Along came a spider, p.19
Along Came a Spider,
Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson
Everyone agreed—except for a single boyhood friend whom we located with some difficulty. The friend, Simon Conklin, now worked at one of the local produce markets as a greengrocer. He lived alone, about fifteen miles outside Princeton Village. The reason we went looking for him was that Missy Murphy had mentioned Conklin to me. The FBI had interviewed him, and gotten little for their efforts.
At first Simon Conklin refused to talk to us, to any more cops. When we threatened to haul him down to Washington, he finally opened up a little.
“Gary always had everybody fooled,” Conklin told us in the disheveled living room of his small house. He was a tall unkempt man. He seemed frazzled and his clothes were hopelessly mismatched. He was very smart, though. He’d been a National Merit student, just like his friend Gary Murphy. “Gary said the great ones always fooled everybody. Great Ones in caps, you understand. Thus spake Gary!”
“What did he mean, the ‘great ones’?” I asked Conklin. I thought I could keep him talking, as long as I played to his ego. I could get what I needed out of Conklin.
“He called them the Ninety-ninth Percentile,” Conklin confided to me. “The crème de la crème. The best of the best. The World-beaters, man.”
“The best of what?” Sampson wanted to know. I could tell he wasn’t too fond of Simon Conklin. His shades were steaming up. But he was playing along, being the good listener so far.
“The list of the real psychos,” Conklin said, and he smiled smugly. “The ones who have always been out there, and will never ever get caught. The ones who’re too smart to get caught. They look down on everybody else. They show no pity, no mercy. They completely rule their own destinies.”
“Gary Murphy was one of them?” I asked. I knew that he wanted to talk now. About Gary, but also about himself. I sensed that Conklin considered himself in the Ninety-ninth Percentile.
“No. Not according to Gary.” He shook his head and kept the disturbing half smile. “According to Gary, he was a lot smarter than the Ninety-ninth Percentile. He always believed he was an original. The original. Called himself a ‘freak of nature.’”
Simon Conklin told us how he and Gary had lived on the same country road about six miles outside of town. They’d taken the school bus together. They’d been friends since they were nine or ten. The road was the same one that led to the Lindbergh farmhouse in Hopewell.
Simon Conklin told us that Gary Murphy had definitely paid his family back with the fire. He knew all about Gary’s child-abuse sufferings. He could never prove it, but he knew Gary had set the blaze.
“I’ll tell you exactly how I know his plan. He told me—when we were twelve years old. Gary said he was going to get them for his twenty-first birthday. He said he’d do it so it looked like he was away at school. That he’d never be a suspect. And that’s what the boy did, didn’t he? He waited for nine long years. He had a nine-year plan for that one.”
We talked to Simon Conklin for three hours one day, then five more hours the following day. He told a series of sad and gruesome stories. Gary locked away in the Murphy basement for days and weeks at a time. Gary’s obsessive plans: ten-year plans, fifteen-year plans, life plans. Gary’s secret war against small animals, especially pretty birds that flew into his stepmother’s garden. How he would pluck off a robin’s leg, then a wing, then a second leg, for as long as the bird had the will to live. Gary’s vision to see himself way up in the Ninety-ninth Percentile, right at the top. Finally, Gary’s ability to mimic, to act, to play parts.
I would have liked to have known about it while I was still meeting with Gary Murphy at Lorton Prison. I would have wanted to spend several sessions with Gary, prowling around his old Princeton haunts. Talking to Gary about his friend Simon Conklin.
Unfortunately, I had been taken off that part of the case now. The kidnapping case had moved way beyond me and Sampson, and Simon Conklin.
I gave our leads in Princeton over to the FBI. I wrote a twelve-page report on Simon Conklin. The Bureau never followed up on it. I wrote a second report and sent copies to everyone on the original search team. In my report was something Simon Conklin had said about his boyhood friend, Gary Murphy. “Gary always said he was going to do important things.”
Not a thing happened. Simon Conklin wasn’t interviewed again by the FBI. They didn’t want to open up new leads. They wanted the kidnapping case of Maggie Rose Dunne closed.
IN LATE SEPTEMBER, Jezzie Flanagan and I went away to the islands. We escaped for a long weekend. Just the two of us. It was Jezzie’s idea. I thought it was a good one. R & R. We were curious. Apprehensive. Excited about four uninterrupted days together. Maybe we wouldn’t be able to stand each other for that long. That’s what we needed to find out.
On Front Street on Virgin Gorda, hardly a head turned to look at us. That was nice for a change, different from D.C., where people usually stared.
We took scuba and snorkeling lessons from a seventeen-year-old black woman. We rode horses along a beach that ran uninterrupted for over three miles. We drove a Range Rover up into the jungle and got lost for a half day. The most unforgettable experience was a visit to an unlikely place that we named Jezzie and Alex’s Private Island in Paradise. It was a spot the hotel found for us. They dropped us off in a boat, and left us all alone.
“This is the most awe-inspiring place that I’ve ever been in my life,” Jezzie said. Look at all this water and sand. Overhanging cliffs, the reef out there.”
“It’s not Fifth Street. But it’s okay.” I smiled and looked around. I did a few three-sixties at the edge of the water.
Our private island was mostly a long shelf of white sand that felt like sugar under our feet. Beyond the beach was the lushest green jungle we had ever seen. It was dotted with white roses and bougainvillea. The blue-green sea there was as clear as spring water.
The kitchen at the inn had packed a lunch—fine wines, exotic cheeses, lobster, crabmeat, and various salads. Not another person was anywhere in sight. We did the natural thing. We took off our clothes. No shame. No taboos. We were alone in paradise right?
I started to laugh out loud as I lay on the beach with Jezzie. That was something else I was doing more than I had in a long, long time—smiling, feeling at peace with the surroundings. Feeling, period. I was incredibly thankful to be feeling. Three and a half years was too long a time for mourning.
“Do you have any idea how beautiful you really are?” I said to her as we lay together.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I carry a compact in my purse. Little mirror.” She looked into my eyes. She was studying something in them I would never see. “Actually, I’ve tried to avoid the issue of being attractive since I joined the Service. That’s how screwed up things are in macho-man Washington.”
Jezzie gave me a wink. “You can be so serious, Alex. But you’re also full of fun. I’ll bet only your kids get to see this side of you. Damon and Jannie know you. Booga, booga.” She tickled me.
“Don’t switch subjects on me. We were talking about you.”
“You were. Occasionally, I want to be pretty, but most times I just want to be Plain Jane. Wear big pink curlers to bed and watch old movies.”
“You’ve been beautiful all weekend. No pink curlers. Ribbons and fresh flowers in your hair. Strapless bathing suits. Occasionally, no bathing suits.”
“I want to be pretty right now. In Washington, it’s different. It’s one more problem to solve. Imagine going to see your boss. Important report you’ve been working on for months. The first thing he says is, ‘You look terrific in a dress, babe.’ You just want to say, ‘Fuck you, asshole.’”
I reached out and we held hands. “Thank you, for the way you look,” I said. “You look so beautiful.”
“I did it just for you.” Jezzie smiled. “And I’d like to do something else for you. I’d like you to do something for me, too.”
And so we did one another.
So far, Jezzie and I we
That night, we sat at an outdoor raw bar in town. We watched the carefree island world go by, and wondered why we didn’t just drop out and become part of it. We ate shrimp and oysters and talked for a couple of hours straight. We let our hair down, especially Jezzie.
“I’ve been a really driven person, Alex,” Jezzie said to me. “I don’t mean just on the kidnapping case, butting my way into every briefing, every wild goose chase. I’ve been that way ever since I can remember. Once I start on an idea, I can’t turn it off.”
I didn’t say anything. I wanted to listen to her. I wanted to know all there was to know.
She raised her mug. “I’m sitting here with a beer in my hand, right. Well, both my parents were alcoholics. They were dysfunctional before it was fashionable. Nobody outside our house knew how bad it was. They would have screaming fights constantly. My dad usually passed out. Slept in ‘his chair.’ My mother would stay awake half the night at the dining-room table. She loved her Jameson’s. She’d say, ‘Get me another of my Jameson’s, Little Jezzie.’ I was their little cocktail waitress. That’s how I earned my allowance until I was eleven.”
Jezzie stopped talking and looked into my eyes. I hadn’t seen her so vulnerable and unsure of herself. She projected such confidence most of the time. That was her reputation in the Secret Service. “Do you want to leave now? Want me to lighten up?”
I shook my head. “No, Jezzie. I want to listen to whatever you have to say. I want to know all about you.”
“Are we still on vacation?”
“Yes, and I really want to hear about this. Just talk to me. Trust me. If I get bored, I’ll just get up and leave you with the bar tab.”
She smiled and went on. “I loved both my parents in a strange way. I believe that they loved me. Their ‘Little Jezzie.’ I told you once how I didn’t want to be a smart failure like my parents.”
“Maybe you understated things just a little.” I smiled.
“Yeah. Well, anyway, I worked long nights and weekends when I got into the Service. I set impossible goals for myself—supervisor at twenty-eight—and I beat every goal. That’s part of what happened with my husband. I put my job ahead of our marriage. Want to know why I started riding the motorcycle?”
“Yep. Also why you make me ride your motorcycle.”
“Well, see,” Jezzie said, “I could never make work stop. Couldn’t turn it off when I went home at night. Not until I got the bike. When you’re doing a hundred and twenty, you have to concentrate on the road. Everything else goes away. The Job finally goes away.”
“That’s partly why I play the piano,” I said to her. “I’m sorry about your parents, Jezzie.”
“I’m glad I finally told you about them,” Jezzie said. “I’ve never told anyone before you. Not one other person knows the whole true story.”
Jezzie and I held each other at the little island raw bar. I’d never felt so close to her. Sweet little Jezzie. Of all the times we were together, it was one I’d never forget. Our visit to paradise.
Suddenly, and way too quickly, our busman’s holiday was over.
We found ourselves trapped on board an American Airlines flight back to Washington, back to dreary, rainy weather, according to reports. Back to The Job.
We were a little distant from each other during the flight. We started sentences at the same time, then had to play “you go first” games. For the first time during the entire trip, we talked shop, the dreaded shoptalk.
“Do you really think he has a multiple personality, Alex? Does he know what happened to Maggie Rose? Soneji knows. Does Murphy know?”
“On some level, he knows. He was scary that one time he talked about Soneji. Whether Soneji is a separate personality or his real persona, he’s frightening. Soneji knows what happened to Maggie Rose.”
“Too bad we never will now. It seems that way, anyhow.”
“Yeah. Because I think I could get it out of him. It just takes some time.”
National Airport in D.C. was a natural disaster that several thousand of us got to experience together. Traffic just barely crept along. The line for cabs curled back into the terminal. Everybody looked soaked to the skin.
Neither Jezzie nor I had raincoats and we were getting soaked through. Life was suddenly depressing, and all too real again. The stalled investigation was here in D.C. The trial was coming. I probably had a message from Chief Pittman on my desk.
“Let’s go back. Let’s turn around.” Jezzie took my hand, and she pulled me close in front of the glass doorway to the Delta Shuttle.
The warmth and familiar smells of her body were still nice. The last scents of cocoa butter and aloe still lingered.
People turned to stare at us as they passed. They looked. They judged. Almost every person who passed us looked.
“Let’s get out of here,” I said.
POW. At 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon (I got back to Washington at eleven o’clock), I got a call from Sampson. He wanted to meet me at the Sanders house. He thought we’d made a new connection between the kidnapping and the project murders. He was pumped as hell with his news. Hard work was paying off on one of our early leads.
I hadn’t been back to the Sanders crime scene in several months, but it was all sadly familiar. The windows were dark from the outside. I wondered if the house would ever be sold, or even rented again.
I sat in my car in the Sanders driveway, and read through the original detectives’ report. There was nothing in the reports I didn’t already know and hadn’t gone over a dozen times.
I kept staring at the house. The yellowing shades were drawn, so I couldn’t see inside. Where was Sampson, and what did he want with me here?
He pulled up behind me at three o’clock sharp. He climbed out of his battered Nissan and joined me in the front seat of the Porsche.
“Oh, you are brown sugar now. You look sweet enough to eat.”
“You’re still big and ugly. Nothing changes. What do you have here?”
“Police work at its very best,” Sampson said. He lit up a Corona. “By the way, you were right to keep after this thing.”
Outside the car, the wind was howling and heavy with rain. There had been tornadoes down through Kentucky and Ohio. The weather had been bizarre the whole weekend that we were away.
“Did you snorkel, and sail, play tennis in your club whites?” Sampson asked.
“We didn’t have time for that kind of stuff. We did a lot of spiritual bonding you wouldn’t understand.”
“My, my.” Sampson talked like a black girlfriend, played the part well. “I love to talk the trash, don’t you, sister?”
“Are we going inside?” I asked him.
Selective scenes from the past had been flashing into my head for several minutes, none of them pleasant. I remembered the face of the fourteen-year-old Sanders girl. And three-year-old Mustaf. I remembered what beautiful children they had been. I remembered how nobody cared when they died here in Southeast.
“Actually, we’re here to visit the next-door neighbors,” he finally said. “Let’s go to work. Something happened here that I don’t understand yet. It’s important, though, Alex. I need your head on it.”
We went to visit the Sanderses’ next-door neighbors, the Cerisiers. It was important. It got my full attention, immediately.
I already knew that Nina Cerisier had been Suzette Sanders’s best friend since they were little girls. The families had been living next door to each other since 1979. Nina, as well as her mother and father, hadn’t gotten over the murders. If they could have afforded to, they would have moved away.
We were invited in by Mrs. Cerisier, who shouted upstairs for her daughter Nina. We were seated around the Cerisiers’ kitchen table. A picture of a smiling Magic Johnson was on the wall. Cigarette smoke and bacon grease were in the air.
Nina Cerisier was very cool and distant wh
“Last week,” Sampson said for my benefit, “Nina came forward and told a teacher’s aide at Southeast that she might have seen the killer a couple of nights before the murders. She’d been afraid to talk about it.”
“I understand,” I said. It is almost impossible to get eye-witnesses to talk to police in Condon or Langley, or any of D.C.’s black neighborhoods.
“I saw he been caught,” Nina said in an offhand manner. Beautiful rust-colored eyes stared at me from her plain face. “I wasn’t so scared no more. I’m still some scared, though.”
“How did you recognize him?” I asked Nina.
“Saw him on the TV. He did that big kidnapping thing, too,” she said. “He all over TV.”
“She recognized Gary Murphy,” I said to Sampson.
That meant she’d seen him without his schoolteacher disguise.
“You sure it was the same man as on TV?” Sampson asked Nina.
“Yes. He watch my girlfriend Suzette’s house. I thought it real strange. Not many whites ’round here.”
“Did you see him in the daytime, or at night?” I asked the girl.
“Night. But I know it him. Sanderses’ porch light on bright. Missus Sanders afraid of everything, everybody. Poo ’fraid you say boo. That’s what Suzette, me, used to say she like.”
I turned to Sampson. “Puts him at the murder scene.” Sampson nodded and looked back at Nina. Her pouty mouth was open in a small “o.” Her hands constantly twirled her braided hair.
“Would you tell Detective Cross what else you saw?” he asked.
“Another white man with him,” Nina Cerisier said. “Man wait in his car while the other, he looking at Suzette’s house. Other white man here all the time. Two men.”
Along Came a Spider by James Patterson / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes