Along came a spider, p.25
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       Along Came a Spider, p.25
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         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  Jezzie had disappeared.

  CHAPTER 66

  THE VERDICT in the Soneji/Murphy trial was coming down soon.

  The jury went out on the eleventh of November. They returned after three days, amid nonstop rumors that they had been unable to decide either the guilt, or the innocence, of the defendant. The whole world seemed to be waiting.

  Sampson picked me up that morning and we rode to the courthouse together. The weather had turned warm, after a brief cool spell that foreshadowed winter.

  As we approached Indiana Avenue, I thought about Jezzie. I hadn’t seen her in over a week. I wondered if she would show up in court for the verdict. She’d called me. She told me she was down in North Carolina. That was all she’d really said. I was a loner again, and I didn’t like it.

  I didn’t see Jezzie outside the courthouse, but Anthony Nathan was climbing out of a silver Mercedes stretch. This was his big moment. Reporters climbed all over Nathan. They were like city birds on stale bread crumbs.

  The TV and print people tried to grab a little piece of me and Sampson before we could escape up the courthouse steps. Neither of us was too excited about being interviewed again.

  “Dr. Cross! Dr. Cross, please,” one of them called out. I recognized the shrill voice. It belonged to a local TV news anchorwoman.

  We had to stop. They were behind us, and up ahead. Sampson hummed a little Martha and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to Run.”

  “Dr. Cross, do you feel that your testimony might actually help to get Gary Murphy off the hook for murder one? That you may have inadvertently helped him to get away with murder?”

  Something finally snapped inside me. “We’re just happy to be in the Super Bowl,” I said straight-faced into the glare of several minicam lenses. “Alex Cross is going to concentrate on his game. The rest will take care of itself. Alex Cross just thanks Almighty God for the opportunity to play at this level.” I leaned in toward the reporter who’d asked the question. “You understand what I’m saying? You’re clear now?”

  Sampson smiled and said, “As for me, I’m still open for lucrative endorsements in the sneaker and the soft-drink categories.”

  Then we continued up the steep stone steps and into the federal courthouse.

  As Sampson and I entered the cavernous federal courthouse lobby, the noise level might have done real damage to our eardrums. Everyone was pushing and milling about, but in a sort of civilized manner, the way folks in evening wear push into your back at the Kennedy Center.

  Soneji/Murphy wasn’t the first criminal trial where multiple personality was the center of the defense. It was by far the most celebrated case, though. It had raised emotional questions about guilt and innocence, and those questions genuinely left the verdict in doubt…. If Gary Murphy was innocent, how could he be convicted of kidnapping and murder? His lawyer had planted that question in all of our minds.

  I saw Nathan again upstairs. He had accomplished everything he’d hoped for with his courtroom session. “Clearly, there are two personalities battling each other inside the defendant’s mind,” he’d told the jurors during his summation. “One of them is as innocent as you are. You cannot convict Gary Murphy of kidnapping or murder. Gary Murphy is a good man. Gary Murphy is a husband and a father. Gary Murphy is innocent!”

  It was a difficult problem and dilemma for the jurors. Was Gary Soneji/Murphy a brilliant and evil sociopath? Was he aware, and in control, of his actions? Had there been an “accomplice” to the kidnapping and at least one child-murder? Or had he acted alone from the beginning?

  No one knew the truth except maybe Gary himself. Not the psychology experts. Not the police. Not the press. And not me.

  Now how would the jury of Gary’s “peers” decide?

  The first real event of the morning occurred when Gary was escorted into the packed, noisy courtroom. He looked his usual clean-cut and characteristically boyish self in a plain blue suit. He looked as if he worked in some small-town bank, not like someone on trial for kidnapping and murder.

  There was a smattering of applause. It proved that even kidnappers can have a cult following these days. The trial had definitely attracted its share of weirdos and sick creeps.

  “Who says America doesn’t have any more heroes?” Sampson said to me. “They like his crazy ass. You can see it in their shiny, beady little eyes. He’s the new and improved Charlie Manson. Instead of a berserk hippie, a berserk yuppie.”

  “The Son of Lindbergh,” I reminded Sampson. “I wonder if this is how he wanted it to turn out. All part of his master plan for fame?”

  The jury filed into the courtroom. The men and women looked dazed and unbearably tense. What had they decided—probably very late the night before?

  One of the jurors stumbled as they moved one by one into the dark mahogany jury box. The man went down on one knee and the procession behind him stopped. That one brief moment seemed to underscore the frailty and humanity of the whole trial process.

  I glanced at Soneji/Murphy and thought I saw a faint smile cross his lips. Had I witnessed a tiny slipup? What thoughts were racing through his head now? What verdict did he expect?

  In any event, the persona known as Gary Soneji the “Bad Boy,” would have appreciated the irony of the moment. Everything was ready now. An incredible extravaganza. With him at center stage. No matter what, this was the biggest day of his life.

  I want to be somebody!

  “Has the jury reached a verdict?” Judge Kaplan asked once they were seated.

  A small, folded slip of paper was passed to the judge. Judge Kaplan’s face was expressionless as she read the verdict. Then it went back to the jury foreman. The process of due process.

  The foreman, who had remained standing, began to speak in a clear but shaky voice. He was a postal worker named James Heekin. He was fifty-five, and had ruddy, almost crimson, coloring that suggested high blood pressure, or maybe just the stress of the trial.

  James Heekin proclaimed, “On two charges of kidnapping, we find the defendant guilty. On the charge of the murder of Michael Goldberg, we find the defendant guilty.” James Heekin never used the name Murphy, just the defendant.

  Chaos broke out all over the courtroom. The noise was deafening as it echoed off the stone pillars and marble walls. Reporters raced for the telephones in the hallway. Mary Warner was emotionally congratulated by all the young associates on her staff. Anthony Nathan and his defense team quickly left the room, avoiding questions.

  There was a strangely poignant moment in the front of the courtroom.

  As court officers were leading Gary away, his wife, Missy, and his little girl, Roni, ran up to him. The three of them fiercely hugged. They sobbed openly.

  I had never seen Gary cry before. If it was a performance, it was another brilliant one. If he was acting in front of the courtroom, the scene was entirely believable.

  I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Not until a pair of court officers finally pried Gary away and led him out of the courtroom.

  If he was acting, there hadn’t been a single false move. He was completely absorbed with his wife and little girl. He never once looked around the courtroom to see if he had an audience.

  He played it perfectly.

  Or was Gary Murphy an innocent man who had just been convicted of kidnapping and murder?

  CHAPTER 67

  “PRESSURE, pressure,” Jezzie sang along with the tune playing loudly inside her head.

  The skin was tight against her forehead as Jezzie maneuvered down the winding mountain road without caution or fear. She leaned into every curve, keeping the powerful bike in fourth gear. The fir trees, jutting boulders, and ancient telephone wires were a blur as she sped along. Everything was fuzzy. She felt as if she’d been in free-fall for over a year, maybe for her whole life. She was going to explode soon.

  Nobody understood what it was like to be under so much pressure for so long. Even when she was a kid, she had always been afraid of making a single mistake, af
raid that if she wasn’t perfect little Jezzie she would never be loved by her mother and father.

  Perfect Little Jezzie.

  “Good is not good enough,” and “Good is the enemy of great,” her father used to tell her almost every day. And so she was a calculating, straight-A student; she was Miss Popular; she was on every fast track she could find. Billy Joel had recorded a song a few years back, “Pressure.” That was an approximation for the way she felt every day of her life. She had to make it stop somehow, and now maybe she had a way.

  Jezzie downshifted into third as she approached the lake cottage. All the lights were on. Otherwise, everything around the lake seemed at peace. The water was a sleek black table that seemed to merge with the mountains. But the lights were on. She hadn’t left them on.

  Jezzie got off the bike and quickly went inside. The front door was unlocked. No one was in the living room.

  “Hello?” she called out.

  Jezzie checked the kitchen, then both bedrooms. No one here. There was no sign that anyone had been in either room. Except for the lights.

  “Hey, who’s here?”

  The kitchen screen door was unlatched. She walked outside and down toward the dock.

  Nothing.

  Nobody.

  The sudden burr of a wing beat sounded off to the left. Blurred wings flapped just over the surface of the water.

  Jezzie stood at the edge of the dock and let out a long sigh. The Billy Joel song still played in her head. Self-mocking and taunting. “Pressure. Pressure.” She could feel it in every inch of her body.

  Someone grabbed her. Extremely strong arms like a vise were around Jezzie. She held back a scream.

  Then something was being put into her mouth.

  Jezzie inhaled. She recognized Colombian Gold. Very good dope. She inhaled a second time. Relaxed a little in the strong arms that held her.

  “I’ve missed you,” she heard a voice say.

  Billy Joel screamed inside her head.

  “What are you doing here?” she finally asked.

  PART FIVE

  THE SECOND INVESTIGATION

  CHAPTER 68

  MAGGIE ROSE DUNNE was in darkness again.

  She could see shapes all around her. She knew what they were, and where she was, even why she was there.

  She was thinking about escaping again. But the warning jumped into her head. Always the warning.

  If you try to escape, you won’t be killed, Maggie. That would be too easy. You’ll be put under the ground again. You’ll go back in your little grave. So don’t ever try to escape, Maggie Rose. Don’t even think about it.

  She was starting to forget so much now. Sometimes she couldn’t even remember who she was. It all seemed like a bad dream, like lots of nightmares, one after the other.

  Maggie Rose wondered if her mother and father were still looking for her. Why would they be? It was so long ago that she’d been kidnapped. Maggie understood that. Mr. Soneji had taken her from the Day School. But then she never saw him again. There was only the warning.

  Sometimes, she felt as if she were only a story character she’d made up.

  Tears filled her eyes. It wasn’t so dark now. Morning was coming. She wouldn’t try to escape again. She hated this, but she never wanted to go under the ground again.

  Maggie Rose knew what all the shapes were.

  They were children.

  All in just one room of the house.

  From which there was no escape.

  CHAPTER 69

  JEZZIE CAME BACK to Washington the week after the trial ended. It seemed like a good time for beginnings. I was ready. God Almighty, was I ready to move on with life.

  We’d talked over the phone some, but not too much, about her state of mind. Jezzie did tell me one thing. She said it was really bizarre that she had invested so much in her career, and now she didn’t care about it at all.

  I had missed Jezzie even more than I thought I could. My mind was on her while I investigated the murder of two thirteen-year-olds over a pair of Pump sneakers. Sampson and I caught the killer, a fifteen-year-old from “Black Hole.” That same week, I was offered a job in Washington as VICAP coordinator between the D.C. police department and the FBI. It was a bigger, higher-paying job than the one I had, but I turned it down flat. It was my buyout from Carl Monroe. No thanks.

  I couldn’t sleep at night. The storm that had begun inside my head the very first day of the kidnapping was still there. I couldn’t get Maggie Rose Dunne completely out of my head. I couldn’t give up on the case. I wouldn’t let myself. I watched anything and everything on ESPN, sometimes at three and four in the morning. I played Alex the Shrink in the old prefab trailer over at St. A’s. Sampson and I drank a few cases of beer together. Then we tried to work it off at the gym. In between, we spent long hours at work.

  I drove to Jezzie’s apartment the day she came back. On the way over there, I listened to Derek McGinty on WAMU again. My talk-show brother. His voice calmed my nervous stomach. One time, I’d actually called in to his night show. Disguised my voice. Talked about Maria, the kids, being on the edge for too long.

  When Jezzie opened the door, I was startled by the way she looked. She’d let her hair grow and fan out so that it looked like a sunburst. She was tan, and looked as healthy as a California lifeguard in August. She looked as if nothing could ever be wrong in her life.

  “You look rested and all,” I told her. I was feeling a little resentful, actually. She had taken off before the trial had ended. No good-byes. No explanations. What did that tell me about who she was?

  Jezzie had always been trim, but she was leaner and tighter now. The circles that had been under her eyes so many times during the kidnapping investigation were gone. She had on denim shorts and an old T-shirt that said IF YOU CAN’T DAZZLE THEM WITH BRILLIANCE, BAFFLE THEM WITH BULLSHIT. She was dazzling in all ways.

  She smiled gently. “I’m a lot better, Alex. I think I’m almost healed.”

  She came out on the porch and into my arms, and I felt a little healed myself. I held her and thought that I had been on this strange planet, all alone for a while. I could see myself on this barren moonscape. It had been up to me to find someone new to be with, someone to love again.

  “Tell me everything that’s been happening. What’s it like to fall off the earth?” I asked. Her hair smelled so fresh and clean. Everything about her seemed new and refreshed.

  “It’s pretty good, actually, falling off the earth. I haven’t not worked since I was sixteen years old. It was scary the first few days. Then it was fine,” she said with her head still buried in my chest. “There was only one thing I missed,” she whispered. “I wanted you there with me. If that sounds corny, too bad.”

  That was one of the things I wanted to hear. “I would have come,” I said.

  “I needed to do it the way I did. I had to think everything through one time. I didn’t call anybody else, Alex. Not one other person. I found out a lot about myself. Maybe I even found out who Jezzie Flanagan really is.”

  I raised her chin up, and looked into her eyes. “Tell me what you found out. Tell me who Jezzie is.”

  Arm in arm, we went inside the house.

  But Jezzie didn’t talk very much about who she was, or what she’d found out about herself down at her lake cottage. We fell into old habits, and ones that, I must admit, I had missed. I wondered if she still cared for me, and just how much she’d wanted to come back to D.C. I needed a sign from her.

  Jezzie began to unbutton my shirt, and there was no way I was going to stop her. “I did miss you so much,” she whispered against my chest. “Did you miss me, Alex?”

  I had to smile. My physical condition at that moment was the obvious answer to her question. “Now what do you think? Take a guess.”

  Jezzie and I got a little wild that afternoon. I couldn’t help remembering the night the National Star showed up outside our motel room. She was definitely leaner and tighter, and she’d been
in playing shape before she’d gone away. Jezzie was also tan all over.

  “Who’s darker?” I asked her and grinned.

  “I definitely am. Brown as a berry, as they say around the lake.”

  “You’re just dazzling me with your brilliance,” I told her.

  “Uh huh. How long can we keep this up? Talking and looking, not touching. Will you unbutton the rest of your shirt buttons? Please.”

  “Does that excite you?” I asked. My voice caught in my throat a little.

  “Uh huh. Actually, you can take the shirt off.”

  “You were going to tell me something about who you are, what you learned on your retreat,” I reminded her. Confessor and lover. A sexy concept in itself.

  “You can kiss me now. If you want to, Alex. Can you kiss me without anything but our lips touching?”

  “Uhm, I’m not sure about that. Let me turn a little this way. And that way. Are you trying to shut me up, by the way?”

  “Why would I want to do that? Doctor Detective?”

  CHAPTER 70

  I THREW MYSELF into work again. I had promised myself that I’d solve the kidnapping case somehow. The Black Knight would not be vanquished.

  One miserable, cold, rainy night I trudged out by myself to see Nina Cerisier again. The Cerisier girl was still the only person who’d actually seen Gary Soneji’s “accomplice.” I was in the neighborhood, anyway. Right.

  Why was I in the Langley Terrace projects, at night, in a cold, drizzling rain? Because I had become a nut case who couldn’t get enough information about an eighteen-month-old kidnapping. Because I was a perfectionist who had been that way for at least thirty years of my life. Because I needed to know what had really happened to Maggie Rose Dunne. Because I couldn’t escape the gaze of Mustaf Sanders. Because I wanted the truth about Soneji/Murphy. Or so I kept telling myself.

  Glory Cerisier wasn’t real happy to see me camped on her front doorstep. I’d been standing on the porch for ten minutes before she finally opened the door. I’d knocked on the dented aluminum door a half dozen times.

 
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