Along came a spider, p.11
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       Along Came a Spider, p.11
 

         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  After I was debriefed for five hours by the Federal Bureau, I was flown up to Washington where I got to answer all the same questions from my own department. One of the last inquisitors was Chief of Detectives Pittman. The Jefe appeared at midnight. He was all showered and shaved for the occasion of our special meeting.

  “You look like absolute hell,” he said to me. Those were the first words out of his mouth.

  “I’ve been up since yesterday morning,” I explained. “I know how I look. Tell me something I don’t already know.”

  I knew that was a mistake before the words got out. I don’t usually lead with my chin, but I was groggy and tired and generally fucked up by that time.

  The Jefe leaned forward on one of the little metal chairs in his conference room. I could see his gold fillings as he spoke to me. “Sure thing, Cross. I have to blow you off the kidnapping case. Right or wrong, the press is pinning a lot of what went haywire on you, and us. The FBI isn’t taking any of the heat. Thomas Dunne’s making a lot of noise, too. Seems fair to me. The ransom’s gone; we don’t have his daughter.”

  “Most of that is pure bullshit,” I told Chief Pittman. “Soneji asked for me to be the contact. Nobody knows why yet. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone, but I did. The FBI blew the surveillance, not me.”

  “Now tell me something I don’t already know,” Pittman came back. “Anyway, you and Sampson can go back on the Sanders and Turner murders. Just the way you wanted it in the first place. I don’t mind if you stay in the background on the kidnapping. That’s all there is to talk about.” The Jefe said his piece, and then he left. Over and out. No discussion of the matter.

  Sampson and I had been put back in our place: Washington Southeast. Everybody had their priorities straight now. The murders of six black people mattered again.

  CHAPTER 28

  TWO DAYS after I returned from South Carolina, I woke to the noise of a crowd gathered outside our house in Southeast.

  From a seemingly safe place, the hollow of my pillow, I heard a buzz of voices. A line was sounding in my head: “Oh no, it’s tomorrow again.”

  I finally opened my eyes. I saw other eyes. Damon and Janelle were staring down at me. They seemed amused that I could be sleeping at a time like this.

  “Is that the TV, kids? All that awful racket I hear?”

  “No, Daddy,” said Damon. “TV’s not on.”

  “No, Daddy,” repeated Janelle. “It’s better than TV.”

  I propped my head up on an elbow. “Well, are you two having a loud party with your friends outside? That it? Is that what I hear out my bedroom window?”

  Serious headshaking came from the two of them. Damon finally smiled, but my little girl remained serious and a little afraid.

  “No, Daddy. We aren’t havin’ a party,” Damon said.

  “Hmmm. Don’t tell me the newspeople and the TV reporters are here again. They were here just a few hours ago. Just last night.”

  Damon stood there with his hands on top of his head. He does that when he’s excited or nervous.

  “Yes, Daddy, it’s the ’porters again.”

  “Piss me off,” I muttered to myself.

  “Piss me off, too,” Damon said with a scowl. He partially understood what was going on.

  A very public lynching! Mine.

  The damn reporters again, the newsies. I rolled over and looked up at the ceiling. I needed to paint again, I saw. It never stops when you own.

  It was now a media “fact” that I had blown the exchange for Maggie Rose Dunne. Someone, maybe the Federal Bureau, maybe George Pittman, had hung me out to dry. Somebody had also leaked the false insider information that my psychological evaluations of Soneji had dictated actions in Miami.

  A national magazine ran the headline D.C. Cop Lost Maggie Rose! Thomas Dunne had said in a TV interview that he held me personally responsible for failing to carry out the release of his daughter in Florida.

  Since then, I’d been the subject of several stories and editorials. Not one of them was particularly positive—or close to being factual.

  If I had screwed up the ransom exchange in any way, I would have taken the criticism. I can take heat okay. But I hadn’t screwed up. I’d put my life on the line in Florida.

  More than ever, I needed to know why Gary Soneji had picked me for the exchange in Florida. Why had I been a part of his plans? Why had I been chosen? Until I found that out, there was no way I was coming off the kidnapping. It didn’t matter what The Jefe said, thought, or did to me.

  “Damon, you march right outside to the front porch,” I told my little boy. “Tell the reporters to beat it. Tell them to take a hike. Tell them to hit the road Jack. Okay?”

  “Yeah. Take a hike, Ike!” Damon said.

  I grinned at Damon, who understood I was making the best of the situation. He smiled back. Janelle finally grinned, and she took Damon’s hand. I was getting up. They sensed that ACTION was coming. It sure was.

  I moseyed outside to the front porch. I was going to speak to the newspeople.

  I didn’t bother to put on my shoes. Or shirt. I thought of the immortal words of Tarzan—Aaeeyaayaayaa! “How are you folks this fine winter morning?” I asked, standing there in some baggy chinos. “Anybody need more coffee or sweet rolls?”

  “Detective Cross, Katherine Rose and Thomas Dunne are blaming you for the mistakes made in Florida. Mr. Dunne released another statement last night.” Someone gave me the morning news—free of charge, too. Yes, I was still the scapegoat of the week.

  “I can understand the Dunnes’ disappointment at the results in Florida,” I said in an even tone. “Just drop your coffee containers anywhere on the lawn, like you’ve been doing. I’ll pick up later.”

  “Then you agree you made a mistake,” someone said. “Handing over the ransom money without seeing Maggie Rose first?”

  “No. I don’t agree at all. I had no choice down in Florida and South Carolina. The only choice I had was not to go with the contact man at all. See, when you’re handcuffed, and the other guy has the gun, you’re at a serious disadvantage. When your backup gets there late, that’s another problem.”

  It was as if they didn’t hear a word I’d said. “Detective, our sources say it was your decision to pay the ransom in the first place,” someone suggested.

  “Why do you come here and camp out on my lawn?” I said to that bullshit. “Why do you come here and scare my family? Disrupt this neighborhood? I don’t care what you print about me, but I will tell you this: you don’t have a clue as to what the hell is going on. You could be endangering the Dunne girl.”

  “Is Maggie Rose Dunne alive?” someone shouted. I turned away and went back inside the house. That would teach them, right. Now they understood all about respecting people’s privacy.

  “Hey, Peanut Butter Man. Wuz up?”

  A crowd of a different sort recognized me a little later that morning. Men and women were lined up three deep on 12th Street in front of St. Anthony’s Church. They were hungry and cold, and none of them had Nikons or Leicas hung around their necks.

  “Hey, Peanut Butter Man, I seen you on the TV. You a movie star now?” I heard someone call out.

  “Hell, yeah. Can’t you tell?”

  For the past few years, Sampson and I have been working the soup kitchen at St. A’s. We do it two or three days a week. I started there because of Maria, who had done some of her casework through the parish. I kept on after her death for the most selfish of reasons: the work made me feel good. Sampson welcomes folks for lunch at the front door. He takes the numbered ticket they’re given when they get on line. He’s also a deterrent to people acting up.

  I’m the physical deterrent inside the dinner hall. I’m called the Peanut Butter Man. Jimmy Moore who runs the kitchen, believes in the nutritional power of peanut butter. Along with a full meal that usually consists of rolls, two vegetables, a meat or fish stew, and dessert, anyone who wants it gets a cup of peanut butter. Every day.

&n
bsp; “Hey, Peanut Butter Man. You got some good peanut butter for us today? You got Skippy or that Peter Pan shit?”

  I grinned at familiar hangdog faces in the crowd. My nose filled with the familiar smells of body odor, bad breath, stale liquor. “Don’t know exactly what’s on the menu today.”

  The regulars know Sampson and me. Most of them also know we’re police. Some of them know I’m a shrink, since I do counseling outside the kitchen, in a prefab trailer that says, “The Lord helps them what helps themselves. Come on the hell in.”

  Jimmy Moore runs an efficient, beautiful place. He claims it’s the largest soup kitchen in the East, and we’ll do an average of over eleven hundred meals a day. The kitchen starts serving at ten-fifteen, and lunch is over by twelve-thirty. That means if you get there at exactly one minute past twelve-thirty, you go hungry that day. Discipline, be it ever so humble, is a big part of St. A’s program.

  No one is admitted drunk or too obviously high. You’re expected to behave during your meal. You get about ten minutes to eat—other people are cold and hungry waiting on the long line outside. Everyone is treated with dignity and respect. No questions are asked of any of the guests. If you wait on line, you get fed. You’re addressed as either Sir or Ms., and the mostly volunteer staff is trained to be upbeat. “Smile checks” are actually done on the new volunteers working the serving line or the dining room.

  Around noon there was a major disturbance outside. I could hear Sampson shouting. Something was going down.

  People on the soup line were shouting and cursing loudly. Then I heard Sampson call for help. “Alex! Come on out here!”

  I ran outside and immediately saw what was going down. My fists were clenched into tight, hard anvils. The press had found us again. They had found me.

  A couple of squirrely news cameramen were filming folks on the soup-kitchen line, and that’s very unpopular—understandably. These people were trying to keep the last of their self-respect, and they didn’t want to be seen on TV standing on a soup line for a handout.

  Jimmy Moore is a tough, rude Irishman who used to work on the D.C. police force with us. He was already outside, and it was Jimmy, actually, who was making most of the noise.

  “You cocksucking, motherfucking sons-of-bitches!”

  I suddenly found myself yelling. “You’re not invited here! You’re not fucking welcome! Leave these people alone. Let us serve our lunch in peace.”

  The photographers stopped shooting their pictures. They stared at me. So did Sampson. And Jimmy Moore. And most everybody on the soup line. The press didn’t leave, but they backed away. Most of them crossed 12th Street, and I knew they would wait for me to come out.

  We were serving people their lunch, I thought to myself as I watched the reporters and photographers waiting for me in a park across the street. Who the hell did the press serve these days other than the wealthy business conglomerates and families they all worked for?

  Angry rumblings were starting up around us. “People are hungry and cold. Let’s eat. People got a right to eat,” someone yelled from the line.

  I went back inside to my post. We started to serve lunch. I was the Peanut Butter Man.

  CHAPTER 29

  IN THE CITY OF WILMINGTON, DELAWARE, Gary Murphy was shoveling away four inches of snow. It was Wednesday afternoon, the sixth of January. He was thinking about the kidnapping. He was trying to keep under control. He was thinking about the little rich bitch Maggie Rose Dunne, when a shiny blue Cadillac pulled up alongside his small Colonial-style house on Central Avenue. Gary cursed under the breath streaming from his mouth.

  Six-year-old Roni, Gary’s daughter, was making snowballs, setting them out on the icy crust that topped the snow. She squealed when she saw her uncle Marty climbing out of his car.

  “Who’s that boot-i-ful little girl?” Uncle Marty called across the yard to Roni. “Is that a movie star? It is! I think so. Is that Ron-eee? I think it is!”

  “Uncle Marty! Uncle Marty!” Roni screamed as she ran toward the car.

  Every time Gary saw Marty Kasajian, he thought of the really putrid movie Uncle Buck. In Uncle Buck, John Candy was an unlikable, unwelcome, unlikely relative who kept showing up to torture a whitebread midwestern family. It was an obnoxious flick. Uncle Marty Kasajian was rich and successful; and louder than John Candy; and he was here. Gary despised Missy’s big brother for all of those reasons, but most of all because Marty was his boss.

  Missy must have heard Marty’s commotion. How could anyone on Central Avenue or nearby North Street miss it? She came out of the back door with a dish towel still wrapped around one hand.

  “Look who’s here!” Missy squealed. She and Roni sounded like identical piglets to Gary.

  Quel fucking surprise, Gary felt like yelling. He held it all in—the way he held in all of his true feelings at home. He imagined beating Marty to death with his snow shovel, actually murdering Kasajian in front of Missy and Roni. Show them who the man of the house really was.

  “The Divine Miss M!” Marty Kasajian continued to motormouth a mile a minute. He finally acknowledged Gary. “Hiya doin’, Gar, old buddy. How ’bout those Eagles? Randall the C’s on fire. Got your Super Bowl tickets lined up?”

  “Sure thing, Marty. Two tickets on the fifty-yard line.”

  Gary Murphy tossed his aluminum shovel into a low bank of snow. He trudged over to where Missy and Roni were standing with Uncle Marty.

  Then they all went inside the house together. Missy brought out expensive eggnog, and pieces of fresh apple-raisin pie with hunks of cheddar on the side. Marty’s piece was bigger than all the others. He was The Man, right?

  Marty handed an envelope to Missy. It was Missy’s “allowance” from her big brother, which he wanted Gary to see. Really rub salt in the wounds that way.

  “Mommy, Uncle Marty, and Daddy have to talk for a coupla minutes, sweetheart,” Marty Kasajian said to Roni as soon as he finished his piece of pie. “I think I forgot something for you out in my car. I dunno. Could be on the backseat. You better go look.”

  “Put your coat on first, honey,” Missy said to her daughter. “Don’t catch cold.”

  Roni laughed-squeaked as she hugged her uncle. Then she hurried away.

  “Now what did you get her?” Missy whispered conspiratorially to her brother. “You’re too much.”

  Marty shrugged as if he couldn’t remember. With everybody else, Missy was okay. She reminded Gary of his real mom. She even looked like his real mom. It was only with her brother, Gary had noticed, that she changed for the worse. She even started picking up Marty’s obnoxious habits and speech cadences.

  “Listen, kids.” Marty hunched in closer to the two of them. “We have a little problema. Treatable, because we’re catching it early, but something we have to deal with. Pretend like we’re all adults, y’know.”

  Missy was instantly on guard. “What is it, Marty? What’s the problem?”

  Marty Kasajian looked genuinely concerned and uncomfortable now. Gary had seen him use this hangdog look a thousand times with his customers. Especially when he had to confront somebody on an overdue bill, or fire somebody in the office.

  “Gar?” He looked at Gary for help with this. “You want to say something here?”

  Gary shrugged. As if he didn’t have clue one, right. Fuck you, asshole, he was thinking to himself. You’re on your own this time.

  Gary could feel a smile spreading, coming all the way up from his stomach. He didn’t want it to show, but it finally broke across his lips. This was kind of a delectable moment. Getting caught had its own subtle rewards. Might be a lesson here; something to go to school on.

  “Sorry. I don’t think this is funny.” Marty Kasajian shook his head and said, “I really don’t, Gary.”

  “Well, I don’t either,” Gary said in a funny voice. It was high-pitched and boyish. Not really his voice.

  Missy gave him a strange look. “What is going on?” she demanded. “Will you two please let
me in on this?”

  Gary looked at his wife. He was really angry at her, too. She was part of the trap and she knew it.

  “My sales record with Atlantic really stinks this quarter,” Gary finally said, and shrugged. “Is that it, Marty?”

  Marty frowned and looked down at his new Timberland boots. “Oh, it’s more than that, Gar.” Your sales record is almost nonexistent. What’s worse, what’s a lot worse, is that you have over thirty-three hundred dollars in advances outstanding. You’re in the red, Gary. You’re minus. I don’t want to say much more or I know I’ll regret it. I honestly don’t know how to address this situation. This is very difficult for me. Embarrassing. I’m so sorry, Missy. I hate this.”

  Missy covered her face with both hands, and she began to cry. She cried quietly at first, not wanting to cry. Then the sobs became louder. Tears came into her brother’s eyes.

  “That’s what I didn’t want. I’m sorry, Sis.” Marty was the one to reach out and comfort her.

  “I’m all right.” Missy pulled away from her brother. She stared across the breakfast table at Gary. Her eyes seemed small and darker.

  “Where have you been all of these months on the road, Gary? What have you been doing? Oh, Gary, Gary, sometimes I feel like I don’t even know you. Say something to make this a little better. Please say something, Gary.”

  Gary thought about it carefully before he said a word. Then he said, “I love you so much, Missy. I love you and Roni more than I love my life itself.”

  Gary lied, and knew it was a pretty good one. Extremely well told, well acted.

  What he wanted to do was to laugh in their goddamn faces. What he wanted to do most was to kill all of them. That was the ticket to punch. Boom. Boom. Boom. Multiple-homicide time in Wilmington. Get his master plan rolling again.

  Just then Roni came running back inside the house. A new movie cassette was clutched in her hands, and she was smiling like a Balloonhead.

  “Look what Uncle Marty brought me.”

 
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