Along came a spider, p.3
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       Along Came a Spider, p.3
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         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  “You and John Sampson hustle over to Washington Day,” Pittman said. “All hell has broken loose here. I’m serious.”

  “I’m serious, too,” I said to the chief of detectives. I tried to keep my voice down. “I’m sure this is a signature killer. It’s bad here. People are crying in the streets. It’s almost Christmas.”

  Chief Pittman ordered us to come to the school in Georgetown, anyway. All hell had broken loose, he kept repeating.

  Before I left for Washington Day, I phoned the serial killer unit inside our own department; then the “super unit” at the FBI’s Quantico base. The FBI has computer files of all known cases of serial killings, complete with psychiatric profiles matching M.O.’s up with a lot of unpublished serial-killing details. I was looking for a match on age, sex, type of disfigurement.

  One of the techies handed me a report to sign as I left the Sanders house. I signed my usual way—with a †.

  Cross.

  Tough guy from the tough part of town, right.

  CHAPTER 6

  THE PRIVATE-SCHOOL SURROUNDINGS were a little intimidating for Sampson and me. This was a long, long way from the schools and people of Southeast.

  We were two of only a few blacks inside the Washington Day School lobby. I’d heard there were supposed to be African kids, the children of diplomats, at the private school, but I didn’t see any. Just clusters of shocked teachers, children, parents, police. People were crying openly on the front lawns and inside the school’s lobby.

  Two little kids, two little babies had been kidnapped from one of Washington’s most prestigious private schools. I understood that it was a sad, tragic day for everybody involved. Leave it at that, I told myself. Just do your job.

  We went about our police business. We tried to suppress the fury we were feeling, but it wasn’t easy. I kept seeing the sad eyes of little Mustaf Sanders. A uniform told us we were wanted in the headmaster’s office. Chief of Detectives Pittman was there waiting for us.

  “Be cool,” Sampson advised. “Live to fight another day.”

  George Pittman usually wears a gray or blue business suit on the job. He favors pin-striped dress shirts and striped silver-and-blue neckties. He’s a Johnson & Murphy shoe and belt man. His gray hair is always slicked back so it fits his bullet head like a tight helmet. He is known as The Jefe, the Boss of Bosses, Il Duce, Thee Pits, George Porgie…

  I think I know when my trouble with Chief of Detectives Pittman began. It was after the Washington Post ran that story on me in the Sunday magazine section. The piece detailed how I was a psychologist, but working Homicide and Major Crimes in D.C. I had told the reporter why I continued to live in Southeast. “It makes me feel good to live where I live. Nobody’s going to drive me out of my own house.”

  Actually, I think it was the title chosen for the article that pushed Chief Pittman (and some others in the department) over the edge. The young journalist had interviewed my grandmother while researching the piece. Nana had been an English teacher, and the impressionable writer ate that up. Nana had proceeded to fill his head with her notion that because black people are basically traditionalists, they would logically be the very last people in the South to give up religion, morals, and even formal manners. She said that I was a true Southern man, having been born in North Carolina. She also questioned why it was that we idolize near-psychotic detectives in films, TV, books, and newspaper articles.

  The title of the piece, which ran over my brooding photograph, was, “The Last Southern Gentleman.” The story caused big problems inside our very uptight department. Chief Pittman especially took offense. I couldn’t prove it, but I believed the story had been placed by someone in the mayor’s office.

  I gave a one-two-three rap on the door of the headmaster’s office and Sampson and I walked in. Before I could say a word, Pittman held up his right hand. “Cross, you just listen to what I have to say,” he said as he came over to us. “There’s been a kidnapping at this school. It’s a major kidnapping—”

  “That’s a real bad thing,” I butted in immediately. “Unfortunately, a killer has also struck the Condon Terrace and Langley neighborhoods. The killer’s hit two times already. Six people are dead so far. Sampson and I are the senior people on that case. Basically, we’re it.”

  “I’m apprised of the situation in the Condon and Langley projects. I’ve already made contingencies. It’s taken care of,” Pittman said.

  “Two black women had their breasts sliced off this morning. Their pubic hair was shaved while they were tied up in bed. Were you apprised of that?” I asked him. “A three-year-old boy was murdered, in his pajamas.” I was shouting again. I glanced at Sampson and saw him shaking his head.

  A group of teachers in the office looked our way. “Two young black women had their breasts sliced off,” I repeated for their benefit. “Someone’s wandering around D.C. this morning with breasts in his pocket.”

  Chief Pittman gestured toward the headmaster’s inner office. He wanted the two of us inside the room. I shook my head. I wanted to have witnesses when I was around him.

  “I know what you’re thinking, Cross.” He lowered his voice and spoke very close to my face. The odor of stale cigarettes billowed out at me. “You think I’m out to get you, but I’m not. I know you’re a good cop. I know your heart’s usually in the right place.”

  “No, you don’t know what I’m thinking. Here’s what I’m thinking! Six black people are dead already. A crazed, homicidal killer is out there. He’s in heat. He’s sharpening his eyeteeth. Now two white kids have been kidnapped, and that’s a horrible thing. Horrible! But I’m already on a fucking case!”

  Pittman suddenly jabbed his index finger at me. His face was very red. “I decide what case you’re on! I decide! You’re experienced as a hostage negotiator. You’re a psychologist. We have other people to send into Langley and Condon. Besides, Mayor Monroe has specifically asked for you.”

  So that was it. Now I understood everything. Our mayor had intervened. It was all about me.

  “What about Sampson? At least leave him on the project murders,” I said to the chief of detectives.

  “You got any complaints, take them up with the mayor. You’re both working on this kidnapping. That’s all I have to say to you at this time.”

  Pittman turned his back and walked away. We were on the Dunne-Goldberg kidnapping case, like it or not. We didn’t like it.

  “Maybe we should just go back to the Sanders house,” I said to Sampson.

  “Nobody miss us here,” he agreed.

  CHAPTER 7

  A GLEAMING black BMW K-1 motorcycle squeezed between the low fieldstone gates of the Washington Day school. The driver was I.D.’d, then the bike sped down a long narrow road toward a gray cluster of school buildings. It was eleven o’clock.

  The BMW K-1 streaked to sixty in the few seconds it took to get to the administration building. The motorcycle then braked easily and smoothly, barely throwing gravel. The rider slid it in behind a pearl-gray Mercedes stretch limousine with diplomat’s plates DP101.

  Still seated on the bike, Jezzie Flanagan pulled off a black helmet to reveal longish blond hair. She looked to be in her late twenties. Actually, she’d turned thirty-two that summer. Life was threatening to pass her right by. She was a relic now, ancient history, she believed. She had come straight to the school from her lake cottage, not to mention her first vacation in twenty-nine months.

  That latter fact helped to explain her style of dress that morning: the leather bike jacket, the faded black jeans with leg warmers, thick leather belt, the red-and-black checkered lumberman’s shirt, and the worn engineering boots.

  Two D.C. policemen rushed up on either side of her. “It’s okay, officers,” she said, “here’s my I.D.” After eyeing the identification they backed away quickly and became solicitous. “You can go right in,” one of them said. “There’s a side door just around those high hedges, Ms. Flanagan.”

  Jezzie Flanagan managed a
friendly smile for the two harried-looking policemen. “I don’t exactly look the part today, I know. I was on my vacation. I race the bike. I raced it here.”

  Jezzie Flanagan took the shortcut across a pristine lawn that was lightly coated with frost. She disappeared inside the school’s administration building.

  Neither of the D.C. policemen took his eyes off her until she was gone. Her blond hair blew like streamers in the stiff winter wind. She was definitely stunning to look at, even in dirty jeans and work boots. And she had a very powerful job. They both knew that from her I.D. She was a player.

  As she made her way through the front lobby, someone grabbed at her. Someone caught a piece of Jezzie Flanagan which was typical of her life in D.C.

  Victor Schmidt had hooked onto her arm. Once upon a time, and this was difficult for Jezzie to imagine now, Victor had been her partner. Her first, in fact. Now he was assigned to one of the students at the Day School.

  Victor was short and balding. A stylish GQ sort of dresser. Confident for no particularly good reason. He’d always struck her as misplaced in the Secret Service, maybe better suited for lower rungs of the diplomatic corps.

  “Jezzie, how’s it going?” he half whispered, half spoke. He never seemed to go all the way on anything, she remembered. That had always bugged her.

  Jezzie Flanagan blew up. Later, she realized she had really been on edge when Schmidt stopped her. Not that she needed an excuse for the flare-up. Not that morning. Not under the circumstances.

  “Vic, do you know that two children have been taken from this school, maybe kidnapped?” she snapped. “One is the secretary of the treasury’s son? The other is Katherine Rose’s little girl? The actress Katherine Rose Dunne. How do you think I’m doing? I’m a little sick to my stomach. I’m angry. I’m also petrified.”

  “I just meant hello. Hello, Jezzie? I know what the hell has happened here.”

  But Jezzie Flanagan had already walked away, at least partly to keep from saying anything else to Victor. She did feel nervous. And ill. And mostly, wired as hell. She wasn’t so much looking for familiar faces in the crowded school lobby, as the right faces. There were two of them now!

  Charlie Chakely and Mike Devine. Her agents. The two men she had assigned to young Michael Goldberg and also Maggie Rose Dunne, since they traveled back and forth to school together.

  “How could this happen?” Her voice was loud. She didn’t care that the talk nearby had stopped and people were staring. A black hole was cut into the noise and chaos of the school lobby. Then she lowered her voice to a whisper as she questioned the agents about what had happened so far. She listened quietly as she let them explain. Apparently, she didn’t like what they had to say.

  “Get the hell out of here,” she exploded a second time. “Get out right now. Out of my sight!”

  “There was nothing we could have done,” Charlie Chakely tried to protest. “What could we have done? Jesus Christ!” Then he and Devine skulked away.

  Those who knew Jezzie Flanagan might have understood her emotional reaction. Two children were missing. It had happened on her watch. She was an immediate supervisor of the Secret Service agents who guarded just about everyone other than the president. Key cabinet members and their families, about a half dozen senators, including Ted Kennedy. She reported to the secretary of the treasury himself.

  She had worked unbelievably hard to get all that trust and responsibility, and she was responsible. Hundred-hour weeks; no vacation year after year, no life to speak of.

  She could hear the upcoming scuttlebutt before it happened. Two of her agents had royally screwed up. There would be an investigation—an old-fashioned witch-hunt. Jezzie Flanagan was on the hot seat. Since she was the first woman ever to hold her job, the fall, if it came, would be steep and painful, and very public.

  She finally spotted the one person she’d been looking for in the crowd—and hoping not to find. Secretary of the Treasury Jerrold Goldberg had already arrived at his son’s school.

  Standing with the secretary were Mayor Carl Monroe, an FBI special agent she knew named Roger Graham, and two black men she didn’t recognize right off. Both of the blacks were tall; one of them extremely so, huge.

  Jezzie Flanagan took a deep breath and walked quickly over to Secretary Goldberg and the others. “I’m very sorry, Jerrold,” she said in a whisper as she arrived. “I’m sure the children will be found.”

  “A teacher” was all Jerrold Goldberg could manage. He shook his head of close-cropped white curls. His eyes were wet and shiny. “A teacher of children, little babies. How could this happen?”

  He was clearly heartbroken. The secretary looked ten years older than his actual age, which was forty-nine. His face was as white as the school’s stucco walls.

  Before coming to Washington, Jerrold Goldberg had been at Salomon Brothers on Wall Street. He’d made twenty or thirty million in the prosperous, thoroughly crazy 1980s. He was bright, worldwise, and tested on his wisdom. He was as pragmatic as they came.

  On this day, though, he was just the father of a kidnapped little boy, and he looked extremely fragile.

  CHAPTER 8

  I WAS TALKING to Roger Graham from the FBI when the Secret Service supervisor, Jezzie Flanagan, joined our group. She said what she could to comfort Secretary Goldberg. Then the talk quickly turned back to the apparent kidnapping, and the next steps to be taken.

  “Are we a hundred percent sure it was this math teacher who took the children?” Graham asked the group. He and I had worked closely together before. Graham was extremely smart, and had been a star in the Bureau for years. He’d co-written a book about busting up organized crime in New Jersey. It had been made into a hit movie. We respected and liked each other, which is rare between the Bureau and local police. When my wife had been killed in Washington, Roger had gone out of his way to involve the Bureau in the investigation. He’d given me more help than my own department.

  I decided to try to answer Roger Graham’s question. I’d calmed down enough to talk by then, and I told them what Samson and I had picked up so far.

  “They definitely left the school grounds together,” I said. “A porter saw them. The math teacher, a Mr. Soneji, went to Ms. Kim’s class. He lied to her. Said there was a telephone threat and that he was supposed to take the kids to the headmaster’s office to be driven home. Said the Secret Service hadn’t specified whether the threat involved the boy or girl. He just kept on going with them. The kids trusted him enough to go along.”

  “How could a potential kidnapper possibly get on the teaching staff of this kind of school?” the special agent asked. A pair of sunglasses peeked from the breast pocket of his suit. Winter shades. Harrison Ford had played him in the movie made from his book. It wasn’t bad casting, really. Sampson called Graham “Big Screen.”

  “That, we don’t know yet,” I told Graham. “We will soon.”

  Sampson and I were finally introduced to Secretary Goldberg by Mayor Monroe. Monroe did a little bit on how we were one of D.C.’s most decorated teams and so on and so forth. Then the mayor ushered the secretary inside the headmaster’s office. Special Agent Graham trailed along. He rolled his eyes at Samson and me. He wanted us to know it wasn’t his show.

  Jezzie Flanagan stayed behind. “I’ve heard about you, Detective Cross, now that I think of it. You’re the psychologist. There was an article in the Washington Post.” She smiled nicely, a demi-smile.

  I didn’t smile back. “You know newspaper articles,” I told her. “Usually a pack of half-truths. In that case, definitely some tall tales.”

  “I’m not so sure about that,” she said. “Nice to meet you, anyway.” Then she walked into the office behind Secretary Goldberg, the mayor, and the star FBI agent. Nobody invited me—the psychologist-detective of magazine fame. Nobody invited Sampson.

  Monroe did poke his head out. “Stick around, you two. Don’t make any waves. Don’t get pissy, either. We need you here. I need to talk with you
, Alex. Stay put. Don’t get pissy.”

  Sampson and I tried to be good cops. We stood around outside the headmaster’s office for another ten minutes. Finally, we left our posts. We were feeling pissy.

  I kept seeing the face of little Mustaf Sanders. Who was going to go and find this killer? No one. Mustaf had already been forgotten. I knew that would never happen with the two private-school children.

  A little later that morning, Sampson and I were lying across the natural pine floor of the Day School “playroom” with a few of the children.

  We were here with Luisa, Jonathan, Stuart, Mary-Berry, and her “big” sister Brigid. No one had been able to pick these kids up yet, and they were frightened. Some of the children at the school had wet their pants, and there was one case of severe vomiting. There was the possibility of crisis trauma, a condition I had some experience treating.

  Also down on the polished wood floor with us was the teacher, Vivian Kim. We’d wanted to talk to her about Soneji’s visit to her class, and Soneji, in general.

  “We’re new kids in your school,” Sampson joked with the children. He had actually taken his sunglasses off, though I wasn’t sure if he had to. Kids usually take to Sampson. He fits into their “friendly monster” grouping.

  “No you’re not!” said Mary-Berry. Sampson had gotten her to smile already. A good sign.

  “That’s right, we’re really policemen,” I told the kids. “We’re here to make sure everybody’s okay now. I mean, phew, what—a—morning!”

  Ms. Kim smiled at me from across the floor. She knew I was trying to give the kids some reassurance. The police were there and it was safe again. No one could hurt them now; order had been restored.

  “Are you a good policeman?” Jonathan asked me. He seemed very serious and earnest for such a small boy.

  “Yes, I am. So is my partner here, Detective Sampson.”

  “You’re big. You’re awfully big,” said Luisa. “Big, big, BIG as my house!”

 
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