Along came a spider, p.27
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       Along Came a Spider, p.27
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         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  “I didn’t want to be a failure like my father or my mother. That’s the way they saw themselves, Alex. That’s how they talked all the time. Not low esteem—no esteem. I couldn’t let myself be like that.”

  “How do you see them?”

  “As failures, I guess.” A tiny smile came with the admission. A painfully honest smile.

  “They were both so unbelievably smart, Alex. They knew everything about everything. They read every book in the universe. They could talk to you about any subject. Have you ever been to Ireland?”

  “I’ve been to England once, on police business. That’s the one and only time I’ve been to Europe. Never had the money to spare.”

  “Some villages you go to in Ireland—the people are so articulate, but they live in such poverty. You see these ‘white ghettos.’ Every third storefront seems to be a pub. There are so many educated failures in that country. I didn’t want to be another smart failure. I’ve told you about that fear of mine. That would be hell on earth to me…. I pushed myself so hard in school. I needed to be number one, no matter what the cost. Then in the Treasury Department. I got ahead, comfortably ahead. Alex, for whatever reasons, I was becoming happy with my career, with my life in general.”

  “But it disintegrated after the Goldberg-Dunne kidnapping. You were the scapegoat. You weren’t the golden girl anymore.”

  “Just like that, I was finished. Agents were talking behind my back. Eventually, I quit, left the Service. I didn’t have a choice. It was total bullshit and unfair. I came down here. To figure out who the hell I was. I needed to do it all by myself.”

  Jezzie reached out, and she put her arms around me in the heart of the woods. She began to sob very quietly. I had never seen her cry before. I held Jezzie tightly in my arms. I’d never felt so close to her before. I knew she was telling me some hard truths. I owed her some hard truth in return.

  We were down in a secluded knoll, talking quietly, when I became aware of someone watching us in the woods. I kept my head rock-steady, but my eyes darted to the right. Somebody else was in the woods.

  Someone was watching us.

  Another watcher.

  “Somebody’s up there, Jezzie. Just beyond that hill to our right,” I whispered to her. She didn’t look in that direction. She was still a cop.

  “Are you sure, Alex?” she asked.

  “I’m sure. Trust me on this one. Let’s split up,” I said. “If whoever it is starts to take off, we run them down.”

  We separated, and walked so that we’d flank the hill where I’d seen the watcher. That probably confused whoever it was.

  He took off!

  The watcher was a man. He had on sneakers and a dark, hooded jumpsuit that blended in with the woods. I couldn’t tell about his height or build. Not yet, anyway.

  Jezzie and I raced behind him for a good quarter of a mile. Both of us were barefoot, so we didn’t gain any distance on the watcher. We probably lost a few yards during our all-out sprint. Branches and thorns tore at our faces and arms. We finally burst out of the pine woods, and found ourselves at a blacktop country road. We were just in time to hear a car accelerating around a nearby curve. We never saw the car, not even a glimpse of the license plate.

  “Now that’s really goddamn weird!” Jezzie said as we stood by the roadside, trying to catch our breath. Sweat was rolling down our faces, and our hearts pounded in synch.

  “Who knows you’re down here? Anyone?” I asked her.

  “No one. That’s why it’s so weird. Who the hell was that? This is scary, Alex. You got any ideas?”

  I had jotted down at least a dozen theories on the watcher whom Nina Cerisier had seen. The most promising theory I had was the simplest. The police had been watching Gary Soneji. But which police? Could it have been anyone in my own department? Or Jezzie’s?

  It certainly was scary.

  We made it back to Jezzie’s cabin just before it turned dark. A wintry chill was entering the air.

  We built a big fire inside and cooked a fine meal that would have fed four.

  There was sweet white corn, a huge salad, a twenty-ounce steak for each of us, a dry white wine with Chassagne-Montrachet, Premier Cru, Marquis de Laguiche etched on the label.

  After we ate we got around to talking about Mike Devine and Charlie Chakely, and the watcher. Jezzie couldn’t help too much. She told me I was probably looking in the wrong place with the Secret Service agents. She said that Chakely was an excitable type who just might blow up over a call to Arizona. She told me he was bitter on the job, so he’d probably be bitter off it. In her opinion, Mike Devine and Chakely were both good, but not great, agents. If something was worth noting during the Goldberg family surveillance, they would have seen it. Their logs would have been accurate. Neither of them was clever enough to pull off a cover-up. Jezzie was sure of that.

  She didn’t doubt that Nina Cerisier had seen a car parked on her street the night before the Sanders murder, but she didn’t believe that somebody had been watching Soneji/Murphy. Or even that Soneji had been down near the projects himself.

  “I’m not on the case anymore,” Jezzie finally said to me. “I don’t represent the interests of Treasury or anybody else. Here’s my honest opinion, Alex. Why don’t you just give it up? It’s over. Let it go.”

  “I can’t do that,” I told Jezzie. “That isn’t how we do things at King Arthur’s Round Table. I can’t give up on this case. Every time I try, something pops up and changes my mind.”

  That night we went to bed fairly early. Nine, nine-fifteen. The Chassagne-Montrachet, Premier Cru did its job. There was still passion, but there was also warmth and tenderness between us.

  We cuddled, and we laughed, and we didn’t go to sleep early. Jezzie dubbed me “Sir Alex, the Black Knight of the Round Table.” I called her “Lady of the Lake.” We finally fell asleep whispering like that, peaceful in each other’s arms.

  I don’t know what time it was when I woke up. I was on top of ruffled bed covers and comforter, and it was very cold.

  There was still an orangish glow from the fire, a quiet crackling noise. I wondered how it could be so cold in the bedroom with the fire still going.

  What my eyes saw, what my body was feeling, didn’t add up. I mulled on that for a few seconds.

  I crawled under the covers and pulled them up to my chin. The glow reflected against the windowpane looked strange.

  I thought about how odd it was to be there with Jezzie again. In the Middle of Nowhere. I couldn’t imagine ever not being with her now.

  I was tempted to wake her. Tell her that. Talk to her about anything and everything. The Lady of the Lake. And the Black Knight. Sounded like Geoffrey Chaucer for the 1990s.

  Suddenly I realized it wasn’t a glow from the fireplace that was flickering against the window.

  I jumped out of bed and ran to take a look. I was witnessing something I had heard about all of my life, but had never expected to see.

  A cross was burning very brightly on Jezzie’s lawn.


  A MISSING LITTLE GIRL named Maggie Rose.

  Murders in the projects. The thrill-killing of Vivian Kim.

  A psychopath. Gary Soneji/Murphy.

  An “accomplice.” A mystery watcher.

  A fiery cross in North Carolina.

  When would the pieces finally fit together? Would the pieces ever fit? From that moment in Jezzie’s cottage until the end of everything, my head was filled with powerful, disturbing images. I couldn’t give up the case, as Jezzie had suggested. Events the following week added to my paranoia.

  I came home late from work on Monday. Damon and Janelle swarmed all over me as I stomped the dozen paces from the front door to the kitchen.

  “Phone! Phone! Phone!” Damon chanted as he romped along at my side.

  Nana was holding the phone out to from the kitchen. She said it was Wallace Hart calling from Fallston Prison.

  “Alex, I’m sorry to bother you at
home,” Wallace said. “Could you swing by here? It might be important.”

  I was trying to peel my jacket off. I stopped—one arm in, one out. The kids were helping me. Sort of helping me, sort of trying to get me to throw out my back.

  “What is it, Wallace? I’ve kind of got my hands full tonight.” I stuck my tongue out at Damon and Jannie. “Couple of little problems around the house. Nothing I can’t handle, though.”

  “He’s asking for you. He wants to talk to you, and only you. Says it’s very important.”

  “Can’t it hold until morning?” I asked Wallace. I’d already put in a long day. Besides, I couldn’t imagine anything new Gary Murphy could tell me.

  “He’s Soneji,” Wallace Hart said over the phone. “Soneji wants to talk to you now.”

  I was speechless. Then I managed, “I’m on my way, Wallace.”

  I arrived at Fallston in under an hour. Gary was being housed on the prison building’s top floor. High-profile patients like Squeaky Fromme and John Hinckley had spent time up there. It was the high-rent district, just the way Gary wanted it.

  When I arrived at his cell, Gary was lying face up on a narrow cot without sheets or a blanket. A guard watched him continuously. He was on “specials,” as one-to-one surveillance is called.

  Wallace Hart said, “I was thinking of putting him in a quiet room for the night. Keep him on specials and seclusion for a while. Until we know what’s up with him. He’s flying, Alex.”

  “One of these times he’ll fly apart,” I said, and Wallace nodded in agreement.

  I entered Gary’s cell and sat without being asked. I was tired of asking for permission from people. Gary’s eyes were pinned to the ceiling. They seemed pushed back into his skull. I was certain he knew that I was there. Heeere’s Alex!

  “Welcome to my psikhushka, Doctor,” he finally said in an eerie, gravelly monotone. “Do you know psikhushka?” It was Soneji all right.

  “The prison hospitals in Russia. It’s where they put political prisoners in the Soviet Union,” I said.

  “Exactly so. Very good.” He looked over at me. “I want to make a new deal with you. Clean slate.”

  “I’m not aware of any deal,” I told him.

  “I don’t want to waste any more of my time here. I can’t keep playing Murphy. Wouldn’t you rather find out what makes Soneji tick? Sure you would, Dr. Cross. You could be famous yourself. You could be very important in whatever circle you choose to participate in.”

  I didn’t believe this could be a fugue state, one of his “escapes.” He appeared to be very much in control of what he was saying.

  Had he been Gary Soneji all along? The “Bad Boy”? Right from the first time we’d met? That had been my diagnosis. I held to it.

  “Are you with me so far?” he asked from his cot. He stretched his long legs out in a leisurely manner and wriggled his bare toes.

  “You’re telling me now that you were fully conscious of everything you did. There was never a split personality. No fugues. You played both parts. Now you’re tired of playing Gary Murphy.”

  Soneji’s eyes were focused and extremely intense. His gaze was colder and more penetrating than usual. Sometimes, with severe schizophrenics, the fantasy life becomes more important than the real one.

  “That’s right. That’s the ticket, Alex. You’re so much brighter than the others. I’m very proud of you. You’re the one who keeps things interesting for me. The only one who can hold my attention for long stretches at a time.”

  “And what do you want from us?” I tried to keep him on track. “What can I do for you, Gary?”

  “I need a few little things. But mainly, I just want to be myself. So to speak I want to be recognized for all my achievements.”

  “Do we get anything in return?”

  Soneji smiled at me. “I’ll tell you what happened. From the beginning. I’ll help you solve your precious case. I’ll tell you, Alex.”

  I waited for Soneji to go on. I kept going back to the pronouncement over Gary Soneji’s bathroom mirror: I want to be somebody! He had probably wanted to take credit from the very beginning.

  “I had always planned to murder both children. I couldn’t wait. I have this love-hate thing with childhood, you know. Cut-off breasts and shaved genitals, so my adult victims are more like kiddies. Anyway, killing the little bunions would be the logical and safe conclusion of the whole affair.” Soneji smiled again. It was such a weird, inappropriate smile, as if he were confessing a white lie. “You’re still interested in why I really decided on the kidnapping, aren’t you? Why I chose Maggie Rosebud and her friend Shrimpie Goldberg?”

  He was using the nicknames to be provocative—and flip. He loved the “Bad Boy” act. He had revealed a very dark sense of humor over the months.

  “I’m interested in everything you have to say, Gary. Go right on.”

  “You know,” he said, “one time I figured out that I’ve killed over two hundred people. A lot of children, too. I do what I feel like. Whatever hits me at the moment.”

  The greasy, automatic little smile appeared again. He was no longer Gary Murphy. No longer the all-American-looking yuppie husband and father from Wilmington, Delaware. Had he been killing since he was a boy?

  “Is that true? Are you still trying to shock me?”

  He shrugged. “Why should I?… When I was a boy, I read volumes about the Lindbergh kidnapping case. Then, all the big crimes! I made copies of all the clippings I could find in the Princeton library. I’ve told you some of this, haven’t I? How I was fascinated, absolutely enthralled, obsessed with kidnapping children. Having them completely under my control…. I wanted to torture them like helpless little birds. I practiced with a friend. You met him, I believe. Simon Conklin. Just a small-time psycho, Doctor. Not worth your time… not a partner. Not an accomplice. I especially like the idea that kidnapping gets the parents so upset. They will destroy other adults, but God forbid if someone takes one little child. Unthinkable! Unspeakable crimes! they shriek. What rubbish. What utter hypocrisy. Think about it. A million dark-skinned children die in Bangladesh, Dr. Cross. Nobody cares. Nobody rushes to save them.”

  “Why did you murder the black families in the projects?” I asked him. “What’s the connection?”

  “Who says there has to be a connection? Is that what you learned at Johns Hopkins? Maybe those were my good deeds. Who says I can’t have a social conscience, hmmm? There must be balance in every life. I believe that. I Ching. Think about those victims I chose. Hopeless drug users. A teenage girl who was already a prostitute. A small boy who was already doomed.”

  I didn’t know whether to believe him or not. He was flying. “Do you have a warm spot for us?” I asked him. “I find that real moving.”

  He chose to ignore my irony. “Actually, I had a black friend once, yes. A maid. Woman who took care of me if you must know, while my father was divorcing my real mother. Laura Douglas was her nameo-nameo. She went back to Detroit, though, deserted me. Big fat lady, with a howling laugh I adored. After she left for Motown was when Mommy Terror started locking troublesome, hyperkinetic me in the basement.

  “You’re looking at the original latch-key kid. Meantime, my stepbrother and stepsister were upstairs in my father’s house! They were playing with my toys. They used to taunt me down through the floorboards. I was locked in the basement for weeks at a time. That’s the way I recall it. Are little light bulbs and warning bells going off in your head, Dr. Cross? Tortured boy in the cellar. Pampered children buried in a barn. Such nice, neat parallels. All the pieces starting to fit? Is our boy Gary telling the truth now?”

  “Are you telling the truth?” I asked him again. I thought that he was. It all fit.

  “Oh, yes. Scout’s honor…. The murders in Southeast D.C. Actually, I rather liked the concept of being the first celebrated serial killer of blacks. I don’t count the clod in Atlanta, if indeed they have the right man down there. Wayne Williams was an amateur all the way. What
’s with all these serial killer Waynes, anyway? Wayne Williams. John Wayne Gacy, Jr. Patrick Wayne Hearney, who dismembered thirty-two human beings on the West Coast.”

  “You didn’t murder Michael Goldberg?” I went back to something he’d said earlier.

  “No. It wasn’t intentional at the time. I would have—everything in good time. He was a spoiled little bunion. Reminded me of my ‘brother,’ Donnie.”

  “How did the bruises get on Michael Goldberg’s body? Tell me what happened.”

  “You love this, don’t you, Doctor. What does that tell us about you, hmmm? Well, when I saw that he’d died on me, I was so angry. I flew into a rage. Kicked the fucking body all over the lot. Hit it with my digging shovel. I don’t remember what else I did. I was so pissed. Then I threw his dead ass in that river out in the sticks. The River Sticks?”

  “But you didn’t harm the girl? You didn’t hurt Maggie Rose Dunne?”

  “No, I didn’t hurt the girl.”

  He mimicked my concern. It was a pretty fair approximation of my voice. He definitely could act, play different parts. It was frightening to watch and to be in the same room with him. Could he have killed hundreds of times? I thought so.

  “Tell me about her. What really happened to Maggie Rose Dunne?”

  “All right, all right, all right. The Maggie Rose Dunne story. Light a candle, sing a hymn to Jesus for sweet mercy. After the abduction, she was groggy. The first time I looked in on her, anyway. She was coming off the secobarbital. I played Mommy Terror for little Maggie. I sounded the way Mommy T. used to sound at the basement door in our house. ‘Stopyercryin’… Shaddup. Shaddup, you spoiled little bunion!’ That scared her pretty good, I’ll tell you. Then I put her out again. I carefully checked both of their pulses because I was certain the Fibbers would require some evidence that the children were alive.”

  “Their pulses were both all right?”

  “Yes. Just fine, Alex. I put my ear to each little chest. I controlled my natural urge to stop heartbeats rather than preserve them.”

  “Why the national kidnapping? Why all the publicity? Why take such a big chance?”

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