Along came a spider, p.24
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       Along Came a Spider, p.24
 

         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  We left the private school before noon and had lunch at a Roy Rogers in Georgetown. Roy’s chicken is better than the Colonel’s, and Roy has those swell “hot wings.” Lots of zing in those babies. Sampson and I settled on five orders of wings and two thirty-two-ounce Cokes. We sat at a tiny picnic table by Roy’s kiddie playground. After lunch maybe we’d go on the see-saw.

  We finished our lunch and decided to drive out to Potomac, Maryland. For the rest of the afternoon, we canvassed Sorrell Avenue and the surrounding streets. We visited a couple of dozen houses, and were about as welcome as Woodward and Bernstein would be. Not that the cold reception stopped us.

  No one had noticed any strange cars or people in the neighborhood. Not in the days before or after the kidnapping. No one could remember seeing an unusual delivery truck. Not even the usual kind—utility repairs, flower, and grocery deliveries.

  Late that afternoon, I went for a drive by myself. I headed out toward Crisfield, Maryland, where Maggie Rose and Michael Goldberg had been kept underground during the first days of the kidnapping. In a crypt? In a cellar? Gary Soneji/Murphy had mentioned “the basement” under hypnosis. He’d been kept in a dark cellar as a child. He’d been friendless for long stretches of his life.

  I wanted to see the farm all by myself this time. All the “disconnects” in the case were bothering the hell out of me. Loose fragments were flying around inside my head as disconcerting as shrapnel. Could someone else have taken Maggie Rose from Soneji/Murphy? I couldn’t have cared less if Einstein was investigating the case—the possibilities would have made his head spin and maybe straightened his hair.

  As I wandered around the grounds of the eerie, deserted farm, I let the facts of the case run freely through my mind. I kept coming back to the Son of Lindbergh and the fact than the Lindbergh baby had been abducted from a “farmhouse.”

  Soneji’s so-called accomplice. That was one unresolved problem.

  Soneji had also been “spotted” near the Sanders murder house—if we could believe Nina Cerisier. That was a second loose end.

  Was this really a case of split personality? The psychology community remained divided over whether there was such a phenomenon. Multiple-personality cases are rare. Was all of this a Byzantine scheme by Gary Murphy? Could he be acting out both personas?

  What had happened to Maggie Rose Dunne? It always came back to her. What had happened to Maggie Rose?

  On the battered dashboard of the Porsche, I still kept one of the tiny candles that had been handed out around the courthouse in Washington. I lit it. I drove back to Washington with it burning against the gathering night. Remember Maggie Rose.

  CHAPTER 64

  I HAD A DATE to see Jezzie that night, and it had kept me going with anticipation through most of the day. We met at an Embassy Suites motel in Arlington. Because of all the press in town for the trial, we were being especially cautious about being seen together.

  Jezzie arrived at the room after I did. She looked absolutely alluring and sexy in a low-cut black tunic. She had on black seamed stockings and high-heeled pumps. She wore red lipstick and a scarlet blush. A silver comb was set in her hair. Be still my heart.

  “I had a power lunch,” she said by way of explanation. She kicked off her high heels. “Do I make the social register or not?”

  “Well, you’re definitely having a positive effect on my social register.”

  “I’ll just be a minute, Alex. One minute.” Jezzie disappeared into the bathroom.

  She peeked out of the bathroom after a few minutes. I was on the bed. The tension in my body was draining into the mattress. Life was good again.

  “Let’s take a bath. Okay? Wash away the road dust,” Jezzie said.

  “That’s not dust,” I said to her. “That’s just me.”

  I got up and went into the bathroom. The tub was square and unusually large. There was a lot of gleaming white and blue tile, all mounted a foot or so higher than the rest of the bathroom. Jezzie’s fancy clothes were strewn on the floor.

  “You in a hurry?” I asked her.

  “Yep.”

  Jezzie had filled the tub to the brim. A few independent-minded soap bubbles floated up and popped against the ceiling. Wisps of steam rose steadily. The room smelled like a country garden.

  She stirred the bathwater with her fingertips. Then she came over to me. She still had the silver comb in her hair.

  “I’m a little wired,” she said.

  “I could tell. I can tell about these things.”

  “I think it might be time for a little healing.”

  We went for it. Jezzie’s hands played with the buttons on my trousers, then the zipper. Our mouths came together, lightly at first, then hard.

  Suddenly, Jezzie took me inside her as we stood beside the steamy tub. Just two or three quick strokes—then she moved away from me again. Her face, neck, and chest were flushed. For a moment, I thought something was wrong.

  I was caught by surprise—shock—pleasure—entering her, then parting so quickly. She was wired. Almost violent.

  “What was that all about?” I asked.

  “I’m going to have a heart attack,” Jezzie whispered. “Better figure out a story for the police. Whew, Alex.”

  She took my hand and pulled me into the tub. The water was warm, just right. So was everything else.

  We started to laugh. I still had my underwear on but Pete was poking and peeking around. I pulled off the shorts.

  We maneuvered in the tub until we were facing each other. Jezzie got on top of me somehow. We were unwilling to give up any contact. Jezzie leaned way back. She braced her hands behind her head. She watched my face with curious fascination. The red on her neck and chest was getting deeper.

  Her long legs suddenly lifted straight out of the water and hooked around my head. Jezzie jerked forward a couple of times, then both of us exploded. Her body went stiff. We thrashed and moaned a lot. Waves of water splashed from the tub.

  Somehow Jezzie got her arms around me—her arms and her legs. I settled back in water just under my nose.

  Then I went under. Jezzie was on top of me. The feeling of being close to climax rushed through my body. We were both coming. I was also going to drown. I heard Jezzie yell again, a strange water-muffled sound above the surface.

  I climaxed as I was about to run out of air. I swallowed water and coughed.

  Jezzie rescued me. She pulled me up, and took my face in both her hands.

  Release. Blessed release.

  We stayed there holding each other. Spent, as they used to say in gentler times. There was more water on the floor than in the bathtub.

  All I knew right then was that I was falling deeper and deeper in love. That much I was sure about. The rest of my life was mystery and chaos, but at least there was a lifeline. There was Jezzie.

  Around one o’clock in the morning, I had to leave to go home. That way, I would be there when the kids got up. Jezzie understood. After the trial, we were going to sort everything out a lot better. Jezzie wanted to get to know Jannie and Damon; it had to be done just right, we agreed.

  “I miss you already,” she said as I got ready to go. “Damn. Don’t go… I know you have to go.”

  She took the silver comb out of her hair and pressed it into my hand.

  I went out into the night, with her voice still in my head. At first, there was nothing but the pitch-darkness of the parking lot.

  Suddenly, two men stepped out in front of me. I automatically reached for my shoulder holster. One of them switched on a glaring light. The other had a camera aimed at my face.

  The press had found me and Jezzie. Oh, shit! The kidnapping was so big that everything around it was a story. It had been like that from the start.

  A young woman trailed along behind the two men. She had long, frizzy black hair. She looked like part of a movie crew from New York or L.A.

  “Detective Alex Cross?” one of the men asked.

  Meanwhile, his partner
took several rapid shots with the camera. The flashes lit up the dark parking lot.

  “We’re from the National Star. We want to talk to you, Detective Cross.” I picked up a British accent. The National Star was an American tabloid based in Miami.

  “What does this have to do with anything that’s happened?” I said to the Brit. I was fingering Jezzie’s silver comb in my pocket. “This is private. This isn’t news. This isn’t anybody else’s business.”

  “That’s our job to decide,” he said. “I don’t know, though, mate. Major communications breakthrough between the D.C. police and the Secret Service. Secret talks, and whatever.”

  The woman was already knocking at the motel door. Her voice was as loud as the metallic rapping. “This is the National Star!” she announced.

  “Don’t come out,” I shouted to Jezzie.

  The door opened, and Jezzie stood there fully dressed. She stared at the frizzy-haired woman and didn’t bother to conceal her contempt.

  “This must be a really proud moment,” she said to the reporter. “This is probably as close as you’ll ever get to a Pulitzer.”

  “Nah.” The reporter had a comeback. “I know Roxanne Pulitzer. And now I know you two.”

  CHAPTER 65

  I PLAYED A MEDLEY of Keith Sweat, Bell Biv Devoe, Hammer, and Public Enemy pop songs on the piano. I stayed out on the porch entertaining Damon and Janelle until about eight that morning. It was Wednesday of the week Jezzie and I had gotten our little lurid surprise in Arlington.

  Nana was in the kitchen reading a hot copy of the National Star, which I’d bought for her at Acme. I waited for her to call me inside.

  When she didn’t, I got up from my pumping piano and went to face her music. I told Damon and Janelle to stay put. “Stay just the way you are. Don’t ever change.”

  Just like on any other morning, Nana was sipping tea. The remains of her poached egg and toast were still in evidence. The tabloid was casually folded over on the kitchen table. Read? Unread? I couldn’t tell from her face, or the condition of the newspaper.

  “You read the story?” I had to ask.

  “Well, I read enough to get the gist of it. Saw your picture on the front page, too,” she said to me. “I believe that’s how people read that kind of paper. I always used to be surprised, people buying a paper like that on Sunday morning after church.”

  I sat down across from her at the breakfast table. A wave of powerful old feelings and memories came rushing over me. I recalled so many talks like this one in our collective past.

  Nana took up a little crust of toast. She dipped it in marmalade. If birds could eat like humans, they would eat like Nana Mama. She is quite a piece of work.

  “She’s a beautiful and I’m sure a very interesting white woman. You’re a very handsome black man, sometimes with a good head on your shoulders. A lot of people don’t like that idea, that picture. You’re not too surprised, are you?”

  “How about you, Nana? Do you like it?” I asked her.

  Nana Mama sighed very softly. She put down her teacup with a clink. “Tell you what, now. I don’t know the clinical terms for these things, Alex, but you never seemed to get over losing your mother. I saw that when you were a little boy. I think I still see it sometimes.”

  “It’s called post-traumatic stress syndrome,” I said to Nana. “If you’re interested in the name.”

  Nana smiled at my retreat into jargon. She’d seen that act before. “I would never make any judgments about what happened to you, but it’s affected you since you arrived here in Washington. I also noticed that you didn’t always fit in with the crowd. Not the way some kids do. You played sports, and you shoplifted with your friend Sampson, and you were always tough. But you read books, and you were moderately sensitive. You follow me? Maybe you got tough on the outside, but not on the inside.”

  I didn’t always buy into Nana’s conclusions anymore, but her raw observations were still pretty good. I hadn’t exactly fit in as a boy in Southeast D.C., but I knew I’d gotten a lot better at it. I was accepted okay now. Detective/Doctor Cross.

  “I didn’t want to hurt you, or disappoint you with this.” I returned to the subject of the tabloid story.

  “I’m not disappointed in you,” my grandmother said to me. “You are my pride, Alex. You bring me tremendous happiness almost every day of my life. When I see you with the kids, and see the work you do here in this neighborhood, and know that you still care enough to humor an old woman—”

  “That last one is a chore,” I told her. “About the so-called news story, though. It’s going to be impossible for a week or so. Then nobody will care very much.”

  Nana shook her head. Her little white helmet of hair turned neatly in place. “No. People will care. Some people will remember this for the rest of your life. What’s that saying? ‘If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.’”

  I asked her, “What was the crime?”

  Nana used the back of her knife to clear away toast crumbs. “You’ll have to tell me that yourself. Why are you and Jezzie Flanagan sneaking around if everything is aboveboard? If you love her, you love her. Do you love her, Alex?”

  I didn’t answer Nana right away. Of course I loved Jezzie. But how much? And where was it going? Did it have to be going somewhere?

  “I don’t know for sure, at least not in the way I think you’re asking the question,” I finally said. “That’s what we’re trying to find out now. We both know the consequences of what we’re doing.”

  “If you love her for sure, Alex,” my grandmother said to me, “then I love her. I love you, Alex. You just paint on a very large canvas. Sometimes you’re too bright for your own good. And you can be very peculiar—by the ways of the white world.”

  “And that’s why you like me so much,” I said to her.

  She said, “It’s just one of the reasons, sonny boy.”

  My grandmother and I held each other for a long moment at the breakfast table that morning. I am big and strong; Nana is tiny, frail, but just as strong. It seemed like old times, in the sense that you never really grow up completely, not around your parents or grandparents. Not around Nana Mama, certainly.

  “Thank you, old woman,” I said to her.

  “And proud of it.” As usual, she had the last word.

  I called Jezzie a few times that morning, but she wasn’t home, or she wasn’t answering her phone. Her answering machine wasn’t on, either. I thought about our night in Arlington. She’d been so wired. Even before the National Star had arrived on the scene.

  I thought about driving over to her apartment, but I changed my mind. We didn’t need any more tabloid photographs or news stories while the trial was winding down.

  Nobody said much to me at work that day. If I’d had any doubts before, that showed me how serious the damage was. I’d taken a hit, all right.

  I went to my office and sat there all alone with a container of black coffee and stared at the four walls. They were covered with “clues” from the kidnapping. I was starting to feel guilty, and rebellious, and angry. I wanted to punch glass, which I’d actually done once or twice after Maria was shot.

  I was at my government-issue, gunmetal desk, facing away from the door. I’d been staring at my work schedule for the week, but I wasn’t really seeing anything written on the sheet.

  “You’re in this one all alone, motherfucker,” I heard Sampson say at my back. “You’re all by your lonesome this time. You are meat cooked on a barbecue spit.”

  “Don’t you think you’re understating things a little?” I said without turning to him.

  “I figured you’d talk when you wanted to talk about it,” Sampson said. “You knew that I knew about the two of you.”

  A couple of coffee-cup rings on the work schedules held my eye. The Browning effect? What the hell was that? My memory and everything else were deserting me lately.

  I finally turned around and faced him. He was decked out in leather pants, an old K
angol hat, a black nylon vest. His dark glasses were an effective mask. Actually, he was trying to be charming and softhearted.

  “What do you figure is going on now?” I asked him. “What are they saying?”

  “Nobody’s real happy about the way the holy-shit kidnapping case has gone down. Not enough ‘attaboys’ coming down from upstairs. I guess they’re lining up potential sacrificial lambs. You’re one of them for sure.”

  “And Jezzie?” I asked. But I already knew the answer.

  “She’s one, too. Associating with known Negroes,” Sampson said. “I take it you haven’t heard the news?”

  “Heard what news?”

  Sampson let out a short burst of breath, then he gave me the latest hot-breaking story.

  “She took a leave of absence, or maybe she left the Service altogether. Happened about an hour ago, Alex. Nobody knows for sure if she jumped or was pushed.”

  I called Jezzie’s office immediately. The secretary said that she was “gone for the day.” I called Jezzie’s apartment. No answer there.

  I drove to her apartment, breaking a couple of speeding laws on the way. Derek McGinty was talking over WAMU radio. I like the sound of Derek’s voice even if I’m not listening to the words.

  Nobody was home at Jezzie’s. At least no photographers were lurking around. I thought about driving down to her lake cottage. I called North Carolina from a pay phone down the street. The local operator told me the number had been disconnected.

  “How recently was that?” I asked with surprise in my voice. “I called that number last night.”

  “Just this morning,” the operator told me. “The local number was disconnected this very morning.”

 
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