Along came a spider, p.4
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       Along Came a Spider, p.4
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         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  “So we can protect everybody better,” Sampson said to the little girl. Sampson had caught on fast.

  “Do you have any kids?” Brigid asked me. She’d carefully observed us both before speaking. She was wonderfully bright-eyed, and I liked her already.

  “I have two children,” I said. “A boy and a girl.”

  “And what are their names?” asked Brigid. She had neatly reversed our roles.

  “Janelle and Damon,” I told her. “Janelle’s four and Damon’s six.”

  “What’s your wife’s name?” asked Stuart.

  “I don’t have a wife,” I told him.

  “My, my, my, Mr. Rogers,” Sampson said under his breath.

  “Are you divorced?” Mary-Berry asked me. “Is that the deal?”

  Ms. Kim laughed out loud. “What a question to ask our nice friend, Mary.”

  “Are they going to hurt Maggie Rose and Michael Goldberg?” Jonathan the Serious wanted to know. It was a good, fair question. It deserved an answer.

  “I hope they won’t, Jonathan. I will tell you one thing. Nobody will hurt you. Detective Sampson and I are here just to make sure.”

  “We’re tough, in case you couldn’t tell.” Sampson grinned. “Grrr. Nobody will ever hurt these kids. Grrr.”

  Luisa started to cry a few minutes later. She was a cute kid. I wanted to hug her, but I couldn’t.

  “What’s the matter, Luisa?” Ms. Kim asked. “Your mom or your dad will be here soon.”

  “No, they won’t.” The little girl shook her head. “They won’t come. They never pick me up at school.”

  “Someone will come,” I said in a quiet voice. “And tomorrow, everything will be fine again.”

  The door to the playroom slowly opened. I looked away from the children. It was Mayor Carl Monroe come for a visit to our city’s schools for the advantaged.

  “You keeping out of trouble, Alex?” Mr. Mayor nodded and smiled as he took in the unusual playroom scene. Monroe was in his mid-forties, and ruggedly handsome. He had a full head of hair and a thick black mustache. He looked businesslike in a navy blue suit, white shirt, and bright yellow tie.

  “Oh, yeah. I’m just trying to do something worthwhile with my spare time here. Both Sampson and I are.”

  That got a mayoral chuckle. “Looks like you’ve succeeded. Let’s take a ride. Come with me, Alex. We’ve got to talk over a few things.”

  I said good-bye to the kids and Ms. Kim and walked with Monroe out of the school building. Maybe I’d find out what was really going on now, and why I was on the kidnapping instead of my homicide cases. And if I had any choice in the matter.

  “You come in your own car, Alex?” Monroe asked as we jogged down the school’s front steps.

  “Mine and HFC Finance’s,” I said.

  “We’ll take your car. How’s the S.I.T. group working out for you? The concept’s strong,” he said as we continued toward the parking area. He had apparently already sent his own driver and car ahead. A man of the people, our mayor.

  “What exactly is the concept for S.I.T.?” I asked him. I’d been pondering my current job situation, especially reporting in to George Pittman.

  Carl Monroe smiled broadly. He can be very slick with people, and he’s actually very smart. He always appears to be caring and benevolent, and maybe he is. He can even listen when he needs to.

  “The main idea is to make sure that the strongest black men and women in the Metro police force rise to the top, as they should. Not just the ass-kissers, Alex. That hasn’t always happened in the past.”

  “I think we’d be all right without too much affirmative action. You heard about the murders in Condon and Langley Terrace?” I asked Monroe.

  He nodded, but didn’t say anything more about the signature murders. They were not a priority with the mayor today.

  “Mother, daughter, three-year-old little boy,” I persisted, starting to get angry again. “Nobody gives a shit about them.”

  “So what’s new, Alex? Nobody cared about their lives. Why should anybody care about their death?” We had gotten to my car, a ’74 Porsche that has seen much better days. The doors creaked and there was a faint odor of past fast-food lunches. I drove it during the three years I was in private practice. We both got in.

  “You know, Alex, Colin Powell is head of the Joint Chiefs now. Louis Sullivan was our secretary of Health and Human Services. Jesse Jackson helped to get me this job,” Monroe said as we got onto Canal Row and headed downtown. He stared at his reflection in the side window as he talked.

  “And now you’re helping me?” I said. “Without even being asked. That’s real nice, real thoughtful.”

  “That’s right,” he agreed. “ You’re so damn quick, Alex.”

  “Then help me out here. I want to solve the murders in the projects. I’m sorry as hell about those two white children, but their kidnapping won’t go wanting for attention or help. Fact is, that’s going to be a problem. Too much goddamned help.”

  “Of course it is. We both know that.” Monroe nodded agreement. “Those dumb bastards will be tripping all over one another. Listen to me, Alex. Will you just listen?”

  When Carl Monroe wants something from you, he’ll talk you into submission if he has to. I had seen this before and now he started up with me again.

  “As the legend of Alex Cross has it, you’re broke now.”

  “I’m doing fine,” I said. “Roof over our heads. Food on the table.”

  “You stayed in Southeast, when you could easily have gotten out,” he continued with this broken record I’d heard before. “You still working over at St. A’s?”

  “Yeah. Soup brigade. Some free therapy sessions. The Black Samaritan.”

  “You know, I saw you in a play once at St. A’s. You can act, too. You have real presence.”

  “Athol Fugard’s The Blood Knot.” I remembered the time. Maria had lured me into her theater group. “The play is powerful. It can make anybody look all right.”

  “You follow what I’m saying? You listening to me at all?”

  “You want to marry me.” I laughed out loud at Monroe. “You want to go out on a date with me first, though.”

  “Something like that,” Monroe roared back.

  “You’re doing it just the right way, Carl. I like to be sweet-talked before I get fucked.”

  Monroe laughed some more, a little harder than he should have. He could be buddies with you, then stare right through you the next time you met. Some people called him “Coconut” around the department. I was one of them. “Brown on the outside, white inside.” I had the feeling that he was actually a lonely man. I still wondered exactly what he wanted from me.

  Monroe was quiet for a moment. He spoke again as we turned onto the Whitehurst Freeway. Traffic was heavy, and slushy streets didn’t help.

  “This is a tragic, tragic situation we’re facing. This kidnapping is also important for us. Whoever solves it will be important. I want you to help solve it, to be a player. I want you to establish a reputation with this case.”

  “I don’t want a reputation,” I said flat out to Monroe. “Don’t want to be a fucking player.”

  “I know you don’t. And that’s one of the reasons you should be. I’ll tell you something that is the truth. You’re smarter than us, and you are going to be a big deal in this city. Stop being such a stubborn bastard about it. Let the walls come down now.”

  “I don’t agree. Not if I can help it. Not if I can get in the way of it. Your idea of being a success isn’t mine.”

  “Well, I know what’s right here. For both of us,” he said. This time Carl Monroe didn’t smile one bit. “You keep me up to date on the progress of this case. You and I are in this one together, Alex. This is a career making case.”

  I nodded at Monroe. Sure thing, I thought. “Whose career, Carl?”

  I had stopped in front of the District Building with all its fancy trimmings. Monroe slid out of his seat. He looked down at me from out
side the car.

  “This case is going to be enormously important, Alex. It’s yours.”

  “No, thanks,” I said.

  But Monroe was already gone.

  CHAPTER 9

  AT TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES PAST TEN, well within the range he’d set during his dry runs from Washington, Gary Soneji turned his van onto an unmarked drive. The side road was badly potholed and densely overgrown with weeds. A blackberry bramble was on either shoulder.

  Less than fifty yards in from the main highway, he couldn’t see anything but the dirt road and a mess of overhanging bushes. No one could see his van from the highway.

  The van bumped along past a ramshackle, faded white farmhouse. The building looked as if it were shrinking, collapsing right back into its foundation. No more than forty yards past the house was what remained of an equally run-down storage barn.

  Soneji drove the van inside. He’d done it; he’d pulled it off.

  A black 1985 Saab was parked in the barn. Unlike the rest of the deserted farm, the barn had a lived-in feel.

  It had a dirt floor. Cheesecloth was taped over three broken windows in the hayloft. There were no rusting tractors or other farm machinery. The barn had the smell of damp earth and gasoline.

  Gary Soneji pulled two Cokes from a cooler on the passenger seat. He polished off both sodas, letting out a satisfied belch after downing the second cold one.

  “Either of you guys want a Coke?” he called out to the drugged, comatose children. “No? Okay then, but you’re going to be real thirsty soon.”

  There were no sure things in life, he was thinking, but he couldn’t imagine how any policeman could get him now. Was it foolish and dangerous to be this confident? he wondered. Not really, because he was also being realistic. There was no way to trace him now. There wasn’t a single clue for them to follow.

  He had been planning to kidnap somebody famous since—well, since forever. Who that someone was had changed, and changed again, but never the clear, main objective in his mind. He’d been working at Washington Day school for months. This moment, right now, proved it had been worth every sucky minute.

  “Mr. Chips.” He thought of his nickname at the school. Mr. Chips! What a lovely, lovely bit of playacting he’d done. Real Academy Award stuff. As good as anything he’d seen since Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy. And that performance was a classic. De Niro himself had to be a psychopath in real life.

  Gary Soneji finally pulled open the van’s sliding door. Back to work, work, work his fingers to the bone.

  One body at a time, he hauled the children out into the barn. First came Maggie Rose Dunne. Then little boy Goldberg. He laid the unconscious boy and girl beside each other on the dim floor. He undressed each child, leaving them in their underwear. He carefully prepared doses of secobarbital sodium. Just your friendly local pharmacist hard at work. The dose was somewhere between a sleeping pill and a hospital anesthetic. It would last for about twelve hours.

  He took out preloaded one-shot needles called Tubex. This was a closed injection system that came prepackaged, complete with dose and needle. He set out two tourniquets. He had to be very careful. The exact dosage could be tricky with small children.

  Next, he pulled the black Saab forward about two yards. This move exposed a five-by-four-foot plot in the floor of the barn.

  He’d dug the hole during several previous visits to the deserted farm. Inside the open cavity was a homemade wooden compartment, a kind of shelter. It had its own oxygen tank supply. Everything but a color TV for watching reruns.

  He placed the Goldberg boy inside the wooden compartment first. Michael Goldberg weighed next to nothing in his arms, which was exactly what he felt about him. Nothing. Then came the little princess, the little pride and joy, Maggie Rose Dunne. All the way from La-la-land originally.

  He slid the Tubex needles into each child’s arm. He was extra careful to give each dose slowly, over a three minute period.

  The doses were measured by weight, .25 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. He checked the breathing of each child. Sleep tight, my multimillion-dollar babies.

  Gary Soneji shut the trapdoor with a bang. Then he buried the wooden compartment under half a foot of fresh soil. Inside the deserted storage barn. In the middle of godforsaken Maryland farm country. Just like little Charlie Lindbergh, Jr., had been buried sixty years before.

  No one would find them out here. Not until he wanted them found. If he wanted them found. Big if.

  Gary Soneji trudged back up the dirt road to what remained of the ancient farmhouse. He wanted to wash up. He also wanted to start to enjoy this a little. He’d even brought a Watchman to see himself on TV.

  CHAPTER 10

  NEWS BULLETINS were flashing on the television screen every fifteen minutes or so. Gary Soneji was right there on the high and mighty tube. He saw photographs of “Mr. Chips” on every news bulletin. The news reports didn’t offer a clue about what was really going on, though.

  So this was fame! This was how fame felt. He liked it a lot. This was what he’d been practicing for all these years. “Hi, Mom! Look who’s on TV. It’s the Bad Boy!”

  There was only one glitch all afternoon, and that was the press conference given by the FBI. An agent named Roger Graham had spoken, and Agent Graham obviously thought he was hot shit. He wanted some fame for himself. “You think this is your movie, Graham? Wrong, baby!” Gary Soneji shouted at the TV. “I’m the only star here!”

  Soneji had been prowling around inside the farmhouse for several hours, watching the night slowly fall outside. He felt the different textures of darkness as they blanketed the farm. It was now seven o’clock and time to get on with his plan.

  “Let’s do it.” He pranced around the farmhouse like a prizefighter before a bout. “Let’s get it on.”

  For a while, he thought about Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, his all-time favorite couple. That calmed him some. He thought about Baby Charles; and about that poor fool, Bruno Hauptmann, who had obviously been framed for the brilliantly conceived and executed crime. He was convinced that the Lindbergh affair was the century’s most elegant crime, not just because it remained unsolved—many, many crimes went unsolved—but because it was important and unsolved.

  Soneji was confident, realistic, and, most of all, pragmatic about his own masterpiece. A “fluke” was always possible. A “lucky accident” by the police could occur. The actual exchange of money would be tricky. It meant contact, and contact was always highly dangerous in life.

  To his knowledge, and his knowledge was encyclopedic, no modern kidnapper had satisfactorily solved the ransom-exchange problem. Not if they wanted to be paid for their labors, and he needed a huge payday for his multimillion-dollar kids.

  Wait until they hear how much money.

  The thought brought a smile to his lips. Of course, the world-beater Dunnes and the all-powerful Goldbergs could, and would, pay. It was no accident he had chosen those two families—with their pampered little snot-nosed brats, and their unlimited supply of wealth and power.

  Soneji lit one of the white candles he kept in a side pocket of his jacket. He sniffed a pleasant whiff of beeswax. Then he made his way to the small bathroom off the kitchen.

  He was remembering an old Chambers Brothers song, “Time.” It was time…. time… time to pull the rug out from under everybody’s feet. Time… time… time for his first little surprise, the first of many. Time… time… time to start to build his own legend. This was his movie.

  The room, the whole house, was freezing cold in late December. Gary Soneji could see his breath wisping out as he set up shop in the bathroom.

  Fortunately, the abandoned house had well water, which was still running in the bathroom. Very cold water indeed. Gary Soneji lit some candles, and began to work. It would take him a full half-hour before he was through.

  First, he removed the dark brown, balding, half-wig. He’d purchased it three years before, at a theatrical costume store i
n New York City. That same night, he’d gone to see Phantom of the Opera. He’d loved the Broadway musical. He identified with the Phantom so much that it frightened him. It sent him off to read the original novel, first in French, then in English.

  “Well, well, what do we have here?” he spoke to the face in the mirror.

  With the glue and other schmutz off, a full head of blond hair was revealed. Long and wavy blond curls.

  “Mr. Soneji? Mr. Chips? Is that you, fella?”

  Not a bad-looking sort, actually. Good prospects? On a roll, maybe? Clearly on a roll, yes.

  And nothing at all like Chips. Nothing like our Mr. Soneji!

  Away came the thick mustache that Gary Soneji had worn since the day he’d arrived to interview at the Washington Day School. Then the contact lenses were removed. His eyes changed from green back to chestnut brown.

  Gary Soneji held the dwindling candle up to the dingy, cracked bathroom mirror. He rubbed one corner of the glass clean with the sleeve of his jacket.

  “There. Just look at you. Look at you now. Genius is in the details, right?”

  That insipid nerd from the private school was almost completely eradicated. The wimp and the do-gooder. Mr. Chips was dead and gone forever.

  What a wondrous farce it had been. What a daring plan of action, and how well executed. A shame no one would ever know what had really happened. But whom could he tell?

  Gary Soneji left the farmhouse around 11:30 P.M., right on his schedule. He walked to a detached garage that was north of the house.

  In a special place in the garage, very special, he hid five thousand dollars from his savings, his secret-cache, money he’d stolen over the years. That was part of the plan, too. Long-range thinking.

  Then he headed down to the barn, and his car. Once he was inside the barn, he checked on the kids again. So far, so great.

  No complaints from the kiddies.

  The Saab started right up. He drove out to the main road, using only the dimmers.

  When he finally reached the highway, he flicked on the headlights. He still had work to do tonight. Masterpiece Theatre continued.

 
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