Along came a spider, p.14
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       Along Came a Spider, p.14
 

         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson
One of the kids at the party had spotted a local police cruiser doing a ride-by minutes before we arrived in the neighborhood. The boy had innocently mentioned the police car to Mr. Murphy. He had escaped through sheer luck! We’d missed catching him by a few minutes at most.

  Sampson and I questioned Missy Murphy for more than an hour. We were finally going to learn something about the real Soneji/Murphy.

  Missy Murphy would have fit in with the mothers of the children at Washington Day School. She wore her blond hair in a no-frills flip. She had on a navy skirt, white blouse, boaters. She was a few pounds overweight, but pretty.

  “None of you seem to believe this, but I know Gary. I know who he is,” she told us. “He is not a kidnapper.”

  She chain-smoked Marlboro Lights as she spoke. That was the only gesture that betrayed anxiety and pain. We talked with Mrs. Murphy in the kitchen. It was orderly and neat, even on party day. I noted Betty Crocker cookbooks stacked beside Silver Palate cookbooks and a copy of Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much. A snapshot of Gary Soneji/Murphy in a bathing suit was stuck up on the fridge. He looked like the all-American father.

  “Gary is not a violent person. He can’t even bear to discipline Roni,” Missy Murphy was saying to us.

  That interested me. It fit a pattern of bell curves I had been studying for years: reports on sociopaths and their children. Sociopaths often had difficulty disciplining their children.

  “Has he told you why he has difficulty disciplining your daughter?” I asked her.

  “Gary didn’t have a happy childhood himself. He wants only the best for Roni. He knows that he’s compensating. He’s a very bright man. He could easily have his Ph.D. in math.”

  “Did Gary grow up right here in Wilmington?” Sampson asked Missy. He was soft spoken and down to earth with the woman.

  “No, he grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. Gary lived there until he was nineteen.”

  Sampson jotted a note, then he glanced my way. Princeton was near Hopewell, where the Lindbergh kidnapping had taken place in the 1930s. The Son of Lindbergh, Soneji had signed the ransom notes. We still didn’t know why.

  “His family is still in Princeton?” I asked Mrs. Murphy. “Can we contact them there?”

  “There’s no family left now. There was a fire while Gary was at school. Gary’s stepmom and dad, his stepbrother and stepsister all died in the tragedy.”

  I wanted to probe deeply into everything Missy Murphy was saying. I resisted for the moment. A fire in the house of a disturbed young man, though? Another family dead; another family destroyed. Was that Gary Soneji/Murphy’s real target? Families? If so, what about Vivian Kim? Did he kill her just to show off?

  “Did you know any of the family?” I asked Missy.

  “No. They died before Gary and I got together. The two of us met our senior year in college. I was at Delaware.”

  “What did your husband tell you about his years around Princeton?”

  “Not very much. He keeps a lot inside. The Murphys lived several miles from town, I know. Their closest neighbor was two or three miles. Gary didn’t have friends until he went to school. Even then he was often the odd man out. He can be very shy.”

  “What about the brother and sister you mentioned?” Sampson asked.

  “Actually, they were his stepbrother and stepsister. That was part of Gary’s problem. He wasn’t close to them.”

  “Did he ever mention the Lindbergh kidnapping? Does he have any books on Lindbergh?” Sampson continued. His technique is to go for the jugular in Q & A.

  Missy Murphy shook her head back and forth. “No. Not that I know of. There’s a room filled with his books down in the cellar. You can look.”

  “Oh, we will,” Sampson said to her.

  This was rich material, and I was relieved to hear it. Before this, there had been nothing, or very little, for us to go on.

  “Is his real mother alive?” I asked her.

  “I don’t know. Gary just won’t talk about her. He won’t discuss her at all.”

  “What about the stepmother?”

  “Gary didn’t like his stepmother. Apparently she was very attached to her own children. He called her ‘The Whore of Babylon.’ I believe she was originally from West Babylon in New York. I think it’s out on Long Island somewhere.”

  After months without any information, I couldn’t get the questions out fast enough. Everything I’d heard so far was tracking. An important question loomed: Had Gary Soneji/Murphy been telling the truth to his wife? Was he capable of telling the truth to another person?

  “Mrs. Murphy, do you have any idea where he might have gone?” I asked now.

  “Something really frightened Gary,” she said. “I think maybe it relates to his job somehow. And to my brother, who’s his employer. I can’t imagine that he went home to New Jersey, but maybe he did. Maybe Gary went back home. He is impulsive.”

  One of the FBI agents, Marcus Connor, peeked into the kitchen where we were talking. “Can I see both of you for a minute?… I’m sorry, this will just be one minute,” he said to Mrs. Murphy.

  Connor escorted us down into the basement of the house. Gerry Scorse, Reilly, and Kyle Craig from the FBI were already down there, waiting.

  Scorse held up a pair of Fido Dido socklets, I recognized them from descriptions of what Maggie Rose Dunne had been wearing the day of the kidnapping. Also from visits to the little girl’s room, where I’d seen her collection of clothes and trinkets.

  “So, what do you think, Alex?” Scorse asked me. I had noticed that whenever things got really weird, he asked for my opinion.

  “Exactly what I said about the sneaker in Washington. He left it for us. He’s playing a game now. He wants us to play with him.”

  CHAPTER 40

  THE OLD DU PONT HOTEL in downtown Wilmington was a convenient place to get some sleep. It had a nice quiet bar, and Sampson and I planned on doing some quiet drinking there. We didn’t think we’d have company, but we were surprised when Jezzie Flanagan, Klepner, and some of the FBI agents joined us for nightcaps.

  We were tired and frustrated after the near-miss with Gary Soneji/Murphy. We drank a lot of hard liquor in a short time. Actually, we got along well. “The team.” We got loud, played liar’s poker, raised some hell in the Tony Delaware Room that night. Sampson talked to Jezzie Flanagan for a while. He thought she was a good cop, too.

  The drinking finally tailed down, and we wandered off to find our rooms, which were scattered throughout the spacious Du Pont.

  Jeb Klepner, Jezzie, and I climbed the thickly carpeted stairs to our rooms on two and three. The Du Pont was a mausoleum at quarter to three in the morning. There wasn’t any traffic outside on the main drag through Wilmington.

  Klepner’s room was on the second floor. “I’m going to go watch some soft-core pornography,” he said as he split off from us. “That usually helps me get right to sleep.”

  “Sweet dreams,” Jezzie said. “Lobby at seven.”

  Klepner groaned as he trudged down the hallway to his room. Jezzie and I climbed the winding flight to the next floor. It was so quiet you could hear the stoplight outside, making clicking noises as it changed from green to yellow to red.

  “I’m still wound tight,” I said to her. “I can see Soneji/Murphy. Two faces. They’re both very distinct in my head.”

  “I’m wired, too. It’s my nature. What would you do if you were home instead of here?” Jezzie asked.

  “I’d probably go play the piano out on our porch. Wake the neighborhood with a little blues.”

  Jezzie laughed out loud. “We could go back down to the Delaware Room. There was an old upright in there. Probably belonged to one of the Du Ponts. You play, I’ll have one more drink.”

  “That bartender left about ten seconds after we did. He’s home in his bed already.”

  We’d reached the Du Pont’s third floor. There was a gentle bend in the hallway. Ornate signs on the wall listed room numbers and their direction. A
few guests had their shoes out to be shined overnight.

  “I’m three eleven.” Jezzie pulled a white card-key from the pocket of her jacket.

  “I’m in three thirty-four. Time to call it a night. Start fresh in the morning.”

  Jezzie smiled and she looked into my eyes. For the first time that I could remember, neither of us had anything to say.

  I took her into my arms, and held her gently. We kissed in the hallway. I hadn’t kissed anyone like that in a while. I wasn’t sure who had started the kiss, actually.

  “You’re very beautiful,” I whispered as our lips drew apart. The words just came out. Not my best effort, but the truth.

  Jezzie smiled and shook her head. “My lips are too puffy and big. I look like I was dropped face-first as a kid. You’re the good-looking one. You look like Muhammad Ali.”

  “Sure. I do. After he took too many punches.”

  “A few punches, maybe. To add character. Just the right number of hard knocks. Your smile’s nice, too. Smile for me, Alex.”

  I kissed those puffy lips again. They were perfect as far as I could tell.

  There’s a lot of myth about black men desiring white women; about some white women wanting to experiment with black men. Jezzie Flanagan was a smart, extremely desirable woman. She was somebody I could talk to, somebody I wanted to be around.

  And there we were, snuggled in each other’s arms at around three in the morning. We’d both had a little too much to drink, but not a lot too much. No myths involved. Just two people alone, in a strange town, on a very strange night in both of our lives.

  I wanted to be held by somebody right then. I think Jezzie did, too. The look in her eyes was sweet and comfortable. But there was also a brittleness that night. There was a network of tiny red veins in the corners of her eyes. Maybe she could still see Soneji/Murphy, too. We’d been so close to getting him. Only a half step behind this time.

  I studied Jezzie’s face in a way I couldn’t have before, and never thought that I would. I ran a finger lightly over her cheeks. Her skin was soft and smooth. Her blond hair was like silk between my fingers. Her perfume was subtle, like wildflowers.

  A phrase drifted through my head. Don’t start anything you can’t finish.

  “Well, Alex?” Jezzie said, and she raised an eyebrow. “This is a knotty problem, isn’t it?”

  “Not for two smart cops like us,” I said to her.

  We took the soft left turn down the hotel hallway—and headed toward room 311.

  “Maybe we should think twice about this,” I said as we walked.

  “Maybe I already have,” Jezzie whispered back.

  CHAPTER 41

  AT ONE-THIRTY in the morning, Gary Soneji/Murphy walked out of a Motel 6 in Reston, Virginia. He caught his reflection in a glass door.

  The new Gary—the Gary du jour—looked back at him. Black pompadour and a grungy beard; dusty shit-kicker’s clothes. He knew he could play this part. Put on an Old Dixie drawl. For as long as he needed to, anyway. Not too long. Don’t anybody blink.

  Gary got into the battered VW and started to drive. He was completely wired. He loved this part of the plan more than he loved his life. He couldn’t separate the two anymore. This was the most daring part of the entire adventure. Real high-wire stuff.

  Why was he so revved? he wondered as his mind drifted. Just because half the police and FBI bastards in the continental U.S.A. were out looking for him?

  Because he’d kidnapped two rich brats and one had died? And the other—Maggie Rose? He didn’t even want to think about that—what had really happened to her.

  Darkness slowly changed to a soft gray velvet. He fought the urge to step on the gas and keep it floored. An orangish tinge of morning finally arrived as he drove through Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

  He stopped at a 7-Eleven in Johnstown. He got out and stretched his legs. Checked how he looked in the VW Bug’s dangling sideview mirror.

  A scraggly country laborer looked back at him from the mirror. Another Gary, completely. He had all the country-hick mannerisms down cold; modified cowboy walk as if he’d been kicked by a horse; hands in pockets, or thumbs in belt loops. Finger-comb your hair all the time. Spit whenever you get the chance.

  He took a jolt of high-octane coffee in the convenience store, which was a questionable move. Hard poppy-seed roll with extra butter. No morning newspapers were out yet.

  A dumb-shit, stuck-up female clerk in the store waited on him. He wanted to punch her lights out. He spent five minutes fantasizing about taking her out right in the middle of the podunk 7-Eleven.

  Take off the little schoolgirl white blouse, honey. Roll it down to your waist. Okay, now I’m probably going to have to kill you. But maybe not. Talk to me nice and beg me not to. What are you—twenty one, twenty? Use that as your emotional argument. You’re too young to die, unfulfilled, in a 7-Eleven.

  Gary finally decided to let her live. The amazing thing was that she had no idea how close she’d come to being killed.

  “You have a nice day. Come back soon,” she said.

  “You pray I don’t.”

  As Soneji/Murphy drove along Route 22, he let himself get angrier than he had been in a long time. Enough of this sentimentality crap. No one was paying attention to him—not the attention he deserved.

  Did the major fools and incompetents out there think they had any chance of stopping him? Of capturing him on their own? Of trying him on national TV? It was time to teach them a lesson; it was time for true greatness. Zig when the world expects you to zag.

  Gary Soneji/Murphy pulled into a McDonald’s in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. Children of all ages loved McDonald’s, right? Food, folks, and fun. He was still pretty much on schedule. The “Bad Boy” was dependable in that regard—you could set your watch by him.

  There was the usual meandering lunchtime crowd of dopes and mopes moving in and out of Mickey D’s. All of them were stuck in their daily ruts and daily rutting. Shoveling down those Quarter Pounders and greasy string fries.

  What was that old Hooters song—about all the zombies out there in Amerika? All you zombies? Walk like a zombie? Something about the millions of zombies out there. Gross understatement.

  Was he the only one living near his potential? Soneji/Murphy wondered. It sure as hell seemed that way. Nobody else was special the way he was. At least he hadn’t met any of the special ones.

  He turned into the McDonald’s dining room. A hundred trillion McBurgers served, and still counting. Women were there in droves. Women and all of their precious children. The nest-builders; the trivializers; the silly gooses with their silly, floppy breasties.

  Ronald McDonald was there, too, in the form of a six-foot cutout shilling stale cookies to the kiddies. What a day! Ronald McDonald meets Mr. Chips.

  Gary paid for two black coffees and turned to walk back through the crowd. He thought the top of his head was going to blow off. His face and neck were flushed. He was hyperventilating. His throat was dry, and he was perspiring too much.

  “You all right, sir?” the girl behind the register asked.

  He didn’t even consider answering her. You talkin’ to me? Robert De Niro, right? He was another De Niro—no doubt about that—only he was an even better actor. More range. De Niro never took chances the way he did. De Niro, Hoffman, Pacino—none of them took chances and really stretched themselves. Not in his opinion.

  So many thoughts and perceptions were crashing on him, deflecting off his brain. He had the impression that he was floating through a sea of light particles, photons and neutrons. If these people could spend only ten seconds inside his brain, they wouldn’t believe it.

  He purposely bumped into people as he walked away from the McDonald’s counter.

  “Well, ex-cuse me,” he said after a jarring hipcheck.

  “Hey! Watch it! C’mon, mister,” somebody said to him.

  “Watch it yourself, you jerkoff.” Soneji/Murphy stopped and addressed the balding shitkicker h
e’d bumped. “What do I have to do to get a little respect? Shoot you in the right eyeball?”

  He downed both hot coffees as he continued on through the restaurant. Through the restaurant. Through any people in his way. Through the cheesy Formica tables. Through the walls, if he really wanted to.

  Gary Soneji/Murphy pulled a snub-nosed revolver from under his Windbreaker. This was it: the beginning of America’s wake-up call. A special performance for all the kiddies and mommies.

  They were all watching him now. Guns, they understood.

  “Wake the fuck up!” he shouted inside the McDonald’s dining room. “Hot coffee! Comin’ through, you all! Wake up, and smell it!”

  “That man has a gun!” said one of the rocket scientists eating a dripping Big Mac. Amazing that he could see through the greasy fog rising from his food.

  Gary faced the room with the revolver drawn. “No one leaves this room!” he bellowed.

  “You awake now? Are you people awake?” Gary Soneji/Murphy called out. “I think so. I think you’re all with the program now.

  “I’m in charge! So everybody stop. Look. And listen.”

  Gary fired a round into the face of a burger-chomping patron. The man clutched his forehead and wheeled heavily off his chair onto the floor. Now that got everybody’s attention. Real gun, real bullets, real life.

  A black woman screamed, and she tried to run by Soneji. He leveled her with a gun butt to the head. It was a really cool move, he thought. Good Steven Seagal shit.

  “I am Gary Soneji! I am Himself. Is that a mind-blower or what? You’re in the presence of the world-famous kidnapper. This is like a free-for-nothing demonstration. So watch closely. You might learn something. Gary Soneji has been places, he’s seen things you’ll never see in your life. Trust me on that one.”

  He sipped the last of his McCoffee, and over the rim of his cup watched the fast-food fans quiver.

  “This” he finally said in a thoughtful manner, “is what they call a dangerous hostage situation. Ronald McDonald’s been kidnapped, folks. You’re now officially part of history.”

 
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