Along came a spider, p.16
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       Along Came a Spider, p.16
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         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  Where Is Maggie Rose? Maggie Rose Lives! The Beast of the East Must Die! Give the Beast the Chair or Life!

  A week and a half after the capture, I went in to see Soneji/Murphy. I had to call in every chip I had in Washington, but I got in to see him. Dr. Marion Campbell, the warden at Lorton, met me at a row of gunmetal elevators on the prison’s sixth floor, the hospital floor. Campbell was in his sixties. He was well preserved, with a flowing mane of black hair. He looked very Reaganesque.

  “You’re Detective Cross?” He extended his hand and smiled politely.

  “Yes. I’m also a forensic psychologist,” I explained.

  Dr. Campbell seemed genuinely surprised by that information. Evidently, no one had told him. “Well, you certainly have some pull to get in to talk with him. It’s gotten rather complicated. Visiting rights with him are a precious commodity.”

  “I’ve been involved with this since he took the two kids in Washington. I was there when he was caught.”

  “Well, I’m not sure if we’re talking about the same man now,” Dr. Campbell said. He didn’t explain. “Is it Dr. Cross?” he asked.

  “Doctor Cross, Detective Cross, Alex. You pick.”

  “Please come with me, Doctor. You’re going to find this most interesting.”

  Because of the gunshot wound Soneji got at McDonald’s, he was being kept in a private room in the prison hospital. Dr. Campbell led me down a wide corridor inside the hospital. Prisoners occupied every available room. Lorton’s a very popular place, long lines at the door. Most of the men were black. They ranged in age from as young as nineteen to their mid-fifties. They all tried to look defiant and tough, but that is a pose that doesn’t work well in a federal prison.

  “I’m afraid I’ve become a little protective of him,” Campbell said as we walked. “You’ll see why in a moment. Everybody wants to, needs to see him. I’ve received calls from all over the world. An author from Japan had to see him. A doctor from Frankfurt. Another from London. That sort of thing.”

  “I get the feeling there’s something you’re not telling me about him, Doctor,” I finally said to Campbell. “What is it?”

  “I want you to draw your own conclusions, Dr. Cross. He’s right here in this section near the main ward. I would very much like your opinion.”

  We stopped at a bolted steel door in the hospital corridor. A guard let us through. Beyond the door were a few more hospital rooms, but rooms for maximum security.

  A light burned brightly inside the first room. It wasn’t Soneji’s. He was in a darker room on the left. The regular prison visiting area had been ruled out because it offered too much exposure. Two guards with shotguns sat outside the room.

  “Has there been any violence?” I asked.

  “No, not at all. I’ll leave you two to talk. I don’t think you have to be concerned about any violence. You’ll see for yourself.”

  Gary Soneji/Murphy watched us from his cot. His arm was in a sling. Otherwise, he looked the same as the last time I’d seen him. I stood inside the hospital room. When Dr. Campbell walked away, Soneji studied me. There was no sign of recognition from this man who’d threatened to kill me when we’d last met.

  My first professional impression was that he seemed afraid to be left alone with me. His body language was tentative, very different from the man I’d wrestled to the ground at the McDonald’s in Wilkinsburg.

  “Who are you? What do you want with me?” he finally said. His voice quivered slightly.

  “I’m Alex Cross. We’ve met.”

  He looked confused. The expression on his face was very believable, too. He shook his head and closed his eyes. It was an incredibly baffling and disconcerting moment for me.

  “I’m sorry, I don’t remember you,” he said then. It seemed an apology. “There have been so many people in this nightmare. I forget some of you. Hello, Detective Cross. Please, pull up a chair. As you can see, I’ve had plenty of visitors.”

  “You asked for me during the negotiations in Florida. I’m with the Washington police.”

  As soon as I said that, he started to smile. He looked off to the side, and shook his head. I wasn’t in on the joke yet. I told him I wasn’t.

  “I’ve never been to Florida in my life,” he said. “Not once.”

  Gary Soneji/Murphy stood up from his cot. He was wearing loose-fitting hospital whites. His arm seemed to be giving him some pain.

  He looked lonely, and vulnerable. Something was very wrong here. What in hell was going on? Why hadn’t I been told before I came? Evidently, Dr. Campbell wanted me to draw my own conclusions.

  Soneji/Murphy sat down in the other chair. He stared at me with a baleful look.

  He didn’t look like a killer. He didn’t look like a kidnapper. A teacher? A Mr. Chips? A lost little boy? All of those seemed closer to the mark.

  “I’ve never spoken to you in my life,” he said to me. “I’ve never heard of Alex Cross. I didn’t kidnap any children. Do you know Kafka?” he asked.

  “Some. What’s your point?”

  “I feel like Gregor Samsa in Metamorphosis. I’m trapped in a nightmare. None of this makes any sense to me. I didn’t kidnap anyone’s children. Someone has to believe me. Someone has to. I’m Gary Murphy, and I never harmed anyone in my entire life.”

  If I followed him, what he was telling me was that he was a multiple personality… truly Gary Soneji/Murphy.

  “But do you believe him, Alex? Jesus Christ, man. That’s the sixty-four-dollar question.”

  Scorse, Craig, and Reilly from the Bureau, Klepner and Jezzie Flanagan from the Secret Service, and Sampson and I were in a crammed conference room at FBI headquarters downtown. It was old home week for the Hostage Rescue Team.

  The question had come from Gerry Scorse. Not surprisingly, he didn’t believe Soneji/Murphy. He didn’t buy the multiple-personality bit.

  “What does he really gain from telling a lot of outrageous lies?” I asked everyone to consider. “He says he didn’t kidnap the children. He says he didn’t shoot anyone at the McDonald’s.” I looked from face to face around the conference table. “He claims to be this pleasant enough nobody from Delaware named Gary Murphy.”

  “Temp insanity plea.” Reilly offered the obvious. “He goes to some cushy asylum in Maryland or Virginia. Out in seven to ten years, maybe. You can bet he knows that, Alex. Is he clever enough, a good enough actor, to pull it off?”

  “So far, I’ve spoken to him only once. Less than an hour with him. I’ll say this: he’s very convincing as Gary Murphy. I think he’s legitimately VFC.”

  “What the hell is VFC?” Scorse asked. “I don’t know VFC. You’ve lost me.”

  “It’s a common enough psych term,” I told him. “All of us shrinks talk about VFC when we get together. Very fucking crazy, Gerry.”

  Everybody around the table laughed except Scorse. Sampson had nicknamed him the Funeral Director—Digger Scorse. He was dedicated and professional, but usually not a lot of laughs.

  “Very fucking funny, Alex,” Scorse finally said. “That’s VFF.”

  “Can you get in to see him again?” Jezzie asked me. She was as professional as Scorse, but a lot nicer to be around.

  “Yeah, I can. He wants to see me. Maybe I’ll even find out why in hell he asked for me down in Florida. Why I’m the chosen one in his nightmare.”


  TWO DAYS LATER, I wangled another hour with Gary Soneji/Murphy. I’d been up the previous two nights rereading multiple-

  personality cases. My dining room looked like a carrel at a psych library. There are tomes written about multiples, but few of us really agree on the material. There is even serious disagreement about whether there are any real multiple-personality cases at all.

  Gary was sitting on his hospital cot, staring into space, when I arrived. His shoulder sling was gone. It was hard to come and talk to this kidnapper, child-killer, serial killer. I remembered something the philosopher Spinoza once wrote: “I h
ave striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them.” So far, I didn’t understand.

  “Hello Gary,” I said softly, not wanting to startle him. “Are you ready to talk?”

  He turned around and seemed glad to see me. He pulled a chair over for me by his cot.

  “I was afraid they wouldn’t let you come,” he said. “I’m glad they did.”

  ‘What made you think they wouldn’t let me come?” I wanted to know.

  “Oh, I don’t know. It’s just… I felt you were someone I might be able to talk to. The way my luck’s been going, I thought they would shut you right off.”

  There was a naïveté about him that was troubling to me. He was almost charming. He was the man his neighbors in Wilmington had described.

  “What were you just thinking about? A minute ago?” I asked. “Before I interrupted.”

  He smiled and shook his head. “I don’t even know. What was I thinking about? Oh, I know what it was. I was remembering it’s my birthday this month. I keep thinking that I’m suddenly going to wake up out of this. That’s one recurring thought, a leitmotif through all my thinking.”

  “Go back a little for me. Tell me how you were arrested again,” I said, changing the subject.

  “I woke up, I came to in a police car outside a McDonald’s.” He was consistent on that point. He’d told me the same thing two days before. “My arms were handcuffed behind my back. Later on, they used leg-irons, too.”

  “You don’t know how you got into the police car?” I asked. Boy, was he good at this. Soft-spoken, very nice, believable.

  “No, and I don’t know how I got to a McDonald’s in Wilkinsburg, either. That is the most freakish thing that’s ever happened to me.”

  “I can see how it would be.”

  A theory had occurred to me on the ride down from Washington. It was a long shot, but it might explain a few things that didn’t make any sense so far.

  “Has anything like this ever happened to you before?” I asked. “Anything vaguely like it, Gary?”

  “No. I’ve never been in any trouble. Never been arrested. You can check that, can’t you? Of course you can.”

  “I mean have you ever woken up in a strange place before? No idea how you got there?”

  Gary gave me a strange look, his head cocked slightly. “Why would you ask that?”

  “Did you, Gary?”

  “Well… yes.”

  “Tell me about it. Tell me about those times when you woke up in a strange place.”

  He had a habit of pulling on his shirt, between the second and third buttons. He would pull the fabric away from his chest. I wondered if he had a fear of not being able to breathe, and where it might have come from if he did.

  Maybe he’d been sick as a child. Or trapped with a limited air supply. Or locked up somewhere—the way Maggie Rose and Michael Goldberg had been locked away.

  “For the past year or so, maybe more than that, I’ve suffered from insomnia. I told that to one of the doctors who came to see me,” he said.

  There was nothing about insomnia in any of the prison workups. I wondered if he’d told any of the doctors, or simply imagined that he had. There was stuff about an uneven Wechsler profile, indicative of impulsivity. There was a verbal I.Q. and a performance I.Q., both through the roof. There was a Rorschach profile that reflected severe emotional stress. There was a positive response to T.A.T. card #14, the so-called suicide card. But not a word about insomnia.

  “Tell me about it, please. It could help me to understand.” We’d already talked about the fact that I was a psychologist, besides being a really crackerjack detective. He was comfortable with my credentials. So far, anyway. Did that have anything to do with his asking for me down in Florida?

  He looked into my eyes. “Will you really try to help me? Not trap me, Doctor, help me?”

  I told him that I’d try. I’d listen to what he had to say. I’d keep an open mind. He said that was all he could ask for.

  “I haven’t been able to sleep for a while. This goes back for as long as I can remember,” he went on. “It was becoming a jumble. Being awake, dreams. I had trouble sorting one out from the other. I woke up in that police car in Pennsylvania. I have no idea how I got there. That’s really how it happened. Do you believe me? Somebody has to believe me.”

  “I’m listening to you, Gary. When you’ve finished, I’ll tell you what I think. I promise. For the moment, I have to hear everything you remember.”

  That seemed to satisfy him.

  “You asked if it’s happened to me before. It has. A few times. Waking in strange places. Sometimes in my car, pulled over along some road. Sometimes a road I’ve never seen, or even heard of before. A couple of times it’s happened in motels. Or wandering the streets. Philadelphia, New York, Atlantic City one time. I had casino chips and a complimentary parking ticket in my pocket. No idea how they got there.”

  “Did it ever happen to you in Washington?” I asked.

  “No. Not in Washington. I haven’t been in Washington since I was a kid, actually. Lately, I’ve found I can ‘come to’ in a conscious state. Completely conscious. I might be eating a meal, for example. But I have no idea how I got in the restaurant.”

  “Did you see anybody about this? Did you try to get help? A doctor?”

  He shut his eyes, which were clear chestnut brown—his most striking feature. A smile came across his face as he opened his eyes again.

  “We don’t have money to spend on psychiatrists. We’re barely scraping by. That’s why I’ve been so depressed. We’re in the hole over thirty grand. My family is thirty thousand in debt, and I’m here in prison.”

  He stopped talking, and looked at me again. He wasn’t embarrassed about staring, trying to read my face. I was finding him cooperative, stable, and generally lucid.

  I also knew that anybody who worked with him might be the victim of manipulation by an extremely clever and gifted sociopath. He’d fooled a lot of people before me; he was obviously good at it.

  “So far, I believe you,” I finally said to him. “What you’re saying makes sense to me, Gary. I’d like to help you if I can.”

  Tears suddenly welled in his eyes, and rolled down his cheeks. He put his hands out to me.

  I reached out, and I held Gary Soneji/Murphy’s hands. They were very cold. He seemed to be afraid. “I’m innocent,” he said to me. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’m innocent.”

  I didn’t get home until late that night. A motorcycle eased up alongside the car as I was about to pull into my driveway. What the hell was this?

  “Please follow me, sir,” said the person atop the bike. The line was delivered in nearly perfect highway-patrol style. “Just fall in behind.”

  It was Jezzie. She started to laugh and so did I. I knew she was trying to lure me back to the land of the living again. She’d told me I was working too hard on the case. She reminded me that it was solved.

  I continued into the driveway and got out of the old Porsche. I went around to where she had curbed her motorcycle.

  “Quitting time, Alex,” Jezzie said. “Can you do it? Is it okay for you to quit work at eleven o’clock?”

  I went inside to check on the kids. they were sleeping, so I had no reason to resist Jezzie’s offer. I came back out and climbed on the bike.

  “This is either the worst or the best thing I’ve done in recent memory,” I told her.

  “Don’t worry, it’s the best. You’re in good hands. Nothing to fear except instant death.”

  Within seconds, 9th Street was being eaten up under the glare of the single motorcycle headlamp. The bike sped down Independence, then onto the Parkway, which can be ridiculously curvy in spots. Jezzie leaned into every curve, buzzing by passenger cars as if they were standing still.

  She definitely knew how to drive the bike. She wasn’t a dilettante. As the landscape slashed past us, the electric wires overhead, and the roadway’s dotted
line just to the left of the bike’s front wheel, I thought that she was doing at least a hundred, but I felt extraordinarily calm on the bike.

  I didn’t know where we were going, and I didn’t care. The kids were asleep. Nana was there. This was all part of the night’s therapy. I could feel the cold air forcing itself back through every socket and aperture in my body. It cleared my head nicely, and my head sure needed clearing.

  N Street was empty of traffic. It was a long, narrow straightaway with hundred-year-old town houses on either side. It was pretty, especially in winter. Gabled roofs crusted with snow. Winking porch lights.

  Jezzie opened the bike up again on the deserted street. Seventy, ninety, a hundred. I couldn’t tell how fast for sure, only that we were really flying. The trees and houses were a blur. The pavement below was a blur. It was kind of nice, actually. If we lived to tell about it.

  Jezzie braked the BMW smoothly. She wasn’t showing off, just knew how it’s done.

  “We’re home. I just got the place. I’m getting my home act together,” she said as she dismounted. “You were pretty good. You only yelped that one time on the George Washington.”

  “I keep my yelps to myself.”

  Exhilarated by the ride, we went inside. The apartment wasn’t at all what I had expected. Jezzie said she hadn’t found time to fix the place up, but it was beautiful and tasteful. The overall style was sleek and modern, but not at all stark. There were lots of striking art photographs, mostly black and white. Jezzie said she’d taken them all. Fresh flowers were in the living room and kitchen. Books with bookmarks sticking out—The Prince of Tides, Burn Marks, Women in Power, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. A wine rack—Beringer, Rutherford. A hook on the wall for her cycle helmet.

  “So you’re a homebody after all.”

  “I am like hell. Take it back, Alex. I’m a tough-as-they-come Secret Service woman.”

  I took Jezzie in my arms and we kissed very gently in her living room. I was finding tenderness where I hadn’t expected it; I was discovering sensuality that surprised me. It was the whole package I’d been searching for, only with one little catch.

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