentioned in their call to the station. “Let’s go for a look-see,” Marshall said, trying to match the younger officer’s enthusiasm.

  Chester Dils hopped out of the squad car. Artie Marshall followed, though not at the same sprightly pace. They approached a badly faded red barn, a low building that looked as if it had sunk a couple of feet into the ground since its heyday. The hunters had stopped at the barn to get out of the rainstorm earlier that afternoon. Then they had called the police.

  The barn was fairly dark and gloomy inside. The windows had been covered over with cheesecloth. Artie Marshall turned on his flashlight.

  “Let’s have a little light on the subject,” he muttered. Then, he bellowed, “Bingo fucking Jesus!”

  There it was, all right. A big sinkhole in the middle of the dirt floor. A dark blue van parked next to the hole.

  “Son-of-a-B, Artie!”

  Chester Dils pulled out his service revolver. Suddenly, he was having trouble getting his breath. He was having trouble just standing there. In all honesty, he did not want to go up to the big hole in the ground. He did not want to be inside the old barn anymore. Maybe he wasn’t ready for the troopers after all.

  “Who’s here?” Artie Marshall called out in a loud, clear voice. “Come out, right now. We’re the police! This is the Crisfield police.”

  Christ, Artie was doing better than he was, Dils thought. The man was rising to the occasion. That got Chester Dils’s feet and legs moving, anyway. He was heading farther inside the barn—to see if this was what he prayed to Almighty God it wasn’t.

  “Point that lamp right down in there,” he said to his partner in crime-solving. They had come up right alongside the hole in the ground. He could barely breathe now. His chest felt as if it were constricted by a tourniquet. His knees were knocking against each other.

  “You okay, Artie?” he asked his partner.

  Marshall beamed the flashlight down into the dark, deep hole. They saw what the hunters had already seen. There was a small box… almost a casket, in the sinkhole. The wooden case, or casket, was wide open. And it was empty.

  “What the hell is that thing?” Dils heard himself asking.

  Artie Marshall bent down closer. He aimed the flashlight beam directly into the hole. Instinctively, he looked around. He checked his back. Then his attention went to the black hole again.

  Something was down at the bottom of the hole. Something that looked bright pink, or red.

  Marshall’s mind was racing. It’s a shoe… Christ, it must be the little girl’s. This must be where they kept Maggie Rose Dunne.

  “This is where they kept those two kids,” he finally spoke to his partner. “We found it, Chesty.”

  And they had.

  Along with one of Maggie Rose’s pretty-in-pink sneakers. The old trusty-dusty Reebok sneakers, that were supposed to help her blend in with the other kids at Washington Day School. The really weird part was that the sneaker looked as if it had been left there to be found.

  PART TWO

  THE SON OF LINDBERGH

  CHAPTER 26

  WHEN GARY WAS VERY UPSET, he retreated into his beloved boyhood stories and powerful fantasies. He was very upset now. His master plan seemed to be racing out of control. He didn’t even want to think about it.

  Speaking in a whisper, he repeated the magical words from memory. “The Lindbergh farmhouse glowed with bright orangish lights. It looked like a fiery castle…. But now, the taking of Maggie Rose is the Crime of the Century. It simply is!”

  He’d had a fantasy about committing the Lindbergh kidnapping as a boy. Gary had even committed it to memory.

  That was the beginning of everything: a story he had made up when he was twelve years old. A story he told himself over and over to keep from going insane. A daydream about a crime committed twenty-five years before he was born.

  It was pitch-black in the basement of his house now. He had gotten used to the dark. It was livable. It could even be great.

  It was 6:15 P.M., a Wednesday, January 6, in Wilmington, Delaware.

  Gary was letting his mind wander now, letting his mind fly. He was able to visualize every intimate detail of Lucky Lindy and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s farmhouse in Hopewell. He’d been obsessed with the world famous kidnapping for so long. Ever since his stepmother had arrived with her two spoiled bastard kids. Ever since he was first sent down to the cellar. “Where bad boys go to think about what they did wrong.”

  He knew more than anyone alive about the thirties kidnapping. Baby Lindbergh had eventually been dredged up from a shallow grave only four miles from the New Jersey estate. Ah, but was it really Baby Lindbergh? The corpse they’d found had been too tall—thirty-three inches, to only twenty-nine for Charles Jr.

  No one understood the sensational, unsolved kidnapping. To this day. And that was the way it would be with Maggie Rose Dunne and Michael Goldberg.

  No one was ever going to figure it out. That was a definite promise.

  No one had figured out any of the other murders he’d done, had they? They got John Wayne Gacy, Jr., after over thirty murders in Chitown. Jeffrey Dahmer went down after seventeen in Milwaukee. Gary had murdered more than both of them put together. But no one knew who he was, or where he was, or what he planned to do next.

  It was dark down in his cellar, but Gary was used to it. “The cellar is an acquired taste,” he’d once told his stepmother to make her angry. The cellar was like your mind would be after you died. It could be exquisite, if you had a really great mind. Which he certainly did.

  Gary was thinking about his plan of action, and the thought was simple: they hadn’t really seen anything yet.

  They better not blink.

  Upstairs in the house, Missy Murphy was trying her best not to be too angry at Gary. She was making cookies for their daughter, Roni, and the other neighborhood kids. Missy was really trying to be understanding and supportive. One more time.

  She had been trying not to think of Gary. Usually when she baked, it worked. This time it didn’t. Gary was incorrigible. He was also lovable, sweet, and bright as a thousand-watt bulb. That was why she had been attracted to him in the first place.

  She’d met him at a University of Delaware mixer. Gary had been slumming at Delaware. He’d come down there from Princeton. She’d never talked to anyone so smart in her life; not even her professors at school were as smart as Gary.

  The really endearing part of him was why she had married him in 1982. Against the advice of everybody. Her best friend, Michelle Lowe, believed in tarot cards, reincarnation, all that stuff. She’d done their horoscopes, Gary’s and hers. “Call it off, Missy,” she’d said. “Don’t you ever look in his eyes?” But Missy had gone ahead with the wedding, gone against everybody’s advice. Maybe that was why she’d stuck with him through thin, and thinner. Thinner than anyone had a right to expect her to put up with. Sometime
s, it was as if there were a couple of Garys to put up with. Gary and his unbelievable mind games.

  Something real bad was coming now, she was thinking as she spilled in a full bag of morsels. Any day now he was going to tell her he’d been fired from his job. The old, awful pattern had started up again.

  Gary had already told her he was “smarter than anybody” at work. (Undoubtedly, this was true.) He’d told her he was “zooming ahead” of everybody. He’d told her his bosses loved him. (This had probably been true in the beginning.) He’d told her they were going to make him a district sales manager soon. (This was definitely one of Gary’s “stories.”) Then, trouble. Gary said his boss was starting to get jealous of him. The hours were impossible. (That was true enough. He was away all week and some weekends.) The danger pattern was in full gear. The sad part was that if he couldn’t make it at this job, with this boss, how could he possibly make it anywhere?

  Missy Murphy was certain that Gary would come home any day now and tell her he’d been asked to leave again. His days as a traveling sales rep for the Atlantic Heating Company were definitely numbered. Where would he find work after that? Who could possibly be more sympathetic than his current boss—her own brother, Marty.

  Why did it have to be so hard all the time? Why was she such an all-day sucker for the Gary Murphys of this world?

  Missy Murphy, wondered if tonight was the night. Had Gary already been fired again? Would he tell her that when he got home from work tonight? How could such a smart man be such an unbelievable loser? she wondered. The first tear fell into the cookie mix, then Missy let the rest of Niagara Falls come. Her whole body began to tremble and heave.

  CHAPTER 27

  I’D NEVER HAD MUCH TROUBLE laughing at my frustrations as a cop or a psychologist. This time it was a lot tougher to take in stride. Soneji had beaten us down South, in Florida and Carolina. We hadn’t gotten Maggie Rose back. We didn’t know if she was alive or dead.

 
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