Along came a spider, p.7
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       Along Came a Spider, p.7
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         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  The Goldbergs allowed me to see Michael’s bedroom, and to spend some time there by myself. I shut the door to the room and sat quietly for several moments. I had done the same thing in Maggie’s room at the Dunnes’.

  The boy’s room was amazing. It was a treasure chest of state-of-the-art computer hardware and software—Macintosh, Nintendo, Prodigy, Windows. The AT&T labs had less equipment than Michael Goldberg.

  Posters of Katherine Rose from her films Taboo and Honeymoon were taped up on the walls. A poster of Skid Row’s lead singer, Sebastian Bach, was centered over the bed. A picture of Albert Einstein with a mauve punk haircut stared out from Michael’s private bathroom. Also, a Rolling Stone magazine cover that asked “Who Killed Pee-wee Herman?”

  A framed photograph of Michael and Maggie Rose was propped up on the boy’s work desk. Posed arm in arm, the two kids looked like the greatest friends. What had inspired Soneji? Was it something about their special friendship?

  Neither of the Goldbergs had ever met Mr. Soneji, although Michael had talked a lot about him. Soneji was the only person, child or adult, who had ever beaten Michael at Nintendo games like “Ultima” and “Super Mario Brothers.” It suggested that Soneji might be a brainiac himself, another whiz kid, but not willing to let a nine-year-old beat him at video games for the sake of the cause. Not willing to lose at any game.

  I was back in the library with the Goldbergs, looking out a window, when everything went completely and forever crazy on the kidnapping case.

  I saw Sampson running down the street from the Dunnes’. Each of his strides covered about a third of a block. I raced out of the Goldberg’s front door at the same time that Sampson made it to the lawn. He broke stride like the San Francisco 49ers’ Jerry Rice in the end zone.

  “He called again?”

  Sampson shook his head. “No! There’s been a break, though. Something happened, Alex. The FBI’s keeping it under wraps,” Sampson said. “They’ve got something. C’mon.”

  A police roadblock had been set up just off Sorrell Avenue at the end of nearby Plately Bridge Lane. The roadblock of half-a-dozen wooden horses effectively stopped the press from following cars that had left the Dunnes’ just past two that afternoon. Sampson and I rode in the third car.

  Seventy minutes later, the three sedans were speeding through the low hills surrounding Salisbury, Maryland. The cars circled down a winding road, to an industrial park nestled in thick pine woods.

  The contemporary-looking complex was deserted on Christmas Eve. It was eerily quiet. Snow-blanketed lawns led the way to three separate whitestone office buildings. Half-a-dozen local police cars and ambulances had already arrived at the mysterious scene.

  Some minor tributary that had to empty into Chesapeake Bay flowed behind the cluster of office buildings. The water was brownish-red, and looked polluted. Royal blue signs on the building read: J. Cad Manufacturing, The Raser/Becton Group, Techno-Sphere.

  Not a clue so far, not a word had been uttered about what had happened in the industrial park.

  Sampson and I joined the group that headed down toward the river. Four more FBI agents were at the site, and they looked worried.

  There was a patch of winter-thin pale yellow weeds between the industrial park and the water. Then came a thirty- or forty-yard barren strip to the river itself. The sky overhead was cardboard gray, threatening more snow.

  Down one muddy bank, sheriff’s deputies were pouring casting compound, trying to get some footprints. Had Gary Soneji been here?

  “Have they told you anything?” I asked Jezzie Flanagan as we sidestepped down the steep, muddy embankment together. Her work shoes were getting ruined. She didn’t seem to notice.

  “No. Not yet. Not a thing!” She was as frustrated as Sampson and I were. This was the first opportunity for the “Team” not to act like one. The Federal Bureau had their chance to cooperate. They blew it. Not a good sign. Not a promising beginning.

  “Please don’t let it be those kids,” Jezzie Flanagan muttered as we reached flatter ground.

  Two Bureau agents, Reilly and Gerry Scorse, were at the riverside. Snow flurries drifted down. A bracing cold wind blew over the slate gray water, which smelled like burning linoleum.

  My heart was in my throat the whole time. I couldn’t see anything down along the shoreline.

  Agent Scorse made a short speech, which I think was meant to mollify the rest of us. “Listen, this ‘close to the vest’ approach has nothing to do with any of you. Because of the wide press coverage this case has received, we were asked—ordered, actually—not to say anything until we all got out here. Until we could see for ourselves.”

  “See what?” Sampson asked the FBI special agent. “You going to tell us what the hell is going on? Let’s cut down on the verbal diarrhea.”

  Scorse signaled to one of the FBI agents, and spoke to him briefly. His name was McGoey and he was from the director’s office in D.C. He’d been in and out of the Dunne house. We all thought that he was the replacement for Roger Graham, but that was never verified.

  McGoey nodded at whatever Scorse had told him, then stepped forward. He was a solemn looking fat man with big teeth and a short white crewcut. He looked like an old military man who was close to retirement.

  “The local police out here found a child floating in the river around one o’clock today,” McGoey announced. “They have no way of knowing if it’s one of the two kidnapped children or not.”

  Agent McGoey then walked all of us about seventy yards farther down the muddy riverbank. We stopped past a hump covered with moss and cattails. There wasn’t a sound from anyone, just the bitter wind whistling over the water.

  We finally knew why we had been brought here. A small body had been covered over with gray wool blankets from one of the EMS wagons. It was the tiniest, loneliest bundle in the universe.

  One of the local policemen was asked to give us the necessary details. When he began to speak, his voice was thick and unsteady.

  “I’m Lieutenant Edward Mahoney. I’m with the force here in Salisbury. About an hour and twenty minutes ago, a security guard with Raser/Becton discovered the body of a child down here.”

  We walked closer to the spread of blankets. The body was laid on a mound of grass that sloped into the brackish water. Beyond the grass, and to the left, was a black-looking tamarack swamp.

  Lieutenant Mahoney knelt down beside the tiny body. His gray uniformed knee sank into the wet mud. Flecks of snow floated around his face, sticking to his hair and cheeks.

  Almost reverently, he pulled back the wool blankets. It seemed as if he were a father, gently waking a child for some early-morning fishing trip.

  Just a few hours ago, I had been looking at a photo of the two kidnapped children. I was the first to speak over the murdered child’s body.

  “It’s Michael Goldberg,” I said in a soft but clear voice. “I’m sorry to say that it’s Michael. It’s poor little Shrimpie.”

  CHAPTER 18

  JEZZIE FLANAGAN didn’t get home until early Christmas morning. Her head was spinning, bursting with too many ideas about the kidnapping.

  She had to stop the obsessive images for a while. She had to shut down her engines, or the plant would explode. She had to stop being a cop. The difference between her and some other cops, she knew, was that she could stop.

  Jezzie was living in Arlington with her mother. They shared a small, crammed condo apartment near the Crystal City Underground. Jezzie thought of it as the “suicide flat.” The living arrangement was supposed to be temporary, except that she had been there close to a year now, ever since her divorce from Dennis Kelleher.

  Dennis the Menace was up in northern Jersey these days, still trying to make it to the New York Times. He was never going to accomplish that feat, Jezzie knew in her heart. The only thing Dennis had ever been good at was trying to make Jezzie doubt herself. Dennis had been a real standout in that department. But in the end, she wouldn’t let him beat her down.
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  She had been working too hard at the Service to find time to move out of her mother’s condo. At least that was what she kept telling herself. There’d been no time to have a life. She was saving up—for something big, some kind of significant life change. She’d been calculating her net worth at least a couple of times a week, every week. She had all of twenty-four thousand dollars. That was everything. She was thirty-two now. She knew she was good-looking, almost beautiful—the way Dennis Kelleher was almost a good writer.

  Jezzie could have been a contender, she often thought to herself. She almost had it made. All she needed was one decent break, and she’d finally realized she had to make that break for herself. She was committed to it.

  She drank a Smithwich, really fine ale from the Old Sod. Smitty’s had been her father’s favorite brand of poison in the world. She nibbled a slice of fresh cheddar. Then she had a second ale in the shower, down dreary Hallway Number One at her mother’s. Michael Goldberg’s little face flashed at her again.

  She wouldn’t allow any more flash images of the Goldberg boy to come. She wouldn’t feel any guilt, even if she was bursting at the seams with it….

  The two children had been abducted during her watch. That was how everything had started… Stop the images! Stop everything for now.

  Irene Flanagan was coughing in her sleep. Her mother had worked thirty-nine years for C&P Telephone. She owned the condo in Crystal City. She was a killer bridge player. That was it for Irene.

  Jezzie’s father had been a cop in D.C. for twenty-seven years. The end game came for Terry Flanagan, on his beloved job—a heart attack in crowded Union Station—with hundreds of complete strangers watching him die, nobody really caring. Anyway, that was the way Jezzie always told the story.

  Jezzie decided, again, for the thousandth time, that she had to move out of her mother’s place. No matter what. No more lame excuses. Move it or lose it, girl. Move on, move on, move on with your life.

  She had completely lost track of how long she’d been drowning in the shower, holding the empty beer bottle at her side, rubbing the cool glass against her thigh. “Despair junkie,” she muttered to herself. “That’s really pitiful.” She’d been in the shower long enough to finish the Smithwich, anyway, and get thirsty for another one. Thirsty for something.

  She’d successfully avoided thinking about the Goldberg boy for a while. But not really. How could she? Little Michael Goldberg.

  Jezzie Flanagan had gotten good at forgetting over the past few years, though—avoiding pain at all costs. It was dumb to be in pain, if you could avoid it.

  Of course, that also meant avoiding close relationships, avoiding even the proximity of love, avoiding most of the natural range of human emotions. Fair enough. It might be an acceptable trade-off. She’d found that she could survive without love in her life. It sounded terrible, but it was the truth.

  Yes, for the moment, especially the present moment, the trade-off was well worth it, Jezzie thought. It helped get her through each day and night of the crisis. It got her through until the cocktail hour, anyway.

  She coped okay. She had all the right tools for survival. If she could make it as a woman cop, she could make it at anything. The other agents in the Service said she had cojones. It was their idea of a compliment, so Jezzie took it as one. Besides, they were spot on—she did have brass cojones. And the times that she didn’t, she was smart enough to fake it.

  At one o’clock in the morning, Jezzie Flanagan had to take the BMW bike for a ride; she had to get out of the suffocating, tiny apartment in Arlington.

  Had to, had to, had to.

  Her mother must have heard the door opening out to the hallway. She called to Jezzie from her bedroom, maybe right out of her sleep.

  “Jezzie, where are you going so late? Jezzie? Jezzie, is that you?”

  “Just out, Mother.” Christmas shopping at the mall, a cynical line bounced against the walls of her head. As usual, she kept it inside. She wished Christmas would go away. She dreaded the next day.

  Then she was gone into the night on the BMW K-1—either escaping from, or chasing after, her personal nightmares, her devils.

  It was Christmas. Had Michael Goldberg died for our sins? Was that what this was about? she thought.

  She refused to let herself feel all the guilt. It was Christmas, and Christ had already died for everyone’s sins. Even Jezzie Flanagan’s sins. She was feeling a little crazy. No, she was feeling a lot crazy, but she could take control. Always take control. That’s what she would do now.

  She sang “Winter Wonderland”—at a hundred and ten miles an hour on the open highway heading out of Washington. She wasn’t afraid of very much, but this time she was afraid.

  CHAPTER 19

  IN SOME PARTS of Washington and the nearby suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, house-by-house searches were conducted on Christmas morning. Police blue-and-whites toured the streets downtown. They loudly broadcasted over their PA systems:

  “We are looking for Maggie Rose Dunne. Maggie is nine years old. Maggie has long blond hair. Maggie is four feet three inches tall and weighs seventy-two pounds. A substantial reward is offered for any information leading to Maggie’s safe return.”

  Inside the house, a half-dozen FBI agents worked more closely than ever with the Dunnes. Both Katherine Rose and Tom Dunne were terribly shaken by Michael’s death. Katherine suddenly looked ten years older. We all waited for the next call from Soneji.

  It had occurred to me that Gary Soneji was going to call the Dunnes on Christmas Day. I was beginning to feel as if I knew him a little. I wanted him to call, wanted him to start moving, to make the first big mistake. I wanted to get him.

  At around eleven on Christmas morning, the Hostage Rescue Team was hurriedly called together in the Dunnes’ formal sitting room. There were close to twenty of us now, all at the mercy of the FBI for vital information. The house was buzzing. What had the Son of Lindbergh done?

  We hadn’t been given much information yet. We did know that a telegram had been delivered to the Dunne house. It wasn’t being treated like any of the previous crank messages. It had to be Soneji.

  FBI agents had monopolized the house phones for the past fifteen minutes or so. Special Agent Scorse arrived back at the house just before eleven-thirty, probably coming from his own family’s Christmas. Chief Pittman swept in five minutes later. The police commissioner had been called.

  “This is getting to be a real bad deal. Being left in the dark all the time.” Sampson slouched against the room’s mantel. When Sampson slouches, he’s only around six feet seven. “The Fibbers don’t trust us. We trust them even less than we did at the get-go.”

  “We didn’t trust the FBI in the beginning,” I reminded him.

  “You’re right about that.” Sampson grinned. I could see myself reflected in his Wayfarers and I looked small. I wondered if the whole world looked tiny from Sampson’s vantage point. “Our boy send the Western Union?” he asked me.

  “That’s what the FBI thinks. It’s probably just his way of saying Merry Christmas. Maybe he wants to be part of a family.”

  Sampson peered at me over the tops of his dark glasses. “Thank you, Dr. Freud.”

  Agent Scorse was working his way to the front of the room. Along the way, he picked up Chief Pittman. They shook hands. Good community relations at work.

  “We received another message that appears to be from Gary Soneji,” Scorse announced as soon as he was in front of us. He had an odd way of stretching his neck and twisting his head from side to side when he was nervous. He did that a few times as he began to speak.

  “I’ll read it to you. It’s addressed to the Dunnes….

  ‘Dear Katherine and Tom… How about ten million dollars? Two in cash. Rest in negotiable securities and diamonds. IN MIAMI BEACH!… M.R. doing fine so far. Trust me. TOMORROW’S big day… Have a merry… Son of L.’ ”

  Within fifteen minutes of its arrival, the telegram had been traced to a
Western Union office on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. FBI agents immediately descended on the office to interview the manager and clerks. They didn’t learn a thing—exactly the way the rest of the investigation had been going so far.

  We had no choice but to leave for Miami immediately.

  CHAPTER 20

  THE HOSTAGE RESCUE TEAM arrived at Tamiami Airport in Florida at four-thirty on Christmas afternoon. Secretary Jerrold Goldberg had arranged for us to fly down in a private jet supplied by the Air Force.

  A Miami police escort rushed us to the FBI office on Collins Avenue, near the Fountainbleu and other Gold Coast hotels. The Bureau office was only six blocks from the Western Union office where Soneji had sent the telegram.

  Had he known that? Probably he had. That was how his mind seemed to work. Soneji was a control freak. I kept jotting down observations on him. There were already twenty pages in a notepad I kept in my jacket. I wasn’t ready to write a profile of Soneji since I had no information about his past yet. My notes were filled with all the right buzzwords, though: organized, sadistic, methodical, controlling, perhaps hypomanic.

  Was he watching us scurry around Miami now? Quite possibly he was. Maybe in another disguise. Was he remorseful about Michael Goldberg’s death? Or was he entering a state of rage?

  Private lines of emergency switchboard operators had already been set up at the FBI office. We didn’t know how Soneji would communicate from here on. Several Miami police officers were added to the team now. So were another two hundred agents from the Bureau’s large force in southern Florida. Suddenly, everything was rush, rush, rush. Hurry up and wait.

 
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