Along came a spider, p.18
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       Along Came a Spider, p.18
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         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  Nana Mama is the first one up at our house every day. Probably, she’s the first one up in the entire universe. That’s what Sampson and I used to believe when we were ten or eleven, and she was the assistant principal of the Garfield North Junior High School.

  Whether I wake up at seven, or six, or five, I always come down to the kitchen to find a light blazing and Nana already eating breakfast, or firing it up over her stove. Most mornings, it is the very same breakfast. A single poached egg; one corn muffin, buttered; weak tea with cream and double sugar.

  She will also have begun to make breakfast for the rest of us, and she recognizes the variety of our palates. The house menu might include pancakes and either pork sausage or bacon; melon in season; grits, or oatmeal, or farina, with a thick pat of butter and a generous mound of sugar on top; eggs in every shape and form.

  Occasionally a grape jelly omelet appears, the only dish of hers that I don’t care for. Nana does the omelet too brown on the outside, and, as I’ve told her, eggs and jelly make about as much sense to me as pancakes and ketchup. Nana disagrees, though she never eats the jelly omelets herself. The kids love them.

  Nana sat at the kitchen table on that morning in March. She was reading the Washington Post, which happens to be delivered by a man named Washington. Mr. Washington eats breakfast with Nana every Monday morning. This was a Wednesday, and an important day for the investigation.

  Everything about the breakfast scene was so familiar, and yet I was startled as I entered the kitchen. One more time, I was made aware of how much the kidnapping had entered into our private lives, the lives of my family members.

  The headline of the Washington Post read:



  Attached to the story I could see photographs of both Soneji/Murphy and me. I’d heard the news late the night before. I had called Lee Kovel to give him his exclusive because of our deal.

  I read Lee’s story while eating two morning prunes. It said that certain unnamed “sources were skeptical about the opinions of psychologists assigned to the kidnapper”; that “medical findings may have an effect on the trial”; that “if proven insane, Soneji/Murphy could get a sentence as lenient as three years in an institution.” Obviously, Lee had spoken to other sources after he talked to me.

  “Why don’t they just come out and say what they mean,” Nana mumbled over her toast and cup of tea. I guess she didn’t care for Lee’s writing style.

  “Why don’t they say what?” I asked.

  “The obvious thing here. Somebody doesn’t want you messing with his neat little case. They want Tide-clean justice. Not necessarily the truth. Nobody seems to want the truth here, anyway. They just want to feel better right away. They want the pain to be over. People have a low tolerance for pain, especially lately. Ever since Dr. Spock began rearing our children for us.”

  “Is that what you’ve been plotting down here over your breakfast? Sounds a little like Murder, She Wrote.”

  I poured myself some of her tea. No sugar or cream. I took a muffin and put a couple of link sausages between the halves.

  “No plots. Reality as plain as the nose on your face, Alex.”

  I nodded at Nana. She might be right, but it was too deflating to deal with before six in the morning. “Nothing like prunes this early in the morning,” I said. “Mmm, mmm good.”

  “Hmmm.” Nana Mama frowned. “I might go easy on those prunes for a while if I were you. I suspect you’re going to need an extra supply of bull from here on, Alex. If I may be so blunt with you.”

  “Thank you, Nana. Your directness is appreciated.”

  “You’re very welcome. For your breakfast, and this splendid advice: Don’t trust white people.”

  “Very good breakfast,” I said to her.

  “How is your new girlfriend?” asked my grandmother.

  She never misses a trick.


  THERE WAS A HIGH-PITCHED HUMMING in the air as I climbed out of my car at the prison. The noise was a physical thing. Reporters from newspapers and TV stations were loitering everywhere outside Lorton. They were waiting for me. So was Soneji/Murphy. He had been moved to a regular cell in the prison.

  As I walked from the parking lot in a light drizzle, TV cameras and microphones jabbed at me from a dozen different angles. I was there to hypnotize Gary Soneji/Murphy, and the press knew it. I was today’s big bite of news.

  “Thomas Dunne says you’re trying to get Soneji hospitalized, that you’ll have him set free in a couple of years. Any comment, Detective Cross?”

  “I have nothing to say right now.” I couldn’t talk to any of the reporters, which didn’t make me real popular. I’d made a deal with the attorney general’s office before they finally agreed to the sessions.

  Hypnosis is commonly used in psychiatry these days. It’s often administered by the treating psychiatrist, or a psychologist. What I hoped to discover over several interviews was what had happened to Gary Soneji/Murphy during his “lost days,” his escapes from the real world. I didn’t know whether this would happen quickly or, indeed, happen at all.

  Once I was inside Gary’s prison cell, the process was simple and straightforward. I suggested that he relax and close his eyes. Next, I asked Gary to breathe in, then out, very evenly and slowly. I told him to try to clear his mind of every thought. Finally, to count down slowly from one hundred.

  He appeared to be a good subject for hypnosis. He didn’t resist, and he slipped deeply into a suggestible state. As far as I could tell, he was under. I proceeded as if he were, anyway. I watched him for signs to the contrary, but I saw none.

  His breathing had slowed noticeably. In the beginning of the session, he was more relaxed than I had seen him before. We chatted about casual, nonthreatening subjects for the first few moments.

  Since he had actually “come to” or become “himself” in the parking lot of the McDonald’s, I asked Gary about that once he was fully relaxed.

  “Do you remember being arrested at a McDonald’s in Wilkinsburg?”

  There was a brief pause—then he said, “Oh, yes, of course I do.”

  “I’m glad you remember, because I have a couple of questions about the circumstances at McDonald’s. I’m a little unclear about the sequence of events. Do you remember anything you might have eaten inside the restaurant?”

  I could see his eyes rolling behind the closed lids. He was thinking about it before answering. Gary had on thongs and his left foot was tapping rapidly.

  “No… no… can’t say that I do. Did I actually eat there? I don’t remember. I’m not sure if I ate or not.”

  At least he didn’t deny he’d been inside the McDonald’s.

  “Did you notice any people at the McDonald’s?” I asked. “Do you remember any customers? A counter girl you might have spoken to?”

  “Mmmm… It was crowded. No one in particular comes to mind. I recall thinking that some people dress so badly it’s comical. You see it in any mall. All the time at places like HoJo’s and McDonald’s.”

  In his mind, he was still inside the McDonald’s. He’d come that far with me. Stay with me, Gary.

  “Did you use the rest room?” I already knew that he had gone to the bathroom. Most of his actions were covered in the reports of the arrest.

  “Yes, I used the rest room,” he answered.

  “How about a beverage? Something to drink? Bring me along with you. Put yourself right there as much as you can.”

  He smiled. “Please. Don’t condescend.”

  He had cocked his head a little oddly. Then, Gary started to laugh. A peculiar laugh, deeper than usual. Strange, though not completely alarming. His voice patterns were coming more rapid, and very clipped. His foot was tapping faster and fasten.

  “You’re not smart enough to do this,” he said.

  I was a little surprised by the change in his tone of voice. “To do what? Tell me what you’re saying, Gary. I don’t follow you.”

  “To try and trick him. That’s what I’m saying. You’re bright, but not that bright.”

  “Who am I trying to trick?”

  “Soneji, of course. He’s right there in the McDonald’s. He’s pretending to get coffee, but he’s really pissed off. He’s about to go nuclear. He needs attention now.”

  I sat forward in my chair. I hadn’t expected this.

  “Why is he angry? Do you know why?” I asked.

  “He’s pissed because they got lucky. That’s why.”

  “Who got lucky?”

  “The police. He’s pissed because stupid people could luck out and ruin everything, screw up the master plan.”

  “I’d like to talk to him about it,” I said. I was trying to stay as matter-of-fact as he was. If Soneji were here now, maybe we could talk.

  “No! No. You’re not on a level with him. You wouldn’t understand anything he has to say. You don’t have a clue about Soneji.”

  “Is he still angry? Is he angry now? Being here in prison? What does Soneji think about being in this cell?”

  “He says—fuck you. FUCK YOU!”

  He lunged at me. He grabbed my shirt and tie, the front of my sport jacket.

  He was physically strong, but so am I. I let him hold, and I held on to him. We were in a powerful bear hug. Our heads came together and cracked. I could have broken free, but I didn’t try. He wasn’t really hurting me. It was more as if he were issuing a threat, drawing a line between us.

  Campbell and his guards came rushing down the corridor. Soneji/Murphy let go of me and began throwing himself at the cell door. Spit ran from the side of his mouth. He began screaming. Cursing at the top of his voice.

  The guards wrestled him onto the floor. They restrained him with difficulty. Soneji was much more powerful than his slender body would have suggested. I already knew that from experience.

  The R.N. followed them in, and gave him a shot of Ativan. Within minutes, he was asleep on the floor of the cell.

  The guards lifted him onto his cot and wrapped him in a restraining jacket. I waited until they locked him in the cell.

  Who was in the cell?

  Gary Soneji?

  Gary Murphy?

  Or both of them?


  THAT NIGHT, Chief Pittman called me at home. I didn’t think he wanted to congratulate me on my work with Soneji/Murphy. I was right. The Jefe did ask me to stop by his office the next morning.

  “What’s up?” I asked him.

  He wouldn’t tell me over the phone. I guess he didn’t want to spoil the surprise.

  In the morning, I made sure I was clean-shaven, and I put on my leather car coat for the occasion. I played a little Lady Day on the porch before I left the house. Think darkness and light. Be darkness and light. I played “The Man I Love,” “For All We Know,” “That’s Life, I Guess.” Then off to see The Jefe.

  When I arrived at Pittman’s office, there was too much activity for quarter to eight in the morning. Even The Jefe’s assistant seemed fully employed for a change.

  Old Fred Cook is a failed vice detective, now posing as an administrative assistant. He looks like one of the artifacts they trot out for old-timer baseball games. Fred is mean-spirited, petty, and supremely political. Dealing through him is like giving messages to a wax-museum doll.

  “Chief’s ready for you.” He served up one of his thin-lipped smiles. Fred Cook relishes knowing things before the rest of us. Even when he doesn’t know, he acts as if he does.

  “What’s going on this morning, Fred?” I asked him straight out. “You can tell me.”

  I saw that all-knowing glint in his eyes. “Why don’t you just go in there and see. I’m sure the chief will explain his intentions.”

  “I’m proud of you, Fred. You sure can be trusted with a secret. You know, you should be on the National Security Council.”

  I went inside expecting the worst. But I underestimated the chief of detectives a little.

  Mayor Carl Monroe was in the office with Pittman. So was our police captain, Christopher Clouser, and, of all people, John Sampson. It appeared that one of Washington’s ever-so-popular morning events, a working breakfast, had been set up in the chief’s inner sanctum.

  “It’s not all bad,” Sampson said in a low voice. In sharp contrast to his words, Sampson looked like a large animal caught in one of those double-clawed spring-traps hunters use. I got the feeling he would happily have chewed his foot off to escape from the room.

  “It’s not bad at all.” Carl Monroe smiled jovially when he saw the chiseled look on my face. “We have some good news for you both. Very good news. Shall I? Yeah, I think so…. You and Sampson are being promoted today. Right here. Congratulations to our newest senior detective and our newest divisional chief.”

  They clapped approvingly. Sampson and I exchanged quizzical looks. What the hell was going on?

  If I’d known, I would have brought Nana and the kids along. It was like those affairs where the president gives medals and thanks to war widows. Only this time, the dead had been invited to the ceremony. Sampson and I were dead in the eyes of Chief Pittman.

  “Maybe you’d like to tell Sampson and me what’s going on here?” I smiled conspiratorially at Monroe. “You know, the subtext.”

  Carl Monroe had his magnificent smile blazing away. It was so warm, and personal, and “genuine.” “I was asked to come here,” he said, “because you and Detective Sampson were being promoted. That’s about it. I was very happy to come, Alex”—he made a comic face—“at quarter to eight this morning.”

  Actually, it’s hard not to like Carl sometimes. He’s totally aware of who and what he’s become as a politician. He reminds me of the prostitutes on 14th Street who will tell you a raunchy joke or two when you have to pull them in for soliciting.

  “There are a couple of other things to discuss,” Pittman said, but then waved off the idea of any real substance entering the ceremonial conversation. “They can wait until after. There’s coffee and sweetcakes first.”

  “I think we ought to discuss everything now,” I said. I shifted my eyes to Monroe. “Put it out on the table with the sweetcakes.”

  Monroe shook his head. “Why don’t you go slow for a change?”

  “I’m not going to be able to run for public office, am I?” I said to the mayor. “Not much of a politician.”

  Monroe shrugged, but he continued to smile. “I don’t know about that, Alex. Sometimes a man changes to a more effective style as he gains experience. Sees what works, what doesn’t. It’s definitely more satisfying to be confrontational. Doesn’t always serve the greater good, though.”

  “Is that what this is about? The greater good? That’s the topic for this morning’s breakfast?” Sampson asked the group.

  “I think so. Yes, I believe it is.” Monroe nodded and bit into one of the sweetcakes.

  Chief Pittman poured coffee into an expensive china cup that was too small and delicate for his hand. It made me think of little watercress sandwiches. Rich people’s lunches.

  “We’re bumping into the FBI, Justice, the Secret Service, on this kidnapping case. It’s no good for anybody. We’ve decided to pull back completely. To take you off the case again,” Pittman finally said.

  Bingo. The other shoe had dropped. The truth was out at our little working breakfast.

  All of a sudden, everybody in the office was talking at once. At least two of us were shouting. Neat party.

  “This is total bullshit,” Sampson told the mayor to his face. “And you know it. You do know it, don’t you?”

  “I’ve begun sessions with Soneji/Murphy,” I said to Pittman and Monroe and Captain Clouser. “I hypnotized him yesterday. Jesus fucking Christ, no. Don’t do this. Not now.”

  “We’re aware of your progress with Gary Soneji. We had to make a decision, and we’ve made it.”

  “You want the truth, Alex?” Carl Monroe’s voice suddenly rang out in the room. “You w
ant to hear the truth about this?”

  I looked at him. “Always.”

  Monroe stared right into my eyes. “A great deal of pressure has been used by the attorney general on a lot of people in Washington. A huge trial will begin, I believe, within six weeks at the most. The Orient Express has already left the station, Alex. You’re not on it. I’m not on it. It’s gotten much bigger than either of us. Soneji/Murphy is on it….

  “The prosecutor, the Justice Department, has decided to stop your sessions with Soneji/Murphy. A team of psychiatrists has been formally assigned to him. That’s the way it will work from here on. That’s the way it’s going to be. This case has moved into a new phase, and our involvement won’t be needed.”

  Sampson and I walked out on our own party. Our involvement was no longer needed.


  FOR THE NEXT WEEK, I got home from work at a sane hour, usually between six and six-thirty. No more eighty- and hundred-hour work weeks. Damon and Janelle couldn’t have been happier if I’d been fired from the job outright.

  We rented Walt Disney and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles videos, listened to the three-disc set Billie Holiday: The Legacy 1933–1958, fell asleep on the couch together. All sorts of amazing good stuff.

  One afternoon, the kids and I visited Maria’s grave site. Neither Jannie nor Damon had completely gotten over losing their mom. On the way out of the cemetery, I stopped at another grave, Mustaf Sanders’s final place. I could still see his sad little eyes staring at me. The eyes were asking, Why? No answer yet, Mustaf. But I wasn’t ready to give up.

  On a Saturday toward the end of summer, Sampson and I made the long drive to Princeton, New Jersey. Maggie Rose Dunne still hadn’t been found. Neither had the ten-million-dollar ransom. We were rechecking everything on our own time.

  We talked to several neighbors of the Murphys. The Murphy family had all perished in a fire, but no one had suspected Gary. Gary Murphy had been a model student as far as everyone around Princeton knew. He’d graduated fourth in his class at the local high school, though he never seemed to study or compete. Nor did he get into any kind of trouble, at least none that his neighbors in Princeton knew about. The young man they described was similar to the Gary Murphy I’d interviewed at Lorton Prison.

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