Along came a spider, p.5
Along Came a Spider, p.5Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson
FBI SPECIAL AGENT ROBERT GRAHAM lived in Manassas Park, midway between Washington and the FBI Academy in Quantico. Graham was tall and physically impressive, with short, sandy brown hair. He’d worked on several major kidnappings, but nothing quite as disturbing as this current nightmare.
At a little past one that morning, Graham finally got home. Home was a sprawling Colonial, on an average street in Manassas Park. Six bedrooms, three baths, a big yard that covered nearly two acres.
Unfortunately, this had not been a normal day. Graham was drained and beaten up and bone-tired. He often wondered why he didn’t just settle down and write another book. Take early retirement from the Bureau. Get to know his three children before they fled from the house.
The street in Manassas Park was deserted. Porch lights glowed down the line of the road, and they were a comforting, friendly sight. Lights appeared in the rearview mirror of Graham’s Ford Bronco.
A second car had stopped on the street in front of his house, its headlamps gleaming. A man got out, and waved a notepad that was clutched in his hand.
“Agent Graham? Martin Bayer, New York Times,” the man called out as he walked up the driveway. He flashed a press credential.
Jesus Christ. Son-of-a-bitching New York Times, Graham thought to himself. The reporter wore a dark suit, pin-striped shirt, rep tie. He was your basic up-and-coming New York yuppie on assignment. All these assholes from the Times and the Post looked the same to Graham. Not a real reporter among them anymore.
“You’ve come a long way at this hour for a ‘no comment,’ Mr. Bayer. I’m sorry,” Roger Graham said. “I can’t give you anything on the kidnapping. Frankly, there isn’t anything to give.”
He wasn’t sorry, but who needed enemies at the New York Times. Those bastards could stick their poison pens in one of your ears and out the other.
“One question, and one question only. I understand that you don’t have to answer, but it’s that important to me—for me. For me to be here at one in the morning.”
“Okay. Let’s have it. What’s your question?” Graham shut the door of his Bronco. He locked up for the night, flipped the car keys, and caught them.
“Are all of you this incredibly insipid and stupid?” Gary Soneji asked him. “That’s my question, Grahamcracker.”
A long, sharp knife flashed forward once. Then flashed again. The blade sliced back and forth across Roger Graham’s throat.
The first slashing motion pinned him back against his Ford Bronco. The second slashed his carotid artery. Graham dropped dead in his driveway. There had been no time to duck, run, or even say a prayer.
“You’re supposed to be a freaking star, Roger. You wanted to be the star, right? I see no evidence of that. None, zero,” Soneji said. “You’re supposed to be way better than this. I need to be challenged by the best, and the brightest.”
Soneji bent low and slid a single index card into the breast pocket of Agent Graham’s white shirt. He patted the dead man’s chest. “Now, would a New York Times reporter really be here at one in the morning, you arrogant fuck? Just to talk to your sorry ass?”
Then Soneji drove away from the murder scene. The death of Agent Graham wasn’t a big deal to him. Not really. He’d killed over two hundred people before this one. Practice makes perfect. It wouldn’t be the last time, either.
This one would wake everybody up, though. He just hoped they had somebody better waiting in the wings.
Otherwise, where was the fun? The challenge? How could this get bigger than the Lindbergh kidnapping?
I WAS ALREADY BECOMING emotionally involved with the kidnapped children. My sleep was restless and agitated that first night. In my dreams, I replayed several bad scenes at the school. I saw Mustaf Sanders again and again. His sad eyes stared out at me, asking for help, getting none from me.
I woke to find both my kids in bed with me. At some time during the early morning, they must have snuck aboard. It’s one of their favorite tricks, their little jokes on “Big Daddy.”
Damon and Janelle were fast asleep on top of a patchwork quilt. I’d been too wasted to pull it off the bed the night before. We must have looked like two resting angels—and a fallen plowhorse.
Damon is a beautiful little boy of six who always reminds me of how special his mother was. He has Maria’s eyes. Jannie is the other apple of my eye. She’s four, going on fifteen. She likes to call me “Big Daddy,” which sounds like some black slang she’s managed to invent. Maybe she knew the football star “Big Daddy” Lipscomb in some other life.
Also on the bed was a copy of William Styron’s book on his depression, Darkness Visible, which I’d been reading. I was hoping it might give me some clue to help me get over my own depression—which had plagued me ever since Maria’s murder. Three years now, felt like twenty.
What actually woke me that morning were headlights fanning across the window blinds. I heard a car door bang and the fast crunch of feet on gravel in the driveway. Careful not to wake the kids, I slipped over to the bedroom window.
I peered down on two Metro D.C. patrol cars parked behind the old Porsche in our drive. It looked miserably cold outside. We were just entering the deepest hollow of D.C.’s winter.
“Give me a break,” I mumbled into the chilly window blinds. “Go away.”
Sampson was heading for the back door to our kitchen. It was twenty to five on the clock next to the bed. Time to go to work.
Just before five that morning, Sampson and I pulled up in front of a crumbling prewar brownstone in Georgetown, a block west of M Street. We had decided to check out Soneji’s apartment ourselves. The only way to get stuff done right is to do it yourself.
“Lights are all on. Looks like somebody’s home,” Sampson said as we climbed out of the car. “Now who could it be?”
“Three guesses. The first two don’t count,” I mumbled. I was suffering from early-morning queasiness. A visit to the monster’s den wasn’t going to help.
“The FBI. Maybe Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., is up there,” Sampson guessed. “Maybe they’re filming Real Stories from the FBI.”
“Let’s go see.”
We entered the building and took the narrow winding stairway up. On the second floor, yellow crime scene tape had been placed in a crisscross pattern across the doorway to Soneji’s apartment. It didn’t look like the place where a “Mr. Chips” would live. More like a Richard Ramirez or a Green River killer.
The scarred wooden door was open. I could see two FBI techies working inside. A local deejay called The Greaseman was screeching from a radio on the floor.
“Hey, Pete, what’s doin’?” I called inside. I knew one of the FBI techies on the job, Pete Schweitzer. He looked up at the sound of my voice.
“Well, look who’s here. Welcome to the Inner Sanctum.”
“We came over to bother you. See how it’s done,” Sampson said. We’d both worked with Pete Schweitzer before, liked and trusted him as much as you could any FBI personnel.
“Come in and make yourselves at home at Casa Soneji. This is my fellow flyshit finder and bagger, Todd Toohey. Todd likes to listen to The Greaseman in the A.M. These two are ghouls like us, Toddie.”
“The best,” I told Todd Toohey. I had already started to nose around the apartment. Everything was feeling unreal again. There was this cold, damp spot inside my head. Eerie-time.
The small studio apartment was a mess. There wasn’t much furniture—a bare mattress on the floor, an end table and lamp, a sofa that looked as if it had been picked up off the street—but the floor was covered with things.
Wrinkled sheets and towels and underwear were a large part of the general chaos. Two or three loads of laundry were spilled out on the floor. Most of the clutter was books and magazines, though. Several hundred books, and at least that many magazines, were piled in the single small room.
“Anything interesting so far?” I asked Schw
Schweitzer talked to me without looking up from a pile of books he was dusting. “Everything is interesting. Check out the books along the wall. Also, consider the fact that our fine-feathered friend wiped down this whole fucking apartment before he split.”
“He do a good job? Up to your standards?”
“Excellent job. I couldn’t have done much better myself. We haven’t found a partial print anywhere. Not even on any of those goddamn books.”
“Maybe he reads with plastic gloves on,” I offered.
“I think he might. I shit you not. Place was dusted by a pro, Alex.”
I was crouched near several stacks of the books now. I read the titles on several of the spines. Most of it was nonfiction from the last five years or so.
“True-crime fan,” I said.
“Lots and lots of kidnapping stories,” Schweitzer said. He looked up and pointed. “Right side of the bed, near the reading lamp. That’s the kidnapping section.”
I walked over and looked at the volumes. Most of the books had been stolen from the library at Georgetown. I figured he must have had an I.D. to get into the stacks there. Was he a past student? Maybe a professor?
Several computer printouts were taped to the bare wall over his private library on kidnapping. I started to read down the lists.
Aldo Moro. Kidnapped in Rome. Five bodyguards killed during abduction. Moro’s body found in a parked car.
Jack Teich, released after payment of $750,000.
J. Reginald Murphy, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, released after payment of $700,000.
J. Paul Getty 3rd, released in southern Italy after $2.8 million ransom paid.
Mrs. Virginia Piper of Minneapolis, released after her husband paid $1,000,000.
Victor E. Samuelson, released in Argentina after payment of $14.2 million ransom.
I whistled as I spotted the amounts on his list. What was he going to ask for Maggie Rose Dunne and Michael Goldberg?
It was a really small place, and there hadn’t been much room for Soneji to wipe off fingerprints. Still, Schweitzer said he hadn’t left anything. I wondered if Soneji could have been a cop. That was one way to plan a crime, and maybe improve your chances of getting away with it.
“Come in here for a minute.” Sampson was in the bathroom that was off to one side of the tiny studio. The walls were papered with photos from magazines, newspapers, record albums, book jackets.
He’d left a final surprise for us. There were no fingerprints, but he had scrawled a message.
Just over the mirror was a typeset headline: I WANT TO BE SOMEBODY!
Up on the walls was an exhibition. I saw River Phoenix. And Matt Dillon. There were photos from Helmut Newton books. I recognized Lennon’s murderer, Mark David Chapman. And Axl Rose. Pete Rose was up on the wall, too. And Neon Deion Sanders. Wayne Williams was there. And newspaper stories. The Happy Land Social Club fire in New York City. A New York Times story of the Lindbergh kidnapping. A story about the kidnapping of Samuel Bronfman, the Seagram’s heir, and a story about the missing child Etan Patz.
I thought about Soneji the kidnapper, all alone in his desolate apartment. He had carefully wiped every inch of space for fingerprints. The room itself was so small, so monkish. He was a reader, or at least liked to have books around. Then there was his photo gallery. What did it tell us? Leads? Misdirections?
I stood in front of the mirror that was over the sink and stared into it as I knew he had many, many times. What was I supposed to see? What had Gary Soneji seen?
“This was his picture on the wall—the face in this mirror,” I offered a theory to Sampson. “It’s the key picture here, the central one. He wants to be the star of all this.”
Sampson was leaning against a wall of photos and news clippings.
“Why no fingerprints Dr. Freud?”
“He must know we have his fingerprints on file somewhere. Makes me think he may have been wearing some kind of disguise at the school. Maybe he put on makeup right here before he went off to school. He could be a stage actor. I don’t think we’ve seen his face yet.”
“I think the boy has big plans. He definitely wants to be a star,” Sampson said.
I want to be somebody!
MAGGIE ROSE DUNNE had awoken from the strangest sleep of her life. Horrible and indescribable bad dreams.
She felt as if everything around her were moving in slow motion. She was thirsty. She needed to pee awfully bad.
I’m too tired this morning, Mom. Please! I don’t want to get up. Don’t want to go to school today. Please, Mom. I don’t feel so good. Honest, I really don’t, Mommy.
Maggie Rose opened her eyes. At least she thought she had opened her eyes, but she couldn’t see anything. Nothing at all.
“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!” Maggie finally screamed, and couldn’t stop screaming.
For an hour after that, at least that long, she floated in and out of consciousness. She felt weak all over. She floated like a leaf on the hugest river. The currents just took her wherever they wanted.
She thought about her mom. Did she know Maggie was gone? Was she looking for her now? She had to be looking for her.
Maybe someone took her arms and legs off. She couldn’t feel them. It must have been long ago.
It was black. She must be buried in the ground. She must be rotting and becoming a skeleton. Was that why she couldn’t feel her arms and legs?
Am I going to be like this forever? She couldn’t stand that, and she was crying again. She was so confused. She couldn’t think at all.
Maggie Rose could open and close her eyes, though. At least she thought she could. But there was just no difference with her eyes open or closed. Everything was darkness. Either way.
If she did it over and over, opened and closed her eyes real fast, she saw color.
Now, inside the blackness, she saw streaks and tears of color. Mostly red and bright yellow.
Maggie wondered if she might be strapped or tied down. Was that what they really did to you inside a casket? Did they strap you down? Why would they do that? To stop you from getting out of the ground? To keep your spirit under the earth forever and ever?
Suddenly, she remembered something. Mr. Soneji. A little of the fog that swirled around her cleared away for a second.
Mr. Soneji had taken her out of school. When had it happened? Why? Where was Mr. Soneji now?
And Michael! What had happened to Michael? They had left school together. She remembered that much.
She moved then, and the most amazing thing happened. She discovered that she could roll herself over.
That’s what Maggie Rose did. She rolled over, and was suddenly up against something.
She could feel her whole body again. She still had a body to feel. She was absolutely certain she had her body and that she wasn’t a skeleton.
And Maggie screamed!
She had rolled into someone or something.
Someone else was there in the dark with her.
It had to be Michael.
“Michael?” Maggie’s voice was so low it was barely a whisper. “Michael? Is that you?”
She waited for an answer.
“Michael?” she whispered louder.
“Michael, c’mon. Please talk to me.”
Whoever it was wouldn’t answer. It was more terrifying than being alone.
“Michael… It’s me… Don’t be afraid…. It’s Maggie…. Michael, please wake up.
“Oh, Michael, please… Please, Shrimpie. I was just kidding about your dopey school shoes. C’mon, Michael. Talk to me, Shrimpie. It’s Dweebo Dido.”
THE DUNNE HOUSE was what local real-estate mavens might call Lutyens-style neo-Elizabethan. Neither Sampson nor I had seen too many of those in Southeast D.C.
Inside, the house had the serenity and diversity I guess might be common among the rich. There were a
There was a small bathroom off one of the formal sitting rooms. Chief of Detectives George Pittman grabbed me and pulled me in there minutes after I arrived. It was around eight o’clock. Too early for this.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked me. “What are you up to, Cross?”
The room was really cramped, no place for two good-sized, grown-up men to be. It wasn’t your average toilet, either. The floor was covered with a William Morris rug. A designer chair sat in one corner.
“I thought I would get some coffee. Then I was going to sit in on the morning briefing,” I said to Pittman. I wanted to get out of that bathroom so bad.
“Don’t fuck around with me.” He started to raise his voice. “Do not fuck with me.”
Oh, don’t do that, I wanted to say to him. Don’t make a big, awful scene in here. I thought about putting his head underwater in the toilet bowl, just to keep him quiet.
“Lower your voice, or I’m leaving,” I said. I try to act in a reasonable and considerate manner most of the time. It’s one of my character flaws.
“Don’t tell me to lower my voice. Who the fuck told you to go home last night? You and Sampson. Who told you to go to the Soneji apartment this morning?”
“Is that what this is all about? Is that why we’re in here together now?” I asked.
“You bet it is. I’m running this investigation. That means, if you want to tie your shoe, you talk to me first.”
I grinned. I couldn’t help it. “Where’d you get that line? Did Lou Gossett say that in An Officer and a Gentleman?”
“You think this is a lot of fun and games, Cross?”
“No, I don’t. I don’t think it’s any fun. Now you keep the fuck out of my face, or you won’t have one,” I warned him.
I walked out of the bathroom. Chief of Detectives Pittman didn’t follow me. Yes, I can be provoked. No, that little turd shouldn’t fuck with me.
Along Came a Spider by James Patterson / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes