Along came a spider, p.20
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       Along Came a Spider, p.20
 

         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  Sampson turned the kitchen chair around to face me. “They’re busy rushing him to trial,” he said. “They don’t have a clue what’s really going on. They’re going to finish it, anyway. Bury it. Maybe we have the answer, Alex.”

  “So far, we’re the only ones who have a few of the answers,” I said.

  Sampson and I left the Cerisier house and drove downtown in separate cars. My mind was racing through everything we knew so far, half-a-dozen possible scenarios culled from thousands. Police work. An inch at a time.

  I was thinking about Bruno Hauptmann and the Lindbergh kidnapping. After he’d been caught, and possibly framed, Bruno Hauptmann had been rushed to trial, too. Hauptmann had been convicted, maybe wrongly.

  Gary Soneji/Murphy knew all about that. Was it all part of one of his complex game plans? A ten-or twelve-year plan? Who was the other white man? The pilot down in Florida? Or someone like Simon Conklin, Gary’s friend from Princeton?

  Could there have been an accomplice right from the beginning?

  Later that night, I was with Jezzie. She insisted that I quit work at eight. For over a month, she’d had tickets for a Georgetown basketball game I wanted to see in the worst way. On our ride over there, we did something we rarely do: we talked about nothing but The Job. I dropped the latest bomb, the “accomplice theory,” on her.

  “I don’t understand one beguiling aspect of all this,” Jezzie said after she had listened to me tell Nina Cerisier’s story. She was still nearly as hooked on the kidnapping case as I was. She was more subtle about it, but I could tell she was hooked.

  “Ask the Shell Answer Man. I understand everything beguiling. I know beguiling up the wazoo.”

  “Okay. This girl was friends with Suzette Sanders, right? She was close to the family. And still, she didn’t talk. Because relations with the police are that bad in the neighborhood? I don’t know if I buy it. All of a sudden, now, she comes forward.”

  “I buy it,” I told Jezzie. “The Metro police are like rat poison with lots of folks in these neighborhoods. I live there, they know me, and I’m just barely accepted.”

  “It’s still strange to me, Alex. It’s just too odd. The girls were supposed to be friends.”

  “It sure is strange. The PLO would talk to the Israeli Army before some of the people in Southeast would talk to the police.”

  “So what do you think now that you’ve heard the Cerisier girl and her supposed revelation? What do you make of this… accomplice?”

  “It doesn’t quite track for me yet,” I admitted. “Which means that it tracks perfectly with everything that’s happened so far. I believe the Cerisier girl saw someone. The question is, who?”

  “Well, I have to say it, Alex, this lead sounds like a wild goose chase. I hope you don’t become the Jim Garrison of this kidnapping.”

  Just before eight, we arrived at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. Georgetown was playing St. John’s from New York City. Jezzie had choice tickets. That proved she knew everyone in town. It’s easier to get into an inauguration ball than certain Big East games.

  We held hands as we strolled across the parking lot toward the glittery Cap Centre. I like Georgetown basketball, and I admire their coach, a black man named John Thompson. Sampson and I catch two or three home games a season.

  “I’m psyched to see the Beast of the East,” Jezzie supplied some basketball lingo, with a wink, as we got close to the stadium.

  “Versus the Hoyas,” I said to her.

  “The Hoyas are the Beast of the East.” She popped her gum and made a face at me. “Don’t get cute with me.”

  “You’re so smart about every goddamn thing.” I grinned. She was, too. It was difficult to bring up a subject she hadn’t read about, or experienced. “What’s the nickname for St. John’s?”

  “The St. John’s Redmen. Chris Mullin came from there. They’re also called the Johnnies. Chris Mullin plays for Golden State in the pros now. They’re called the Warriors.”

  We both stopped talking at the same time. Whatever I was about to say caught in my throat.

  “Hey… hey, nigger-lover!” someone had shouted across the parking lot. “Say hey, salt and pepper.”

  Jezzie’s hand tightened around mine.

  “Alex? Be cool. Just keep going,” Jezzie said to me.

  “I’m right here,” I told her. “I’m as cool as can be.”

  “Let it go. Just walk into the Cap Centre with me. They’re assholes. It doesn’t deserve a response.”

  I let go of her hand. I walked in the direction of three men who were standing at the rear of a silver and blue four-by-four. Not Georgetown students, or St. John’s Redmen, either. The men were wearing parkas, and peaked hats with company or team logos. They were free, white, and over twenty-one. Old enough to know better.

  “Who said that?” I asked them. My body felt wooden, unreal. “Who said, ‘Hey, nigger-lover’? Is that supposed to be funny? Am I missing a good joke here?”

  One of them stepped forward to accept the credit. He spoke up from under a peaked Day-Glo Redskins hat. “What’s it to you? You wanna go three on one, Magic? That’s the way it’s gonna be.”

  “I know it’s a little unfair, me against the three of you, but I might just do that,” I told him. “Maybe you can find a fourth real quick.”

  “Alex?” I heard Jezzie coming up behind. “Alex, please don’t. Just walk away from them.”

  “Fuck you, Alex,” one of the men said. “You need your lady’s help on this one?”

  “You like Alex, honey? Alex your main man?” I heard. “Your very own jungle bunny?”

  I heard a sharp snap behind my eyes. The sound of the snap seemed very real. I felt myself snap.

  I hit Redskins Hat with my first punch. I pivoted smoothly, and smacked a second one of the trio on the side of his temple.

  The first man went down hard, his ball hat flying like a Frisbee. The second guy was staggered. Out on his feet. He went down on one knee and stayed there, indefinitely. All the fight was out of him.

  “I am so tired of shit like this happening. I’m sick of it.” I was shaking as I spoke.

  “He had too much to drink, mister. We all did,” the guy who was still standing said. “He’s been all fucked up. Lot of pressure these days. Hell, we work with black guys. We got black friends. What can I say? We’re sorry.”

  So was I. More than I cared to say to these assholes. I turned away from them, and Jezzie and I walked back to the car. My arms and legs felt as if they were made of stone. My heart was pounding like an oil derrick.

  “I’m sorry,” I said to her. I felt a little sick. “I can’t take shit like that. I can’t walk away anymore.”

  “I understand,” Jezzie said softly. “You did what you had to.” She was at my side. In this thing for the good and the bad.

  We held one another inside my car for a long moment. Then we went home to be together.

  CHAPTER 55

  I GOT TO SEE Gary Murphy again on the first of October. “New evidence” was the stated reason. By that time, half the world had talked to Nina Cerisier. The “accomplice theory” had a life of its own.

  We were using S.I.T. to scour the neighborhood around the Cerisier house. I’d tried everything from mug shot books to Identikit drawings with Nina Cerisier. So far, it hadn’t helped her find a likeness of the “accomplice.”

  We knew it was a male, white, and Nina thought he had a stocky frame. The FBI claimed to be intensifying their search for the pilot in Florida. We’d see about that. I was back in the game again.

  Dr. Campbell walked me down the maximum-security corridor inside Lorton Prison. Inmates glared out at us as we passed by. I glared back. I’m a good glarer, too.

  Finally, we arrived at the cell block where Gary Soneji/Murphy was still being kept.

  Soneji/Murphy’s cell, the entire corridor, was well-lighted, but he squinted up from his cot. It was as if he were peering out from a darkened cave.

 
It took a moment for him to recognize me.

  When he finally did, he smiled. He still looked like this nice, small-town young man. Gary Murphy. A character out of a nineties remake of It’s a Wonderful Life. I remembered his friend Simon Conklin telling me how Gary Murphy could play any role he needed to. It was all part of his being in the Ninety-ninth Percentile.

  “Why did you stop coming to see me, Alex?” he asked. His eyes had an almost mournful look now. “I had nobody I could talk to. Those other doctors don’t ever listen. Not really, they don’t.”

  “They wouldn’t let me see you for a while,” I told him. “But it’s worked out, so here I am.”

  He looked hurt. He was nibbling on his lower lip and staring down at his canvas prison shoes.

  Suddenly, his face contorted and he laughed loudly. The sound echoed through the small cell.

  Soneji/Murphy leaned closer to me. “You know, you’re really just another dumb bastard,” he said. “So fucking easy to manipulate. Just like all the others before you. Smart, but not smart enough.”

  I stared at him. Surprised. Maybe a little shocked.

  “The lights are on, but there’s nobody home,” he commented on the expression that must have been on my face.

  “No. I’m here,” I said. “I just underestimated you more than I should have. My mistake.”

  “Caught up with reality, have we?” The terrible smirk remained across his face. “You sure you understand? You sure, Doctor-Detective?”

  Of course I understood. I had just met Gary Soneji for the very first time. We had just been introduced by Gary Murphy. The process is called rapid cycling.

  The kidnapper was staring out at me. He was gloating, showing off, being himself for the first time with me.

  The child-murderer sat before me. The brilliant mimic and actor. The Ninety-ninth Percentile. The Son of Lindbergh. All of those things and probably more.

  “You okay?” he asked. He was mimicking my earlier concern for him. “You feeling all right, Doctor?”

  “I’m just great. No problem at all,” I said.

  “Really? You don’t seem okay to me. Something’s wrong, isn’t it? Alex?” Now, he seemed deeply concerned.

  “Hey, listen!” I finally raised my voice. “Fuck off, Soneji. How’s that for reality testing?”

  “Wait a minute.” He shook his head back and forth. The wolfish grin had disappeared just as suddenly as it had appeared a moment before. “Why are you calling me Soneji? What is this, Doctor? What’s going on?”

  I watched his face, and I could not believe what I was seeing.

  He’d changed again. Snap. Gary Soneji was gone. He’d changed personas two, maybe three times in a matter of minutes.

  “Gary Murphy?” I tested.

  He nodded. “Who else? Seriously, Doctor, what’s the matter? What is going on? You go away for weeks. Now you’re back.”

  “Tell me what just happened,” I said. I continued to stare at him. “Just now. Tell me what you think just happened.”

  He looked confused. Totally baffled by my question. If all of this was an act, it was the most brilliantly awesome and convincing performance I had ever seen in my years as a shrink.

  “I don’t understand. You come here to my cell. You seem a little tense. Maybe you were embarrassed because you haven’t been around lately. Then you call me Soneji. Completely out of the blue. That’s not supposed to be funny, is it?”

  Was he serious now? Was it possible he didn’t know what had happened less than sixty seconds ago?

  Or was this Gary Soneji, still playacting with me? Could he be slipping in and out of his fugue state so easily, and so seamlessly? It could be, but it was rare. In this case, it could create an unbelievable mockery of a courtroom trial.

  It could even get Soneji/Murphy off.

  Was that his plan? Had it been his escape valve right from the beginning?

  CHAPTER 56

  WHEN SHE WORKED with the others, picking fruits and vegetables on the side of the mountain, Maggie Rose tried to remember how it had been back home. At first, her “list,” the things she remembered, was basic and very general.

  Most of all, she missed her mother and father so much. She missed them every minute of every day. She also missed her friends at school, especially Shrimpie.

  She missed Dukado, her “fresh” little boy kitten.

  And Angel, her “sweet” little boy kitten.

  And Nintendo games and her clothes closet.

  Having parties after school was so great.

  So was taking a bath in the third-floor room over the gardens.

  The more she thought about home, though, the more she remembered, the more Maggie Rose improved her memory list.

  She missed the way she sometimes would get between her mother and father when they hugged or kissed. “We three,” she called it.

  She missed characters her father had enacted for her, mostly when she was little. There was Hank, a big Southern-drawling father, who loved to exclaim “Whooooo’s talkin’ to you?” There was “Susie Wooderman.” Susie was the star of anything Maggie wanted to be in her father’s stories.

  There was the primal ritual whenever they had to get into the car in cold weather. They would all holler at the top of their voices, “Yuck chuck-chuck, chuck-a, chuck-a, yuck chuck-chuck.”

  Her mother would make up songs and sing them to her. Her mother had sung to her ever since she could remember.

  She sang, “I love you so much, Maggie, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you. Nothing in the whole wide world.” Maggie would sing, “Will you take me to Disneyland?” Her mom would answer, “I would do that, Maggie Rose.” “Would you give Dukado a big kiss on the mouth?” “I’d do it for you, Maggie Rose. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do.”

  Maggie could remember whole days she had spent in school, going from class to class. She remembered Ms. Kim’s “special winks” for her. She remembered when Angel would curl up in a chair and sweetly make a sound like “wow.”

  “I’d do anything for you, dear, anything, ’cause you mean everything to me.” Maggie could still hear her mom singing the words to her.

  “Would you please, please come and take me home?” Maggie sang inside her head. “Would you please, please come?”

  But no one sang anything. Not anymore. No one ever sang to Maggie Rose. No one remembered her anymore. Or so she believed in her broken heart.

  CHAPTER 57

  I MET WITH SONEJI/MURPHY half-a-dozen times over the next two weeks. He wouldn’t let me get close to him again, though he claimed this wasn’t so. Something had changed. I’d lost him. Both of him.

  On the fifteenth of October, a federal judge ordered a stay, temporarily halting the commencement of the kidnapping trial. This was to be the final of several delaying tactics by Soneji/Murphy’s defense lawyer, Anthony Nathan.

  Within one week, lightning speed for this kind of complex legal maneuvering, Judge Linda Kaplan had denied the defense requests. Requests for injunctions and restraining orders to the Supreme Court were also denied. Nathan called the Supreme Court “a very organized lynch mob” on all three TV networks. The fireworks were just beginning, he said to the press. He’d established a tone for the trial.

  On the twenty-seventh of October, the trial of the State v. Murphy began. At five minutes to nine that morning, Sampson and I headed for a back entrance into the Federal Building on Indiana Avenue. As best we could, we were traveling incognito.

  “You want to lose some money?” Sampson said as we turned the corner onto Indiana.

  “I hope you’re not talking about wagering money on the outcome of this kidnapping and murder trial?”

  “Sure am, sweet pie. Make the time pass faster.”

  “What’s the bet?”

  Sampson lit a Corona and took a victory puff. “I’ll take… I say he goes to St. Elizabeths, some hospital for the criminally insane. That’s the bet.”

  “You’re saying that our judicial system does
n’t work.”

  “I believe it in every bone in my body. Specially this time around.”

  “All right—I’ll take guilty, two counts of kidnapping. Guilty, murder one.”

  Sampson took another victory puff. “You want to pay me now? Fifty be an acceptable amount for you to lose?”

  “Fifty’s fine with me. You got a bet.”

  “Get it on. I love to take what little money you have.”

  Out front on 3rd Street, a crowd of a couple of thousand surrounded the main courthouse entrance. Another two hundred people, including seven rows of reporters, were already inside. The prosecutor had tried to bar the press, but it had been denied.

  Somebody had printed up signs and they were everywhere: Maggie Rose Is Alive!

  People were handing out roses at the trial site. Up and down Indiana Avenue, volunteers circulated with the free roses. Others sold commemorative pennants. Most popular of all were the small candles that people burned in the windows of their homes as remembrances of Maggie Rose.

  A handful of reporters were waiting at the back entrance, which is reserved for deliveries, as well as for a few shy judges and lawyers. Most veteran cops who come to the courthouse, and don’t appreciate the crowds, also choose the back gate.

  Microphones were immediately pushed at me and Sampson. TV camera lenses gawked. Neither instrument fazed us anymore.

  “Detective Cross, is it true that you were cut out of the case by the FBI?”

  “No. I have an okay relationship with the FBI.”

  “Are you still seeing Gary Murphy at Lorton, Detective?”

  “That makes it sound as if we’re dating. It’s not that serious yet. I’m part of a team of doctors who see him.”

  “Are there racial overtones to this case, as it relates to you?”

  “There are racial overtones to a lot of things, I guess. There’s nothing special here.”

  “The other detective? Detective Sampson. You agree, sir?” a young dude in a bow tie asked.

 
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