Along came a spider, p.8
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       Along Came a Spider, p.8
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         Part #1 of Alex Cross series by James Patterson

  I wondered if Gary Soneji had any real idea about the state of chaos he was creating as his deadline approached. Was that part of his plan, too? Was Maggie Rose Dunne really okay? Was she still alive?

  We would need some proof before the final exchange would be approved. At least we would ask Soneji for physical proof. M.R. fine so far. Trust me, he’d said. Sure thing, Gary.

  Bad news followed us down to Miami Beach. The preliminary autopsy report on Michael Goldberg had been faxed to the Miami Bureau office. A briefing was held immediately after we arrived, in the FBI’s crisis room. We sat in a crescent arrangement of desks, each desk with its own video monitor and word processor. The room was unusually quiet. None of us really wanted to hear details about the little boy’s death.

  A Bureau technical officer named Harold Friedman was chosen to explain the medical findings to the group. Friedman was unusual for the Bureau, to say the least. He was an Orthodox Jew, but with the build and look of a Miami beachboy. He wore a multicolored yarmulke to the autopsy briefing.

  “We’re reasonably certain the Goldberg boy’s death was accidental,” he began in a deep, articulate voice. “It appears that he was knocked out with a chloroform spray first. There were traces of chloroform in his nasal passages and throat. Then he was injected with secobarbital sodium, probably about two hours later. Secobarbital is a strong anesthetic. It also has properties which can inhibit breathing.

  “That seems to be what happened in this case. The boy’s breathing probably became irregular, then his heart and breathing stopped altogether. It wasn’t painful if he remained asleep. I suspect that he did, and that he died in his sleep.”

  “There were also several broken bones,” Harold Friedman went on. In spite of the beachboy appearance, he was somber and seemed intelligent in his reporting. “We believe that the little boy was kicked and punched, probably dozens of times. This had nothing to do with his death, though. The broken bones and ‘dents’ on the skin were inflicted after the boy was dead. You should know that he was also sexually abused after the time of death. He was sodomized, and ripped during the act. This Soneji character is a very sick puppy,” Friedman offered as his first bit of editorializing.

  This was also one of the few real specifics we had about Gary Soneji’s pathology. Evidently, he had flown into an angry rage when he discovered that Michael Goldberg was dead. Or that something about his perfect plan wasn’t so perfect after all.

  Agents and policemen shifted from buttock to buttock in their seats. I wondered if the frenzy with Michael Goldberg had a calming or inciteful effect on Soneji.

  More than ever, I worried about the chances Maggie Rose had to survive.

  The hotel we were staying at was directly across the street from the Bureau branch office. It wasn’t much by Miami Beach gold standards, but it did have a large terraced pool on the ocean side.

  Around eleven, most of us had knocked off for the night. The temperature was still in the eighties. The sky was full of bright stars, and an occasional jetliner arriving from the North.

  Sampson and I strolled across Collins Avenue. People must have thought the Lakers were in town to play the Miami Heat.

  “Want to eat first? Or just drink ourselves numb?” he asked me midway across the avenue.

  “I’m already pretty numb,” I told Sampson. “I was thinking about a swim. When in Miami Beach?”

  “You can’t get a Miami Beach tan tonight.” He was rolling an unlit cigarette between his lips.

  “That’s another reason for a night swim.”

  “I’ll be operating in the lounge,” Sampson said as we branched off in the lobby. “I’ll be the one drawing the pretty women.”

  “Good luck,” I called to him. “It’s Christmas. I hope you get a present.”

  I got into a bathing suit, and wandered out to the hotel pool. I’ve come to believe that the key to health is exercising, so I exercise every day, no matter where I am. I also do a lot of stretching, which can be done anytime, anywhere.

  The big swimming pool on the ocean side was closed, but that didn’t stop me. Policemen are notorious for jaywalking, double-parking, rule-breaking in general. It’s our only perk.

  Someone else had the same idea. Somebody was swimming laps so smoothly and quietly that I hadn’t noticed until I was walking among the deck chairs, feeling the cool wetness under my feet.

  The swimmer was a woman, in a black or dark blue swimsuit. She was slender and athletic, with long arms and longer legs. She was a pretty sight on a not-so-pretty day. Her stroke looked effortless, and it was strong and rhythmic. It seemed her private place, and I didn’t want to disturb it.

  When she made her turn, I saw that it was Jezzie Flanagan. That surprised me. It seemed out of character for the Secret Service supervisor.

  I finally climbed down very quietly into the opposite end of the pool and started my own laps. It was nothing beautiful or rhythmic, but my stroke gets the job done, and I can usually swim for a long time.

  I did thirty-five laps easily. I felt as if I was loosened up for the first time in a few days. The cobwebs were beginning to go away. Maybe I’d do another twenty, then call it a night. Or maybe have a Christmas beer with Sampson.

  When I stopped for a quick blow, Jezzie Flanagan was sitting right there on the edge of a lounger.

  A fluffy white hotel towel was thrown casually over her bare shoulders. She was pretty in the moonlight over Miami. Willowy, very blond, bright blue eyes staring at me.

  “Fifty laps, Detective Cross?”

  She smiled in a way that revealed a different person from the one I’d seen at work over the past few days. She seemed much more relaxed.

  “Thirty-five. I’m not exactly in your league,” I said to her. “Not even close. I learned my stroke at the downtown Y.”

  “You persevere.” She kept her smile turned on nicely. “You’re in good shape.”

  “Whatever my stroke is called, it sure feels good tonight. After all those hours cooped up in that room. Those boxy little windows that don’t open.”

  “If they had big windows, all anybody would think about is escaping to the beach. They’d never get any work done anywhere in the state of Florida.”

  “Are we getting any work done?” I asked Jezzie.

  She laughed. “I had a friend who believed in the ‘doing the best you can’ theory of police work. I’m doing the best I can. Under impossible circumstances. How about you?”

  “I’m doing the best I can, too,” I said.

  “Praise the Lord.” Jezzie Flanagan raised both her arms joyously. Her exuberance surprised me. It was funny, and it felt good to laugh for a change. Real good. Real necessary.

  “Under the circumstances, I’m doing the best I can,” I added.

  “Under the circumstances, praise the Lord!” Jezzie raised her voice again. She was funny, or it was late, or both of the above.

  “You going to catch a bite?” I asked her. I wanted to hear her thoughts about the case. I hadn’t really talked to her before.

  “I’d like to eat something,” she answered. ‘“I’ve skipped two meals already today.”

  We agreed to meet up in the hotel’s dining room, which was one of those slow-spinning affairs on the top floor.

  She changed in about five minutes, which I found impressive. Baggy tan trousers, a V-necked T-shirt, black Chinese slippers. Her blond hair was still wet. She’d combed it back, and it looked good that way. She didn’t wear makeup, and didn’t need to. She seemed so different from the way she acted on the job—much looser and at ease.

  “In all honesty and fairness, I have to tell you one thing.” She was laughing.

  “What’s the one thing?”

  “Well, you’re a strong but really clunky swimmer. On the other hand, you do look good in a bathing suit.”

  Both of us laughed. Some of the long day’s tension began to drain away.

  We were good at drawing each other out over beers and a snack. A lot of th
at was due to the peculiar circumstances, the stress and pressure of the past few days. It’s also part of my job to draw people out, and I like the challenge.

  I got Jezzie Flanagan to admit that she’d once been Miss Washington, D.C., back when she was eighteen. She’d been in a sorority at the University of Virginia, but got kicked out for “inappropriate behavior,” a phrase that I loved.

  As we talked, though, I was surprised that I was telling her much more than I’d expected to. She was easy to talk to.

  Jezzie asked about my early days as a psychologist in Washington. “It was mostly a bad mistake,” I told her, without getting into how angry it had made me, still made me. “A whole lot of people didn’t want any part of a black shrink. Too many black people couldn’t afford one. There are no liberals on the psychiatrist’s couch.” She got me to talk about Maria, but only a little bit. She told me how it was to be a woman in the ninety-percent macho-male Secret Service. “They like to test me, oh, about once a day. They call me ‘the Man.’” She also had some entertaining war stories about the White House. She knew the Bushes and the Reagans. All in all, it was a comfortable hour that went by too quickly.

  Actually, more than an hour had passed. More like two hours. Jezzie finally noticed our waitress hovering all by her lonesome near the bar. “Shoot. We are the last ones in this restaurant.”

  We paid our bill and got on the local elevator down from the spinning-top restaurant. Jezzie’s room was on the higher floor. She probably had a view of the ocean, too. From her suite.

  “That was real nice,” I said at her stop. I think that’s a snappy line out of a Noël Coward play. “Thanks for the company. Merry Christmas.”

  “Merry Christmas, Alex.” Jezzie smiled. She tucked her blond hair behind her ear, which was a tic of hers I’d noticed before. “That was nice. Unfortunately, tomorrow probably won’t be.”

  Jezzie pecked my cheek, and went off to her room. “I’m going to dream about you in swimsuits,” she said as the elevator doors closed.

  I went down four more floors, where I took my Christmas cold shower, alone in my Christmas hotel room. I thought about Jezzie Flanagan. Dumb fantasies in a lonely Miami Beach hotel room. We sure weren’t going anywhere together, but I liked her. I kind of felt that I could talk to her about anything. I read some more about Styron’s bout with depression, until I could sleep. I had some dreams of my own.


  CAREFUL, be oh so careful now, Gary boy.

  Gary Soneji watched the fat woman out of the extreme corner of his left eye. He watched the blubbery blob the way a lizard watches an insect—just before mealtime. She had no idea that he was studying her.

  She was a policewoman, so to speak, as well as a toll collector, at exit 12 on the turnpike. She slowly counted out his change. She was enormous, black as the night, completely out of it. Asleep at the switch. Soneji thought she looked like Aretha Franklin would have, if Aretha couldn’t sing a note and she had to make it in the real, workaday world.

  She didn’t have a clue as to who was riding by in the monotonous stream of holiday traffic. Even though she and all her cohorts were supposed to be desperately searching for him. So much for “massive police dragnets” and your basic “nationwide manhunt.” What a fucking letdown and disappointment. How could they possibly expect to catch him with people like this in the hunt. At least they could try to keep it interesting for him.

  Sometimes, especially at times like this, Gary Soneji wanted to proclaim the inescapable truth of the universe.

  Proclaim. Listen, you slovenly bimbo bitch cop! Don’t you know who I am? Some paltry nothing disguise have you buffaloed? I’m the one you’ve been seeing in every news story for the past three days. You and half the world, Aretha, baby.

  Proclaim. I planned and executed the Crime of the Century so perfectly. I’m already bigger than John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Juan Corona. Everything went right until the rich little blue boy got sick on me.

  Proclaim. Look real close. Take a good took at me. Be a goddamn hero for once in your life. Be something besides a fat black zero on the Freeway of Love. Look at me, will you! Look at me!

  She handed back his change. “Merry Christmas, sir.”

  Gary Soneji shrugged. “Merry Christmas back at you,” he said.

  As he pulled away from the blinking lights of the tollbooth, he imagined the policewoman with one of those smiling, have-a-nice-day heads on her. He mind-pictured a whole country full of those smiley balloon faces. It was happening, too.

  It was getting worse than The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, actually. Drove him cra-azy if he thought about it, which he tried not to do. Country of smiling Balloonheads. He loved Stephen King, identified with His Weirdness, and wished The King would write about all the smiley fools in America. He could see the dust jacket for King’s masterpiece—Balloonheads.

  Forty minutes later, Soneji pulled the trusty Saab off Route 413, in Crisfield, Maryland. He accelerated down the rutted dirt road to the old farmhouse. He had to smile, had to laugh at this point. He had them so completely fooled and bamboozled. Completely turned inside out.

  So far, they didn’t know which way was up, down, or sideways. He already had the Lindbergh thing topped didn’t he? Now it was time to pull the mat out from under all the Balloonheads again.


  IT WAS DEFINITELY SHOWTIME! A Federal Express courier had arrived at the FBI offices just before ten-thirty on the morning of the twenty-sixth of December. He’d delivered the new message from the Son of Lindbergh.

  We were called back to the crisis room on the second floor. The whole FBI staff seemed to be in there. This was it, and everybody knew it.

  Moments later, Special Agent Bill Thompson, from Miami, rushed in. He brandished one of those familiar looking delivery-service envelopes. Thompson carefully opened the orange-and-blue envelope in front of the entire group.

  “He’s going to let us see the message. Only he’s not going to read it to us,” Jeb Klepner from the Secret Service cracked under his breath. Sampson and I were standing there with Klepner and Jezzie Flanagan.

  “Oh, he doesn’t want all the heat on this one,” Jezzie predicted. “He’ll share with us this time.”

  Thompson was ready, up at the front.

  “I have a message from Gary Soneji. It goes as follows.

  “There’s the number one,” Thompson read the message.

  “Then, spelled out in letters, ten million. On the next line, the number two. Then the words Disney World, Orlando—The Magic Kingdom. Next line. The number three. Then, Park at Pluto 24. Go across Seven Seas Lagoon on the ferry, not the monorail.12:50 P.M. today. This will be finished by 1:15. Last line. Detective Alex Cross will deliver the ransom. Alone. It’s signed Son of Lindbergh.”

  Bill Thompson looked up immediately. His eyes searched the crisis room. He had no trouble finding me in the audience. I can absolutely guarantee that his shock and surprise were nothing compared to mine. A hit of adrenaline had already mainlined its way into my system. What the hell did Soneji want with me? How did he know about me? Did he know how badly I wanted his ass now?

  “There’s no attempt at any negotiation!” Special Agent Scorse began to make a fuss. “Soneji just assumes we’re going to deliver the ten million.”

  “He does,” I spoke up. “And he’s right. It’s ultimately the family’s call how and when a kidnap ransom gets paid.” The Dunnes had instructed us to pay Soneji—unconditionally. Soneji had probably guessed as much. That was undoubtedly the main reason why he’d chosen Maggie Rose. But why had he chosen me?

  Standing at my side, Sampson shook his head and muttered, “The Lord, He sure does work in mysterious ways.”

  A half-dozen cars were waiting for us in the sunbaked parking lot behind the Bureau building. Bill Thompson, Jezzie Flanagan, Klepner, myself, and Sampsom travelled in one of the FBI sedans. The securities and money went with us. Detective Alex Cross will deliver the ransom.
br />   The money had been put together late the previous night. It was a tremendously complex deal to get it accomplished so quickly, but Citibank and Morgan Stanley had cooperated. The Dunnes and Jerrold Goldberg had the power to get what they wanted, and had obviously exerted great pressure. As Soneji had requested, two million of the ransom was in cash. The rest was in small diamonds and securities. The ransom was negotiable, and also very portable. It fit into an American Tourister suitcase.

  The trip from downtown Miami Beach to the Opa Locka West Airport took about twenty-five minutes. The flight would take another forty. That would get us into Orlando at approximately 11:45 A.M. It would be tight.

  “We can try to put a device on Cross.” We listened as Agent Scorse talked over the radio to Thompson. “Portable radio transmitter. We’ve got one on board the plane.”

  “I don’t like that very much, Gerry,” Thompson said.

  “I don’t like it, either,” I said from the backseat. An understatement. “No bugs. That’s out.” I was still trying to understand how and why Soneji had picked me. It didn’t make sense. I thought that he might have read about me in the news coverage back in Washington. He had some good reason, I knew. There could be little or no doubt about that.

  “There’ll be unbelievable crowds at that park,” Thompson said once we were on board a Cessna 310 to Orlando. “That’s the obvious reason he’s chosen the Disney Park. Lots of parents and kids at the Magic Kingdom, too. He just might be able to blend in with Maggie Dunne. He may have disguised her as well.”

  “The Disney Park fits into his pattern for big, important icons,” I said. One theory in my notebooks was that Soneji might have been an abused child himself. If so, he’d have nothing but rage and disdain for a place like Disney World—where “good” little kids get to go with their “good” mommies and daddies.

  “We’ve already got ground and aerial surveillance on the park,” Scorse contributed. “Pictures are being piped into the crisis room in Washington right now. We’re also filming Epcot and Pleasure Island. Just in case he pulls a last-minute switch.”

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