Along came a spider, p.6
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       Along Came a Spider, p.6

         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson
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  At a little past eight, the Hostage Rescue Team was finally gathered together in a large, exquisitely decorated sitting room. Right away I sensed something was wrong. Something was up for sure.

  Jezzie Flanagan from the Secret Service had taken the floor. I remembered her from the morning before at the Day School. She stood in front of a working fireplace.

  The mantel was strung with holly boughs, tiny white lights, and Christmas cards. Several nontraditional cards were obviously from friends of the Dunnes in California—photographs of decorated palm trees, of Santa’s sleigh in the sky over Malibu. The Dunnes had recently moved to Washington, after Thomas Dunne took a job as director of the Red Cross.

  Jezzie Flanagan looked more formal than she had at the school. She wore a loose gray skirt, with a black turtleneck sweater, and small gold earrings. She looked like a Washington lawyer, an attractive and very successful one.

  “Soneji contacted us at midnight, last night. Then again around one o’clock. We didn’t expect him to contact us so soon. None of us did,” she started things off.

  “The initial phone call was made from the Arlington area. Soneji made it clear he had nothing to say about the children, except that both Maggie Dunne and Michael Goldberg are doing well. What else would he say? He wouldn’t allow us to speak to either of the children, so we don’t know that for sure. He sounded lucid and very much in control.”

  “Has the voice tape been analyzed yet?” Pittman asked from his seat near the front. If Sampson and I had to be on the outside looking in, it was good to know Pittman was right there with us. Apparently, nobody was talking to him, either.

  “It’s being done,” Flanagan answered the question politely. She gave it just about the attention it deserved, I thought, but she avoided any condescension. She was real good at keeping control.

  “How long was he actually on the line?” the Justice lawyer, Richard Galletta, asked next.

  “Not very long, unfortunately. Thirty-four seconds to be exact,” Flanagan answered him with the same efficient courtesy. Cool, but pleasant enough. Smart.

  I studied her. She was obviously comfortable being up in front of people. I’d heard that she’d gotten credit for some strong moves at Service in the past few years—which meant that she took a lot of credit.

  “He was long gone when we got to the pay phone in Arlington. We couldn’t get that lucky so soon,” she said. She offered the hint of a smile, and I noticed that several of the men in the room smiled back at her.

  “Why do you think he made the call?” the U.S. marshal asked from the back of the room. He was balding and paunchy, and smoking a pipe.

  Flanagan sighed. “Please, let me go on. Unfortunately, there’s more to it than the phone call. Soneji murdered FBI agent Roger Graham last night. It happened right outside Graham’s house in Virginia, in the driveway.”

  It’s difficult to shake up an experienced group like the ones gathered at the Dunnes’. The news of Roger Graham’s murder did it: I know that it buckled my knees. Roger and I had shared some tight spaces together over the past few years. Whenever I worked with him, I’d always known my back would be covered. Not that I needed another reason to want to get Gary Soneji, but he’d given me a good one.

  I wondered if Soneji had known that. And what it meant if he did. As a psychologist, the murder filled me with a sense of dread. It told me that Soneji was organized, confident enough to play with us, and willing to kill. It did not bode well for Maggie Rose Dunne and Michael Goldberg.

  “He left a very explicit message for us,” Flanagan went on. “The message was typed on an index card, or what looked like a little library card. The message was for all of us. It said, ‘Roger Grahamcracker thought he was a big deal. Well, he obviously wasn’t. If you work on this case, you’re in grave danger!’… The message was signed. He calls himself the Son of Lindbergh.”

  CHAPTER 15

  THE PRESS COVERAGE of the kidnapping case got down and very dirty right away. A front-page headline in one of the morning papers said. SECRET SERVICE BODYGUARDS OUT FOR COFFEE. The press hadn’t gotten the news about FBI agent Roger Graham yet. We were trying to sit on it.

  The news gossip that morning was about how Secret Service agents Charles Chakely and Michael Devine had left their posts at the private school. Actually, they had gone out for breakfast during classes. It was pretty standard for this kind of duty. The coffee break, however, would be expensive. It would probably cost Chakely and Devine their jobs, possibly their careers.

  On another front, Pittman wasn’t making much use of Sampson and me so far. This went on for two days. Left on our own, Sampson and I concentrated on the thin trail left by Gary Soneji. I followed up at area stores where someone might buy makeup and special effects. Sampson went to the Georgetown library, but no one there had seen Soneji. They weren’t even aware of the book thefts from their stacks.

  Soneji had successfully disappeared. More disturbing, he seemed to have never existed before taking the job at Washington Day School.

  Not surprisingly, he had falsified his employment records and faked several recommendations. He’d completed each step as expertly as any of us have seen in fraud or bunco cases. He’d left no trail.

  Soneji had been brazen and supremely confident about getting his job at the school. A supposed previous employer (fictitious) had contacted Washington Day School and highly recommended Soneji, who was moving into the Washington area. More recommendations came via faxes from the University of Pennsylvania, both the undergraduate and graduate school programs. After two impressive interviews, the school wanted the personable and eager teacher so badly (and had been led to believe they were in competition with other D.C. private schools), they had simply hired him.

  “And we never regretted hiring him—until now, of course,” the assistant headmaster admitted to me. “He was even better than advertised. If he wasn’t really a math teacher before he came here, I’d be totally amazed. That would make him a superb actor indeed.”

  Late afternoon on the third day, I got an assignment from Don Manning, one of Pittman’s lieutenants. I was asked to size up and do an evaluation of Katherine Rose Dunne and her husband. I had tried to get some time with the Dunnes on my own, but had been denied.

  I met with Katherine and Thomas Dunne in the backyard of their house. A ten-foot-high graystone wall effectively kept out the outside world. So did a row of huge linden trees. Actually, the backyard consisted of several gardens separated by stone walls and a wandering stream. The gardens had their own plantsmen, a young couple from Potomac who apparently made a very nice living tending gardens around town. The plantsmen definitely made more money than I did.

  Katherine Rose had thrown an old camel’s hair steamer over jeans and a V-necked sweater. She could probably get away with wearing anything she wanted, I thought as we all walked outside.

  I’d read somewhere, recently, that Katherine Rose was still considered among the most beautiful women in the world. She had made only a handful of movies since she’d had Maggie Rose, but she’d lost none of her beauty, not so far as I could see. Not even in her time of terrible anxiety.

  Her husband, Thomas Dunne, had been a prominent entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles when they met. He’d been involved with Greenpeace and Save the Earth out there. The family had moved to Washington after he became director of the American Red Cross.

  “Have you been involved with other kidnappings, Detective?” Thomas Dunne wanted to know. He was trying to figure out where I fit in. Was I important? Could I help their little girl in any way? He was a little rude, but I guess I couldn’t blame him under the circumstances.

  “About a dozen,” I told him. “Can you tell me a little about Maggie? It could help. The more we know, the better will be our chances of finding Maggie.”

  Katherine Rose nodded. “Of course we will, Detective Cross. We’ve tried to bring Maggie up to be as normal as possible,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons we finally decided
to move East.”

  “I don’t know if I’d call Washington a normal place to grow up. This isn’t exactly Mayberry R.F.D.” I smiled at the two of them. For some reason, that statement started to break the ice between us.

  “Compared to Beverly Hills it’s pretty normal,” Tom Dunne said. “Believe me, it is.”

  “I’m not even sure what ‘normal’ means anymore,” Katherine said. Her eyes gave the appearance of being grayish blue. They penetrated when you got up close to her. “I guess ‘normal’ corresponds to some old fashioned image in the rear of our minds, Tom’s and mine. Maggie isn’t spoiled. She’s not one for ‘Suze got this’ or ‘Casey’s parents bought her that.’ She doesn’t have a big head about herself. That kind of ‘normal.’ She’s just a little girl, Detective.”

  As Katherine Rose lovingly talked about her daughter, I found myself thinking of my own children, but especially Janelle. Jannie was “normal,” too. By that, I mean that she was in balance, definitely not spoiled, lovable in every way. Finding parallels between our daughters, I listened even more carefully as they spoke of Maggie Rose.

  “She’s a lot like Katherine.” Thomas Dunne offered a point he felt was important for me to hear. “Katherine is the most egoless person I’ve ever met. Believe me, to live through the adulation a star can get in Hollywood, and the nasty abuse, and to be the person she is, is very hard.”

  “How did she come to be called Maggie Rose?” I asked Katherine Rose.

  “That’s all my doing.” Thomas Dunne’s eyes rolled back. He liked to talk for his wife, I could see. “It was a nickname that just caught on. It started the first time I saw the two of them in the hospital.”

  “Tom calls us ‘The Rose Girls,’ ‘The Rose Sisters.’ We work out here in ‘The Rose Garden.’ When Maggie and I argue, it’s ‘The War of the Roses.’ It goes like that.”

  They loved their little girl very much. I sensed it in every word they said about Maggie.

  Soneji, whatever his real name was, had chosen wisely in their case. It was another perfect move on his part. He’d done his homework. Big-name movie star and a respected lawyer. Very loving parents. Money. Prestige. Maybe he liked her movies, I tried to remember if Katherine Rose had played any part that might have set him off. I didn’t remember seeing her picture up in his apartment.

  “You said you want to know how Maggie might react under these terrible circumstances,” Katherine continued. “Why is that, Detective Cross?”

  “We know from talking to her teachers that she’s well behaved. That may have been a reason for Soneji choosing her.” I was candid with them. “What else can you think of? Free-associate all that you can.”

  “Maggie’s mind seems to shift between being serious—very strict and rule abiding—to having a lot of fantasies,” Katherine said. “Do your have children?” she asked me.

  I flinched. I’d been thinking of Jannie and Damon again. Parallels. “Two children. I also do some work with kids in the projects,” I said. “Does Maggie have many friends at school?”

  “Tons of them,” her father said. “She likes kids who have a lot of ideas, but aren’t too self-centered. All except Michael, who’s intensely self-absorbed.”

  “Tell me about the two of them, Maggie and Michael.”

  Katherine Rose smiled for the first time since we’d been talking. It was so strange, this smile that I had seen many times in movies. Now I was seeing it in person. I was mesmerized. I felt a little shy, and embarrassed that I was having that kind of reaction.

  “They’ve been best friends ever since we moved here. They’re the oddest couple, but inseparable,” she said. “We call them Felix and Oscar sometimes.”

  “How do you think Michael would react under these circumstances?” I asked.

  “Difficult to judge.” Thomas Dunne shook his head. He seemed to be a very impatient man. Probably used to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it. “Michael always has to have a plan. His life’s very orderly, very structured.”

  “What about his physical problems?” Michael had been a “blue baby,” I knew. He still had a slight problem with a heart murmur.

  Katherine Rose shrugged her shoulders. Apparently it wasn’t much of an issue. “He tires sometimes. He’s a little small for his age. Maggie’s bigger than Michael.

  “They all call him Shrimpie, which I think he likes. It makes him a little more of the gang,” said Tom Dunne. “Basically, he’s a whiz-kid type. Maggie calls him a brainiac. That’s fairly descriptive of Michael.”

  “Michael is definitely a brainiac.”

  “How is he when he gets tired?” I went back to something Katherine had said, maybe something important. “Is he ever short-tempered?”

  Katherine thought about my question before answering. “He just gets pooped. Occasionally, he’ll take a nap. One time—I remember the two of them asleep near the pool. This little odd couple sprawled out on the grass. Just two little kids.”

  She stared at me with those gray eyes of hers and she started to cry. She had been trying hard to control herself, but finally had to let go.

  However reluctant I may have been at first, I was becoming a flesh-and-blood part of the terrible case. I felt for the Dunnes and the Goldbergs. I’d made connections between Maggie Rose and my own kids. I was involved in a way that isn’t always useful. The anger I had felt about the killer in the projects was being transferred to the kidnapper of these two innocent kids… Mr. Soneji… Mr. Chips.

  I wanted to reach out, to tell both of them everything would be okay, to convince myself everything would be okay. I wasn’t sure it would be.

  CHAPTER 16

  MAGGIE ROSE still believed she was in her own grave. It was beyond being creepy and horrible. It was a million times worse than any nightmare she’d ever imagined. And Maggie knew her imagination was a good one. She could gross out or amaze her friends, pretty much at will.

  Was it nighttime now? Or was it daytime?

  “Michael?” she moaned weakly. Her whole mouth, her tongue especially, felt like a lot of cotton swabs. Her mouth was unbelievably dried out. She was so thirsty. Sometimes she would gag on her tongue. She kept imagining that she was swallowing her tongue. Nobody had ever been this thirsty before. Not even in the deserts of Iraq and Kuwait.

  Maggie Rose kept drifting in and out of sleep. Dreams came to her constantly. Another one had just started. Someone was pounding on a heavy wooden door nearby.

  Whoever it was called out her name. “Maggie Rose… Maggie Rose, talk to me!”

  Then Maggie wasn’t sure that it was a dream at all.

  Someone was really there.

  Was someone breaking into her grave? Was it her mom and dad? Or the police, finally?

  Suddenly light from above blinded her! Maggie Rose was sure it was really light.

  It was as if she were looking straight into a hundred flashbulbs, all of them going off at once.

  Her heart beat so fast and so hard that Maggie Rose knew she must be alive. In some terrible, terrible place. Someone had put her there.

  Maggie Rose whispered up into the light, “Who is it? Who’s there? Who’s up there right now? I see a face!”

  The light was so very bright that Maggie Rose couldn’t really see anything.

  For the second—or third—time, it had gone from pitch-black to blinding, blinding white.

  Then someone’s silhouette blocked out most of the light. Maggie still couldn’t see who was there. Light radiated behind the person.

  Maggie clamped shut her eyes, tightly. Then opened them. She did this over and over again.

  She couldn’t really see anything. Couldn’t focus on whoever or whatever it was. She had to keep blinking. Whoever was up there had to see the blinking, had to know she was alive.

  “Mr. Soneji? Please help me,” she tried to call out. Her throat was so dry. Her voice came out raspy and unrecognizable.

  “Shaddup! Shaddup!” a voice from above shouted. Someone was up there now! Some
one was really up there and could get her out.

  It sounded like… a very old woman’s voice.

  “Please help me. Please,” Maggie begged.

  A hand came flying down and slapped her face hard.

  Maggie cried out. She was more frightened than hurt, but the blow hurt, too. She’d never been slapped before. It set off a loud roar inside her head.

  “Stopyercrying!” The eerie voice was closer.

  Then the person climbed down into the grave and was right over her. Maggie could smell strong body odor and someone’s bad breath. She was being pinned down now, and she was too weak to fight back.

  “Don’t fight me, yer little bastard! Don’t ever fight me! Who do yer think yer are, yer little bastard!

  “Don’t yer ever raise yer hand to me! Yer hear me? Don’t yer ever!”

  Please, God, what was happening?

  “Yer that famous Maggie Rose, aren’t yer? The rich, spoiled brat! Well, let me tell yer a secret. Our secret. Yer gonna die, little rich girl. Yer gonna die!”

  CHAPTER 17

  THE NEXT DAY was Christmas Eve. It didn’t feel like the season to be merry. And it was going to get a whole lot worse before Christmas Day.

  None of us had been able to make any of the usual, festive holiday preparations with our families. It added to the tension the Hostage Rescue Team was feeling. It magnified the misery of the depressing task. If Soneji had chosen the holiday season for this reason, he’d chosen well. He had turned everyone’s Christmas to shit.

  Around ten o’clock in the morning, I walked down Sorrell Avenue to the Goldberg house. Sampson, meanwhile, had sneaked off to do a little work on the murders in Southeast. We planned to get back together around noon to compare horror stories.

  I talked with the Goldbergs for over an hour. They weren’t holding up well. In a lot of ways, they were even more forthcoming than Katherine and Thomas Dunne. They were stricter parents than the Dunnes, but Jerrold and Laurie Goldberg loved their son dearly. Eleven years earlier, Laurie Goldberg had been told by doctors that she couldn’t have children. Her uterus had been scarred. When she found herself pregnant with Michael, it had seemed a miracle. Had Soneji known about that? I wondered. How carefully had he picked out his victims? Why Maggie Rose and Michael Goldberg?

 
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