Along came a spider, p.34
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       Along Came a Spider, p.34
 

         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  Gary appeared to be coming apart. It was in all his workup reports. He spent most days lost in his complex fantasy world. It became harder and harder to coax him back to the real one.

  Or so it appeared. And that saved him another trial, that saved him from the possibility of death row. I was certain that he was playing games, but nobody wanted to listen. I was sure he was making up another plan.

  Jezzie had agreed to talk to me. We had always been able to talk. She wasn’t surprised the state had gotten the death penalty for her and Charles Chakely. She was responsible for the death of the son of the secretary of the treasury, after all. She and the Secret Service men had kidnapped Maggie Rose Dunne. They were responsible for Michael Goldberg’s death, and also Vivian Kim’s. Jezzie and Devine had murdered the Florida pilot, Joseph Denyeau.

  Jezzie told me that she felt remorse, and had from the very beginning. “But not enough to stop me. Something must have broken inside me along the way. I’d probably do the same thing today. I’d take that kind of chance for ten million dollars. So would a lot of people, Alex. It’s the age of greed. But not for you.”

  “How do you know that?” I asked her.

  “Somehow, I do. You are the Black Knight.”

  She told me that I shouldn’t feel bad after it was over. She said the marchers and other protesters angered her. “If their child had died, most of them would act a lot differently about this.”

  I felt very bad. I didn’t know how much I believed Jezzie, but I felt bad. I didn’t want to be there at Lorton, but Jezzie had asked me to come.

  There was no one else at the window for Jezzie. Not a single person in the world. Jezzie’s mother had died not long after her arrest. Six weeks earlier, the former Secret Service agent Charles Chakely had been executed in front of his family. That had sealed Jezzie’s fate.

  Long plastic tubes connected the needle in Jezzie’s left arm to several intravenous drips. The first drip, which had already started, dispensed a harmless saline solution.

  At a signal from the warden, sodium thiopental would be added to the intravenous. This was a barbiturate used as an anesthetic and to put patients gently to sleep. Then a heavy dose of Pavulon would be added. This would induce death in about ten minutes. To speed the process, an equal dose of potassium chloride was administered. This drug relaxes the heart and stops its pumping. It would cause death in about ten seconds.

  Jezzie found my face in her “friends’’ window. She gave a little wave with her fingertips, and she even tried to smile. She had bothered to comb her hair, which was cut short now, but still beautiful. I thought of Maria, and how we hadn’t gotten to say good-bye before she died. I thought that this might be a little worse. I wanted to leave the prison so badly, but I stayed. I had promised Jezzie I would stay. I always kept my promises.

  In reality, it was nothing very graphic. Jezzie finally closed her eyes. I wondered if any of the lethal drugs had been administered, but I had no way of knowing that.

  She took a deep breath, and then I saw her tongue drop back in her mouth. That was all there was to the modern execution of a human being. That was the end of the life of Jezzie Flanagan.

  I left the prison and hurried to my car. I was a psychologist and a detective, I told myself. I could take this. I could take anything. I was tougher than anybody. Always had been.

  My hands were jammed deeply into the pockets of my overcoat. In my right hand, so tightly clutched that it hurt, was the silver hair comb Jezzie had given me, once upon a time.

  When I got to my car, an ordinary white envelope was stuck under the driver-side wiper. I stuffed it in my coat pocket, and didn’t bother to open it until I was on my way back to Washington. I thought I knew what it was, and I was right. The Thing had sent me a message. Up close and personal. In my face.

  Alex,

  Did she sob, and whine, and beg for forgiveness before they pricked her? Did you shed a tear?

  Remember me to the family. I want to be remembered.

  Always, Son of L.

  He was still playing his terrible mind games. He always would be. I’d told that to anyone willing to listen. I’d written a diagnostic profile for the journals. Gary Soneji/Murphy was responsible for his acts. I felt that he ought to be tried for the murders he’d committed in Southeast. The families of his black victims ought to have justice and retribution, too. If anyone served to be on death row, it was Soneji/Murphy.

  The note told me that he’d found a way to con one of the guards. He’d gotten to somebody inside Lorton. He had another plan. Another ten- or twenty-year plan? More of his fantasies and mind games.

  As I drove toward D.C., I wondered who was the more skilled manipulator. Gary or Jezzie? I knew both of them were psychopaths. This country is turning out more of them than any other place on the planet. They come in all shapes and sizes, all races and creeds and genders. That’s the scariest thing of all.

  After I got home that morning, I played some “Rhapsody in Blue,” on the porch. I played Bonnie Raitt’s “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About.” Janelle and Damon hung out and listened to their favorite piano player. Next to Ray Charles, that is. They sat on the piano bench with me. All three of us were content to listen to the music, and let our bodies touch for several moments.

  Later, I headed down to St. A’s for lunch and such. Peanut Butter Man lives.

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  I would like to thank Peter Kim, who helped me learn about the private lives, the secrets, and the taboos that still exist all across America. Ann Pogue-Campbell, Michael Ouweleen, Holly Tippett, and Irene Markocki gave me more of a feeling for Alex and his life in the Southeast section of D.C. Liz Delle and Barbara Groszewski kept me honest. Maria Pugatch (my Lowenstein) and Mark and MaryEllen Patterson put me back in touch with my half-dozen years working psych at McLean Hospital. Carole and Brigid Dwyer and Midgie Ford helped tremendously with Maggie Rose. Richard and Artie Pine ran with this like the banshees they can be. Finally, Fredrica Friedman was my partner in crime from beginning to end.

  Alex Cross is back to solve the most baffling and terrifying case ever. Two clever pattern killers are collaborating, cooperating, competing—and they’re working coast to coast.

  For an excerpt from the next Alex Cross novel,

  turn the page.

  Washington, D.C., April 1994

  I WAS on the sun porch of our house on Fifth Street when it all began. It was “pouring down rain” as my little girl Janelle likes to say, and the porch was a fine place to be. My grandmother had once taught me a prayer that I never forgot: “Thank you for everything just the way it is.” It seemed right that day—almost.

  Stuck up on the porch wall was a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon. It showed the “Butlers of the World” annual banquet. One of the butlers had been murdered. A knife was in his chest right up to the hilt. A detective on the scene said, “God, Collings, I hate to start a Monday with a case like this.” The cartoon was there to remind me there was more to life than my job as a homicide detective in D.C. A two-year-old drawing of Damon’s tacked up next to the cartoon was inscribed: “For the best Daddy ever.” That was another reminder.

  I played Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, and Bessie Smith tunes on our aging piano. The blues was having its sneaky-sad way with me lately. I’d been thinking about Jezzie Flanagan. I could see her beautiful, haunting face sometimes, when I stared off into the distance. I tried not to stare off into the distance too much.

  My two kids, Damon and Janelle, were sitting on the trusty, if slightly rickety, piano bench beside me. Janelle had her small arm wrapped across my back as far as it would stretch, which was about one-third of the way.

  She had a bag of Gummi Bears in her free hand. As always, she shared with her friends. I was slow-sucking a red Gummi.

  She and Damon were whistling along with my piano playing, though for Jannie, whistling is more like spitting to a certain preestablished rhythm. A battered copy of Green Eggs and Ham sat on top
of the piano, vibrating to the beat.

  Both Jannie and Damon knew I was having some trouble in my life lately, for the past few months, anyway. They were trying to cheer me up. We were playing and whistling the blues, soul, and a little fusion, but we were also laughing and carrying on, as children like us will.

  I loved these times with my kids more than I loved all the rest of my life put together, and I had been spending more and more time with them. The Kodak pictures of children always remind me that my babies will be seven and five years old only one time. I didn’t plan to miss any of it.

  We were interrupted by the sound of heavy footsteps running up the wooden stairs of our back porch. Then the doorbell rang: one, two, three tinny rings. Whoever was out there was in a big hurry.

  “Ding-dong the witch is dead.” Damon offered his inspirational thought for the moment. He was wearing wraparound shades, his impression of a cool dude. He was a cool little dude, actually.

  “No, the witch isn’t,” countered Jannie. I’d recently noticed that she had become a staunch defender of her gender.

  “It might not be news about the witch,” I said, with just the right timing and delivery. The kids laughed. They get most of my jokes, which is a frightening thought.

  Someone began to pound insistently against the door frame, and my name was shouted in a plaintive and alarming way. Goddammit, leave us be. We don’t need anything plaintive or alarming in our lives right now.

  “Dr. Cross, please come! Please! Dr. Cross,” the loud shouts continued. I didn’t recognize the woman’s voice, but privacy doesn’t seem to count when your first name is Doctor.

  I held the kids down, my hands fastened onto the tops of their small heads. “I’m Dr. Cross, not you two. Just keep on humming and hold my place. I’ll be right back.”

  “I’ll be back!” said Damon in his best Terminator voice. I smiled at his joke. He is a second-grade wiseguy already.

  I hurried to the back door, grabbing my service revolver on the way. This can be a bad neighborhood even for a cop, which I am. I peered out through the foggy and grimy windowpanes to see who was on our porch steps.

  I recognized the young woman. She lived in the Langley projects. Rita Washington was a twenty-three-year-old pipe-head who prowled our streets like a gray ghost. Rita was smart, nice enough, but impressionable and weak. She had taken a very bad turn in her life, lost her looks, and now was probably doomed.

  I opened the door and felt a cold, wet gust of wind slap against my face. There was a lot of blood on Rita’s hands and wrists and on the front of her green fake-leather carcoat.

  “Rita, what in hell happened to you?” I asked. I guessed that she’d been gut-shot or stabbed over some drugs.

  “Please, please come with me.” Rita Washington started to cough and sob at the same time. “It little Marcus Daniels,” she said, and cried even louder. “He been stabbed! It be real bad! He call your name. He ask for you, Dr. Cross.”

  “You stay there, kids! I’ll be right back!” I shouted over Rita Washington’s hysterical cries. “Nana, please watch the kids!” I yelled even louder. “Nana, I have to go out!” I grabbed my coat and followed Rita Washington into the cold, teeming rain.

  I tried not to step on the bright red blood dripping like wet paint all over our porch steps.

  Read an extended excerpt and learn more about Kiss the Girls.

  Alex Cross gets a presidential request:

  “Please find my kids!”

  For an excerpt from the new Alex Cross novel,

  turn the page.

  IT BEGAN WITH PRESIDENT COYLE’S CHILDREN, ETHAN AND ZOE, BOTH high-profile personalities since they had arrived in Washington, and probably even before that.

  Twelve-year-old Ethan Coyle thought he had gotten used to living under the microscope and in the public eye. So Ethan hardly noticed anymore the news cameramen perpetually camped outside the Branaff School gates, and he didn’t worry the way he used to if some kid he didn’t know tried to snap his picture in the hall, or the gymnasium, or even the boys’ bathroom.

  Sometimes, Ethan even pretended he was invisible. It was kind of babyish, kind of b.s., but who cared. It helped. One of the more personable Secret Service guys had actually suggested it. He told Ethan that Chelsea Clinton used to do the same thing. Who knew if that was true?

  But when Ethan saw Ryan Townsend headed his way that morning, he only wished he could disappear.

  Ryan Townsend always had it in for him, and that wasn’t just Ethan’s paranoia talking. He had the purplish and yellowing bruises to prove it—the kind that a good hard punch or muscle squeeze can leave behind.

  “Wuzzup, Coyle the Boil?” Townsend said, charging up on him in the hall with that look on his face. “The Boil havin’ a bad day already?”

  Ethan knew better than to answer his tormenter and torturer. He cut a hard left toward the lockers instead—but that was his first mistake. Now there was nowhere to go, and he felt a sharp, nauseating jab to the side of his leg. He’d been kicked! Townsend barely even slowed down as he passed. He called these little incidents “drive-bys.”

  The thing Ethan didn’t do was yell out, or stumble in pain. That was the deal he’d made with himself: don’t let anyone see what you’re feeling inside.

  Instead, he dropped his books and knelt down to pick them back up again. It was a total wuss move, but at least he could take the weight off his leg for a second without letting the whole world know he was Ryan Townsend’s punching and kicking dummy.

  Except this time, someone else did see—and it wasn’t the Secret Service.

  Ethan was stuffing graph paper back into his math folder when he heard a familiar voice.

  “Hey, Ryan? Wuzzup with you?”

  He looked up just in time to see his fourteen-year-old sister, Zoe, stepping right into Townsend’s path.

  “I saw that,” she said. “You thought I wouldn’t?”

  Townsend cocked his head of blond curls to the side. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Why don’t you just mind your own—”

  Out of nowhere, a heavy yellow textbook came up fast in both of Zoe’s hands.

  She swung hard, and clocked Townsend with it, right across the middle of his face. The bully’s nose spurted red and he stumbled backward. It was great!

  That was as far as things progressed before Secret Service got to them. Agent Findlay held Zoe back, and Agent Musgrove wedged himself between Ethan and Townsend. A crowd of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders had already stopped to watch, like this was some new reality TV show—The President’s Kids.

  “You total losers!” Townsend shouted at Ethan and Zoe, even as blood dripped down over his Branaff tie and white button-down shirt. “What a couple of chumps. You need your loyal SS bodyguards to protect you!”

  “Oh yeah? Tell that to my algebra book,” Zoe yelled back. “And stay away from my brother! You’re bigger and older than him, you jerk. You shithead!”

  For his part, Ethan was still hovering by the lockers, half of his stuff scattered on the floor. And for a second or two there, he found himself pretending he was part of the crowd—just some kid nobody had ever heard of, standing there, watching all of this craziness happen to someone else.

  Yeah, Ethan thought. Maybe in my next lifetime.

  AGENT FINDLAY QUICKLY AND EFFICIENTLY HUSTLED ETHAN AND ZOE away from the gawkers, and worse, the kids with their iPhones raised: Hello, YouTube! In a matter of seconds, he’d disappeared with them into the otherwise empty grand lecture hall off the main foyer.

  The Branaff School had once been the Branaff Estate, until ownership had transferred to a Quaker educational trust. It was said among the kids that the grounds were haunted, not by good people who had died here, but by the disgruntled Branaff descendants who’d been evicted to make room for the private school.

  Ethan didn’t buy into any of that crap, but he’d always found the main lecture hall to be supercreepy—with its old-time oil portraits look
ing down disapprovingly on everybody who happened to pass through.

  “You know, the president’s going to have to hear about this, Zoe. The fight, your language back there,” Agent Findlay said. “Not to mention Headmaster Skillings—”

  “No doubt, so just do your job,” Zoe answered with a shrug and a frown. She put a hand on top of her brother’s head. “You okay, Eth?”

  “I’m fine,” he said, pushing her off. “Physically, anyway.” His dignity was another question, but that was too complicated for him to think about right now.

  “In that case, let’s keep this parade moving,” Findlay told them. “You guys have assembly in five.”

  “Got it,” said Zoe with a dismissive wave. “Like we were going to forget assembly, right?”

  The morning’s guest speaker was Isabelle Morris, a senior fellow with the DC International Policy Institute and also an alum of the Branaff School. Unlike most of the kids he knew, Ethan was actually looking forward to Ms. Morris’s talk about her experiences in the Middle East. Someday he hoped to work at the UN himself. Why not? He had pretty good connections, right?

  “Can you give us a teeny-tiny second?” Zoe asked. “I want to talk to my brother—alone.”

  “I said I’m fine. It’s cool,” Ethan insisted, but his sister cut him off with a glare.

  “He tells me things he won’t say to you,” Zoe went on, answering Findlay’s skeptical look. “And private conversations aren’t exactly easy to come by around here, if you know what I mean. No offense meant.”

  “None taken.” Findlay looked down at his watch. “Okay,” he said. “Two minutes is all I can give you.”

  “Two minutes, it is. We’ll be right out, I promise,” Zoe said, and closed the heavy wooden door behind him as he left.

 
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